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

Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel 1834–94

The Secret of the Nightingale

THE GROUND I walk’d on felt like air,

Air buoyant with the year’s young mirth;

Far, filmy, undulating fair,

The down lay, a long wave of earth;

And a still green foam of woods rose high

Over the hill-line into the sky.

In meadowy pasture browse the kine,

Thin wheat-blades color a brown ploughline;

Fresh rapture of the year’s young joy

Was in the unfolded luminous leaf,

And birds that shower as they toy

Melodious rain that knows not grief,

A song-maze where my heart in bliss

Lay folded, like a chrysalis.

They allur’d my feet far into the wood,

Down a winding glade with leaflets wall’d,

With an odorous dewy dark imbued;

Rose, and maple, and hazel call’d

Me into the shadowy solitude;

Wild blue germander eyes enthrall’d

Made me free of the balmy bowers,

Where a wonderful garden-party of flowers,

Laughing sisterhood under the trees,

Dancing merrily, play’d with the bees;

Anemone, starwort, bands in white,

Like girls for a first communion dight,

And pale yellow primrose ere her flight,

Usher’d me onward wondering

To a scene more fair than the court of a king.

Ah! they were very fair themselves,

Sweet maids of honor, woodland elves!

Frail flowers that arrive with the cuckoo,

Pale lilac, hyacinth purple of hue,

And the little pink geranium,

All smil’d and nodded to see me come;

All gave me welcome; “No noise,” they said,

“For we will show you the bridal bed,

Where Philomel, our queen, was wed;

Hush! move with a tender, reverent foot,

Like a shy light over bole and root;”

And they blew in the delicate air for flute.

Into the heart of the verdure stole

My feet, and a music enwound my soul;

Zephyr flew over a cool bare brow—

I am near, very near to the secret now!

For the rose-covers, all alive with song,

Flash with it, plain now low and long;

Sprinkle a holy water of notes;

On clear air melody leans and floats;

The blithewing’d minstrel merrily moves,

Dim bushes burn with mystical loves!

Lo! I arrive! immers’d in green,

Where the wood divides, though barely seen,

A nest in one of the blue leaf-rifts!

There over the border a bird uplifts

Her downy head, bill’d, luminousey’d;

Behold the chosen one, the bride!

And the singer, he singeth by her side.

Leap, heart! be aflame with them! loud, not dumb,

Give a voice to their epithalamium!

Whose raptures wax not pale nor dim

Beside the fires of seraphim.

These are glorious, glowing stairs,

In gradual ascent to theirs;

With human loves acclaim and hail

The holy lore of the nightingale!