Lord of the world’s undying youth,
What joys are in thy might!
What beauties of the inner truth,
And of the outer sight!
And when the heart is dim and sad,
Too weak for wisdom’s beam,
Thou sometimes makest it right glad
With but a childish dream.
Lo! I will dream this windy day;
No sunny spot is bare;
Dull vapours, in uncomely play,
Are weltering through the air.
If I throw wide my windowed breast
To all the blasts that blow,
My soul will rival in unrest
Those tree-tops—how they go!
But I will dream like any child;
For, lo! a mighty swan,
With radiant plumage undented,
And folded airy van,
With serpent neck all proudly bent,
And stroke of swarthy oar,
Dreams on to me, by sea-maids sent
Over the billows hoar.
For in a wave-worn rock I lie;
Outside, the waters foam;
And echoes of old storms go by
Within my sea-built dome.
The waters, half the gloomy way,
Beneath its arches come;
Throbbing to unseen billows’ play,
The green gulfs waver dumb.
A dawning twilight through the cave
In moony gleams doth go,
Half from the swan above the wave,
Half from the swan below.
Close to my feet she gently drifts,
Among the glistening things;
She stoops her crowny head, and lifts
White shoulders of her wings.
Oh! earth is rich with many a nest,
Deep, soft, and ever new,
Pure, delicate, and full of rest;
But dearest there are two.
I would not tell them but to minds
That are as white as they;
If others hear, of other kinds,
I wish them far away.
Upon the neck, between the wings,
Of a white, sailing swan,
A flaky bed of shelterings—
There you will find the one.
The other—well, it will not out,
Nor need I tell it you;
I’ve told you one, and need you doubt,
When there are only two?
Fulfil old dreams, O splendid bird,
Me o’er the waters bear;
Sure never ocean’s face was stirred
By any ship so fair!
Sure never whiteness found a dress,
Upon the earth to go,
So true, profound, and rich, unless
It was the falling snow.
With quick short flutter of each wing
Half-spread, and stooping crown,
She calls me; and with one glad spring
I nestle in the down.
Plunges the bark, then bounds aloft,
With lessening dip and rise.
Round curves her neck with motion soft—
Sure those are woman’s eyes.
One stroke unseen, with oary feet,
One stroke—away she sweeps;
Over the waters pale we fleet,
Suspended in the deeps.
And round the sheltering rock, and lo!
The tumbling, weltering sea!
On to the west, away we go,
Over the waters free!
Her motions moulded to the wave,
Her billowy neck thrown back,
With slow strong pulse, stately and grave,
She cleaves a rippling track.
And up the mounting wave we glide,
With climbing sweeping blow;
And down the steep, far-sloping side,
To flowing vales below.
I hear the murmur of the deep
In countless ripples pass,
Like talking children in their sleep,
Like winds in reedy grass.
And through some ruffled feathers, I
The glassy rolling mark,
With which the waves eternally
Roll on from dawn to dark.
The night is blue, the stars aglow;
In solemn peace o’erhead
The archless depth of heaven; below,
The murmuring, heaving bed.
A thickened night, it heaveth on,
A fallen earthly sky;
The shadows of its stars alone
Are left to know it by.
What faints across the lifted loop
Of cloud-veil upward cast?
With sea-veiled limbs, a sleeping group
Of Nereids dreaming past.
Swim on, my boat; who knows but I,
Ere night sinks to her grave,
May see in splendour pale float by
The Venus of the wave?
In the night, round a lady dreaming—
A queen among the dreams—
Came the silent sunset streaming,
Mixed with the voice of streams.
A silver fountain springing
Blossoms in molten gold;
And the airs of the birds float ringing
Through harmonies manifold.
She lies in a watered valley;
Her garden melts away
Through foot-path and curving alley
Into the wild wood grey.
And the green of the vale goes creeping
To the feet of the rugged hills,
Where the moveless rocks are keeping
The homes of the wandering rills.
And the hues of the flowers grow deeper,
Till they dye her very brain;
And their scents, like the soul of a sleeper,
Wander and waver and rain.
For dreams have a wealth of glory
That daylight cannot give:
Ah God! make the hope a story—
Bid the dreams arise and live.
She lay and gazed at the flowers,
Till her soul’s own garden smiled
With blossom-o’ershaded bowers,
Great colours and splendours wild.
And her heart filled up with gladness,
Till it could only ache;
And it turned aside to sadness,
As if for pity’s sake.
And a fog came o’er the meadows,
And the rich hues fainting lay;
Came from the woods the shadows,
Came from the rocks the grey.
And the sunset thither had vanished,
Where the sunsets always go;
And the sounds of the stream were banished,
As if slain by frost and snow.
And the flowers paled fast and faster,
And they crumbled fold on fold,
Till they looked like the stained plaster
Of a cornice in ruin old.
And they blackened and shrunk together,
As if scorched by the breath of flame,
With a sad perplexity whether
They were or were not the same.
And she saw herself still lying,
And smiling on, the while;
And the smile, instead of dying,
Was fixed in an idiot smile.
And the lady arose in sorrow
Out of her sleep’s dark stream;
But her dream made dark the morrow,
And she told me the haunting dream.
Alas! dear lady, I know it,
The dream that all is a dream;
The joy with the doubt below it
That the bright things only seem.
One moment of sad commotion,
And one of doubt’s withering rule—
And the great wave-pulsing ocean
Is only a gathered pool.
And the flowers are spots of painting,
Of lifeless staring hue;
Though your heart is sick to fainting,
They say not a word to you.
And the birds know nought of gladness,
They are only song-machines;
And a man is a skilful madness,
And the women pictured queens.
And fiercely we dig the fountain,
To know the water true;
And we climb the crest of the mountain,
To part it from the blue.
But we look too far before us
For that which is more than nigh;
Though the sky is lofty o’er us,
We are always in the sky.
And the fog, o’er the roses that creepeth,
Steams from the unknown sea,
In the dark of the soul that sleepeth,
And sigheth constantly,
Because o’er the face of its waters
The breathing hath not gone;
And instead of glad sons and daughters,
Wild things are moaning on.
When the heart knows well the Father,
The eyes will be always day;
But now they grow dim the rather
That the light is more than they.
Believe, amidst thy sorrows,
That the blight that swathes the earth
Is only a shade that borrows
Life from thy spirit’s dearth.
God’s heart is the fount of beauty;
Thy heart is its visible well;
If it vanish, do thou thy duty,
That necromantic spell;
And thy heart to the Father crying
Will fill with waters deep;
Thine eyes may say, Beauty is dying;
But thy spirit, She goes to sleep.
And I fear not, thy fair soul ever
Will smile as thy image smiled;
It had fled with a sudden shiver,
And thy body lay beguiled.
Let the flowers and thy beauty perish;
Let them go to the ancient dust.
But the hopes that the children cherish,
They are the Father’s trust.
A great church in an empty square,
A place of echoing tones;
Feet pass not oft enough to wear
The grass between the stones.
The jarring sounds that haunt its gates,
Like distant thunders boom;
The boding heart half-listening waits,
As for a coming doom.
The door stands wide, the church is bare,
Oh, horror, ghastly, sore!
A gulf of death, with hideous stare,
Yawns in the earthen floor;
As if the ground had sunk away
Into a void below:
Its shapeless sides of dark-hued clay
Hang ready aye to go.
I am myself a horrid grave,
My very heart turns grey;
This charnel-hole,—will no one save
And force my feet away?
The changing dead are there, I know,
In terror ever new;
Yet down the frightful slope I go,
That downward goeth too.
Beneath the caverned floor I hie,
And seem, with anguish dull,
To enter by the empty eye
Into a monstrous skull.
Stumbling on what I dare not guess,
And wading through the gloom,
Less deep the shades my eyes oppress,
I see the awful tomb.
My steps have led me to a door,
With iron clenched and barred;
Grim Death hides there a ghastlier store,
Great spider in his ward.
The portals shake, the bars are bowed,
As if an earthy wind
That never bore a leaf or cloud
Were pressing hard behind.
They shake, they groan, they outward strain.
What sight, of dire dismay
Will freeze its form upon my brain,
And turn it into clay?
They shake, they groan, they bend, they crack;
The bars, the doors divide:
A flood of glory at their back
Hath burst the portals wide.
Flows in the light of vanished days,
The joy of long-set moons;
The flood of radiance billowy plays,
In sweet-conflicting tunes.
The gulf is filled with flashing tides,
An awful gulf no more;
A maze of ferns clothes all its sides,
Of mosses all its floor.
And, floating through the streams, appear
Such forms of beauty rare,
As every aim at beauty here
Had found its would be there.
I said: ‘Tis well no hand came nigh,
To turn my steps astray;
‘Tis good we cannot choose but die,
That life may have its way.
Before I sleep, some dreams draw nigh,
Which are not fancy mere;
For sudden lights an inward eye,
And wondrous things appear.
Thus, unawares, with vision wide,
A steep hill once I saw,
In faint dream lights, which ever hide
Their fountain and their law.
And up and down the hill reclined
A host of statues old;
Such wondrous forms as you might find
Deep under ancient mould.
They lay, wild scattered, all along,
And maimed as if in fight;
But every one of all the throng
Was precious to the sight.
Betwixt the night and hill they ranged,
In dead composure cast.
As suddenly the dream was changed,
And all the wonder past.
The hill remained; but what it bore
Was broken reedy stalks,
Bent hither, thither, drooping o’er,
Like flowers o’er weedy walks.
For each dim form of marble rare,
Bent a wind-broken reed;
So hangs on autumn-field, long-bare,
Some tall and straggling weed.
The autumn night hung like a pall,
Hung mournfully and dead;
And if a wind had waked at all,
It had but moaned and fled.
I lay and dreamed. Of thought and sleep
Was born a heavenly joy:
I dreamed of two who always keep
Me happy as a boy.
I was with them. My heart-bells rung
With joy my heart above;
Their present heaven my earth o’erhung,
And earth was glad with love.
The dream grew troubled. Crowds went on,
And sought their varied ends;
Till stream on stream, the crowds had gone,
And swept away my friends.
I was alone. A miry road
I followed, all in vain;
No well-known hill the landscape showed,
It was a wretched plain;
Where mounds of rubbish, ugly pits,
And brick-fields scarred the globe;
Those wastes where desolation sits
Without her ancient robe.
A drizzling rain proclaimed the skies
As wretched as the earth;
I wandered on, and weary sighs
Were all my lot was worth.
When sudden, as I turned my way,
Burst in the ocean-waves:
And lo! a blue wild-dancing bay
Fantastic rocks and caves!
I wept with joy. Ah! sometimes so,
In common daylight grief,
A beauty to the heart will go,
And bring the heart relief.
And, wandering, reft of hope or friend,
If such a thing should be,
One day we take the downward bend,
And lo, Eternity!
I wept with joy, delicious tears,
Which dreams alone bestow;
Until, mayhap, from out the years
We sleep, and further go.
Now I will mould a dream, awake,
Which I, asleep, would dream;
From all the forms of fancy take
One that shall also seem;
Seem in my verse (if not my brain),
Which sometimes may rejoice
In airy forms of Fancy’s train,
Though nobler are my choice.
Some truth o’er all the land may lie
In children’s dreams at night;
They do not build the charmed sky
That domes them with delight.
And o’er the years that follow soon,
So all unlike the dreams,
Wander their odours, gleams their moon,
And flow their winds and streams.
Now I would dream that I awake
In scent of cool night air,
Above me star-clouds close and break;
Beneath—where am I, where?
A strange delight pervades my breast,
Of ancient pictures dim,
Where fair forms on the waters rest,
Or in the breezes swim.
I rest on arms as soft as strong,
Great arms of woman-mould;
My head is pillowed whence a song,
In many a rippling fold,
O’erfloods me from its bubbling spring:
A Titan goddess bears
Me, floating on her unseen wing,
Through gracious midnight airs.
And I am borne o’er sleeping seas,
O’er murmuring ears of corn,
Over the billowy tops of trees,
O’er roses pale till morn.
Over the lake—ah! nearer float,
Down on the water’s breast;
Let me look deep, and gazing doat
On that white lily’s nest.
The harebell’s bed, as o’er we pass,
Swings all its bells about;
From waving blades of polished grass,
Flash moony splendours out.
Old homes we brush in wooded glades;
No eyes at windows shine;
For all true men and noble maids
Are out in dreams like mine.
And foam-bell-kisses drift and break
From wind-waves of the South
Against my brow and eyes awake,
And yet I see no mouth.
Light laughter ripples down the air,
Light sighs float up below;
And o’er me ever, radiant pair,
The Queen’s great star-eyes go.
And motion like a dreaming wave
Wafts me in gladness dim
Through air just cool enough to lave
With sense each conscious limb.
But ah! the dream eludes the rhyme,
As dreams break free from sleep;
The dream will keep its own free time,
In mazy float or sweep.
And thought too keen for joy awakes,
As on the horizon far,
A dead pale light the circle breaks,
But not a dawning star.
No, there I cannot, dare not go;
Pale women wander there;
With cold fire murderous eyeballs glow;
And children see despair.
The joy has lost its dreamy zest;
I feel a pang of loss;
My wandering hand o’er mounds of rest
Finds only mounds of moss.
Beneath the bare night-stars I lie;
Cold winds are moaning past:
Alas! the earth with grief will die,
The great earth is aghast.
I look above—there dawns no face;
Around—no footsteps come;
No voice inhabits this great space;
God knows, but keepeth dumb.
I wake, and know that God is by,
And more than dreams will give;
And that the hearts that moan and die,
Shall yet awake and live.
© George MacDonald