THE street was narrow, close, and dark,
And flanked with antique masonry,
The shelving eaves left for an ark
But one long strip of summer sky.
But one long line to bless the eye —
The thin white cloud lay not so high,
Only some brown bird, skimming nigh,
From wings whence all the dew was dry
Shook down a dream of forest scents,
Of odorous blooms and sweet contents,
Upon the weary passers-by.
Ah, few but haggard brows had part
Below that street’s uneven crown,
And there the murmurs of the mart
Swarmed faint as hums of drowsy noon.
With voices chiming in quaint tune
From sun-soaked hulls long wharves adown,
The singing sailors rough and brown
Won far melodious renown,
Here, listening children ceasing play,
And mothers sad their well-a-way,
In this old breezy sea-board town.
Ablaze on distant banks she knew,
Spreading their bowls to catch the sun,
Magnificent Dutch tulips grew
With pompous color overrun.
By light and snow from heaven won
Their misty web azaleas spun;
Low lilies pale as any nun,
Their pensile bells rang one by one :
And spicing all the summer air
Gold honeysuckles everywhere
Their trumpets blew in unison.
Than where blood-cored carnations stood
She fancied richer hues might be,
Scents rarer than the purple, hood
Curled over in the fleur-de-lis.
Small skill in learned names had she,
Yet whatso wealth of land or sea
Had ever stored her memory,
She decked its varied imagery
Where, in the highest of the row
Upon a sill more white than snow,
She nourished a pomegranate-tree.
Some lover from a foreign clime,
Some roving gallant of the main,
Had brought it on a gay spring-time,
And told her of the nacar stain
The thing would wear when bloomed again.
Therefore all garden growths in vain
Their glowing ranks swept through her brain,
The plant was knit by subtile chain
To all the balm of Southern zones,
The incenses of Eastern thrones,
The tinkling hem of Aaron’s train.
The almond shaking in the sun
On some high place ere day begin,
Where winds of myrrh and cinnamon
Between the tossing plumes have been,
It called before her, and its kin
The fragrant savage balaustine
Grown from the ruined ravelin
That tawny leopards couch them in;
But this, if rolling in from seas
It only caught the salt-fumed breeze,
Would have a grace they might not win.
And for the fruit that it should bring,
One globe she pictured, bright and near,
Crimson, and throughly perfuming
All airs that brush its shining sphere.
In its translucent atmosphere
Afrite and Princess reappear, —
Through painted panes the scattered spear
Of sunrise scarce so warm and clear, —
And pulped with such a golden juice,
Ambrosial, that one cannot choose
But find the thought most sumptuous cheer.
Of all fair women she was queen,
And all her beauty, late and soon,
O’ereame you like the mellow sheen
Of some serene autumnal noon.
Her presence like a sweetest tune
Accorded all your thoughts in one.
Than last year’s alder-tufts in June
Browner, yet lustrous as a moon
Her eyes glowed on you, and her hair
With such an air as princes wear
She trimmed black-braided in a crown.
A perfect peace prepared her days,
Few were her wants and small her care,
No weary thoughts perplexed her ways,
She hardly knew if she were fair. Bent lightly at her needle there
In that small room stair over stair,
All fancies blithe and debonair
She deftly wrought on fabrics rare,
All clustered moss, all drifting snow,
All trailing vines, all flowers that blow,
Her dædal fingers laid them bare.
Still at the slowly spreading leaves
She glanced up ever and anon,
If yet the shadow of the eaves
Had paled the dark gloss they put on.
But while her smile like sunlight shone,
The life danced to such blossom blown
That all the roses ever known,
Blanche of Provence, Noisette, or Yonne,
Wore no such tint as this pale streak
That damasked half the rounding cheek
Of each bud great to bursting grown.
And when the perfect flower lay free,
Like some great moth whose gorgeous wings
Fan o’er the husk unconsciously,
Silken, in airy balancings,—
She saw all gay dishevellings
Of fairy flags, whose revellings
Illumine night’s enchanted rings.
So royal red no blood of kings
She thought, and Summer in the room
Sealed her escutcheon on their bloom,
In the glad girl’s imaginings.
Now, said she, in the heart of the woods
The sweet south-winds assert their power,
And blow apart the snowy snoods
Of trilliums in their thrice-green bower.
Now all the swamps are flushed with dower
Of viscid pink, where, hour by hour,
The bees swim amorous, and a shower
Reddens the stream where cardinals tower.
Far lost in fern of fragrant stir
Her fancies roam, for unto her
All Nature came in this one flower.
Sometimes she set it on the ledge
That it might not be quite forlorn
Of wind and sky, where o’er the edge,
Some gaudy petal, slowly borne,
Fluttered to earth in careless scorn,
Caught, for a fallen piece of morn
From kindling vapors loosely shorn,
By urchins ragged and wayworn, Who saw, high on the stone embossed,
A laughing face, a hand that tossed
A prodigal spray just freshly torn.
What wizard hints across them fleet,—
These heirs of all the town’s thick sin,
Swift gypsies of the tortuous street,
With childhood yet on cheek and chin!
What voices dropping through the din
An airy murmuring begin, —
These floating flakes, so fine and thin,
Were they and rock-laid earth akin ?
Some woman of the gods was she,
The generous maiden in her glee ?
And did whole forests grow within?
A tissue rare as the hoar-frost,
White as the mists spring dawns condemn,
The shadowy wrinkles round her lost,
She wrought with branch and anadem,
Through the fine meshes netting them,
Pomegranate-flower and leaf and stem.
Dropping it o’er her diadem
To float below her gold-stitched hem,
Some duchess through the court should sail
Hazed in the cloud of this white veil,
As when a rain-drop mists a gem.
Her tresses once when this was done,
— Vanished the skein, the needle bare,—
She dressed with wreaths vermilion
Bright as a trumpet’s dazzling blare.
Nor knew that in Queen Dido’s hair,
Loading the Carthaginian air,
Ancestral blossoms flamed as fair
As any ever banging there.
While o’er her cheek their scarlet gleam
Shot down a vivid varying beam,
Like sunshine on a brown-bronzed pear.
And then the veil thrown over her,
The vapor of the snowy lace
Fell downward, as the gossamer
Tossed from the autumn winds’ wild race
Falls round some garden-statue’s grace.
Beneath, the blushes on her face
Fled with the Naiad’s shifting chase
When flashing through a watery space.
And in the dusky mirror glanced
A splendid phantom, where there danced
All brilliances in paler trace.
A spicery of sweet perfume,
As if from regions rankly green
And these rich hoards of bud and bloom,
Lay every waft of air between.
Out of some heaven’s unfancied screen
The gorgeous vision seemed to lean.
The Oriental kings have seen
Less beauty in their daïs-queen,
And any limner’s pencil then
Had drawn the eternal love of men,
But twice Chance will not intervene.
For soon with scarce a loving sigh
She lifts it off half unaware,
While through the clinging folds held high,
Arachnean in a silver snare
Her rosy fingers nimbly fare,
Till gathered square with dainty care.
But still she leaves the flowery flare
— Such as Dame Venus’ self might wear —
Where first she placed them, since they blow
More bounteous color hanging so,
And seem more native to the air.
Anon the mellow twilight came
With breath of quiet gently freed
From sunset's felt but unseen flame.
Then by her casement wheeled in speed
Strange films, and half the wings indeed
That steam in rainbows o'er the mead,
Now magnified in mystery, lead
Great revolutions to her heed.
And leaning out, the night o’erhead,
Wind-tossed in many a shining thread,
Hung one long scarf of glittering brede.
Then as it drew its streamers there,
And furled its sails to fill and flaunt
Along fresh firmaments of air
When ancient morn renewed his chant,—
She sighed in thinking on the plant
Drooping so languidly aslant ;
Fancied some fierce noon’s forest-haunt
Where wild red things loll forth and pant,
Their golden antlers wave, and still
Sigh for a shower that shall distil
The largess gracious nights do grant.
The oleanders in the South
Drape gray hills with their rose, she thought,
The yellow-tasselled broom through drouth
Bathing in half a heaven is caught. Jasmine and myrtle flowers are sought
By winds that leave them fragrance-fraught.
To them the wild bee’s path is taught,
The crystal spheres of rain are brought,
Beside them on some silent spray
The nightingales sing night away,
The darkness wooes them in such sort.
But this, close shut beneath a roof,
Knows not the night, the tranquil spell,
The stillness of the wildwood ouphe,
The magic dropped on moor and fell.
No cool dew soothes its fiery shell,
Nor any star, a red sardel,
Swings painted there as in a well.
Dyed like a stream of muscadel
No white-skinned snake coils in its cup
To drink its soul of sweetness up,
A honeyed hermit in his cell.
No humming-bird in emerald coat,
Shedding the light, and bearing fain
His ebon spear, while at his throat
The ruby corselet sparkles plain,
On wings of misty speed astain
With amber lustres, hangs amain,
And tireless hums his happy strain ;
Emperor of some primeval reign,
Over the ages sails to spill
The luscious juice of this, and thrill
Its very heart with blissful pain.
As if the flowers had taken flight
Or as the crusted gems should shoot
From hidden hollows, or as the light
Had blossomed into prisms to flute
Its secret that before was mute,
Atoms where fire and tint dispute,
No humming-birds here hunt their fruit-
No burly bee with banded suit
Here dusts him, no full ray by stealth
Sifts through it stained with warmer wealth
Where fair fierce butterflies salute.
Nor night nor day brings to my tree,
She thought, the free air’s choice extremes,
But yet it grows as joyfully
And floods my chamber with its beams,
So that some tropic land it seems
Where oranges with ruddy gleams,
And aloes, whose weird flowers the creams
Of long rich centuries one deems, Wave through the softness of the gloom, —
And these may blush a deeper bloom
Because they gladden so my dreams.
The sudden street-lights in moresque
Broke through her tender murmuring.
And on her ceiling shades grotesque
Reeled in a bacchanalian swing.
Then all things swam, and like a ring
Of bubbles welling from a spring
Breaking in deepest coloring Flower-spirits paid her minist'ring.
Sleep, fusing all her senses, soon
Fanned over her in drowsy rune
All night long a pomegranate wing.