Canto VIII


When next he found himself no house was there,
No garden and great trees. Beside a lane
In grass he lay. Now first he was aware
That, all one side, his body glowed with pain:
And the next moment and the next again
Was neither less nor more. Without a pause
It clung like a great beast with fastened claws;


That for a time he could not frame a thought
Nor know himself for self, nor pain for pain,
Till moment added on to moment taught
The new, strange art of living on that plane,
Taught how the grappled soul must still remain,
Still choose and think and understand beneath
The very grinding of the ogre’s teeth.


He heard the wind along the hedges sweep,
The quarter striking from a neighbouring tower.
About him was the weight of the world’s sleep;
Within, the thundering pain. That quiet hour
Heeded it not. It throbbed, it raged with power
Fit to convulse the heavens: and at his side
The soft peace drenched the meadows far and wide.


The air was cold, the earth was cold with dew,
The hedge behind him dark as ink. But now
The clouds broke and a paler heaven showed through
Spacious with sudden stars, breathing somehow
The sense of change to slumbering lands. A cow
Coughed in the fields behind. The puddles showed
Like pools of sky amid the darker road.


And he could see his own limbs faintly white
And the blood black upon them. Then by chance
He turned⁠ ⁠… and it was strange: there at his right
He saw a woman standing, and her glance
Met his: and at the meeting his deep trance
Changed not, and while he looked the knowledge grew
She was not of the old life but the new.


“Who is it?” he said. “The loved one, the long lost.”
He stared upon her. “Truly?”⁠—“Truly indeed.”
—“Oh, lady, you come late. I am tempest-tossed,
Broken and wrecked. I am dying. Look, I bleed.
Why have you left me thus and given no heed
To all my prayer?⁠—left me to be the game
Of all deceits?”⁠—“You should have asked my name.”


—“What are you, then?” But to his sudden cry
She did not answer. When he had thought awhile
He said: “How can I tell it is no lie?
It may be one more phantom to beguile
The brain-sick dreamer with its harlot smile.”
“I have not smiled,” she said. The neighbouring bell
Tolled out another quarter. Silence fell.


And after a long pause he spoke again:
“Leave me,” he said. “Why do you watch with me?
You do not love me. Human tears and pain
And hoping for the things that cannot be,
And blundering in the night where none can see,
And courage with cold back against the wall,
You do not understand.”⁠—“I know them all.


“The gods themselves know pain, the eternal forms.
In realms beyond the reach of cloud, and skies
Nearest the ends of air, where come no storms
Nor sound of earth, I have looked into their eyes
Peaceful and filled with pain beyond surmise,
Filled with an ancient woe man cannot reach
One moment though in fire; yet calm their speech.”


“Then these,” said Dymer, “were the world I wooed⁠ ⁠…
These were the holiness of lowers and grass
And desolate dews⁠ ⁠… these, the eternal mood
Blowing the eternal theme through men that pass.
I called myself their lover⁠—I that was
Less fit for that long service than the least
Dull, work-day drudge of men or faithful beast.


“Why do they lure to them such spirits as mine,
The weak, the passionate, and the fool of dreams?
When better men go safe and never pine
With whisperings at the heart, soul-sickening gleams
Of infinite desire, and joy that seems
The promise of full power? For it was they,
The gods themselves, that led me on this way.


“Give me the truth! I ask not now for pity.
When gods call, can the following them be sin?
Was it false light that lured me from the City?
Where was the path⁠—without it or within?
Must it be one blind throw to lose or win?
Has heaven no voice to help? Must things of dust
Guess their own way in the dark?” She said, “They must.”


Another silence: then he cried in wrath,
“You came in human shape, in sweet disguise
Wooing me, lurking for me in my path,
Hid your eternal cold with woman’s eyes,
Snared me with shows of love⁠—and all was lies.”
She answered, “For our kind must come to all
If bidden, but in the shape for which they call.”


“What!” answered Dymer. “Do you change and sway
To serve us, as the obedient planets spin
About the sun? Are you but potter’s clay
For us to mould⁠—unholy to our sin
And holy to holiness within?”
She said, “Waves fall on many an unclean shore,
Yet the salt seas are holy as before.


“Our nature is no purer for the saint
That worships, nor from him that uses ill
Our beauty can we suffer any taint.
As from the first we were, so are we still:
With incorruptibles the moral will
Corrupts itself, and clouded eyes will make
Darkness within from beams they cannot take.”


“Well⁠ ⁠… it is well,” said Dymer. “If I have used
The embreathing spirit amiss⁠ ⁠… what would have been
The strength of all my days I have refused
And plucked the stalk, too hasty, in the green,
Trusted the good for best, and having seen
Half-beauty, or beauty’s fringe, the lowest stair,
The common incantation, worshipped there.”


But presently he cried in his great pain,
“If I had loved a beast it would repay,
But I have loved the Spirit and loved in vain.
Now let me die⁠ ⁠… ah, but before the way
Is ended quite, in the last hour of day,
Is there no word of comfort, no one kiss
Of human love? Does it all end in this?”


She answered, “Never ask of life and death.
Uttering these names you dream of wormy clay
Or of surviving ghosts. This withering breath
Of words is the beginning of decay
In truth, when truth grows cold and pines away
Among the ancestral images. Your eyes
First see her dead: and more, the more she dies.


“You are still dreaming, dreams you shall forget
When you have cast your fetters, far from here.
Go forth; the journey is not ended yet.
You have seen Dymer dead and on the bier
More often than you dream and dropped no tear,
You have slain him every hour. Think not al all
Or death lest into death by thought you fall.”


He turned to question her, then looked again,
And lo! the shape was gone. The darkness lay
Heavy as yet and a cold, shifting rain
Fell with the breeze that springs before the day.
It was an hour death loves. Across the way
The clock struck once again. He saw near by
The black shape of the tower against the sky.


Meanwhile above the torture and the riot
Of leaping pulse and nerve that shot with pain,
Somewhere aloof and poised in spectral quiet
His soul was thinking on. The dizzied brain
Scarce seemed her organ: link by link the chain
That bound him to the flesh was loosening fast
And the new life breathed in unmoved and vast.


“It was like this,” he thought⁠—“like this, or worse,
For him that I found bleeding in the wood⁠ ⁠…
Blessings upon him⁠ ⁠… there I learned the curse
That rests on Dymer’s name, and truth was good.
He has forgotten now the fire and blood,
He has forgotten that there was a man
Called Dymer. He knows not himself nor Bran.


“How long have I been moved at heart in vain
About this Dymer, thinking this was I⁠ ⁠…
Why did I follow close his joy and pain
More than another man’s? For he will die,
The little cloud will vanish and the sky
Reign as before. The stars remain and earth
And Man, as in the years before my birth.


“There was a Dymer once who worked and played
About the City; I sloughed him off and ran.
There was a Dymer in the forest glade
Ranting alone, skulking the fates of man.
I cast him also, and a third began
And he too died. But I am none of those.
Is there another still to die⁠ ⁠… Who knows?”


Then in his pain, half wondering what he did,
He made to struggle towards that belfried place.
And groaning down the sodden bank he slid,
And groaning in the lane he left his trace
Of bloodied mire: then halted with his face
Upwards, towards the gateway, breathing hard
—An old lych-gate before a burial-yard.


He looked within. Between the huddling crosses,
Over the slanted tombs and sunken slate
Spread the deep quiet grass and humble mosses,
A green and growing darkness, drenched of late,
Smelling of earth and damp. He reached the gate
With failing hand. “I will rest here,” he said,
“And the long grass will cool my burning head.”