Behind the Arras: A Book of the Unseen

by Bliss Carman


 

Beyond the Gamut


 

SOFTLY, softly, Niccolo Amati!
What can put such fancies in your head?
There, go dream of your blue-skied Cremona,
While I ponder something you have said.

Something in that last low lovely cadence

5

Piercing the green dusk alone and far,
Named a new room in the house of knowledge
Waiting unfrequented, door ajar.

While you dream then, let me unmolested
Pass in childish wonder through that door,—

10

Breathless, touch and marvel at the beauties
Soon my wiser elders must explore.

Ah, my Niccolo, it's no great science
We shall ever conquer, you and I.
Yet, when you are nestled at my shoulder

15

Others guess not half that we descry.

As all sight is but a finer hearing,
And all color but a finer sound,
Beauty, but the reach of lyric freedom,
Caught and quivering past all music's bound,

20


Life, that faint sigh whispered from oblivion,
Harks and wonders if we may not be
Five small wits to carry one great rhythmus,
The vast theme of God's new symphony.

As fine sand spread on a disc of silver,

25

At some chord which bids the motes combine
Heeding the hidden and reverberant impulse,
Shifts and dances into curve and line,

The round earth, too, haply, like a dust-mote,
Was set whirling her assigned sure way,

30

Round this little orb of her ecliptic
To some harmony she must obey.

Did the Master try the taut string merely,
Give a touch, and she must throb to time?
Think you how his bow must rouse the echoes,

35

Quailing triumphing on, secure, sublime!

Ah, thought cannot far without the symbol!
Help me, little brother, hold the trend.
Dear good flesh, that keeps the spirit steady,
Lest it faint, grown dizzy at thought's end!

40


Waves of sound (Is this your thought, Amati?)
Climbing into treble thin and clear,
Past the silence, change to waves of color,
We must say, when eye takes place of ear?

Not a bird-song, but it has for fellow

45

Some wood-flower, its speechless counterpart,
Form and color moulded to one cadence,
To voice something of the wild mute heart.

Thrushes, we'll suppose, have for their tune-mates
The gold languorous lilies of the glade;

50

And the whippoorwill, that plaintive dreamer,
Some dark purple flower that loves the shade.

The song-sparrow tells me what the clover
Nods about beneath the gorgeous blue;
While the snowballs tell me old love-stories

55

Thistle-birds half hinted as they flew.

April's faith, in robin at his vespers,
Breathes a prayer too in my lilac blooms.
What the cloudy asters told the hillside,
My lone rainbird in the dusk resumes.

60


Bobolink is voice for apple blossom,
Breezy, abundant, good for human joys;
Oriole has touched the burning secret
Poppies hide with their deliberate poise.

Tiny twin-flowers, what are they but fancies,

65

Subtler than a field-lark can express—
Swallows make the low contented twitter
Lying just beyond the pansies' guess.

Yellowbird, the hot noon's warbler, pierces
Sense where tiger-lilies may not pass.

70

Are not crickets and all field-wise creatures
Brahmins of the universal grass?

Saffron butterflies and mute ephemera,
Doubt not, have their songs too, could we hear.
Every raindrop is a sea sonorous

75

As the great worlds thundering sphere to sphere.

There's no silence and no dark forever.
Clangoring suns to us are placid stars;
Swift-foot lightning with his henchman thunder
Lags behind these gnomes in Leyden jars.

80


Peal and flash and thrill and scent and savour
Pulse through rhythm to rapture, and control,—
Who shall say how far along or finely?—
The infinite tectonics of the soul.

Low-bred peoples, Hottentots, Basutos

85

Have a taste for scarlet and brass bands.
Our friend Monet, feeling red repulsive,
Sees blue shadows in pale purple lands.

Sees not only, but instructs our seeing;
Taught by him a twelvemonth, we confess

90

Earth once robed in crude barbaric splendor,
Has put on a softer lovelier dress.

Feast my eyes on some old Indian fabric,
Centuries of culture went to weave,
And I grow the fine fastidious artist,

95

No mere shop-made textile can deceive.

Red the bass and violet the treble,
Soul may pass out where all color ends.
Ends? So we say, meaning where the eyesight
With some yet unborn perception blends.

100


You, Amati, never saw a sunset,—
Hear tornadoes in a spider's loom;
I, at my wits' end, may still develop
Unknown senses in life's larger room.

Superhuman is not supernatural.

105

How shall half-way judge of journey done?
Shall this germ and protoplast of being
Rest mid-life and say his race is run?

Softly there, my Niccolo, a moment!
Shall I then discard my simpler joys?

110

No, for look you, every sense's impulse
Is a means the master soul employs.

Test and use of all things, lowest, highest,
Are alone of import to the soul;
Joys of earth are journey-aids to heaven,

115

Garb of the new sainthood sane and whole.

Earth one habitat of spirit merely,
I must use as richly as I may,—
Touch environment with every sense-tip,
Drink the well and pass my wander way.

120


Ah, drink deep and let the parching morrow
Quench what thirst its newer need may bring!
Slake the senses now, that soul hereafter
Go not forth a starved defrauded thing.

Not for sense sake only, but for soul sake;

125

That when soul must shed the leaves of sense,
Sun and sap may solace and support her,
Stored in those green hours for her defence.

Shall the grub deny himself the rose-leaf
That he may be moth before his time?

130

Shall the grasshopper repress his drumbeats
For small envy of the kingbird's chime?

Certain half-men, never touched by worship,
Soil the goodly feast they cannot use;
Others, maimed too, holding flesh a hindrance,

135

Vilify the bounty they refuse.

He's most man who loves the purple shadows,
Yet must love the flaring autumn too,—
Follow when the skrieling pipes bid forward,
Lie and gaze for hours into the blue.

140


He would have gone down with Alexander,
Quelling unknown lands beneath the sun;
Watched where Buddha in the Bo tree shadows
Saw this life's web woven and undone;

Freed his stifled heart in Shakespeare's people,

145

Sweet and elemental and serene;
Dared the unknown with Blake and Galileo;
Fronted death with Daulac's seventeen.

So shall mighty peace possess his spirit
Whom the noonday leads alone apart,

150

Through the wind-clear early Indian summer,
Where no yearning more shall move his heart.

Wise and foot-free, of the tranquil tenor,
He shall wayfare with the homeless tides;
Time enough, when life allures no longer,

155

To frequent the tavern death provides.

Life be neither hermitage nor revel;
Lent or carnival alone were vain;
Sin and sainthood— Help me, little brother,
With your largo finder-thought again!

160


Lift, uplift me, higher still and higher!
Climb and pause and tremble and plunge on,
Till I, toiling after you, come breathless
Where the mountain tops are touched with dawn!

Dark this valley world; and drenched with slumber

165

We have kept the centuries of night.
Cry, Amati, pierce the waiting stillness
Tremulous with forecast of the light!

Cry, Amati! Melt the twilight dirges
In "Te Deums " fit for marching men!

170

"Good," the days are chorusing, "shall triumph;"
Though the far-off morrows whisper, "When?"

What is good? I hear your soft string answer,
"I am that whereon the round world leans,
I am every man's poor guess at wisdom;

175

Evil is the soul's misuse of means.

"Up through me, with melody and meaning,
Well the floods of being or subside,
The first dim desire of self for selfhood,
The last smile that puts all self aside.

180


"Hate is discord lessening through the ages;
Anger a false note, fear a slackened string.
Key thy soul up to the wiser manhood,
Gentler lovelier joy from spring to spring!"

Here in turn I help you, little brother,

185

Half surmise what you have half explained.
Store it by to ripen, and repeat it
Long hereafter as a glimpse you gained,

When the nineteenth century was dying,
From a strolling hand that held you dear,—

190

Appanage of time put in your keeping
For my far-off heritor to hear.

I imagine how his eye will kindle
When he fondles you as I do now,—
Bends above you wooing like a lover,

195

While you yield him all your heart knows how.

I shall have been dust a thousand summers,
But my dear unprofitable dreams
Shall be part of all the good that thrills you
In the oversoul's orchestral themes.

200


What is good? While God's unfinished opus
Multitudinous harmony obeys,
Evil is a dissonance not a discord,
Soon to be resolved to happier phrase,—

From time immemorial permitted,

205

Lest the too sweet melody grow tame,
And, untouched of pathos or of daring,
Hearts should never know what hearts proclaim:

The unstained unconquerable valor,
The unflinching loyalties of love.

210

Or if evil be at worst a blunder
No musician ever could approve,

The mere bungling of a hand that faltered,—
Mine or his who bade the planets poise,—
What a thing unthinkable for smallness

215

Is your frayed E string one touch destroys.

How that sea-gull out across the bay there
Rows himself at leisure up the blue!
Evil the mere eddy from his wing-sweep,
Good the morning path he must pursue.

220


Goad, you think, and evil live together,
Both persisting on from change to change
Through interminable conservation,—
Primal powers no ruin can derange?

Deed and accident alike unending

225

By eternal consequence of cause?
No. For good is impetus to Godward;
Evil, but our ignorance of laws.

Say I let you, spite of all endeavor,
Mar some nocturne by a single note;

230

Is there immortality of discord
In your failure to preserve the rote?

When the sound shall pass my sense's confines,
Melt away to color or thin flame,
Does it still malinger in the prism,

235

Falsify the crucible with shame?

Hardly. For the melody and marring,
When they put the dear oblivion on,
Are become as fresh clay for the potter,
Neither good nor bad, for use anon.

240


Blighted rose and perfect shall commingle
In one excellence of garden mould.
Soul transfusing comeliness or blemish
Can alone lend beauty to the old.

While the streams go down among the mountains,

245

Gathering rills and leaving sand behind,
Till at last the ocean sea receives them,
And they lose themselves among their kind,

Man, the joy-born and the sorrow-nurtured,
(One with nothingness though all things be,—

250

Great lord Sirius and the moving planets
Fleet as fire-germs in the torn-up sea,—)

Linked to all his half-accomplished fellows,
Through unfrontiered provinces to range,
Man is but the morning dream of nature

255

Roused by some wild cadence weird and strange.

Slowly therefore, Niccolo, and softly,
With more memories than tongue can tell,
Lower me down the slope of life, and leave me
Knowing the hereafter will be well.

260


Close with, "Love is but the perfect knowledge,
The one thing no failure can befall;
Loving kindness betters loving credence;
Love and only love is best of all."

Beauty, beauty, beauty, sense and seeming,

265

With the soul of truth she calls her lord!
Stars and men the dust upon her garment;
Hope and fear the echoes of her word.

How escape we then, the rainbow's brothers,
Endless being with each blade and sod?

270
Dust and shadow between whence and whither,
Part of the tranquillity of God.