Sidney Lanier (1842-1881)

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The Harlequin of Dreams

Swift, through some trap mine eyes have never found,
Dim-panelled in the painted scene of sleep,
Thou, giant Harlequin of Dreams, dost leap
Upon my spirit’s stage. Then Sight and Sound,
Then Space and Time, then Language, Mete and Bound,
And all familiar Forms that firmly keep
Man’s reason in the road, change faces, peep
Betwixt the legs and mock the daily round.
Yet thou canst more than mock: sometimes my tears
At midnight break through bounden lids--a sign
Thou hast a heart: and oft thy little leaven
Of dream-taught wisdom works me bettered years.
In one night witch, saint, trickster, fool divine,
I think thou’rt Jester at the Court of Heaven.

Laus Mariae

Across the brook of Time man leaping goes
On stepping-stones of epochs, that uprise
Fixed, memorable, midst broad shallow flows
Of neutrals, kill-times, sleeps, indifferencies.
So mixt each morn and night rise salient heaps:
Some cross with but a zig-zag, jaded pace
From meal to meal: some with convulsive leaps
Shake the green tussocks of malign disgrace:
And some advance by system and deep art
O’er vantages of wealth, place, learning, tact:
But thou within thyself, dear manifold heart,
Dost bind all epochs in one dainty Fact.
Oh, sweet, my pretty sum of history,
I leapt the breadth of Time in loving thee!

In Absence


The storm that snapped our fate’s one ship in twain
Hath blown my half o’ the wreck from thine apart.
O Love! O Love! across the gray-waved main
To thee-ward strain my eyes, my arms, my heart.
I ask my God if e’en in His sweet place,
Where, by one waving of a wistful wing,
My soul could straightway tremble face to face
With thee, with thee, across the stellar ring--
Yea, where thine absence I could ne’er bewail
Longer than lasts that little blank of bliss
When lips draw back, with recent pressure pale,
To round and redden for another kiss--
Would not my lonesome heart still sigh for thee
What time that drear kiss-intervals must be?


So do the mottled formulas of Sense
Glide snakewise through our dreams of Aftertime;
So errors breed in reeds and grasses dense
That bank our singing rivulets of rhyme.
By Sense rule Space and Time, but in God’s land
Their intervals are not, save such as lie
Betwixt successive tones in concords bland
Whose loving distance makes the harmony.
Ah, there shall never come ‘twixt me and thee
Gross dissonances of the mile, the year;
But in the multichords of ecstasy
Our souls shall mingle, yet be featured clear,
And absence wrought to intervals divine,
Shall part, yet link, thy nature’s tone in mine.


Look down the shining peaks of all my days
Base-hidden in the valleys of deep night,
So shalt thou see the heights and depths of praise
My love would render unto love’s delight;
For I would make each day an Alp sublime
Of passionate snow, white-hot yet icy clear,
--One crystal of the true-loves of all time
Spiring the world’s prismatic atmosphere;
And I would make each night an awful vale
Deep as thy soul, obscure as modesty,
With every star in heaven trembling pale
O’er sweet profounds where only Love can see.
Oh, runs not thus the lesson thou hast taught?
When life’s all love, ‘tis life: aught else, ‘tis naught.


Let no man say, He at his lady’s feet
Lays worship that to Heaven alone belongs;
Yea, swings the incense that for God is meet
In flippant censers of light lover’s songs.
Who says it, knows not God, nor love, nor thee;
For love is large as is yon heavenly dome:
In love’s great blue, each passion is full free
To fly his favourite flight and build his home.
Did e’er a lark with sky-ward pointing beak
Stab by mischance a level-flying dove?
Wife-love flies level, his dear mate to seek:
God-love darts straight into the skies above.
Crossing the windage of each other’s wings
But speeds them both upon their journeyings.



Now at thy soft recalling voice I rise
Where thought is lord o’er Time’s complete estate,
Like as a dove from out the gray sedge flies
To tree-tops green where coos his heavenly mate.
From these clear coverts high and cool I see
How every time with every time is knit,
And each to all is mortised cunningly,
And none is sole or whole, yet all are fit.
Thus, if this Age but as a comma show
‘Twixt weightier clauses of large-worded years,
My calmer soul scorns not the mark: I know
This crooked point Time’s complex sentence clears.
Yet more I learn while, Friend! I sit by thee;
Who sees all time, sees all eternity.


By the more height of thy sweet stature grown,
Twice-eyed with thy gray vision set in mine,
I ken far lands to wifeless men unknown,
I compass stars for one-sexed eyes too fine.
No text on sea-horizons cloudily writ,
No maxim vaguely starred in fields or skies,
But this wise thou-in-me deciphers it:
Oh, thou’rt the Height of heights, the Eye of eyes.
Not hardest fortune’s most unbounded stress
Can bind my soul nor hurl it from on high,
Possessing thee, the self of loftiness,
And very light that sight discovers by.
Howe’er thou turn’st, wrong Earth! still Love’s in sight
For we are taller than the breadth of night.