A Dream Of Sappho

The mariners were all asleep,
Save one half--dreaming at the stern,
Who gently bade me upward turn
My eyes, long gazing on the deep.
The wind had stol'n away,--our skiff
Rested, as if its sails were furled,
Upon the tide which softly curled
Around a triple--breasted cliff,
Whose steeps, in mistiest day--time bright,
Were almost above nature white,
Bare--fronted to the westering moon,
For the autumn night had past its noon.

I prayed that not a soul might wake,--
To be left utterly alone,--
That not the faintest human tone,
The silence of that time might break;
When,--as of old the alien maids,
Who sanctified Dodona's shades,
Drew out the tale of human fate,
From sounds of things inanimate,
Wont with inclin├Ęd ear to listen,
Where branches rock or fountains rise,
Till high intelligences glisten
In their intense Egyptian eyes,--
So I began, in that light breeze,
Glancing along those noted seas,
To trace a harmony distinct,
A meaning in each change of tone,
And sound to sound more strangely linkt,
Than in my awe I dared to own:--
But when in clearer unison
That marvellous concord still went on,
And, gently as a blossom grows,
A frame of syllables uprose,
With a delight akin to fear
My heart beat fast and strong, to hear
Two murmurs beautifully blent,
As of a voice and instrument,--
A hand laid lightly on low chords,--
A voice that sobbed between its words.

``Stranger! the voice that trembles in your ear,
You would have placed, had you been fancy--free,
First in the chorus of the happiest sphere,
The home of deified mortality:

``Stranger, the voice that trembles here below,
While in your life, enjoyed a fame so loud,
That utmost nations listened to its flow,
And of its presence the old Earth was proud:

``Stranger, the voice is Sappho's,--weep, oh! weep,
That the soft tears of sympathy may fall
Into this prison of the sunless deep,
Where I am laid in miserable thrall.

``Not of my mortal pride, my mortal woe
Would I now speak;--there is no gentle maid,
Nor youth kind--hearted, but has sighed to know,
What was my love and how it was repaid!

``I had dear friends, who wept with bitter tears,
To watch my spirit's stream, which else had run,
In fulness and delight, its course of years,
Wasted and parched by that relentless sun.

``Of this far rock, and its miraculous power,
They heard, emmarvelled, and with sedulous prayer
Conjured me not to lose one precious hour,
But seek the cure of all my misery there.

```The Gods,' they argued in their fond esteem,
`Love their harmonious daughter far too well,
Not to pour forth on her diseas├Ęd dream
The benediction of that soothing spell.

```When many a one, whose name will never shine
On after ages, there has found release,
How shall not she, already half divine,
Claim the same gift of spiritual peace?'

``I told them, `Thousands in that chilly deep
Might find relief from their weak hearts' annoy :--
Venus herself might try the counselled leap,
And rise oblivious of her hunter--boy;

```The mystery of the place might moderate
Th' authentic passion of imperial Jove,
But did they hope for me that common fate,
They could know nothing of a Poet's love.'

``But vain my words;--the tender--cruel hand
Of blinded friendship guided me away,--
I would have died in my own Lesbian land,
Not in these regions of the waning day!

``Thus here all bootless adorations paid,
I dared the height of this tremendous shore;
What were your agonies, ye hope--betrayed!
When to your bosom I came back no more?

``Of the mysterious pass, that leads through death,
From life to life, I must not speak to thee;
Enough that now I breathed another breath,
Beyond the portals of mortality.

``A stream received me, whose aethereal flow
Came to my senses like a perfumed sigh,
From the rich flowers that shed their light below,
And bowed their jewelled heads as I passed by.

``And opposite a tide of sound was driven,
That made the air all music, and from far
Glimmered bright faces through a dead--gold heaven,
As in an earthly night star follows star.

``At last I came to a gigantic gate,
That opened to a steep--ascending lawn,
Whence rose a Temple, whose white marble state
Was fused into that gold and purple dawn.

``Sisterly voices were around me chanting,
`Hail! Thou whom Song has numbered with the blest,
From fear, and hope, and passion's feverish panting,
Pass to thy crown, a Muse's glorious rest.'

``Entranced I entered,--but there stood between
Me and the fane, a queenly form and stern,
Upon whose brow, in letters all of sheen,
I saw the ancient name of Themis burn.

``She laid her hand on mine, it felt so cold,
She asked me, `Whether I, whose soul had earned
This highest Heaven, now felt serene and bold;'
Then I into my conscious self returned.

``She asked me, `Whether all that heart--distress,
In which my yielding womanhood had erred
From this my Goddess--state with bitterness
And shame was seen;' I answered not a word.

``Then, piercingly, she asked me `Whether He,
Before whose charms I prostrated so low
My woman's worth, my Poet's dignity,
Was clear forgot;'--I answered slowly, `No.'

``Strange strength was in me; with consummate scorn,
I spoke of `That Appollo, who could deem,
That by his magic leap, the true love--lorn
Could wake to bliss, as from a troublous dream.'

``I said, `The promised peace, the calm divine,
The cold self--power, and royalty of will,
Or there, or elsewhere, never could be mine,
For I was Sappho,--Phaon's Sappho still.'

``There was dead blackness on the golden sky,
There was dumb silence in the resonant air,
But still I cried aloud in agony,
`Heaven was not Heaven, if Phaon was not there.'

``With arms upraised, and towering looks averse,
That fearful Being uttered,--`Be it so,
Blessing thou wilt not, thou shalt have a curse;
High bliss thou wilt not, thou shalt have deep woe.

```Thou hast defiled the Gods' most choicest dower,
Poesy, which in chaste repose abides,
As in its atmosphere;--that placid flower
Thou hast exposed to passion's fiery tides;

```Within the cold abyss, degraded, lone,
Beneath the rock whose power thou hast blasphemed,
From thy Parnassian, long--expectant, throne,
Lie banished, till by some new fate redeemed.'

``When will that new fate be? I linger on,--
I know not what I wish; Oh! tell me, thou
That weep'st for one thou would'st have smiled upon,
Dear Stranger, tell me where is Phaon now?''

Here paused the Voice, and now, methought, I spoke,
But what I know not; for there passed a shock
Throughout my senses, like a lightning--stroke;
I started to my feet;--the tall white Rock
Walled the far waste of silent sea, the morn
Light--lined the East, on grey--white wings upborne.

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