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by Oscar Wilde, 1881

It is full Winter now: the trees are bare,
   Save where the cattle huddle from the cold
 Beneath the pine, for it doth never wear
   The Autumn’s gaudy livery whose gold
 Her jealous brother pilfers, but is true
 To the green doublet; bitter is the wind, as though it blew

 From Saturn’s cave; a few thin wisps of hay
   Lie on the sharp black hedges, where the wain
 Dragged the sweet pillage of a summer’s day
   From the low meadows up the narrow lane;
 Upon the half-thawed snow the bleating sheep
 Press close against the hurdles, and the shivering house-dogs creep

 From the shut stable to the frozen stream
   And back again disconsolate, and miss
 The bawling shepherds and the noisy team;
   And overhead in circling listlessness
 The cawing rooks whirl round the frosted stack,
 Or crowd the dripping boughs; and in the fen the ice-pools crack

 Where the gaunt bittern stalks among the reeds
   And flaps his wings, and stretches back his neck,
 And hoots to see the moon; across the meads
   Limps the poor frightened hare, a little speck;
 And a stray seamew with its fretful cry
 Flits like a sudden drift of snow against the dull grey sky.

 Full winter: and the lusty goodman brings
   His load of faggots from the chilly byre,
 And stamps his feet upon the hearth, and flings
   The sappy billets on the waning fire,
 And laughs to see the sudden lightening scare
 His children at their play; and yet,—the Spring is in the air,

 Already the slim crocus stirs the snow,
   And soon yon blanchèd fields will bloom again
 With nodding cowslips for some lad to mow,
   For with the first warm kisses of the rain
 The winter’s icy sorrow breaks to tears,
 And the brown thrushes mate, and with bright eyes the rabbit peers

 From the dark warren where the fir-cones lie,
   And treads one snowdrop under foot, and runs
 Over the mossy knoll, and blackbirds fly
   Across our path at evening, and the suns
 Stay longer with us; ah! how good to see
 Grass-girdled Spring in all her joy of laughing greenery

 Dance through the hedges till the early rose,
   (That sweet repentance of the thorny briar!)
 Burst from its sheathèd emerald and disclose
   The little quivering disk of golden fire
 Which the bees know so well, for with it come
 Pale boys-love, sops-in-wine, and daffadillies all in bloom.

 Then up and down the field the sower goes,
   While close behind the laughing younker scares
 With shrilly whoop the black and thievish crows,
   And then the chestnut-tree its glory wears,
 And on the grass the creamy blossom falls
 In odorous excess, and faint half-whispered madrigals

 Steal from the bluebells’ nodding carillons
   Each breezy morn, and then white jessamine,
 That star of its own heaven, snapdragons
   With lolling crimson tongues, and eglantine
 In dusty velvets clad usurp the bed
 And woodland empery, and when the lingering rose hath shed

 Red leaf by leaf its folded panoply,
   And pansies closed their purple-lidded eyes,
 Chrysanthemums from gilded argosy
   Unload their gaudy scentless merchandise,
 And violets getting overbold withdraw
 From their shy nooks, and scarlet berries dot the leafless haw.

 O happy field! and O thrice happy tree!
   Soon will your queen in daisy-flowered smock
 And crown of flowre-de-luce trip down the lea,
   Soon will the lazy shepherds drive their flock
 Back to the pasture by the pool, and soon
 Through the green leaves will float the hum of murmuring bees at noon.

 Soon will the glade be bright with bellamour,
   The flower which wantons love, and those sweet nuns
 Vale-lilies in their snowy vestiture
   Will tell their beaded pearls, and carnations
 With mitred dusky leaves will scent the wind,
 And straggling traveller’s joy each hedge with yellow stars will bind.

 Dear Bride of Nature and most bounteous Spring!
   That can’st give increase to the sweet-breath’d kine,
 And to the kid its little horns, and bring
   The soft and silky blossoms to the vine,
 Where is that old nepenthe which of yore
 Man got from poppy root and glossy-berried mandragore!

 There was a time when any common bird
   Could make me sing in unison, a time
 When all the strings of boyish life were stirred
   To quick response or more melodious rhyme
 By every forest idyll;—do I change?
 Or rather doth some evil thing through thy fair pleasaunce range?

 Nay, nay, thou art the same: ’tis I who seek
   To vex with sighs thy simple solitude,
 And because fruitless tears bedew my cheek
   Would have thee weep with me in brotherhood;
 Fool! shall each wronged and restless spirit dare
 To taint such wine with the salt poison of his own despair!

 Thou art the same: ’tis I whose wretched soul
   Takes discontent to be its paramour,
 And gives its kingdom to the rude control
   Of what should be its servitor,—for sure
 Wisdom is somewhere, though the stormy sea
 Contain it not, and the huge deep answer “’Tis not in me.”

 To burn with one clear flame, to stand erect
   In natural honour, not to bend the knee
 In profitless prostrations whose effect
   Is by itself condemned, what alchemy
 Can teach me this? what herb Medea brewed
 Will bring the unexultant peace of essence not subdued?

 The minor chord which ends the harmony,
   And for its answering brother waits in vain,
 Sobbing for incompleted melody
   Dies a Swan’s death; but I the heir of pain
 A silent Memnon with blank lidless eyes
 Wait for the light and music of those suns which never rise.

 The quenched-out torch, the lonely cypress-gloom,
   The little dust stored in the narrow urn,
 The gentle XAIPE of the Attic tomb,—
   Were not these better far than to return
 To my old fitful restless malady,
 Or spend my days within the voiceless cave of misery?

 Nay! for perchance that poppy-crownèd God
   Is like the watcher by a sick man’s bed
 Who talks of sleep but gives it not; his rod
   Hath lost its virtue, and, when all is said,
 Death is too rude, too obvious a key
 To solve one single secret in a life’s philosophy.

 And Love! that noble madness, whose august
   And inextinguishable might can slay
 The soul with honied drugs,—alas! I must
   From such sweet ruin play the runaway,
 Although too constant memory never can
 Forget the archèd splendour of those brows Olympian

 Which for a little season made my youth
   So soft a swoon of exquisite indolence
 That all the chiding of more prudent Truth
   Seemed the thin voice of jealousy,—O Hence
 Thou huntress deadlier than Artemis!
 Go seek some other quarry! for of thy too perilous bliss

 My lips have drunk enough,—no more, no more,—
   Though Love himself should turn his gilded prow
 Back to the troubled waters of this shore
   Where I am wrecked and stranded, even now
 The chariot wheels of passion sweep too near,
 Hence! Hence! I pass unto a life more barren, more austere.

 More barren—ay, those arms will never lean
   Down through the trellised vines and draw my soul
 In sweet reluctance through the tangled green;
   Some other head must wear that aureole,
 For I am Hers who loves not any man
 Whose white and stainless bosom bears the sign Gorgonian.

 Let Venus go and chuck her dainty page,
   And kiss his mouth, and toss his curly hair,
 With net and spear and hunting equipage
   Let young Adonis to his tryst repair,
 But me her fond and subtle-fashioned spell
 Delights no more, though I could win her dearest citadel.

 Ay, though I were that laughing shepherd boy
   Who from Mount Ida saw the little cloud
 Pass over Tenedos and lofty Troy
   And knew the coming of the Queen, and bowed
 In wonder at her feet, not for the sake
 Of a new Helen would I bid her hand the apple take.

 Then rise supreme Athena argent-limbed!
   And, if my lips be musicless, inspire
 At least my life: was not thy glory hymned
   By One who gave to thee his sword and lyre
 Like Æschylus at well-fought Marathon,
 And died to show that Milton’s England still could bear a son!

 And yet I cannot tread the Portico
   And live without desire, fear, and pain,
 Or nurture that wise calm which long ago
   The grave Athenian master taught to men,
 Self-poised, self-centred, and self-comforted,
 To watch the world’s vain phantasies go by with unbowed head.

 Alas! that serene brow, those eloquent lips,
   Those eyes that mirrored all eternity,
 Rest in their own Colonos, an eclipse
   Hath come on Wisdom, and Mnemosyne
 Is childless; in the night which she had made
 For lofty secure flight Athena’s owl itself hath strayed.

 Nor much with Science do I care to climb,
   Although by strange and subtle witchery
 She draw the moon from heaven: the Muse of Time
   Unrolls her gorgeous-coloured tapestry
 To no less eager eyes; often indeed
 In the great epic of Polymnia’s scroll I love to read

 How Asia sent her myriad hosts to war
   Against a little town, and panoplied
 In gilded mail with jewelled scimetar,
   White-shielded, purple-crested, rode the Mede
 Between the waving poplars and the sea
 Which men call Artemisium, till he saw Thermopylæ

 Its steep ravine spanned by a narrow wall,
   And on the nearer side a little brood
 Of careless lions holding festival!
   And stood amazèd at such hardihood,
 And pitched his tent upon the reedy shore,
 And stayed two days to wonder, and then crept at midnight o’er

 Some unfrequented height, and coming down
   The autumn forests treacherously slew
 What Sparta held most dear and was the crown
   Of far Eurotas, and passed on, nor knew
 How God had staked an evil net for him
 In the small bay of Salamis,—and yet, the page grows dim,

 Its cadenced Greek delights me not, I feel
   With such a goodly time too out of tune
 To love it much: for like the Dial’s wheel
   That from its blinded darkness strikes the noon
 Yet never sees the sun, so do my eyes
 Restlessly follow that which from my cheated vision flies.

 O for one grand unselfish simple life
   To teach us what is Wisdom! speak ye hills
 Of lone Helvellyn, for this note of strife
   Shunned your untroubled crags and crystal rills,
 Where is that Spirit which living blamelessly
 Yet dared to kiss the smitten mouth of his own century!

 Speak ye Rydalian laurels! where is He
   Whose gentle head ye sheltered, that pure soul
 Whose gracious days of uncrowned majesty
   Through lowliest conduct touched the lofty goal
 Where Love and Duty mingle! Him at least
 The most high Laws were glad of, he had sat at Wisdom’s feast,

 But we are Learning’s changelings, know by rote
   The clarion watchword of each Grecian school
 And follow none, the flawless sword which smote
   The pagan Hydra is an effete tool
 Which we ourselves have blunted, what man now
 Shall scale the august ancient heights and to old Reverence bow?

 One such indeed I saw, but, Ichabod!
   Gone is that last dear son of Italy,
 Who being man died for the sake of God,
   And whose unrisen bones sleep peacefully.
 O guard him, guard him well, my Giotto’s tower,
 Thou marble lily of the lily town! let not the lour

 Of the rude tempest vex his slumber, or
   The Arno with its tawny troubled gold
 O’erleap its marge, no mightier conqueror
   Clomb the high Capitol in the days of old
 When Rome was indeed Rome, for Liberty
 Walked like a Bride beside him, at which sight pale Mystery

 Fled shrieking to her farthest sombrest cell
   With an old man who grabbled rusty keys,
 Fled shuddering for that immemorial knell
   With which oblivion buries dynasties
 Swept like a wounded eagle on the blast,
 As to the holy heart of Rome the great triumvir passed.

 He knew the holiest heart and heights of Rome,
   He drave the base wolf from the lion’s lair,
 And now lies dead by that empyreal dome
   Which overtops Valdarno hung in air
 By Brunelleschi—O Melpomene
 Breathe through thy melancholy pipe thy sweetest threnody!

 Breathe through the tragic stops such melodies
   That Joy’s self may grow jealous, and the Nine
 Forget a-while their discreet emperies,
   Mourning for him who on Rome’s lordliest shrine
 Lit for men’s lives the light of Marathon,
 And bare to sun-forgotten fields the fire of the sun!

 O guard him, guard him well, my Giotto’s tower,
   Let some young Florentine each eventide
 Bring coronals of that enchanted flower
   Which the dim woods of Vallombrosa hide,
 And deck the marble tomb wherein he lies
 Whose soul is as some mighty orb unseen of mortal eyes.

 Some mighty orb whose cycled wanderings,
   Being tempest-driven to the farthest rim
 Where Chaos meets Creation and the wings
   Of the eternal chanting Cherubim
 Are pavilioned on Nothing, passed away
 Into a moonless void,—and yet, though he is dust and clay,

 He is not dead, the immemorial Fates
   Forbid it, and the closing shears refrain,
 Lift up your heads ye everlasting gates!
   Ye argent clarions sound a loftier strain!
 For the vile thing he hated lurks within
 Its sombre house, alone with God and memories of sin.

 Still what avails it that she sought her cave
   That murderous mother of red harlotries?
 At Munich on the marble architrave
   The Grecian boys die smiling, but the seas
 Which wash Ægina fret in loneliness
 Not mirroring their beauty, so our lives grow colourless

 For lack of our ideals, if one star
   Flame torch-like in the heavens the unjust
 Swift daylight kills it, and no trump of war
   Can wake to passionate voice the silent dust
 Which was Mazzini once! rich Niobe
 For all her stony sorrows hath her sons, but Italy!

 What Easter Day shall make her children rise,
   Who were not Gods yet suffered? what sure feet
 Shall find their graveclothes folded? what clear eyes
   Shall see them bodily? O it were meet
 To roll the stone from off the sepulchre
 And kiss the bleeding roses of their wounds, in love of Her

 Our Italy! our mother visible!
   Most blessed among nations and most sad,
 For whose dear sake the young Calabrian fell
   That day at Aspromonte and was glad
 That in an age when God was bought and sold
 One man could die for Liberty! but we, burnt out and cold,

 See Honour smitten on the cheek and gyves
   Bind the sweet feet of Mercy: Poverty
 Creeps through our sunless lanes and with sharp knives
   Cuts the warm throats of children stealthily,
 And no word said:—O we are wretched men
 Unworthy of our great inheritance! where is the pen

 Of austere Milton? where the mighty sword
   Which slew its master righteously? the years
 Have lost their ancient leader, and no word
   Breaks from the voiceless tripod on our ears:
 While as a ruined mother in some spasm
 Bears a base child and loathes it, so our best enthusiasm

 Genders unlawful children, Anarchy
   Freedom’s own Judas, the vile prodigal
 Licence who steals the gold of Liberty
   And yet has nothing, Ignorance the real
 One Fratricide since Cain, Envy the asp
 That stings itself to anguish, Avarice whose palsied grasp

 Is in its extent stiffened, monied Greed
   For whose dull appetite men waste away
 Amid the whirr of wheels and are the seed
   Of things which slay their sower, these each day
 Sees rife in England, and the gentle feet
 Of Beauty tread no more the stones of each unlovely street.

 What even Cromwell spared is desecrated
   By weed and worm, left to the stormy play
 Of wind and beating snow, or renovated
   By more destructful hands: Time’s worst decay
 Will wreathe its ruins with some loveliness,
 But these new Vandals can but make a rainproof barrenness.

 Where is that Art which bade the Angels sing
   Through Lincoln’s lofty choir, till the air
 Seems from such marble harmonies to ring
   With sweeter song than common lips can dare
 To draw from actual reed? ah! where is now
 The cunning hand which made the flowering hawthorn branches bow

 For Southwell’s arch, and carved the House of One
   Who loved the lilies of the field with all
 Our dearest English flowers? the same sun
   Rises for us: the seasons natural
 Weave the same tapestry of green and grey:
 The unchanged hills are with us: but that Spirit hath passed away.

 And yet perchance it may be better so,
   For Tyranny is an incestuous Queen,
 Murder her brother is her bedfellow,
   And the Plague chambers with her: in obscene
 And bloody paths her treacherous feet are set;
 Better the empty desert and a soul inviolate!

 For gentle brotherhood, the harmony
   Of living in the healthful air, the swift
 Clean beauty of strong limbs when men are free
   And women chaste, these are the things which lift
 Our souls up more than even Agnolo’s
 Gaunt blinded Sibyl poring o’er the scroll of human woes,

 Or Titian’s little maiden on the stair
   White as her own sweet lily and as tall,
 Or Mona Lisa smiling through her hair,—
   Ah! somehow life is bigger after all
 Than any painted angel could we see
 The God that is within us! The old Greek serenity

 Which curbs the passion of that level line
   Of marble youths, who with untroubled eyes
 And chastened limbs ride round Athena’s shrine
   And mirror her divine economies,
 And balanced symmetry of what in man
 Would else wage ceaseless warfare,—this at least within the span

 Between our mother’s kisses and the grave
   Might so inform our lives, that we could win
 Such mighty empires that from her cave
   Temptation would grow hoarse, and pallid Sin
 Would walk ashamed of his adulteries,
 And Passion creep from out the House of Lust with startled eyes.

 To make the Body and the Spirit one
   With all right things, till no thing live in vain
 From morn to noon, but in sweet unison
   With every pulse of flesh and throb of brain
 The Soul in flawless essence high enthroned,
 Against all outer vain attack invincibly bastioned,

 Mark with serene impartiality
   The strife of things, and yet be comforted,
 Knowing that by the chain causality
   All separate existences are wed
 Into one supreme whole, whose utterance
 Is joy, or holier praise! ah! surely this were governance

 Of Life in most august omnipresence,
   Through which the rational intellect would find
 In passion its expression, and mere sense,
   Ignoble else, lend fire to the mind,
 And being joined with in harmony
 More mystical than that which binds the stars planetary,

 Strike from their several tones one octave chord
   Whose cadence being measureless would fly
 Through all the circling spheres, then to its Lord
   Return refreshed with its new empery
 And more exultant power,—this indeed
 Could we but reach it were to find the last, the perfect creed.

 Ah! it was easy when the world was young
   To keep one’s life free and inviolate,
 From our sad lips another song is rung,
   By our own hands our heads are desecrate,
 Wanderers in drear exile, and dispossessed
 Of what should be our own, we can but feed on wild unrest.

 Somehow the grace, the bloom of things has flown,
   And of all men we are most wretched who
 Must live each other’s lives and not our own
   For very pity’s sake and then undo
 All that we live for—it was otherwise
 When soul and body seemed to blend in mystic symphonies.

 But we have left those gentle haunts to pass
   With weary feet to the new Calvary,
 Where we behold, as one who in a glass
   Sees his own face, self-slain Humanity,
 And in the dumb reproach of that sad gaze
 Learn what an awful phantom the red hand of man can raise.

 O smitten mouth! O forehead crowned with thorn!
   O chalice of all common miseries!
 Thou for our sakes that loved thee not hast borne
   An agony of endless centuries,
 And we were vain and ignorant nor knew
 That when we stabbed thy heart it was our own real hearts we slew.

 Being ourselves the sowers and the seeds,
   The night that covers and the lights that fade,
 The spear that pierces and the side that bleeds,
   The lips betraying and the life betrayed;
 The deep hath calm: the moon hath rest: but we
 Lords of the natural world are yet our own dread enemy.

 Is this the end of all that primal force
   Which, in its changes being still the same,
 From eyeless Chaos cleft its upward course,
   Through ravenous seas and whirling rocks and flame,
 Till the suns met in heaven and began
 Their cycles, and the morning stars sang, and the Word was Man!

 Nay, nay, we are but crucified and though
   The bloody sweat falls from our brows like rain,
 Loosen the nails—we shall come down I know,
   Staunch the red wounds—we shall be whole again,
 No need have we of hyssop-laden rod,
 That which is purely human, that is Godlike, that is God.

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