by AE
A wind blew by from icy hills,
Shook with cold breath the daffodils,
And shivered as with silver mist
The lake's pale leaden amethyst.
It pinched the barely budded trees
And rent the twilight tapestries:
Left for one hallowed instant bare
A single star in lonely air
O'er rocky fields the bitter wind
Had swept of all their human kind.

Ere that the fisher folk were all
Snug under thatch and sheltering wall,
Breathing the cabin's air of gold,
Safe from blue storm and nipping cold.
And, clustered round the hearth within
With fiery hands and burnished chin,
They sat and listened to old tales
Or legends of gigantic gales.
Some told of phantom craft they knew
That sailed with a flame-coloured crew,
And came up strangely through the wind
Havens invisible to find
By those rare cities poets sung
Cresting the Islands of the Young.

How do the heights above our head,
The depths below the water spread,
Waken the spirit in such wise
That to the deep the deep replies,
And in far spaces of the soul
The oceans stir, the heavens roll?

Michael must leave the morrow morn
The countryside where he was born,
And all day long had Michael clung
Unto the kin he lived among.
But at some talk of sea and sky
He heard an older mother cry.
The cabin's golden air grew dim:
The cabin's walls drew down on him:
The cabin's rafters hid from sight
The cloudy roof-tree of the night.
And Michael could not leave behind
His kinsmen of the wave and wind
Without farewell. The path he took
Ran like a twisted, shining brook,
Speckled with stones and ruts and rills,
Mid a low valley of dark hills,
And trees so tempest bowed that they
Seemed to seek double root in clay.
At last the dropping valley turned:
A sky of murky citron burned,
Above through flying purples seen
Lay pools of heavenly blue and green.
From the sea rim unto the caves
Rolled on a mammoth herd of waves.
And all about the rocky bay
Leaped up grey forests of wild spray,
Glooming above the ledges brown
Ere their pale drift came drenching down.

Things delicate and dewy clung
To Michael's cheeks. The salt air stung.
From crag to crag did Michael leap
Until he overhung the deep;
Saw in vast caves the waters roam,
The ceaseless ecstasy of foam,
Whirlpools of opal, lace of light
Strewn over quivering malachite,
Ice-tinted mounds of water rise,
Glinting as with a million eyes,
Reel in and out of light and shade,
Show depths of ivory or jade,
New broidery every instant wear
Spun by the magic weaver, Air.
Then Michael's gaze was turned from these
Unto the far, rejoicing seas
Whose twilight legions onward rolled
A turbulence of dusky gold,
A dim magnificence of froth,
A thunder tone which was not wrath,
But such a speech as earth might cry
Unto far kinsmen in the sky.
The spray was tossed aloft in air:
A bird was flying here and there.
Foam, bird and twilight to the boy
Seemed to be but a single joy.
He closed his eyes that he might be
Alone with all that ecstasy.

What was it unto Michael gave
This joy, the life of earth and wave?
Or did his candle shine so bright
But by its own and natural light?
Ah, who can answer for what powers
Are with us in the secret hours!
Though wind and wave cried out no less,
Entranced unto forgetfulness,
He heard no more the water's din;
A golden ocean rocked within,
A boat of bronze and crystal wrought
And steered by the enchanter, Thought,
Was flying with him fast and far
To isles that glimmered, each a star
Hung low upon the distant rim,
And then the vision rushed on him.

The palaces of light were there
With towers that faded up in air,
With amethyst and silver spires,
And casements lit with precious fires,
And mythic forms with wings outspread
And faces from which light was shed
High upon gleaming pillars set
On turret and on parapet.
The bells were chiming all around
And the sweet air was drunk with sound.

Too swift did Michael pass to see
Ildathach's mystic chivalry
Graved on the walls, its queens and kings
Girt round with eyes and stars and wings.
The magic boat with Michael drew
To some deep being that he knew,
Some mystery that to the wise
Is clouded o'er by Paradise,
Some will that would not let him stay
Hurried the boat away, away.
At last its fiery wings were still
Folded beneath some heavenly hill.
But was that Michael light as air
Was travelling up the mighty stair?
Or had impetuous desire
Woven for him that form of fire
Which with no less a light did shine
Than those with countenance divine
Who thronged the gateway as he came,
Faces of rapture and of flame,
The glowing, deep, unwavering eyes
Of those eternity makes wise.
And lofty things to him were said
As to one risen from the dead.

What there beyond the gate befell
Michael could never after tell.

Imagination still would fail
Some height too infinite to scale,
Some being too profound to scan,
Some time too limitless to span.
Yet when he lifted up his eyes
That foam was grey against the skies.
That same wild bird was on the wing.
That twilight wave was glimmering.
And twilight wave and foam and bird
Had hardly in his vision stirred
Since he had closed his eyes to be
Of that majestic company.

And can a second then suffice
To hurry us to Paradise,
What seemed so endlessly sublime
Shrink to a particle of time?
Why was the call on Michael made?
What charge was on his spirit laid?
And could the way for him be sure
Made by excess of light obscure?
However fiery is the dream,
How faint in life the echoing gleam!
And faint was all that happed that day
As home he went his dreamy way.

And now has Michael, for his share
Of life, the city's dingy air,
By the black reek of chimneys smudged
O'er the dark warehouse where he drudged,
Where for dull life men pay in toll
Toil and the shining of the soul.
Within his attic he would fret
Like a wild creature in a net,
And on the darkness he would make
The jewel of a little lake,
A bloom of fairy blue amid
The bronze and purple heather hid;
Make battlemented cliffs grow red
Where the last rose of day was shed,
Be later in rich darkness seen
Against a sky of glowing green.
Or he would climb where quiet fills
With dream the shepherd on the hills,
Where he could see as from high land
The golden sickle of the sand
Curving around the bay to where
The granite cliffs were worn by air,
And watch the wind and waves at play,
The heavenly gleam of falling spray.
The sunlit surges foam below
In wrinklings as of liquid snow.
And he could breathe the airs that blew
From worlds invisible he knew.
How far away now from the boy!
How unassailable their joy!

So Michael would recall each place
As lovers a remembered face.
But, though the tender may not tire,
Memory is but a fading fire.
And Michael's might have sunken low,
Changed to grey ash its coloured glow,
Did not upon his hearing fall
The mountain speech of Donegal,
And that he swiftly turned to greet
The tongue whose accent was so sweet,
And found one of that eager kind
The army of the Gaelic mind,
Still holding through the Iron Age
The spiritual heritage,
The story from the gods that ran
Through many a cycle down to man.
And soon with them had Michael read
The legend of the famous dead,
From him who with his single sword
Stayed a great army at the ford,
Down to the vagrant poets, those
Who gave their hearts to the Dark Rose,
And of the wanderers who set sail
And found a lordlier Innisfail,
And saw a sun that never set
And all their hearts' desires were met.

How may the past if it be dead
Its light within the living shed?
Or does the Everliving hold
Earth's memories from the Age of Gold?
And are our dreams, ardours and fires
But ancient unfulfilled desires?
And do they shine within our clay
And do they urge us on their way?
As Michael read the Gaelic scroll
It seemed the story of the soul,
And those who wrought, lest there should fail,
From earth the legend of the Gael,
Seemed warriors of Eternal Mind,
Still holding in a world grown blind,
From which belief and hope had gone,
The lovely magic of its dawn.

Thrice on the wheel of time recurred
The season of the risen Lord
Since Michael left his home behind
And faced the chilly Easter wind,
And saw the twilight waters gleam
And dreamed an unremembered dream.
Was it because the Easter time
With mystic nature was in chime
That memory was roused from sleep,
Or was deep calling unto deep?
The lord in man had risen here,
From the dark sepulchre of fear,
Was laughing, gay and undismayed,
Though on a fragile barricade
The bullet rang, the death star broke,
The street waved dizzily in smoke,
And there the fierce and lovely breath
Of flame in the grey mist was death.

Yet Michael felt within him rise
The rapture that is sacrifice.
What miracle was wrought on him
So that each leaden freighted limb
Seemed lit with fire, seemed light as air?
How came upon him dying there
Amid the city's burning piles
The vision of the mystic isles?
For underneath and through the smoke
A glint of golden waters broke;
And floating on that phantom tide
With fiery wings expanded wide
A barque of bronze and crystal wrought
Called forth by the enchanter, Thought.
And noble faces glowed above,
Faces of ecstasy and love,
And eyes whose shining calm and pure
Was in eternity secure,
And lofty forms of burnished air
Stood on the deck by Michael there.
And spirit upon spirit gazed,
And one to Michael's lips upraised
A cup filled from that holy well
O'er which the Nuts of Wisdom fell,
And as he drank there reeled away
Vision of earth and night and day,
And he was far away from these
Afloat upon the heavenly seas.

I do not know if such a band
Came from the Many Coloured Land
Or whether in our being we
Make such a magic phantasy
Of images which draw us hence
Unto our own magnificence.
Yet many a one a tryst has kept
With the immortal while he slept,
Woke unremembering, went his way,
Life seemed the same from day to day,
Till the predestined hour came,
A hidden will leaped up in flame,
And through its deed the risen soul
Strides on self-conquering to the goal.

This was the dream of one who died
For country, said his countryside.
We choose this cause or that, but still
The Everlasting works Its will.
The slayer and the slain may be
Knit in a secret harmony.
What does the spirit urge us to?
Some sacrifice that may undo
The bonds that hold us to the clay
And limit life to this cold day?
Some for a gentle dream will die:
Some for an empire's majesty:
Some for a loftier humankind,
Some to be free as cloud or wind,
Will leave their valley, climb their slope.
Whate'er the deed, whate'er the hope,
Through all the varied battle-cries
A Shepherd with a single voice
Still lures us nigh the Gates of Gold
That open to the Starry Fold.
So it may be that Michael died
For some far other countryside
Than that grey Ireland he had known,
Yet on his dream of it was thrown
Some light from that consuming Fire
Which is the end of all desire.
If men adore It as the power
Empires and cities tower on tower
Are built in worship by the way
High Babylon or Nineveh.
Seek It as love and there may be
A Golden Age and Arcady.
All shadows are they of one thing
To which all life is journeying.
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