Under the Willows [May is a pious fraud of the almanac]

- 1819-1891
May is a pious fraud of the almanac,
A ghastly parody of real Spring
Shaped out of snow and breathed with eastern wind;
Or if, o'er-confident, she trust the date,
And, with her handful of anemones,
Herself as shivery, steal into the sun,
The season need but turn his hourglass round,
And Winter suddenly, like crazy Lear,
Reels back, and brings the dead May in his arms,
Her budding breasts and wan dislustred front
With frosty streaks and drifts of his white beard
All overblown. Then, warmly walled with books,
While my wood-fire supplies the sun's defect,
Whispering old forest-sagas in its dreams,
I take my May down from the happy shelf
Where perch the world's rare song-birds in a row,
Waiting my choice to open with full breast,
And beg an alms of springtime, ne'er denied
Indoors by vernal Chaucer, whose fresh woods
Throb thick with merle and mavis all the year.

More by James Russell Lowell

The Sirens

   The sea is lonely, the sea is dreary, 
The sea is restless and uneasy; 
Thou seekest quiet, thou art weary, 
Wandering thou knowest not whither;— 
Our little isle is green and breezy, 
Come and rest thee! Oh come hither, 
Come to this peaceful home of ours, 
      Where evermore 
The low west-wind creeps panting up the shore 
To be at rest among the flowers; 
Full of rest, the green moss lifts, 
   As the dark waves of the sea 
Draw in and out of rocky rifts, 
   Calling solemnly to thee 
With voices deep and hollow,— 
      "To the shore 
   Follow! Oh, follow! 
   To be at rest forevermore! 
         Forevermore!" 

Look how the gray old Ocean 
From the depth of his heart rejoices, 
Heaving with a gentle motion, 
When he hears our restful voices; 
List how he sings in an undertone, 
Chiming with our melody; 
And all sweet sounds of earth and air 
Melt into one low voice alone, 
That murmurs over the weary sea, 
And seems to sing from everywhere,— 
"Here mayst thou harbor peacefully, 
Here mayst thou rest from the aching oar; 
   Turn thy curvëd prow ashore, 
And in our green isle rest forevermore! 
         Forevermore!" 
And Echo half wakes in the wooded hill, 
   And, to her heart so calm and deep, 
   Murmurs over in her sleep, 
Doubtfully pausing and murmuring still, 
         "Evermore!" 
      Thus, on Life's weary sea, 
      Heareth the marinere 
      Voices sweet, from far and near, 
      Ever singing low and clear, 
      Ever singing longingly. 

   It is not better here to be, 
Than to be toiling late and soon? 
In the dreary night to see 
Nothing but the blood-red moon 
Go up and down into the sea; 
Or, in the loneliness of day, 
   To see the still seals only 
Solemnly lift their faces gray, 
   Making it yet more lonely? 
Is it not better than to hear 
Only the sliding of the wave 
Beneath the plank, and feel so near 
A cold and lonely grave, 
A restless grave, where thou shalt lie 
Even in death unquietly? 
Look down beneath thy wave-worn bark, 
   Lean over the side and see 
The leaden eye of the sidelong shark
      Upturnëd patiently, 
   Ever waiting there for thee: 
Look down and see those shapeless forms, 
   Which ever keep their dreamless sleep 
   Far down within the gloomy deep, 
And only stir themselves in storms, 
Rising like islands from beneath, 
And snorting through the angry spray, 
As the frail vessel perisheth 
In the whirls of their unwieldy play; 
   Look down! Look down! 
Upon the seaweed, slimy and dark, 
That waves its arms so lank and brown, 
      Beckoning for thee! 
Look down beneath thy wave-worn bark 
      Into the cold depth of the sea! 
   Look down! Look down! 
      Thus, on Life's lonely sea, 
      Heareth the marinere 
      Voices sad, from far and near, 
      Ever singing full of fear, 
      Ever singing dreadfully. 

   Here all is pleasant as a dream; 
The wind scarce shaketh down the dew, 
The green grass floweth like a stream 
         Into the ocean's blue; 
            Listen! Oh, listen! 
Here is a gush of many streams, 
   A song of many birds, 
And every wish and longing seems 
Lulled to a numbered flow of words,— 
            Listen! Oh, listen! 
Here ever hum the golden bees 
Underneath full-blossomed trees, 
At once with glowing fruit and flowers crowned;— 
So smooth the sand, the yellow sand, 
That thy keel will not grate as it touches the land; 
All around with a slumberous sound, 
The singing waves slide up the strand, 
And there, where the smooth, wet pebbles be 
The waters gurgle longingly, 
As if they fain would seek the shore, 
To be at rest from the ceaseless roar, 
To be at rest forevermore,— 
         Forevermore. 
      Thus, on Life's gloomy sea, 
      Heareth the marinere 
      Voices sweet, from far and near, 
      Ever singing in his ear, 
      "Here is rest and peace for thee!"

from The Vision of Sir Launfal

And what is so rare as a day in June?
     Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
     And over it softly her warm ear lays:
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
     An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
     Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
     Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
     The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
     To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
     Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
     With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,—
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

Now is the high-tide of the year,
     And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
     Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop over-fills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes, but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
     That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For other couriers we should not lack;
     We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing,—
And hark! how clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
     Tells all in his lusty crowing!

Love

True Love is but a humble, low-born thing,
And hath its food served up in earthen ware;
It is a thing to walk with, hand in hand,
Through the every-dayness of this work-day world,
Baring its tender feet to every roughness,
Yet letting not one heart-beat go astray
From Beauty’s law of plainness and content;
A simple, fire-side thing, whose quiet smile
Can warm earth’s poorest hovel to a home;
Which, when our autumn cometh, as it must,
And life in the chill wind shivers bare and leafless,
Shall still be blest with Indian-summer youth
In bleak November, and, with thankful heart,
Smile on its ample stores of garnered fruit,
As full of sunshine to our aged eyes
As when it nursed the blossoms of our spring.
Such is true Love, which steals into the heart
With feet as silent as the lightsome dawn
That kisses smooth the rough brows of the dark,
And hath its will through blissful gentleness,—
Not like a rocket, which, with savage glare,
Whirrs suddenly up, then bursts, and leaves the night
Painfully quivering on the dazed eyes;
A love that gives and takes, that seeth faults,
Not with flaw-seeking eyes like needle-points,
But, loving kindly, ever looks them down
With the o’ercoming faith of meek forgiveness;
A love that shall be new and fresh each hour,
As is the golden mystery of sunset,
Or the sweet coming of the evening-star,
Alike, and yet most unlike, every day,
And seeming ever best and fairest now;
A love that doth not kneel for what it seeks,
But faces Truth and Beauty as their peer,
Showing its worthiness of noble thoughts
By a clear sense of inward nobleness,
A love that in its object findeth not
All grace and beauty, and enough to sate
Its thirst of blessing, but, in all of good
Found there, it sees but Heaven-granted types
Of good and beauty in the soul of man,
And traces, in the simplest heart that beats,
A family-likeness to its chosen one,
That claims of it the rights of brotherhood.
For Love is blind but with the fleshly eye,
That so its inner sight may be more clear;
And outward shows of beauty only so
Are needful at the first, as is a hand
To guide and to uphold an infant’s steps:
Great spirits need them not; their earnest look
Pierces the body’s mask of thin disguise,
And beauty ever is to them revealed,
Behind the unshapeliest, meanest lump of clay,
With arms outstretched and eager face ablaze,
Yearning to be but understood and loved.