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Twelve Humbert Wolfe Songs

Word count: 1377

Song Cycle by Gustav Holst (1874 - 1934)

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1. Persephone


Come back Persephone!
  As a moonflake thin,
flutes for the dancers
  you danced with begin.

Leave the deep hellebore,
  the dark, the untranquil -
for spring's pale primrose
  and her first jonquil.

Again they are singing
  (O will you not heed them?)
with none now to answer,
  and none to lead them.

They will grow older,
  till comes a day
when the last of your maidens
  is tired of play:

when the song as it rises
  faints and droops over,
and your playmates go seeking
  a gentler lover.

Listen the dancers!
  The flutes oh listen!
Hasten Persephone!
  Persephone! Hasten!


2. Things lovelier


You cannot dream
  things lovelier
than the first love
  I had of her.

Nor air is any
  as magic shaken
as her breath in
  the first kiss taken.

And who, in dreaming,
  understands
her hands stretched like
  a blind man's hands?

Open, trembling,
  wise they were -
You cannot dream
  things lovelier.


3. Now in these fairylands


Now in these fairylands
gather your weary hands
close to your breast,
and be at rest.

Now in these silences
lean to the cadences,
mouldering their grace
to the line of your face.

Now at the end of all,
loveliest friend of all,
all things are yours
in this peace that endures.


4. A little music


Since it is evening,
  let us invent
love's undiscovered
  continent.

What shall we steer by,
  having no chart
but the deliberate
  fraud of the heart?

How shall we find it?
  Beyond what keys
of boyhood's Spanish
  piracies,

false Eldorados
  dim with the tears
of beauty, the last
  of the buccaneers?

Since it is evening,
  let us design
what shall be utterly
  yours and mine.

There will be nothing
  that ever before
beckoned the sail
  or from any shore.

Trees shall be greener
  by mountains more pale,
thrushes outsinging
  the nightingale,

flowers now butterflies,
  now in the grass,
suddenly quiet
  as painted glass,

and fishes of emerald
  dive for the moon,
whose silver is stained
  by the peacock lagoon.

Since it is evening,
  and sailing weather,
let us set out
  for the dream together;

set for the landfall,
  where love and verse
enfranchise forever
  the travellers.


5. The thought


I will not write a poem for you,
because a poem, even the loveliest,
can only do what words can do - 
stir the air, and dwindle, and be at rest.

Nor will I hold you with my hands, because
the bones of my hands on yours would press,
and you'd say after, "Mortal was,
and crumbling, that lover's tenderness."

But I will hold you in a thought without moving
spirit or desire or will
for I know no other way of loving,
that endures when the heart is still.


6. The floral bandit


Beyond the town - oh far! beyond it
  she walks - that lady - have you seen her?
that thief of spring, that floral bandit
  who leaves the grass she walks on greener.

And she can sing - the blackbirds hear her -
  those little coals with throats of flame -
and they can find, alighting near her,
  no sweeter practice than her name.

What is her name? O ask the linnet,
  for human tongue would strive in vain
to speak the buds uncrumpling in it,
  and the small language of the rain.

Who is this lady? What is she?
  the Sylvia all our swains adore?
Yes, she is that unchangingly,
  but she is also something more.

For buds at best are little green
  keys on an old thin clavichord, 
that only has the one high tune -
  that, since the first, all springs have heard.

And all first love with the same sighing
  tunes, though more sweetly touched, has lingered,
as though he were forever trying
  toccatas Purcell might have fingered.

But no one knows her range nor can
  guess half the phrases of her fiddle,
the lady who fore ev'ry man 
  breaks off her music in the middle.


7. Envoi


When the spark that glittered
  flakes into ash,
and the spirit unfettered
  is done with flesh,

when all that wonder,
  this loveliness
of heart lies under
  the sleepy grass,

and slow are the swift,
  and dark the fair,
and sweet voices lift,
  not on the air,

when the long spell
  of dust lies on
all that was well
  bethought upon,

of all that lovely,
  of all those brief
hopes that went bravely
  beyond belief,

of life's deep blazon
  with love's gold stain
passing all reason
  doth aught remain?

What need of answer?
  Bird chaunting priest,
dawn swings her censer
  of bloom-white mist,

noon from her shoulder
  lets her sun-shawl
half loose, half hold her,
  and drifing fall,

and evening slowly
  by hill and wood
perfects her holy
  solitude,

unasked, undaunted
  by love, or what
the heart has wanted,
  and wanteth not.

Unasked? Say rather
  that these will startle
tomorrow other
  hearts with mortal

beauty they had
  from us, as we
inherited
  that legacy.

Undaunted? Yes,
  since death can lend
to loveliness
  only an end

that with the beginning
  is one designed,
one shape, one meaning
  beyond the mind.


8. The dream-city


On a dream-hill we'll build our city,
and we'll build gates that have two keys -
love to let in the vanquished, and pity
to close the locks that shelter these.

There will be quiet open spaces,
and shady towers sweet with bells,
and quiet folks with quiet faces,
walking among these miracles.

There'll be a London Square in Maytime
with London lilacs, whose brave light
startles with coloured lamps the daytime,
with sudden scented wings the night.

A silent Square could but a lonely thrush
on the lilacs bear to cease
his song, and no sound else -
save only the traffic of the heart at peace.

And we will have a river painted
with the dawn's wistful strategems
of dusted gold, and night acquainted
with the long purples of the Thames.

And we will have - oh yes! the gardens
Kensington, Richmond Hill and Kew,
and Hampton, where winter scolds, and pardons
the first white crocus breaking through.

And where the great their greatness squander,
and while the wise their wisdom lose,
squirrels will leap, and deer will wander,
gracefully, down the avenues.


9. Journey's end


What will they give me, when journey's done?
Your own room to be quiet in, Son!

Who shares it with me? There is none
Shares that cool dormitory, Son!

Who turns the sheets? There is but one
And no one needs to turn it, Son!

Who lights the candle? Everyone
Sleeps without candle all night, Son!

Who calls me after sleeping? Son!
You are not called when journey's done.


10. In the street of lost time


Rest and have ease;
Here are no more voyages;
fold, fold your narrow pale hands;
and under the veil of night lie,

as I have seen you
lie in your deep hair;
but patiently now that new loves,
new days have gone their ways.


11. Rhyme


 Rhyme
in your clear chime
  we hear
ringing, far-off and clear,
in beauty's fairy granges
at evensong the changes
  and swells
and of her lost elfin-bells.

  You
glimmering through,
  astir,
wander a lamplighter,
kindling that lamp and this
of long-quenched memories
  with blaze
of their auto-da-fés.

  Numbers
the soul remembers,
  (and moved among them when
the Sons of Morning sung them)
you echo, while the dim
shadow of Seraphim
  half floats
among your muted notes.

  Tamer
of love's sweet grammar
  you parse,
and change, his nouns to stars,
his verbs you conjugate,
so that they vanish straight
  from time,
and lift - a moonlit paradeigm.

  Rhyme
by your clear chime
  we climb,
clean out of space and time,
and the small earth behind us
can neither lose nor find us,
  set free in your eternity.


12. Betelgeuse


  On Betelgeuse
the gold leaves hang in golden aisles
for twice a hundred million miles,
and twice a hundred million years
they golden hang and nothing stirs,
  on Betelgeuse.

  Space is a wind that does
not blow on Betelgeuse,
and time - oh time - is a bird,
whose wings have never stirred
the golden avenues of leaves
  on Betelgeuse.

  On Betelgeuse
there is nothing that joys or grieves
the unstirred multitude of leaves,
nor ghost of evil or good haunts
the gold multitude
  on Betelgeuse.

  And birth they do not use
nor death on Betelgeuse,
and the God, of whom we are
infinite dust, is there
a single leaf of those
  gold leaves on Betelgeuse.


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