Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Four Poems of Love & Longing (Ella Wheeler Wilcox)

Four perfect poems of Love & Longing by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.


A little leaf just in the forest's edge,
All summer long, had listened to the wooing
Of amorous birds that flew across the hedge,
Singing their blithe sweet songs for her undoing.
So many were the flattering things they told her,
The parent tree seemed quite too small to hold her.

At last one lonesome day she saw them fly
Across the fields behind the coquette summer,
They passed her with a laughing light good-bye,
When from the north, there strode a strange new comer;
Bold was his mien, as he gazed on her, crying,
"How comes it, then, that thou art left here sighing!

"Now by my faith thou art a lovely leaf —
May I not kiss that cheek so fair and tender?"
Her slighted heart welled full of bitter grief,
The rudeness of his words did not offend her,
She felt so sad, so desolate, so deserted,
Oh, if her lonely fate might be averted.

"One little kiss," he sighed, "I ask no more —"
His face was cold, his lips too pale for passion.
She smiled assent; and then bold Frost leaned lower,
And clasped her close, and kissed in lover's fashion.
Her smooth cheek flushed to sudden guilty splendour,
Another kiss, and then complete surrender.

Just for a day she was a beauteous sight,
The world looked on to pity and admire
This modest little leaf, that in a night
Had seemed to set the forest all on fire.
And then — this victim of a broken trust,
A withered thing, was trodden in the dust.


In the dawn of the day, when the sea and the earth
    Reflected the sunrise above,
I set forth, with a heart full of courage and mirth,
    To seek for the Kingdom of Love. 

I asked of a Poet I met on the way,
    Which cross-road would lead me aright,
And he said: "Follow me, and ere long you will see
    Its glistening turrets of Light."

And soon in the distance a city shone fair;
    "Look yonder," he said, "there it gleams!"
But alas! for the hopes that were doomed to despair,
    It was only the Kingdom of Dreams.

Then the next man I asked was a gay cavalier,
    And he said: "Follow me, follow me."
And with laughter and song we went speeding along
    By the shores of life's beautiful sea,

Till we came to a valley more tropical far
    Than the wonderful Vale of Cashmere,
And I saw from a bower a face like a flower
    Smile out on the gay cavalier,

And he said: "We have come to humanity's goal —
    Here love and delight are intense."
But alas! and alas! for the hope of my soul —
    It was only the Kingdom of Sense.

As I journeyed more slowly, I met on the road
    A coach with retainers behind,
And they said: "Follow us, for our lady's abode
    Belongs in the realm you would find."

'Twas a grand dame of fashion, a newly-wed bride;
    I followed, encouraged and bold.
But my hope died away, like the last gleams of day,
    For we came to the Kingdom of Gold.

At the door of a cottage I asked a fair maid.
    "I have heard of that Realm," she replied,
"But my feet never roam from the Kingdom of Home,
    So I know not the way," and she sighed.

I looked on the cottage, how restful it seemed!
    And the maid was as fair as a dove.
Great light glorified my soul as I cried,
    "Why, home is the Kingdom of Love!"


One moment alone in the garden,
    Under the August skies;
The moon had gone but the stars shone on, —
    Shone like your beautiful eyes.

Away from the glitter and gaslight,
    Alone in the garden there,
While the mirth of the throng, in laugh and song,
    Floated out on the air.

You looked down through the starlight,
    And I looked up at you;
And a feeling came that I could not name, —
    Something strange and new.

Friends of a few weeks only, —
    Why should it give me pain
To know you would go on the morrow,
    And would not come again?

Formal friends of a season.
    What matter that we must part?
But under the skies, with a swift surprise,
    Each read the other's heart.

We did not speak, but your breath on my cheek
    Was like a breeze of the south;
And your dark hair brushed my forehead
    And your kiss fell on my mouth.

Some one was searching for me, —
    Some one to say good-night;
And we went in from the garden,
    Out of the sweet starlight,

Back to the glitter and music,
    And we said "Good-bye" in the hall,
When a dozen heard and echoed the word,
    And then — well, that was all.

The river that rolls between us
    Can never be crossed, I know,
For the waters are deep and the shores are steep,
    And a maelstrom whirls below;

But I think we shall always remember,
    Though we both may strive to forget,
How you looked in my eyes, 'neath the August skies,
    After the moon had set; —

How you kissed my lips in the garden,
    And we stood in a trance of bliss,
And our hearts seemed speaking together
    In that one thrilling kiss. 


The winds came out of the west one day,
    And hurried the clouds before them;
And drove the shadows and mists away,
    And over the mountains bore them.

And I wept, "Oh, wind, blow into my mind,
    Blow into my soul and heart,
And scatter the clouds that hang like shrouds,
    And make the shadows depart."

The rain came out of the leaden skies
    And beat on the earth's cold bosom.
It said to the sleeping grass, "Arise,"
    And the young buds sprang in blossom.

And I wept in pain, "Oh, blessèd rain,
    Beat into my heart to-day;
Thaw out the snows that are chilling it so,
    Till it blossoms in hope, I pray."

The sunshine fell on the bare-armed trees,
    In a wonderful sheen of glory;
And the young leaves rustled and sang to the breeze,
    And whispered a love-fraught story.

And "Sun, oh, shine on this heart of mine,
    And woo it to life," I cried;
But the wind, and sun, and rain, each one
    The coveted boon denied.

Images: 'Autumn' by Frances MacNair, 'Autumn' & Poster of 'The House of A. and E. Napoleon' by Alejandro de Riquer, Portrait of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 'Portrait of Girl surrounded by Ivy' by Henry John Stock


  1. Bohemia

    Bohemia, o'er thy unatlassed borders
    How many cross, with half-reluctant feet,
    And unformed fears of dangers and disorders,
    To find delights, more wholesome and more sweet
    Than ever yet were known to the "elite."

    Herein can dwell no pretence and no seeming;
    No stilted pride thrives in this atmosphere,
    Which stimulates a tendency to dreaming.
    The shores of the ideal world, from here,
    Seem sometimes to be tangible and near.

    We have no use for formal codes of fashion;
    No "Etiquette f Courts" we emulate;
    We know it needs sincerity and passion
    To carry out the plans of God, or fate;
    We do not strive to seem inanimate.

    We call no time lost that we give to pleasure;
    Life's hurrying river speeds to Death's great sea;
    We cast out no vain plummet-line to measure
    Imagined depths of that unknown To-Be,
    But grasp the Now, and fill it full of glee.

    All creeds have room here, and we all together
    Devoutly worship at Art's sacred shrine;
    But he who dwells once in thy golden weather,
    Bohemia--sweet, lovely land of mine--
    Can find no joy outside thy border-line.

  2. Worldly Wisdom

    If it were in my dead Past’s power
    To let my Present bask
    In some lost pleasure for an hour,
    This is the boon I’d ask:

    Re-pedestal from out the dust
    Where long ago ’twas hurled,
    My beautiful incautious trust
    In this unworthy world.

    The symbol of my own soul’s truth–
    I saw it go with tears–
    The sweet unwisdom of my youth–
    That vanished with the years.

    Since knowledge brings us only grief,
    I would return again
    To happy ignorance and belief
    In motives and in men.

    For worldly wisdom learned in pain
    Is in itself a cross,
    Significant mayhap of gain,
    Yet sign of saddest loss.


    The meadow lark's trill and the brown thrush's whistle
    From morning to evening fill all the sweet air,
    And my heart is as light as the down of a thistle---
    The world is so bright and the earth is so fair.
    There is life in the wood, there is bloom on the meadow;
    The air drips with songs that the merry birds sing.
    The sunshine has won, in the battle with shadow,
    And she's dressed the glad earth with robes of the spring.

    The bee leaves his hive for the field of red clover
    And the vale where the daisies bloom white as the snow,
    And a mantle of warm yellow sunshine hangs over
    The calm little pond, where the pale lilies grow.
    In the woodland beyond it, a thousand gay voices
    Are singing in chorus some jubilant air.
    The bird and the bee and all nature rejoices,
    The world is so bright, and the earth is so fair.

    I am glad as a child, in this beautiful weather;
    I have tossed all my burdens and trials away;
    My heart is as light---yes, as light as a feather;---
    I am care-free, and careless, and happy to-day.
    Can it be there approaches a dark, dreary to-morrow?
    Can shadows e'er fall on this beautiful earth?
    Ah! to-day is my own! no forebodings of sorrow
    Shall darken my skies, or shall dampen my mirth.


    She leaned out into the soft June weather,
    With her long loose tresses the night breeze played;
    Her eyes were as blue as the bells on the heather:
    Oh, what is so fair as a fair young maid!

    She folded her hands, like the leaves of a lily,
    "My life," she said, "is a night in June,
    Fair and quiet, and calm and stilly;
    Bring me a change, O changeful moon!

    "Who would drift on a lake for ever?
    Young hearts weary---it is not strange,
    And sigh for the beautiful bounding river;
    New moon, true moon, bring me a change!"

    The rose that rivalled her maiden blushes
    Dropped from her breast, at a stranger's feet;
    Only a glance; but the hot blood rushes
    To mantle a fair face, shy and sweet.

    To and fro, while the moon is waning,
    They walk, and the stars shine on above;
    And one is in earnest, and one is feigning---
    Oh, what is so sweet as a sweet young love?

    A young life crushed, and a young heart broken,
    A bleak wind blows through the lovely bower,
    And all that remains of the love vows spoken---
    Is the trampled leaf of a faded flower.

    The night is dark, for the moon is failing---
    And what is so pale as a pale old moon!
    Cold is the wind through the tree-tops wailing---
    Woe that the change should come so soon.


    The strings of my heart were strung by Pleasure,
    And I laughed when the music fell on my ear,
    For he and Mirth played a joyful measure,
    And they played so loud that I could not hear
    The wailing and mourning of souls a-weary--
    The strains of sorrow that floated around,
    For my heart's notes rang out loud and cheery,
    And I heard no other sound.

    Mirth and Pleasure, the music brothers,
    Played louder and louder in joyful glee;
    But sometimes a discord was heard by others--
    Though only the rhythm was heard by me.
    Louder and louder, and faster and faster
    The hands of the brothers played strain on strain,
    When all of a sudden a Mighty Master
    Swept them aside; and Pain,

    Pain, the musician, the soul-refiner,
    Restrung the strings of my quivering heart,
    And the air that he played was a plaintive minor,
    So sad that the tear-drops were forced to start;
    Each note was an echo of awful anguish,
    As shrill as solemn, as sharp as slow,
    And my soul for a season seemed to languish
    And faint with its weight of woe.

    With skilful hands that were never weary,
    This Master of Music played strain on strain,
    And between the bars of the miserere,
    He drew up the strings of my heart again,
    And I was filled with a vague, strange wonder,
    To see that they did not snap in two.
    "They are drawn so tight, they will break asunder,"
    I thought, but instead, they grew,

    In the hands of the Master, firmer and stronger;
    And I could hear on the stilly air--
    Now my ears were deafened by Mirth no longer--
    The sound of sorrow, and grief, and despair;
    And my soul grew kinder and tender to others,
    My nature grew sweeter, my mind grew broad,
    And I held all men to be my brothers,
    Linked by the chastening rod.

    My soul was lifted to God and heaven,
    And when on my heart-strings fell again
    The hands of Mirth, and Pleasure, even,
    There was never a discord to mar the strain.
    For Pain, the musician, and soul-refiner,
    Attuned the strings with a master hand,
    And whether the music be major or minor,
    It is always sweet and grand.

  6. Solitude

    Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
    Weep, and you weep alone,
    For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
    But has trouble enough of its own.
    Sing, and the hills will answer;
    Sigh, it is lost on the air.
    The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
    But are slow to voice your care.

    Rejoice, and men will seek you;
    Grieve, and they turn and go.
    They want full measure of all your pleasure,
    But they do not need your woe.
    Be glad, and your friends are many;
    Be sad, and you lose them all.
    There are none to decline your nectared wine,
    But alone you must drink life’s gall.

    Feast, and your halls are crowded;
    Fast, and the world goes by.
    Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
    But no man can help you die.
    There is room in the halls of pleasure
    For a large and lordly train,
    But one by one we must all file on
    Through the narrow aisles of pain.

  7. Listen!

    Whoever you are as you read this,
    Whatever your trouble or grief,
    I want you to know and to heed this:
    The day draweth near with relief.

    No sorrow, no woe is unending,
    Though heaven seems voiceless and dumb;
    So sure as your cry is ascending,
    So surely an answer will come.

    Whatever temptation is near you,
    Whose eyes on this simple verse fall;
    Remember good angels will hear you
    And help you to stand, if you call.

    Though stunned with despair I beseech you,
    Whatever your losses, your need,
    Believe, when these printed words reach you,
    Believe you were born to succeed.

    You are stronger, I tell you, this minute,
    Than any unfortunate fate!
    And the coveted prize; you can win it;
    While life lasts 'tis never too late!

    All by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

  8. Audio: Hidden Gems (Wilcox) read by Secrets.mp3

    I love the above seductive recording by Sally Ann Cook. Before I heard it, I had already recorded my own version.

    Audio: Hidden Gems (Wilcox) read by okei.mp3

    I shared this poem previously in my review of Plato's Phaedrus.