Eugene Lee-Hamilton (1845-1907)

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What the Sonnet Is

Fourteen small broidered berries on the hem
Of Circe's mantle, each of magic gold;
Fourteen of lone Calypso's tears that rolled
Into the sea, for pearls to come of them;
Fourteen clear signs of omen in the gem
With which Medea human fate foretold;
Fourteen small drops, which Faustus, growing old,
Craved of the Fiend, to water Life's dry stem.
It is the pure white diamond Dante brought
To Beatrice; the sapphire Laura wore
When Petrarch cut it sparkling out of thought;
The ruby Shakespeare hewed from his heart's core;
The dark, deep emerald that Rossetti wrought
For his own soul, to wear for evermore.

Sunken Gold

In dim green depths rot ingot-laden ships;
And gold doubloons, that from the drowned hand fell,
Lie nestled in the ocean-flower's bell
With love's old gifts, once kissed by long-drowned lips;
And round some wrought gold cup the sea-grass whips,
And hides lost pearls, near pearls still in their shell,
Where sea-weed forests fill each ocean dell
And seek dim sunlight with their restless tips.
So lie the wasted gifts, the long-lost hopes
Beneath the now hushed surface of myself,
In lonelier depths than where the diver gropes;
They lie deep, deep; but I at times behold
In doubtful glimpses, on some reefy shelf
The gleam of irrecoverable gold.

Mimma Bella


What wast thou, little baby, that art dead--
A one-day's blossom that the hoar-frost nips?
A bee that's crusht, the first bright day it sips?
A small dropt gem that in the earth we tread?

Or cherub's smiling gold-encircled head,
That Death from out Life's painted missal rips?
Or murmured prayer that barely reached the lips?
Or sonnet's fair first line--the rest unsaid?

Oh, 'tis not hard to find what thou wast like;
The world is full of fair unfinished things
That vanish like a dawn-admonished elf.

Life teems with opening forms for Death to strike;
The woods are full of unfledged broken wings;
Enough for us, thou wast thy baby self.


Lo, through the open window of the room
That was her nursery, a small bright spark
Comes wandering in, as falls the summer dark,
And with a measured flight explores the gloom.

As if it sought, among the things that loom
Vague in the dusk, for sume familiar mark,
And like a light on some wee unseen bark,
It tacks in search of who knows what or whom.

I know 'tis but a fire-fly; yet its flight,
So straight, so measured, round the empty bed,
Might be a little soul's that night sets free;

And as it nears, I feel my heart grow tight
With something like a superstitious dread,
And watch it breathless, lest it should be she.

(Text from The Book of Sorrow)

Sunken Gold

The Robin gave three hops, and chirp'd and said:
"Yes, I knew Puck, and loved him; though I trow
He mimick'd oft my whistle, chuckling low;
Yes, I knew cousin Puck; but he is dead.

We found him lying on his mushroom bed--
The Wren and I--half cover'd up with snow,
As we were hopping where the berries grow.
We think he died of cold. Ay, Puck is fled."

And then the Wood-Mouse said: "We made the Mole
Dig him a little grave beneath the moss,
And four big Dormice placed him in the hole.

The Squirrel made with sticks a little cross;
Puck was a Christian elf, and had a soul;
And all we velvet jackets mourn his loss."

(Text from The Book of Sorrow)