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The Silent Muse

Alfred Austin 1835 (Leeds) – 1913 (Ashford)

``Why have you silent been so long?''
In tones of mild rebuke you ask.
Know you not, kindly friend, that Song
Is the ``Gay Science,'' not a task?

It is but when it pleaseth God
The blackthorn blows, the acorns fall;
The Muse ignores a mortal's nod,
And will not come to beck and call.

If I, to catch the ear of men,
Should go on singing day by day,
What other, better, were I then,
Than screeching chough or scolding jay?

But save the unseen source be stirred,
The happy numbers will not flow:
Then one is like a songless bird
That crouches in the drifted snow.

Say, did you ever sit and dream,
When summer clouds are white and still,
Beside a slow unsounding stream
That winds below some rustic mill?

The languid current scarcely moves;
At times you almost doubt it flows;
Loitering in shallow sandy grooves,
It makes no music as it goes.

The sluice is down, the mill-race still,
Nor in mid-stream nor water's edge
Comes faintest ripple, tiniest rill,
To stir the flag, or sway the sedge.

Beside the dozing stream you doze,
For nothing wakes in air or sky:
It feels as if Time's eyelids close,
And 'tis the same to live or die;

To be a passive part of all
That rounds Heaven's universal plan,
Of things that soar, of things that crawl,
Of mindless matter, as of man.

When slowly through the noonday sleep
A phantom something seems to stir,
Like waves of dewy light that creep
Along gray chords of gossamer.

At first it is nor sight nor sound,
But feeling only, inward sense
Of motion slowly rising round,
You know not where, you know not whence.

Then, noiseless still, but plain to see,
The languid waters wake and wind;
The wave before now fears to be
O'ertaken by the wave behind.

The race, long pent, from out the mill
Comes rushing, rippling, gleam on gleam;
The runnels rise, the shallows fill,
And deep and happy flows the stream.

The lazy sedges sway and swerve,
The reedmace rocks its heavy head;
Past many a bend, and bay, and curve,
The river revels through its bed.

And as it twists, and curls, and sweels,
From out its leaping heart there come
Sounds sweet as far-off village bells,
Or swarming bee-hive's honeyed hum.

Through quaking grass and waving weed
Rises and falls the river-theme;
Vibrating rush and trembling reed
Are but the harpstrings of the stream.

Once more the gold-ribbed gravel trills
With quavering trebles clear and cool,
Blent with the deeper note that fills
The plunging weir and swirling pool.

Bed, bank and channel, chant and chime,
And fall and freshet, as they run,
Though ignorant of tune and time,
Sing in melodious unison.

And so, if I be shaped to sing
What kindly hearts are pleased to hear,
And blissful were did Nature bring
A rush of music all the year;

Seasons there are it doth not flow,
When Fancy's freshets will not come,
The springs of song seem shrunk and low,
And all my being dry and dumb.

When suddenly from far-off source,
Unseen, unsounding, deep, immense,
Something, with swift resistless force,
Flushes the heart and floods the sense;

And as though Heaven and Earth did drain
Into that deep mysterious spring,
Brims all the windings of the brain;
Then like replenished stream I sing.

The will can not the stream control,
Its currents are divinely sent,
And thought and feeling, mind and soul,
Are rapt in rhythmic ravishment.

And on they flow, when once they start,
To some ordained but unguessed goal,
Through all the channels of the heart,
And all the reaches of the soul.

Then come the wingëd words that skim
The surface of earth's discontent
To soar up to the ether dim,
Faint heard from far-off firmament.

But, till the music stirs and swells
Within my breast, forbearing be;
Nor lightly waken slumbering bells
Above a silent sanctuary!

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:22 min read
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Alfred Austin

Alfred Austin DL was an English poet who was appointed Poet Laureate in 1896 upon the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. more…

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