Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909)

"Mr. Gilder, one of the foremost figures in New York literary society, is the author of The New Day, The Celestial Passion, and Lyrics, three volumes of singular charm and promise. The sonnets are from the volume in his collective edition entitled Lyrics and other Poems, 1885." (Sharp)

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The Sonnet

What is a sonnet? 'Tis the pearly shell
That murmurs of the far-off murmuring sea;
A precious jewel carved most curiously:
It is a little picture painted well.
What is a sonnet? 'Tis the tear that fell
From a great poet's hidden ecstasy;
A two-edged sword, a star, a song--ah me!
Sometimes a heavy-tolling funeral bell.
This was the flame that shook with Dante's breath;
The solemn organ whereon Milton played,
And the clear glass where Shakespeare's shadow falls:
A sea this is--beware who ventureth!
For like a fjord the narrow floor is laid
Mid-ocean deep to the sheer mountain walls.

"Day unto Day Uttereth Speech"

The speech that day doth utter, and the night,
Full oft to mortal ears it hath no sound;
Dull are our eyes to read upon the ground
What's written there; and stars are hid by light.
So when the dark doth fall, awhile our sight
Kens the unwonted orbs that circle round,
The quick in sleep our human sense is bound;
Speechless for us the starry heavens and bright.
But when the day doth close there is one word
That's writ amid the sunset's golden embers;
And one at morn; by them our hearts are stirred:
Splendour of dawn,--and Evening that remembers;
These are the rhymes of God; thus, line on line,
Our souls are moved to thoughts that are divine.

Written on a Fly-Leaf of "Shakespeare's Sonnets"

When shall true love be love without alloy:
Shine free at last from sinful circumstance!
When shall the canker of unheavenly chance
Eat not the bud of that most heavenly joy!
When shall true love meet love not as a coy
Retreating light that leads a deathful dance,
But as a firm fixed fire that doth enhance
The beauty of all beauty! Will the employ
Of poets ever be too well to show
That mightiest love with sharpest pain doth writhe;
That underneath the fair, caressing glove
Hides evermore the iron hand; and though
Love's flower alone is good, if we could prove
Its perfect bloom, our breath slays like a scythe!

"My Love for Thee Doth March Like Arméd Men"

My love for thee doth march like arméd men
Against a queenly city they would take.
Along the army's front its banners shake;
Across the mountain and the sun-smit plain
It steadfast sweeps the steadfast rain;
And now the trumpet makes the still air quake,
And now the thundering cannon doth awake
Echo on echo, echoing loud again.
But, lo! the conquest higher than bard had sung;
Instead of answering cannon comes a small
White flag; the iron gates are open flung,
And flowers along the invaders' pathway fall.
The city's conquerors feast their foes among,
And their brave flags are trophies on her wall.

The River

I know thou art not that brown mountain-side,
Nor the pale mist that lies along the hills
And with white joy the deepening valley fills;
Nor yet the solemn river moving wide
Into that valley, where the hills abide
But whence those morning clouds on noiseless wheels
Shall lingering lift and, as the moonlight steals
From out the heavens, so into the heavens shall glide.
I know thou art not this gray rock that looms
Above the water, fringed with scarlet vine;
Nor flame of burning meadow; nor the sedge
That sways and trembles at the river's edge.
But through all these, dear heart! to me there comes
Some melancholy, absent look of thine.

Weal and Woe

O highest, strongest, sweetest woman-soul!
Thou holdest in the compass of thy grace
All the strange fate and passion of thy race:
Of the old, primal curse thou knowest the whole:
Thine eyes, too wise, are heavy with the dole,
The doubt, the dread of all this human maze;
Thou in the virgin morning of thy days
Hast felt the bitter waters o'er thee roll.
Yet thou knowest, too, the terrible delight,
The still content, and solemn ecstasy
Whatever sharp, sweet bliss thy kind may know.
Thy spirit is deep for pleasure as for woe--
Deep as the rich, dark-caverned, awful sea
That the keen winded, glimmering dawn makes white.

Holy Land

This is the earth he walked on; not alone
That Asian country keeps the sacred stain;
'Tis not alone the far Judaean plain,
Mountain and river! Lo, the sun that shone
On him shines now on us; when day is gone
The moon of Galilee comes forth again
And lights our path as his: an endless chain
Of years and sorrows makes the round world one.
The air we breathe, he breathed,--the very air
That took the mould and music of his high
And godlike speech.--Since then shall mortal dare
With base thought front the ever-sacred sky,--
Soil with foul deed the ground whereon he laid
In holy death his pale, immortal head!

(Text from American Sonnets)