Amy Lowell
Amy Lowell (1874 - 1925)
American poetess

A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass

SONNETS

Leisure


Leisure, thou goddess of a bygone age, 
 When hours were long and days sufficed to hold 
 Wide-eyed delights and pleasures uncontrolled 
By shortening moments, when no gaunt presage 
Of undone duties, modern heritage, 
 Haunted our happy minds; must thou withhold 
 Thy presence from this over-busy world, 
And bearing silence with thee disengage 
 Our twined fortunes? Deeps of unhewn woods 
 Alone can cherish thee, alone possess 
Thy quiet, teeming vigor. This our crime: 
 Not to have worshipped, marred by alien moods 
 That sole condition of all loveliness, 
The dreaming lapse of slow, unmeasured time.


On Carpaccio's Picture:
The Dream of St. Ursula

Swept, clean, and still, across the polished floor 
 From some unshuttered casement, hid from sight, 
 The level sunshine slants, its greater light 
Quenching the little lamp which pallid, poor, 
Flickering, unreplenished, at the door 
 Has striven against darkness the long night. 
 Dawn fills the room, and penetrating, bright, 
The silent sunbeams through the window pour. 
 And she lies sleeping, ignorant of Fate, 
 Enmeshed in listless dreams, her soul not yet 
Ripened to bear the purport of this day. 
 The morning breeze scarce stirs the coverlet, 
 A shadow falls across the sunlight; wait! 
A lark is singing as he flies away. 


The Matrix

Goaded and harassed in the factory 
 That tears our life up into bits of days 
 Ticked off upon a clock which never stays, 
Shredding our portion of Eternity, 
We break away at last, and steal the key 
 Which hides a world empty of hours; ways 
 Of space unroll, and Heaven overlays 
The leafy, sun-lit earth of Fantasy. 
 Beyond the ilex shadow glares the sun, 
 Scorching against the blue flame of the sky. 
Brown lily-pads lie heavy and supine 
 Within a granite basin, under one 
 The bronze-gold glimmer of a carp; and I 
Reach out my hand and pluck a nectarine.


Monadnock in Early Spring

Cloud-topped and splendid, dominating all 
 The little lesser hills which compass thee, 
 Thou standest, bright with April's buoyancy, 
Yet holding Winter in some shaded wall 
Of stern, steep rock; and startled by the call 
 Of Spring, thy trees flush with expectancy 
 And cast a cloud of crimson, silently, 
Above thy snowy crevices where fall 
 Pale shrivelled oak leaves, while the snow beneath 
 Melts at their phantom touch. Another year 
Is quick with import. Such each year has been. 
 Unmoved thou watchest all, and all bequeath 
 Some jewel to thy diadem of power, 
Thou pledge of greater majesty unseen.


The Little Garden

A little garden on a bleak hillside 
 Where deep the heavy, dazzling mountain snow 
 Lies far into the spring. The sun's pale glow 
Is scarcely able to melt patches wide 
About the single rose bush. All denied 
 Of nature's tender ministries. But no, -- 
 For wonder-working faith has made it blow 
With flowers many hued and starry-eyed. 
 Here sleeps the sun long, idle summer hours; 
Here butterflies and bees fare far to rove 
 Amid the crumpled leaves of poppy flowers; 
Here four o'clocks, to the passionate night above 
 Fling whiffs of perfume, like pale incense showers. 
A little garden, loved with a great love!


To an Early Daffodil

Thou yellow trumpeter of laggard Spring! 
  Thou herald of rich Summer's myriad flowers! 
  The climbing sun with new recovered powers 
Does warm thee into being, through the ring 
Of rich, brown earth he woos thee, makes thee fling 
  Thy green shoots up, inheriting the dowers 
  Of bending sky and sudden, sweeping showers, 
Till ripe and blossoming thou art a thing 
  To make all nature glad, thou art so gay; 
To fill the lonely with a joy untold; 
  Nodding at every gust of wind to-day, 
To-morrow jewelled with raindrops. Always bold 
  To stand erect, full in the dazzling play 
Of April's sun, for thou hast caught his gold.


Listening

'T is you that are the music, not your song. 
 The song is but a door which, opening wide, 
 Lets forth the pent-up melody inside, 
Your spirit's harmony, which clear and strong 
Sings but of you. Throughout your whole life long 
 Your songs, your thoughts, your doings, each divide 
 This perfect beauty; waves within a tide, 
Or single notes amid a glorious throng. 
 The song of earth has many different chords; 
Ocean has many moods and many tones 
 Yet always ocean. In the damp Spring woods 
The painted trillium smiles, while crisp pine cones 
 Autumn alone can ripen. So is this 
 One music with a thousand cadences.


The Lamp of Life

Always we are following a light, 
 Always the light recedes; with groping hands 
 We stretch toward this glory, while the lands 
We journey through are hidden from our sight 
Dim and mysterious, folded deep in night, 
 We care not, all our utmost need demands 
 Is but the light, the light! So still it stands 
Surely our own if we exert our might. 
Fool! Never can'st thou grasp this fleeting gleam, 
 Its glowing flame would die if it were caught, 
Its value is that it doth always seem 
 But just a little farther on. Distraught, 
 But lighted ever onward, we are brought 
Upon our way unknowing, in a dream.


Hero-Worship

A face seen passing in a crowded street, 
 A voice heard singing music, large and free; 
 And from that moment life is changed, and we 
Become of more heroic temper, meet 
To freely ask and give, a man complete 
 Radiant because of faith, we dare to be 
 What Nature meant us. Brave idolatry 
Which can conceive a hero! No deceit, 
 No knowledge taught by unrelenting years, 
 Can quench this fierce, untamable desire. 
We know that what we long for once achieved 
 Will cease to satisfy. Be still our fears; 
 If what we worship fail us, still the fire 
Burns on, and it is much to have believed. 


In Darkness

Must all of worth be travailled for, and those 
 Life's brightest stars rise from a troubled sea 
 Must years go by in sad uncertainty 
Leaving us doubting whose the conquering blows, 
Are we or Fate the victors? Time which shows 
 All inner meanings will reveal, but we 
 Shall never know the upshot. Ours to be 
Wasted with longing, shattered in the throes, 
 The agonies of splendid dreams, which day 
 Dims from our vision, but each night brings back; 
We strive to hold their grandeur, and essay 
 To be the thing we dream. Sudden we lack 
The flash of insight, life grows drear and gray, 
 And hour follows hour, nerveless, slack.


Before Dawn

Life! Austere arbiter of each man's fate, 
 By whom he learns that Nature's steadfast laws 
 Are as decrees immutable; O pause 
Your even forward march! Not yet too late 
Teach me the needed lesson, when to wait 
 Inactive as a ship when no wind draws 
 To stretch the loosened cordage. One implores 
Thy clemency, whose wilfulness innate 
 Has gone uncurbed and roughshod while the years 
    Have lengthened into decades; now distressed 
He knows no rule by which to move or stay, 
 And teased with restlessness and desperate fears 
He dares not watch in silence thy wise way 
    Bringing about results none could have guessed. 


The Poet

What instinct forces man to journey on, 
 Urged by a longing blind but dominant! 
 Nothing he sees can hold him, nothing daunt 
His never failing eagerness. The sun 
Setting in splendour every night has won 
 His vassalage; those towers flamboyant 
 Of airy cloudland palaces now haunt 
His daylight wanderings. Forever done 
With simple joys and quiet happiness 
 He guards the vision of the sunset sky; 
Though faint with weariness he must possess 
 Some fragment of the sunset's majesty; 
He spurns life's human friendships to profess 
 Life's loneliness of dreaming ecstasy.


At Night

The wind is singing through the trees to-night, 
 A deep-voiced song of rushing cadences 
 And crashing intervals. No summer breeze 
Is this, though hot July is at its height, 
Gone is her gentler music; with delight 
 She listens to this booming like the seas, 
 These elemental, loud necessities 
Which call to her to answer their swift might. 
 Above the tossing trees shines down a star, 
 Quietly bright; this wild, tumultuous joy 
Quickens nor dims its splendour. And my mind, 
 O Star! is filled with your white light, from far, 
 So suffer me this one night to enjoy 
The freedom of the onward sweeping wind.


The Fruit Garden Path

The path runs straight between the flowering rows, 
 A moonlit path, hemmed in by beds of bloom, 
 Where phlox and marigolds dispute for room 
With tall, red dahlias and the briar rose. 
'T is reckless prodigality which throws 
 Into the night these wafts of rich perfume 
 Which sweep across the garden like a plume. 
Over the trees a single bright star glows. 
 Dear garden of my childhood, here my years 
Have run away like little grains of sand; 
 The moments of my life, its hopes and fears 
Have all found utterance here, where now I stand; 
 My eyes ache with the weight of unshed tears, 
You are my home, do you not understand?


Mirage

How is it that, being gone, you fill my days, 
  And all the long nights are made glad by thee? 
  No loneliness is this, nor misery, 
But great content that these should be the ways 
Whereby the Fancy, dreaming as she strays, 
  Makes bright and present what she would would be. 
  And who shall say if the reality 
Is not with dreams so pregnant. For delays 
  And hindrances may bar the wished-for end; 
A thousand misconceptions may prevent 
  Our souls from coming near enough to blend; 
Let me but think we have the same intent, 
  That each one needs to call the other, "friend!" 
It may be vain illusion. I'm content. 


To a Friend

I ask but one thing of you, only one, 
 That always you will be my dream of you; 
 That never shall I wake to find untrue 
All this I have believed and rested on, 
Forever vanished, like a vision gone 
 Out into the night. Alas, how few 
 There are who strike in us a chord we knew 
Existed, but so seldom heard its tone 
 We tremble at the half-forgotten sound. 
The world is full of rude awakenings 
 And heaven-born castles shattered to the ground, 
Yet still our human longing vainly clings 
 To a belief in beauty through all wrongs. 
 O stay your hand, and leave my heart its songs!


To the top

Amy Lowell (Homepage)

A Fixed Idea

What torture lurks within a single thought 
When grown too constant, and however kind, 
However welcome still, the weary mind 
Aches with its presence. Dull remembrance taught 
Remembers on unceasingly; unsought 
The old delight is with us but to find 
That all recurring joy is pain refined, 
Become a habit, and we struggle, caught. 
You lie upon my heart as on a nest, 
Folded in peace, for you can never know 
How crushed I am with having you at rest 
Heavy upon my life. I love you so 
You bind my freedom from its rightful quest. 
In mercy lift your drooping wings and go.


Dreams

I do not care to talk to you although 
 Your speech evokes a thousand sympathies, 
 And all my being's silent harmonies 
Wake trembling into music. When you go 
It is as if some sudden, dreadful blow 
 Had severed all the strings with savage ease. 
 No, do not talk; but let us rather seize 
This intimate gift of silence which we know. 
 Others may guess your thoughts from what you say, 
As storms are guessed from clouds where darkness broods. 
 To me the very essence of the day 
Reveals its inner purpose and its moods; 
 As poplars feel the rain and then straightway 
Reverse their leaves and shimmer through the woods.


Frankincense and Myrrh

My heart is tuned to sorrow, and the strings 
 Vibrate most readily to minor chords, 
 Searching and sad; my mind is stuffed with words 
Which voice the passion and the ache of things: 
Illusions beating with their baffled wings 
 Against the walls of circumstance, and hoards 
 Of torn desires, broken joys; records 
Of all a bruised life's maimed imaginings. 
 Now you are come! You tremble like a star 
Poised where, behind earth's rim, the sun has set. 
   Your voice has sung across my heart, but numb 
 And mute, I have no tones to answer. Far 
Within I kneel before you, speechless yet, 
   And life ablaze with beauty, I am dumb. 


From One Who Stays

How empty seems the town now you are gone! 
 A wilderness of sad streets, where gaunt walls 
 Hide nothing to desire; sunshine falls 
Eery, distorted, as it long had shone 
On white, dead faces tombed in halls of stone. 
 The whir of motors, stricken through with calls 
 Of playing boys, floats up at intervals; 
But all these noises blur to one long moan. 
 What quest is worth pursuing? And how strange 
That other men still go accustomed ways! 
   I hate their interest in the things they do. 
 A spectre-horde repeating without change 
An old routine. Alone I know the days 
   Are still-born, and the world stopped, lacking you.


Crépuscule du Matin

All night I wrestled with a memory 
  Which knocked insurgent at the gates of thought. 
  The crumbled wreck of years behind has wrought 
Its disillusion; now I only cry 
For peace, for power to forget the lie 
  Which hope too long has whispered. So I sought 
  The sleep which would not come, and night was fraught 
With old emotions weeping silently. 
I heard your voice again, and knew the things 
  Which you had promised proved an empty vaunt. 
I felt your clinging hands while night's broad wings 
Cherished our love in darkness. From the lawn 
 A sudden, quivering birdnote, like a taunt. 
My arms held nothing but the empty dawn. 


Aftermath

I learnt to write to you in happier days, 
 And every letter was a piece I chipped 
 From off my heart, a fragment newly clipped 
From the mosaic of life; its blues and grays, 
Its throbbing reds, I gave to earn your praise. 
 To make a pavement for your feet I stripped 
 My soul for you to walk upon, and slipped 
Beneath your steps to soften all your ways. 
 But now my letters are like blossoms pale 
We strew upon a grave with hopeless tears. 
 I ask no recompense, I shall not fail 
Although you do not heed; the long, sad years 
 Still pass, and still I scatter flowers frail, 
And whisper words of love which no one hears. 


The End

Throughout the echoing chambers of my brain 
 I hear your words in mournful cadence toll 
 Like some slow passing-bell which warns the soul 
Of sundering darkness. Unrelenting, fain 
To batter down resistance, fall again 
 Stroke after stroke, insistent diastole, 
 The bitter blows of truth, until the whole 
Is hammered into fact made strangely plain. 
 Where shall I look for comfort? Not to you. 
  Our worlds are drawn apart, our spirit's suns 
Divided, and the light of mine burnt dim. 
 Now in the haunted twilight I must do 
  Your will. I grasp the cup which over-runs, 
And with my trembling lips I touch the rim. 


The Starling

Forever the impenetrable wall 
 Of self confines my poor rebellious soul, 
 I never see the towering white clouds roll 
Before a sturdy wind, save through the small 
Barred window of my jail. I live a thrall 
 With all my outer life a clipped, square hole, 
 Rectangular; a fraction of a scroll 
Unwound and winding like a worsted ball. 
 My thoughts are grown uneager and depressed 
  Through being always mine, my fancy's wings 
Are moulted and the feathers blown away. 
 I weary for desires never guessed, 
  For alien passions, strange imaginings, 
To be some other person for a day.


Market Day

White, glittering sunlight fills the market square, 
 Spotted and sprigged with shadows. Double rows 
 Of bartering booths spread out their tempting shows 
Of globed and golden fruit, the morning air 
Smells sweet with ripeness, on the pavement there 
 A wicker basket gapes and overflows 
 Spilling out cool, blue plums. The market glows, 
And flaunts, and clatters in its busy care. 
 A stately minster at the northern side 
Lifts its twin spires to the distant sky, 
 Pinnacled, carved and buttressed; through the wide 
Arched doorway peals an organ, suddenly -- 
 Crashing, triumphant in its pregnant tide, 
Quenching the square in vibrant harmony.


Aged 22

He died of "Stranger's Fever" when his youth 
 Had scarcely melted into manhood, so 
 The chiselled legend runs; a brother's woe 
Laid bare for epitaph. The savage ruth 
Of a sunny, bright, but alien land, uncouth 
 With cruel caressing dealt a mortal blow, 
 And by this summer sea where flowers grow 
In tropic splendor, witness to the truth 
Of ineradicable race he lies. 
 The law of duty urged that he should roam, 
Should sail from fog and chilly airs to skies 
 Clear with deceitful welcome. He had come 
With proud resolve, but still his lonely eyes 
 Ached with fatigue at never seeing home. 


Francis II, King of Naples


           Written after reading Trevelyan's "Garibaldi and the making of Italy"

Poor foolish monarch, vacillating, vain, 
 Decaying victim of a race of kings, 
 Swift Destiny shook out her purple wings 
And caught him in their shadow; not again 
Could furtive plotting smear another stain 
 Across his tarnished honour. Smoulderings 
 Of sacrificial fires burst their rings 
And blotted out in smoke his lost domain. 
Bereft of courtiers, only with his queen, 
 From empty palace down to empty quay. 
No challenge screamed from hostile carabine. 
 A single vessel waited, shadowy; 
 All night she ploughed her solitary way 
Beneath the stars, and through a tranquil sea.


To John Keats

Great master! Boyish, sympathetic man! 
 Whose orbed and ripened genius lightly hung 
 From life's slim, twisted tendril and there swung 
In crimson-sphered completeness; guardian 
Of crystal portals through whose openings fan 
 The spiced winds which blew when earth was young, 
 Scattering wreaths of stars, as Jove once flung 
A golden shower from heights cerulean. 
 Crumbled before thy majesty we bow. 
  Forget thy empurpled state, thy panoply 
Of greatness, and be merciful and near; 
 A youth who trudged the highroad we tread now 
  Singing the miles behind him; so may we 
Faint throbbings of thy music overhear.


Amy Lowell (Homepage)


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Update: 25-03-2016.