Arlo Bates (1850-1918)

Wikipedia entry.

Some biographical information.

Below is the text of  Sonnets in Shadow (1887)

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Most lives are like or tree or shrub or weed,
And slow or swift to flower and fruitage grow;
Or, broken ere their prime, forlornly show
But blighted bud, promise of fruit or seed.

Not so was thine, nor such excuse did need.
Thy life was like a crystal, perfect so
Whene'er growth ended.  Time could but bestow
More space to prove worth still by newer deed.

Like a rare gem where richest star-fires play,
Flashing a hundred tinted flames which yet
Is white and lucent as the drop which day

With its first burning sunbeam touches, set
Upon the tip of some fresh hawthorn spray,—
Such was thy life; so rich, so pure alway.


And yet not so; since cold the reddest fire
Ever from diamond or dew-drop burned;
While what sweet warmth and ardor are inurned
Where thou art laid, might tell nor pen nor lyre.

One sits by his lone hearth, and sees mount higher
The flame toward which of old two faces turned;
Most like it is the spirit which sojourned
Awhile beside it.  When it shall expire,

To what cold dust its cinders fall amain.
What cheer and sense of home while it endure;
What desolation waiting on its wane!

How perfect joy thy presence did insure;
How hopeless life without thee, and how vain;
The flame once sped, the ashes are so poor!

Sonnets in Shadow



After fate smites, the heart at first is dumb,
And neither feels nor can believe its woe.
Then past the torpid soul the gray days go,
And lay their curious fingers, chill and numb,

Upon its wounds till pain has reached its sum,
And the soul cries in agony; while slow
And unreal as the shapes that visions show
The stealthy days glide on, until is come

Some dreadful morn that with its mocking sneer
Gives full assurance, and the spirit there
Yields up at last even the right to fear.

No more it recks if life be foul or fair,
Or cries, "This cannot be!" but sitteth drear,
Owning, "It is!" calm in its blank despair.


Little by little, as some down-trod weed
Leaf after leaf lifts painfully again,
Does life renew its uses.  Though remain
Desire nor hope, though every heart-wound bleed,

Nature's high law no mortal may impede
In its remorseless working.  Wholly vain
Protest or strife; we to obey are fain,
Slaves of strong destiny in thought and deed.

As those whom destiny compels, we take
One after one all life's old duties up;
Its cares and fears, its terror and its ache;

Even its joys, though each, an empty cup
Where once was wine, but serves the thought to wake
Of draught divine we once did from it sup.



What is this monstrous thing called death?  What plea
Within the universe can justify
Its presence?  How can even one man die
Nor yet the world to utter ruin be

Hurled instantly?  Creatures of nothing, we
Raise all our outraged souls in one fierce cry
Against such wrong; defiant, lift on high
Our empty arms, that men and gods may see

What has befallen!  Though most impotent
Our protest be; though all the powers whose hate
Still wreaks itself on hapless man be bent

To crush our hearts with woes unmitigate,
For justice will we clamor, vehement,
Against this crime unspeakable of fate!


Was it for this that love was given man,
As to the tortured wretch they would not kill,
Stretched on the rack, to keep him living still
Inquisitors dole scanty drops?  The plan

Infernal craft devised, lest when to ban
By death it sought, it bless against its will!
Were love unknown, who could find death an ill,
Or fail to bless the shortening of life's span?

As wind-dried leaves crushed in a giant hand
Our hearts are broken by malignant fate.
The spring of love that made them once expand

But nourished them to feed immortal hate.
Oh, woe, that even love was only planned
To serve a cruelty insatiate!


Of what avail is it with death to chide?
Can deepest anguish move the stubborn fates?
Or good or evil for each moral waits
Whether we pray or curse or passive bide.

Yet when the grave-sods our beloved hide,
Our being all its powers dedicates
To wring from that dread hand which arbitrates,
Some miracle return them to our side.

The whole sad soul dissolves into a prayer
So mighty that it seems it could not fail.
The eager spirit searches everywhere

For avenues by which heaven to assail.
We lose all self in plea beyond compare;—
And yet, of what avail, of what avail!


How dreadful is the languor of the soul
Which neither hopes nor fears, which has no care
For great or small;  indifferent how fare
Alike the highway's dusts, the stars that roll.

When death takes love he takes at once the whole
Life has of worth.  Thereafter earth nor air
Nor pearl-rich sea can longer anywhere
Give to the desolate or joy or dole.

If it be morn or noon or amber eve,
If sun or moon or cloud possess the sky,
If foes be kind, if trusted friends deceive,

If fortune load with gifts or pass us by,—
What does it matter?  What should glad or grieve
Now that indifferent the loved doth lie?



There is such power even in smallest things
To bring the dear past back; a flower's tint,
A snatch of some old song, the fleeting glint
Of sunbeams on the wave,—each vivid brings

The lost days up, as from the idle strings
Of wind-harp sad a breeze evokes the hint
Of antique tunes.  A glove which keeps imprint
Of a loved hand the heart with torture wrings

By memory of a clasp meant more than speech;
A face seen in the crowd with curve of cheek
Or sweep of eyelash our woe's core can reach.

How strong is love to yearn and yet how weak
To strive with fate, the lesson all things teach,
As of the past in myriad ways they speak.


Death so brings all life's standards unto naught
That joy, in dismal paradox, brings pain,
And sorrow pleasure; joy is void and vain
When it but stabs the heart with bitter thought

Of one who may not share it.  Woe is fraught
At least with the remembrance that this bane
Hurts not the dead, till we, heart-sick, are fain
Give thanks that death to them has respite brought;

While joy so cruel is, no pang is spared
In memories of bliss our hearts have known.
Bitter it is to bear a grief unshared;

But bitterer to meet our joys alone.
Once only for the bliss of life we cared;
In desolation bliss makes sharpest moan.


We know the tales of death, whose measures run
On drownèd sailors, lying lank and chill
Under the sirupy green wave; and still,
White maids, to whose beds fleshless death has won,

Instead of love; the fair, pale bride undone
By the dread ravisher, while yet no ill
Had marred her joy; dotards whose years fulfill
A century, to end as they begun;

But who of all the dead is dead to us
Until fate smites our own?  Or maid or bride,
Dotard or mariner, though dolorous

His dying be, 'tis as a dream beside
The fiery reality when thus
Death's very self enters where we abide.


If it should be we are watched unaware
By those who have gone from us; if our sighs
Ring in their ears; if tears that scald our eyes
They see and long to stanch; if our despair

Fills them with anguish,—we must learn to bear
In strength of silence.  Howso doubt denies
It cannot give assurance which defies
All peradventure; and if anywhere

Our loved grieve with our grieving, cruel we
To cherish selfishness of woe.  The chance
Should keep us steadfast.  Tortured utterly,

This hope alone in all the world's expanse
We clutch forlornly; how deep love can be,
Grief's silence proving more than utterance.


How absolute the solitude death brings,
Though by the heartless insolence of fate
Life still goes on; though friends compassionate
About us throng,—the heart so strongly clings

Unto the past's perfect companionings
That all the world seems void and desolate.
Once e'en the waste we walked in kingly state
Since our loved shared in thought our journeyings:

Now vacant are alike the thronging street
And those familiar rooms where memory
Pictures that presence still which used to greet

Our steps returning.  Empty utterly
The universe for us, if faith, more fleet
Than doubt, outrun not cold uncertainty.


Ever for consolation grief is told
How worse might be, and woe be heaped on woe,—
As if te present pain were softened so,
Made less by fancied evils manifold.

Would the impoverished diver be consoled,
When from his hand the pearl, like melting snow,
Slips to plunge darkling in the tide below,
That the void shell has not escaped his hold?

When love has from our longing arms been torn,
What boots it if the empty world we grasp?
To those who this supreme bereavement mourn

It little matters what woe follows fast!
The worst that fate can do already borne,
The very meaning of such dread is past.


One might endure the day, wear out the night;
It is the mornig hour that wrings the heart,—
When from fair dreams that lulled our pain we start,
And find the world dissolved in misty light,

While far aloof the day-star glitters bright,
As 'twere the loved one's soul which draws apart
From whispering us in sleep.  How keen the smart
Of meeting life afresh, the bitter fight

With grief renewing; while, glad with the day,
The birds sing in sheer bliss to be alive,
The wingèd breeze crisps the trees into spray

Of verdant waves that lisp like wort-rubbed hive
Of gold-girt bees; and night we cannot stay,
Or hush the jocund noise, howe'er we strive!



The best of friends, if fate their ways doth part,
Grow strange through severance of their daily round.
New interests hold them; one by one are found
Hopes they share not together; and though heart
To heart still cling, no longer the same smart
They feel, no more with the same joyance bound.
The union once like concord of sweet sound
Does separation mar with cunning art.
When this we note, the bitter doubt is born
If death's division shall work ruin so
In love's communion; if each weary morn
Finds us remoter from the heart we know.
Ah, cruel fate, if e'en the hope forlorn
Of unseen friendship needs must fail our woe!


Whatever faith believe, still is out-run
This pleasant earth-life which love made so sweet.
Though we again in other worlds shall meet,
This joyousness forevermore is done.
Life there may be more fair; more bright the sun,
More fragrant meads in which shall stray our feet,
Love's blisses linger long and sorrows fleet;
But howso rich in joys that future, none
Can soothe our present pain, when hand seeks hand
And finds it not; when that dear voice is stilled
Scarce needed word to make us understand
The heart's best secrets; when that smile which filled
The world with light, the glance which could command
Our soul's best use, relentless fate has chilled.


Though faith be dead, yet will our hope outrun
Even the grave's doubt with triumphant might,
To reach some Devachan forever bright
Where all earth's wrong and anguish are undone;
Where as some awful star, dual though one,—
Two throbbing heart-fires in one sphere of light,—
Does soul with soul belovèd so unite
As they had ne'er been two since time begun.
What were the clasp of hand by hand, of eye
The glance to eye, even of lip on lip
The holy rapture, with such bliss to vie?
Ah, though this be illusion fate will strip
Full soon, an hour it lifts us to the sky,
And with the gods gives us full fellowship!



When from all smallest trifles we have spun
Those threads as strong as steel, though cobweb fine,
Which bind us each to each, and thus divine
Made homely cares, to know such living done
Brings weariness of all beneath the sun.
Infinite tasks are now those toils combine
To make our days; we hate those coils intwine
To hamper, when we swift life's course would run.
All duties, howe'er dull, we patient bore,
Since their use served our love; but now they tease
Our very soul with importunings sore.
Even the stripes of fate sting less than these
Gnat-bites of circumstance, which evermore
Rankle with venom nothing can appease.


Yet is there blessing even in the fret
Of petty tasks, their ministry to save
The thoughts from deeps of woe, as from the wave
Thorns lift the wretch who, falling, holds them yet
Despite their sting.  A moment we forget
Our grief for teasing cares; as to a slave
A queen might give a thought denied the brave,
Since on her path intrusive feet he set.
When all life's bliss could the bereavèd heart
From its deep, brooding woe never beguile,
The homely round of life draws us apart
From sorrow's drear absorption, and awhile
We are unconscious of the burning smart.
Toil only life and grief can reconcile.


It is to-morrow and to-morrow still,
And yet again to-morrow that our peace
shall come once more; that time shall bring surcease
From pain, and rest the yearning bosom fill;
While ever is to-day a brooding ill
Which shuts us in:  and life finds no release
From its numb ache and terror, while decrease,
To fight despair, the energy and will.
To-morrow, still to-morrow, while to-day
Ever of waning hope tells by its gloom.
That sweet mirage, to-morrow, fades away
Till it is distant as the morn of doom.
We chase it alway with no power to stay,
Since there is no to-morrow save the tomb.


With dulcimer, citole, and psaltery,
Tabor and pipe, and all the gauds of joy,
Has Love been painted, a soft, wanton boy
Dear to the nymphs and satyrs rude with glee.

They who in sorrow sit more truthfully
Know Love the sable-winged, strong to destroy
All life's illusions; mighty to employ
The soul's best powers; noble, pure, and free.

The rosy cherubs, like light butterflies,
Vanish with gloom, while night with flame enspheres
The love which is immortal whoso dies.

He shows the soul the angels as its peers;
Above the present bids the thought arise;
And slakes the heart's thirst from his cup of tears.


Ever is new, however old, despair.
The weary toiler to his load, the nun
To her strait cell, grow wonted; one by one
We tire of joys and wear out all things fair.
But sorrow is immortal.  From the glare
Of flames it seems to die in, toward the sun
It springs new-born, its Phœnix-course to run.
Its blight and shadow follow everywhere,
Fire in hot, blinding day, but double gloom
In darksome night.  Where may one flee or hide
From its approach, as terrible as doom?
In all the shores found by the searching tide
There is no hope, save it be in the tomb,—
Oh, do our loved in safety there abide?



As flower-soft Moorish girls, who circling dance
Like dusky moths about the torch's flame;
Or as fierce bearded Goths no man might tame,
Striking their clanging shields with brazen lance,
Once memories came, desire's impassioned trance
Awaking, or inspiring thirst for fame.
But where we sit to weep, with steps of shame,
In charnel cerements wound, they now advance
Like shapes dragged from their tombs.  However fair
They once have been, the grave-taint mars them all;
Their hollow tones are keyed but to despair.
Could we forget when on the coffin fall
The leaden clods, time might our woe outwear:
Would God that memory shared the loved one's pall!


Yet loss were double loss did we forget.
Who once has loved begrudges not to pay,
Since needs must be, with ache of heart alway
For love's divine; and thus the seal is set
That marks his passion true.  The sun lives yet,
When night's black ruin has o'erwhelmed the day;
And death, which claims the loved one, cannot slay
Love, the immortal.  Are not our eyes wet?
If we no longer loved why should we weep?
Since still we love, we bless that memory
Which makes love possible and strong and deep.
Bitter the fruit we pluck from memory's tree,
And yet its acrid husks a kernel keep
Sweeter than honey of Hymettian bee.


Like to a coin, passing from hand to hand
Are common memories, and day by day
The sharpness of their impress wears away.
But love's remembrances unspoiled withstand
The touch of time, as in an antique land
Where some proud town old centuries did slay,
Intaglios buried lie, still in decay
Perfect and precious spite of grinding sand.
What fame or joy or sorrow has been ours,
What we have hoped or feared, we may forget.
The clearness of all memory time deflours,
Save that of love alone, persistent yet
Though sure oblivion all things else devours,
Its tracings firm as when they first were set.


In our remembrances one poignant thought
Will haunt us still, as may some single note
Wail from the horns, then murmur from the throat
Of hautboys sad, and yet again be caught
By shrilling viols with all passion fraught;
Now high now low, now near, and now remote,
Over the tide of sound seeming to float,
As all without that tone must come to naught.
How deep is woe if memory's key-note be
Not sweet, but sad with wrong's remembered ache
Lost joy we weep, but what repentant plea
From memory of wrong the sting can take!
The weight of grief may not crush utterly,
But with remorse the bravest heart must break.



Death in its amber sets the happy past
With all its colors fair, like those bright flies
That sunned their wings beneath the young world's skies,
And still shine gem-like long as time shall last.
Sorrows that might their shadow on love cast,
Doubts that might blight, or griefs that might arise,
Can mar it not.  Safely enshrined it lies,
Perfect forever all its beauties fast.
Though this be all, still is it much to hold
The consolation of remembrance pure,
That cannot fade, or alter or wax old:
If this be earnest of some future sure,
In what winged words can its high worth be told!
Till all be known, our hearts can but endure.


If like the torch-flame which some Druid hoar
Quenched in a sacrifice, the spirit dies
When sense and seeing from the well-loved eyes
Fade utterly, and every empty shore

In all the desolate universe evermore
Even to search of God himself denies
Its shape or being, what can heart devise
Of hope or comfort for its anguish sore?

There is no comfort save the bitter thought
That we at least alone our sorrow bear;
That if the soul for which we yearn is naught,

It cannot writhe in ever fresh despair
That we are parted; and that death has wrought
On us alone this hurt beyond repair.


Of all the myriad ways which lead to Hell
The lowest deep seeks that through Paradise.
For every by-gone bliss we must the price
Of agony with no abatement tell.
Of each dear love Fate keeps the tally well,
And scores the cost with an exactness nice
Beyond a Shylock's reckoning.  No device
Can cheat her avarice.  The Sisters sell,
Not give, their boons; and dearly all men pay
To utmost farthing for what seems a gift.
Yet when grief brings of settlement the day,
The heart none of its load of debt would shift;
Though sold to be the slave of woe alway,
In love it glories at its own unthrift.


How can we call this love which selfishly
Mourns its own pain?  Surely if love were true,
So would it fill the soul as to undo
All thought of self, how sharp soe'er pain be.
How fares it with our dear loved dead, while we
Are torn with anguish?  Do they suffer too,
Thus to be parted?  Does each morn anew
Wake them to sorrow fresh; each even see
Them faint with separation's pain intense?
How poor is love, when baffled thus we moan
And reach them not, even by subtilest sense;
And poorer far, when our own woe alone
Stifles the heart into indifference,
Forgets to shudder at their griefs unknown.


Who has not, smiling, in some happiest day,—
Trifling with pain because so perfect seemed
The present joy, the foolish heart esteemed
It wise fate's jealousy thus to allay,—
Said, "Love, should we be parted!" and straightway
Such stab of anguish felt, it might be deemed
Already loss had come.  Yet who has dreamed,
Even with eyes dimmed so, what keen dismay
And burning, blighting sorrow death can bring?
"Should we be parted!" murmur loving lips,
But loving heats still to the faith will cling
That parting cannot be; until death strips
All its illusions from it, swallowing
Comfort and faith alike in bleak eclipse.



When two souls have been truly blent in one,
It could not chance that one should cease to be
And one remain alive.  'Twere falsity
To all that has been to count union done
Because death blinds the sight.  Such threads are spun
By dear communion as e'en the dread Three
Cannot or cut or disentangle.  Sea
From shore the moon may draw; but two drops run
Together, what may separate?  What thought
Touched but one brain?  What pulse-beat, faint or high,
Did not each heart share duly?  There is naught
In all we do or dream, from lightest sigh
To weightiest deed, by which we are not taught
We live together and together die.


Yet is the time so long, so long, so long!
And all the wiles by which we would persuade
Our hearts to think it short are idly made.
With leaden feet the bitter-hearted throng
Of moments pass us, each a new, slow wrong.
We fear no pang that may the life invade,
But of the lagging days we are afraid,
And shrink as slaves cringe from the stinging thong.
We did not dream, until grief made us wise,
Such vasts of time could stretch betwen day's eve
and dew-wet morn.  Never can joy surmise
How long are sorrow's hours.  Clocks deceive
With formal count that mocks in specious lies:
Time's measure truly know but those who grieve.


Oft death looks fair before our fevered eyes
As the rose-garden of the Niblung queen,
Which glowed so jewel red and white and green;
But like the silken twine unto that prize
Sole barrier, a film of doubt denies
Us entrance.  Slender till it scarce is seen,
It yet is strong as wall of steel between
Our life which is and what in darkness lies.
Though even hope be lost, there is the chance
Our loved may live, the thought our loved may know,
Restrains from desperate self-deliverance.
It is not dread of death or unknown woe,
But lest they, watching with love's vigilance,
Should see our deed and be heart-wounded so.



As some flame-crookèd, venomed Malay blade
Writhes snake-like through a dusky woman's side,
Its film of poison deep within to hide,
Does sorrow pierce, life's inmost to invade;

While human comfort would our hearts persuade
That in the hand of Time doth balm abide,
Shall time our hearts from the old love divide?
Vain were a hope could so our faith degrade.

What have we left save fealty alone?
Shall we to time this jewel yield, which yet
Vows of a faith eternal made our own?

The drop most bitter in woe's beaker set
Is doubt of our soul's firmness: he has known
Grief's sharpest who has feared he may forget!


And yet is Time a mighty angel, strong
For noble uses, who shall teach the soul
That bliss is not of life the noblest goal.
He who, woe-blind, staggers with love along
Like a corpse-bearer, does it cruel wrong,
And thrusts on his belovèd dead, whose whole
Desire to bless, the curse to be his dole.
Love that is true, above the trivial throng
Of hopes and fears, even o'er joy and pain,
Lifts the soul up to duty's awful height.
From sorrow's gloomy vales, who loves shall gain
The holy hills, led onward through grief's night
By love's white star, that steadfast doth remain
To draw him upward by its heavenly light.



When souls new-born in darkness of the tomb
Soar up ethereal unto loftier spheres,
It scarce can be that earthly hopes and fears
Cheer them or cumber longer.  Though our doom
Keep us intent on shadows in life's gloom,
To them the light of truth in glory nears.
That still our souls and theirs may walk as peers,
That glow immortal must our sight illume.
Let us no more watch phantoms; on the fleet,
Vain shows of life no longer fix our eyes.
Toward eternal truth be set our feet,
Until to theirs our lofty pathway rise;
For spirit-pure companionship be meet,
And hold our way with theirs along the skies.


As dying Roland to God solemnly,
At awful Ronceval, lifted his glove
Crimson with pagan gore, must we, above
All petty passions, the heart steadfastly
Hold up on high, all bleeding though it be
From sorrow's wounds.  By memory of the love
Which has been ours,—though hope, like the ark's dove,
Return no more,—all consecrate are we.
The heart which once such love as we have known
Has touched, forevermore is dedicate
To holy use; as when some god has shown,
By portent high, the stone decreed by fate
to be his shrine.  No more it is our own:
It is an altar where we humble wait.



We must be nobler for our dead, be sure,
Than for the quick.  We might their living eyes
Deceive with gloss of seeming; but all lies
Were vain to cheat a prescience spirit-pure.
Our soul's true worth and aim, however poor,
They see who watch us from some deathless skies
With glance death-quickened.  that no sad surprise
Sting them in seeing, be ours to secure.
Living, our loved ones make us what they dream;
Dead, if they see, they know us as we are.
Henceforward we must be, not merely seem.
Bitterer woe than death it were by far
To fail their hopes who love us to redeem;
Loss were thrice loss that thus their faith should mar.


Yet if it were not so, nor anywhere
In all the universe lived on that soul
Which had for us been all,—while stars still roll
And the sun shines nor is the world less fair
Though all their use is done,—still were our care
To be what love believed us.  Bliss or dole
Were naught beside the longings which control
Heroic hearts.  Shut in by grim despair,
Still is there left for them the high emprise,
The flattery of love to justify.
Despite the weight of woe forbids to rise,
They strive, brave though forlorn, to soar so high
Love's honor is unsmirched in all men's eyes,
Since they make true its most exacting lie.


Life chooses pain, the sole inheritance
To all her children doled.  What mother so
A birthright that was evil could bestow?
Dull savage women brave the worst mischance
To shield their babes; and brutes will fight the lance
That threats their cubs, be they however low.
Against the mother-love all creatures show,
To count man born of hate were dissonance.
Ah, Mother mystical!  May it then be
That pain, which seems so terrible a gift,
Is the best blessing we could take from thee?
A little might the thought the darkness lift;
It were a light by which the way to see
As when the moon breaks through the storm-cloud's rift.


Oh, egotism of agony! While we
Weep thus sore-stricken, filling earth with moan,
The feet of those we love, through ways unknown,
Brought into lands of living light may be.

E'en our tear-blinded eyes can dimly see
What heights are reached by sorrow's paths alone,
Where heavenly joy and radiance shall atone;
For gloom and woe have held us utterly;

And sure our dead, loftier of soul, and now
Free from the weakness human sight doth mar,
Must death with power and vision new endow.

If we, blind, groping, feel the truth afar,
They wear its very radiance on their brow.
Death takes a rush-light, but he gives a star!



But what are empty words when all is said,
To voice the woe which is too wide for speech!
After the inexpressible we reach,
And compass it no more than we the dead
Call back.  As once to joy our thoughts they led,
Now need of patience all the sad days teach;
Still "Patience—patience—patience!" murmurs each,
And ever: "Patience, since all joy is fled."
Grief needs no proof; words cannot cure its smart.
When it has striven to pour to the lees
Its infinite of woe, the tortured heart,
Panting from vain attempts its load to ease,
Covers its lips, and steals away apart,
There to sit silent with its memories.


Oh, thou whose precious memory needs no speech
While love which follows it none can impart,
If these poor words may find thee where thou art,
What they would say, but cannot, needs must reach
Thy being's core.  The grief which moans in each
And chokes its own best utterance, the smart
That stings beyond all telling, thy true heart
Will to itself with faultless prescience teach.
Small meaning may they to all else transmit;
But thou wilt in them seem to touch my hand
And seek my glance to cure the woe in it.
Even though tears be unknown in that land,
Thine eyes must fill, since, reading what is writ,
What is not written thou wilt understand!