LYRICS

—ON—

FREEDOM, LOVE AND DEATH


By

GEORGE FREDERICK CAMERON



 

Ysolte.


Our love and our hate! This life of ours,—
     Whatever life’s law above,—
Is woven of thorns of hate, and flowers
     And sharpest thorns of love:

And all of our webs of romance or truth

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     Take their color and tone from these;
And as it is now in the world’s wild youth
     It shall be through the centuries. [Page 225]

Well, I am young and the world is wide,
     And I have gold enough and to spare,

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And I could buy, if I would, a bride
     To give me, perchance, a son and heir;
But single my heart is, and I will abide
As single, and float on my own gulf-tide
     Of desire, now here, now there,

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Wherever my silver shallop may ride
     And my sails of silver bear,—
Until I drift on the unknown shore,
And beach my boat to roam no more.

How easily men are caught with chaff!

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An ankle, an eye, or a light-lipt laugh,
     And down they go on their knees.
Was I caught myself? Oh, not by half!
     No, thank you, if you please.
I will be caught? No, thank you, again!

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     I sound myself on all these things,
And find I am not like the most of men
     To be led in leading strings.
No painted, or pretty, or perilous girl
     Shall put my soul in pain; [Page 226]

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No ruby lips o’er teeth of pearl,
Gazelle-like eye, or wind-kist curl
     Shall break my heart in twain.

Oh, I do laugh to see men cringe
     Before some delicate, dainty doll,—

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Some mass of foolishness, fuss, and fringe,
     Some delicate—nothing at all.
To see men fawn and flatter and lie—
      At the feet of these dolls, I mean,—and swear
That they for sake of them would die,

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     They might die did they dare:
For men in love are fools—or nigh,
     Though cap nor bells they wear.
To see them, knowing so well man’s mind,
     And knowing so well that woman’s power

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     Is that of beauty, but of an hour;
And knowing well of womankind,—
     To see them and hear—oh, I do laugh!
     Why are they crows to be caught with chaff. [Page 227]

Oh, I do weep to see men creep

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     Through mire, and dirt, and deadly shame,
To drag the gold from its æon-sleep
     Or to snatch a kiss from Fame.
Can place or power avail to keep
     Star-clear a tarnished name?

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Well, what of this? But this, no more:
     For dunces we need not rake the schools;
For the most of men—’twas said before—
     Are arrant fools—are arrant fools.

And now that my say is said of men,

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     I leave them alone, and nothing loth;
Let them sink to themselves, if they will, again,—
     To their love and life—I leave them to both.
For I am young and the world is wide,
     And I have gold enough and to spare,

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And I could buy, if I would, a bride
     To give me, perchance, a son and heir;
But single my heart is, and I will abide
As single, and float on my own gulf-tide
     Of desire, now here, now there,— [Page 228]

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Wherever my shallop of silver may ride
     And my sails of silver bear,—
Until I drift on the unknown shore
And beach my bark to launch no more!

Here shall I end my days!

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     No longer Ishmael-like I roam.
Here, where the natural streamlet plays,
     Here, where the innocuous cattle graze,
Where other foot but seldom strays
     Than mine, I find a home.

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Yea, on this eminent mountain’s breast
     Where calm winds meet:
The sun-kist river seeming blest,
Wrapt in perpetual peace and rest,
     Low-lying at my feet,

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Dividing me from man and mart
     And wrong and turmoil consequent
And all of ill, at length my heart
     Is well content, is well content. [Page 229]

Companionship? Enough for me

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     My books and birds and flowers! if bliss
     In any place more perfect is,
In any place can any be
     More innocent than this?

I have no fear of present wrong;

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     I cannot dream of future ill,—
          Against the demon of regret
          My pride must prove an amulet:—
     With these as dear companions still,—
The wood-bird with his happy song,

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     The columbine and daffodil,
     And these book friends unchangeable
Beside me all day long.

No, I may sleep and wake each morn
     To say—To-day no city strife

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Shall shake my peace, or press a thorn
     Into the flesh of life! [Page 230]

It seems as if a change
     Had come across the earth,—
A something sweet and strange:

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     Gone is the gloom and gone the dearth
     Of sunshine and soft air and mirth,—
I feel as if again a boy;
     Departed is my old annoy,
And all is life and peace and joy

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     Befitting second birth.
I have been born again;
     And in my new-found mood
I say that beasts and birds and men,
     All things that are or that have been,

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Are good—are very good.

But will it, can it last—
     This life that is so sweet?—
Where all the past is past
     And buried ’neath my feet?

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Can it be as a shadow cast—
     Not real, but a cheat? [Page 231]
I think not. It is said,
     When one is born anew
That all the former life is fled

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     And that then present true.

Is’t substance, or a sham?
     I know the stars shine brighter
          Than they before had shone:
The air is warm and calm:

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     I know my heart is lighter,—
          Its heaviness is gone:
I do not lean on broken reed,—
This is a newer life indeed.

And so, since I am sure

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     This new world is secure,
I, who have never tried to sing
     Since in that old world I was young,
Since that first youth was in its spring,
Will strike again a merry string

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     And sing as I have sung:— [Page 232]

Light, light, light!
     The morning is breaking at last:
The darkness is dead, and the night—
     The desolate night is past.

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Joy, joy, joy!
     The shadow that haunted me so,—
That clouded the life of the boy
     And the life of the man, may go.

Earth, earth, earth

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     Swings round to a heart-prompted tune;
The day is delivered of mirth,—
     December is genial as June.   

Love, love, love
     Hath broken the ancient spell:

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There is beauty below and about and above,
     And the soul that was sick is well.

Fear, fear, fear
     Of a future that never may be?
No! the future is there, the present is here,

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     And that is enough for me! [Page 233]

There is a stranger in the place,
     A stranger who no doubt looks down,
Scorn on his lip and ashy face,
     Upon the God-made country clown.

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     And he is stopping there in town:
And he has seen the one I love:
     And he will love her—that I know,
     A voice within me tells me so.
But, sooth, I swear by the stars above,

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     By the tides at my feet that ebb and flow,
     Whatever may come, whatever may go,
He shall not harm my harmless dove.
   
I swear he shall not harm her! still,
Her lord shall be her own sweet will.

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And if her own sweet will shall put
     My love aside, I shall but say—
This trampling true love ’neath her foot
     For false, is only woman’s way.

His face is lined and worn, although

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     ’Tis fashioned fairly and might pass—
A female mirror flatters so—
     At muster in a lady’s glass: [Page 234]
But his hand is as a lady’s fair,
     His foot is as his hand is—small;

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     So should you take them all in all
They would be quite a pretty pair.

The prowling fox has found his prey,—
     An easy prey, an easy prize:
So easy that some people say

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     It was a willing sacrifice.
But I say neither yea nor nay,
     Not having other people’s eyes.

He angled and she took the bait.
     Perchance he used a noble line

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And golden hook,—at any rate
     He has no reason to repine:
If I have reason, ‘Such is fate!’
     I say, or—‘Such is fate of mine!”

Love is the serf of Mammon: we,

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     Being serfs of love, are doubly slaves.
Were it not better, then, to flee [Page 235]
     From both and to our graves,—
Those sanctuaries where neither can
     Force homage from the knee of man?

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The heart is most deceitful—truly so!
     Late when I dreamed I dreamed not I did dream:
     And things that seemed to seem not did but seem:
And what I knew I knew I did not know.
     ’Twas in a vision that upon the stream

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     I cast my lotos-leaf, and it did glide
     Adown it till I thought ’twould stem the tide:
But far beyond my sight it gathered weight,
And sank at last—o’erburdened with my fate!

I am on earth once more!

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     My hope, by one foul breath,
Is driven upon an iron shore,—
The mad, wild waters whelm it o’er
     And deed it unto death.
I am most bitterly alone!

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     The stars are distant, dim and cold:
     This is the old life o’er—the old!
Where is the new that I have known? [Page 236]

They are together much of late,
     They passed me by to-day:

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I was standing there at my gate:
     He nodded a cloudy brow—not ill,
She shot me a smile as they rode away
     To the house beyond the hill:
I would hate him could I hate,—

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     If I learn to hate, I will.

And yet, why hate him? He
     Who falls by woman’s wile
Should only have pity from me:
     I will pity him—after awhile,

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When she from her heart and love
     Hath cast him aside and out
Like a toy she is wearied of,
Or flung him away like a glove
     Torn or soiled at a rout.

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I will afar, and leave behind
This love as fickle as the wind,—
     Will seek a newer solitude; [Page 237]
At once away, for to my mind
     There is no good, there is no good

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In anything of womankind.
I will away from haunts of men
     To live the old life o’er and o’er,
     To live the life I lived before,
To be,—but I will say no more,—

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     To be again—what I have been!

Be what I have been? No!
     The gates of the Past are closed;
     And no one, even if so disposed,
Behind those gates can go:—

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Those gates—precipitous and steep—
     They never rest ajar;
And only memory can sweep
     Over them, whil’st their guardians are
Bound in the cords of sleep,

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     And dreaming softly in their star.

What! Go to what I have been? to
     The darkness and the gloom
     Of the cold, voiceless, soulless tomb, [Page 238]
Where love-light moves not through,

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From all that I of late did know
     To that old life—I cannot go!

He who hath sometime scanned
     The stars that gem the sky,
The sea and lovely land,—

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     All beauties that delight the eye,
All things that He hath planned
     Or here below or there on high,
And then hath lost his sight,
     Hath fuller cup of bitterness

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     To quaff than he would ever guess
Whose eye hath never seen the light.

And I,—I who have sometime stepped
     Upon the paths of Paradise,
Where odorous opening roses crept

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     Up palms whose tops were in the skies,
Where waves of melody were swept
     Full tide from throats of birds who kept
     No reckoning of their song, nor slept,
But made the day and happy night

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     In perfect circles of delight,— [Page 239]
How can I ever find again
     A pleasure in the desert wide
     Where all the springs of life are dried,
 Where all the nightingales are men

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     Who ever sing in songs of woe?
How can I close my ears and eyes?
     To that old world how can I go,
Nor sigh for sights and melodies
     That there I may not know?

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It would not happen as it did,
     It would not have been but for him!
Did not my better self forbid,
It may be there is something hid
     Which I could tell him that would dim—

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But, no!—’tis little to my mind
     To undermine her woman-whim;
Besides, I will not be unkind.

I will forgive, perchance forget;
     To time and tide leave all the rest;

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She may find life is bitter yet,
     Ay,—find it bitter on his breast [Page 240]
Without a sign from me, or threat;
     For life is bitter—at the best!


          *          *          *          *

Oh, that we had not met to part
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     As we are parted now,—
The stain of anger on each heart,
     Of anger on each brow!

Would that the love which shone so bright
     Had killed me with its blaze;

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Ere I had seen it robed in night,
     And robb’d of all its rays!

Would that the hours so fleet and fair
     Had never come to me!—
Ere I had known that once they were,

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     That they no more can be.

Would I had slept the dreamless sleep,
     Ere I had come to know
That Love may sow in joy, yet reap
     A harvest wild with woe! [Page 241]

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Would love had faded ere my birth
     Or blossomed on my tomb:
Nor ever mocked my youth with mirth,
     To curse my age with gloom!

And oh, that we had never met

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     And dreamed a dream of bliss,
To wake again to cold regret,
     To wake again to—this!


          *          *          *          *


Where often I have found relief,
     I went to seek for peace to-day,—

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A temporal balm for temporal grief:
          Amid fair Nature’s solitudes,
          Within the ivy-fretted woods,
     I found it in a novel way.

Upon the moss beside a spring

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Whose limpid waves go spattering
     Adown the ancient rocks and gray,
     As often I had lain I lay [Page 242]
When to my hand came wandering—
     The wind had tost it there in play—

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A vagrant scroll bound by a ring,
     A golden circlet old and thin.
I seized it, and half jestingly
     Spake to it, opening, “Let me see
What omen may be here for me!”

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     And this is what I read therein:—

What though, my brother, to-day be drear
     And dark and sad?
To-morrow, to-morrow will soon be here—
     Perchance to make thee glad.

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Sorrow and heaviness—these are things
     That come to men:
They come to the commons, they come to kings,
     They come to go again.

Why should a season of bitterness bear

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     Thee down to dust?
To-day may be foul yet to-morrow be fair;
     Trust in to-morrow—trust! [Page 243]

And if to-morrow be darker yet
     With pain and ill,

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Though the heart be dry and the eyelids wet,
     Trust in to-morrow still!

It was enough,—a hopeful song!
     Had some good genius sent it here,
Borne on the kindly winds along

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     Inscribed with promise of good cheer
     For some dear future day or year?
I may be right, or may be wrong;
     But thus I will interpret what
     The day and accident have brought:

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Perhaps there is a generous Fate,
     A generous Fate! but time will tell
     If all be ill or all be well,—
And, for the present—I can wait.

Though she be false as coquette’s kiss,

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     From this sweet mood I must not stir
     In which Love, as interpreter,
Reads all the auguries for bliss;
But bring myself to chime with this,—
     ’Tis well, if all be well with her. [Page 244]

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Yes, yes! O Love—lost Love of mine!
     If thou wert with me now to-day
And peace and happiness were thine,
     Though sad my soul I still would say:—

If thou art happy, all is well!

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    I care not what remains to me;
Though nought but ill my stars foretell,
     ’Tis well, so all is well with thee!

Affection’s flower may fade and fall;
     Life’s fairest promises may flee:

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I hold it recompense for all
     To know that all is well with thee.

The star of faith may quit my sky,
     The compass fail me on Life’s sea:
My bark may wreck, but what reck I

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     ’Tis well, so all is well with thee!

Though hope and all I hold be vain,
     ’Twill shorten still, where’er I be,
My hour of bitterness and pain
     To know that all is well with thee! [Page 245]

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As out of elemental motion life
     Comes forth to man and health and strength,
     Out of the war of words at length,
Out of the stir and storm and strife
     Comes forth a sterling hope to me—

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     A hope of better days to be.

Into the field comes gallant Truth,
     In mail arrayed and armed with flame,
     To champion a tottering fame
That else were martyred in its youth.

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Now, clear the lists! an even start!
     Spur, Slander—Truth! They meet nor part.
Now, Sword, be true as God is just!
     As God is great be great, O Heart!
Ah! Slander smitten smites the dust:

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     The knight of Truth is o’er his head:—
     The liar and the lie are dead!

Now hear the end of all the play!—
     I hold her fair and firm and true
     To eyesight and to soul-sight, too: [Page 246]

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She is the sweetest piece of clay
     God ever sculptured into form!
And who on earth shall say me nay,
     If to the wide, wild world I say,
Until life’s storms forever stay,

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     I shall defend her from all storm!

I hear along the air a wedding bell;
Say, heart of mine! how is it?
                                               It is well! [Page 247]