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In the green darkness of a summer wood,
Wherethro' ran winding ways, a lady stood,
Carved from the air in curving womanhood.
A maiden's form crowned by a matron's mien,
As, about Lammas, wheat-stems may be seen,
The ear all golden, but the stalk still green.
There as she stood, waiting for sight or sound,
Down a dim alley without break or bound,
Slowly he came, his gaze upon the ground.
Nor ever once he lifted up his eyes
Till he no more her presence could disguise;
Then he her face saluted silentwise.
And silentwise no less she turned, as though
She was the leaf and he the current's flow,
And where he went, there she perforce must go.
And both kept speechless as the dumb or dead,
Nor did the earth so much as speak their tread,
So soft by last year's leaves 'twas carpeted.
And not a sound moved all the greenwood through,
Save when some quest with fluttering wings outflew,
Ruffling the leaves; then silence was anew.
And when the track they followed forked in twain,
They never doubted which one should be ta'en,
But chose as though obeying secret rein.
Until they came where boughs no longer screened
The sky, and soon abruptly intervened
A rustic gate, and over it they leaned.
Leaned over it, and green before them lay
A meadow ribbed with drying swathes of hay,
From which the hinds had lately gone away.
Beyond it, yet more woods, these too at rest,
Smooth-dipping down to shore, unseen, but guessed;
For lo! the Sea, with nothing on its breast.
``I was sure you would come,'' she said, with a voice like a broken wing
That flutters, and fails, then flags, while it nurses the failure's sting;
``You could not refuse me that, 'tis but such a little thing.
``Do I remember the words, the farewell words that you spoke,
Answering soft with hard, ere we parted under the oak?
Remember them? Can I forget? For each of them cut like a stroke.
``True-were they true? You think so, or they had never been said;
But somehow, like lightning flashes, they flickered about my head,
Flickered but touched me not. They ought to have stricken me dead.
``What do I want with you now? What I always wanted, you know;
A voice to be heard in the darkness, a flower to be seen in the snow,
And a bond linking each fresh future with a lengthening long-ago.
``Is it too much? Too little! Well, little or much, 'tis all
That rescues my life from the nothing it seems to be when I call
For a life to reply, and my voice comes back like a voice from the wall.
``If one played sweet on a lute, yea so soft that you scarce could hear,
Would you clang all the chords with your hand that the octaves might ring out clear?
Lo! asunder the strings are snapped, and the music shrinks silent for fear.
``See! the earth through the infinite spaces goes silently round and round,
And the moon moveth on through the heavens and never maketh a sound,
And the wheels of eternity traverse their journey in stillness profound.
``'Tis only the barren breakers that bellow on barren shore;
'Tis only the braggart thunders that rumble and rage and roar;
Like a wave is the love that babbles; but silent love loves evermore.
``Feeble, shadowy, shallow? Is ocean then shallow that keeps
Its harvest of shell and seaweed that none or garners or reaps,
That the diver may sound a moment, but never drag from its deeps?
``Cowardice? Yes, we are cowards; cowards from cradle to bier,
And the terror of life grows upon us as we grow year by year;
Our smiles are but trembling ripples urged on by a subtide of fear.
``And hence, or at substance or shadow we start, though we scarce know why.
Life seems like a haunted wood, where we tremble and crouch and cry.
Beast, or robber, or ghost,-our courage is still to fly.
``So we look around for a guide, and to place all our fears in his hand,
That his courage may keep us brave, that his grandeur may make us grand:
But, remember, a guide, not an ambush. Oh, tell me you understand!
``Still silent, still unpersuaded. Ah! I know what your thoughts repeat.
We are all alike, and we love to keep passion aglow at our feet,
Like one that sitteth in shade and complacently smiles at the heat.
``You think so? Then come into shade. Rise up, take the seat at my side;
Or, see, I will kneel, not you. What is humble, if this be pride?
What seems cold now will chance feel warm when the fierce glare of noon hath died.
``Have you never, when waves were breaking, watched children at sport on the beach,
With their little feet tempting the foam-fringe, till with s
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