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The Spirit Of Solitude

EARTH, Ocean, Air, belovèd brotherhood!
   If our great Mother has imbued my soul
   With aught of natural piety to feel
   Your love, and recompense the boon with mine;
   If dewy morn, and odorous noon, and even,
   With sunset and its gorgeous ministers,
   And solemn midnight's tingling silentness;
   If Autumn's hollow sighs in the sere wood,
   And Winter robing with pure snow and crowns
   Of starry ice the gray grass and bare boughs;                      10
   If Spring's voluptuous pantings when she breathes
   Her first sweet kisses,--have been dear to me;
   If no bright bird, insect, or gentle beast
   I consciously have injured, but still loved
   And cherished these my kindred; then forgive
   This boast, belovèd brethren, and withdraw
   No portion of your wonted favor now!
     Mother of this unfathomable world!
   Favor my solemn song, for I have loved
   Thee ever, and thee only; I have watched                           20
   Thy shadow, and the darkness of thy steps,
   And my heart ever gazes on the depth
   Of thy deep mysteries. I have made my bed
   In charnels and on coffins, where black death
   Keeps record of the trophies won from thee,
   Hoping to still these obstinate questionings
   Of thee and thine, by forcing some lone ghost,
   Thy messenger, to render up the tale
   Of what we are. In lone and silent hours,
   When night makes a weird sound of its own stillness,               30
   Like an inspired and desperate alchemist
   Staking his very life on some dark hope,
   Have I mixed awful talk and asking looks
   With my most innocent love, until strange tears,
   Uniting with those breathless kisses, made
   Such magic as compels the charmèd night
   To render up thy charge; and, though ne'er yet
   Thou hast unveiled thy inmost sanctuary,
   Enough from incommunicable dream,
   And twilight phantasms, and deep noonday thought,                  40
   Has shone within me, that serenely now
   And moveless, as a long-forgotten lyre
   Suspended in the solitary dome
   Of some mysterious and deserted fane,
   I wait thy breath, Great Parent, that my strain
   May modulate with murmurs of the air,
   And motions of the forests and the sea,
   And voice of living beings, and woven hymns
   Of night and day, and the deep heart of man.
     There was a Poet whose untimely tomb                             50

   No human hands with pious reverence reared,
   But the charmed eddies of autumnal winds
   Built o'er his mouldering bones a pyramid
   Of mouldering leaves in the waste wilderness:
   A lovely youth,--no mourning maiden decked
   With weeping flowers, or votive cypress wreath,
   The lone couch of his everlasting sleep:
   Gentle, and brave, and generous,--no lorn bard
   Breathed o'er his dark fate one melodious sigh:
   He lived, he died, he sung in solitude.                            60
   Strangers have wept to hear his passionate notes,
   And virgins, as unknown he passed, have pined
   And wasted for fond love of his wild eyes.
   The fire of those soft orbs has ceased to burn,
   And Silence, too enamoured of that voice,
   Locks its mute music in her rugged cell.
     By solemn vision and bright silver dream
   His infancy was nurtured. Every sight
   And sound from the vast earth and ambient air
   Sent to his heart its choicest impulses.                           70
   The fountains of divine philosophy
   Fled not his thirsting lips, and all of great,
   Or good, or lovely, which the sacred past
   In truth or fable consecrates, he felt
   And knew. When early youth had passed, he left
   His cold fireside and alienated home
   To seek strange truths in undiscovered lands.
   Many a wide waste and tangled wilderness
   Has lured his fearless steps; and he has bought
   With his sweet voice and eyes, from savage men,                    80
   His rest and food. Nature's most secret steps
   He like her shadow has pursued, where'er
   The red volcano overcanopies
   Its fields of snow and pinnacles of ice
   With burning smoke, or where bitumen lakes
   On black bare pointed islets ever beat
   With sluggish surge, or where the secret caves,
   Rugged and dark, winding among the springs
   Of fire and poison, inaccessible
   To avarice or pride, their starry domes                            90
   Of diamond and of gold expand above
   Numberless and immeasurable halls,
   Frequent with crystal column, and clear shrines
   Of pearl, and thrones radiant with chrysolite.
   Nor had that scene of ampler majesty
   Than gems or gold, the varying roof of heaven
   And the green earth, lost in his heart its claims
   To love and wonder; he would linger long
   In lonesome vales, making the wild his home,
   Until the doves and squirrels would partake                       100

   From his innocuous band his bloodless food,
   Lured by the gentle meaning of his looks,
   And the wild antelope, that starts whene'er
   The dry leaf rustles in the brake, suspend
   Her timid steps, to gaze upon a form
   More graceful than her own.
                                His wandering step,
   Obedient to high thoughts, has visited
   The awful ruins of the days of old:
   Athens, and Tyre, and Balbec, and the waste
   Where stood Jerusalem, the fallen towers                          110
   Of Babylon, the eternal pyramids,
   Memphis and Thebes, and whatsoe'er of strange,
   Sculptured on alabaster obelisk
   Or jasper tomb or mutilated sphinx,
   Dark Æthiopia in her desert hills
   Conceals. Among the ruined temples there,
   Stupendous columns, and wild images
   Of more than man, where marble daemons watch
   The Zodiac's brazen mystery, and dead men
   Hang their mute thoughts on the mute walls around,                120
   He lingered, poring on memorials
   Of the world's youth: through the long burning day
   Gazed on those speechless shapes; nor, when the moon
   Filled the mysterious halls with floating shades
   Suspended he that task, but ever gazed
   And gazed, till meaning on his vacant mind
   Flashed like strong inspiration, and he saw
   The thrilling secrets of the birth of time.
     Meanwhile an Arab maiden brought his food,
   Her daily portion, from her father's tent,                        130
   And spread her matting for his couch, and stole
   From duties and repose to tend his steps,
   Enamoured, yet not daring for deep awe
   To speak her love, and watched his nightly sleep,
   Sleepless herself, to gaze upon his lips
   Parted in slumber, whence the regular breath
   Of innocent dreams arose; then, when red morn
   Made paler the pale moon, to her cold home
   Wildered, and wan, and panting, she returned.
     The Poet, wandering on, through Arabie,                         140
   And Persia, and the wild Carmanian waste,
   And o'er the aërial mountains which pour down
   Indus and Oxus from their icy caves,
   In joy and exultation held his way;
   Till in the vale of Cashmire, far within
   Its loneliest dell, where odorous plants entwine
   Beneath the hollow rocks a natural bower,
   Beside a sparkling rivulet he stretched
   His languid limbs. A vision on his sleep
   There came, a dream of hopes that never yet                       150

   Had flushed his cheek. He dreamed a veilèd maid
   Sate near him, talking in low solemn tones.
   Her voice was like the voice of his own soul
   Heard in the calm of thought; its music long,
   Like woven sounds of streams and breezes, held
   His inmost sense suspended in its web
   Of many-colored woof and shifting hues.
   Knowledge and truth and virtue were her theme,
   And lofty hopes of divine liberty,
   Thoughts the most dear to him, and poesy,                         160
   Herself a poet. Soon the solemn mood
   Of her pure mind kindled through all her frame
   A permeating fire; wild numbers then
   She raised, with voice stifled in tremulous sobs
   Subdued by its own pathos; her fair hands
   Were bare alone, sweeping from some strange harp
   Strange symphony, and in their branching veins
   The eloquent blood told an ineffable tale.
   The beating of her heart was heard to fill
   The pauses of her music, and her breath                           170
   Tumultuously accorded with those fits
   Of intermitted song. Sudden she rose,
   As if her heart impatiently endured
   Its bursting burden; at the sound he turned,
   And saw by the warm light of their own life
   Her glowing limbs beneath the sinuous veil
   Of woven wind, her outspread arms now bare,
   Her dark locks floating in the breath of night,
   Her beamy bending eyes, her parted lips
   Outstretched, and pale, and quivering eagerly.                    180
   His strong heart sunk and sickened with excess
   Of love. He reared his shuddering limbs, and quelled
   His gasping breath, and spread his arms to meet
   Her panting bosom:--she drew back awhile,
   Then, yielding to the irresistible joy,
   With frantic gesture and short breathless cry
   Folded his frame in her dissolving arms.
   Now blackness veiled his dizzy eyes, and night
   Involved and swallowed up the vision; sleep,
   Like a dark flood suspended in its course,                        190
   Rolled back its impulse on his vacant brain.
     Roused by the shock, he started from his trance--
   The cold white light of morning, the blue moon
   Low in the west, the clear and garish hills,
   The distinct valley and the vacant woods,
   Spread round him where he stood. Whither have fled
   The hues of heaven that canopied his bower
   Of yesternight? The sounds that soothed his sleep,
   The mystery and the majesty of Earth,
   The joy, the exultation? His wan eyes                             200
   Gaze on the empty scene as vacantly
   As ocean's moon looks on the moon in heaven.
   The spirit of sweet human love has sent
   A vision to the sleep of him who spurned
   Her choicest gifts. He eagerly pursues
   Beyond the realms of dream that fleeting shade;
   He overleaps the bounds. Alas! alas!
   Were limbs and breath and being intertwined
   Thus treacherously? Lost, lost, forever lost
   In the wide pathless desert of dim sleep,                         210
   That beautiful shape! Does the dark gate of death
   Conduct to thy mysterious paradise,
   O Sleep? Does the bright arch of rainbow clouds
   And pendent mountains seen in the calm lake
   Lead only to a black and watery depth,
   While death's blue vault with loathliest vapors hung,
   Where every shade which the foul grave exhales
   Hides its dead eye from the detested day,
   Conducts, O Sleep, to thy delightful realms?
   This doubt with sudden tide flowed on his heart;                  220
   The insatiate hope which it awakened stung
   His brain even like despair.

  While daylight held
   The sky, the Poet kept mute conference
   With his still soul. At night the passion came,
   Like the fierce fiend of a distempered dream,
   And shook him from his rest, and led him forth
   Into the darkness. As an eagle, grasped
   In folds of the green serpent, feels her breast
   Burn with the poison, and precipitates
   Through night and day, tempest, and calm, and cloud,              230
   Frantic with dizzying anguish, her blind flight
   O'er the wide aëry wilderness: thus driven
   By the bright shadow of that lovely dream,
   Beneath the cold glare of the desolate night,
   Through tangled swamps and deep precipitous dells,
   Startling with careless step the moon-light snake,
   He fled. Red morning dawned upon his flight,
   Shedding the mockery of its vital hues
   Upon his cheek of death. He wandered on
   Till vast Aornos seen from Petra's steep                          240
   Hung o'er the low horizon like a cloud;
   Through Balk, and where the desolated tombs
   Of Parthian kings scatter to every wind
   Their wasting dust, wildly he wandered on,
   Day after day, a weary waste of hours,
   Bearing within his life the brooding care
   That ever fed on its decaying flame.
   And now his limbs were lean; his scattered hair,
   Sered by the autumn of strange suffering,
   Sung dirges in the wind; his listless hand                        250
   Hung like dead bone within its withered skin;
   Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone,
   As in a furnace burning secretly,
   From his dark eyes alone. The cottagers,
   Who ministered with human charity
   His human wants, beheld with wondering awe
   Their fleeting visitant. The mountaineer,
   Encountering on some dizzy precipice
   That spectral form, deemed that the Spirit of Wind,
   With lightning eyes, and eager breath, and feet                   260
   Disturbing not the drifted snow, had paused
   In its career; the infant would conceal
   His troubled visage in his mother's robe
   In terror at the glare of those wild eyes,
   To remember their strange light in many a dream
   Of after times; but youthful maidens, taught
   By nature, would interpret half the woe
   That wasted him, would call him with false names
   Brother and friend, would press his pallid hand
   At parting, and watch, dim through tears, the path                270
   Of his departure from their father's door.
     At length upon the lone Chorasmian shore
   He paused, a wide and melancholy waste
   Of putrid marshes. A strong impulse urged
   His steps to the sea-shore. A swan was there,
   Beside a sluggish stream among the reeds.
   It rose as he approached, and, with strong wings
   Scaling the upward sky, bent its bright course
   High over the immeasurable main.
   His eyes pursued its flight:--'Thou hast a home,                  280

   Beautiful bird! thou voyagest to thine home,
   Where thy sweet mate will twine her downy neck
   With thine, and welcome thy return with eyes
   Bright in the lustre of their own fond joy.
   And what am I that I should linger here,
   With voice far sweeter than thy dying notes,
   Spirit more vast than thine, frame more attuned
   To beauty, wasting these surpassing powers
   In the deaf air, to the blind earth, and heaven
   That echoes not my thoughts?' A gloomy smile                      290
   Of desperate hope wrinkled his quivering lips.
   For sleep, he knew, kept most relentlessly
   Its precious charge, and silent death exposed,
   Faithless perhaps as sleep, a shadowy lure,
   With doubtful smile mocking its own strange charms.      Startled by his own thoughts, he looked around.
   There was no fair fiend near him, not a sight
   Or sound of awe but in his own deep mind.
   A little shallop floating near the shore
   Caught the impatient wandering of his gaze.                       300
   It had been long abandoned, for its sides
   Gaped wide with many a rift, and its frail joints
   Swayed with the undulations of the tide.
   A restless impulse urged him to embark
   And meet lone Death on the drear ocean's waste;
   For well he knew that mighty Shadow loves
   The slimy caverns of the populous deep.
     The day was fair and sunny; sea and sky
   Drank its inspiring radiance, and the wind
   Swept strongly from the shore, blackening the waves.              310
   Following his eager soul, the wanderer
   Leaped in the boat; he spread his cloak aloft
   On the bare mast, and took his lonely seat,
   And felt the boat speed o'er the tranquil sea
   Like a torn cloud before the hurricane.
     As one that in a silver vision floats
   Obedient to the sweep of odorous winds
   Upon resplendent clouds, so rapidly
   Along the dark and ruffled waters fled
   The straining boat. A whirlwind swept it on,                      320
   With fierce gusts and precipitating force,
   Through the white ridges of the chafèd sea.
   The waves arose. Higher and higher still
   Their fierce necks writhed beneath the tempest's scourge
   Like serpents struggling in a vulture's grasp.
   Calm and rejoicing in the fearful war
   Of wave ruining on wave, and blast on blast
   Descending, and black flood on whirlpool driven
   With dark obliterating course, he sate:
   As if their genii were the ministers                              330
   Appointed to conduct him to the light
   Of those belovèd eyes, the Poet sate,
   Holding the steady helm. Evening came on;
   The beams of sunset hung their rainbow hues
   High 'mid the shifting domes of sheeted spray
   That canopied his path o'er the waste deep;
   Twilight, ascending slowly from the east,
   Entwined in duskier wreaths her braided locks
   O'er the fair front and radiant eyes of Day;
   Night followed, clad with stars. On every side                    340
   More horribly the multitudinous streams
   Of ocean's mountainous waste to mutual war
   Rushed in dark tumult thundering, as to mock
   The calm and spangled sky. The little boat
   Still fled before the storm; still fled, like foam
   Down the steep cataract of a wintry river;
   Now pausing on the edge of the riven wave;
   Now leaving far behind the bursting mass
   That fell, convulsing ocean; safely fled--
   As if that frail and wasted human form             350
   Had been an elemental god.

Alastor (Page 2)

GlobalPoet 2007

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