Ode to Happiness


SPIRIT, that rarely comest now,
And only to contrast my gloom,
Like rainbow-feathered birds that bloom
A moment on some autumn bough
Which, with the spurn of their farewell,
Sheds its last leaves,— thou once didst dwell
With me year-long, and make intense
To boyhood’s wisely-vacant days
That fleet,
but all-sufficing grace Of trustful inexperience,
While yet the soul transfigured sense,
And thrilled, as with love’s first caress,
At life’s mere unexpectedness.


Those were thy days, blithe spirit, those
When a June sunshine could fill up
The chalice of a buttercup
With such Falernian juice as flows
No longer, — for the vine is dead
Whence that inspiring drop was shed :
Days when my blood would leap and run,
As full of morning as a breeze,
Or spray tossed up by summer seas
That doubts if it be sea or sun ;
Days that flew swiftly, like the band
That in the Grecian games had strife
And passed from eager hand to hand
The onward-dancing torch of life.


Wing-footed ! thou abid’st with him
Who asks it not; but he who hath
Watched o’er the waves thy fading path
Shall nevermore on ocean’s rim,
At morn or eve, behold returning
Thy high-heaped canvas shoreward yearning !
Thou first reveal’st to us thy face
Turned o’er the shoulder's parting grace,
A moment glimpsed, then seen no more, —
Thou whose swift footsteps we can trace
Away from every mortal door !


Nymph of the unreturning feet,
How may I woo thee back ? But no,
I do thee wrong to call thee so;
’T is we are changed, not thou art fleet:
The man thy presence feels again
Not in the blood, but in the brain,
Spirit, that lov’st the upper air,
Serene and vaporless and rare,
Such as on mountain-heights we find
And wide-viewed uplands of the mind,
Or such as scorns to coil and sing
Round any but the eagle’s wing
Of souls that with long upward beat
Have won an undisturbed retreat,
Where, poised like winged victories,
They mirror in unflinching eyes
The life broad-basking ’neath their feet, —
Man always with his Now at strife,
Pained with first gasps of earthly air,
Then begging Death the last to spare,
Still fearful of the ampler life.


Not unto them dost thou consent
Who, passionless, can lead at ease
A life of unalloyed content,
A life like that of landlocked seas,
That feel no elemental gush
Of tidal forces, no fierce rush
Of storm deep-grasping, scarcely spent
’Twixt continent and continent:
Such quiet souls have never known
Thy truer inspiration, thou
Who lov’st to feel upon thy brow
Spray from the plunging vessel thrown,
Grazing the tusked lee shore, the cliff
That o’er the abrupt gorge holds its breath,
Where the frail hair’s-breadth of an If
Is all that sunders life and death :
These, too, are cared for, and round these
Bends her mild crook thy sister Peace ;
These in unvexed dependence lie
Each ’neath his space of household sky ;
O’er them clouds wander, or the blue
Hangs motionless the whole day through;
Stars rise for them, and moons grow large
And lessen in such tranquil wise
As joys and sorrows do that rise
Within their nature’s sheltered marge ;
Their hours into each other flit,
Like the leaf-shadows of the vine
And fig-tree under which they sit;
And their still lives to heaven incline
With an unconscious habitude,
Unhistoried as smokes that rise
From happy hearths and sight elude
In kindred blue of morning skies.


Wayward ! when once we feel thy lack,
’T is worse than vain to tempt thee back !
Yet there, is one who seems to be
Thine elder sister, in whose eyes
A faint, far northern light will rise
Sometimes and bring a dream of thee :
She is not that for which youth hoped ;
But she hath blessings all her own,
Thoughts pure as lilies newly oped,
And faith to sorrow given alone:
Almost I deem that it is thou
Come back with graver matron brow,
With deepened eyes and bated breath,
Like one who somewhere had met Death.
“ But no,” she answers, “ I am she
Whom the gods love, Tranquillity ;
That other whom you seek forlorn
Half-eartldy was; but I am born
Of the immortals, and our race
Have still some sadness in our face :
He wins me late, but keeps me long,
Who, dowered with every gift of passion,
In that fierce flame can forge and fashion
Of sin and self the anchor strong;
Can thence compel tire driving force
Of daily life's mechanic course,
Nor less the nobler energies
Of needful toil and culture wise:
Whose soul is worth the tempter’s lure,
Who can renounce and yet endure,
To him I come, not lightly wooed,
And won by silent fortitude.”