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Poem by Menella Bute Smedley

Eremos and Eudæmon

Some souls go broadly up and down the world,
Plucking full-fruited joys, and some are set
Like trees that spread their unripening arms
About the gentle air, endure the storm,
Enrich themselves with luxury of leaves,
Grow to the light, persuade all passing birds,
And see the seasons pass them and are still;
And some are captives, with a square of sky
In a blank wall, their sole sad heritage
Of the world's beauty. Unto such the stars
Are precious, and the phantom-walk of clouds
That ruffle no blue smoothness where they move,
And all the marshalled silences of light,
Warmth, darkness, dew, that make the growth of time,
And winds that sing of liberty and distance,
And tall grass-blooms, or air-blown chance of leaves,
Whereby, as by strong argument, they learn
That forests are which they shall never see.
So they, like men who stand upon a cliff
To watch the far keel trace in lucent fields
21Its long dim groove, imagine all the course
Which they behold not, and desire their dreams.

Eremos, in my parable, had watched
For half a life the slow secluded years,
Which gave him nothing, but received from him
The fragments of those fine capacities
That broke ere they were filled. Yet he lived on,
And was afflicted by his inward strength
Finding no outlet through the grey restraints
That closed him round. But when the rush of youth
Was past, and every pulse of hope had ceased,
There came a stillness such as torrents leave
In hollows by their course, smooth water-nests,
Where ferns may brood and foam-bells linger long,
And a whole delicate blossom-world may grow
In breezeless leisure on unfretted banks.
Then woke a second dawn of hope,a hope
Coveting nothing,energies of patience,
A brooding patience that developes life
In narrow limits and from little things,
Discerning in its corner of the earth
All powers and possibilities of being.
As one long listening to a winded horn
Hears the whole birth of music, while another
Hears but the scant soon-ended monotone,
So grew his senses quick. On his bare walls
The shadows told him how transparently
They lie where lawns are greenest; to his ears
The distant dropping murmur of a brook
Revealed the roar of ocean; the great sky
Consoled him with its glory; and his heart
Knew the first hidden softness in the wind
Against his cheek, and woke to faith in summer.

Appeased by this long courage, Circumstance
Mutely began to drop into his days
Some momentary jewels; first, a seed,
Which, resolutely nursed, became a rose,
And, fainting not among the prison airs,
Beset him with the pleasure of its growth,
Until it seemed his soul; for in his soul
Each tender tiny promise of a bud
Struck such a pang of joy. It talked to him
As infants to new mothers,with its face,
Breath, blushes, kisses,lovely modes of life
Needing no words. He tended it by day,
And saw its stature rise to his caress
As if it stood on tiptoe till he stooped;
And his night-dreams were fragrant with it. There
Daily vicissitudes of light and air
Were hopes and dangers in a long romance,
Whereof his flower was heroine, and himself
The slave who lived to shield and cherish her.

This was not all. Across the narrow space
Through which the sky beheld him, many shapes
Began to pass,women and men with hearts,
Free steps, and large horizons. As they went
To various aims of labour or delight,
Some saw the lonely man and were content
To grace him with the leisure of a pause.
His still thought moved to meet them,capable,
Impulsive, sympathetic. Now, at last,
O! now, at last, Eudæmon came to him
And told him of the universe. Eudæmon,
A king of life, who never knew a grief.

Under the tearless sunshine of his face
Some feeble things might fade; but, too much light
Is not a common evil in the world;
Call it a welcome danger, veil your eyes,
But never wish the sun quenched! 'Tis no lamp
To read by, but a fire to feed the spheres.
Growth should be more than reading. The mere sight
Of such august consistency in bliss
Was to the gazer strength. This is a man,
He said, and I, the captive, am a man.
The seed which angels set becomes a tree,
But each lost germ that dwindles into dust
Was born a future tree. I will be proud
Of what I might have been if the great seasons
Had made no compact to destroy me.

He argued; but affection followed fast,
Outstripping reason, grasping her cold hand,
Lifting her up to unacknowledged heights
Where the feet sink in fragrance, and far earth
Seems luminous and placid as a sky.
He loved Eudæmon; all his frost-bound springs
Were loosened in this summer, and spread forth
Into a ceaseless river. Never think,
O! never think, Eudæmon's heart was cold!
He went not like the others; he returned,
Leaned through the casement, answered love with love,
Gave himself largely, spoke his wonder out,
Changing, so said he, coins for virgin gold;
And grew so generous in his gratitude,
You might have thought him evermore in debt.

So in unwearied converse passed the hours.
If one had gathered through a wider space,
The other brought his pearls from such a deep
That you must practise diving all your life
If you would reach it. When Eudæmon talked
From tropic pageantries to polar glooms,
Or told what cities suffer, do, and think,
Making a banquet of his garnered stores
To tempt his friend, that other ate and drank,
Alert, insatiate, joyful. Afterwards,
Not roughly, but in some mild natural pause,
He asked,O brother, have you seen the moon?
Ay, friend (amazedly), some thousand times. But do you know the moon? Eremos said,
And then revealed such wonders of the moon,
Such fine suggestions, such eventful clouds,
Such long gradations of remembered change
Wrought with slow touches, every touch a truth,
That, while he spoke, lifting astonished palms.
Nay, on my soul, I never learned the moon!
Eudæmon cried; I prithee tell me more.
So each to each gave honour and delight,
One with no need, the other needing all,
Yet seemed the richer soul to gain the most,
Being eloquent with wide comparisons;
While he, who scarcely felt a joy before,
Was shy with his new glory and confused,
Holding his breath to watch it.

So the spring
Flowed into breadths of summer and was still;
And summer's passionate arms gave up the world
Out of their clasp, and autumn carried it
With pomp of splendid sorrow to its grave,
Where the white silence covers it for long,
But not for ever, and the friends were blessed.

Then Time, the powerful enemy, who keeps
His surest shaft till it can wound the most,
Gave his dark signal, and Eudæmon went.
O! what unequal pain in that farewell!
Grieving he went, but warm expectancy
Dried the scarce-fallen tears, and the quick hand,
Loosing its strong regretful hold, reached up
After new gifts of life. But in the cell
Was tumult and resistance and despair.
For many days before the day of fate
Each momentary joy became a terror
Coming to say, I go; and all the while,
By night, by day, one never-answered thought
Roamed up and down, a caged and furious wish
Seeking release, What can I do for him?
O brother, benefactor, saviour, friend,
What can I do for thee? There was no room
For the other thought, How can I live without him?
Which some might deem more natural; but this love
Had made an end of self. So, even at last,
When the hearts brake asunder and the hands
Shrank from and then prolonged the final clasp,
The same unanswerable wish arose,
O! for my comfort, can I give him nothing?
Can I do nothing for him?With a spring
Like one on whom a revelation breaks,
Leaving no choice, he caught his growing rose
(A slender plant) and plucked it by the roots,
And laid it on that deprecating breast
Ere the vain gesture checked him. For my sake.
He cried, receive it. If I give not all,
I have given nothing. Nothing now to me
Is all I had. Only the thought of you
Shall fill and cover every part of life;
And when I know my rose has died with you,
Its unforgotten bloom shall comfort me
More than its presence.

With that word they parted,
And he that went was blind with gentle tears,
Tender with kind regrets, and not forgetful,
But constant, speaking much across the seas,
And telling where he went and what he did
And how he loved, and sending gifts and flowers
And all atonements possible for pangs
Which cannot be appeased.

But he that stayed
Wept little and sat still, watching his dead
With that sad vigilance which only ceases
When the grave shuts. We know what follows Death.
Why, even in happy households such a loss
Strikes all the music from our daily talk,
Nay, half the language; for we use not freely
Words full of memory. He looked no more
For change or hope or comfort. He sat still.
In all his life was nothing but this loss.

Years melted, and Eudæmon came again.
The links of that long chain across the sea
Had dwindled; for the periodic task
Of written talk is hard to many hearts;
Few only warm it with such living breath
That it becomes a voice. The links had failed;
But with his first light spring upon the shore
He caught the broken chain and hurried on,
Love in his face and tokens in his hands
And histories on his lips,to cast them all
Upon the turf of a forgotten grave.

He filled the winds with sorrow. Here lies one
Who loved me with immeasurable love,
Giving me all he had. O, see your rose!
Will you not stretch your hand to take your rose?
I have it on my heart. You have not known
How I remembered you. Your days were cold
And your death lonely. I am come at last,
But that Too late which slays the souls of men
Has sundered us for ever.

One stood by
And, partly understanding why he wept,
Gave him this comfort: Have you brought a rose
(I think you said so) to this flowerless grave?
The poor soul murmured much about a rose
Before he died, and once I heard him say
How, through the long mist of his many griefs,
He saw one moment of such pure delight
That all the distant Past was bright with it,
The moment when he gave away a rose.
I know not what he meant; I saw him smile
When that remembrance settled on his face,
And, with the smile upon his lips, he died.

Menella Bute Smedley

Menella Bute Smedley's other poems:
  1. The Little Fair Soul
  2. A Prayer for One Beloved
  3. The Little Queen
  4. The Lay of King James I in his Captivity
  5. Love for the Young

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