I HAVE heard voices under the early stars
Where, among hills, the cold roads glimmer white, —
Voices of shadows passing, each to the other,
Clear in the airy quiet
Call their familiar greeting and good-night.
Were they not come as guests to a remembered room,
Those words, surrounded by the befriending silence ?
But words, ah, words — who can tell what they are made of,
Or how inscrutably shaped to color and bloom ?
Sharp odors they breathe, and bitter and sweet and strong,
Born from exultation, endurance, and desire;
Flying from mind to mind, to bud a thought again,
Spring, and in endless birth their wizard power prolong.


There was a voice on a sun-shafted stair
That sang; I heard it singing:
The very trees seemed listening to their roots
Out in the sunshine, and like drops in light
The words rained on the grasses greenly springing.
Ah, lovely living words, what have we done to you ?
Each infant thought a soul exulting to be born
Into a body, a breath breathed from the lips, a word
Dancing, tingling, pulsing, a body fresh as dew!
Once in the bonds of use manacled and confined
How have we made you labor, beauty and strength sapped,
Dulled with our dullness, starved to the apathy of a slave,
Outcast in streets, abandoned foundlings of the mind!


But once, in stillness of night’s stillest hour,
Words from the page I read
Rose like a spirit to embrace my spirit.
Their radiant secret shook me: earth was new;
And I throbbed, like one wakened from the dead.
0 swift words, words like flames, proud as a victor’s eye,
Words armed and terrible, storming the heart, sending
Waves of love, and fear, and accusation over
Peoples, — kindling, changing! Alas, but can you die, —
Hardened to wither round the thought wherein you grew?
Become as the blind, leading with slow shuffle the blind,
Heavy like senseless stones the savage kneels before?
O shamed, O victim words, what have we done to you?