I would not give my loss for all his gain.
July 9, 1877*
*The sonnet here numbered I was originally on page 50 of the manuscript. Its date indicates that it was composed at least twenty years after the inception of the Sequence. But a note in Boker's hand, "make this the first sonnet in the Book," indicates the reason why it was put in first place and a later sonnet inserted on page 50.
To say I love thee, is but uttering
A worn-out phrase. The opal-breasted dove
Coos the same story to his feathered love,
The hills, the meadows, and the forests ring
With various changes on the self-same string.
In vain my fancy labors to improve
That common utterance; for the heart will rove
From the more complex to the simpler thing.
A homely creature is the human heart;
And better pleased with such poor crumbs as fall
From straitened Nature, than the gilded pall
That bears the feast of ostentatious Art.
So let me circle backward to my start:
I can but say, I love thee, after all.
As a lorn sailor clinging to the wreck,
On which he starved through many a doleful day,
Sees o'er the waves, as evening turns to grey,
The far horizon bear one glittering speck,
Hope fires his heart; with eager, outstretched neck,
He scans the sail; she bears across his way;
A stone-cast off he marks her trim array,
Hears merry laughter pealing from her deck.
His brandished arms, his tears, his desperate cry
Are vain, unmarked. As with a blow, his flame
Of hope is quenched; the sail has passed him by.
So, nigh my darkly drifting heart, you came
In all your beauty. Was I mad, that I
Hoped to be marked? I grieve, I cannot blame.
One hope survives; but that, like the sole sun,
Covers my prospect with its fertile light
I envy none his many stars of night--
The various aims towards which his fancies run.
My lonely hope all nature lives upon.
The grasses glitter, and the flowers are bright,
Earth's changing pageant is a gorgeous sight,
Her many contrasts harmonize in one,
Because the bounties that I trust in, pour,
With God's full strength, unstinted as the fall
Of springtide showers, on me, on you, on all.
This is a hope whose daring wings out-soar
Fate's swiftest shaft, o'erleap Time's crumbling wall;
It is the hope of love: I ask no more.
My heart is sad today; I know not why.
Is it the dismal falling of the rain--
The wail of wretched winds,--the clouds that stain
The ashen circuit of the sunless sky?
My thoughts are drooping; Sorrow shuts her eye
Against relief, and hugs her moody pain;
A low dull woe creeps through my stagnant brain.
This morn I passed my lady's window by,
And she looked coldly on me.--Coldly? Nay,
Not coldly, but not warmly; for there beamed
No sudden light upon me; and she dreamed
Immovably of something far away.
Her look was but half mine--or I misdeemed,--
I know not why, but I am sad today.
Lone echoes from the dim cloud-covered shore
Of Death are booming in my throbbing brain.
I hear the rustle of my funeral train--
The wail of woe, the full, heart-staggering roar
Of the great bells. I hear the organ pour
Its sounding phrases in amidst the strain
Of the sad choir. I hear the priest complain
In measured rhetoric, and my loss deplore.
Now the last service murmurs in my ear,
Grief grows tumultuous--the sharp shameless cry
Of piercing anguish shivers to the sky.
As the piled earth grows o'er me, do I hear
Her sob, her moan?--Was that her dropping tear?
Who shrieked and fainted, falling where I lie?
I am Love's thrall and vassal. Though I wear
Chains of linked roses, and am daily fed
On scented sweets, and with my myrtled head
Am gently led into the sunny air,
Treading on garlands; though the haughty blare
Of brazen trumpets clamors to my tread
And from my shoulders flaunts the Tyrian red,
And shouting people wonder as they stare;
I am not so deluded by the show
As not to hang my sullen, captive face
While, like a moving trophy, on I go:
And all my pomp but makes my state more base,
My pride more shameful; for full well I know
That 'tis Love's triumph, not my own, I grace.
O weary watches of the dismal night!
O lone, lone soul that staggers through the dark,
Sullen and moody, like a night-bound bark,
That feels opposing surges roughly smite
Her groaning prow, and hiss behind her flight;--
Where lies thy haven? Towards what scopeless mark
Dost thou direct thy desperate course? A spark
Gleams through the darkness; and the helmsman's sight
Broods o'er the trembling needle, which is shown
Within its circuit, and by that he steers.
So I, through doubt, dismay, rebuffs, and sneers,
Have fixed my eyes upon my heart alone,--
Yea, seen it clearly, spite of blinding tears,
In my love's light: by that my course is known.
And does she love me now as yesterday?
Is love divine indeed, and scorns to wear
The mortal mantle which all else that's fair
Wears here on earth--the livery of decay?
Has use not fretted passion's palm away
In some weak spot? Some tender and most rare
Leaf of the morning withered in the air
Of this hot day? Has not some wandering ray
Fallen on my imperfections, and let slip
A vexing doubt against unworthy me?
Does not my weakness halt, my courage trip?
Shall she not come to loathe me utterly?
Time lays his solemn finger on my lip,
And says austerely, "Wait, and thou shall see."
A shame arose betwixt my Love and me.
I am not worthy to be called her own.
A thousand jeers of self-contempt have blown
My baseness in my face. I weep to see
My love lie lifeless, and my manhood flee
To vain excuses. From my shattered throne,
With crownless brows I totter, like a drone,
Too mean to keep his high regality;
And at thy feet, as at an altar, fall,
Praying for mercy, and such grace as shines
Within thy tender eyes, where ruth confines
Thy just displeasure. Pity me for all.
My very shame but puts me more in thrall.
Thy crest-fallen spaniel licks thy hand, and whines.
If I should perish e'er I pen this line,
And take my place with the forgotten dead,
I know my Love would bow her starry head,
And through her fingers strain the bitter brine:
But would her grief become a torch to shine
Before her eyes, and light the way I led?
Would my lone grave a solemn radiance shed,
And thither only all her hopes incline?
Should I poised high on heaven's far outer wall,
Watching through lonely days, impatiently,
My Love's appearance, her pale features see
Hunting for mine, with anxious eyes, midst all
The thronging souls? And would she rush and fall
Here on my heart, with "Love, I seek for thee"?
Why sing forever in this mournful way,
Vexing the future for my hidden lot?
Are today's joys unvalued and forgot,
While the red print of kindling kisses stay
Yet on my lips, and through my pulses play
The uncooled currents which our contact shot
Through every vein? O pardon! I am not
Dull nor ungrateful to this blissful day.
I clasp its bounties in a close embrace.
But still my dark prophetic soul will gaze
With searching eyes upon the coming days,
And though I hold the present's gift a grace
Above my due, my anxious hand I raise
To tear the visor from the future's face.
Perhaps in mercy is the future masked.
For who so hardy, if his fate were read,
As to abide its coming? Ah, instead
Of cloudy hopes in which my heart has basked--
Dim lights, bright shadows, airy fancies, tasked
By schooling reason--I might lie half dead,
Groaning beneath a ruthless vision spread
By that hard knowledge I so rashly asked.
For if I saw my love's disastrous end
Now laid before my horror-stricken eyes--
That whole fair web of close inwoven ties
Torn and disjoined--I would no more contend
With fate, but fly it as the coward flies,
And at one blow, both love and being rend.
O Love, I leave thee all that I hold dear,
Thy precious self, in faithful ward to keep.
I need not tell thee that my eyes would weep
At any less; for, see, this heavy tear
At a mere parting, and the doleful cheer--
The sighs, the broken words, the murmurs deep--
With which I yield my treasure. Do not sleep
Upon thy watch. Press mind, and eye, and ear
Into my service. Let no bribe out-sum
Thy priceless faith, no sudden peril prove
Thy courage wanting. Fix thy soul above
Time and time's changes. Let this greeting come
Halfway to meet me, as I hasten home--
"Behold your treasure, as you left it, Love!"
Where is my merit? By what special grace
Am I so blessed above all other men?
I have some fancy, and the art to pen
A halting sonnet to thy perfect face.
But what of that? The thrush or twittering wren
Makes sweeter music from his resting-place.
No outward beauty in my life I trace,
No thought nor deed heroical; and when
My eyes turn inward, I am stricken blind
At the abyss of weakness, folly, sin,
That like the miner's shaft, sinks far within
My darkened nature. Nowhere can I find
Cause for thy love. Rest, rest, my troubled mind!
Where reason stops, let soaring faith begin.
All the world's malice, all the spite of fate,
Cannot undo the rapture of the past.
I, like a victor, hold these glories fast;
And here defy the envious powers that wait
Upon the crumbling fortunes of our state
To snatch this myrtle chaplet, or to blast
Its smallest leaf. Thus to the wind I cast
The poet's laurel, and before their date
Summon the direst terrors of my doom:
For with this myrtle symbol of my love,
I reign exultant, and am fixed above
The petty fates that other joys consume.
As on a flowery path through life I'll move;
As through an arch of triumph, pass the tomb.
Too full of rapture was this sunny day!
My senses ache from that through which they passed:
Immortal joys were prodigally cast
Upon a mortal nature. In dismay
I felt my spirit cower, my trembling clay
At the divine effulgence shrank aghast.
My heart now paused, now shuddered; and the vast
Dim clouds of death seemed rising in my way.
O Heaven, I whispered, if my soul must dare
These awful joys, take hence this shivering clod,
Release my essence from the dress I wear
And lay my earth beneath its primal sod!
For heavenly bliss is more than man can bear,
And I must die, or here become a god.
O heart, be not bewildered with delight!
Calm the wild senses, still the dizzy brain,
Abate the fire that burns in every vein
Of my roused nature; lest my dazzled sight
Shrink into blindness with excess too bright
For mortal vision! Let me catch again
From mirrored memory, the wondrous train
Of joys that passed before my eyes tonight.
Let me recall the smile, the murmured tone
That brought me to her, and the separate bliss
That fell from every word;--the hair out-blown--
The starry eyes that glimmered under this,
And poured celestial blessing on my own--
The lingering hand--alas! the parting kiss!
June 18, 1857
Why should I love? Why lay my heart before
One who may glance with merriment or scorn
Upon my offering? I have overborne