Canto VI


The sun was high in heaven and Dymer stood
A bright speck on the endless mountain-side,
Till, blossom after blossom, that rich mood
Faded and truth rolled homeward, like a tide
Before whose edge the weak soul fled to hide
In vain, with ostrich head, through many a shape
Of coward fancy, whimpering for escape.


But only for a moment; then his soul
Took the full swell and heaved a dripping prow
Clear of the shattering wave-crest. He was whole.
No veils should hide the truth, no truth should cow
The dear self-pitying heart. “I’ll babble now
No longer,” Dymer said. “I’m broken in.
Pack up the dreams and let the life begin.”


With this he turned. “I must have food to-day,”
He muttered. Then among the cloudless hills
By winding tracks he sought the downward way
And followed the steep course of tumbling rills
—Came to the glens the wakening mountain fills
In springtime with the echoing splash and shock
Of waters leaping cold from rock to rock.


And still, it seemed that lark with its refrain
Sang in the sky, and wind was in his hair
And hope at heart. Then once, and once again,
He heard a gun fired off. It broke the air
As a stone breaks a pond, and everywhere
The dry crags echoed clear: and at the sound
Once a big bird rose whirring from the ground.


In half an hour he reached the level land
And followed the field-paths and crossed the stiles,
Then looked and saw, near by, on his left hand
An old house, folded round with billowy piles
Of dark yew hedge. The moss was on the tiles
The pigeons in the yard, and in the tower
A clock that had no hands and told no hour.


He hastened. In warm waves the garden scent
Came stronger at each stride. The mountain breeze
Was gone. He reached the gates; then in he went
And seemed to lose the sky⁠—such weight of trees
Hung overhead. He heard the noise of bees
And saw, far off, in the blue shade between
The windless elms, one walking on the green.


It was a mighty man whose beardless face
Beneath grey hair shone out so large and mild
It made a sort of moonlight in the place.
A dreamy desperation, wistful-wild,
Showed in his glance and gait: yet like a child,
An Asian emperor’s only child, was he
With his grave looks and bright solemnity.


And over him there hung in the witching air,
The wilful courtesy, of the days of old,
The graces wherein idleness grows fair;
And somewhat in his sauntering walk he rolled
And toyed about his waist with seals of gold,
Or stood to ponder often in mid-stride,
Tilting his heavy head upon one side.


When Dymer had called twice, he turned his eye:
Then, coming out of silence (as a star
All in one moment slips into the sky
Of evening, yet we feel it comes from far),
He said, “Sir, you are welcome. Few there are
That come my way”: and in huge hands he pressed
Dymer’s cold hand and bade him into rest.


“How did you find this place out? Have you heard
My gun? It was but now I killed a lark.”
“What, Sir,” said Dymer; “shoot the singing bird?”
“Sir,” said the man, “they sing from dawn till dark,
And interrupt my dreams too long. But hark⁠ ⁠…
Another? Did you hear no singing? No?
It was my fancy, then⁠ ⁠… pray, let it go.


“From here you see my garden’s only flaw.
Stand here, Sir, at the dial.” Dymer stood.
The Master pointed; then he looked and saw
How hedges and the funeral quietude
Of black trees fringed the garden like a wood,
And only, in one place, one gap that showed
The blue side of the hills, the white hill-road.


“I have planted fir and larch to fill the gap,”

He said, “because this too makes war upon
The art of dream. But by some great mishap
Nothing I plant will grow there. We pass on⁠ ⁠…
The sunshine of the afternoon is gone.
Let us go in. It draws near time to sup
—I hate the garden till the moon is up.”


They passed from the hot lawn into the gloom
And coolness of the porch: then, past a door
That opened with no noise, into a room
Where green leaves choked the window and the floor
Sank lower than the ground. A tattered store.
Of brown books met the eye: a crystal ball:
And masks with empty eyes along the wall.


Then Dymer sat, but knew not how nor where,
And supper was set out before these two,
—He saw not how⁠—with silver old and rare
But tarnished. And he ate and never knew
What meats they were. At every bite he grew
More drowsy and let slide his crumbling will.
The Master at his side was talking still.


And all his talk was tales of magic words
And of the nations in the clouds above,
Astral and aerish tribes who fish for birds
With angles. And by history he could prove
How chosen spirits from earth had won their love,
As Arthur, or Usheen: and to their isle
Went Helen for the sake of a Greek smile.


And ever in his talk he mustered well
His texts and strewed old authors round the way,
“Thus Wierus writes,” and “Thus the Hermetics tell,”
“This was Agrippa’s view,” and “Others say
With Cardan,” till he had stolen quite away
Dymer’s dull wits and softly drawn apart
The ivory gates of hope that change the heart.


Dymer was talking now. Now Dymer told
Of his own love and losing, drowsily.
The Master leaned towards him, “Was it cold,
This spirit, to the touch?”⁠—“No, Sir, not she,”
Said Dymer. And his host: “Why this must be
Aethereal, not aerial! O my soul,
Be still⁠ ⁠… but wait. Tell on, Sir, tell the whole.”


Then Dymer told him of the beldam too,
The old, old, matriarchal dreadfulness.
Over the Master’s face a shadow drew,
He shifted in his chair and “Yes” and “Yes,”
He murmured twice. “I never looked for less!
Always the same⁠ ⁠… that frightful woman shape
Besets the dream-way and the soul’s escape.”


But now when Dymer made to talk of Bran,
A huge indifference fell upon his host,
Patient and wandering-eyed. Then he began,
“Forgive me. You are young. What helps us most
Is to find out again that heavenly ghost
Who loves you. For she was a ghost, and you
In that place where you met were ghostly too.


“Listen! for I can launch you on the stream
Will roll you to the shores of her own land⁠ ⁠…
I could be sworn you never learned to dream,
But every night you take with careless hand
What chance may bring? I’ll teach you to command
The comings and the goings of your spirit
Through all that borderland which dreams inherit.


“You shall have hauntings suddenly. And often,
When you forget, when least you think of her
(For so you shall forget), a light will soften
Over the evening woods. And in the stir
Of morning dreams (oh, I will teach you, Sir)
There’ll come a sound of wings. Or you shall be
Waked in the midnight murmuring, ‘It was she.’ ”


“No, no,” said Dymer, “not that way. I seem
To have slept for twenty years. Now⁠—while I shake
Out of my eyes that dust of burdening dream,
Now when the long clouds tremble ripe to break
And the far hills appear, when first I wake,
Still blinking, struggling towards the world of men,
And longing⁠—would you turn me back again?


“Dreams? I have had my dream too long. I thought
The sun rose for my sake. I ran down blind
And dancing to the abyss. Oh, Sir, I brought
Boy-laughter for a gift to gods who find
The martyr’s soul too soft. But that’s behind.
I’m waking now. They broke me. All ends thus
Always⁠—and we’re for them, not they for us.


“And she⁠—she was no dream. It would be waste
To seek her there, the living in that den
Of lies.” The Master smiled. “You are in haste!
For broken dreams the cure is, Dream again
And deeper. If the waking world, and men,
And nature marred your dream⁠—so much the worse
For a crude world beneath its primal curse.”


—“Ah, but you do not know! Can dreams do this,
Pluck out blood-guiltiness upon the shore
Or memory⁠—and undo what’s done amiss,
And bid the thing that has been be no more?”
—“Sir, it is only dreams unlock that door,”
He answered with a shrug. “What would you have?
In dreams the thrice-proved coward can feel brave.


“In dreams the fool is free from scorning voices.
Grey-headed whores are virgin there again.
Out of the past dream brings long-buried choices,
All in a moment snaps the tenfold chain
That life took years in forging. There the stain
Of oldest sins⁠—how do the good words go?⁠—
Though they were scarlet, shall be white as snow.”


Then, drawing near, when Dymer did not speak,
“My little son,” said he, “your wrong and right
Are also dreams: fetters to bind the weak
Faster to phantom earth and blear the sight.
Wake into dreams, into the larger light
That quenches these frail stars. They will not know
Earth’s bye-laws in the land to which you go.”


—“I must undo my sins.”⁠—“An earthly law,
And, even in earth, the child of yesterday.
Throw down your human pity; cast your awe
Behind you; put repentance all away.
Home to the elder depths! for never they
Supped with the stars who dared not slough behind
The last shred of earth’s holies from their mind.”


“Sir,” answered Dymer, “I would be content
To drudge in earth, easing my heart’s disgrace,
Counting a year’s long service lightly spent
If once at the year’s end I saw her face
Somewhere, being then most weary, in some place
I looked not for that joy⁠—or heard her near
Whispering, ‘Yet courage, friend,’ for one more year.”


“Pish,” said the Master. “Will you have the truth?
You think that virtue saves? Her people care
For the high heart and idle hours of youth;
For these they will descend our lower air,
Not virtue. You would nerve your arm and bear
Your burden among men? Look to it, child:
By virtue’s self vision can be defiled.


“You will grow full of pity and the love of men,
And toil until the morning moisture dries
Out of your heart. Then once, or once again,
It may be you will find her: but your eyes
Soon will be grown too dim. The task that lies
Next to your hand will hide her. You shall be
The child of earth and gods you shall not see.”


Here suddenly he ceased. Tip-toes he went.
A bolt clicked⁠—then the window creaked ajar,
And out of the wet world the hedgerow scent
Came floating; and the dark without one star
Nor shape of trees nor sense of near and far,
The undimensioned night and formless skies
Were there, and were the Master’s great allies.


“I am very old,” he said. “But if the time
We suffer in our dreams were counted age,
I have outlived the ocean and my prime
Is with me to this day. Years cannot gauge
The dream-life. In the turning of a page,
Dozing above my book, I have lived through
More ages than the lost Lemuria knew.


“I am not mortal. Were I doomed to die
This hour, in this half-hour I interpose
A thousand years of dream: and, those gone by,
As many more, and in the last of those,
Ten thousand⁠—ever journeying towards a close
That I shall never reach: for time shall flow,
Wheel within wheel, interminably slow.


“And you will drink my cup and go your way
Into the valley of dreams. You have heard the call.
Come hither and escape. Why should you stay?
Earth is a sinking ship, a house whose wall
Is tottering while you sweep; the roof will fall
Before the work is done. You cannot mend it.
Patch as you will, at last the rot must end it.”


Then Dymer lifted up his heavy head
Like Atlas on broad shoulders bearing up
The insufferable globe. “I had not said,”
He mumbled, “never said I’d taste the cup.
What, is it this you give me? Must I sup?
Oh, lies, all lies⁠ ⁠… Why did you kill the lark?
Guide me the cup to lip⁠ ⁠… it is so dark.”