Other Poems in the collection
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
THE SISTERS' TRAGEDY|
WITH OTHER POEMS, LYR-
ICAL AND DRAMATIC. BY
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND
By T. B. ALDRICH
THE SISTERS' TRAGEDY
THE LAST CÆSAR
1851 - 1870
- NOW there was one who came in later days
- To play at Emperor: in the dead of night
- Stole crown and sceptre, and stood forth to light
- In sudden purple. The dawn's straggling rays
- Showed Paris fettered, murmuring in amaze,
- With red hands at her throat--a piteous sight.
- Then the new Cæsar, stricken with affright
- At his own daring, shrunk from public gaze
- In the Elysée, and had lost the day
- But that around him flocked his birds of prey,
- Sharp-beaked, voracious, hungry for the deed.
- 'Twixt hope and fear beheld great Cæsar hang!
- Meanwhile, methinks, a ghostly laughter rang
- Through the rotunda of the Invalides.
- What if the boulevards, at set of sun,
- Reddened, but not with the sunset's kindly glow?
- What if from quai and square the murmured woe
- Swept heavenward, pleadingly? The prize was won,
- A kingling made and Liberty undone.
- No Emperor, this, like him awhile ago,
- But his Name's shadow; that one struck the blow
- Himself, the street-sweeping gun!
- This was a man of tortuous heart and brain,
- So warped he knew not his own point of view--
- The master of a dark, mysterious smile.
- And there he plotted, by the storied Seine
- And in the fairy gardens of St. Cloud,
- The Sphinx that puzzled Europe, for awhile.
- I see him as men saw him once--a face
- Of true Napoleon pallor; round the eyes
- The wrinkled care; mustache spread pinion-wise,
- Pointing his smile with odd sardonic grace
- As wearily he turns him in his place,
- And bends before the hoarse Parisian cries--
- Then vanishes, with glitter of gold-lace
- And trumpets blaring to the patient skies.
- Not thus he vanished later! On his path
- The Furies waited for the hour and man,
- Foreknowing that they waited not in vain.
- Then fell the day, o day of dreadful wrath!
- Bow-down in shame, O crimson-girt Sedan!
- Weep fair Alsace! weep, loveliest Lorainne!
- So mused I, sitting underneath the trees
- In that old garden of the Tuileries,
- Watching the dust of twilight sifting down
- Through chestnut boughs just touched with autumn's brown--
- Not twilight yet, but that illusive bloom
- Which holds before the deep-edged shadows come;
- For still the garden stood in golden mist,
- Still, like a river of golden amethyst,
- The Seine slipt through its pans of fretted stone,
- And, near the grille that once fenced in a throne,
- The fountains still unbraided to the day
- The unsubstantial silver of their spray.
- A spot to dream in, love in, waste one's hours!
- Temples and palaces, and gilded towers,
- And fairy terraces!--and yet, and yet
- Here in her woe came Marie Antoinette,
- Came sweet Corday, Du Barry with shrill cry,
- Not learning from her betters how to die!
- Here, while the nations watched with bated breath,
- Was held the saturnalia of Red Death!
- For where that slim Egyptian shaft uplifts
- Its point to catch the dawn's and sunset's drifts
- Of various gold, the busy Headsman stood. . . .
- Place de la Concorde--no, the Place of Blood!
- And all so peaceful now, one cannot bring
- Imagination to accept the thing.
- Lies, all of it! some dreamer's wild romance--
- High-hearted, witty, laughter-loving France!
- In whose brain was it that the legend grew
- Of Mænads shrieking in this avenue,
- Of watch-fires burning, Famine standing guard,
- Of long-speared Uhlans in that palace-yard!
- What ruder sound this soft air ever smote
- Than a bird's twitter, or a bugle's note?
- What darker crimson ever splashed these walks
- Than that of rose-leaves dropping from the stalks?
- And yet--what means that charred and broken wall,
- That sculptured marble, splintered, like to fall,
- Looming among the trees there? . . . And you say
- This happened, as it were, but yesterday?
- And here the commune stretched a barricade,
- And there the final desperate stand was made?
- Such things have been? How all things change and fade!
- How little lasts in this brave world below!
- Love dies; hate cools; the Cæsars come and go;
- Gaunt Hunger fattens, and the weak grow strong.
- Even Republics are not here for long!
- Ah, who can tell what hour may bring the doom,
- The lighted torch, the tocsin's heavy boom!
IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY
"The Southern Transept, hardly known by any other name but Poets' Corner"
- TREAD softly here; the sacredest of tombs
- Are those that hold your poets. Kings and queens
- Are facile accidents of Time and Chance.
- Chance sets them on the heights, they climb not there!
- But he who from the darkling mass of men
- Is on the wing of heavenly thought upborne
- To finer ether, and becomes a voice
- For all the voiceless, God annointed him:
- His name shall be a star, his grave a shrine.
- Tread softly here, in silent reverence tread.
- Beneath those marble cenotaphs and urns
- Lies richer dust than ever nature hid
- Packed in the mountain's adamantine heart,
- Or slyly wrapt in unsuspected sand--
- The dross men toil for, and oft stain the soul.
- How vain and all ignoble seems that greed
- To him who stands in this dim claustral air
- With these most sacred ashes at his feet!
- This dust was Chaucer, Spenser, Dryden this--
- The spark that once illumed it lingers still.
- O ever-hallowed spot of English earth!
- If the unleashed and unhappy spirit of man
- Have option to visit our dull globe,
- What august Shades at midnight here convene
- In the miraculous sessions of the moon,
- When the great pulse of London faintly throbs,
- And one by one the stars in heaven pale!
ALEC YEATON'S SON
GLOUCESTER, AUGUST, 1720
- THE wind it wailed, the wind it moaned,
- And the white caps flecked the sea;
- "An' I would to God," the skipper groaned,
- "I had not my boy with me!
- Snug in the stern-sheets, little John
- Laughed as the scud swept by;
- But the skipper's sunburnt cheeks grew wan
- As he watched the wicked sky.
- "Would he were at his mother's side!"
- And the skipper's eyes were dim.
- "Good Lord in heaven, if ill betide,
- What would become of him!
- "For me--my muscles are as steel,
- For me let hap what may;
- I might make shift upon the keel
- Until the break o' day.
- "But he, he is so weak and small,
- So young, scarce learned to stand--
- O pitying Father of us all,
- I trust him in Thy hand!
- "For Thou, who makest from on high
- A sparrow's fall--each one!--
- Surely, O Lord, thou'lt have an eye
- On Alec Yeaton's son!"
- Then, helm hard-port; right straight he sailed
- Towards the headland light:
- The wind it moaned, the wind it wailed,
- And black, black fell the night.
- Then burst a storm to make one quail
- Though housed from winds and waves--
- They who could tell about that gale
- Must rise from watery graves!
- Sudden it came, as sudden went;
- Ere half the night was sped,
- The winds were hushed, the waves were spent,
- And the stars shone overhead.
- Now, as the morning mist grew thin,
- The folk on Gloucester shore
- Saw a little figure floating in
- Secure, on a broken oar!
- Up rose the cry, "A wreck! a wreck!
- Pull, mates, and waste no breath!"--
- They knew it, though 't was but a speck
- Upon the edge of death!
- Long did they marvel in the town
- At God his strange decree,
- That let the stalwart skipper drown
- And the little child go free!
AT THE FUNERAL OF A MINOR POET
[One of the Bearers Soliloquizes:]
- . . . ROOM in your heart for him, O Mother Earth,
- Who loved each flower and leaf that made you fair,
- And sang your praises in verses manifold
- And delicate, with here and there a line
- From end to end in blossom like a bough
- The May breathes on, so rich it was. Some thought
- The workmanship more costly than the thing
- Moulded or carved, as in those ornaments
- Found at Mycæne. And yet Nature's self
- Works in this wise; upon a blade of grass,
- Or what small note she lends the woodland thrush,
- Lavishing endless patience. He was born
- Artist, not artisan, which some few saw
- And many dreamed not. As he wrote no odes
- When Croesus wedded or Mæcenas died,
- And gave no breath to civic feasts and shows,
- He missed the glare that gilds more facile men--
- A twilight poet, groping quite alone,
- Belated, in a sphere where every nest
- Is emptied of its music and its wings.
- Not great his gift; yet we can poorly spare
- Even his slight perfection in an age
- Of limping triolets and tame rondeaux.
- He had at least ideals, though unreached,
- And heard, far off, immortal harmonies,
- Such as fall coldly on our ear to-day.
- The mighty Zolastic Movement now
- Engrosses us--a miasmatic breath
- Blown from the slums. We paint life as it is,
- The hideous side of it, with careful pains,
- Making a god of the dull Commonplace.
- For have we not the old gods overthrown
- And set up strangest idols? We would clip
- Imagination's wing and kill delight,
- Our sole art being to leave nothing out
- That renders art offensive. Not for us
- Madonnas leaning from their starry thrones
- Ineffable, nor any heaven-wrought dream
- Of sculptor or of poet; we prefer
- Such nightmare visions as in morbid brains
- Take shape and substance, thoughts that taint the air
- And make all life unlovely. Will it last?
- Beauty alone endures from age to age,
- From age to age endures, handmaid of God.
- Poets who walk with her on earth go hence
- Bearing a talisman. You bury one,
- With his hushed music, in some Potter's Field;
- The snows and rains blot out his very name,
- As he from life seems blotted; through Time's glass
- Slip the invisible and magic sands
- That mark the century, then falls a day
- The world is suddenly conscious of a flower,
- Imperishable, ever to be prized,
- Sprung from the mould of a forgotten grave.
- 'T is said the seeds wrapt up among the balms
- And hieroglyphics of Egyptian kings
- old strange vitality, and, planted, grow
- After the lapse of thrice a thousand years.
- Some day, perchance, some unregarded note
- Of our poor friend here--some sweet minor chord
- That failed to lure our more accustomed ear--
- Way witch the fancy of an unborn age.
- Who knows, since seeds have such tenacity?
- Meanwhile he's dead, with scantiest laurel won
- And little of our Ninteenth Century gold.
- So, take him, Earth, and this his mortal part,
- With that shrewd alchemy thou hast, transmute
- To flower and leaf in thine unending springs!
On to the next poem.