On a flower in a forest,
A lily-bosom'd flower,
(Where never windy tempest
Came, nor ever any shower)---
A golden hour of birthtide,
(The sky was blue, so blue!)
Left me lying 'mid a songtide
Of birds of every hue.
Upon the white flower swaying
I laughed and sang in glee,
Till the thrushes long delaying
Sang back deliciously;
And the dear white cloudlets sleeping
Up in the blue, blue sky,
Seem'd downy cherubs peeping
Between the pine boughs high.
A little wind came blowing
And sang a wild-wood song,
It whispered of the flowing
Of bubbling streams along;
I laughed, and stood, and rising
Found I had two small wings---
So then I flew rejoicing
Toward the water-springs.
And ever 'mid my flying,
(A little cloud I seem'd)
I heard a great deep sighing,
As earth in trouble dream'd;
And when I reached the river
The sound more windlike blew:
The glad stream lisped "for ever,"
But the sighing grew and grew.
And as I laughed and wonder'd
Among the flowers and grass,
All suddenly it thunder'd,
The sunlight seem'd to pass
A great wind took and blew me
Across a grey wet sand,
And tho' I wept it threw me
Far from the joyous land.
And now the salt waves leaping
Pursue with hungry springs,
And baffled, blind, and weeping,
I beat my draggled wings:
This was the great deep sighing
I heard when I was' young---
And now, wind-weary, dying,
My last sob-note is sung!
Beneath the awful full-orb'd moon
The silent tracts of wild-rice lay
Dumb since the fervid heat of noon
Beat through the burning Indian day;
And still as some far tropic sea
Where no winds murmur, no waves be.
The bending seeded tops alone
Swayed in the sleepy sultry wind,
Which came and went with frequent moan
As though some dying place to find;
While at sharp intervals there rang
The fierce cicala's piercing clang.
Deep 'mid the rice-field's green-hued gloom
A tigress lay with birth-throes ta'en;
Her serpent tail swept o'er her womb
As if to sweep away the pain
That clutched her by the gold-barred thighs
And shook her throat with snarling cries.
Her white teeth tore the wild-rice stems;
And as she moaned her green eyes grew
Lurid like shining baleful gems
With fires volcanic lighten'd through,
While froth fell from her churning jaws
Upon her skin-drawn gleaming claws.
As in a dream at some strange sound
The soul doth seem to freeze, so she
Lay fixed like marble on the ground,
Changed in a moment: suddenly,
A far-off roar of savage might
Boomed through the silent sultry night.
Her eyes grew large and flamed with fire;
Her body seem'd to feel the sound
And thrill therewith, as thrills a lyre
When wild wind wakes it with a bound
And sweeps its string-clasp'd soul along
In waves of melancholy song.
Her answering howl swept back again
And eddied to her far mate's ear
Then once again the travail-pain
Beat at the heart that knew no fear,
But some new instinct seem'd to rise
And yearn and wonder in her eyes.
Did presage of the coming birth
Light up her life with mother-love,
As winds along the morning earth
Whisper of golden dawn above?
Or was it but some sweet wild thought
Remember'd vaguely ere forgot?
Some sweet wild thought of that still night
When underneath the low-lying moon,
Vast, awful, in its splendour white,
Two tigers fought for love's last boon
Two striped and fire-eyed terrors strove
Through blood and foam to reach her love.
Of how their fight so deathly still
Fill'd all her heart with savage glee
The lust to love, to slay, to kill,
The fierce desire with him to be
Whose fangs all bloody from the fray
Should turn triumphantly away:
Of how at last with one wild cry
One gript the other's throat and breath,
And, with hell gleaming thro' each eye,
Shook the wild life to loveless death
Then stood with waving tail and ire
Triumphant changed to swift desire?
But once again the bitter strife
Of wrestling sinews shook her there
And soon a little mewling life
Met her bewildered yearning stare,
Till, through her pain, the tigress strove
With licking tongue her love to prove.
No longer fearless flamed the light
Of great green eyes straight thro' the gloom,
Each nerve seem'd laden with affright,
The eyes expectant of some doom
The very moonlight's steady glare
Beat hungrily about her lair.
A beetle rose, and hummed, and hung
A moment ere it fled---but great
In face of peril to her young
The tigress rose supreme in hate
And, with tail switching and lips drawn,
The unreal foe scowled out upon.
And when a mighty cobra, coiled
Amid the tangled grass-roots near,
Hissed out his hunger, her blood boiled
With rage that left no room for fear,
Till, with a howl that shook the dark,
She sprang and left him cold and stark.
But when a feeble hungry wail
Smote on her yearning ears she turn'd
With velvet paws and refluent tail
And eyes that no more flashed and burn'd
But flamed throughout the solemn night
Like lamps of soft sweet yellow light
To where her young was; where she lay
Silent, and full of some strange love
Long hours. Along the star-strern way
A comet flashed and flamed above,
And where great wastes of solemn blue
Spread starless sailed the vast moon through,
No sound disturb'd the tigress, save
Stray jackals, or some wild boar's pant
Where thickest did the tall rice wave,
Or trump of distant elephant;
Or, when these fill'd the night no more,
The tiger's deep tremendous roar.
Vast, solitary, gloomful, dark,
Primeval forests swept away
To where the gum and stringy bark
Against great granite mountains lay
And through their depths the twilight stole
And dusk'd still deeper each dark bole.
Deep in their pathless tracks there reared
A huge white gum, whose giant height
When winds infrequent blew appeared
To brush the stars out from the night
A mighty column, straight and vast,
Solemn with immemorial past:
And at its base upon a bed
Of fern-tree leaves strewn o'er the ground
A woman lay as though lying dead---
Dark, rigid still, without one sound:
Her fixed eyes lifted not, nor saw
The great stars tremble in strange awe.
Crouch'd near upon the tufted grass
Two wither'd, long-haired women bent
Two dusky bodies. No sign was
Made ever them between, nor went
From swift, slant, startled eyes a glance
To break the spell of their deep trance.
They crouch'd with heads bent down between
Thin, black uprisen knees; their hair
Hid their dark faces like a screen,
And, scored with thorns, their feet lay bare:
Hour after hour had watched them so,
Three shadows fixt in sphinx-like woe.
At times some wandering parrot's voice
Clanged through the dusk; from dead trees nigh
A locust whirred its deafening noise
And shrilled th' opossum's frequent cry
And hour by hour some slim snake stole
Hissing from fallen rotting bole.
At last, above the farthest range
The full vast moon sail'd o'er the trees
The dead-like woman felt some change
Thrill thro' her body; from her knees
Each shadow-watcher raised her head,
And stared with eyes of moveless dread.
Beyond---within the ghastly shade
Of time-forgotten-gums aglow
With phosphorescent light that made
Each trunk burn taper-like---bent low,
A savage, bearded and long-haired,
Wild-eyed across the pale gloom stared:
And when his shifting, restless eyes
Caught the drawn woman's birthtime pang,
He shrilled a wild yell to the skies
And high with tossing arms upsprang
Beating with eager blows a drum
And shivering with some terror dumb:
The list'ning women once again
Shudder'd and grew more chill with fear---
Not at the harsh drum's maddening strain
But at the spirits that were near,
The awful souls of hated dead
That creep round each wild travail-bed
The white-eyed sheeted things that steal
Down dusky ways, and lie in wait
And from the shade their death-darts wheel
And wreak unseen their deathless hate:
For these the fierce drum clanged and beat
The summons of a swift retreat.
What strange thoughts wander'd thro' the mind
Of her who writhed in travail sore?
As, bearing scents and sounds, a wind
Blows pregnant from some distant shore,
So may have blown some wind of thought
Memorious from a past forgot,
Drifting across her yearning eyes
Stray visions of lost happy days,
And filling with strange vague surprise
The dreary sameness of her gaze---
Dim, sweet memorial hours long lost,
Scorched by long suns, numbed by long frost.
But soon the wafted breaths that blew
From off the deep drown'd past were blown
Aside before some sharp wind new
Of sudden agony. A moan
Shook on her lips, and from her womb
A new life crept to outer gloom.
The watching women rose and went
With deft hands unto her: the man
Hush'd his tempestuous instrument,
And with fleet silent footsteps ran
To where, asleep in moonlight, lay
Some huts rough built from branches stray:
And soon thereafter, in the light
Of the full moon, the tribe stole out
And fill'd with cries the startled night--
Till, with claspt hands and one wild shout,
They circled round the riven frame
Of her whose blank eyes knew no shame.
But as some feeble strength came back
She stretched out thin and claw-like hands,
With eyes as one who on a rack
Yearns for mercy, or on strange lands
Lifts outspread arms towards his own
So yearn'd she, with a mother's moan.
Within her famish'd eyes no more
The hunger of the body burned,
But on the fruit her womb long bore
Their light unspeakable was turned:
And all the hunger of her love
Lighten'd the child's eyes from above.
Vast, solitary, gloomful, dark,
Primeval forests swept away
To where the gum and stringy bark
Against the granite mountains lay
Till, as the great moon grew more wan,
Stirred the first heart-beats of the dawn.
And o'er the pathless tracks where reared
The huge white gum, whose boughs had seen
The woman's birth-throes, light appeared
And lit its leaves with golden green,
And shone upon the straight trunk vast,
Solemn with immemorial past.
Faint scent of lilies filled the room,
Hush'd in sweet silence and asleep
Within the dim delicious gloom:
No windy lamp-flame strove to leap
Amidst the moveless shade, but faint
A soft light burned from censer quaint.
And dimly through the gloom loomed large
A carven bed that seem'd to sail
Like ghost of some great funeral barge
'Mid shadow-seas no men might hail--
Till from its depths suffused with night
The wan sheets dreamed to gleaming white.
And lo, half-hid, like some white flow'r
Breasting the driven snow, there lay
Expectant of the awful hour
A waiting girl, who, far away
Beyond where vision reacheth, gazed
With eyes by some strange glory dazed.
Like two strange dreams they were, wherein
Played subtle lights of other life,
Deep depths, scarce cognisant of sin,
Serene, beyond all clamorous strife
Two seas unsoundable as night
Yet lit to utmost depths with light.
Silent she lay, as one who low
In some dim vast deserted nave
Bends rapt in mingled love! and woe
While the wild, passionate, sweeping wave
Of organ music sweeps and rolls
The burden of all suffering souls.
Silent she lay, for as a palm
Within a thirsty desert feels
A low wind break the deathly calm
And drinks each rain-drop as it steals
Between its dry parch'd leaves, so she
Felt God's breath fill her fitfully.
The soft low wind of life divine
Entered the darkened.womb, and there
It cleft the mystic bands that twine
The folded bud of childhood fair,
Which, as an open'd lily, fell
From death to life's strange miracle.
O perfect bud of human flow'r
Immaculately sweet and pure,
Shall God's first influence in this hour
Through all thy coming life endure,
And thou expand to perfect bloom
Untouched by crash of neighbouring doom?
Or, O sweet perfect human bud,
Shall rains thee dash, and wild winds sweep
Thy fair head to the mire and mud,
And, with praying hands, thy mother weep
Such tears of anguish as no pain
Shall ever wring from her again?
Soft, soft, the wind of life doth breathe:--
Some angel surely fans the while
The faint new-litten spark beneath,
And prayeth with a piteous smile
That it may live, and living be
A victor 'midst humanity.
Silent she lay who soon should give
This life to life: her secret thought
Strove 'mid the happy past to live
Again that day she ne'er forgot,
That day when her young love took wing
From maidenhood's sweet-scented spring
When hand in hand she trod the ways
Flow'r-strewn with him, and felt his eyes
Turn'd full on her with such deep gaze
Of love triumphant, that the skies
Seem'd but a hollow dome where rang
Sweet tumult, as though angels sang:
How the hush'd drowsy afternoon
Slipt through the summertide, till low
In the dark tranquil east the moon
Rose vast and yellow, and more slow
The flaming star that lights the west
Lulled the sea-waters to their rest
How in the bridal chamber shone
No other than the full-moon's light,
And how between the dusk and dawn
A wind of passion fill'd the night
And bore resistless soul with soul
On to love's utmost crowning goal.
Silent she was, but as her mind
Made real once more that perfect day
Her body trembled, as a wind
Had blown upon her where she lay,
And in her eyes serene and deep
Joys unforgotten woke from sleep.
As on a mighty midnight sea
Wind-swept, and lit by a white glare
Where intermittent lightnings flee
And deafened by the thunderous air
Split up with tumult, one great wave
Doth rise and scorn an ocean-grave,
And, gathering volume as it rolls,
Doth sweep triumphant till at last
It thunders up the sounding shoals
Of stricken promontory aghast,
And leaves its crown of foam where high
The cliffs stare seaward steadily:
So from love's throbbing pulsing sea
All lightning-lit by passion, reared
A mighty wave resistlessly
Of mother-love, which as it neared
Fulfilment broke in one glad cry
Of sweet half-wond'ring ecstasy.
Hush! the great sea is still, and low
The night-wind wanders; hush, for calm
The mother waits the body's woe.
Silent she lay; mayhap a psalm
Of sacred joy sang deep within
The maiden heart unstained by sin.
Mayhap the inward vision saw
The unborn soul arise and stand
Great in a people's love and awe,
Crown'd not with gold by human hand
But sacred with the bays that wait
The victor in the strife of Fate
And deeper still, beheld afar
The billows of the ages sweep
A mightier soul from star to star--
So ever upwards through the steep
Dim ways of God's unfathom'd will
But aye by fuller periods still.
So shall it be for ever: evermore
The mystic wheel of mother-love shall whirl
Around the world, and link these three again.