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Sonnets from the Portuguese

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I thought once how Theocritus had sungOf the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,Who each one in a gracious hand appearsTo bear a gift for mortals, old or young:And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,Those of my own life, who by turns had flungA shadow across me.  Straightway I was ’ware,So weeping, how a mystic Shape did moveBehind me, and drew me backward by the hair;And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,—“Guess now who holds thee!”—“Death,” I said, But, there,The silver answer rang, “Not Death, but Love.”


But only three in all God’s universeHave heard this word thou hast said,—Himself, besideThee speaking, and me listening! and repliedOne of us . . . that was God, . . . and laid the curseSo darkly on my eyelids, as to amerceMy sight from seeing thee,—that if I had died,The death-weights, placed there, would have signifiedLess absolute exclusion.  “Nay” is worseFrom God than from all others, O my friend!Men could not part us with their worldly jars,Nor the seas change us, nor the tempests bend;Our hands would touch for all the mountain-bars:And, heaven being rolled between us at the end,We should but vow the faster for the stars.


Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!Unlike our uses and our destinies.Our ministering two angels look surpriseOn one another, as they strike athwartTheir wings in passing.  Thou, bethink thee, artA guest for queens to social pageantries,With gages from a hundred brighter eyesThan tears even can make mine, to play thy partOf chief musician.  What hast thou to doWith looking from the lattice-lights at me,A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing throughThe dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?The chrism is on thine head,—on mine, the dew,—And Death must dig the level where these agree.


Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor,Most gracious singer of high poems! whereThe dancers will break footing, from the careOf watching up thy pregnant lips for more.And dost thou lift this house’s latch too poorFor hand of thine? and canst thou think and bearTo let thy music drop here unawareIn folds of golden fulness at my door?Look up and see the casement broken in,The bats and owlets builders in the roof!My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.Hush, call no echo up in further proofOf desolation! there’s a voice withinThat weeps . . . as thou must sing . . . alone, aloof.


I lift my heavy heart up solemnly,As once Electra her sepulchral urn,And, looking in thine eyes, I over-turnThe ashes at thy feet.  Behold and seeWhat a great heap of grief lay hid in me,And how the red wild sparkles dimly burnThrough the ashen greyness.  If thy foot in scornCould tread them out to darkness utterly,It might be well perhaps.  But if insteadThou wait beside me for the wind to blowThe grey dust up, . . . those laurels on thine head,O my Belovëd, will not shield thee so,That none of all the fires shall scorch and shredThe hair beneath.  Stand further off then!...