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Poem by Eleanor Farjeon

From an Old Garden


Trees have grown to the edge of the gate
Where grey-bearded lichens cling;
The greenwoods stand in a ring,
Holding the garden-pearl in their centre
A jewel inviolate.
Heart of mine, shall we enter?

There is a charm of sleep in the air,
Weft of Time's humming loom.
There in the green half-gloom
I think some intangible spirit hovers ...
They say the dim wraiths dwell there
Of countless, long-dead lovers.

Warp of sleep and woof of love:
The flush of a live rose glows
By the pallid death of the rose,
A song next the hush that stilled its numbers:
Such is the web Time wove.
Dare we disturb their slumbers?

We stand on the outskirts, you and I
Shall we not venture in?
They will condone the sin,
Those dim, dead lovers, will smile and pardon,
For our honeymoon hangs in the sky.
Heart of mine, into the garden!


You and I here!
Shut the gate behind us.
Nothing to fear
And none to find us.
We are all the world, dear!

'Tis a cloister of dreams,
This dear old garden;
The sundial seems
To stand as their warden.
How Love's star gleams!

We'll sup on the rose,
Our tent is this willow
Lie close, Love, close!
There's grass for our pillow.
How Love's star glows!

You and I here
And the world behind us!
Nothing to fear
And none to find us
Shut the gate, dear.


Song and flow'r and flow'r and song,
So soothed the summer drifts along:
    Within our hearts a flow'r
    Unfolding hour by hour,
    While a song half-conscious slips
    Over my dear one's lips.
Flow'r and song and song and flow'r,
So filled runs by each swift, sweet hour:
    Close to my breast you twine
    Your flow'r-lips laid on mine,
    And I catch before we part
    The song-beats of your heart.
Flow'r and song in our garden-close
Like wedded lovers have grown one word.
I could weave you a wreath from the notes of that bird,
And pluck you a song from the heart of this rose.


    Who dwelt here of old?
Hush! If I lift from the misty years
The veil of dead smiles and forgotten tears,
I think I can picture a little maid
    Crowned with plaits of gold,
Passing alone down each green arcade
    While the sundial told
In silence its hours of shine and shade.
Young she was as the peep of dawn,
And as a year-old dappled fawn
Was shy and tender and innocent.
And all her days were in waiting spent
Amongst her flowers in a day-dream she
Builded herself. So continuously
In waiting and waiting the days went by
We know what she waited, love, you and I.
The flowers had nothing to teach to her
In her sleep she could hear the grasses stir,
She had secrets with every rose in the place,
The lilies kept smiles for her lily-face,
She could think their thoughts and utter their speech,
Had a sister's tender look for each,
And knew why the trailing clematis
Dropped on the sundial a purple kiss
As surely as we know why, she knew.
And so in her house of dreams she grew,
And so the star-lighted nights slipped by.
We know what she waited foryou and I
    Who dwelt here of old.
    There's her tale half-told.

    What more to unfold?
When he came at last did they ride away,
Or, day succeeding each happy day,
Did they stay with two heartfuls of love to brim
The garden wherein she had waited him?
Well, this I know. If they stayed or went,
After their term of life was spent
They returned to roam by her lily-pond,
On to the rosery set beyond,
Haunt her favourite paths and nooks,
Re-read the fairy-tales which her books,
The flowers, had yielded her in such store
When he was the hero of all their lore.
Hand in hand they go as of old,
    He brave and bold,
    She crowned with gold.

Ah, love, they are neither the first nor last!
For all of those, having loved and passed,
In spirit come back when their dust is cold,
    Who dwelt here of old.


Oh, what a realm, what a riot of roses!
Here we stand
Right in the heart of a great rose-land!
Over our head the blossom-world closes,
Under our feet
Walls, ceil and carpet are flowery-sweet.

Snowy and crimson and pink and golden
Twine and trail,
Vivid as life is, as death is, pale.
Here they bloom as they bloomed in olden
Days when we
Were unborn shades, and the shades that be

Had right in these grounds to resent intrusion.
Now you and I
Jealously cherish our privacy.
How came these roses by their profusion,
Tier on tier
Of bloom on bloom running uncurb'd here?

I think I can guess what they would answer,
Whence they came,
Pallid petal and flower of flame,
Inscribed with such lore as the old romancer
Of Italy
Left the world to make love-songs by.

We are born, these pink roses say, of kisses,
Dye of the blush.
What though time's passage their soft lisp hush?
The seeds were scattered of lovers' blisses,
And year by year
We renew their tender caresses here.

We are born of joy, say these petals yellow,
Tinge of delight.
What though love's sunshine be lapped in night?
We, sprung from its seeds, rich-toned and mellow,
The days when the orbit of love waxed great.

We are born, these red ones say, of passion,
Flush of the heart.
What though the sound of love's steps depart?
The seeds were sown, and we in this fashion
Remembrance thereof in the heart's own dyes.

We are born, say these snow-white blooms, of the spirit,
Children of death.
What is the ceasing of mere life-breath?
Love is sustained by its own pure merit,
Its memory
Renewed and renewed to infinity.

Belov'd, we are adding to these rose-bowers.
When we have passed
Here our hearts' treasure will lie amassed.
Pink, gold, crimson and snowy flowers,
Thus and thus,
To the limit of time will bloom for us.


Come down, dear, to the fountain's pool with me,
And help me guess how long since last it tinkled
And trickled out thin streams of minstrelsy

How long since last the grass with pearls it sprinkled.
It was yet young the day it fell asleep,
For time has left its glassy face unwrinkled.

Ah, could we where the shadows lie most deep
Peering discern the dear forgotten faces
Of girls who o'er the brink were wont to peep,

With shy eyes seeking in the depths the graces
Made dear and lovely to them by love's praise.
Can all have passed away and left no traces?

They dreamed, as we too dream, through summer days,
And hid their white thoughts in such water-lilies
As float here now. Flowers do not change their ways.

Ah, love, to-day the lucent water still is
As tho' no rosy finger-tips had dipped
And dabbled it, and hushed the fountain's rill is.

Their feet across the velvet greensward tripped,
Their bosoms pressed the crumbling grey-stone basin,
They fed the ruddy goldfish laughing-lipped ...

Is not one left? Look, look! I seem to trace in
The murky deeps some shape of hoary carp
Too late! for now I only see your face in

The water, smiling questions. He was sharp,
That king-fish, but I caught his gold crown's glimmer ...
Oh, fountain, tune again for us your harp,

Fling through the air for us your diamond shimmer
Of spray. Two new young lovers seek your shrine.
Those loves of old with years grow fainter, dimmer,

But ours is warm and living and divine,
And time has not yet breathed upon its lustre,
And I am hers and she is all of mine!

And here we kneel where once old loves would muster,
Shut in the lilies one new secret up,
And add her image to the beauty-cluster
Of those whose eyes lie mirrored in your cup.


Old sundial, you stand here for Time:
For Love, the vine that round your base
Its tendrils twines, and dares to climb
And lay one flower-capped spray in grace
Without the asking on your cold
Unsmiling and unfrowning face.
Yet, sundial, even Time may mould.
In years to come the foot shall stumble
Upon your shattered ruins where
This vine will flourish still, as rare,
As fresh, as fragrant as of old.
    Love will not crumble.

Kisses have worn your stones away,
Lov'd lips you did not pulse beneath;
Dropt tears have hastened your decay
And brought you one step nigher death;
And you have heard, unthrilled, unmoved,
The music of Love's golden breath
And seen the light in eyes that loved.
You think you hold the core and kernel
Of all the world beneath your crust,
Old dial? But when you lie in dust,
This vine will bloom, strong, green, and proved.
    Love is eternal.


Why is the lily's cheek waxen with grief?
        A brown-and-gold thief
        Dived down to her core
        And burgled her store.
Bowed with her sweetness she saw him depart,
    But her soul was too pure to complain.
    Dear, drop a kiss in her heart
And make the sweet lily all honey again.

Why does the fox-glove droop low, bell and leaf?
        A silver-winged thief
        Who delved in her pollen
        With gold powder swollen
Fled in new blossoms her wealth to disburse
    And left her not one yellow grain.
    Sweet, blow a kiss in her purse
And fill the dear fox-glove with treasure again.


Lie very still, love, where I fold
You close: the clocks strike fairy-time.
The thin, sweet tinkle of their chime
Is like a thread of gold
Woven through the heart of night
For our delight.
And following the elfin call
Faint noises, half-tones, rise and fall
The whirr and flit of fairy wings
Pass and re-pass,
And we can hear among the grass
Musicians tune their buzzing strings,
And small feet tapping on the ground
The measures of a fairy round.
Out of the roses stream wee elves,
Sweet peas are fairies in themselves,
And myriad water-sprites
From dreaming water-lilies rise,
Such glistening, ephemeral mites,
Flashing like spray across our eyes.
Watch how all whirl, dissolve, and mix
Again, foot it so daintily,
Play such quaint, pretty tricks
Some on wild moths go riding by,
Breaking them in with rein and bit
Of gossamer: some lurk and flit,
Making pretence at hide and-seek
Behind the daisies, laugh and peek
Like children: disregarding rules,
Play leap-frog with the spotted stools
Of fungus, each night newly-sprung
For them to sport among ...
Suddenly all grow hushed with awe
Come closer, dear!
The voice of one who broke the law
Of Fairyland sounds harsh and near,
And overhead a dark shape flies.
Bound in a hollow oak by day
He, like the wizard Merlin, lies,
But is condemned to pass the night
In restless flight
Until the dawn looms grey....
There! he has passed. And in a trice
They all forget him, joining hands
Once more in glittering, laughing bands,
Employing every strange device
And twist and twirl
And mazy whirl
To build their graceful, freakish dance
Like moonbeam motes they glide and glance
Under the starshine. Seize this chance
Of watching them. To-morrow we
No trace shall see
Of all their revels savewho knows?
A broken toadstool, or the spun
Fine silken spider's web undone,
The shattered petals of a rose
Tom in the careless frolic, or
The bloom brushed from some untamed wing
Of moth, and on their dancing-floor
Staining the grass a bright green ring.
Lie close, and let us look our fill
To-night. Be very still.


    Two little things, dear, I have seen
To-day that overflowed my breast with sorrow
We may not stay here many another morrow.

    Amongst the leafage, by its green
Still-living sisters tenderly enfolden,
I saw one single leaf grown dry and golden.

    And down the alleys of the rose
Passing, I saw one lightly breathed-on blossom
Fall instantly deflowered to earth's brown bosom.

    Compassionate summer ere she goes
Strikes tender notes surcharged with wistful warnings ...
Dear heart, we must begone ere many mornings.


We thought we were here alone,
Had spent our summer of love
By all other hearts unknown,
Of all other eyes unseen
But something came to disprove
Last night what we thought had been.

The shadows fell one by one
We have watched them fall before
And fancied ourselves alone;
But they seemed to waver and move
Last night, and to wander o'er
Our green-tented couch of love.

You were asleep, and I
Would not disturb your dreams
Lest the shadowy shapes should fly.
I saw them gather and mount
In ever-increasing streams
More lovers than I could count.

They circled around our bed
And watched us a little while
From the sides and foot and head;
And some of that shadow-band
Were wistful, and some would smile,
But all seemed to understand.

Then I felt light fingers twine
In my hair, and soft breath enwreathe
My brow ... lips were laid to mine ...
But none of the hands was this,
Nor the breath the breath you breathe,
The kisses were not your kiss.

Then ... you turned on your side to press
More close with the smile that slips
From its hiding at my caress,
And you breathed my name in my ear
As though I had kissed your lips ...
But I had not kissed you, dear.


    Well, is it done? is it over?
Three months in these groves I have been your lover,
Added my voice to the echoing chorus
    Of those who loved here before us.

    We have pressed the paths made sweet
By the pressure of bygone lovers' feet,
Have lain amid flowerless violet-beds
    Where they laid their happy heads;

    We have flung a red-rose petal
On the glass of the pond and watched it settle,
Then drift like a boat down one of her streams
    With our cargo of hopes and dreams.

    So many have come and gone,
Have done the things which we two have done:
Have leaned in revery sweet and solemn,
    Hands laced, on the sundial's column:

    Have found their three months as brief
As the life of a blade of grass, a leaf
As eternal, too, as the leafage is
    Have found their three months of bliss.

    For us it is finished and over.
Our three months are spent when as lover and lover
We may roam these groves. But to-night we are nearest,
    This being our last night, dearest,

    The spirits of those who wander
Near our lily-pond, by our sundial yonder,
In our rose-realm ... Farewells are not easily spoken,
    So their silence remains unbroken.

    But I see through a mist of tears
This garden after a million years,
Where two shades more move eternally ...
    Heart of mine, they are you and I.

Eleanor Farjeon

Eleanor Farjeon's other poems:
  1. Sonnets. 1. Man Cannot Be a Sophist to His Heart
  2. Sonnets. 9. Love Needs not Two the Render It Complete
  3. Sonnets. 10. What is this anguish then that always stands
  4. Two Choruses from Merlin in Broceliande
  5. Wild Hyacinth

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