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Poem by Alan Seeger

The Deserted Garden

I KNOW a village in a far-off land
    Where from a sunny, mountain-girdled plain 
With tinted walls a space on either hand
    And fed by many an olive-darkened lane 
The high-road mounts, and thence a silver band
    Through vineyard slopes above and rolling grain, 
Winds off to that dim corner of the skies
Where behind sunset hills a stately city lies.

Here, among trees whose overhanging shade
    Strews petals on the little droves below, 
Pattering townward in the morning weighed
    With greens from many an upland garden-row, 
Runs an old wall; long centuries have frayed
    Its scalloped edge, and passers to and fro 
Heard never from beyond its crumbling height
Sweet laughter ring at noon or plaintive song at night.

But here where little lizards bask and blink
    The tendrils of the trumpet-vine have run, 
At whose red bells the humming bird to drink
    Stops oft before his garden feast is done; 
And rose-geraniums, with that tender pink
    That cloud-banks borrow from the setting sun, 
Have covered part of this old wall, entwined
With fair plumbago, blue as evening heavens behind.

And crowning other parts the wild white rose
    Rivals the honey-suckle with the bees. 
Above the old abandoned orchard shows
    And all within beneath the dense-set trees, 
Tall and luxuriant the rank grass grows,
    That settled in its wavy depth one sees 
Grass melt in leaves, the mossy trunks between,
Down fading avenues of implicated green;

Wherein no lack of flowers the verdurous night
    With stars and pearly nebula o'erlay; 
Azalea-boughs half rosy and half white
    Shine through the green and clustering apple-spray, 
Such as the fairy-queen before her knight
    Waved in old story, luring him away 
Where round lost isles Hesperian billows break
Or towers loom up beneath the clear, translucent lake;

And under the deep grass blue hare-bells hide,
    And myrtle plots with dew-fall ever wet, 
Gay tiger-lilies flammulate and pied,
    Sometime on pathway borders neatly set, 
Now blossom through the brake on either side,
    Where heliotrope and weedy mignonette, 
With vines in bloom and flower-bearing trees,
Mingle their incense all to swell the perfumed breeze,

That sprung like Hermes from his natal cave
    In some blue rampart of the curving West, 
Comes up the valleys where green cornfields wave,
    Ravels the cloud about the mountain crest, 
Breathes on the lake till gentle ripples pave
    Its placid floor; at length a long-loved guest, 
He steals across this plot of pleasant ground,
Waking the vocal leaves to a sweet vernal sound.

Here many a day right gladly have I sped,
    Content amid the wavy plumes to lie, 
And through the woven branches overhead
    Watch the white, ever-wandering clouds go by, 
And soaring birds make their dissolving bed
    Far in the azure depths of summer sky, 
Or nearer that small huntsman of the air,
The fly-catcher, dart nimbly from his leafy lair;

Pillowed at ease to hear the merry tune
    Of mating warblers in the boughs above 
And shrill cicadas whom the hottest noon
    Keeps not from drowsy song; the mourning dove 
Pours down the murmuring grove his plaintive croon
    That like the voice of visionary love 
Oft have I risen to seek through this green maze
(Even as my feet thread now the great world's garden-ways);

And, parting tangled bushes as I passed
    Down beechen alleys beautiful and dim, 
Perhaps by some deep-shaded pool at last
    My feet would pause, where goldfish poise and swim, 
And snowy callas' velvet cups are massed
    Around the mossy, fern-encircled brim. 
Here, then, that magic summoning would cease,
Or sound far off again among the orchard trees.

And here where the blanched lilies of the vale
    And violets and yellow star-flowers teem, 
And pink and purple hyacinths exhale
    Their heavy fume, once more to drowse and dream 
My head would sink, from many an olden tale
    Drawing imagination's fervid theme, 
Or haply peopling this enchanting spot
Only with fair creations of fantastic thought.

For oft I think, in years long since gone by,
    That gentle hearts dwelt here and gentle hands 
Stored all this bowery bliss to beautify
    The paradise of some unsung romance; 
Here, safe from all except the loved one's eye,
    'Tis sweet to think white limbs were wont to glance, 
Well pleased to wanton like the flowers and share
Their simple loveliness with the enamored air.

Thrice dear to them whose votive fingers decked
    The altars of First Love were these green ways, -- - 
These lawns and verdurous brakes forever flecked
    With the warm sunshine of midsummer days; 
Oft where the long straight allies intersect
    And marble seats surround the open space, 
Where a tiled pool and sculptured fountain stand,
Hath Evening found them seated, silent, hand in hand.

When twilight deepened, in the gathering shade
    Beneath that old titanic cypress row, 
Whose sombre vault and towering colonnade
    Dwarfed the enfolded forms that moved below, 
Oft with close steps these happy lovers strayed,
    Till down its darkening aisle the sunset glow 
Grew less and patterning the garden floor
Faint flakes of filtering moonlight mantled more and more.

And the strange tempest that a touch imparts
    Through the mid fibre of the molten frame, 
When the sweet flesh in early youth asserts
    Its heyday verve and little hints enflame, 
Disturbed them as they walked; from their full hearts
    Welled the soft word, and many a tender name 
Strove on their lips as breast to breast they strained
And the deep joy they drank seemed never, never drained.

Love's soul that is the depth of starry skies
    Set in the splendor of one upturned face 
To beam adorably through half-closed eyes;
    Love's body where the breadth of summer days 
And all the beauty earth and air comprise
    Come to the compass of an arm's embrace, 
To burn a moment on impassioned lips
And yield intemperate joy to quivering finger-tips,

They knew; and here where morning-glories cling
    Round carven forms of carefullest artifice, 
They made a bower where every outward thing
    Should comment on the cause of their own bliss; 
With flowers of liveliest hue encompassing
    That flower that the beloved body is -- - 
That rose that for the banquet of Love's bee
Has budded all the aeons of past eternity.

But their choice seat was where the garden wall,
    Crowning a little summit, far and near, 
Looks over tufted treetops onto all
    The pleasant outer country; rising here 
From rustling foliage where cuckoos call
    On summer evenings, stands a belvedere, 
Buff-hued, of antique plaster, overrun
With flowering vines and weatherworn by rain and sun.

Still round the turrets of this antique tower
    The bougainvillea hangs a crimson crown, 
Wistaria-vines and clematis in flower,
    Wreathing the lower surface further down, 
Hide the old plaster in a very shower
    Of motley blossoms like a broidered gown. 
Outside, ascending from the garden grove,
A crumbling stairway winds to the one room above.

And whoso mounts by this dismantled stair
    Finds the old pleasure-hall, long disarrayed, 
Brick-tiled and raftered, and the walls foursquare
    Ringed all about with a twofold arcade. 
Backward dense branches intercept the glare
    Of afternoon with eucalyptus shade; 
Eastward the level valley-plains expand,
Sweet as a queen's survey of her own Fairyland.

For through that frame the ivied arches make,
    Wide tracts of sunny midland charm the eye, 
Frequent with hamlet, grove, and lucent lake
    Where the blue hills' inverted contours lie; 
Far to the east where billowy mountains break
    In surf of snow against a sapphire sky, 
Huge thunderheads loom up behind the ranges,
Changing from gold to pink as deepening sunset changes;

And over plain and far sierra spread
    The fulgent rays of fading afternoon, 
Showing each utmost peak and watershed
    All clarified, each tassel and festoon 
Of floating cloud embroidered overhead,
    Like lotus-leaves on bluest waters strewn, 
Flushing with rose, while all breathes fresh and free
In peace and amplitude and bland tranquillity.

Dear were such evenings to this gentle pair;
    Love's tide that launched on with a blast too strong 
Sweeps toward the foaming reef, the hidden snare,
    Baffling with fond illusion's siren-song, 
Too faint, on idle shoals, to linger there
    Far from Youth's glowing dream, bore them along, 
With purple sail and steered by seraph hands
To isles resplendent in the sunset of romance.

And out of this old house a flowery fane,
    A bridal bower, a pearly pleasure-dome, 
They built, and furnished it with gold and grain,
    And bade all spirits of beauty hither come, 
And winged Love to enter with his train
    And bless their pillow, and in this his home 
Make them his priests as Hero was of yore
In her sweet girlhood by the blue Dardanian shore.

Tree-ferns, therefore, and potted palms they brought,
    Tripods and urns in rare and curious taste, 
Polychrome chests and cabinets inwrought
    With pearl and ivory etched and interlaced; 
Pendant brocades with massive braid were caught,
    And chain-slung, oriental lamps so placed 
To light the lounger on some low divan,
Sunken in swelling down and silks from Hindustan.

And there was spread, upon the ample floors,
    Work of the Levantine's laborious loom, 
Such as by Euxine or Ionian shores
    Carpets the dim seraglio's scented gloom. 
Each morn renewed, the garden's flowery stores
    Blushed in fair vases, ochre and peach-bloom, 
And little birds through wicker doors left wide
Flew in to trill a space from the green world outside.

And there was many a dainty attitude,
    Bronze and eburnean. All but disarrayed, 
Here in eternal doubt sweet Psyche stood
    Fain of the bath's delight, yet still afraid 
Lest aught in that palatial solitude
    Lurked of most menace to a helpless maid. 
Therefore forever faltering she stands,
Nor yet the last loose fold slips rippling from her hands.

Close by upon a beryl column, clad
    In the fresh flower of adolescent grace, 
They set the dear Bithynian shepherd lad,
    The nude Antinous. That gentle face, 
Forever beautiful, forever sad,
    Shows but one aspect, moon-like, to our gaze, 
Yet Fancy pictures how those lips could smile
At revelries in Rome, and banquets on the Nile.

And there were shapes of Beauty myriads more,
    Clustering their rosy bridal bed around, 
Whose scented breadth a silken fabric wore
    Broidered with peacock hues on creamiest ground, 
Fit to have graced the barge that Cydnus bore
    Or Venus' bed in her enchanted mound, 
While pillows swelled in stuffs of Orient dyes,
All broidered with strange fruits and birds of Paradise.

'Twas such a bower as Youth has visions of,
    Thither with one fair spirit to retire, 
Lie upon rose-leaves, sleep and wake with Love
    And feast on kisses to the heart's desire; 
Where by a casement opening on a grove,
    Wide to the wood-winds and the sweet birds' choir, 
A girl might stand and gaze into green boughs,
Like Credhe at the window of her golden house.

Or most like Vivien, the enchanting fay,
    Where with her friend, in the strange tower they planned, 
She lies and dreams eternity away,
    Above the treetops in Broceliande, 
Sometimes at twilight when the woods are gray
    And wolf-packs howl far out across the lande, 
Waking to love, while up behind the trees
The large midsummer moon lifts -- - even so loved these.

For here, their pleasure was to come and sit
    Oft when the sun sloped midway to the west, 
Watching with sweet enjoyment interknit
    The long light slant across the green earth's breast, 
And clouds upon the ranges opposite,
    Rolled up into a gleaming thundercrest, 
Topple and break and fall in purple rain,
And mist of summer showers trail out across the plain.

Whereon the shafts of ardent light, far-flung
    Across the luminous azure overhead, 
Ofttimes in arcs of transient beauty hung
    The fragmentary rainbow's green and red. 
Joy it was here to love and to be young,
    To watch the sun sink to his western bed, 
And streaming back out of their flaming core
The vesperal aurora's glorious banners soar.

Tinging each altitude of heaven in turn,
    Those fiery rays would sweep. The cumuli 
That peeped above the mountain-tops would burn
    Carmine a space; the cirrus-whorls on high, 
More delicate than sprays of maiden fern,
    Streak with pale rose the peacock-breasted sky, 
Then blanch. As water-lilies fold at night,
Sank back into themselves those plumes of fervid light.

And they would watch the first faint stars appear,
    The blue East blend with the blue hills below, 
As lovers when their shuddering bliss draws near
    Into one pulse of fluid rapture grow. 
New fragrance on the freshening atmosphere
    Would steal with evening, and the sunset glow 
Draw deeper down into the wondrous west
Round vales of Proserpine and islands of the blest.

So dusk would come and mingle lake and shore,
    The snow-peaks fade to frosty opaline, 
To pearl the domed clouds the mountains bore,
    Where late the sun's effulgent fire had been -- - 
Showing as darkness deepened more and more
    The incandescent lightnings flare within, 
And Night that furls the lily in the glen
And twines impatient arms would fall, and then -- - and then . . .

Sometimes the peasant, coming late from town
    With empty panniers on his little drove 
Past the old lookout when the Northern Crown
    Glittered with Cygnus through the scented grove, 
Would hear soft noise of lute-strings wafted down
    And voices singing through the leaves above 
Those songs that well from the warm heart that woos
At balconies in Merida or Vera Cruz.

And he would pause under the garden wall,
    Caught in the spell of that voluptuous strain, 
With all the sultry South in it, and all
    Its importunity of love and pain; 
And he would wait till the last passionate fall
    Died on the night, and all was still again, -- - 
Then to his upland village wander home,
Marvelling whence that flood of elfin song might come.

O lyre that Love's white holy hands caress,
    Youth, from thy bosom welled their passionate lays -- - 
Sweet opportunity for happiness
    So brief, so passing beautiful -- - O days, 
When to the heart's divine indulgences
    All earth in smiling ministration pays -- - 
Thine was the source whose plenitude, past over,
What prize shall rest to pluck, what secret to discover!

The wake of color that follows her when May
    Walks on the hills loose-haired and daisy-crowned, 
The deep horizons of a summer's day,
    Fair cities, and the pleasures that abound 
Where music calls, and crowds in bright array
    Gather by night to find and to be found; 
What were these worth or all delightful things
Without thine eyes to read their true interpretings!

For thee the mountains open glorious gates,
    To thee white arms put out from orient skies, 
Earth, like a jewelled bride for one she waits,
    Decks but to be delicious in thine eyes, 
Thou guest of honor for one day, whose fetes
    Eternity has travailed to devise; 
Ah, grace them well in the brief hour they last!
Another's turn prepares, another follows fast.

Yet not without one fond memorial
    Let my sun set who found the world so fair! 
Frail verse, when Time the singer's coronal
    Has rent, and stripped the rose-leaves from his hair, 
Be thou my tablet on the temple wall!
    Among the pious testimonials there, 
Witness how sweetly on my heart as well
The miracles of dawn and starry evening fell!

Speak of one then who had the lust to feel,
    And, from the hues that far horizons take, 
And cloud and sunset, drank the wild appeal,
    Too deep to live for aught but life's sweet sake, 
Whose only motive was the will to kneel
    Where Beauty's purest benediction spake, 
Who only coveted what grove and field
And sunshine and green Earth and tender arms could yield -- -

A nympholept, through pleasant days and drear
    Seeking his faultless adolescent dream, 
A pilgrim down the paths that disappear
    In mist and rainbows on the world's extreme, 
A helpless voyager who all too near
    The mouth of Life's fair flower-bordered stream, 
Clutched at Love's single respite in his need
More than the drowning swimmer clutches at a reed -- -

That coming one whose feet in other days
    Shall bleed like mine for ever having, more 
Than any purpose, felt the need to praise
    And seek the angelic image to adore, 
In love with Love, its wonderful, sweet ways
    Counting what most makes life worth living for, 
That so some relic may be his to see
How I loved these things too and they were dear to me.

I sometimes think a conscious happiness
    Mantles through all the rose's sentient vine 
When summer winds with myriad calyces
    Of bloom its clambering height incarnadine; 
I sometimes think that cleaving lips, no less,
    And limbs that crowned desires at length entwine 
Are nerves through which that being drinks delight,
Whose frame is the green Earth robed round with day and night.

And such were theirs: the traveller without,
    Pausing at night under the orchard trees, 
Wondered and crossed himself in holy doubt,
    For through their song and in the murmuring breeze 
It seemed angelic choirs were all about
    Mingling in universal harmonies, 
As though, responsive to the chords they woke,
All Nature into sweet epithalamium broke.

And still they think a spirit haunts the place:
    'Tis said, when Night has drawn her jewelled pall 
And through the branches twinkling fireflies trace
    Their mimic constellations, if it fall 
That one should see the moon rise through the lace
    Of blossomy boughs above the garden wall, 
That surely would he take great ill thereof
And famish in a fit of unexpressive love.

But this I know not, for what time the wain
    Was loosened and the lily's petal furled, 
Then I would rise, climb the old wall again,
    And pausing look forth on the sundown world, 
Scan the wide reaches of the wondrous plain,
    The hamlet sites where settling smoke lay curled, 
The poplar-bordered roads, and far away
Fair snowpeaks colored with the sun's last ray.

Waves of faint sound would pulsate from afar -- -
    Faint song and preludes of the summer night; 
Deep in the cloudless west the evening star
    Hung 'twixt the orange and the emerald light; 
From the dark vale where shades crepuscular
    Dimmed the old grove-girt belfry glimmering white, 
Throbbing, as gentlest breezes rose or fell,
Came the sweet invocation of the evening bell.

Alan Seeger

Alan Seeger's other poems:
  1. Coucy
  2. Sonnet 12. Down the strait vistas where a city street
  3. Sonnet 4. Up at his attic sill the South wind came
  4. Sonnet 7. To me, a pilgrim on that journey bound
  5. Sonnet 10. A splendor, flamelike, born to be pursued

Poems of the other poets with the same name:

  • Elizabeth Barrett-Browning The Deserted Garden ("I mind me in the days departed")

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