The Great War

from The Poems of Robert W. Sterling, an electronic edition


The wind was wailing over the land wildly

Song-sighing, and the moon

Languishing, a love-lorn maiden

Pale-peering from a shroud.

Then friendless there fled through the sobbing forest

Maran, a maid gentle

Striving to save herself from the murderer

Kroston the King-slayer.

Burning ambition! in his blind heart

Hate rankled against the Royal ones:

And when the mountain mist had rolled to the meadows

Crime-covering, he had slain them.

When the sun had sped to the ever-hungry shadows,

Lone in the land, friendless,

Left of the house of Landa now but lived

Maran the maid gentle.

Then Kroston cried to the other King-slayers,

' Allow we this fledgling to flee us?'

'The Black Brethren would blush at the triumph

Of Maran the maiden, O Kroston.'

Panting and panic-pale as a dove

Doth flutter before the cruel falcon:

So fearful fled the maiden through the forest,

That sobb'd ever to the wind's wildness.

Blood on her bonnie feet, and bruises:

Like deer before dread tiger,

So fearful fled the maiden from the fury

Of Kroston the King-slayer.

Sympathy she sought from the trees sobbing,

But no sympathy had the twining trees;

And the wind wail'd as with woe laden,

Yet all careless of her cruel woe.

Pity she pleaded from yon pale maiden:

Tears, spangled in the sky,

Fiercely the fond hope freezing,

Dim glitter'd through the gloom.

And in her mind, grief-murky and madden'd,

Memory sparkled sweet:

Brutal as the beam that mocks the blind,

Stinging the sightless eye.

As when lowly a forest lord is laid

In winter by the axe wasted,

Dusty, with arms undrap'd and drooping,

Where melody of old haunted,

Yet sweetest of all the Spring are his scarce tresses,

Smiling amid Death strangely;

And the woodman is weeping, of his work penitent,

Sorrowing o'er Might murder'd;

As a star that hath shone in the sky-furnace,

Bright-burning through the ages,

Falters and falls on a day fated

(Dread doom to every beauty!);

Then flames he brightest with a flare of fury,

Rushing to dark ruin;

And silent in their spheres are the sons of morning

Dimm'd by their dead brother:

So 'mid stifling Sorrow did burning Sweet

Wanton in Maran's mind,

Grief gaining a spectre of gladness,

Darkness a demon light.

(O garden of years, golden and glad,

Bright with the blossom Love;

O ancient home of a happy people:--)

Woe! 'tis a wither'd dream!

(Ever-lighted lamp of holy labour,

Land of the singing swain:--

Happy my eyes that gloried in that heaven,)

Curst that behold this hell!

(O ye fields fair with corn and fruits,

Trees breaking 'neath their treasure:--)

O heart of me heavy with the fruits of happiness

Dead,--breaking 'neath the burden.

(O loving father, and lord beloved,

Thou mirror of Landa's light!--)

Ah! cruelty to murder a king kindly!--

What darkness is mine to-day?

(O valley singing to the sound of streamlets,--)

Nay, the light is for thee lost:

Shall thy songs not evermore be with sorrow sounding,

And thy rivers with blood red }

(O Peace of the Past!) they have depos'd and sold thee

So blindly by a blind one led:

For cruelly have they murder'd their king kindly,

And darkness is on all to-day.

So she raving ran with a rage pitying,

Maran the maid gentle,

Striving ever to save herself from the murderer,

Kroston the King-slayer.

But ever pitiless he followed with poor passion

Burning in his blind heart,

Scorning the sacred gods as shadows,

Lusting for the maid's life.

And onward the cruel hunt hasted;

Nor stay'd the forest his steps:--

Ah! shame on you, shame, ye trees sobbing,

To let him pitiless pass.

Panting and panic-pale his quarry

Still ran the fateful race!

Twice shame on you, ye trees tangling,

To stay her flying steps.

But sudden the wind song-sighing

Hush'd amid the high branches;

And the leaves murmur'd with a mournful mystery,

Silenc'd after wild sobbing.

And the clouds becalm'd, with their vap'rous cohorts

Commingling in grim mass,

Fraught with unutterable future, floated

Expectant in the vast vault.

And the maiden moon, unshrouded for the moment,

In her grief gazed awfully,

As if innocence should utter a doom of the ages,

Or a child pale prophecy.

And the forest creatures in fretful fear

Stirr'd within their lairs sleepless:

The lion growl'd as about to lose a lov'd thing,

Dreading an unseen spoiler.

So all nature, nursing a nameless terror,

Listen'd and waiting watch'd:

As, when lightning flashing from the fever'd firmament

Swoops on the nerveless night,

Then the shepherds, in lonely silence sitting,

Listen and waiting watch,

In pious prayer to the gods impassion'd,

Fearing the following peal.

Yet ever onward the cruel hunt hasted;

Do they know not of all Nature's watch?

Will fear fly and fury pursue

Till the treasuries of Time be spent?

Nay! ... for the unknown is near, and Kroston

In his course sudden stopt:

And his men marvell'd at the awful madness

Of his cry woe-wild.

But silent they stood round the king-slayer,

And they felt his fear in their hearts:

And waiting they watch'd for the untellable wonder

That was coming, coming to pass.

Then forth from his limbs a form of fairness

Sped, like a wan wave

Of living cloud, light-laden,

Seeing and dim seen.

Oh, agony beyond utterance, and stainèd horror!

He watch'd the wingèd shadow

Fast flitting through the aw'd forest

To Maran the maid gentle.

And she stopt and turn'd, and saw it sailing

Swift and sure in her path;

And in wondrous wise her fear wan'd!

Dawning day after night!

Her body enfolded it beautifying, emboldening,

Till its light in her eyes did leap,

And there stately she stood like a queen sorrowing,

And she rais'd to the air her hand.

Then the men of Kroston, amaz'd and madden'd

In taut sorrow shriek'd;

For releas'd and lost, their bodies leaving,

Each fair phantom pass'd.

And Nature knew of the nameless terror

That carp'd her haunted heart:

And her gaunt bosom, great with grief,

Like swollen ocean, shook.

Then flash'd her phantoms, tongues of fire,

From earth and sky streaming,

Filling the maiden's form with a fairness

Unknown to mind mortal,

With unending hue empurpling the air

And soft shapes innumerable

(Even drear depths of darkness sent

Their bright burdens glitteringly)--

Lovelier than the light of lonely skies

O'er snow-white wastes,

When for pale mariners in perilous passage

The dance-rays dart--

Purer than the palace of pale heat

In yon throbbing ember on the altar,

Which glows and gives the priest of its glory,

And his soul is nourish'd by its splendour.

Each flower or blossom through the far forest,

Each branch or lowly blade,

Sent forth its soul--or the soul of Something

It felt and lov'd before.

Then wail'd the wind in bereavement wasted,

Sighing a broken song,

Like a mermaid moaning the drownèd millions

Lost in the sceptred sea.

And the forest sobb'd: and feeble and fainting

The tribes of the teeming earth

Utter'd a lament from the heart's agony:

But vain was their voice of woe.

And the people of mountain and meadow, miserable,

The anguish'd beasts of the earth,

And the stars of the sky and their sad mistress,

All paid the pitiless toll.

O tears of the land! what toll terrible!

What lov'd and lost delight!

O land of tears! so lonely and loveless,--

What trembling tears are thine!

The wind among

The willows seems

To sing a song

Of many themes:

Now joyous soft:

Now musing slow:

Tempestuous oft

Or wild with woe.

The moon looks down

Upon the sea;

With smile or frown

Inconstant she:

For waves reflect

Her as they will,--

With storm-foam fleck'd

Or clear and still.

Man's mind is a sea

The moon doth scan,

And a willow tree

Is the mind of man.

I TIP-TOED from the palace gates

To find the toy

The rainbow spilt:

In fearful joy

And innocent guilt;

Nor heard the laughter of the Fates.

And straight into a painted sphere

Of rainbow mist

I seem'd to rise:

And phantoms kiss'd

Of starry eyes,

And all forgot my palace dear.

But when the shadows set me free

A memory yet tormenteth me:--

And oh! that laughing mockery.