Henry Alford (1810-1871)
To the River Wye
Ilion, along whose streets in olden days
Shone that divinest form, for whose sweet face
A monarch sire, with all his kingly race,
Were too content to let their temples blaze—
Where art thou now?—no massive columns raise
Their serried shafts to heaven; we may not trace
Xanthus and Simois, nor each storied place
Round which poetic memory fondly plays.
But in the verse of the old man divine
Thy windy towers are built eternally;
Nor shall the ages, as they ruin by,
Print on thy bulwarks one decaying sign;
So true is beauty clothed in endless rhyme,
So false the sensual monuments of time.
To the River Wye
If, gentle stream, by promised sacrifice
Of kid or yearling, or by scattered flowers
Of votive roses culled from thy thick bowers,
Or golden cistus we could thee entice
To be propitious to our love, no price
Should save these errant flocks: each nook but ours
Should shed its eglantine in twinkling showers,
For tribute from thy wooded paradise.
But not thy flocks, nor brier-roses hung
In natural garlands down thy rocky hills,
Shall win thee to be ours; more precious far
Than summer blossoms or rich offerings are,
We bring thee sweet poetic descants, sung
To the wild music of thy tinkling rills.
He went into the woods a laughing boy;
Each flower was in his heart; the happy bird
Flitting across the morning sun, or heard
From wayside thicket, was to him a joy:
The water springs that in their moist employ
Leaped from the banks, with many an inward word
Spoke to his soul, and every leaf that stirred
Found notice from his quickly-glancing eye.
There wondrous sleep fell on him: many a year
His lids were closed: youth left him, and he woke
A careful noter of men's ways: of clear
And lofty spirit: sages, when he spoke,
Forgot their systems; and the worldly-wise
Shrunk from the gaze of truth with baffled eyes.
Had I the wondrous magic to invest
Ideal forms in colour, I would paint
Thee, winter, first, by an ideal saint
Deep in his beads: on his bare ribs should rest
A cross of lichened boughs: and duly pressed
Each morn by horny knees, one for each bone,
There should be two round hollows in the stone,
Whither his bent limbs should be half addressed.
And in the entry of the holy cave
Where the same saint should sit, a laughing boy,
Naked, and all aglow with play and joy,
Should peer full slily on that father grave,
In the full blessedness of childhood's morn,
And laugh his crusty solitude to scorn.
I saw two women weeping by the tomb
Of one new buried, in a fair green place
Bowered with shrubs;—the eve retained no trace
Of aught that day performed,—but the faint gloom
Of dying day was spread upon the sky;—
The moon was broad and bright above the wood;—
The distance sounded of a multitude,
Music and shout and mingled revelry.
At length came gleaming through the thicket shade
Helmet and casque—and a steel-armëaut;d band
Watched round the sepulchre in solemn stand;
The night-word passed, from man to man conveyed;
And I could see those women rise and go
Under the dark trees moving sad and slow.
Text of last poem from from
Sonnets of This Century