Later Poems

by Bliss Carman


 

Mirage


 

HERE hangs at last, you see, my row
Of sketches,—all I have to show
Of one enchanted summer spent
In sweet laborious content,
At little ’Sconset by the moors,
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With the sea thundering by its doors,
Its grassy streets, and gardens gay
With hollyhocks and salvia.

And here upon the easel yet,
With the last brush of paint still wet,

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(Showing how inspiration toils),
Is one where the white surf-line boils
Along the sand, and the whole sea
Lifts to the skyline, just to be
The wondrous background from whose verge
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Of blue on blue there should emerge
This miracle.

                             One day of days
I strolled the silent path that strays
Between the moorlands and the beach

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From Siasconset, till you reach
Tom Nevers Head, the lone last land
That fronts the ocean, lone and grand
As when the Lord first bade it be
For a surprise and mystery.
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A sailless sea, a cloudless sky,
The level lonely moors, and I
The only soul in all that vast
Of color made intense to last!
The small white sea-birds piping near;
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The great soft moor-winds; and the dear
Bright sun that pales each crest to jade,
Where gulls glint fishing unafraid.

Here man, the godlike, might have gone
With his deep thought, on that wild dawn

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When the first sun came from the sea,
Glowing and kindling the world to be,
While time began and joy had birth,—
No wilder sweeter spot on earth!

As I sat there and mused (the way

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We painters waste our time, you say!)
On the sheer loneliness and strength
Whence life must spring, there came at length
Conviction of the helplessness
Of earth alone to ban or bless.
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I saw the huge unhuman sea;
I heard the drear monotony
Of the waves beating on the shore
With heedless, futile strife and roar,
Without a meaning or an aim.
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And then a revelation came,
In subtle, sudden, lovely guise,
Like one of those soft mysteries
Of Indian jugglers, who evoke
A flower for you out of smoke.
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I knew sheer beauty without soul
Could never be perfection’s goal,
Nor satisfy the seeking mind
With all it longs for and must find
One day. The lovely things that haunt
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Our senses with an aching want,
And move our souls, are like the fair
Lost garments of a soul somewhere.
Nature is naught, if not the veil
Of some great good that must prevail
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And break in joy, as woods of spring
Break into song and blossoming.

But what makes that great goodness start
Within ourselves? When leaps the heart
With gladness, only then we know

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Why lovely Nature travails so, —
Why art must persevere and pray
In her incomparable way.
In all the world the only worth
Is human happiness; its dearth
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The darkest ill. Let joyance be,
And there is God’s sufficiency, —
Such joy as only can abound
Where the heart’s comrade has been found.

That was my thought. And then the sea

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Broke in upon my revery
With clamorous beauty,—the superb
Eternal noun that takes no verb
But love. The heaven of dove-like blue
Bent o’er the azure, round and true
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As magic sphere of crystal glass,
Where faith sees plain the pageant pass
Of things unseen. So I beheld
The sheer sky-arches domed and belled,
As if the sea were the very floor
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Of heaven where walked the gods of yore
In Plato’s imagery, and I
Uplifted saw their pomps go by.

The House of space and time grew tense
As if with rapture’s imminence,

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When truth should be at last made clear,
And the great worth of life appear;
While I, a worshipper at the shrine,
For very longing grew divine,
Borne upward on earth’s ecstasy,
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And welcomed by the boundless sky.

A mighty prescience seemed to brood
Over that tenuous solitude
Yearning for form, till it became
Vivid as dream and live as flame,

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Through magic art could never match,
The vision I have tried to catch,—
All earth’s delight and meaning grown
A lyric presence loved and known.

How otherwise could time evolve

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Young courage, or the high resolve,
Or gladness to assuage and bless
The soul’s austere great loneliness,
Than by providing her somehow
With sympathy of hand and brow,
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And bidding her at last go free,
Companioned through eternity?

So there appeared before my eyes,
In a beloved, familiar guise,
A vivid, questing human face

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In profile, scanning heaven for grace,
Up-gazing there against the blue
With eyes that heaven itself shone through;
The lips soft-parted, half in prayer,
Half confident of kindness there;
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A brow like Plato’s made for dream
In some immortal Academe,
And tender as a happy girl’s;
A full dark head of clustered curls
Round as an emperor’s, where meet
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Repose and ardor, strong and sweet,
Distilling from a mind unmarred
The glory of her rapt regard.

So eager Mary might have stood,
In love’s adoring attitude,
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And looked into the angel’s eyes
With faith and fearlessness, all wise
In soul’s unfaltering innocence,
Sure in her woman’s supersense
Of things only the humble know.
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My vision looks forever so.

In other years when men shall say,
“What was the painter’s meaning, pray?
Why all this vast of sea and space,
Just to enframe a woman’s face?”

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Here is the pertinent reply,
“What better use for earth and sky?”

The great archangel passed that way
Illuming life with mystic ray.
Not Lippo’s self nor Raphael

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Had lovelier, realer things to tell
Than I, beholding far away
How all the melting rose and gray
Upon the purple sea-line leaned
About that head that intervened.
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How real was she? Ah, my friend,
In art the fact and fancy blend
Past telling. All the painter’s task
Is with the glory. Need we ask
The tulips breaking through the mould
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To their untarnished age of gold,
Whence their ideals were derived
That have so gloriously survived?
Flowers and painters both must give
The hint they have received, to live,—
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Spend without stint the joy and power
That lurk in each propitious hour, —
Yet leave the why untold—God's way.

My sketch is all I have to say.