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Pleasure-Pain

"Das Vergnügen ist Nichts als ein höchst angenehmer
  Schmerz."--HEINRICH HEINE.



  I.


  Full of beautiful blossoms
    Stood the tree in early May:
  Came a chilly gale from the sunset,
    And blew the blossoms away;


  Scattered them through the garden,
    Tossed them into the mere:
  The sad tree moaned and shuddered,
    "Alas! the Fall is here."


  But all through the glowing summer
    The blossomless tree throve fair,
  And the fruit waxed ripe and mellow,
    With sunny rain and air;


  And when the dim October
    With golden death was crowned,
  Under its heavy branches
    The tree stooped to the ground.


  In youth there comes a west-wind
    Blowing our bloom away,--
  A chilly breath of Autumn
    Out of the lips of May.


  We bear the ripe fruit after,--
    Ah, me! for the thought of pain!--
  We know the sweetness and beauty
    And the heart-bloom never again.


  II.


  One sails away to sea,
    One stands on the shore and cries;
  The ship goes down the world, and the light
    On the sullen water dies.


  The whispering shell is mute,
    And after is evil cheer:
  She shall stand on the shore and cry in vain,
    Many and many a year.


  But the stately, wide-winged ship
    Lies wrecked on the unknown deep;
  Far under, dead in his coral bed,
    The lover lies asleep.


  III.


  Through the silent streets of the city,
    In the night's unbusy noon,
  Up and down in the pallor
    Of the languid summer moon,


  I wander, and think of the village,
    And the house in the maple-gloom,
  And the porch with the honeysuckles
    And the sweet-brier all abloom.


  My soul is sick with the fragrance
    Of the dewy sweet-brier's breath:
  O darling! the house is empty,
    And lonesomer than death!


  If I call, no one will answer;
    If I knock, no one will come:
  The feet are at rest forever,
    And the lips are cold and dumb.


  The summer moon is shining
    So wan and large and still,
  And the weary dead are sleeping
    In the graveyard under the hill.


  IV.


  We looked at the wide, white circle
    Around the Autumn moon,
  And talked of the change of weather:
    It would rain, to-morrow, or soon.


  And the rain came on the morrow,
    And beat the dying leaves
  From the shuddering boughs of the maples
    Into the flooded eaves.


  The clouds wept out their sorrow;
    But in my heart the tears
  Are bitter for want of weeping,
    In all these Autumn years.


  V.


  The bobolink sings in the meadow,
    The wren in the cherry-tree:
  Come hither, thou little maiden,
    And sit upon my knee;


  And I will tell thee a story
    I read in a book of rhyme;
  I will but fain that it happened
    To me, one summer-time,


  When we walked through the meadow,
    And she and I were young.
  The story is old and weary
    With being said and sung.


  The story is old and weary:
    Ah, child! it is known to thee.
  Who was it that last night kissed thee
    Under the cherry-tree?


  VI.


  Like a bird of evil presage,
    To the lonely house on the shore
  Came the wind with a tale of shipwreck,
    And shrieked at the bolted door,


  And flapped its wings in the gables,
    And shouted the well-known names,
  And buffeted the windows
    Afeard in their shuddering frames.


  It was night, and it is morning,--
    The summer sun is bland,
  The white-cap waves come rocking, rocking,
    In to the summer land.


  The white-cap waves come rocking, rocking,
    In the sun so soft and bright,
  And toss and play with the dead man
    Drowned in the storm last night.


  VII.


  I remember the burning brushwood,
    Glimmering all day long
  Yellow and weak in the sunlight,
    Now leaped up red and strong,


  And fired the old dead chestnut,
    That all our years had stood,
  Gaunt and gray and ghostly,
    Apart from the sombre wood;


  And, flushed with sudden summer,
    The leafless boughs on high
  Blossomed in dreadful beauty
    Against the darkened sky.


  We children sat telling stories,
    And boasting what we should be,
  When we were men like our fathers,
    And watched the blazing tree,


  That showered its fiery blossoms,
    Like a rain of stars, we said,
  Of crimson and azure and purple.
    That night, when I lay in bed,


  I could not sleep for seeing,
    Whenever I closed my eyes,
  The tree in its dazzling splendor
    Against the darkened skies.


  I cannot sleep for seeing,
    With closéd eyes to-night,
  The tree in its dazzling splendor
    Dropping its blossoms bright;


  And old, old dreams of childhood
    Come thronging my weary brain,
  Dear, foolish beliefs and longings:
    I doubt, are they real again?


  It is nothing, and nothing, and nothing,
    That I either think or see:
  The phantoms of dead illusions
    To-night are haunting me.

William Dean Howells