Alas, I thought this forest must be true,
by Augusta Davies Webster
And would not change because of my changed eyes;
I thought the growing things were as I knew,
And not a mock; I thought at least the skies
Were honest and would keep that happy blue
They used to wear before I learned to see
.But woe the day!
Lo, I have wandered forth and thought to stay
Here where some gladness still might be for me,
Where some delight
Should still break on my now too faithful sight;
And, lo, not even here may I go free.
Oh, hateful knowledge, pass and let me be:
Why am I made thy slave? why am I wise
Who once beheld all life with glamoured eyes?
Ah, woe the day! this bleak and shrivelled wood,
These rotted leaves, and all the wild flowers dead:
And here the ferns lie bruised and brown that stood
My tall green shelter: and, above my head,
The naked creaking branches show the sky
Athwart their lattice one murk sunless grey
Ah, woe the day!
I see, and beauty has all passed away.
Woe for my desolate wisdom, woe! Ah why
Must the sweet spell be broken ere I die?
Dear glad-tongued lark, come down and talk with me;
Tell me, oh tell me, hast thou caught, maybe,
Some little word,
Some word from heaven to make the meaning plain
Of this great change, or change me back again?
And, chattering sparrow from the eaves, come here
And tell me, thou who seest men so near,
Canst thou have heard
Some talk among them, out of all their lore,
To teach me, who have learned to see as they,
To be like them still more
And smile at hateful things or pass them o'er?
Sky-bird and house-bird, do you know the way?
Come hither, let me tell you all my woe;
Have you not known me in my carelessness?
I was that joyous child, not long ago,
The fairies hid away from life's distress
And eager weariness of burdened men
To live their darling in the elfin glen;
I was that thing of mirth and fantasies,
More antic than young squirrels at their play,
More wilful wanton than coy butterflies
Teasing the flowers with make-believes to kiss,
More happy than the early thrush whose lay
Awakes the woodlands with spring melodies
And sings the year to summer with his bliss:
And now I am so sad:
For, listen, I am wise, my eyes see truth,
And nothing wears the brightness that it had,
Nothing is fair or glad;
All joy and grace were dreams, dead with my fairy youth.
Ah, had you seen our home!
For the great hall one amethyst clear dome
Fretted with silver or, who could say which,
With white pure moonbeams; and the floors made rich
With patens of all rare translucent gems
And musky flower-buds bending down their stems
For weight of diamonds that hung like dews;
And everywhere the radiance of carved gold,
And pearls' soft shimmer, and quick various hues
Of mystic opals glinting manifold;
And everywhere the music and the gleams
Of clear cool water's sparkling iris beams
In emerald and crystal fountains wrought
Like river lilies with their buds and leaves,
Or as late briar shoots caught
In the first glittering rime-webs blithe October weaves.
Ah me, so fair, so bright!
Had you but seen! But, lo, the other night
I was alone and watching how the sky
Made a new star each moment and grew dim,
And singing to the moon, when he came by,
The wise weird man—what need had I of him?—
The wise weird man who can see fairy folk
And break all spells, he saw me and he spoke
'Poor changeling child,
How is thy heart beguiled,
And thy blind eyes made foolish with false sight!
Let the spell end: be wise, and see aright.'
Then with a frozen salve that brought sharp tears
Signed both my eyes, and went. And from that hour
I am made weary with the cruel dower
Of sight for evil. For mine eyes before
Made beauty where they looked, and saw no more.
Ah happy eyes! Ah sweet, blind, cheated years!
Alas! the glories of our fairy halls:
Alas! the blossoms and the gems and gold:
Dreams, dreams, and lies.
Broken and clammy are the earthen walls,
The mildew is their silvering; where of old
The jewels shimmered shimmers moist and cold
The dew of oozing damps; and, for the dyes
And the fair shapes of diamond laden flowers,
Foul toadstool growths that never saw the skies;
And, for the fountains,pools; and, for the bowers,
Blank caves. Nought, nought in its old gracious guise.
And what is left for beauty is a mock:
Spangles and gilt and glass for precious things,
Bedraggled tinsel gauzes to enfrock
Unlovely nakedness of earth and rock,
And painted images and cozenings.
Ah me! ah me! the beauty, the delight:
Dreams, dreams, and lies.
Ah me! and a curse more has come with sight;
There is no sweetness left me for my ears:
For when they sing the fairy melodies,
Like voice of laughters and like voice of sighs
And voice of running brooks and voice of birds
And voice of lovers' wooing, and the words
Are those that fill the heart of each who hears,
I hate the song, for I hear all the while
'Dreams, dreams, and lies.'
Yea, and I see no loving in a smile;
For, when they soothe me tenderly, and praise,
And speak the soft words of the former days,
My heart is cold and wise as are mine eyes,
And I grow sick of pleasant flatteries
And talk of bliss and ancient merry ways:
For, lo, the hollow old content was vain, How shall it live again?
Dreams, dreams, and lies.
And even here is change. For not till now
Have I seen barrenness, and leaves lie dank.
For me the leaf was green upon the bough
The livelong year, my tall ferns never sank,
Some sweet and tender blossom always grew,
The summer and the winter skies were blue;
And when the snow came in a winter freak
To make the blossoms play me hide and seek
I laughed because I knew that they were there.
Ah woe is me!
I said 'I will steal forth and make my lair,
Like some strayed foxcub, in the sheltered wood,
For that will be as it was wont to be:
And I will live among the careless birds
And happy forest beasts and insect herds
Who in blithe wanderings find their easy food,
And feed and sport and rest in ceaseless glee,
Having their world all real and all fair.'
Alas! for it was falseness even here!
The beauty has gone by, it was my dream,
And all the black and dripping trees lie bare,
Soddening in fog and in dull mists that steam
From the unwholesome barren earth and where
The dead leaves fester that were born this year.
Ah me, I am grown wise, my sight is clear:
And to see clear is weeping, wisdom is despair.
Kind birds, oh tell me, whither shall I hie?
Dear lark, hast thou looked down out of thy sky
On the sweet quiet of some summer land
Where truth and beauty yet go hand in hand?—
Nay, but would'st thou be here!
Tell me, half human sparrow, hast thou seen,
Among the homes of men where thine has been,
A home where I might be among my kind
And love it, and love them, not being blind?
Tell me; draw near.
Oh answer me, for now I learn desires
For men's strong life to stir me, and were fain
To lose old dreams, warm by their hearthside fires.
Yea, and I must go, though it all were pain:
The doom of my new'wisdom is on me.
Woe for my fairy youth! Man among men
I must go forth and suffer, for I see.
Woe for the blind days in the happy glen!
And the lark answered 'Nay, I am not wise;
I can teach nought. Only, the other day,
I heard them singing who sing in the skies,
And ceaselessly I whisper low that lay,
To sing it when the summer comes again:
'In the world are Love and Pain:
Foes yet lovers they remain:
Pain strengthens Love till Love slay Pain.''
The sparrow said 'I could not hear thee plain,
For I was chirruping the merry rhyme
I heard men sing last night at supper-time:
'Reap the grain, and sow the grain,
To grow by sunshine and by rain.''
Then the sad fairies' foster-child arose,
And saw the grey day darkening to its close,
And passed out from the wood, and wandered down,
Along the misty hillside, to the town.