Behind the Arras
I like the old house tolerably well,
Where I must dwell
Like a familiar gnome;
And yet I never shall feel quite at home:
I love to roam.
Day after day I loiter and explore
From door to door;
So many treasures lure
The curious mind. What histories obscure
They must immure!
I hardly know which room I care for best;
This fronting west,
With the strange hills in view,
Where the great sun goes,—where I may go too,
When my lease is through,—
Or this one for the morning and the east,
Where a man may feast
His eyes on looming sails,
And be the first to catch their foreign hails
Or spy their bales.
Then the pale summer twilights towards the pole!
It thrills my soul
With wonder and delight,
When gold-green shadows walk the world at night,
So still, so bright.
There at the window many a time of year,
Strange faces peer,
Solemn though not unkind,
Their wits in search of something left behind
Time out of mind;
As if they once had lived here, and stole back
To the window crack
For a peep which seems to say,
“Good fortune, brother, in your house of clay!”
And then, “Good day!”
I hear their footsteps on the gravel walk,
Their scraps of talk,
And hurrying after, reach
Only the crazy sea-drone of the beach
In endless speech.
And often when the autumn noons are still,
By swale and hill
I see their gipsy signs,
Trespassing somewhere on my border lines;
With what designs?
I forth afoot; but when I reach the place,
Hardly a trace,
Save the soft purple haze
Of smouldering camp-fires, any hint betrays
Who went these ways.
Or tatters of pale aster blue, descried
By the roadside,
Reveal whither they fled;
Or the swamp maples, here and there a shred
Of Indian red.
But most of all, the marvellous tapestry
Where such strange things are rife,
Fancies of beasts and flowers, and love and strife,
Woven to the life;
Degraded shapes and splendid seraph forms,
And teeming swarms
Of creatures gauzy dim
That cloud the dusk, and painted fish that swim,
At the weaver’s whim;
And wonderful birds that wheel and hang in the air;
And beings with hair,
And moving eyes in the face,
And white bone teeth and hideous grins, who race
From place to place;
They build great temples to their John-a-nod,
And fume and plod
To deck themselves with gold,
And paint themselves like chattels to be sold,
Then turn to mould.
Sometimes they seem almost as real as I;
I hear them sigh;
I see them bow with grief,
Or dance for joy like an aspen leaf;
But that is brief.
They have mad wars and phantom marriages;
Nor seem to guess
There are dimensions still,
Beyond thought’s reach, though not beyond love’s will,
For soul to fill.
And some I call my friends, and make believe
Their spirits grieve,
Brood, and rejoice with mine;
I talk to them in phrases quaint and fine
Over the wine;
I tell them all my secrets; touch their hands;
Perhaps. How hard he tries
To speak! And yet those glorious mild eyes,
His best replies!
I even have my cronies, one or two,
My cherished few....