A city clerk, but gently born and bred; His wife, an unknown artist's orphan child-- One babe was theirs, a Margaret, three years old: They, thinking that her clear germander eye Droopt in the giant-factoried city-gloom, Came, with a month's leave given them, to the sea: For which his gains were dock'd, however small: Small were his gains, and hard his work; besides, Their slender household fortunes (for the man Had risk'd his little) like the little thrift, Trembled in perilous places o'er a deep: And oft, when sitting all alone, his face Would darken, as he cursed his credulousness, And that one unctuous mount which lured him, rogue, To buy strange shares in some Peruvian mine. Now seaward-bound for health they gain'd a coast, All sand and cliff and deep-inrunning cave, At close of day; slept, woke, and went the next, The Sabbath, pious variers from the church, To chapel; where a heated pulpiteer, Not preaching simple Christ to simple men, Announced the coming doom, and fulminated Against the scarlet woman and her creed: For sideways up he swung his arms, and shriek'd `Thus, thus with violence,' ev'n as if he held The Apocalyptic millstone, and himself Were that great Angel; `Thus with violence Shall Babylon be cast into the sea; Then comes the close.' The gentle-hearted wife Sat shuddering at the ruin of a world; He at his own: but when the wordy storm Had ended, forth they came and paced the shore, Ran in and out the long sea-framing caves, Drank the large air, and saw, but scarce believed (The sootflake of so many a summer still Clung to their fancies) that they saw, the sea. So now on sand they walk'd, and now on cliff, Lingering about the thymy promontories, Till all the sails were darken'd in the west, And rosed in the east: then homeward and to bed: Where she, who kept a tender Christian hope Haunting a holy text, and still to that Returning, as the bird returns, at night, `Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,' Said, `Love, forgive him:' but he did not speak; And silenced by that silence lay the wife, Remembering her dear Lord who died for all, And musing on the little lives of men, And how they mar this little by their feuds.
But while the two were sleeping, a full tide Rose with ground-swell, which, on the foremost rocks Touching, upjetted in spirts of wild sea-smoke, And scaled in sheets of wasteful foam, and fell In vast sea-cataracts--ever and anon Dead claps of thunder from within the cliffs Heard thro' the living roar. At this the babe, Their Margaret cradled near them, wail'd and woke The mother, and the father suddenly cried, `A wreck, a wreck!' then turn'd, and groaning said,
`Forgive! How many will say, "forgive," and find A sort of absolution in the sound To hate a little longer! No; the sin That neither God nor man can well forgive, Hypocrisy, I saw it in him at once. Is it so true that second thoughts are best? Not first, and third, which are a riper first? Too ripe, too late! they come too late for use. Ah love, there surely lives in man and beast Something divine to warn them of their foes: And such a sense, when first I fronted him, Said, "trust him not;" but after, when I came To know him more, I lost it, knew him less; Fought with what seem'd my own uncharity; Sat at his table; drank his costly wines; Made more and more allowance for his talk; Went further, fool! and trusted him with all, All my poor scrapings from a dozen years Of dust and deskwork: there is no such mine, None; but a gulf of ruin, swallowing gold, Not making. Ruin'd! ruin'd! the sea roars Ruin: a fearful night!'
`Not fearful; fair,' Said the good wife, `if every star in heaven Can make it fair: you do but bear the tide. Had you ill dreams?'
`O yes,' he said, `I dream'd Of such a tide swelling toward the land, And I from out the boundless outer deep Swept with it to the shore, and enter'd one Of those dark caves that run beneath the cliffs. I thought the motion of the boundless deep Bore through the cave, and I was heaved upon it In darkness: then I saw one lovely star Larger and larger. "What a world," I thought, "To live in!" but in moving I found Only the landward exit of the cave, Bright with the sun upon the stream beyond: And near the light a giant woman sat, All over earthy, like a piece of earth, A pickaxe in her hand: then out I slipt Into a land all of sun and blossom, trees As high as heaven, and every bird that sings: And here the night-light flickering in my eyes Awoke me.'
`That was then your dream,' she said, `Not sad, but sweet.'
`So sweet, I lay,' said he, `And mused upon it, drifting up the stream In fancy, till I slept again, and pieced The broken vision; for I dream'd that still The motion of the great deep bore me on, And that the woman walk'd upon the brink: I wonder'd at her strength, and ask'd her of it: "It came," she said, "by working in the mines:" O then to ask her of my shares, I thought; And ask'd; but not a word; she shook her head. And then the motion of the current ceased, And there was rolling thunder; and we reach'd A mountain, like a wall of burs and thorns; But she with her strong feet up the steep hill Trod out a path: I follow'd; and at top She pointed seaward: there a fleet of glass, That seem'd a fleet of jewels under me, Sailing along before a gloomy cloud That not one moment ceased to thunder, past In sunshine: right across its track there lay, Down in the water, a long reef of gold, Or what seem'd gold: and I was glad at first To think that in our often-ransack'd world Still so much gold was left; and then I fear'd Lest the gay navy there should splinter on it, And fearing waved my arm to warn them off; An idle signal, for the brittle fleet (I thought I could have died to save it) near'd, Touch'd, clink'd, and clash'd, and vanish'd, and I woke, I heard the clash so clearly. Now I see My dream was Life; the woman honest Work; And my poor venture but a fleet of glass Wreck'd on a reef of visionary gold.'
`Nay,' said the kindly wife to comfort him, `You raised your arm, you tumbled down and broke The glass with little Margaret's medicine it it; And, breaking that, you made and broke your dream: A trifle makes a dream, a trifle breaks.'
`No trifle,' groan'd the husband; `yesterday I met him suddenly in the street, and ask'd That which I ask'd the woman in my dream. Like her, he shook his head. "Show me the books!" He dodged me with a long and loose account. "The books, the books!" but he, he could not wait, Bound on a matter he of life and death: When the great Books (see Daniel seven and ten) Were open'd, I should find he meant me well; And then began to bloat himself, and ooze All over with the fat affectionate smile That makes the widow lean. "My dearest friend, Have faith, have faith! We live by faith," said he; "And all things work together for the good Of those"--it makes me sick to quote him--last Gript my hand hard, and with God-bless-you went. I stood like one that had received a blow: I found a hard friend in his loose accounts, A loose one in the hard grip of his hand, A curse in his God-bless-you: then my eyes Pursued him down the street, and far away, Among the honest shoulders of the crowd, Read rascal in the motions of his back, And scoundrel in the supple-sliding knee.'
`Was he so bound, poor soul?' said the good wife; `So are we all: but do not call him, love, Before you prove him, rogue, and proved, forgive. His gain is loss; for he that wrongs his friend Wrongs himself more, and ever bears about A silent court of justice in his breast, Himself the judge and jury, and himself The prisoner at the bar, ever condemn'd: And that drags down his life: then comes what comes Hereafter: and he meant, he said he meant, Perhaps he meant, or partly meant, you well.'
` "With all his conscience and one eye askew"-- Love, let me quote these lines, that you may learn A man is likewise counsel for himself, Too often, in that silent court of yours-- "With all his conscience and one eye askew, So false, he partly took himself for true; Whose pious talk, when most his heart was dry, Made wet the crafty crowsfoot round his eye; Who, never naming God except for gain, So never took that useful name in vain; Made Him his catspaw and the Cross his tool, And Christ the bait to trap his dupe and fool; Nor deeds of gift, but gifts of grace he forged, And snakelike slimed his victim ere he gorged; And oft at Bible meetings, o'er the rest Arising, did his holy oily best, Dropping the too rough H in Hell and Heaven, To spread the Word by which himself had thriven." How like you this old satire?'
`Nay,' she said `I loathe it: he had never kindly heart, Nor ever cared to better his own kind, Who first wrote satire, with no pity in it. But will you hear MY dream, for I had one That altogether went to music? Still It awed me.'
Then she told it, having dream'd Of that same coast.
--But round the North, a light, A belt, it seem'd, of luminous vapor, lay, And ever in it a low musical note Swell'd up and died; and, as it swell'd, a ridge Of breaker issued from the belt, and still Grew with the growing note, and when the note Had reach'd a thunderous fullness, on those cliffs Broke, mixt with awful light (the same as that Living within the belt) whereby she saw That all those lines of cliffs were cliffs no more, But huge cathedral fronts of every age, Grave, florid, stern, as far as eye could see. One after one: and then the great ridge drew, Lessening to the lessening music, back, And past into the belt and swell'd again Slowly to music: ever when it broke The statues, king or saint, or founder fell; Then from the gaps and chasms of ruin left Came men and women in dark clusters round, Some crying, "Set them up! they shall not fall!" And others "Let them lie, for they have fall'n." And still they strove and wrangled: and she grieved In her strange dream, she knew not why, to find Their wildest wailings never out of tune With that sweet note; and ever as their shrieks Ran highest up the gamut, that great wave Returning, while none mark'd it, on the crowd Broke, mixt with awful light, and show'd their eyes Glaring, and passionate looks, and swept away The men of flesh and blood, and men of stone, To the waste deeps together.
`Then I fixt My wistful eyes on two fair images, Both crown'd with stars and high among the stars,-- The Virgin Mother standing with her child High up on one of those dark minster-fronts-- Till she began to totter, and the child Clung to the mother, and sent out a cry Which mixt with little Margaret's, and I woke, And my dream awed me:--well--but what are dreams? Yours came but from the breaking of a glass, And mine but from the crying of a child.'
`Child? No!' said he, `but this tide's roar, and his, Our Boanerges with his threats of doom, And loud-lung'd Antibabylonianisms (Altho' I grant but little music there) Went both to make your dream: but if there were A music harmonizing our wild cries, Sphere-music such as that you dream'd about, Why, that would make our passions far too like The discords dear to the musician. No-- One shriek of hate would jar all the hymns of heaven: True Devils with no ear, they howl in tune With nothing but the Devil!'
`"True" indeed! One of our town, but later by an hour Here than ourselves, spoke with me on the shore; While you were running down the sands, and made The dimpled flounce of the sea-furbelow flap, Good man, to please the child. She brought strange news. Why were you silent when I spoke to-night? I had set my heart on your forgiving him Before you knew. We MUST forgive the dead.'
`Dead! who is dead?'
`The man your eye pursued. A little after you had parted with him, He suddenly dropt dead of heart-disease.'
`Dead? he? of heart-disease? what heart had he To die of? dead!'
`Ah, dearest, if there be A devil in man, there is an angel too, And if he did that wrong you charge him with, His angel broke his heart. But your rough voice (You spoke so loud) has roused the child again. Sleep, little birdie, sleep! will she not sleep Without her "little birdie?" well then, sleep, And I will sing you "birdie."'
Saying this, The woman half turn'd round from him she loved, Left him one hand, and reaching thro' the night Her other, found (for it was close beside) And half embraced the basket cradle-head With one soft arm, which, like the pliant bough That moving moves the nest and nestling, sway'd The cradle, while she sang this baby song.
What does the little birdie say In her nest at peep of day? Let me fly, says little birdie, Mother, let me fly away. Birdie, rest a little longer, Till the little wings are stronger. So she rests a little longer, Then she flies away.
What does little baby say, In her bed at peep of day? Baby says, like little birdie, Let me rise and fly away. Baby, sleep a little longer, Till the little limbs are stronger. If she sleeps a little longer, Baby too shall fly away.
`She sleeps: let us too, let all evil, sleep. He also sleeps--another sleep than ours. He can do no more wrong: forgive him, dear, And I shall sleep the sounder!'
Then the man, `His deeds yet live, the worst is yet to come. Yet let your sleep for this one night be sound: I do forgive him!'
`Thanks, my love,' she said, `Your own will be the sweeter,' and they slept.