Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  Lachrymæ Musarum

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

William Watson 1858–1935

Lachrymæ Musarum


LOW, like another’s, lies the laurelled head:

The life that seemed a perfect song is o’er:

Carry the last great bard to his last bed.

Land that he loved, thy noblest voice is mute.

Land that he loved, that loved him! nevermore

Meadow of thine, smooth lawn or wild sea-shore,

Gardens of odorous bloom and tremulous fruit,

Or woodlands old, like Druid couches spread,

The master’s feet shall tread.

Death’s little rift hath rent the faultless lute:

The singer of undying songs is dead.

Lo, in this season pensive-hued and grave,

While fades and falls the doomed, reluctant leaf

From withered Earth’s fantastic coronal,

With wandering sighs of forest and of wave

Mingles the murmur of a people’s grief

For him whose leaf shall fade not, neither fall.

He hath fared forth, beyond these suns and showers.

For us, the autumn glow, the autumn flame,

And soon the winter silence shall be ours:

Him the eternal spring of fadeless fame

Crowns with no mortal flowers.

Rapt though he be from us,

Virgil salutes him, and Theocritus;

Catullus, mightiest-brained Lucretius, each

Greets him, their brother, on the Stygian beach;

Proudly a gaunt right hand doth Dante reach;

Milton and Wordsworth bid him welcome home;

Bright Keats to touch his raiment doth beseech;

Coleridge, his locks aspersed with fairy foam,

Calm Spenser, Chaucer suave,

His equal friendship crave:

And godlike spirits hail him guest, in speech

Of Athens, Florence, Weimar, Stratford, Rome.

What needs his laurel our ephemeral tears,

To save from visitation of decay?

Not in this temporal sunlight, now, that bay

Blooms, nor to perishable mundane ears

Sings he with lips of transitory clay;

For he hath joined the chorus of his peers

In habitations of the perfect day:

His earthly notes a heavenly audience hears,

And more melodious are henceforth the spheres,

Enriched with music stolen from earth away.

He hath returned to regions whence he came.

Him doth the spirit divine

Of universal loveliness reclaim.

All nature is his shrine.

Seek him henceforward in the wind and sea,

In earth’s and air’s emotion or repose,

In every star’s august serenity,

And in the rapture of the flaming rose.

There seek him if ye would not seek in vain,

There, in the rhythm and music of the Whole;

Yea, and forever in the human soul

Made stronger and more beauteous by his strain.

For lo! creation’s self is one great choir,

And what is nature’s order but the rhyme

Whereto the worlds keep time,

And all things move with all things from their prime?

Who shall expound the mystery of the lyre?

In far retreats of elemental mind

Obscurely comes and goes

The imperative breath of song, that as the wind

Is trackless, and oblivious whence it blows.

Demand of lilies wherefore they are white,

Extort her crimson secret from the rose,

But ask not of the Muse that she disclose

The meaning of the riddle of her might:

Somewhat of all things sealed and recondite,

Save the enigma of herself, she knows.

The master could not tell, with all his lore,

Wherefore he sang, or whence the mandate sped:

Even as the linnet sings, so I, he said;—

Ah, rather as the imperial nightingale,

That held in trance the ancient Attic shore,

And charms the ages with the notes that o’er

All woodland chants immortally prevail!

And now, from our vain plaudits greatly fled,

He with diviner silence dwells instead,

And on no earthly sea with transient roar,

Unto no earthly airs, he trims his sail,

But far beyond our vision and our hail

Is heard forever and is seen no more.

No more, O never now,

Lord of the lofty and the tranquil brow

Whereon nor snows of time

Have fallen, nor wintry rime,

Shall men behold thee, sage and mage sublime.

Once, in his youth obscure,

The maker of this verse, which shall endure

By splendor of its theme that cannot die,

Beheld thee eye to eye,

And touched through thee the hand

Of every hero of thy race divine,

Even to the sire of all the laurelled line,

The sightless wanderer on the Ionian strand,

With soul as healthful as the poignant brine,

Wide as his skies and radiant as his seas,

Starry from haunts of his Familiars nine,

Glorious Mæonides.

Yea, I beheld thee, and behold thee yet:

Thou hast forgotten, but can I forget?

The accents of thy pure and sovereign tongue,

Are they not ever goldenly imprest

On memory’s palimpsest?

I see the wizard locks like night that hung,

I tread the floor thy hallowing feet have trod;

I see the hands a nation’s lyre that strung,

The eyes that looked through life and gazed on God.

The seasons change, the winds they shift and veer;

The grass of yesteryear

Is dead; the birds depart, the groves decay:

Empires dissolve and peoples disappear:

Song passes not away.

Captains and conquerors leave a little dust,

And kings a dubious legend of their reign;

The swords of Cæsars, they are less than rust:

The poet doth remain.

Dead is Augustus, Maro is alive;

And thou, the Mantuan of our age and clime,

Like Virgil shalt thy race and tongue survive,

Bequeathing no less honeyed words to time,

Embalmed in amber of eternal rhyme,

And rich with sweets from every Muse’s hive;

While to the measure of the cosmic rune

For purer ears thou shalt thy lyre attune,

And heed no more the hum of idle praise

In that great calm our tumults cannot reach,

Master who crown’st our immelodious days

With flower of perfect speech.