Of Love And Sleep

I SAW Sleep stand by an enchanted wood,
Thick lashes drooping o'er her heavy eyes :
Leaning against a flower-cupped tree she stood,
The night air gently breathed with slumbrous sighs.
Such cloak of silence o'er the world was spread,
As on Nile sands enshrouds the mighty dead.

About her birds were dumb, and blooms were bowed,
And a thick heavy sweetness filled the air ;
White robed she seemed ; and hidden as in a cloud,
A star-like jewel in her raven hair.
Downward to earth her cold torch would she turn
With feeble fires that might no longer burn.

And in her languid limbs and loosened zone
Such beauty dwelt ; and in her rippling hair,
As of old time was hers, and hers alone,
The mother of gods and men.divinely fair ;
When whiter than white foam or sand she lay,
The fairest thing beneath the eye of day.

To her came Love, a comely youth and strong,
Fair as the morning of a day in June;
Around him breathed a jocund air of song,
And his limbs moved as to a joyous tune :
With golden locks blown back, and eyes aflame,
To where the sleeping maiden leant, he came.

Then they twain passed within that mystic grove
Together, and with them I, myself unseen.
Oh, strange, sweet land ! wherein all men may prove
The things they would, the things which might have been ;
Hopeless hopes blossom, withered youth revives,
And sunshine comes again to darkened lives.

What sights were theirs in that blest wonder-land ?
See, the white mountain-summits, framed in cloud,
Redden with sunset ; while below them stand
The solemn pine-woods like a funeral crowd ;
And lower still the vineyards twine, and make
A double vintage in the tranquil lake.

Or, after storm-tost nights, on some sea isle
The sudden tropical morning bursts ; and lo !
Bright birds and feathery palms, the green hills smile,
Strange barks, with swarthy crews, dart to and fro ;
And on the blue bay, glittering like a crown,
The white domes of some fair historic town.

Or, they fare northward ever, northward still,
At midnight, under the unsetting sun ;
O'er endless snows, from hill to icy hill,
Where silence reigns with death, and life is done :
Till from the North a sweet wind suddenly;
And hark ! the warm waves of the fabulous sea.

Or, some still eve, when summer days are long,
And the mown hay is sweet, and wheat is green,
They hear some wood-bird sing the old fair song
Of joys to be, greater than yet have been;
Stretched 'neath the snowy hawthorn, till the star,
Hung high in heaven, warns them that home is far.

Or, on the herbless, sun-struck hills, by night,
Under the silent peaks, they hear the loud
Wild flutes ; and onward, by the ghostly light,
Whirled in nude dances, sweeps the maddened crowd ;
Till the fierce eddy seize them, and they prove
The shame, the rapture, of unfettered love.

Or, by the sacred hearth they seem to sit,
While firelight gleams on many a sunny head ;
At that fair hour, before the lamp is lit,
When hearts are fullest, though no word be said,—
When the world fades, and rank and wealth and fame,
Seem, matched with this, no better than a name.

All these they knew ! and then a breeze of day
Stirred the dark wood ; and then they seemed to come
Forth with reluctant feet among the
Bare fields, unfanciful ; and all the flame
Was burnt from out Love's eyes, and from his hair,
And his smooth cheek was marked with lines of care.

And paler showed the maid, more pure and white
And holier than before. But when I said,
' Sweet eyes, be opened ;' lo, the unveiled sight
Was as the awful vision of the dead !
Then knew I, breathing slow, with difficult breath,
That Love was one with Life, and Sleep with Death.

by Sir Lewis Morris

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