To the Critic

- 1819-1910

Of all my verses, say that one is good,
So shalt thou give more praise than Hope might claim;
And from my poet-grave, to vex thy soul,
No ghost shall rise, whose deeds demand a name.

A thousand loves, and only one shall stand
To show us what its counterfeits should be;
The blossoms of a spring-tide, and but one
Bears the world’s fruit,—the seed of History.

A thousand rhymes shall pass, and only one
Show, crystal-shod, the Muse’s twinkling feet;
A thousand pearls the haughty Ethiop spurned
Ere one could make her luxury complete.

In goodliest places, some meanest room
The owner’s smallness shields contentedly.
Nay, further: of the manifold we are,
But one pin’s point shall pass eternity.

Exalt, then, to the greatness of the throne
One only of these beggarlings of mine;
I with the rest will dwell in modest bounds:
The chosen one shall glorify the line.

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.

Behind the Veil

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.

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.