Home  »  library  »  poem  »  ‘Hamlet’ at the Boston Theatre

C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

‘Hamlet’ at the Boston Theatre

By Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910)

(Edwin Booth)

WE sit before the row of evening lamps,

Each in his chair,

Forgetful of November dusks and damps,

And wintry air.

A little gulf of music intervenes,

A bridge of sighs,

Where still the cunning of the curtain screens

Art’s paradise.

My thought transcends those viols’ shrill delight,

The booming bass,

And towards the regions we shall view to-night

Makes hurried pace.

The painted castle, and the unneeded guard

That ready stand;

The harmless Ghost, that walks with helm unbarred

And beckoning hand;

And, beautiful as dreams of maidenhood,

That doubt defy,

Young Hamlet, with his forehead grief-subdued,

And visioning eye.

O fair dead world, that from thy grave awak’st

A little while,

And in our heart strange revolution mak’st

With thy brief smile!

O beauties vanished, fair lips magical,

Heroic braves!

O mighty hearts, that held the world in thrall!

Come from your graves!

The Poet sees you through a mist of tears,—

Such depths divide

Him, with the love and passion of his years,

From you, inside!

The Poet’s heart attends your buskined feet,

Your lofty strains,

Till earth’s rude touch dissolves that madness sweet,

And life remains:

Life that is something while the senses heed

The spirit’s call,

Life that is nothing when our grosser need

Engulfs it all.

And thou, young hero of this mimic scene,

In whose high breast

A genius greater than thy life hath been

Strangely comprest!

Wear’st thou those glories draped about thy soul

Thou dost present?

And art thou by their feeling and control

Thus eloquent?

’Tis with no feignèd power thou bind’st our sense,

No shallow art:

Sure lavish Nature gave thee heritance

Of Hamlet’s heart!

Thou dost control our fancies with a might

So wild, so fond,

We quarrel, passed thy circle of delight,

With things beyond;

Returning to the pillows rough with care,

And vulgar food,

Sad from the breath of that diviner air,

That loftier mood.

And there we leave thee, in thy misty tent

Watching alone;

While foes about thee gather imminent,

To us scarce known.

Oh, when the lights are quenched, the music hushed,

The plaudits still,

Heaven keep the fountain whence the fair stream gushed

From choking ill!

Let Shakespeare’s soul, that wins the world from wrong,

For thee avail,

And not one holy maxim of his song

Before thee fail!

So get thee to thy couch as unreproved

As heroes blest;

And all good angels trusted in and loved

Attend thy rest!