Collected poems by John Keats - HTML preview

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With brighter eyes and slow amenity,

Put her new lips to his, and gave afresh

The life she had so tangled in her mesh:

And as he from one trance was wakening

Into another, she began to sing,

Happy in beauty, life, and love, and every thing,

A song of love, too sweet for earthly lyres,

While, like held breath, the stars drew in their panting fires.

300

And then she whisper'd in such trembling tone,

As those who, safe together met alone

For the first time through many anguish'd days,

Use other speech than looks; bidding him raise

His drooping head, and clear his soul of doubt,

For that she was a woman, and without

[21]

Any more subtle fluid in her veins

Than throbbing blood, and that the self-same pains

Inhabited her frail-strung heart as his.

And next she wonder'd how his eyes could miss

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Her face so long in Corinth, where, she said,

She dwelt but half retir'd, and there had led

Days happy as the gold coin could invent

Without the aid of love; yet in content

Till she saw him, as once she pass'd him by,

Where 'gainst a column he leant thoughtfully

At Venus' temple porch, 'mid baskets heap'd

Of amorous herbs and flowers, newly reap'd

Late on that eve, as 'twas the night before

The Adonian feast; whereof she saw no more,

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But wept alone those days, for why should she adore?

Lycius from death awoke into amaze,

To see her still, and singing so sweet lays;

[22]

Then from amaze into delight he fell

To hear her whisper woman's lore so well;

And every word she spake entic'd him on

To unperplex'd delight and pleasure known.

Let the mad poets say whate'er they please

Of the sweets of Fairies, Peris, Goddesses,

There is not such a treat among them all,

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Haunters of cavern, lake, and waterfall,

As a real woman, lineal indeed

From Pyrrha's pebbles or old Adam's seed.

Thus gentle Lamia judg'd, and judg'd aright,

That Lycius could not love in half a fright,

So threw the goddess off, and won his heart

More pleasantly by playing woman's part,

With no more awe than what her beauty gave,

That, while it smote, still guaranteed to save.

Lycius to all made eloquent reply,

340

Marrying to every word a twinborn sigh;

[23]

And last, pointing to Corinth, ask'd her sweet,

If 'twas too far that night for her soft feet.

The way was short, for Lamia's eagerness

Made, by a spell, the triple league decrease

To a few paces; not at all surmised

By blinded Lycius, so in her comprized.

They pass'd the city gates, he knew not how,

So noiseless, and he never thought to know.

As men talk in a dream, so Corinth all,

350

Throughout her palaces imperial,

And all her populous streets and temples lewd,

Mutter'd, like tempest in the distance brew'd,

To the wide-spreaded night above her towers.

Men, women, rich and poor, in the cool hours,

Shuffled their sandals o'er the pavement white,

Companion'd or alone; while many a light

Flared, here and there, from wealthy festivals,

And threw their moving shadows on the walls,

[24]

Or found them cluster'd in the corniced shade

360

Of some arch'd temple door, or dusky colonnade.

Muffling his face, of greeting friends in fear,

Her fingers he press'd hard, as one came near

With curl'd gray beard, sharp eyes, and smooth bald crown,

Slow-stepp'd, and robed in philosophic gown:

Lycius shrank closer, as they met and past,

Into his mantle, adding wings to haste,

While hurried Lamia trembled: "Ah," said he,

"Why do you shudder, love, so ruefully?

Why does your tender palm dissolve in dew?"—

370

"I'm wearied," said fair Lamia: "tell me who

Is that old man? I cannot bring to mind

His features:—Lycius! wherefore did you blind

Yourself from his quick eyes?" Lycius replied,

"'Tis Apollonius sage, my trusty guide

[25]

And good instructor; but to-night he seems

The ghost of folly haunting my sweet dreams."

While yet he spake they had arrived before

A pillar'd porch, with lofty portal door,

Where hung a silver lamp, whose phosphor glow

380

Reflected in the slabbed steps below,

Mild as a star in water; for so new,

And so unsullied was the marble hue,

So through the crystal polish, liquid fine,

Ran the dark veins, that none but feet divine

Could e'er have touch'd there. Sounds Æolian

Breath'd from the hinges, as the ample span

Of the wide doors disclos'd a place unknown

Some time to any, but those two alone,

And a few Persian mutes, who that same year

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Were seen about the markets: none knew where

[26]

They could inhabit; the most curious

Were foil'd, who watch'd to trace them to their house:

And but the flitter-winged verse must tell,

For truth's sake, what woe afterwards befel,

'Twould humour many a heart to leave them thus,

Shut from the busy world of more incredulous.

[27]

PART II.

Love in a hut, with water and a crust,

Is—Love, forgive us!—cinders, ashes, dust;

Love in a palace is perhaps at last

More grievous torment than a hermit's fast:—

That is a doubtful tale from faery land,

Hard for the non-elect to understand.

Had Lycius liv'd to hand his story down,

He might have given the moral a fresh frown,

Or clench'd it quite: but too short was their bliss

To breed distrust and hate, that make the soft voice hiss.

10

[28]

Besides, there, nightly, with terrific glare

Love, jealous grown of so complete a pair,

Hover'd and buzz'd his wings, with fearful roar,

Above the lintel of their chamber door,

And down the passage cast a glow upon the floor.

For all this came a ruin: side by side

They were enthroned, in the even tide,

Upon a couch, near to a curtaining

Whose airy texture, from a golden string,

Floated into the room, and let appear

20

Unveil'd the summer heaven, blue and clear,

Betwixt two marble shafts:—there they reposed,

Where use had made it sweet, with eyelids closed,

Saving a tythe which love still open kept,

That they might see each other while they almost slept;

When from the slope side of a suburb hill,

Deafening the swallow's twitter, came a thrill

[29]

Of trumpets—Lycius started—the sounds fled,

But left a thought, a buzzing in his head.

For the first time, since first he harbour'd in

30

That purple-lined palace of sweet sin,

His spirit pass'd beyond its golden bourn

Into the noisy world almost forsworn.

The lady, ever watchful, penetrant,

Saw this with pain, so arguing a want

Of something more, more than her empery

Of joys; and she began to moan and sigh

Because he mused beyond her, knowing well

That but a moment's thought is passion's passing bell.

"Why do you sigh, fair creature?" whisper'd he:

40

"Why do you think?" return'd she tenderly:

"You have deserted me;—where am I now?

Not in your heart while care weighs on your brow:

No, no, you have dismiss'd me; and I go

From your breast houseless: ay, it must be so."

[30]

He answer'd, bending to her open eyes,

Where he was mirror'd small in paradise,

"My silver planet, both of eve and morn!

Why will you plead yourself so sad forlorn,

While I am striving how to fill my heart

50

With deeper crimson, and a double smart?

How to entangle, trammel up and snare

Your soul in mine, and labyrinth you there

Like the hid scent in an unbudded rose?

Ay, a sweet kiss—you see your mighty woes.

My thoughts! shall I unveil them? Listen then!

What mortal hath a prize, that other men

May be confounded and abash'd withal,

But lets it sometimes pace abroad majestical,

And triumph, as in thee I should rejoice

60

Amid the hoarse alarm of Corinth's voice.

Let my foes choke, and my friends shout afar,

While through the thronged streets your bridal car

[31]

Wheels round its dazzling spokes."—The lady's cheek

Trembled; she nothing said, but, pale and meek,

Arose and knelt before him, wept a rain

Of sorrows at his words; at last with pain

Beseeching him, the while his hand she wrung,

To change his purpose. He thereat was stung,

Perverse, with stronger fancy to reclaim

70

Her wild and timid nature to his aim:

Besides, for all his love, in self despite,

Against his better self, he took delight

Luxurious in her sorrows, soft and new.

His passion, cruel grown, took on a hue

Fierce and sanguineous as 'twas possible

In one whose brow had no dark veins to swell.

Fine was the mitigated fury, like

Apollo's presence when in act to strike

The serpent—Ha, the serpent! certes, she

80

Was none. She burnt, she lov'd the tyranny,

[32]

And, all subdued, consented to the hour

When to the bridal he should lead his paramour.

Whispering in midnight silence, said the youth,

"Sure some sweet name thou hast, though, by my truth,

I have not ask'd it, ever thinking thee

Not mortal, but of heavenly progeny,

As still I do. Hast any mortal name,

Fit appellation for this dazzling frame?

Or friends or kinsfolk on the citied earth,

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To share our marriage feast and nuptial mirth?"

"I have no friends," said Lamia, "no, not one;

My presence in wide Corinth hardly known:

My parents' bones are in their dusty urns

Sepulchred, where no kindled incense burns,

Seeing all their luckless race are dead, save me,

And I neglect the holy rite for thee.

Even as you list invite your many guests;

But if, as now it seems, your vision rests

[33]

With any pleasure on me, do not bid

100

Old Apollonius—from him keep me hid."

Lycius, perplex'd at words so blind and blank,

Made close inquiry; from whose touch she shrank,

Feigning a sleep; and he to the dull shade

Of deep sleep in a moment was betray'd.

It was the custom then to bring away

The bride from home at blushing shut of day,

Veil'd, in a chariot, heralded along

By strewn flowers, torches, and a marriage song,

With other pageants: but this fair unknown

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Had not a friend. So being left alone,

(Lycius was gone to summon all his kin)

And knowing surely she could never win

His foolish heart from its mad pompousness,

She set herself, high-thoughted, how to dress

[34]

The misery in fit magnificence.

She did so, but 'tis doubtful how and whence

Came, and who were her subtle servitors.

About the halls, and to and from the doors,

There was a noise of wings, till in short space

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The glowing banquet-room shone with wide-arched grace.

A haunting music, sole perhaps and lone

Supportress of the faery-roof, made moan

Throughout, as fearful the whole charm might fade.

Fresh carved cedar, mimicking a glade

Of palm and plantain, met from either side,

High in the midst, in honour of the bride:

Two palms and then two plantains, and so on,

From either side their stems branch'd one to one

All down the aisled place; and beneath all

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There ran a stream of lamps straight on from wall to wall.

[35]

So canopied, lay an untasted feast

Teeming with odours. Lamia, regal drest,

Silently paced about, and as she went,

In pale contented sort of discontent,

Mission'd her viewless servants to enrich

The fretted splendour of each nook and niche.

Between the tree-stems, marbled plain at first,

Came jasper pannels; then, anon, there burst

Forth creeping imagery of slighter trees,

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And with the larger wove in small intricacies.

Approving all, she faded at self-will,

And shut the chamber up, close, hush'd and still,

Complete and ready for the revels rude,

When dreadful guests would come to spoil her solitude.

The day appear'd, and all the gossip rout.

O senseless Lycius! Madman! wherefore flout

[36]

The silent-blessing fate, warm cloister'd hours,

And show to common eyes these secret bowers?

The herd approach'd; each guest, with busy brain,

150

Arriving at the portal, gaz'd amain,

And enter'd marveling: for they knew the street,

Remember'd it from childhood all complete

Without a gap, yet ne'er before had seen

That royal porch, that high-built fair demesne;

So in they hurried all, maz'd, curious and keen:

Save one, who look'd thereon with eye severe,

And with calm-planted steps walk'd in austere;

'Twas Apollonius: something too he laugh'd,

As though some knotty problem, that had daft

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His patient thought, had now begun to thaw,

And solve and melt:—'twas just as he foresaw.

He met within the murmurous vestibule

His young disciple. "'Tis no common rule,

[37]

Lycius," said he, "for uninvited guest

To force himself upon you, and infest

With an unbidden presence the bright throng

Of younger friends; yet must I do this wrong,

And you forgive me." Lycius blush'd, and led

The old man through the inner doors broad-spread;

170

With reconciling words and courteous mien

Turning into sweet milk the sophist's spleen.

Of wealthy lustre was the banquet-room,

Fill'd with pervading brilliance and perfume:

Before each lucid pannel fuming stood

A censer fed with myrrh and spiced wood,

Each by a sacred tripod held aloft,

Whose slender feet wide-swerv'd upon the soft

Wool-woofed carpets: fifty wreaths of smoke

From fifty censers their light voyage took

180

[38]

To the high roof, still mimick'd as they rose

Along the mirror'd walls by twin-clouds odorous.

Twelve sphered tables, by silk seats insphered,

High as the level of a man's breast rear'd

On libbard's paws, upheld the heavy gold

Of cups and goblets, and the store thrice told

Of Ceres' horn, and, in huge vessels, wine

Come from the gloomy tun with merry shine.

Thus loaded with a feast the tables stood,

Each shrining in the midst the image of a God.

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When in an antichamber every guest

Had felt the cold full sponge to pleasure press'd,

By minist'ring slaves, upon his hands and feet,

And fragrant oils with ceremony meet

Pour'd on his hair, they all mov'd to the feast

In white robes, and themselves in order placed

[39]

Around the silken couches, wondering

Whence all this mighty cost and blaze of wealth could spring.

Soft went the music the soft air along,

While fluent Greek a vowel'd undersong

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Kept up among the guests, discoursing low

At first, for scarcely was the wine at flow;

But when the happy vintage touch'd their brains,

Louder they talk, and louder come the strains

Of powerful instruments:—the gorgeous dyes,

The space, the splendour of the draperies,

The roof of awful richness, nectarous cheer,

Beautiful slaves, and Lamia's self, appear,

Now, when the wine has done its rosy deed,

And every soul from human trammels freed,

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No more so strange; for merry wine, sweet wine,

Will make Elysian shades not too fair, too divine.

[40]

Soon was God Bacchus at meridian height;

Flush'd were their cheeks, and bright eyes double bright:

Garlands of every green, and every scent

From vales deflower'd, or forest-trees branch-rent,

In baskets of bright osier'd gold were brought

High as the handles heap'd, to suit the thought

Of every guest; that each, as he did please,

Might fancy-fit his brows, silk-pillow'd at his ease.

220

What wreath for Lamia? What for Lycius?

What for the sage, old Apollonius?

Upon her aching forehead be there hung

The leaves of willow and of adder's tongue;

And for the youth, quick, let us strip for him

The thyrsus, that his watching eyes may swim

Into forgetfulness; and, for the sage,

Let spear-grass and the spiteful thistle wage

[41]

War on his temples. Do not all charms fly

At the mere touch of cold philosophy?

230

There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:

We know her woof, her texture; she is given

In the dull catalogue of common things.

Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,

Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,

Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine—

Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made

The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade.

By her glad Lycius sitting, in chief place,

Scarce saw in all the room another face,

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Till, checking his love trance, a cup he took

Full brimm'd, and opposite sent forth a look

'Cross the broad table, to beseech a glance

From his old teacher's wrinkled countenance,

[42]

And pledge him. The bald-head philosopher

Had fix'd his eye, without a twinkle or stir

Full on the alarmed beauty of the bride,

Brow-beating her fair form, and troubling her sweet pride.

Lycius then press'd her hand, with devout touch,

As pale it lay upon the rosy couch:

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'Twas icy, and the cold ran through his veins;

Then sudden it grew hot, and all the pains

Of an unnatural heat shot to his heart.

"Lamia, what means this? Wherefore dost thou start?

Know'st thou that man?" Poor Lamia answer'd not.

He gaz'd into her eyes, and not a jot

Own'd they the lovelorn piteous appeal:

More, more he gaz'd: his human senses reel:

Some hungry spell that loveliness absorbs;

There was no recognition in those orbs.

260

[43]

"Lamia!" he cried—and no soft-toned reply.

The many heard, and the loud revelry

Grew hush; the stately music no more breathes;

The myrtle sicken'd in a thousand wreaths.

By faint degrees, voice, lute, and pleasure ceased;

A deadly silence step by step increased,

Until it seem'd a horrid presence there,

And not a man but felt the terror in his hair.

"Lamia!" he shriek'd; and nothing but the shriek

With its sad echo did the silence break.

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"Begone, foul dream!" he cried, gazing again

In the bride's face, where now no azure vein

Wander'd on fair-spaced temples; no soft bloom

Misted the cheek; no passion to illume

The deep-recessed vision:—all was blight;

Lamia, no longer fair, there sat a deadly white.

"Shut, shut those juggling eyes, thou ruthless man!

Turn them aside, wretch! or the righteous ban

[44]

Of all the Gods, whose dreadful images

Here represent their shadowy presences,

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May pierce them on the sudden with the thorn

Of painful blindness; leaving thee forlorn,

In trembling dotage to the feeblest fright

Of conscience, for their long offended might,

For all thine impious proud-heart sophistries,

Unlawful magic, and enticing lies.

Corinthians! look upon that gray-beard wretch!

Mark how, possess'd, his lashless eyelids stretch

Around his demon eyes! Corinthians, see!

My sweet bride withers at their potency."

290

"Fool!" said the sophist, in an under-tone

Gruff with contempt; which a death-nighing moan

From Lycius answer'd, as heart-struck and lost,

He sank supine beside the aching ghost.

"Fool! Fool!" repeated he, while his eyes still

Relented not, nor mov'd; "from every ill

[45]

Of life have I preserv'd thee to this day,

And shall I see thee made a serpent's prey?"

Then Lamia breath'd death breath; the sophist's eye,

Like a sharp spear, went through her utterly,

300

Keen, cruel, perceant, stinging: she, as well

As her weak hand could any meaning tell,

Motion'd him to be silent; vainly so,

He look'd and look'd again a level—No!

"A Serpent!" echoed he; no sooner said,

Than with a frightful scream she vanished:

And Lycius' arms were empty of delight,

As were his limbs of life, from that same night.

On the high couch he lay!—his friends came round—

Supported him—no pulse, or breath they found,

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And, in its marriage robe, the heavy body wound.[45:A]

[46]

 

FOOTNOTES:

[45:A]

"Philostratus, in his fourth book de Vita Apollonii, hath a memorable instance in this kind, which I may not omit, of one Menippus Lycius, a young man twenty-five years of age, that going betwixt Cenchreas and Corinth, met such a phantasm in the habit of a fair gentlewoman, which taking him by the hand, carried him home to her house, in the suburbs of Corinth, and told him she was a Phœnician by birth, and if he would tarry with her, he should hear her sing and play, and drink such wine as never any drank, and no man should molest him; but she, being fair and lovely, would live and die with him, that was fair and lovely to behold. The young man, a philosopher, otherwise staid and discreet, able to moderate his passions, though not this of love, tarried with her a while to his great content, and at last married her, to whose wedding, amongst other guests, came Apollonius; who, by some probable conjectures, found her out to be a serpent, a lamia; and that all her furniture was, like Tantalus' gold, described by Homer, no substance but mere illusions. When she saw herself descried, she wept, and desired Apollonius to be silent, but he would not be moved, and thereupon she, plate, house, and all that was in it, vanished in an instant: many thousands took notice of this fact, for it was done in the midst of Greece."

Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy.' Part 3. Sect. 2
Memb. 1. Subs. 1.

 

[47]

ISABELLA;

OR,

THE POT OF BASIL.

A STORY FROM BOCCACCIO.

[48]

 

[49]

I.

Fair Isabel, poor simple Isabel!

Lorenzo, a young palmer in Love's eye!

They could not in the self-same mansion dwell

Without some stir of heart, some malady;

They could not sit at meals but feel how well

It soothed each to be the other by;

They could not, sure, beneath the same roof sleep

But to each other dream, and nightly weep.

[50]

II.

With every morn their love grew tenderer,

With every eve deeper and tenderer still;

10

He might not in house, field, or garden stir,

But her full shape would all his seeing fill;

And his continual voice was pleasanter

To her, than noise of trees or hidden rill;

Her lute-string gave an echo of his name,

She spoilt her half-done broidery with the same.

III.

He knew whose gentle hand was at the latch,

Before the door had given her to his eyes;

And from her chamber-window he would catch

Her beauty farther than the falcon spies;

20

And constant as her vespers would he watch,

Because her face was turn'd to the same skies;

And with sick longing all the night outwear,

To hear her morning-step upon the stair.

[51]

IV.

A whole long month of May in this sad plight

Made their cheeks paler by the break of June:

"To-morrow will I bow to my delight,

To-morrow will I ask my lady's boon."—

"O may I never see another night,

Lorenzo, if thy lips breathe not love's tune."—

30

So spake they to their pillows; but, alas,

Honeyless days and days did he let pass;

V.

Until sweet Isabella's untouch'd cheek

Fell sick within the rose's just domain,

Fell thin as a young mother's, who doth seek

By every lull to cool her infant's pain:

"How ill she is," said he, "I may not speak,

And yet I will, and tell my love all plain:

If looks speak love-laws, I will drink her tears,

And at the least 'twill startle off her cares."

40

[52]

VI.

So said he one fair morning, and all day

His heart beat awfully against his side;

And to his heart he inwardly did pray

For power to speak; but still the ruddy tide

Stifled his voice, and puls'd resolve away—

Fever'd his high conceit of such a bride,

Yet brought him to the meekness of a child:

Alas! when passion is both meek and wild!

VII.

So once more he had wak'd and anguished

A dreary night of love and misery,

50

If Isabel's quick eye had not been wed

To every symbol on his forehead high;

She saw it waxing very pale and dead,

And straight all flush'd; so, lisped tenderly,

"Lorenzo!"—here she ceas'd her timid quest,

But in her tone and look he read the rest.

[53]

VIII.

"O Isabella, I can half perceive

That I may speak my grief into thine ear;

If thou didst ever any thing believe,

Believe how I love thee, believe how near