The Worlds Exile

Well, I will tell you, kind adviser,
Why thus I ever roam
In distant lands, nor wish to guide
My footsteps to the fair hill--side
Where stands my sacred home.

My home! I seem to write that word,
In characters more clear
Than other words,--more slowly round
I draw my pen, to keep the sound
Still lingering in my ear.

For were my wearied life allowed
To choose that quiet bourne,
I should be met by straining eyes,
Welcoming tears, and grateful sighs,
To hallow my return.

But between me and that blest place,
There lies a bar, I feel,
More hard to pass, more girt with awe,
Than any power of injured law,
Or front of bristling steel,--

Or the proud world's anathema,
Or high imperial ban;
I know it would be sacrilege
For me to touch that threshold's edge,--
I am an unclean man!

Not that, in things of Man's esteem,
I bear a mark of shame,
Wealth fairly won, and never turned
To sordid use or wrong, has earned
My honourable name.

But where has been my walk of life?
Have I not grown half grey
Within the lazar--house, and there
Have fed upon the envenomed air,
Unconscious day by day?

How long ago the poisonous rain
Distilled its deadly cold
Upon my warm and panting youth,
That had no instinct but for truth,
No thought of self or gold!

How the hard leprous scales defiled
The bloom so fresh before,
How soon they taught my virgin eyes
To unlearn the glorious mysteries
They saw so clear of yore!

And in their place came vexèd thoughts,
And hopes without a goal,
Unjust regards, and false esteems,
And worship of fantastic dreams,
To paralyse my soul.

Perchance, if I were placed once more
Within the ancient pale
Of Home and homely things, once more
Beheld beside the rustic door
The bowery rose down--trail,--

And saw the bed at whose low side
I prayed, a thankful boy,
Where I have read, by stealthy light,
Some marvellous tale, till past midnight,
In deep and trembling joy;

The casement too, with light wood latch,
Where 'twas my happy wont
To push the ivy half away,
And let the unchecked moon--stream play
Over my thirsty front;

And when I felt a parent's kiss
Lie warm upon my cheek,--
Such sympathies so long foregone
Would make, in their sweet guerison,
The veriest savage meek.

The passion of that influence
Could not be vain to me,
The tide of love would be so strong,
I might perchance be borne along,
And be one moment free.

That could not last,--the Mammon King
Would be indeed too blind,
Thus to give up his long--won prey,
And loose the chains, in one short day,
It took him years to bind.

The heart, that with its luscious cates
The world has fed so long,
Could never taste the simple food
That gives fresh virtue to the good,
Fresh vigour to the strong.

What witchery, to a blunted spirit,
Can give the rapid sense
Of all that's true, and just, and kind,
And beautiful, that lights the mind
Of dauntless innocence?

The very health of these pure lives,
To my distempered sight,
Would wear a rude unseemly guise,--
Oh! shame that darkness dare despise
The Ministers of light!--

I could not join their honest mirth,
Nor share their artless plays,
Each earnest laugh would come to me,
Freighted with bitterest mockery,
Out of my early days.

The plain old songs, all known by heart,
The merry--chorused round,
The imperfect notes, that childhood sings
For its own glee, would now be things
Of faint and rapid sound.

The evening hymn, when every voice
After our father prayed,
Oldest with youngest richly blent,
Followed the simple instrument
My gentle Mother played.

That herald of their happy rest,
Closing their happy day,
Would chase from me all thought of sleep,--
Alas! I might not even weep,
For the bliss I had thrown away.

But discontent and dark unrest
Would thicken all the air,
Envy, of thwarted conscience born,
Envy, that cloaks itself in scorn,
Would haunt me everywhere.

I might blaspheme the holy joys
From which my soul is riven,
And wroth to find my heart so dumb,
While theirs were sweetly--voiced, become
A Demon in that heaven.

At last, I feel, I might grow mad,
For my distorted brain
Would faint beneath the hideous rack--
Force me in ten--fold misery back
To the waste world again.

Then let me linger where I am,
An exile if you will,--
But, Friend, remember, if I flee
To my old home, I there must be
A greater exile still.

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