Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “A Life-Drama”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Alexander Smith 1829–67

From “A Life-Drama”


Walter. I HAVE a strain of a departed bard;

One who was born too late into this world.

A mighty day was past, and he saw nought

But ebbing sunset and the rising stars,—

Still o’er him rose those melancholy stars!

Unknown his childhood, save that he was born

’Mong woodland waters full of silver breaks;

I was to him but Labrador to Ind;

His pearls were plentier than my pebblestones.

He was the sun, I was that squab—the earth,

And bask’d me in his light until he drew

Flowers from my barren sides. Oh! he was rich,

And I rejoiced upon his shore of pearls,

A weak enamor’d sea. Once he did say,

“My Friend! a Poet must ere long arise,

And with a regal song sun-crown this age,

As a saint’s head is with a halo crown’d;—

One, who shall hallow Poetry to God

And to its own high use, for Poetry is

The grandest chariot wherein king-thoughts ride;—

One, who shall fervent grasp the sword of song,

As a stern swordsman grasps his keenest blade,

To find the quickest passage to the heart.

A mighty Poet, whom this age shall choose

To be its spokesman to all coming times.

In the ripe full-blown season of his soul,

He shall go forward in his spirit’s strength,

And grapple with the questions of all time,

And wring from them their meanings. As King Saul

Call’d up the buried prophet from his grave

To speak his doom, so shall this Poet-king

Call up the dead Past from its awful grave

To tell him of our future. As the air

Doth sphere the world, so shall his heart of love—

Loving mankind, not peoples. As the lake

Reflects the flower, tree, rock, and bending heaven,

Shall he reflect our great humanity;

And as the young Spring breathes with living breath

On a dead branch, till it sprouts fragrantly

Green leaves and sunny flowers, shall he breathe life

Through every theme he touch, making all Beauty

And Poetry for ever like the stars.”

His words set me on fire; I cried aloud,

“God! what a portion to forerun this Soul!”

He grasp’d my hand,—I look’d upon his face,—

A thought struck all the blood into his cheeks,

Like a strong buffet. His great flashing eyes

Burn’d on mine own. He said, “A grim old king,

Whose blood leap’d madly when the trumpets bray’d

To joyous battle ’mid a storm of steeds,

Won a rich kingdom on a battle-day;

But in the sunset he was ebbing fast,

Ring’d by his weeping lords. His left hand held

His white steed, to the belly splash’d with blood,

That seem’d to mourn him with its drooping head;

His right, his broken brand; and in his ear

His old victorious banners flap the winds.

He called his faithful herald to his side,—

‘Go! tell the dead I come!’ With a proud smile,

The warrior with a stab let out his soul,

Which fled and shriek’d through all the other world,

‘Ye dead! My master comes!’ And there was pause

Till the great shade should enter. Like that herald,

Walter, I ’d rush across this waiting world

And cry, ‘He comes!’” Lady, wilt hear the song?[Sings.


He sat one winter ’neath a linden tree

In my bare orchard; “See, my friend,” he said,

“The stars among the branches hang like fruit,

So, hopes were thick within me. When I ’m gone

The world will like a valuator sit

Upon my soul, and say, ‘I was a cloud

That caught its glory from a sunken sun,

And gradual burn’d into its native gray.’”

On an October eve, ’t was his last wish

To see again the mists and golden woods;

Upon his death-bed he was lifted up,

The slumb’rous sun within the lazy west

With their last gladness fill’d his dying eyes.

No sooner was he hence than critic-worms

Were swarming on the body of his fame,

And thus they judged the dead: “This Poet was

An April tree whose vermeil-loaded boughs

Promis’d to Autumn apples juiced and red,

But never came to fruit.” “He is to us

But a rich odor,—a faint music-swell.”

“Poet he was not in the larger sense;

He could write pearls, but he could never write

A Poem round and perfect as a star.”

“Politic, i’ faith. His most judicious act

Was dying when he did; the next five years

Had finger’d all the fine dust from his wings,

And left him poor as we. He died—’t was shrewd!

And came with all his youth and unblown hopes

On the world’s heart, and touch’d it into tears.”


The lark is singing in the blinding sky,

Hedges are white with May. The bridegroom sea

Is toying with the shore, his wedded bride,

And, in the fulness of his marriage joy,

He decorates her tawny brow with shells,

Retires a space, to see how fair she looks,

Then proud, runs up to kiss her. All is fair—

All glad, from grass to sun! Yet more I love

Than this, the shrinking day that sometimes comes

In Winter’s front, so fair ’mong its dark peers,

It seems a straggler from the files of June,

Which in its wanderings had lost its wits,

And half its beauty; and, when it return’d,

Finding its old companions gone away,

It join’d November’s troop, then marching past;

And so the frail thing comes, and greets the world

With a thin crazy smile, then bursts in tears,

And all the while it holds within its hand

A few half-wither’d flowers. I love and pity it!