Adown the valley dripped a stream,
White lilies drooped on either side;
Our hearts, in spite of us, will dream
In such a place at eventide.
Bright wavelets wove the scarf of blue
That well became the valley fair,
And grassy fringe of greenest hue
Hung round its borders everywhere.
And where the stream, in wayward whirls,
Went winding in and winding out,
Lay shells, that wore the look of pearls
Without their pride, all strewn about.
And here and there along the strand,
Where some ambitious wave had strayed,
Rose little monuments of sand
As frail as those by mortals made.
And many a flower was blooming there
In beauty, yet without a name,
Like humble hearts that often bear
The gifts, but not the palm of fame.
The rainbow’s tints could never vie
With all the colors that they wore;
While bluer than the bluest sky
The stream flowed on ‘tween shore and shore.
And on the height, and down the side
Of either hill that hid the place,
Rose elms in all the stately pride
Of youthful strength and ancient race.
While here and there the trees between —
Bearing the scars of battle-shocks,
And frowning wrathful — might be seen
The moss-veiled faces of the rocks.
And round the rocks crept flowered vines,
And clomb the trees that towered high —
The type of a lofty thought that twines
Around a truth — to touch the sky.
And to that vale, from first of May
Until the last of August went,
Beauty, the exile, came each day
In all her charms, to cast her tent.
‘Twas there, one long-gone August day,
I wandered down the valley fair:
The spell has never passed away
That fell upon my spirit there.
The summer sunset glorified
The clouded face of dying day,
Which flung a smile upon the tide
And lilies, ere he passed away.
And o’er the valley’s grassy slopes
There fell an evanescent sheen,
That flashed and faded, like the hopes
That haunt us of what might have been.
And rock and tree flung back the light
Of all the sunset’s golden gems,
As if it were beneath their right
To wear such borrowed diadems.
Low in the west gleam after gleam
Glowed faint and fainter, till the last
Made the dying day a living dream,
To last as long as life shall last.
And in the arches of the trees
The wild birds slept with folded wing;
And e’en the lips of the summer breeze
That sang all day, had ceased to sing.
And all was silent, save the rill
That rippled round the lilies’ feet,
And sang, while stillness grew more still
To listen to the murmur sweet.
And now and then it surely seemed
The little stream was laughing low,
As if its sleepy wavelets dreamed
Such dreams as only children know.
So still that not the faintest breath
Did stir the shadows in the air;
It would have seemed the home of Death,
Had I not felt Life sleeping there.
And slow and soft, and soft and slow,
From darkling earth and darkened sky
Wide wings of gloom waved to and fro,
And spectral shadows flitted by.
And then, methought, upon the sward
I saw — or was it starlight’s ray?
Or angels come to watch and guard
The valley till the dawn of day?
Is every lower life the ward
Of spirits more divinely wrought?
‘Tis sweet to believe ’tis God’s, and hard
To think ’tis but a poet’s thought.
But God’s or poet’s thought, I ween,
My senses did not fail me when
I saw veiled angels watch that scene
And guard its sleep, as they guard men.
Sweet sang the stream as on it pressed,
As sorrow sings a heart to sleep;
As a mother sings one child to rest,
And for the dead one still will weep.
I walked adown the singing stream,
The lilies slept on either side;
My heart — it could not help but dream
At eve, and after eventide.
Ah! dreams of such a lofty reach
With more than earthly fancies fraught,
That not the strongest wings of speech
Could ever touch their lowest thought.
Dreams of the Bright, the Fair, the Far —
Heart-fancies flashing Heaven’s hue —
That swept around, as sweeps a star
The boundless orbit of the True.
Yea! dreams all free from earthly taint,
Where human passion played no part,
As pure as thoughts that thrill a saint,
Or hunt an archangelic heart.
Ah! dreams that did not rise from sense,
And rose too high to stoop to it,
And framed aloft like frankincense
In censers round the infinite.
Yea! dreams that vied with angels’ flight!
And, soaring, bore my heart away
Beyond the far star-bounds of night,
Unto the everlasting day.
How long I strolled beside the stream
I do not know, nor may I say;
But when the poet ceased to dream
The priest went on his knees to pray.
I felt as sure a seraph feels
When in some golden hour of grace
God smiles, and suddenly reveals
A new, strange glory in His face.
Ah! starlit valley! Lilies white!
The poet dreamed — ye slumbered deep!
But when the priest knelt down that night
And prayed, why woke ye from your sleep?
* * * * *
The stream sang down the valley fair,
I saw the wakened lilies nod,
I knew they heard me whisper there,
“How beautiful art Thou, my God!”