Play on, dear love ; I do not care1
For any music like thine own :2
And let it be that simple air3
You touch so often when alone :4
Not that,—nor that ; nor can I tell5
Even how its dropping cadence goes ;6
But last night, when the gloaming fell,7
It seemed the voice of its repose.8
Just after dinner, you remember,9
I went up to my room ; and—while10
The cold grey twilight of September11
Stretched through the limes, like
Minster aisle
With lustrous oriel in the west,13
And purple clouds in amber laid,14
Where sainted spirits seemed to rest15
With flaming glories round their head16
Then sat I, well resolved to know,17
Caput and locus, every page in’t,18
One of the fathers, ranked in row,19
The grenadiers of my book-regiment.20
But, just as if I had uncoiled21
His mummy from its rags and rust,22
When to his inner heart I toiled,23
’Twas but to be choked a saintly
Then, brooding grim, I wondered :—
Far down among the distant ages,26
Hath this fool’s babble floated now27
With the high wisdom of the sages ?28
He sat, indeed, at early morn29
Beside the fountains of the light ;30
But, blanker than a babe new-born,31
He looked on day, and made it night.32
There’s Sappho, little but a name,33
And Pindar, but a fragment hoary ;34
And Phidias fills a niche in fame35
With formless shadow of his glory.36
Yet this big dullard, leaden-eyed,37
Hath paper, type, and gilding got ;38
And drops the mud-barge, down the
Where the immortal galleys float.40
Strange doom ! high wisdom wrecked
and lost,
Or just a splinter drifts ashore,42
Through dark and stormy ages tossed,43
To make us grieve there is no more.44
And such as this great fellow, he45
Gets handed down safe to this day,—46
The heir-loom of stupidity,47
To make us grieve another way.48
’Tis well, perhaps ; for indolence,49
O’ershadowed by the ancient great,50
Had sunk in hopeless reverence,51
To worship, not to emulate52
But that among their matchless wise53
They had theirmatchless fools as well,54
And equal immortalities55
To wit and folly both befell.56
And yet the oaf had curious brains57
For cobwebs in the nooks of
A spider-gift for subtle trains59
Of useless reason, soon forgot ;60
And many a feeble soul, I know,61
All bloodless in his meshes lies ;62
So to the spider let him go63
God made them both for catching
Thus musing, in a stormful mood65
I flung him to his dusty nook,66
And left the moth her proper food,67
And cobwebs to a kindred book.68
Just then it was, dear love, I heard,69
Slow-swimming through the air, a
That soothed me, like a pious word,71
Remembered at a needful time.72
Small skill have I in harmonies,73
Recording, with their measured roll,74
The master-spirit’s mysteries,75
The maze and motion of his soul.76
But now and then mine ear will catch,77
And keep rehearsing dreamily,78
A plaintive thought,—a little snatch79
From the Eternal melody.80
So with the harmonies of truth,81
I may not soar with those that hymn,82
In beauty of immortal youth,83
Among the clear-eyed seraphim ;84
I can but stand without the doors,85
And sometimes catch a passing strain86
Like that the mellow blackbird pours87
In twilight-woods, fresh after rain88
A passing strain of plaintive thought89
In natural music softly stealing,90
The pathos of a common lot,91
Or homely incident, or feeling ;92
Nor deep, nor broad, nor soaring high,93
Nor surging with the passion-strife ;94
But rippling clear and quietly95
Along the common path of life.96
And that is all : there was a time97
Of windy vanities, when I98
Deemed that among the harps sublime99
My psalm might blend its melody,100
I’m wiser now—I can but sit101
In lowly bower of joy or grief,102
With thee, dear love, to share in it,103
And pipe to give our hearts relief.104
It vexed me when this wisdom came,105
At first, and, wrestling with my fate,106
I strove awhile to fan the flame,107
And, spite of nature, to be great.108
Yet, what is better than to know109
What God has given thee strength
to be ?
To live a true life here below111
Is more than dreaming gloriously.112
Then play that plaintive air to me113
You touch so often when alone,114
That moves in its simplicity,115
With natural grace in every tone.116
I’m weary of all mocking birds,117
I’m weary, too, of straining throats ;118
And sweetly dropt its natural words119
In natural fall of plaintive notes.120