SIT DOWN IN THE LOWEST ROOM
(Macmillan’s Magazine, March 1864.)
Like flowers sequestered from the sun
And wind of summer, day by day
I dwindled paler, whilst my hair
Showed the first tinge of grey.
’Oh what is life, that we should live?
Or what is death, that we must die?
A bursting bubble is our life:
I also, what am I?’
’What is your grief? now tell me, sweet,
That I may grieve,’ my sister said; 10
And stayed a white embroidering hand
And raised a golden head:
Her tresses showed a richer mass,
Her eyes looked softer than my own,
Her figure had a statelier height,
Her voice a tenderer tone.
’Some must be second and not first;
All cannot be the first of all:
Is not this, too, but vanity?
I stumble like to fall. 20
’So yesterday I read the acts
Of Hector and each clangorous king
With wrathful great Aeacides:—
Old Homer leaves a sting.’
The comely face looked up again,
The deft hand lingered on the thread:
’Sweet, tell me what is Homer’s sting,
Old Homer’s sting?’ she said.
’He stirs my sluggish pulse like wine,
He melts me like the wind of spice, 30
Strong as strong Ajax’ red right hand,
And grand like Juno’s eyes.
’I cannot melt the sons of men,
I cannot fire and tempest-toss:—
Besides, those days were golden days,
Whilst these are days of dross.’
She laughed a feminine low laugh,
Yet did not stay her dexterous hand:
‘Now tell me of those days,’ she said,
‘When time ran golden sand.’ 40
’Then men were men of might and right,
Sheer might, at least, and weighty swords;
Then men in open blood and fire,
Bore witness to their words,
’Crest-rearing kings with whistling spears;
But if these shivered in the shock
They wrenched up hundred-rooted trees,
Or hurled the effacing rock.
’Then hand to hand, then foot to foot,
Stern to the death-grip grappling then, 50
Who ever thought of gunpowder
Amongst these men of men?
’They knew whose hand struck home the death,
They knew who broke but would not bend,
Could venerate an equal foe
And scorn a laggard friend.
’Calm in the utmost stress of doom,
Devout toward adverse powers above,
They hated with intenser hate
And loved with fuller love. 60
’Then heavenly beauty could allay
As heavenly beauty stirred the strife:
By them a slave was worshipped more
Than is by us a wife.’