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Behind the Arras A Book of the Unseen

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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

Engrosses me,

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;

One understands

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....