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Sonnets

I.


NOR judge me light, tho' light at times I seem,
And lightly in the stress of fortune bear
The innumerable flaws of changeful care--
Nor judge me light for this, nor rashly deem
(Office forbid to mortals, kept supreme
And separate the prerogative of God!)
That seaman idle who is borne abroad
To the far haven by the favouring stream.
Not he alone that to contrarious seas
Opposes, all night long, the unwearied oar,
Not he alone, by high success endeared,
Shall reach the Port; but, winged, with some light breeze
Shall they, with upright keels, pass in before
Whom easy Taste, the golden pilot, steered.


* * * * *


II.

So shall this book wax like unto a well,
Fairy with mirrored flowers about the brim,
Or like some tarn that wailing curlews skim,
Glassing the sallow uplands or brown fell;
And so, as men go down into a dell
(Weary with noon) to find relief and shade,
When on the uneasy sick-bed we are laid,
We shall go down into thy book, and tell
The leaves, once blank, to build again for us
Old summer dead and ruined, and the time
Of later autumn with the corn in stook.
So shalt thou stint the meagre winter thus
Of his projected triumph, and the rime
Shall melt before the sunshine in thy book.


* * * * *


III.

I have a hoard of treasure in my breast;
The grange of memory steams against the door,
Full of my bygone lifetime's garnered store--
Old pleasures crowned with sorrow for a zest,
Old sorrow grown a joy, old penance blest,
Chastened remembrance of the sins of yore
That, like a new evangel, more and more
Supports our halting will toward the best.
Ah! what to us the barren after years
May bring of joy or sorrow, who can tell?
O, knowing not, who cares? It may be well
That we shall find old pleasures and old fears,
And our remembered childhood seen thro' tears,
The best of Heaven and the worst of Hell.


* * * * *


IV.

As starts the absent dreamer when a train,
Suddenly disengulphed below his feet,
Roars forth into the sunlight, to its seat
My soul was shaken with immediate pain
Intolerable as the scanty breath
Of that one word blew utterly away
The fragile mist of fair deceit that lay
O'er the bleak years that severed me from death.
Yes, at the sight I quailed; but, not unwise
Or not, O God, without some nervous thread
Of that best valour, Patience, bowed my head,
And with firm bosom and most steadfast eyes,
Strong in all high resolve, prepared to tread
The unlovely path that leads me toward the skies.


* * * * *


V.

Not undelightful, friend, our rustic ease
To grateful hearts; for by especial hap,
Deep nested in the hill's enormous lap,
With its own ring of walls and grove of trees,
Sits, in deep shelter, our small cottage--nor
Far-off is seen, rose carpeted and hung
With clematis, the quarry whence she sprung,
O mater pulchra filia pulchrior,
Whither in early spring, unharnessed folk,
We join the pairing swallows, glad to stay
Where, loosened in the hills, remote, unseen,
From its tall trees, it breathes a slender smoke
To heaven, and in the noon of sultry day
Stands, coolly buried, to the neck in green.


* * * * *


VI.

As in the hostel by the bridge I sate,
Nailed with indifference fondly deemed complete,
And (O strange chance, more sorrowful than sweet)
The counterfeit of her that was my fate,
Dressed in like vesture, graceful and sedate,
Went quietly up the vacant village street,
The still small sound of her most dainty feet
Shook, like a trumpet blast, my soul's estate.
Instant revolt ran riot through my brain,
And all night long, thereafter, hour by hour,
The pageant of dead love before my eyes
Went proudly; and old hopes, broke loose again
From the restraint of wisely temperate power,
With ineffectual ardour sought to rise.


* * * * *


VII.

The strong man's hand, the snow-cool head of age,
The certain-footed sympathies of youth--
These, and that lofty passion after truth,
Hunger unsatisfied in priest or sage
Or the great men of former years, he needs
That not unworthily would dare to sing
(Hard task!) black care's inevitable ring
Settling with years upon the heart that feeds
Incessantly on glory. Year by year
The narrowing toil grows closer round his feet;
With disenchanting touch rude-handed time
The unlovely web discloses, and strange fear
Leads him at last to eld's inclement seat,
The bitter north of life--a frozen clime.



* * * * *

VIII.

As Daniel, bird-alone, in that far land,
Kneeling in fervent prayer, with heart-sick eyes
Turned thro' the casement toward the westering skies;
Or as untamed Elijah, that red brand
Among the starry prophets; or that band
And company of Faithful sanctities
Who in all times, when persecutions rise,
Cherish forgotten creeds with fostering hand:
Such do ye seem to me, light-hearted crew,
O turned to friendly arts with all your will,
That keep a little chapel sacred still,
One rood of Holy-land in this bleak earth
Sequestered still (our homage surely due!)
To the twin Gods of mirthful wine and mirth.

About my fields, in the broad sun
And blaze of noon, there goeth one,
Barefoot and robed in blue, to scan
With the hard eye of the husbandman
My harvests and my cattle. Her,
When even puts the birds astir
And day has set in the great woods,
We seek, among her garden roods,
With bells and cries in vain: the while
Lamps, plate, and the decanter smile
On the forgotten board. But she,
Deaf, blind, and prone on face and knee,
Forgets time, family, and feast,
And digs like a demented beast.

Tall as a guardsman, pale as the east at dawn,
Who strides in strange apparel on the lawn?
Rails for his breakfast? routs his vassals out
(Like boys escaped from school) with song and shout?
Kind and unkind, his Maker's final freak,
Part we deride the child, part dread the antique!
See where his gang, like frogs, among the dew
Crouch at their duty, an unquiet crew;
Adjust their staring kilts; and their swift eyes
Turn still to him who sits to supervise.
He in the midst, perched on a fallen tree,
Eyes them at labour; and, guitar on knee,
Now ministers alarm, now scatters joy,
Now twangs a halting chord, now tweaks a boy.
Thorough in all, my resolute vizier
Plays both the despot and the volunteer,
Exacts with fines obedience to my laws,
And for his music, too, exacts applause.

The Adorner of the uncomely--those
Amidst whose tall battalions goes
Her pretty person out and in
All day with an endearing din,
Of censure and encouragement;
And when all else is tried in vain
See her sit down and weep again.
She weeps to conquer;
She varies on her grenadiers
From satire up to girlish tears!

Or rather to behold her when
She plies for me the unresting pen,
And when the loud assault of squalls
Resounds upon the roof and walls,
And the low thunder growls and I
Raise my dictating voice on high.

What glory for a boy of ten
Who now must three gigantic men
And two enormous, dapple grey
New Zealand pack-horses array
And lead, and wisely resolute
Our day-long business execute
In the far shore-side town. His soul
Glows in his bosom like a coal;
His innocent eyes glitter again,
And his hand trembles on the rein.
Once he reviews his whole command,
And chivalrously planting hand
On hip--a borrowed attitude--
Rides off downhill into the wood.

I meanwhile in the populous house apart
Sit snugly chambered, and my silent art
Uninterrupted, unremitting ply
Before the dawn, by morning lamplight, by
The glow of smelting noon, and when the sun
Dips past my westering hill and day is done;
So, bending still over my trade of words,
I hear the morning and the evening birds,
The morning and the evening stars behold;
So there apart I sit as once of old
Napier in wizard Merchiston; and my
Brown innocent aides in home and husbandry
Wonder askance. What ails the boss? they ask.
Him, richest of the rich, an endless task
Before the earliest birds or servants stir
Calls and detains him daylong prisoner?
He whose innumerable dollars hewed
This cleft in the boar and devil-haunted wood,
And bade therein, from sun to seas and skies,
His many-windowed, painted palace rise
Red-roofed, blue-walled, a rainbow on the hill,
A wonder in the forest glade: he still,

Unthinkable Aladdin, dawn and dark,
Scribbles and scribbles, like a German clerk.
We see the fact, but tell, O tell us why?
My reverend washman and wise butler cry.
Meanwhile at times the manifold
Imperishable perfumes of the past
And coloured pictures rise on me thick and fast:
And I remember the white rime, the loud
Lamplitten city, shops, and the changing crowd;
And I remember home and the old time,
The winding river, the white moving rhyme,
The autumn robin by the river-side
That pipes in the grey eve.

The old lady (so they say), but I
Admire your young vitality.
Still brisk of foot, still busy and keen
In and about and up and down.

I hear you pass with bustling feet
The long verandahs round, and beat
Your bell, and "Lotu! Lotu!" cry;
Thus calling our queer company,
In morning or in evening dim,
To prayers and the oft mangled hymn.

All day you watch across the sky
The silent, shining cloudlands ply,
That, huge as countries, swift as birds,
Beshade the isles by halves and thirds,
Till each with battlemented crest
Stands anchored in the ensanguined west,
An Alp enchanted. All the day
You hear the exuberant wind at play,
In vast, unbroken voice uplift,
In roaring tree, round whistling clift.


Robert Louis Stevenson

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