That Far River:
Selected Poems of
Theodore Goodridge Roberts

Edited by Martin Ware





II: Song of a Lost Heart: Poems of Love



 

The Empty House


My heart is like an empty house
    With its fair hostess gone.
The halls are laughterless at noon,
    The beds are cold at dawn.            

My heart is like an empty house
5
    That has no revel there,
With ashes blown about the hearth
    And winds across the stair.            

The glasses on the sideboard stand                 
    Unused all night, all day:
10
The brazen fire-dogs grin and grin
    A lost, forsaken way:

The spiders weave along the walls
    The sunbeams in a thread:            
The ghosts of yesterday creep by
15
    Like shadows of the dead.            

My heart is like an empty house,
    Stiller than death or doom,
With voiceless echoes of lost mirth                 
    Silent in every room:
20

The foot of fear is on the stair
    And noiseless on the floor:
The hand of grief is on the wall
    And fumbling at the door.            

If love comes back, the fires will light,
25
    The guests will all return,
The wine will fill the cups, all night
    The scented candles burn.

L.B.
                                                                                        1899, N.L.
[Page 17]
 
 

A Song for Isoud


Now, evermore,
Roaming or staying, hurt or whole,
By leafy track and rocky shore,
She has my heart, she keeps my soul;
And never may I fright or shame
5
The trust in those proud eyes agleam.
Ah, lady, whom I dare not name
Save in my dream!

Now, night and day,
She holds my valour and my life,
10
In this charmed place as far away,
In safety as in parlous strife.
And may God grant I win the bliss—
Ah, Lady, whom I dare not kiss
Save in my dreams!
15

*U.N.B. M/S
 
 

Cold


“Cold,” cried the wind on the hill,
    “Cold,” sang the tree;
Your eyes were blue-grey and still
    And cold as the sea.            

Cold lay the snow on the land;
5
    Cold stood the pine;
But neither as cold as your hand
    Lying in mine.            

Ah, Love, has the fire died so soon—                 
    Just smoldered and gone;
10
A kiss by the light of the moon,
    A parting by dawn.

T.C.V.
                                                                                1900, T.C.V.
[Page 18]
 
 

This Day’s Grief


Enchantment glimmered here that day—
    But now the white sun overhead
Strikes down and shows, through dimming leaves,
    Footprints of fairies fled.            

High summer lingered here that day—
5
    But now the wind has a thinner note,
And down to the brooding underbrush
    Two spent leaves float.            

Ghost of enchantment turned and gone!                 
    A grey-stemmed maple looses a leaf.
10
The pale, slim birches are aware
    Of this day’s grief.

*L.B.                                                                                       1934, L.B.
 
 

In the Hand of the Wind


Lord, I am passing in the hand of the wind.”
Hafiz                    

Lord, I am passing in the wind’s lean hand:
    And now, of all my glory what will stand?—
The echo of a love song, like thin smoke
    Blown down the valleys of a kindly land.            

O green walled gardens, I have loved you so!
5
    Take no heed of the passing when I go.
The wind that spilled your roses yesterday
    Blows sharp upon me, heralding the snow:            

The wind that blew the yellow buds to bloom,                 
    And filled with dancing gold our vine-girt room        
10
Where I have sung of summer and delight,
    Sings now of silence and the roses’ doom: [Page 19]            

The wind that kissed us yesterday, to-day
    Blows sharp upon me with a breath of clay,            
Blows cold across the vineyards in the sun
15
    And stills the flutter of the leaves at play.            

Lord, I am passing in the wind’s lean hand!
    And now of all my glory, what will stand?
A whisper in the vines along the wall,                 
    As of a lost song in a haunted land.
20

L.B.
                                                                                        1902, K.B.
 
 

With the Rose


“Yet ah! that Spring should vanish with the Rose!”

Khayyam.            

Mad Omar, seeing clearly just so far—
    Knowing the Star, but naught beyond the Star—
Across the vision of your questing soul
    The cup against your lips set down a bar.            
You sang of Life and Death, but not of him,
5
    Love, the glad god, to whom no ways are dim:
And Saki!—Could you never raise your eyes
    Beyond the bubbles at the cup’s wet rim?            

Could she not teach you, in the garden there,                 
    When frail rose-petals bled upon the air,      
10
That far beyond the swinging of earth’s moons
    Your eyes might catch the flashing of her hair?            

Oh willful master of strange words that sing!,
    To your rose-garden came no rumouring            
Of Springs above the mandate of the Rose,
15
    And roses blooming, careless of the Spring?

Ac.
(1930)                                                                             1902, K.B.
[Page 20]
 
 

The Players


They played together in the silent room,
The shaded candles scarcely broke the gloom.

Outside—the stars, the scent of sleeping trees;
Red roses, and the thunder of spent seas.

Inside, fear-stricken, still I watched the game,
5
Not knowing either player by his name.
           
I bent above them, holding my weak breath,
And wondered if my guests were Life and Death:

And one looked up, who felt my dread surmise,
And my poor strength ran out before his eyes.
10

His comrade dealt the cards, but kept his head
Low held, and blinked upon the black and red.

Outside—the starlight, and the garden-balms,
And the thin whispering of the seaward palms.

My garden smelled of roses, and the moon
15
Lit the straight surf beyond the still lagoon,
           
And all was clean, and soft, and passing sweet
With cool of trade-wind, and with garden heat.

All night they played.  The low stars swung from sight.
I watched the players’ faces, bent and white
20

Then on a sudden from the garden came
One whom I know by loyal heart and name;

One who might turn the frozen North for me
Into all joy beside by tropic sea; [Page 21]

One who might send me far to any land
25
And bring me back, boy-eager, to her hand.

At her sweet entrance dawn filled all the room,
And golden laughter touched the heavy gloom,

And soft I felt upon my fevered lips
The dew-cool wonder of her finger tips.
30

“See, dear,” she laughed, “the cards tost all about,
The Players gone, the candles sputtered out!

You thought them fearful gods of Destiny
That were but memories of pain and doubt!”

*Can. Mag.                                                                1904, Can. Mag.
 
 

A Vigil


Slowly the first lights break
    Across the dewy lawn.
I only am awake, of all the world,
    Here in the creeping dawn.            

The nightingale has slept,
5
    The rose has fall’n on sleep,
And I alone have kept the watch I pray
    My heart may ever keep.
           
The pale lights of the dawn                 
    To gold fires pass.
10
Dear girl, when I am gone from this green place,
    Pity my footprints in the dewy grass.

*L.B.                                                                                       1934, L.B.
[Page 22]
 
 

An Epitaph


Change was his mistress, Chance his counsellor:
    Love could not keep him; Duty forged no chain.
The wide seas and the mountains called to him,
    And grey dawns saw his campfires in the rain.            

Sweet hands might tremble—ay, but he must go.
5
    Revel might hold him for a little space,
But turning, past the laughter and the lamps,
    His eyes must ever catch the luring face.            

Kind eyes might question—yea, and melt again;                 
    Dear lips, a-quiver, silently implore—
10
But he must ever turn his furtive head
    To hear that other summons at the door.            

Change was his mistress, Chance his counsellor.
    The dark firs knew his singing on the trail.            
Why tarries he to-day?—And all last night
15
    Adventure flashed her stars without avail.

L.B.
                                     *1904, Scrib. (as “A Vagrant’s Epitaph”)
 
 

The Lover


“Never had inland garden seemed
    So still, so drugged with dew:
Never had green trees held such peace
    Beneath the arching blue                                                         

“As when he came, so gay, so sad,
5
    And won the heart of me
With those quick moods of his, like shades
    Cloud-drawn along the sea. [Page 23]            

“With tender songs of magic isles
    Gleaming at lift of day
10
Like pearls with hearts of ice and fire
    He stole my heart away.            

“He told of comradeship; of men
    Red blooded and clear eyed            
Who knew all risks of war and chance
15
    And reef and wind and tide.            

“He sang of brave adventurings;
    And of those nameless guests
Which lead men down to death, or home                 
    With stars upon their breasts.
20

“He told of love.  Ah! tenderly
    He told his dreams of love:
Dreams spun by him of white sea-fire
    And the white stars above.                                                         

“Never has inland garden seemed
25
    So still, so kind, so sweet,
Since he went through the narrow gate
    And down the silent street.            

“What mattered all his ringing vows—                 
    So false, so fine, so brave!  
30
I gave him all my heart.  Dear God,
    What death-in-life he gave!”

                      •           •           •

Beneath the wave, beneath the weed,
    In those deep ways and dim,            
Death holds him in a dream of her.
35
    Doubt brings no pang to him.

L.B.
                                                                                        1925, S.P.
[Page 24]
 
 

In Witless Bay


In Witless Bay the little fields
    Are dark above the sea—
The little, sheep-cropt pastures
    Where Bridget walked with me.            

The evening glow is fading
5
    Where the west is clear and wide,
And the boys are climbing homeward
    From the flakes along the tide.            

The geese are herded in the pen—                 
    ’Twas Bridget called them in.          
10
The red cow’s lowing at the door
    For milking to begin.            

The darling lights are gleaming
    In windows high and low:            
In Father Keegan’s study         
15
    You can mark a saintly glow.            

In Witless Bay the little fields
    Are dark above the sea;
And Bridget’s calling, in her prayers,                 
    To tear the heart of me:
20

And still the wind holds steady
    Across the darkling blue….
Then may the dear Christ shield us safe
    And guide me home to you!            

For oh!  my heart is longing,     
25
    From half the world away,
To foot again the climbing path
    Above the little bay!

L.B.
                                                              1905, Mun. (as “Bridget”)
[Page 25]
 
 

Song of a Lost Heart


Between the hill and the tide,
    The cane-fields and the bay,
I lost my heart and did not care—
    And that was yesterday            
In a pink-walled house
5
    Between the hill and the tide,
Where all day long the palms shake
    And seas ride.            

Between the fog and the fire,                 
    Between the kiss and the play,
10
I lost my heart and did not grieve—
    And that was yesterday
In a grey-walled house
    In veiled London town,            
Where all day long the hopeless shapes
15
    Go up and down.            

Between the wood and the shore,
    The moss and the river clay,
I lost my heart and did not fear—                 
    And that was yesterday
20
In a grey-roofed house
    Between the wood and the stream,
Where all day long the ancient fir
    Whispers his dream.            

You of the palms and the tide,
25
    You of the fog and the town,
You of the purple wood
    Where winds sweep up and down,
Find me my heart again                 
    And give it to me once more,
30
And let me lose it again
    Between the road and your door— [Page 26]            
Between the north and the south—
    Between the wood and the tide…            
My heart has leapt from my side again—
35
    Back to your side.

*L.B.                                                                                       1926, L.S.
 

If Love Were Only These Things


If Love were only these things—moonlight and kisses;
Music of heart and harp like star-dust shaking;
Glad beauty giving and mad joy taking;
Lawns cool in dawn-dew and a bird’s waking;            
Veiled eyes and sidelong glance suddenly turning—      
5
Turned suddenly bright and straight, naked and still—
Sweetest choice and utter trust, to set the heart aching!            

Love is all of these things—moonlight and kisses;
Dream and desire in tune to set the head spinning;            
Lips soft as rose petals for mad joy’s winning.
10

If these were all of Love!  If Love were these only!...
But Love has a face of fear to set the heart quaking;
Love knows a black doubt sharper than sinning;
Love knows thirst, and salt tears for its slaking;            
And Love knows pain to set the soul aching.    
15
O Love must keep a brave heart for black grief’s taking!            

But he who denies Love at the dawn’s waking—
He who denies Love at the heart’s breaking—
Cursed be he for a fool, sleeping and waking!

*L.B.                                                                                       1934, L.B.
[Page 27]
 

Lost


The singing shallows wonder where
    She went before the lift of day.
The tall pines glimpsed her flashing hair
    Against the stars, they say.            

The river meadows muse upon
5
    The singing laughter of her lips.
The flocking brant believe her gone
    Far questing with blown ships.            

The willows ask the piping snipe                 
    How soon they think she will return:
10
Perhaps to-morrow?—but the ripe
    Wild island cherries burn,            

And August spills his brimming cup,
    And all the gravel-bars are bare.            
The sun goes down, the stars come up
15
    And cannot find her there.            

The dark pines question everything
    That, morn or night or noon, goes by—
The eagle in his sky-fairing;                 
    The darting dragon-fly;
20

Sandpipers flickering on the bars,
    And small hawks cruising the deep grass;
The moon, the wayward winds, the stars:
    Did no one see her pass?            

The true pines dream she will return:
25
    They count the days:  They count the years:
Summers; and snows that drift and burn;
    And Aprils spent with tears.

L.B.
                                                                                        1934, L.B.
[Page 28]