Written in Album at Clifton; March, 1828

Long have I racked my brains for rhymes to please,
But vainly, for the time doth grow upon me,
And throw the lights and shadows of reality
Thro’ my mind’s cavern, melting in its glare
The fairy-like inhabitants of twilight
Which I essayed to summon. Even so
It came to pass, as I have heard it told,
As once a lady’s grace and gentleness,
That shed soft beauty over every one
Standing around her,—like to spirits summoned
That must so wait and gaze, but dared not step
Within the circled halo of the charmer,—
Lent to an almost unknown traveller
A book whose leaves are heavy with the music
Of poetry such as she loved to read,
For poetry was her life’s element
Which she shook from her, lightly breaking up
The current of men’s thought, wherein this world
Was pictured drearily, into fair dimples,
As doth a curled swan silently roving
Thro’ the reflection of a haunted palace
Upon a musically enchanted stream.
And on those pages where her eye would dwell
She had permitted the world-wandering stranger
To leave a token of his poor existence:
And now, enclosed in his guest-chamber,
Holding the magic volume which contained
The charms to raise the memory of the gone
Out of the night that had closed over them,
The Traveller, grateful for so sweet a task,
Fain would have spellbound Fiction’s fairest shapes,
And sent them captive to pay homage there.
But all in vain: the truth was restless in him,
And shook his visionary fabrics down,
As one who had been buried long ago
And now was called up by a necromancer
To answer dreadful questions. So compelled,
He left the way of fiction and wrote thus:
“Woe unto him whose fate hath thwarted him,
Whose life has been ‘mongst such as were not born,
To cherish in his bosom reverence,
And the calm awe that comforteth the heart
And lulls the yearnings of hope unfulfilled:
Such have I been. And woe again to him
Who, in too late an hour, presumptuously
O’erhears a wish confessing to his soul,
And must dismiss it to his discontent
With scorn and laughter. Woe again to me!
For now I hear even such an anxious voice
Crying in my soul’s solitude, and bewailing
That I had never in my childhood known
The bud of this manifold beauteousness,
And seen each leaf turn of its tender hinge
Until the last few parted scarce, and held
Deep in their midst a heaven-reflecting gem;
For then I might—oh vain and flattering wish!—
I might have stood, tho’ last, among the friends
Where I am now the last among the strangers,
And not have passed away, as now I must,
Into forgetfulness, into the cold
Of the open, homeless world without a hope,
Unless it be of pardon for these words:
For what is’t to the moon that every drop
Of flower-held rain reflects and gazes on her!
Her destiny is in the starry heavens,
Theirs here eupon the ground, and she doth set,
Leaving her shadow no more to delight them,
And cometh ne’er again till they are fled.
So is’t with me. Yet to have seen, tho’ seldom,
And to have fed me on that beauty’s light,
And to have been allowed to trace these thoughts,
Are undeserved favours from my fortune.”—

Such was the import of his lines, which many
Would have rejected with a scornful smile,
But if she smiled, smiled pity. She was gentle;
Read and forgave, and never thought again
On the presumptuous stranger and his lines.
Away! I should have told a better tale.
Forgive, and shut these pages up for ever.

[Gosse, 1890]