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Passion-flowers

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Julia's Poetry: Passion-Flowers
Wherefore

Why fell not Kossuth with the fall of his country?
Wherefore yielded he not to the blind inspiration
Of the cup with which Despair her own agony heightens
To madness, that traces no longer the progress of sor-
row,
Swells to one spasm, exhausts her own being, and is
not?
Some poetic ending one asks of the hero,
Stampeded in the bloody coinage of battle with greatness.
As the centurial aloe responds to its hour,
Shooting its petals aloft to the eyebrows of heaven,
And dying when they die, our natural loves and desires
All rush or creep on to crises of anguish or rapture.
After the utmost comes peace-the cup of our nuptials
We shiver to shards, as knowing too well that life
brings us
Sordid and slow desecration of symbols most holy.
Moth and rust gather dim on the white sacramental
Garment-the body forsaken descends to corruption.
Well held the ancients to their ministration of fire
That rids man’s heart and home of their festering bur-
then.
Even the sacrifice brought to bleed at God’s altar
Should not survive the mood of devotion that urged it.
They, at once ceasing, shall thus be together remem-
bered.
Why could the man not die with his day of domination?
His work at end, wherefore live to be scantily pen-
sioned
By hearts that grudge the reward when it follows the Labor?

Are then man’s days his own? Thou, the languid
survivor
Of pangs and delights that leave nothing to wish for
but dying,
Is it thy fault that a smiling, necessitous patience
Greenly o’er groweth thy destiny’s grandiose ruins?
Had the death-angel stood at the shrine of thy nuptials,
Thou wouldst have laid thy passion-shorn head on his
shoulder,
Glad to weep out thy life and thy sorrow together.
That could not be-from thy scathed trunk of exist-
ence,
Joy sprang up, the immortal, the ever-perennial,
Bursting through ancient films of reserve and submis-
sion,
Bearing aloft in unwonted fragrance and blossom
The force of thy nature, too long in itself darkly cir-
cling.
Still the pale stranger will come, not in haste indeco-
rous,
With pinions all ruffled, evoked by thy wild adjuration;
But in state serene; with hands whose soft coolness
persuadeth,
And lips that hold their own pause in the music of
heaven.

As I walk in the dreary streets of the city,
Voiceless of music, and empty of joy and of beauty,
Meanly adorned for the meaner pleasure of buying,
With such sickly growths as bloom out in the newest
Spring fashion,
Something arrests me-a painful thrill of compassion
Strikes through my heart, ere my wandering reason
can question,
‘Wherefore this pang?’ ‘Tis a print of a face most
familiar
between the imperial crown and imperial purple;
But oftener seen with the old chapeau and the gray
coat,
Its regal insignia the eye, and the brow, and the lip
then.
The world looked little to him, as you see by his
Glances
Embracing it all, and embracing yet more, so I read
them,
The full outpouring of power that stops at no frontier,
But follows I would with I can, and I can with I do it’
While common minds stand agape at the mighty am-
bition,
Nor hear the march till the standards come flashing
upon them.

Know you this man? why, the dome of the Invalides
trembles
When some poor mutilate remnant of soldierly valor
Comes limping towards you, and, touching your arm
with his finger,
Whispers: ’he’s there.’ and his dead presence fas-
tens upon you
In proportions unearthly, while, choking and swelling,
The heart in your breast with his passionless ashes
claims kindred.

Know you this man? Him even the unwilling Muses
Honored, without whose honor Success is not Tri-
umph.
Marble and canvas grew great with his wonderful fea-
tures;
Though best in warrior bronze from his column he towers,
Calmly rebuking the frivolous race that forsook him,
Terribly threat’ning the monarchs that crouched at his
bidding.
Thorwald, th’inspired, must fashion the frieze for his
Chamber,
Dead Alexander hang on the wall as his trophy,
In the Roman palace he deigned not to visit.
Only, nearest Apollo, the sons of the lyre
Scattered more sparsely their homage, as bound to
withhold it
Till Death enrolled him among the calm shades of he
mighty,
Whom to blame is not cruel, to praise not inglorious.
Then from Italy swept the high mass of Manzoni,
And De Lamartine led the sweet psalm of his vespers.

But here we see him, in sordid and careless attire,
Shabby, forgotten, neglected, an invalid prisoner,
With all his ruined life on his pent bosom resting,
And his lion-like despair on his forehead grown patient.
Sorrow has sickened and shaken, but dare not destroy
him,
Lest she abridge one pang of his long doom of anguish.
In his dressing-gown stands he, his listless feet in
His slippers, a kerchief replacing the crown of an
empire.
Mild-souled Las-Casas writes on, accustomed to hearing
Querulous plaints of unkind and uncourteous treatment,
Meals insufficient, ill lodging, ad spies that pursue him
Here even, where fatally wounded to die he has laid
him.

But at this moment, one hopes, from the pitiful present,
Sublime, the past reclaims him with thick-thronging
Visions,
Covers with banners and trophies the walls dank and
Dreary,
Leads up the barren isle her magnificent vista.
Dreams he, perchance, of a new point of fusion for
Europe,
And in his cabinet models her map and her fortune?
Or has he, choosing a royal name for his infant,
Made Rome, in the palace of Gaul, a subordinate title?
Or’mid the stir of the camp gives he order for battle,
And sees his plumeless eagle new-fledged in the sun’s
face?
‘This was at Jena,’ he says; ‘how we made the dogs
tremble,
Routed their armies,-terror like lightning pursued
them!’
Or: ‘This was when I welded my way over icebergs,
And like a warrior’s bride lay the fair land before me.’
Or: ‘That was when the kings of the world met in
Paris,
Cringing like dutiful slaves at the nod of my pleasure.’

Thus, in Memory’s moonlight he harmlessly wanders,
Friend and ancient in shadowy semblance attend him,
Till from her ambush Reality rushes upon him,
Strikes hand to hand, dispersing his phantasmic glories.
By the dull shock awakened, he gathers his senses,
Discerns but understands not himself and his prison;
Fixes the heart of his hearer with mute looks that
question:
‘Surely such things have been?’ But the mournful
face answers
The past with the present despair, then he lowers
between them
The leaden vizard of pride, the stern lips lock in
silence,
The breast keeps its broad arches still, and the passing
convulsion
Lies frozen in fathomless eyes that to tears condescend
not.
Break, mighty heart, that, remembering nothing but
Greatness,
Look’st on the smallest of worlds, still too large for
thy freedom.
Break, and in the breaking, acknowledge-thy gifts and
thy glories,
The civic wreath, and the bloodier garlands of battle,
The sounding procession, the glittering marches of
triumph
That beggared the treasures of Europe, resistlessly led
thee
To this high court of despair, to this kingdom of
horror,
Where ev’n the silent majesty of thy sorrow
(Over itself still despotic) not wholly exempts thee
From the world’s tribute of pity, unwished for and
shameful.

Ev’n the deserter dies not by the hands of the hang-
man,
Nor pines in dungeons-the weapons he faithlessly
Wedded
Stand him in stead, and from grief and dishonor re-
lease him.
What divine word has judged him, God’s crystallized
treasure,
The man of the ages, the quickened convulsive out-
worker
Of Nature’s deep passive forces, in him grown vol-
canic:
Him, right or wrong, I say, what divine word doth
Judge him
Fit only to rot and waste for an Englishman’s plea-
sure?

In that last battle, when he, the true point of resist-
ance,
(Centre of France, as France was of Europe the
centre,)
He towards whose will all power instinctively gathered,
Thence to re-emanate, great with the stamp of his
purpose,
Holding the past in solution, and sure of the future,
Was by some force undiscernible strangely out-coun-
selled,
It had been easy, one things, to have led a wild on-
slaught,
Swift with the rage of desperate-hearted defiance,
Terrible with the intent to be deadly in dying.
He might to have flung away life, as a boon of no value,
Lees from a shattered cup, last coin of a great stake
Scornfully swept by the gambler to fill up his ruin.
Proud and contemptuous then had remained his last
gesture,
Death had found him undwindled, had known him
unconquered
By the stern smile congealed on his lips’ bloody
marble.
Why died he not? How easy a thing to declare thee!
In all the firey hail of the dreadful encounter,
Fell there no bullet commissioned of heaven to touch
him.
Destiny, faithfully shielding, through numberless perils
Circled him still, and reserved him to perish by inches.
God’s war-angel stooped near him, from battle-cloud
lowering,
Till his deep whisper thrilled the proud heart of the
leader.
After this wise he spake: ‘Thus far for they pleasure;
Now for God’s teaching, to thee and to other men in
thee.
Evade it thou canst not, best thou abid’st it in patience.

Fly! but it follows thee-choose an asylum! It waits
thee.
And, as he files, the prophecy darkly attends him.
Seek thee a palace to screen the last act of thine
empire?
This is not modest enough-thou must abdicate fee-
dom.
Give up thy crown? thou must give up the crown of
thy manhood.
Yield all command? ay, command not thy boy nor his
mother.
France wilt thou leave? Somewhat further behind than
Thou wot’st of;
Skies less congenial than these shall grow vengeful
above thee;
Walls not so stately compress they last spasm to silence.
In thy desolate sleep and more desolate waking
Spirits unbidden shall question thy will and thine
actions.
Voices that heed not thine anger shall iterate pre-
cepts
Of truths eternal that sit where the stars sit and judge
thee.
Pitiless fingers shall point, neither hating nor loving,
Pointing out simply thy blemishes stript of their hale,
And the great thoughts of God which, involving thy
failure,
Set thee aside as a feather, a fragment, an atom
Inharmonious with infinite laws of Creation.
If they call thee infamous, answer avails not;
Brazen clamor of trumpets drowns not their still
speaking.
If they smite thee, the folded arms cannot shield thee,
Nor flashing eyes avenge-on thy heart, swift as
lightning,
Falls the keen stroke, the immortal must suffer and
die not.
Suffer till Self, interclouding ‘twixt soul and divineness,
Vaporous, huge, phantasmic, condense to its essence.
Suffer till flesh and bone bear the terrible traces,
And the soul sculpture its woe on the walls of its
prison;
Till the closed eye, and the paralysed lip, fixed in
dying,
Speak as no tongue could speak, and it piteous plead-
ing
Claim from men’s hearts the upheaving of grief for a
brother.’

Further the angel spake-from his dead mask I read it:
‘History wrot’st thou in blood, which the angels, trans-
scribing,
Color with light and with shadow by thee unimagined.
They hold the book to thine eyes--thou must learn
the deep lesson,
Ev’n as a child that would not with chiding and
scourging;
Till with a wiser heart and a forehead less lofty
On the steps of the temple thou meet the most gentle,
Making thee glad with these words: “The long school
time is over,
The Father hath sent me-- his heart and his mansion
await thee.”

Have I writ long? and have my wanderings led me
Spinning frail webs from the thread abrupt of thy
Question?
Why died not Kossuth? Men die as God pleases;
Felons and madmen alone anticipate rudely
The last consummation, and yet from their doom escape
not.
Think’st thou thy work at end, and thy discipline
perfect?
Other pangs still remain, other labors and sorrows;
Other the crises of Fate than the crises of Being.
Let me round my words with one brief admonition:
Take for the bearings of life, thine own or another’s,
This motto blazoned on cross and on altar: “God’s
Patience.’