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Title: Poems

Author: Maurice Maeterlinck

Translator: Bernard Miall

Release date: September 23, 2015 [eBook #50043]
Most recently updated: April 2, 2024

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Marc D'Hooghe (Images generously made available at the Internet Archive.)





—Done into English Verse—


Methuen & Co. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W.C.

Translator's Preface


Once in a generation an author surpasses the bounds of nationality. Of such cosmopolitan artists Maurice Maeterlinck is perhaps the most shining example. Twenty years ago I was vainly endeavouring to interest English publishers in his plays. To-day I am asked to produce a version of one of his earlier and less familiar works, because the time is approaching for that monument to his fame which so few writers enjoy in their lifetime—namely, the complete edition. He is not a Belgian writer merely or chiefly; above all he is an English, an American author. His readers in England and the United States far outnumber those who read the original French. His books are published in England and America almost as soon as they appear in France and Belgium, and in at least one case the English publication was the earlier. More and more do his lovers demand every word that his pen has formed. Sooner or later, therefore, it was inevitable that these "Poems" should appear in translation.


The poems contained in this volume form part of a movement long defunct—the Belgian Symbolist movement, an offshoot of that Belgian renascence which produced so remarkable a body of great and noble poetry. I cannot say, however, that perusal of the other poets of the period will assist the reader to appreciate the volume in hand. Eekhoud, Elskamp, Gilkin, Rodenbach, Verhaeren—none of these wrote verse which could possibly be confounded with that of Maeterlinck; twenty years ago the latter was no less original than he is to-day.

Many poets of the late nineteenth century were, without being symbolists, affected by the Symbolist movement—a movement very loosely named, since the actual symbolists connected with it could be counted on the fingers of one hand. More particularly were they influenced by the tendency to put music before matter, beauty before sense, which is expressed by the so familiar lines of Verlaine:

De la musique avant toute chose,
Et pour cela préfère l'Impair,
Plus vague et plus soluble dans l'air,
Sans rien en lui qui pèse ou pose...
De la musique encor et toujours!

But musical as Maeterlinck's verses are, and rich in sheer beauty, we are very seldom in doubt as to what the poet says, however little we may in some cases understand what he means. His statements are concrete and lucid; it is the inner meaning, the soul of his verse, that sometimes threatens to elude us. Had this volume been cast upon the late Victorian world this preface would perhaps have been longer. But I cannot believe that these poems will present any difficulties to a generation which has degustated such phenomena as Cubism and its kindred manifestations.


It is safe to assert that the writer of these poems had read his Verlaine, his Rimbaud, his Mallarmé, and his Baudelaire, and of English-speaking poets Emerson, Poe, perhaps Rossetti, and above all Whitman. But he is no disciple; and his essential originality, and the keynote of his aesthetics, is a system of symbolism.

Now here at once we are on dangerous ground. When a poet makes use of a symbol it is because that symbol enables him to say something that he cannot say so well, or so beautifully, or perhaps at all, in plain language. He is a rash man, therefore, who will attempt to elucidate another's symbolism. However, I have already been rash, in venturing to translate, not a few selected lyrics, but an entire volume of verse from cover to cover, than which there is no more appalling task in literature. But I am not, therefore, disposed to court disaster by attempting any detailed or positive explanation. I could indeed have asked M. Maeterlinck for such; but at the moment of writing his country is being crucified by the powers of darkness, and he has other and sterner matters to think of.

This machinery of hot-houses, bell-glasses, hospitals, and what not—what are we to make of it? I do not think we shall go far wrong in supposing the hot-house, the bell-glass, the diving-bell, the hospital, to typify the isolation and insulation caused by a false civilization and an unreal religion, so productive of hypocrisy, fear, and confusion that each man is a prisoner within himself, unable to reach his fellow. And the inmates of the hot-house—the strange growths, the fantastic visions, the violent antitheses and incongruities—these, we may take it, are the morbidities fostered by a life which protects us and them from the agencies by which Nature makes her own children perfect in strength and beauty and service. That is my reading of it; the reader is perfectly free to differ from me, and will lose little by so doing if I have succeeded in preserving a tithe of the original beauty of the verse.

If here and there—more particularly in the unrhymed pieces—the violent and intentional incongruities and antitheses seem startling and incomprehensible, and a little apt to tickle the risibility of the frivolous Anglo-Saxon, let us remember that to read a symbolic poem literally is as foolish as to seek for a cipher in Shakespeare, or to set about interpreting a melody in terms of its notation, in the hope of spelling out a message.

One peculiarity of Maeterlinck's which may at first confuse the English reader is only a simple convention. All poetry is full of similes; the simile confuses no one. If a poet tells us that his heart is like a singing-bird we do not seriously suppose him to mean that his heart has feathers and two legs; but merely that it possesses some other essential quality of a singing-bird. Now Maeterlinck constantly, in his verse, uses what is merely a modification of the simile, which has precisely the same significance, but which takes the form of a positive assertion of identity. He would say: My heart is a singing-bird or a plant in a green-house, or anything else that seemed to be illuminating; and this apparent literalness of statement, which is carried very far, is, and must always be understood as, a mere variant of the familiar simile.


A word as to the work of translation. Most of the lyrics in Serres Chaudes are written in the metre familiar to English readers as that of "In Memoriam." It is, in English, rather a dull metre, the stanza being in reality no stanza at all, but merely a line of thirty-two syllables with interior rhymes. It is greatly improved and enlivened by the omission of four syllables, or rather by their replacement by pauses of one syllable's value. This change I have sometimes made; and in one case I have, in order to avoid a verbal obscurity, extended the line to ten syllables. Apart from these exceptions all the poems in this volume are translated into their original metres, and it has always been my first object to produce a literal, almost a word for word, translation. Whatever the faults of my version, it is strictly faithful. If I am deemed to have also preserved something of the beauty of the original I shall feel more than rewarded for a task that has presented many difficulties.



September 1914.







The right to reproduce these poems or to set them to music is reserved by the translator, and application must be made to him or to Mr J. B. Pinker of Talbot House, Arundel Street.





O Hot-house deep in the forest's heart!
O doors forever sealed!
Lo, all that lives beneath thy dome,
And in my soul, and the likeness of these things!

The thoughts of a princess who is sick with hunger,
The listless mood of a mariner in the desert,
And brazen music at the windows
Of men who are sick to death!

Seek out the coolest corners—
And you think of a woman who has swooned
on a day of harvest.

Postilions have entered the courtyard of the hospital,
And there passes yonder an Uhlan, who has turned sick-nurse.

Behold it all by moonlight!
(Nothing, nothing is in its rightful place!)
And you think of a madwoman haled before the judges,
A warship in full sail on the waters of a canal,
Birds of the night perched among lilies,
And the knell of a passing-bell at the mid-day hour of Angelus.
And yonder—beneath those domes of glass—
A group of sick folk halted amid the meadows,
An odour of ether abroad on the sunny air!

My God, my God, when shall we feel the rain,
And the snow, and the wind, in this close house of glass?


O Pity me that wander hence
To haunt the threshold of intent
My soul is pale with impotence,
Colourless and indolent.

A soul for action all too weak,
Pallid with tears, it vainly heeds
The weary hands that idly seek
To grapple with abortive deeds.

Forth from my slumbering heart exhale
The purple bubbles of its dream;
My soul, with waxen hands and frail,
Pours forth a drowsy lunar gleam,

A listless light that dimly shows
The faded lilies of days unborn;
A languid light that only throws
The shadows of those hands forlorn.


O Blue monotony of my heart!
Blue with languor are my dreams,
When the mournful moonlight seems
Clearer vision to impart:

Blue as is the house of shade,
Close within whose lofty green
Casements whose pellucid screen
Seems of crystal moonlight made,

Mighty vegetations rise,
Whose nocturnal shadow deep
Silent as a charmed sleep
Over passion's roses lies;

Where slow-rising waters gleam,
Mingling moon and heaven, and throb
In one eternal glaucous sob,
Monotonously as in a dream.


Green as the sea, temptations creep
Through the shadows of the mind,
Where with flaming flowers entwined
Dark ejaculations leap—

Stems obscure that coil and thrust
In the moon's unhallowed glow,
And the autumnal shadows throw
Of their auguries of lust.

And the moon may hardly shine
Through their fevered fast embrace:
Limb and slimy limb enlace,
Emerald and serpentine.

Sacrilegiously they grow,
And their secret will reveal,
Dismal as regrets that steal
O'er men dying in the snow;

And their mournful shadows hide
Tangled wounds that mark the thrust
Of the azure swords of lust
In the crimson flesh of pride.

When will the dreams of earth, alas,
Find in my heart their final tomb?
O let Thy glory, Lord, illume
This dark and evil house of glass,

And that oblivion nought may win!
The dead leaves of their fevers fall,
The stars between their lips, and all
The visceræ of woe and sin!


O Domes of crystal!
O curious plants forever sheltered,
While the wind stirs my senses here without!
A valley of the soul forever undisturbed!
O humid warmth at noon!
O shifting pictures glimpsed in the crystal walls!

Never lift one of these!
Some have been set upon ancient pools of moonlight.
Peer through the prisoned foliage:
There you may see a beggar upon a throne,
Or maybe pirates, lurking upon a pond,
Or antediluvian beasts about to invade the cities!

Some have been set on ancient drifts of snow,
And some on pools of rain long fallen.
(O pity the imprisoned air!)
I hear them keeping Carnival on a Sabbath in time of famine;
I see an ambulance in the midst of the fields of harvest,
And all the king's daughters, on a day of fast,
Are wandering through the meadows!

Mark more especially those on the horizon!
Carefully they cover the tempests of long ago.
Somewhere, I think, you will see a great armada, sailing across a swamp!
And there the brooding swans have hatched a nest of crows!
(It is hard to see through the veil of moisture.)
And a maiden is watering the heath with steaming water,
A troop of little girls is watching the hermit in his cell,
And I see my sisters asleep in the depth of a poisonous cavern!

Wait until the moonlight, wait until the winter
Shall cover these domes of crystal set amid ice and snow!


I bring my piteous work, in form
Like the dreaming of a corse,
And the moon illumes the storm
O'er the creatures of remorse.

There the purple snakes of dream
Writhing twine till sleep be done;
Crowned with swords, my longings gleam;
Lions are whelmed in the sun,

Lilies in waters desolate,
Clenched hands that may not move,
And the ruddy stems of hate,
Bearing verdant woes of love—

Lord, pity our mortal speech!
O that my prayers, morose and dim,
With the dishevelled moon may reach
And reap the night to the world's rim


Neath the azure crystal bell
Of my listless melancholy
All my formless sorrows wholly
Sink to rest, and all is well;

Symbols all, the plans entwine:
Water lilies, flowers of pleasure,
Palms desirous, slow with leisure,
Frigid mosses, pliant bine.

'Mid them all a lily only,
Pale and fragile and unbending,
Imperceptibly ascending
In that place of leafage lonely,

Like a moon the prisoned air
Fills with glimmering light wherethro'
Rises to the crystal blue,
White and mystical, its prayer.


The dark brings visions to mine eyes:
Thro' my desires they seek their goal.
O nights within the humid soul,
O heart to dreams that open lies!

With azure reveries I bedew
The roses of attempts undone;
My lashes close the gates upon
The longings that will ne'er come true.

My pallid indolent fingers plant
Ever in vain, at close of day,
The emerald bells of hope that lay
Over the purple leaves of want.

Helpless, my soul beholds with dread
The bitter musings of my lips,
Amid the crowding lily-tips:
O that this wavering heart were dead


My soul!
O, my soul, verily too closely sheltered!
And the flocks of my desires, imprisoned in a house of glass!
Waiting until the tempest break upon the meadows!

Come first of all to these, so sick and fragile:
From these a strange effluvium rises.
And lo, it seems I am with my mother,
Crossing a field of battle.
They are burying a brother-in-arms at noon,
While the sentinels are snatching a meal.

Now let us go to the feeblest:
These are covered with a strange sweat.
Here is an ailing bride,
And an act of treachery done upon a Sabbath,
And little children in prison,
And yonder, yonder through the mist,
Do I see there a woman dying at the door of a kitchen,
Or a Sister of Charity, shelling peas at the bedside of a dying patient?

Last of all let us go to the saddest:
(Last of all, for these are venom'd.)
O, my lips are pressed by the kisses of a wounded man!

In the castles of my soul this summer all the
chatelaines have died of hunger!

Now it is twilight on the morning of a day of festival!
I catch a glimpse of sheep along the quays,
And there is a sail by the windows of the hospital.

The road is long from my heart to my soul,
And all the sentinels have died at their posts!
One day there was a poor little festival in the suburbs of my soul!
They were mowing the hemlock there one Sunday morning,
And all the maiden women of the convent
were watching the passing vessels,
On the canal, one sunny fast-day.
But the swans were ailing, in the shadow of the rotting bridge.
They were lopping the trees about the prison,
They were bringing remedies, on an afternoon of June,
And on every hand there were sick folk feasting!

Alas, my soul,

And alas, the sadness of all these things!


These lips have long forgotten to bestow
Their kiss on blind eyes chiller than the snow,
Henceforth absorbed in their magnificent dream.
Drowsy as hounds deep in the grass they seem;
They watch the grey flocks on the sky-line pass,
Browsing on moonlight scattered o'er the grass,
By skies as vague as their own life caressed.
They see, unvexed by envy or unrest,
The roses of joy that open on every hand,
The long green peace they cannot understand.


My soul is sick, in an evil mood;
Stricken with many a lack it lies,
Stricken with silence, and mine eyes
Illume it with their lassitude.

Arrested visions of the chase
Obsess me; memory whips them on;
The sleuth-hounds of Desire are gone
On fading scents—a weary race.

In misty woods the hunt is met;
The questing packs of dreams depart;
Toward the white stags of falsehood dart
The jaundiced arrows of Regret.

Ah, my desires! For breath they swoon
The wearied longings of mine eyes
Have clouded with their azure sighs,
Within my soul, the flooding moon!


Narrow paths my passions tread:
Laughter rings there, sorrow cries
Sick and sad, with half-shut eyes,
Thro' the leaves the woods have shed,

My sins like yellow mongrels slink;
Uncouth hyænas, my hates complain,
And on the pale and listless plain
Couching low, love's lions blink.

Powerless, deep in a dream of peace,
Sunk in a languid spell they lie,
Under a colourless desolate sky,
There they gaze and never cease,

Where like sheep temptations graze,
One by one departing slow:
In the moon's unchanging glow
My unchanging passions gaze.


A woman's fears my heart control:
What have I done with these, my part,
My hands, the lilies of my soul,
Mine eyes, the heavens of my heart?

O Lord, have pity on my grief:
I have lost the palm and ring, alas!
Pity my prayers, my poor relief,
Cut flowers and fragile in a glass.

Pity the trespass of my mouth,
And things undone, and words unsaid;
Shed lilies on my fever's drouth,
And roses on the marshes shed!

O God! The doves whose flights are gold
On heavens remembered! Pity too
These garments that my loins enfold,
That rustle round me, dimly blue!


Here are the old desires that pass,
The dreams of weary men, that die,
The dreams that faint and fail, alas!
And there the days of hope gone by!

Where to fly shall we find a place?
Never a star shines late or soon:
Weariness only with frozen face,
And sheets of blue in the icy moon.

Behold the fireless sick, and lo!
The sobbing victims of the snare!
Lambs whose pasture is only snow!
Pity them all, O Lord, my prayer!

For me, I wait the awakening call:
I pray that slumber leave me soon.
I wait until the sunlight fall
On hands yet frozen by the moon.


Proud, indifferent, slow, they have fled, they have flown away,
The peacocks white as snow, lest weariness awake;
I see the birds of snow, the white birds of To-day,
The birds that fly away before my slumber break;
Proud, indifferent, slow, the white birds of To-day,
Winning with indolent flight the shores of the sunless lake;
The birds of listless thought, I hear them on their way,
Indolently waiting for the sunless day to break.


The hospital on the banks of the canal,
The hospital, and the month July!
They are lighting a fire in the ward,
While the Atlantic steamers are whistling on the canal!

(Do not go near the windows!)
Here are emigrants loitering through a palace,
And I see a yacht in a tempest!
And herds of cattle on all the ships!

(It is better to keep the windows fastened;
Then we are all but safe from the outside world!)

One thinks of a forcing-frame placed upon a snow-drift,
Or a woman being churched on a day of thunder;
One catches a glimpse of plants scattered over a blanket,
And a conflagration on a sunny day,
And I pass through a forest full of wounded men....

O, here at last is the moonlight!

A fountain is playing in the middle of the ward!
And a troop of little girls has opened the door!
And lo, a glimpse of lambs in an isle of meadows!
And beautiful plants on a glacier!
And lilies in a hall of marble!
There is a banquet in a virgin forest,
And the vegetation of the tropics in a cavern of ice!

Listen! They are opening the locks,
And the ocean steamers are churning the waters of the canal!

But see, the Sister of Charity is making up the fire!

All the lovely green rushes of the banks are in flames!
And a boat full of wounded men is tossing in the moonlight!
All the king's daughters are out in a boat in the storm!
And the princesses are dying in a field of hemlock!

Oh, do not unfasten the windows!
Listen—the ocean steamers are still hooting on the horizon!

They are poisoning someone in a garden!
They are holding a splendid festival in the houses of the enemy!
There are deer in a beleaguered city!
And a menagerie in a garden of lilies!
And the jungle of the tropics in the depths of a coal-mine!
A flock of sheep is crossing an iron bridge!
And the lambs have come from the meadows and are mournfully
entering the ward!

Now the Sister of Charity is lighting the lamps;
Now she is bringing the patients their supper,
She has closed the windows upon the canal,
And all the doors to the light of the moon!


Below the somnolence of prayer,
Under languid visions I
Hear the passions surge and cry:
Lust with lust is warring there.

Thro' the lassitude of dreams
Shines the moon as thro' a mesh;
And the wandering joy of flesh
Still on pestilent beaches gleams.

Under ever-shrouded skies,
Thirsting for their starry fires,
Thro' my veins I hear desires
Toward the green horizon rise.

Evil fondnesses I hear
Blackly surging through my mind:
Phantom marshes vanish blind
Sudden on the sky-line drear.

O Lord, thy wrath will slay me soon!
Have pity on me, Lord, I pray!
Sweating and sick, O let me stray
Thro' pastures glimmering in the moon!

For now, O Lord, the time is nigh
To rase the hemlock with the steel,
Whose moon my secret hopes reveal
Green as a serpent in the sky:

And the plague of dreams mine eyes
Smites, and all its sins subdue,
And the rustling fountains blue
Toward the sovereign moon arise!


I mourn the lips of yesterday,
Lips whose kisses are yet unborn,
And the old desires outworn,
Under sorrows hid away.

Always rain on the far sky-line;
Always snow on the beaches gleams,
While by the bolted gate of dreams
Crouching wolves in the grasses whine.

Into my listless soul I gaze:
With clouded eyes I search the past,
At all the long-spilt blood aghast
Of lambs that died in wintry ways.

Only the moon its mournful fires
Enkindles, and a desolate light
Falls where the autumn frosts are white
Over my famishing desires.


I sing the pale ballades of eld,
Of kisses lost without reward,
And lo, on love's luxurious sward,
The nuptials of the sick are held.

Voices thro' my slumber sound:
Listlessly they gather near.
Lilies bloom in closes where
Star nor sun hath blessed the ground.

And lo, these ghosts of old desire,
These lagging throbs of impulse crost,
Are paupers in a palace lost,
Sick tapers in the auroral fire.

When shall the moon my vision bathe,
That seeks to plume the eternal streams
Of darkness, and about my dreams
Her slow cerulean raiment swathe?


At length the consecrating hour is here
That sains the slave's extenuated sleep.
And I who wait shall see its hands appear,
Full of white roses in these caverns deep.

I wait—at length to feel its cooling wind
Strike on my heart, impregnable to lies,
A paschal lamb lost amid marshes blind,
A wound o'er which the surging waters rise.

I wait—for nights no morrow shall defy,
I wait—for weakness nothing shall avail;
To feel upon my hands its shadow lie,
To see in peaceful tides its image pale.

I wait until those nights of thine shall show
All my desires with cleansed eyes go by,
For then my dreams shall bathe in evening's glow,
And then within their crystal castle die.


Lo, the diver, forever within his bell!
And a whole sea of glass, a sea eternally warm!
A whole motionless world, a world of slow
green rhythms!
So many curious creatures beyond those walls
of glass,
And any contact eternally prohibited!
And yet there is so much life in those bright
waters yonder!

Look! The shadows of great sailing-ships—
they glide over the flowers, the dahlias of
the submarine forest!
And I stand for a moment in the shadow of
whales that are voyaging to the Pole!

And at this very moment, I doubt not, my
fellow-men in the harbour
Are discharging the vessels that sail hither
laden with ice:
A glacier was there, in the midst of the July meadows!
And men are swimming and floating in the
green waters of the creek,
And at noon they enter shadowy caverns...
And the breezes of ocean are fanning the roofs
and balconies.

Lo, the flaming tongues of the Gulf-Stream!
Take heed lest their kisses touch the walls of
They have ceased to lay ice on the brows of
the fevered,
And the patients have lit a bonfire
And are casting great handfuls of green lilies
into the flames!

Lean your brows upon the cooler panes,
While waiting for the moonlight to enter the
bell from above,
And close your eyes tightly, to the forest of colour,
The pendulous blues and albuminous violets,
And close your ears to the suggestions of the
tepid water.

Dry the brows of your desires; they are weak
with sweat.
Go firstly to those on the point of swooning.
They have the air of people celebrating a
wedding in a dungeon,
Or of people entering, at mid-day, a long lamp-lit
avenue underground;
In festival procession they are passing
Thro' a landscape like an orphaned childhood.

Go now to those about to die:
They move like virgins who have wandered far
In the sun, on a day of fast;
They are pale as patients who placidly listen
to the rain in the gardens of the hospital;
They have the look of survivors, breaking their
fast on a battle-field;
They are like prisoners who know that all their
gaolers are bathing in the river,
And who hear men mowing the grass in the
garden of the prison.


Now my desires no more, alas,
Summon my soul to my eyelids' brink,
For with its prayers that ebb and pass
It too must sink,

To lie in the depth of my closed eyes;
Only the flowers of its weary breath
Like icy blooms to the surface rise,
Lilies of death.

Its lips are sealed; in the depths of woe,
And a world away, in the far-off gloom,
They sing of azure stems that grow
A mystic bloom.

But lo, its fingers—I have grown
Pallid beholding them, I who perceive
Them trace the marks its poor unblown
Lost lilies leave.

I know it must die, for its hour is o'er:
Folding its impotent hands at last,
Hands too weary to pluck any more
The flowers of the past!


I watch the hours of long ago:
Their blue and secret depths I set
Under the burning-glass, Regret,
And watch a happier flora blow.

Hold up the glass o'er my desires!
Behold them through my soul, a glass
At memory's touch the withered grass
Breaks forth into devouring fires.

Now above my thoughts I hold
The azure crystal, in whose heart
Suddenly unfolding start
The leaves of agonies borne of old,

Until those nights remote I see
Even to memory dead so long
That their sullen tears do wrong
To the green soul of hopes to be.


Under the brimming tide of dreams
O, my soul is full of fear!
In my heart the moon is clear;
Deep it lies in the tide of dreams.

Under the listless reeds asleep,
Only the deep reflection shows
Of palm, of lily and of rose,
Weeping yet in the waters deep;

And the flowers, late and soon,
Fall upon the mirrored sky,
To sink and sink eternally
Thro' dreamy waters and the moon.


All the tears that I have shed,
All my kisses, lo, they pass
Thro' my mind as in a glass:
All my kisses whose joy is dead.

There are flowers without a hue,
Lilies that under the moonlight fade,
Moonlight over the meadows laid,
Fountains far on the sky-line blue.

Weary and heavy with slumber I
See thro' the lids that slumber closes
Crows that gather amid the roses,
Sick folk under a sunbright sky.

Of these vague loves the weary smart
Shines unchanging late and soon
Like a pale slow-moving moon
Sadly into my indolent heart.


Thou know'st, O Lord, my spirit's dearth
Thou see'st the worth of what I bring
The evil blossoms of the earth,
The light upon a perished thing.

Thou see'st my sick and weary mood:
The moon is dark, the dawn is slain.
Thy glory on my solitude
Shed Thou like fructifying rain.

Light Thou, O Lord, beneath my feet
The way my weary soul should pass,
For now the pain of all things sweet
Is piteous as the ice-bound grass.


O all these poor weary glances!
And yours, and mine!
And those that are no more, and those to be!
And those that will never be, and yet exist!
There are those that seem to visit the poor on a Sabbath;
There are some like sick folk who are houseless,
There are some like lambs in a meadow full of bleaching linen;
And O, these strange unwonted glances!
Under the vaults of some we behold
A maiden being put to death in a chamber with closed doors.
And some make us dream of unknown sorrows,

Of peasants at the windows of a factory,
Of a gardener turned weaver,
Of a summer afternoon in a wax-work show,
Of the thoughts of a queen on beholding sick man in a garden,
Of an odour of camphor in the forest,
Of a princess locked in a tower on a day of rejoicing,
Of men sailing all the week on the stagnant waters of a canal.

Have pity on those that come creeping forth
like convalescents at harvest-tide!
Have pity on those that have the air of children
who have lost their way at supper-time!
Have pity on the glances of the wounded man at the surgeon,
Like tents stricken by a hurricane!
Have pity on the glances of the virgin tempted!
(Rivers of milk are flowing away in the darkness;
And the swans have died in the midst of serpents!)
And the gaze of the virgin who surrenders!

There are princesses deserted in swamps that have no issue!
And lo, those eyes in which you may see ships
in full sail, lit up by flashes of the storm!
And how pitiful are all those glances which
suffer because they are not elsewhere!
And so much suffering, so indistinguishable
and yet so various!
And those glances which no one will ever understand!
And those poor glances which are all but dumb!
And those poor whispering glances!
And those poor stifled glances!

Amid some of these you might think yourself
in a mansion serving as hospital,
And many others have the air of tents, lilies of war,
on the little lawn of the convent!
And many others have the air of wounded men
tended in a hot-house!
Or Sisters of Charity on an ocean devoid of patients!

Oh, to have encountered all these glances,
To have admitted them all,
And to have exhausted mine thereby!
And henceforth to be unable to close mine eyes!


My soul her unused hands to pray
Folds, that hide the world away:
Lord, my broken dreams complete,
That Thine angels' lips repeat.

While beneath my wearied eyes
She breathes the prayers that in her rise—
Prayers that find my lids a tomb,
And whose lilies may not bloom:

While in dreams her barren breast
Hushes 'neath my gaze to rest—
Still her eyes from perils cower,
Such as wake by falsehood's power.


Mine eyes have snared my soul. But O,
Grant me, O Lord, my one desire:
Let fall Thy leaves upon the snow,
Let fall Thy rain upon the fire.

The sun upon my pillow plays,
The self-same hours they sound again,
And always falls my questing gaze
On dying men that harvest grain.

My hands they pluck the withered grass,
Mine eyes with sleep are all undone,
Are sick folk in a springless pass,
Or flowers of darkness in the sun.

When will my dreams unchanging know
The rain, and when the meadows brown
Along the far horizon, lo,
The lambs are herded toward the town.


Dreams within mine eyes remain,
And beneath its crystal dome
Lights my soul it somewhile home,
Taps upon the azure pane.

Houses of the listless soul!
Up the panes the lilies creep;
Reeds unfold in waters deep,
Longings nought shall e'er make whole

Closing eyes it all but seems
Past oblivion I could hold
All the rosy flowers of old
Of my half-remembered dreams.

Their leaves are dead and scattered far.
Shall I not see them verdant soon
When with her azure hands the moon
In silence sets the gates ajar?


Have pity on the eyes morose
Wherein the soul its hope reveals
On fated things that ne'er unclose,
And all that wait what night conceals.

Ripples that rock the spirit's lake!
Lilies that sway beneath the tide
To threads the eternal rhythms shake!
O powers that close to vision hide!

Behold, O Lord, unwonted flowers
Among the water-lilies' white!
Dim hands of Thine angelic powers
Trouble the waters of my sight:

At mystic signs the buds unroll,
Shed on the waters from the skies,
And as the swans take flight my soul
Spreads the white pinions of its eyes.


The sense of contact!
Darkness lies between your fingers!
The cries of brazen instruments in a tempest!
The music of organs in the sunlight!
All the flocks of the soul in the depths of a night of eclipse!
All the salt of the sea on the grass of the meadows!
And the blaze of blue lightning on every horizon!
(Have pity on this human sense!)

But O these sadder, wearier contacts!
O the touch of your poor moist hands!
I hear your pure fingers as they glide between mine,
And flocks of lambs are departing by moonlight
Along the banks of a misty river.

I can remember all the hands that have touched my hands,
And again I see all that was protected by those hands,
And I see to-day what I was, protected by those cool hands.
I was often the beggar who gnaws his crust
on the steps of a throne.

I was sometimes the diver, who cannot evade the surging waters.
I was often a whole people, no longer able to escape from the town!
And some hands were like a convent without a garden!
And some confined me like a group of invalids in a glass-house
on a rainy day!
Until other cooler hands should come to set the doors ajar,
And sprinkle a little water upon the threshold!

O, I have known strange contacts,
And here they surround me forever!
Some were wont to give alms on a day of sun-shine,
Some gathered a harvest in the depths of a cavern,
And the music of mountebanks was heard outside the prison.
There were wax-work figures in the summer woods,
And elsewhere the moon had swept the whole oasis,
And at times I found a virgin, flushed and sweating,
in a grotto of ice!

Pity these strange hands!
These hands contain the secrets of all the kings!
Pity these hands too pale!
They seem to have emerged from the caverns of the moon;
They are worn with spinning threads from the
distaffs of fountains!
Pity these hands, too white, too moist!
They are like princesses that slumber at noon
all the summer through.

Avoid these hard harsh hands!
They seem to have issued from the rocks!
But pity these cold hands!
I see a heart bleeding under ribs of ice!
And pity these evil hands,
For these have poisoned the springs!
They have set young cygnets in a nest of hemlock!
I have seen the angels of evil open the gates at noon!
Here are only madmen on a pestilent river!
Here are black sheep only in starless pastures!
And lambs hasting away to graze in darkness!

But O these cool faithful hands!
They come to offer ripe fruits to the dying!
They bring clear cold water in their palms!
They water the battlefields with milk!
They have surely come from wonderful and
eternally virgin forests!


My soul is sick at the end of all,
Sick and sad, being weary too,
Weary of being so vain, so vain,
Weary and sad at the end of all,
And O I long for the touch of you!

I long for your hands upon my face;
Snow-cold as spirits they will be;
I wait until they bring the ring.
I wait for their coolness over my face
Like a treasure deep in the sea.

I wait to know their healing spell,
Lest in the desolate sun I die,
So that I die not out in the sun;
O bathe mine eyes and make them well,
Where things unhappy slumbering lie.

Where many swans upon the sea,
Swans that wander over the sea,
Stretch forth their mournful throats in vain
In wintry gardens by the sea
Sick men pluck roses in their pain.

I long for your hands upon my face;
Snow-cold as spirits they will be,
And soothe my aching sight, alas!
My vision like the withered grass
Where listless lambs irresolute pass!



She chained her in a cavern frore.
She set a sign upon the door.
The key into the ocean fell:
The maid forgot the lamp as well.

She waited for the days of spring;
Year by year did seven die,
And every year one passed her by.

She waited thro' the winter's cold,
And her tresses, waiting too,
Recalled the light that once they knew.

They sought the light, they found it out,
Crept thro' the rocks and round about,
And lit the rocks with all their gold.

He comes at eve that passed of old:
Amazéd at the wondrous sight
He does not dare approach the light.

He deems it is a mystic sign,
Or else a spring that gushes gold,
Or angels at their sport divine:
He turns, and passes as of old.


If he one day come again
What shall then be said?
—Say that one awaited him,
Always, that is dead.

Ay, but if he ask me more,
Yet know me not again?
—Speak as any sister might,
Lest he be in pain.

If he ask where you are gone
What shall I reply?
—Give him then my golden ring,
Make him no reply.

If he asks me why the hall
Shows a silent floor?
—Show him then the smouldered lamp
And the open door.

If he ask me of the hour
When you fell asleep?
—Tell him, tell him that I smiled
Lest my love should weep.


Three little maids they did to death,
To see what hid within their hearts.

The first little heart was full of bliss,
And lo, wherever its blood might run,
Three serpents hissed till three years were done.

The second was full of gentlehood,
And lo, wherever its blood might run
Three lambs that fed till three years were done.

The third was full of pain and woe,
And lo, wherever the red blood crept
Archangels three their vigil kept.


Maidens with bounden eyes
(O loose the scarves of gold!)
Maidens with bounden eyes,
They sought their destinies.

At noon they opened wide
(O keep the scarves of gold!)
At noon they opened wide
The palace in the plain:

There they greeted life
(Bind close the scarves of gold!)
There they greeted life,
And turned them back again.


The three blind sisters
(Hope is not cold),
The three blind sisters
Light their lamps of gold.

Up the tower go they
(They and you and we),
Up the tower go they
To wait the seventh day.

Ah, saith one, turning
(Still let us hope),
Ah, saith one, turning,
I hear our lamps burning....

Ah, the second saith
(They and you and we),
Ah, the second saith,
Tis the king's tread....

Nay, the holiest saith
(Still let us hope),
Nay, the holiest saith,
But our light is dead.


There came one here to say
(O child, I am afraid!)
There came one here to say
'Twas time to haste away....

A burning lamp I bear,
(O child, I am afraid!)
A burning lamp I bear,
And I draw near!

At the first door,
(O child, I am afraid!)
At the first door
The flame shook sore....

Then, at the second,
(O child, I am afraid!)
Then, at the second,
The flame spoke and beckoned....

The third door is wide
(O child, but this is fear!)
The third door is wide,
And the flame has died.


Orlamonde had seven daughters
When the fairy died
The seven maids, the seven daughters,
Sought to win outside.

Then they lit their seven lamps;
Through all the towers they sought;
They opened full four hundred halls;
The day, they found it not.

They came to the echoing caverns deep;
Down, tho' the air was cold,
Went, and in a stubborn door
Found a key of gold.

They see the ocean through the chinks;
They fear to die outside;
They beat on the unmoving door
They dare not open wide.


She had three crowns of gold:
To whom did she give the three?

One she gave to her parents dear,
And they have bought three reeds of gold,
And kept her till the spring was near.

And one to those that loved her well:
And they have bought three nets of gold,
And kept her till the autumn fell.

And one she gave to those she bore,
And they have bought three gyves of iron,
To chain her till the winter's o'er.


Toward the castle she made her way
(Hardly yet was the sun on the sea),
Toward the castle she made her way;
Knight looked at knight and looked away;
The women had never a word to say.

She came to rest before the door
(Hardly yet was the sun on the sea),
She came to rest before the door;
They heard the queen as she paced the floor,
And the king that asked her what would she.

"What do you seek, O where do you go?
(Have a care, it is hard to see),
What do you seek, O where do you go?
Doth one await you there below?"
But never a word, a word spake she.

Down she went to the one unknown
(Have a care, it is hard to see),
Down she went to the one unknown,
And round the queen her arms were thrown;
Never a word did either say;
Without a word they went their way.

The king wept on the threshold sore
(Have a care, it is hard to see),
The king wept by the open door;
They heard the footsteps of the queen,
And the fall of the leaves where she had been.


Her lover went his way
(I heard the gate),
Her lover went his way;
Yet she was gay.

When he came again
(I heard the lamp),
When he came again
Another made the twain.

And the dead I met
(I heard her spirit cry),
And the dead I met:
She who waits him yet.


Mother, mother, do you not hear?
Mother, they come; there is news to tell!
—Give me your hands, my daughter dear:
Tis a tall ship that saileth well.

Mother dear, have a care, give heed!
—They go, my daughter, away they speed.
Mother, the danger is sore, alas!
—Child, my child, it will quickly pass.

Mother, mother, She draweth near!
—It is down in the harbour, daughter dear.
Mother, mother, She opens the door!
—Child, they go, to return no more.

Mother, She enters! I am afraid!
—Child, they now have the anchor weighed.
Mother, I hear Her speaking low.
—Child, my child, it is they that go.

Mother, She makes the stars go dark!
—Child,'tis the sails of a shadowy bark.
Mother, She knocks at the casements still!
—Child, it may be they are fastened ill....

Mother, mother, my sight grows dim....
—Child, they sail for the open sea.
On every hand I can see but Him....
—Daughter, what is it, and who is He?


Now your lamps are all alight,
—The sun's in the garden on every side
Now your lamps are all alight;
The sun through every chink is bright:
Open the doors on the garden wide!

The keys of the doors are lost one and all,
We must be patient what e'er befall;
The keys they fell from the tower on high.
We must be patient whate'er befall,
Wait and wait as the days go by.

The days to be will open the doors,
The keys are safe in the forest wide.
The forest blazes on every side;
The light of the dying leafage pours
Blazing bright beneath the doors.

The days to be already ail,
The days to be they fear and fail,
The days to be will never come;
For day by day will die as we,
Die as we in this our tomb.


Sisters, sisters, thirty years
I sought where he might be;
Thirty years I sought for him:
Never did I see.

Thirty years the way I trod;
Long the road and hot;
Sisters, he was everywhere,
He who yet is not.

Sisters, sad the hour and late,
My sandal's thongs unpick.
Even as I the evening dies,
And my soul is sick.

You whose years are seventeen,
Forth and seek him too;
Sisters, sisters, take my staff,
Seek the whole world through.


There were three sisters fain to die.
Her crown of gold each putteth on,
And forth to seek their death they're gone.

They wander to the forest forth:
"Give us our death, O forest old,
For here are our three crowns of gold."

The forest broke into a smile,
And kisses gave to each twice twain,
That showed them all the future plain.

There were three sisters fain to die:
They wandered forth to seek the sea:
They found it after summers three.

"Give us our death, thou ocean old,
For here are our three crowns of gold."
Then the ocean began to weep:

Three hundred kisses it gave the three,
And all the past was plain to see.
There were three sisters fain to die,

To find the city they sought awhile;
They found it midmost of an isle.

"Give us our death, thou city old,
For here are our three crowns of gold."

The city opened then and there,
And covered them with kisses dear
That showed them all the present clear.


Canticle of the Virgin in "Sister Beatrice"[1]

I hold, to every sin,
To every soul that weeps,
My hands with pardon filled
Out of the starry deeps.

There is no sin that lives
When love hath vigil kept;
There is no soul that mourns
When love but once hath wept.

And tho' on many paths
Of earth love lose its way,
Its tears will find me out
And shall not go astray.

[1] Reprinted from "Soeur Beatrice." The translation is reprinted, by kind permission of Messrs Geo. Allen & Unwin, from my version of "Sister Beatrice: and Ardiane and Barbe Bleue," published by them.