Arlo Bates (1850-1918)
Some biographical information.
Below is the text of Sonnets in Shadow (1887)
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
One sits by his lone hearth, and sees mount
The flame toward which of old two faces
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.