poems and songs by Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887)
from "The Hermitage"
However small the present creature man, —
Ridiculous imitation of the gods,
Weak plagiarism on some completer world, —
Yet we can boast of that strong race to be.
The savage broke the attraction which binds fast
The fibres of the oak, and we to-day
By cunning chemistry can force apart
The elements of the air. That coming race
Shall loose the bands by which the earth attracts;
A drop of occult tincture, a spring touched
Shall outwit gravitation; men shall float,
Or lift the hills and set them down where they will.
The savage crossed the lake, and we the sea.
That coming race shall have no bounds or bars,
But, like the fledgeling eaglet, leave the nest, —
Our earthly eyrie up among the stars, —
And freely soar, to tread the desolate moon,
Or mingle with the neighbor folk of Mars.
Yea, if the savage learned by sign and sound
To bridge the chasm to his fellow's brain,
Till now we flash our whispers round the globe,
That race shall signal over the abyss
To those bright souls who throng the outer courts
Of life, impatient who shall greet men first
And solve the riddles that we die to know.
"The Hermitage," written in 1866, was first published in The
Hermitage and Other Poems in 1868. The first landing of men on
the Moon was in 1969. Did the quoted passage have an influence on
naming the first lunar module? "The Eagle has landed!" It seems
remarkable that the phrase "to tread the desolate moon" was
written 103 years before it became a reality.
Apollo 11 (1969) lunar module "Eagle"
Hubble Space Telescope (2018-07-26) Mars at opposition
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2017) near south pole of Mars
This hole is hundreds of feet across. Since the atmosphere of
Mars is 96% carbon dioxide, the white patches surrounding
and at the bottom of the hole are dry ice. The hole does not look
as if it was caused by a meteorite impact. The edges of the hole
look too precise for it to have been a cave-in. With only traces
of oxygen in the atmosphere, an underground explosion great
enough to blast upwards a mass of material hundreds of feet
across may be impossible. Perhaps the hole was engineered by
Sing me, thou Singer, a song of gold!
Said a careworn man to me:
So I sang of the golden summer days,
And the sad, sweet autumn's yellow haze,
Till his heart grew soft, and his mellowed gaze
Was a kindly sight to see.
Sing me, dear Singer, a song of love!
A fair girl asked of me:
Then I sang of a love that clasps the Race,
Gives all, asks naught — till her kindled face
Was radiant with the starry grace
Of blessed Charity.
Sing me, O Singer, a song of life!
Cried an eager youth to me:
And I sang of the life without alloy,
Beyond our years, till the heart of the boy
Caught the golden beauty, and love, and joy
Of the great Eternity.
The Open Window
My tower was grimly builded,
With many a bolt and bar,
"And here," I thought, "I will keep my life
From the bitter world afar."
Dark and chill was the stony floor,
Where never a sunbeam lay,
And the mould crept up on the dreary wall,
With its ghost touch, day by day.
One morn, in my sullen musings,
A flutter and cry I heard;
And close at the rusty casement
There clung a frightened bird.
Then back I flung the shutter
That was never before undone,
And I kept till its wings were rested
The little weary one.
But in through the open window,
Which I had forgot to close,
There had burst a gush of sunshine
And a summer scent of rose.
For all the while I had burrowed
There in my dingy tower,
Lo! the birds had sung and the leaves had danced
From hour to sunny hour.
And such balm and warmth and beauty
Came drifting in since then,
That window still stands open
And shall never be shut again.
The Things That Will Not Die
What am I glad will stay when I have passed
From this dear valley of the world, and stand
On yon snow-glimmering peaks, and lingering cast
From that dim land
A backward look, and haply stretch my hand,
Regretful, now the wish comes true at last?
Sweet strains of music I am glad will be
Still wandering down the wind, for men will hear
And think themselves from all their care set free,
And heaven near
When summer stars burn very still and clear,
And waves of sound are swelling like the sea.
And it is good to know that overhead
Blue skies will brighten, and the sun will shine,
And flowers be sweet in many a garden bed,
And all divine
(For are they not, O Father, thoughts of thine?)
Earth's warmth and fragrance shall on men be shed.
And I am glad that Night will always come,
Hushing all sounds, even the soft-voiced birds,
Putting away all light from her deep dome,
Until are heard
In the wide starlight's stillness, unknown words,
That make the heart ache till it find its home.
And I am glad that neither golden sky,
Nor violet lights that linger on the hill,
Nor ocean's wistful blue shall satisfy,
But they shall fill
With wild unrest and endless longing still
The soul whose hope beyond them all must lie.
And I rejoice that love shall never seem
So perfect as it ever was to be,
But endlessly that inner haunting dream
Each heart shall see
Hinted in every dawn's fresh purity,
Hopelessly shadowed in each sunset's gleam.
And though warm mouths will kiss and hands will cling,
And thought by silent thought be understood,
I do rejoice that the next hour will bring
That far-off mood,
That drives one like a lonely child to God,
Who only sees and measures everything.
And it is well that when these feet have pressed
The outward path from earth, 't will not seem sad
To them to stay; but they who love me best
Will be most glad
That such a long unquiet now has had,
At last, a gift of perfect peace and rest.
The Tree of My Life
When I was yet but a child, the gardener gave me a tree,
A little slim elm, to be set wherever seemed good to me.
What a wonderful thing it seemed! with its lace-edge leaves uncurled,
And its span-long stem, that should grow to the grandest tree in the world!
So I searched all the garden round, and out over field and hill,
But not a spot could I find that suited my wayward will.
I would have it bowered in the grove, in a close and quiet vale;
I would rear it aloft on the height, to wrestle with the gale.
Then I said, "I will cover its roots with a little earth by the door,
And there it shall live and wait, while I search for a place once more."
But still I could never find it, the place for my wondrous tree,
And it waited and grew by the door, while years passed over me;
Till suddenly, one fine day, I saw it was grown too tall,
And its roots gone down too deep, to be ever moved at all.
So here it is growing still, by the lowly cottage door;
Never so grand and tall as I dreamed it would be of yore,
But it shelters a tired old man in its sunshine-dappled shade,
The children's pattering feet round its knotty knees have played,
Dear singing birds in a storm sometimes take refuge there,
And the stars through its silent boughs shine gloriously fair.
Truth At Last
Does a man ever give up hope, I wonder, —
Face the grim fact, seeing it clear as day?
When Bennen saw the snow slip, heard its thunder
Low, louder, roaring round him, felt the speed
Grow swifter as the avalanche hurled downward,
Did he for just one heart-throb — did he indeed
Know with all certainty, as they swept onward,
There was the end, where the crag dropped away?
Or did he think, even till they plunged and fell,
Some miracle would stop them? Nay, they tell
That he turned round, face forward, calm and pale,
Stretching his arms out toward his native vale
As if in mute, unspeakable farewell,
And so went down. — 'T is something, if at last,
Though only for a flash, a man may see
Clear-eyed the future as he sees the past,
From doubt, or fear, or hope's illusion free.
A Morning Thought
What if some morning, when the stars were paling,
And the dawn whitened, and the East was clear,
Strange peace and rest fell on me from the presence
Of a benignant Spirit standing near:
And I should tell him, as he stood beside me,
"This is our Earth — most friendly Earth, and fair;
Daily its sea and shore through sun and shadow
Faithful it turns, robed in its azure air:
"There is blest living here, loving and serving,
And quest of truth, and serene friendships dear;
But stay not, Spirit! Earth has one destroyer, —
His name is Death: flee, lest he find thee here!"
And what if then, while the still morning brightened,
And freshened in the elm the Summer's breath,
Should gravely smile on me the gentle angel
And take my hand and say, "My name is Death!"
Among the Redwoods
Farewell to such a world! Too long I press
The crowded pavement with unwilling feet.
Pity makes pride, and hate breeds hatefulness,
And both are poisons. In the forest, sweet
The shade, the peace! Immensity, that seems
To drown the human life of doubts and dreams.
Far off the massive portals of the wood,
Buttressed with shadows, misty-blue, serene,
Waited my coming. Speedily I stood
Where the dun wall rose roofed in plumy green.
Dare one go in? — Glance backward! Dusk as night
Each column, fringed with sprays of amber light.
Let me, along this fallen bole, at rest,
Turn to the cool, dim, roof my glowing face.
Delicious dark on weary eyelids prest!
Enormous solitude of silent space,
But for a low and thunderous ocean sound,
Too far to hear, felt throbbing through the ground!
No stir nor call the sacred hush profanes;
Save when from some bare treetop, far on high,
Fierce disputations of the clamorous cranes
Fall muffled, as from out the upper sky.
So still, one dreads to wake the dreaming air,
Breaks a twig softly, moves the foot with care.
The hollow dome is green with empty shade,
Struck through with slanted shafts of afternoon;
Aloft, a little rift of blue is made,
Where slips a ghost that last night was the moon;
Beside its pearl a sea-cloud stays its wing,
Beneath a tilted hawk is balancing.
The heart feels not in every time and mood
What is around it. Dull as any stone
I lay; then, like a darkening dream, the wood
Grew Karnak's temple, where I breathed alone
In the awed air strange incense, and uprose
Dim, monstrous columns in their dread repose.
The mind not always sees; but if there shine
A bit of fern-lace bending over moss,
A silky glint that rides a spider-line,
On a trefoil two shadow-spears that cross,
Three grasses that toss up their nodding heads,
With spring and curve like clustered fountain-threads, —
Suddenly, through side windows of the eye,
Deep solitudes, where never souls have met;
Vast spaces, forest corridors that lie
In a mysterious world, unpeopled yet.
Because the outward eye elsewhere was caught,
The awfulness and wonder come unsought.
If death be but resolving back again
Into the world's deep soul, this is a kind
Of quiet, happy death, untouched by pain
Or sharp reluctance. For I feel my mind
Is interfused with all I hear and see;
As much a part of All as cloud or tree.
Listen! A deep and solemn wind on high;
The shafts of shining dust shift to and fro;
The columned trees sway imperceptibly,
And creak as mighty masts when trade-winds blow.
The cloudy sails are set; the earth-ship swings
Along the sea of space to grander things.
To the Unknown Soul
O soul, that somewhere art my very kin,
From dusk and silence unto thee I call!
I know not where thou dwellest: if within
A palace or a hut; if great or small
Thy state and store of fortune; if thou'rt sad
This moment, or most glad;
The lordliest monarch or the lowest thrall.
But well I know — since thou'rt my counterpart —
Thou bear'st a clouded spirit; full of doubt
And old misgiving, heaviness of heart
And loneliness of mind; long wearied out
With climbing stairs that lead to nothing sure,
With chasing lights that lure,
In the thick murk that wraps us all about.
As across many instruments a flute
Breathes low, and only thrills its selfsame tone,
That wakes in music while the rest are mute,
So send thy voice to me! Then I alone
Shall hear and answer; and we two will fare
Together, and each bear
Twin burdens, lighter now than either one.
A troop of babes in Summer Land,
At heaven's gate — the children's gate:
One lifts the latch with rosy hand,
Then turns and, dimpling, asks her mate, —
"What was the last thing that you saw?"
"I lay and watched the dawn begin,
And suddenly, through the thatch of straw,
A great, clear morning star laughed in."
"And you?" "A floating thistle-down,
Against June sky and cloud-wings white."
"And you?" "A falling blow, a frown —
It frightens me yet; oh, clasp me tight!"
"And you?" "A face through tears that smiled" —
The trembling lips could speak no more;
The blue eyes swam; the lonely child
Was homesick even at heaven's door.
A Bird's Song
The shadow of a bird
On the shadow of a bough;
Sweet and clear his song is heard,
"Seek me now — I seek thee now."
The bird swings out of reach in the swaying tree,
But his shadow on the garden walk below belongs to me.
The phantom of my Love
False dreams with hope doth fill,
Softly singing far above,
"Love me still — I love thee still!"
The cruel vision hovers at my sad heart's door,
But the soul-love is soaring out of reach forevermore.
The Lover's Song
2002 tune by John McDonnell
Lend me thy fillet, Love!
I would no longer see;
Cover mine eyelids close awhile,
And make me blind like thee.
Then might I pass her sunny face,
And know not it was fair;
Then might I hear her voice, nor guess
Her starry eyes were there.
Ah! banished so from stars and sun —
Why need it be my fate?
If only she might deem me good
And wise, and be my mate!
Lend her thy fillet, Love!
Let her no longer see:
If there is hope for me at all,
She must be blind like thee.
My Peace Thou Art
After Schubert's "Du Bist Mein' Ruh'"
My peace thou art, thou art my rest;
From thee my pain, in thee so blest:
Enter mine eyes, this heart draw near;
Oh come, oh dwell forever here.
Enter, and close the door, and come,
And be this breast thine endless home;
Shut out all lesser care and woe,
I would thy hurt and healing know.
Clear light that on my soul hath shone,
Still let it shine from thee alone,
From thee alone.
Mir Aus Den Augen
From a Polish Song of Chopin
"Away! Let not mine eyes, my heart, behold you!"
It was your right to choose; I heard you say,
"Forget! We must forget!" Love might have told you
'T was vain. You could not, more than I, obey.
As the dim shadows down the pastures lengthen,
The further sinks the day-star's fading fire,
So in your breast will tender memories strengthen,
Deeper and darker as my steps retire.
At every hour, in every place of meeting,
Where we together shared delight and pain,
Yes, everywhere will dear thoughts keep repeating,
"Here, too, his voice, his look, his touch, remain!"
Wiegenlied (Cradle Song)
Be still and sleep, my soul!
Now gentle-footed Night,
In softly shadowed stole,
Holds all the day from sight.
Why shouldst thou lie and stare
Against the dark, and toss,
And live again thy care,
Thine agony and loss?
'T was given thee to live,
And thou hast lived it all;
Let that suffice, nor give
One thought what may befall.
Thou hast no need to wake,
Thou art no sentinel;
Love all thy care will take,
And Wisdom watcheth well.
Weep not, think not, but rest!
The stars in silence roll;
On the world's mother-breast,
Be still and sleep, my soul!
A Song in the Afternoon
Come, and let's grow old,
And let's grow old together!
Boyhood's heart was wondrous bold,
And light as any feather,
Rollicking and frolicking
In every wind and weather;
But come now, let's grow old,
And let's grow old together!
Come and let's be leal
And true to one another!
Boys are fickle; as they feel,
So they do; love this and t'other;
Borrowing or sorrowing
With any man and brother;
But come now, let's be leal
And true to one another!
Come, and let's be wise,
And wag our heads sedately!
Cooler breezes clear the skies,
And sight is lengthened greatly.
Jolly days were folly days;
We doff the motley lately.
So come now, let's be wise,
And wag our heads sedately!
Come then, and let's grow old,
So we grow old together!
Wits are thin o'er apple chin,
Long beards give length of tether.
Spring may yearn, and summer burn,
Your fall's the finest weather.
So come now, let's grow old,
And let's grow old together!
In a Far Country
Once, in a dream, in a bleak, sea-blown land,
A man wreck-stranded many a month before
Saw for a moment — not the broken oar,
Nor sand-sunk keel; nor wild men that would stand
With uncouth gibberish on either hand
If he walked forth, or peered about the door
Where stretched he lay on his rude hut's beach-floor;
Nor heard the dull waves fretting at the sand:
But heard once more, this blessed dream within,
The mother-tongue heard not these many years,
And old familiar motions had their power;
Saw, for once more, the faces of his kin,
And took their hands, half-laughing, half in tears,
And it was home, home, home, for this one hour.
Nature and Her Child
As some poor child whose soul is windowless,
Having not hearing, speech, nor sight, sits lone
In her dark, silent life, till cometh one
With a most patient heart, who tries to guess
Some hidden way to help her helplessness,
And, yearning for that spirit shut in stone,
A crystal that has never seen the sun,
Smooths now the hair, and now the hand will press,
Or gives a key to touch, then letters raised,
Its symbol; then an apple, or a ring,
And again letters, so, all blind and dumb,
We wait; the kindly smiles of summer come,
And soft winds touch our cheek, and thrushes sing;
The world-heart yearns, but we stand dull and dazed.
If quiet autumn mornings would not come,
With golden light, and haze, and harvest wain,
And spices of the dead leaves at my feet;
If sunsets would not burn through cloud, and stain
With fading rosy flush the dusky dome;
If the young mother would not croon that sweet
Old sleep-song, like the robin's in the rain;
If the great cloud-ships would not float and drift
Across such blue all the calm afternoon;
If night were not so hushed; or if the moon
Might pause forever by that pearly rift,
Nor fill the garden with its flood again;
If the world were not what it still must be,
Then might I live forgetting love and thee.
I looked across the lawn one summer's day,
Deep shadowed, dreaming in the drowsy light,
And thought, what if this afternoon, so bright
And still, should end it? — as it may.
Blue dome, and flocks of fleece that slowly pass
Before the pale old moon, the while she keeps
Her sleepy watch, and ancient pear that sweeps
Its low, fruit-laden skirts along the grass.
What if I had to say to all of these,
"So this is the last time" — suddenly there
My love came loitering under the great trees;
And now the thought I could no longer bear:
Startled I flung it from me, as one flings
All sharply from the hand a bee that stings.
The Book of Hours
As one who reads a tale writ in a tongue
He only partly knows, — runs over it
And follows but the story, losing wit
And charm, and half the subtle links among
The haps and harms that the book's folk beset, —
So do we with our life. Night comes, and morn:
I know that one has died and one is born;
That this by love and that by hate is met.
But all the grace and glory of it fail
To touch me, and the meanings they enfold.
The Spirit of the World hath told the tale,
And tells it: and 't is very wise and old.
But o'er the page there is a mist and veil:
I do not know the tongue in which 't is told.
The Crickets in the Fields
One, or a thousand voices? — filling noon
With such an undersong and drowsy chant
As sings in ears that waken from a swoon,
And know not yet which world such murmurs haunt:
Single, then double beats, reiterant;
Far off and near; one ceaseless, changeless tune.
If bird or breeze awake the dreamy will,
We lose the song, as it had never been;
Then suddenly we find 't is singing still
And had not ceased. — So, friend of mine, within
My thoughts one underthought, beneath the din
Of life, doth every quiet moment fill.
Thy voice is far, thy face is hid from me,
But day and night are full of dreams of thee.
What wind from what celestial wood hath sown
Such delicate seed as springs in air, and turns
The blue heaven-garden to a bed of ferns
In feathery cloud? They are not tossed, or blown
To such wild shapes, but motionless they ride,
Like a celestial frost-work on the pane
Of our sky-window, where the breath has lain
Of the pure cold upon the thither side.
They are but pencil touches, soft and light,
Traced faintly under some magnetic spell
By an entranced spirit, that would write
Hints of heaven-language ere the soul's release, —
Dim outlines of the syllables that tell
Of words like faith, and confidence, and peace.