Selected Writings of Wm Sharp, Vol. 1, Poems

FROM

THE HUMAN
INHERITANCE

1882

Praise be, the fathomless universe
For life and joy. . . and love,
sweet love.

 

FIRST WORDS

(To the one who has always first read everything I have written.)

How can I tell thee, dear, what never words
Have fitly told? How ope my heart to thee
Wherein thou mightst, as in a well, perceive
Deep down but the mere shadow of my love?
But as the wind sweeps from the icy north
To some lov'd isle in dim Pacific seas,
Or as the never-ceasing circling waves
Follow round earth the radiant orb of night,
So follow I with love unspeakable
The pathways fill'd with light which are thine own.
O love, thou art the flame that burns for me,
My steady purpose ! That no dark can quench!
Holding thy hand I fear no more to watch
The shifting of the changeful lights of Fate.

CHILDHOOD'S INHERITANCE

I

Beneath the blue vault of a summer sky,
Where little clouds with white wings strove to fly
Far from the burning noon, leagues long there lay
Wide heather moors that stretched till far away
Northward faint hills arose, and southward rolled
The ocean gleaming with sun-litten gold.

II

And 'mid a great swell of the purple waste
Close to the sea, a rock, which no hand placed
Thus lonely and afar but which was hurled
A meteor from some ruin'd starry world,
Rose dark and frowning, with its hoar sides scarred
By winter tempests and the fiercely hard
Gripe of the death-frosts that from northland 
heights
Steal silent through grim January nights,
And traced with furrows by the many tears
Of rainy autumns thro' unnumbered years.

III

The purple moorland waste alone stretched wide
Beneath the sun---no thing was seen beside
To break the long still sweep that met the sky,
No mounds of rocks confusedly piled high,
No single tree with clear boughs limned in black
Against the blue, no white and dusty track,
But only miles and miles and miles that swept
Purple to where the leagueless waters leapt.
The old rock stood forth like an ancient throne
Great tho' forgotten, where the winds alone
Paid homage, fair in the sunshine of the day,
Solemn by night with phosphorescent grey.

IV

Around, the honey-laden bees humm'd loud
With summer gladness; in a mazy cloud
Whirling the grey gnats rose and wheeled and spun
Swift golden notes within the golden sun;
And bright with all their royal emblazonries
Flashed like swift darts of fire great dragonflies.
Away across the glowing moors there rang
The lapwing's wild complaint, and far off sang
Hidden in blue a small rejoicing lark
Singing against some unseen yearn'd for mark:
About the heath the yellowhammer's cry
Piped sweet and clear, and often suddenly,
With joyus chirps and jerks, the stonechat flew
From spray to spray, and, darting flame-like through
The scented heather spires to where beneath
The ants had silent kingdoms in the heath,
The green-grey black-eyed lizard flashing shot
So swift the hawk on poised wings saw it not.

V

O'er all the deep skies arch'd a wondrous space
Of ardent azure while the sun had place,
That changed to dark, deep depths when twilight grey
Dreamt into night dark'ning to one vast shade
Of purple-black, when lamplike star by star
Sparkled or shone or pulsing flamed afar.
Silence, save for each blent and natural sound
Of earth and air---where sea-caves made the ground,
By tidal waves of ages undermined,
Groan as in travail---when the trumpet wind
All uncheck'd blew---or swelled the incessant cries
Of tossed waves in their breaking agonies.

VI

Upon the summit of the ancient stone
(Whose birth was in Time's youth), and all alone,
Sat silent, tranced, and motionless a child,
Like some sweet flow'r chance nurtured in the wild,
Sat watching seabirds, with his eager eyes
Full of the deep blue of the vaulted skies.
A child, for he indeed was little more;
A child at heart, such as whom make the door
Of heaven seem open'd here---to whom the seas
Breaking in foam, and scattered spray-swept trees
With long arms wrestling, and the winds on wings
Invisible were wondrous living things.

VII

A flower, for his wind-kissed locks unshorn
Shone yellow as gold daffodils at morn;
His eyes were blue as in the golden grain
Windflow'rs are blue, and soft as after rain
Violets that under dripping leaves have lain,
And tender as a dappled fawn's that yearn
For pity when the shrew-mice from the fern
Shake down the dew-drops; 'neath his sunlit hair
As early morning, his sweet face was fair
Beneath the sun-brown---as a white bud rose
That flushes faintly while the June sun glows.
And even as he gazed there deeper grew
Within his eyes a holier softer blue,
Where some thought brooded in their sacred
shade;
It seemed almost as if some song were laid
Asleep upon his face that yet would find
Some perfect utterance for the echoing wind
To carry to the birds; in reverie
Raptured he saw what these could never see.

VIII

Oh blessed time, when all God's world is fair
And to the soul not foreign! When the bare
Wide cruel wastes of death-encumber'd sea
Seem as the voice of God that thunderingly
Beats round the recreant earth; when morning seems
The revelation of one's utmost dreams
Of beauty; when the slow death of the day
Makes all the west one glorious crimson way
For happy souls that die; and when the moon,
Wheeling her radiant orb thro' the dark noon
Of night, with conscious splendour makes the seas
Unutterably solemn, and great trees
Lost in the shadow stand forth with huge limbs
Ghostly and clear; when bird-songs are all hymns
Of joy and praise, and every wilding flower
Is known and loved; and when each pent-up hour
Seems worse than wasted to the eager heart,
That fain would hear the thrush-wings strike apart
The beech leaves in short flight ere full and clear
Burst the sweet tide of song, or watch the deer
Stand with great eyes amid the fern, or high
Hearken the cuckoo's music fill the sky.

IX

He seemed content just silently to sit
And watch the breaking waves, the swallows flit
Like arrows through the air, save when along
The summer wind swept bearing the sweet song
Of happy larks, or the repeated cries
Of plovers when they caught the hawk's keen eyes
Fixt on their young ---and then he seem'd to be
All sight and ear, as yearning tearfully
To beat with spirit pinions that fine air
Where at the gates of heaven exceeding fair
The bird-songs rose and fell like silver tides,
Or else to be as that royal bird that prides
Itself on flinching not before the sun
But stares undaunted, so he might have spun
Downward with death upon the fierce pois'd hawk,
Saving the moorland brood: not man or boy
Seem'd he so much as some incarnate joy
At one with all things fair, flow'r o' the sod
And insect, to the Loveliness call'd God.

X

As a red rose that in full bloom doth spread
Her soft flushed bosom to the wind ere dead
'Mid fallen leaves her queenliness is gone,
So the fair westering day in glory shone
Heedless of coming night though night was nigh.
The sunset burned afar; the holy sky
Seem'd filled with heavenly forms mail'd in clear
gold,
Guiding their purple rafts through seas that rolled
The sea lay tranced watching the day expire,
Immeasurably far off in crimson fire.
And tired waves rose and fell as tbough each pray'r
Of rest long sought were granted. Everywhere
God's blessing brooded. And at last the day
With one long earthward smile, dissolved away,
Veiling her head in twilight robes where-through
The palpitating stars shone faint and few.

XI

From out the darkening vault where they had hid
Through sweltering heats of noon, swiftly there slid
Star after star, each swimming from the near
Dark blue of heaven, as from a windless mere
Rise in calm morning twilights white and clear
Young lily buds that open golden eyes
Which joy makes wider when the day doth rise.

XII

Far inland, with an oft-repeated cry
The curlew wailed, and swelled mysteriously
Hoarse sounds from the dim sea. The boy's face grew
White in the dusky shade as swiftly flew
A great grey gull close by him, like a ghost
Haunting the desolate margins of the coast:
Great moths came out, with myriad sharded wings
Huge beetles droned, and other twilight things
Hummed their dim lives away, and through the air
The flittermice wheeled whistling: while the glare
Of summer lightnings flashing furtively
Blazed for a moment o'er the sleeping sea.

XIII

At last, with a long sigh, he turn'd and slid
From the old rock, and for a little hid
His face amongst the heather-spires that shook
With cool sweet dews: then one last lingering look
Across the twilight seas, whereo'er the moon
Within her crescent shallop would sail soon,
When with swift steps he turn'd and westward fled
Across the moor by a little path that led,
Almost unseen save known, till suddenly,
Screened from the vision of the neighbouring sea
Low in a dip between two moorland mounds
A cottage lay; whereto with rapid bounds
He sped, and, bearing with him odours of salt foam,
Entered the little doorway of his home.

YOUNG LOVE

On a flower in a forest,
     A lily-bosom'd flower,
(Where never windy tempest
     Came, nor ever any shower)---
A golden hour of birthtide,
     (The sky was blue, so blue!)
Left me lying 'mid a songtide
     Of birds of every hue.

Upon the white flower swaying
     I laughed and sang in glee,
Till the thrushes long delaying
     Sang back deliciously;
And the dear white cloudlets sleeping
     Up in the blue, blue sky,
Seem'd downy cherubs peeping
     Between the pine boughs high.

A little wind came blowing
     And sang a wild-wood song,
It whispered of the flowing
     Of bubbling streams along;
I laughed, and stood, and rising
     Found I had two small wings---
So then I flew rejoicing
     Toward the water-springs.

And ever 'mid my flying,
     (A little cloud I seem'd)
I heard a great deep sighing,
     As earth in trouble dream'd;
And when I reached the river
     The sound more windlike blew:
The glad stream lisped "for ever,"
     But the sighing grew and grew.

And as I laughed and wonder'd
     Among the flowers and grass,
All suddenly it thunder'd,
     The sunlight seem'd to pass
A great wind took and blew me
     Across a grey wet sand,
And tho' I wept it threw me
     Far from the joyous land.

And now the salt waves leaping
     Pursue with hungry springs,
And baffled, blind, and weeping,
     I beat my draggled wings:
This was the great deep sighing
     I heard when I was' young---
And now, wind-weary, dying,
     My last sob-note is sung!

MOTHERHOOD

Beneath the awful full-orb'd moon
    The silent tracts of wild-rice lay
Dumb since the fervid heat of noon
    Beat through the burning Indian day;
And still as some far tropic sea
Where no winds murmur, no waves be.

The bending seeded tops alone
   Swayed in the sleepy sultry wind,
Which came and went with frequent moan
   As though some dying place to find;
While at sharp intervals there rang
The fierce cicala's piercing clang.

Deep 'mid the rice-field's green-hued gloom
    A tigress lay with birth-throes ta'en;
Her serpent tail swept o'er her womb
    As if to sweep away the pain
That clutched her by the gold-barred thighs
And shook her throat with snarling cries.

Her white teeth tore the wild-rice stems;
    And as she moaned her green eyes grew
Lurid like shining baleful gems
    With fires volcanic lighten'd through,
While froth fell from her churning jaws
Upon her skin-drawn gleaming claws.

As in a dream at some strange sound
    The soul doth seem to freeze, so she
Lay fixed like marble on the ground,
    Changed in a moment: suddenly,
A far-off roar of savage might
Boomed through the silent sultry night.

Her eyes grew large and flamed with fire;
    Her body seem'd to feel the sound
And thrill therewith, as thrills a lyre
    When wild wind wakes it with a bound
And sweeps its string-clasp'd soul along
In waves of melancholy song.

Her answering howl swept back again
    And eddied to her far mate's ear
Then once again the travail-pain
    Beat at the heart that knew no fear,
But some new instinct seem'd to rise
And yearn and wonder in her eyes.

Did presage of the coming birth
    Light up her life with mother-love,
As winds along the morning earth
    Whisper of golden dawn above?
Or was it but some sweet wild thought
Remember'd vaguely ere forgot?

Some sweet wild thought of that still night
    When underneath the low-lying moon,
Vast, awful, in its splendour white,
    Two tigers fought for love's last boon
Two striped and fire-eyed terrors strove
Through blood and foam to reach her love.

Of how their fight so deathly still
    Fill'd all her heart with savage glee
The lust to love, to slay, to kill,
    The fierce desire with him to be
Whose fangs all bloody from the fray
Should turn triumphantly away:

Of how at last with one wild cry
    One gript the other's throat and breath,
And, with hell gleaming thro' each eye,
    Shook the wild life to loveless death
Then stood with waving tail and ire
Triumphant changed to swift desire?

But once again the bitter strife
    Of wrestling sinews shook her there
And soon a little mewling life
    Met her bewildered yearning stare,
Till, through her pain, the tigress strove
With licking tongue her love to prove.

No longer fearless flamed the light
    Of great green eyes straight thro' the gloom,
Each nerve seem'd laden with affright,
    The eyes expectant of some doom
The very moonlight's steady glare
Beat hungrily about her lair.

A beetle rose, and hummed, and hung
    A moment ere it fled---but great
In face of peril to her young
    The tigress rose supreme in hate
And, with tail switching and lips drawn,
The unreal foe scowled out upon.

And when a mighty cobra, coiled
    Amid the tangled grass-roots near,
Hissed out his hunger, her blood boiled
    With rage that left no room for fear,
Till, with a howl that shook the dark,
She sprang and left him cold and stark.

But when a feeble hungry wail
    Smote on her yearning ears she turn'd
With velvet paws and refluent tail
    And eyes that no more flashed and burn'd
But flamed throughout the solemn night
Like lamps of soft sweet yellow light

To where her young was; where she lay
    Silent, and full of some strange love
Long hours. Along the star-strern way
    A comet flashed and flamed above,
And where great wastes of solemn blue
Spread starless sailed the vast moon through,

No sound disturb'd the tigress, save
    Stray jackals, or some wild boar's pant
Where thickest did the tall rice wave,
    Or trump of distant elephant;
Or, when these fill'd the night no more,
The tiger's deep tremendous roar.

II

Vast, solitary, gloomful, dark,
    Primeval forests swept away
To where the gum and stringy bark
    Against great granite mountains lay
And through their depths the twilight stole
And dusk'd still deeper each dark bole.

Deep in their pathless tracks there reared
    A huge white gum, whose giant height
When winds infrequent blew appeared
    To brush the stars out from the night
A mighty column, straight and vast,
Solemn with immemorial past:

And at its base upon a bed
    Of fern-tree leaves strewn o'er the ground
A woman lay as though lying dead---
    Dark, rigid still, without one sound:
Her fixed eyes lifted not, nor saw
The great stars tremble in strange awe.

Crouch'd near upon the tufted grass
    Two wither'd, long-haired women bent
Two dusky bodies. No sign was
    Made ever them between, nor went
From swift, slant, startled eyes a glance
To break the spell of their deep trance.

They crouch'd with heads bent down between
    Thin, black uprisen knees; their hair
Hid their dark faces like a screen,
    And, scored with thorns, their feet lay bare:
Hour after hour had watched them so,
Three shadows fixt in sphinx-like woe.

At times some wandering parrot's voice
    Clanged through the dusk; from dead trees nigh
A locust whirred its deafening noise
    And shrilled th' opossum's frequent cry
And hour by hour some slim snake stole
Hissing from fallen rotting bole.

At last, above the farthest range
    The full vast moon sail'd o'er the trees
The dead-like woman felt some change
    Thrill thro' her body; from her knees
Each shadow-watcher raised her head,
And stared with eyes of moveless dread.

Beyond---within the ghastly shade
    Of time-forgotten-gums aglow
With phosphorescent light that made
    Each trunk burn taper-like---bent low,
A savage, bearded and long-haired,
Wild-eyed across the pale gloom stared:

And when his shifting, restless eyes
    Caught the drawn woman's birthtime pang,
He shrilled a wild yell to the skies
    And high with tossing arms upsprang
Beating with eager blows a drum
And shivering with some terror dumb:

The list'ning women once again
    Shudder'd and grew more chill with fear---
Not at the harsh drum's maddening strain
    But at the spirits that were near,
The awful souls of hated dead
That creep round each wild travail-bed

The white-eyed sheeted things that steal
    Down dusky ways, and lie in wait
And from the shade their death-darts wheel
    And wreak unseen their deathless hate:
For these the fierce drum clanged and beat
The summons of a swift retreat.

What strange thoughts wander'd thro' the mind
    Of her who writhed in travail sore?
As, bearing scents and sounds, a wind
    Blows pregnant from some distant shore,
So may have blown some wind of thought
Memorious from a past forgot,

Drifting across her yearning eyes
    Stray visions of lost happy days,
And filling with strange vague surprise
    The dreary sameness of her gaze---
Dim, sweet memorial hours long lost,
Scorched by long suns, numbed by long frost.

But soon the wafted breaths that blew
    From off the deep drown'd past were blown
Aside before some sharp wind new
    Of sudden agony. A moan
Shook on her lips, and from her womb
A new life crept to outer gloom.

The watching women rose and went
    With deft hands unto her: the man
Hush'd his tempestuous instrument,
    And with fleet silent footsteps ran
To where, asleep in moonlight, lay
Some huts rough built from branches stray:

And soon thereafter, in the light
    Of the full moon, the tribe stole out
And fill'd with cries the startled night--
    Till, with claspt hands and one wild shout,
They circled round the riven frame
Of her whose blank eyes knew no shame.

But as some feeble strength came back
    She stretched out thin and claw-like hands,
With eyes as one who on a rack
    Yearns for mercy, or on strange lands
Lifts outspread arms towards his own
So yearn'd she, with a mother's moan.

Within her famish'd eyes no more
    The hunger of the body burned,
But on the fruit her womb long bore
    Their light unspeakable was turned:
And all the hunger of her love
Lighten'd the child's eyes from above.

Vast, solitary, gloomful, dark,
    Primeval forests swept away
To where the gum and stringy bark
    Against the granite mountains lay
Till, as the great moon grew more wan,
Stirred the first heart-beats of the dawn.

And o'er the pathless tracks where reared
    The huge white gum, whose boughs had seen
The woman's birth-throes, light appeared
    And lit its leaves with golden green,
And shone upon the straight trunk vast,
Solemn with immemorial past.

III

Faint scent of lilies filled the room,
    Hush'd in sweet silence and asleep
Within the dim delicious gloom:
    No windy lamp-flame strove to leap
Amidst the moveless shade, but faint
A soft light burned from censer quaint.

And dimly through the gloom loomed large
    A carven bed that seem'd to sail
Like ghost of some great funeral barge
    'Mid shadow-seas no men might hail--
Till from its depths suffused with night
The wan sheets dreamed to gleaming white.

And lo, half-hid, like some white flow'r
    Breasting the driven snow, there lay
Expectant of the awful hour
    A waiting girl, who, far away
Beyond where vision reacheth, gazed
With eyes by some strange glory dazed.

Like two strange dreams they were, wherein
    Played subtle lights of other life,
Deep depths, scarce cognisant of sin,
    Serene, beyond all clamorous strife
Two seas unsoundable as night
Yet lit to utmost depths with light.

Silent she lay, as one who low
    In some dim vast deserted nave
Bends rapt in mingled love! and woe
    While the wild, passionate, sweeping wave
Of organ music sweeps and rolls
The burden of all suffering souls.

Silent she lay, for as a palm
    Within a thirsty desert feels
A low wind break the deathly calm
    And drinks each rain-drop as it steals
Between its dry parch'd leaves, so she
Felt God's breath fill her fitfully.

The soft low wind of life divine
    Entered the darkened.womb, and there
It cleft the mystic bands that twine
    The folded bud of childhood fair,
Which, as an open'd lily, fell
From death to life's strange miracle.

O perfect bud of human flow'r
    Immaculately sweet and pure,
Shall God's first influence in this hour
    Through all thy coming life endure,
And thou expand to perfect bloom
Untouched by crash of neighbouring doom?

Or, O sweet perfect human bud,
    Shall rains thee dash, and wild winds sweep
Thy fair head to the mire and mud,
    And, with praying hands, thy mother weep
Such tears of anguish as no pain
Shall ever wring from her again?

Soft, soft, the wind of life doth breathe:--
    Some angel surely fans the while
The faint new-litten spark beneath,
    And prayeth with a piteous smile
That it may live, and living be
A victor 'midst humanity.

Silent she lay who soon should give
    This life to life: her secret thought
Strove 'mid the happy past to live
    Again that day she ne'er forgot,
That day when her young love took wing
From maidenhood's sweet-scented spring

When hand in hand she trod the ways
    Flow'r-strewn with him, and felt his eyes
Turn'd full on her with such deep gaze
    Of love triumphant, that the skies
Seem'd but a hollow dome where rang
Sweet tumult, as though angels sang:

How the hush'd drowsy afternoon
    Slipt through the summertide, till low
In the dark tranquil east the moon
    Rose vast and yellow, and more slow
The flaming star that lights the west
Lulled the sea-waters to their rest

How in the bridal chamber shone
    No other than the full-moon's light,
And how between the dusk and dawn
    A wind of passion fill'd the night
And bore resistless soul with soul
On to love's utmost crowning goal.

Silent she was, but as her mind
    Made real once more that perfect day
Her body trembled, as a wind
    Had blown upon her where she lay,
And in her eyes serene and deep
Joys unforgotten woke from sleep.

As on a mighty midnight sea
    Wind-swept, and lit by a white glare
Where intermittent lightnings flee
    And deafened by the thunderous air
Split up with tumult, one great wave
Doth rise and scorn an ocean-grave,

And, gathering volume as it rolls,
    Doth sweep triumphant till at last
It thunders up the sounding shoals
    Of stricken promontory aghast,
And leaves its crown of foam where high
The cliffs stare seaward steadily:

So from love's throbbing pulsing sea
    All lightning-lit by passion, reared
A mighty wave resistlessly
    Of mother-love, which as it neared
Fulfilment broke in one glad cry
Of sweet half-wond'ring ecstasy.

Hush! the great sea is still, and low
    The night-wind wanders; hush, for calm
The mother waits the body's woe.
    Silent she lay; mayhap a psalm
Of sacred joy sang deep within
The maiden heart unstained by sin.

Mayhap the inward vision saw
    The unborn soul arise and stand
Great in a people's love and awe,
    Crown'd not with gold by human hand
But sacred with the bays that wait
The victor in the strife of Fate

And deeper still, beheld afar
    The billows of the ages sweep
A mightier soul from star to star--
    So ever upwards through the steep
Dim ways of God's unfathom'd will
But aye by fuller periods still.

So shall it be for ever: evermore
The mystic wheel of mother-love shall whirl
Around the world, and link these three again.

THE REDEEMER

I know that my Redeemer liveth--but out of the depths of time
He hath not called to me yet. But from th' immeasurable tracts
That widen unending to where beginneth eternity
Falleth at times a voice, heart-thrilling, soul-piercing, life-giving;
High sometimes and clear, as a lark singing in a holy dawn,
Hush'd and afar off again as a dreaming wave upon seas
Lit by a low vast moon, and mindlessly sleeping, but ever
Sweet with a human love, and full of ineffable yearning,
And crying of soul unto soul from infinite deep unto deep.
And sometimes I look and gaze out upon uttermost darkness
And hear the wail of desolate winds moaning around the world--
Till the darkness shivers to light, and clashing thro' earth and heaven
I hear great wings make music, and marvellous thunderous songs
Shout "Thy Redeemer liveth, O human soul, and crieth for thee!"

LINES TO E. A. S.

Fair in my sight as white lilies that shine in the sunrise:
Sweeter than flow'rs in the meadows that scent the mornings of spring:
Dearer than vision of truth, for thou art the truth revealÚd,
Dearer than faith, for thou art the crown of aspiration,
Dearer than hope, for of hope thou art the fulfilment!
O love, love, love, thou hast turned the darkness of the world
Into ineffable light, and all its intricate ways
To straight, clear paths that lead from the depths to the heavens.
The flower of my soul sways high in the wind of thy love,
Glowing with passionate fervour through fulness of joy;
Soul with soul are we wedded, beyond the decay of the body,
And spirit hath spirit touched, beyond the confines of flesh:
Desire with mighty wings hath swept the chords of our being,
And flesh and spirit are one in the mystic union of love!

 

NEXT