Behind the Veil

- 1819-1910

The secret of man’s life disclosed
    Would cause him strange confusion
Should God the cloud of fear remove,
     Or veil of sweet illusion.

No maiden sees aright the faults
     Or merits of her lover;
No sick man guesses if ‘twere best
     To die, or to recover.

The miser dreams not that his wealth
     Is dead, as soon as buried;
Nor knows the bard who sings away
     Life’s treasures, real and varied.

The tree-root lies too deep for sight,
     The well-source for our plummet,
And heavenward fount and palm defy
     Our scanning of their summit.

Whether a present grief ye weep,
     Or yet untasted blisses,
Look for the balm that comes with tears
     The bane that lurks in kisses.

We may reap dear suffering which we dread
     A higher joy discloses;
Men saw the thorns on Jesu’s brow,
     But angels saw the roses.

The City of My Love

She sits among the eternal hills,
Their crown, thrice glorious and dear,
Her voice is as a thousand tongues
Of silver fountains, gurgling clear;

Her breath is prayer, her life is love,
And worship of all lovely things;
Her children have a gracious port,
Her beggars show the blood of kings.

By old Tradition guarded close,
None doubt the grandeur she has seen;
Upon her venerable front
Is written: “I was born a queen!”

She rules the age by Beauty’s power,
As once she ruled by arméd might;
The Southern sun doth treasure her
Deep in his golden heart of light.

Awe strikes the traveller when he sees
The vision of her distant dome,
And a strange spasm wrings his heart
As the guide whispers, “There is Rome!”

Rome of the Romans! where the gods
Of Greek Olympus long held sway;
Rome of the Christians, Peter’s tomb,
The Zion of our later day.

Rome, the mailed Virgin of the world,
Defiance on her brows and breast;
Rome, to voluptuous pleasure won,
Debauched, and locked in drunken rest.

Rome, in her intellectual day,
Europe’s intriguing step-dame grown;
Rome, bowed to weakness and decay,
A canting, mass-frequenting crone.

Then the unlettered man plods on,
Half chiding at the spell he feels,
The artist pauses at the gate,
And on the wondrous threshold kneels.

The sick man lifts his languid head
For those soft skies and balmy airs;
The pilgrim tries a quicker pace,
And hugs remorse, and patters prayers.

For even the grass that feeds the herds
Methinks some unknown virtue yields;
The very hinds in reverence tread
The precincts of the ancient fields.

But wrapt in gloom of night and death,
I crept to thee, dear mother Rome;
And in thy hospitable heart
Found rest and comfort, health and home,

And friendships, warm and living still,
Although their dearest joys are fled;
True sympathies that bring to life
That better self, so often dead.

For all the wonder that thou wert,
For all the dear delight thou art,
Accept a homage from my lips,
That warms again a wasted heart.

And, though it seem a childish prayer,
I’ve breathed it oft, that when I die,
As thy remembrance dear in it,
That heart in thee might buried lie.

Mother Mind

I never made a poem, dear friend—
I never sat me down, and said,
This cunning brain and patient hand
Shall fashion something to be read.

Men often came to me, and prayed
I should indite a fitting verse
For fast, or festival, or in
Some stately pageant to rehearse.
(As if, than Balaam more endowed,
I of myself could bless or curse.)

Reluctantly I bade them go,
Ungladdened by my poet-mite;
My heart is not so churlish but
It loves to minister delight.

But not a word I breathe is mine
To sing, in praise of man or God;
My Master calls, at noon or night,
I know his whisper and his nod.

Yet all my thoughts to rhythms run,
To rhyme, my wisdom and my wit?
True, I consume my life in verse,
But wouldst thou know how that is writ?

‘Tis thus—through weary length of days,
I bear a thought within my breast
That greatens from my growth of soul,
And waits, and will not be expressed.

It greatens, till its hour has come,
Not without pain, it sees the light;
‘Twixt smiles and tears I view it o’er,
And dare not deem it perfect, quite.

These children of my soul I keep
Where scarce a mortal man may see,
Yet not unconsecrate, dear friend,
Baptismal rites they claim of thee.

A Protest from Italy

I.

THERE.

Amid Italian orange groves,
A distant murmur reached mine ear,
The wrangling tongues of Western men,
Each, crossed at arms with his compeer.

In that fair land, where passions rage
Briefly, through Nature’s gentleness;
Where the black eyebrows’ direst forwn,
Must yield to the soft air’s caress;

Where even curses fall in words
Whose beauty heals the wound they make;
(Though strong to feel, those Southern hearts,
They’re timid to o’erturn and break;)

I felt my life so calm and deep,
Such rapture, settling to such peace,
I sighed: ‘Hush! hush! my countrymen—
Let this untempered babbling cease!

‘Ye who assert your rights in men,
What right is worth such evil blood?
You—frantic champions of the slave,
Bethink—God orders all for good.

‘Shake not thus ruthlessly your cup
Of new fermented liberty,
Till the scum mantle to the top,
And leave the sun-touched liquor free.

‘Northern and Southron, part in peace,
Each to his own contentment thrive,
Since each divergent destiny
May keep a sacred good alive.’

Thus sang I, in that land of rest,
Till, drunk with Music’s golden wine,
I crossed my hands upon my breast,
And dreamed of heaven, at Raphael’s shrine.

II.

HERE.

Bathed in your icy Northern springs,
My slumbering eye is roused to sight;
The sharp steel wind doth surrender all
My silken armor of delight.

Mine ear, by mass and anthem lulled,
The trumpet’s brazen voice awakes;
From its slow pulses, keenly stirred,
My blood its natural current makes.

Things which in distance dimly showed
Press on me, in the nearer view;
I see the race that’s passing out,
Weave hateful fetters for the new.

I see a plague, long held aloof,
That to the social heart hath crept,
See, blood-hounds track the inner shrine
Where, sacred once, the outcast slept.

I see, upon the altar steps,
Base Interest trample Godlike Right.
Strike, lyre, thy chorus of brave sounds!
Find, palsied hand, thine ancient might!

Back! back, volcanic flood, that creep’st
So snakelike, through our peaceful plains;
Back, tortuous Intrigue! thou art bold
To drop thy mask where Justice reigns.

Back, baleful force! back, perjured law!
Sacred while ye the right sustain,
But fall’n like Judas, to betray
The sinless blood, for love of gain.

Judas! that gain will serve thee nought!
It will but buy a field of blood,
Whereon impartial Time shall write,
‘Here they that fought for Freedom stood.

‘These men the tie of Nature held
A claim beyond the pride of race;
Their banner bore Man’s bleeding heart
Without the color of his face.

‘Reluctantly they bared the sword,
And let the prudent scabbard go;
They perished in the name of Christ;
His enemies would have it so.’

III.

THERE AND HERE.

The natural loves that move my heart,
My country, matter not to thee;
Yet let me to my words impart
That which may make them one with me.

And tell thee that, however dear
I hold the light of Roman skies;
However from the canvas clear
The soul of Raphael blessed mine eyes;

Howe’er intense the joy of flowers,
And the spring-wedded nightingale,
Or deep the charm of twilight hours
Hushed to the Miserès wail;

A holier joy to me were given,
Could I persuade they heart from wrong;
As rapturous birds drop down from heaven’
With heaven’s convincement in their song.