The Dreamers of Dzushi (Arthur Davison Ficke)

 Another Ficke poem. Published in The happy princess: and other poems, 1907.


The battered fishing-junks of Dzushi
Stand out each morn into the sea.
Each eve their lighted sails turn homeward
Slowly and wearily.

And from their dusky little doorsteps
The fishers watch where longest gleams
The sunset gold beyond white Fuji,
And dream long silent dreams.

A thousand sunny years have faded
Since that which brought the fateful day
When the ancient Dream of the Dreamers of Dzushi
Rose on that quiet bay.

But the simple fishermen of Dzushi
Have never to this day forgot;
Since for one among them, the doom of the Dreamer
Waits, and he knows it not. . . .

Misty autumn lay cool on Dzushi
After the flood of the summer rains.
The beetle boomed at night no longer
On the lighted paper panes.

Old men wept to see the moonlight
Falling lovely across the door,
Calling it fairest of all the hundred
Summers had died before.

Young men sat by the low sand-levels
Watching the foam-born moonlight flowers;
And sleep of night wove on unbroken
The dreams of their waking hours.

One splendid morn as the sun rose crimson
Out of the silken blue of the waves, —
As the fishing boats stood out past the beaches
And foaming water-caves, —

A maid who watched the sails grow smaller
Under the blue dome of the sky
Hid her face in her robe in terror, —
Wailed, and she knew not why. . ..

That eve the fisher-wives of Dzushi
Warmed the rice and sake sweet;
Laid in order the fish and meal-cakes
That none should come to eat.

Late at night the maids of Dzushi
Watched with fear by the silent foam
For those who unto the sands of Dzushi
Should never more come home.

The cold morn rose; and one sail slowly
Drove toward the weary wailing place,
Bearing a man; and the light of madness
Stood on his pallid face.

And he told to the awe-hushed wives and maidens
A tale as strange as the mad foam's bloom,
How those who had dreamed the Dream of Dzushi
Went to their unknown doom : —

"We had sailed past the cliffs of Kamakura;
Enoshima lay on the sea's clear rim ;
When a purple cloud rose out the water,
Glowing with fire-flakes dim.

"And a pillar of light like silver moonshine
Moved on the bright face of the deep,
And a perfume spread as when sandal-forests
Stir in their dusky sleep.

"And the cloud and the light moved out to westward.
I longed to follow where they should go,
For I thought they went to the Sea King's garden,
I thought, but I did not know.

'' I only know that I longed to follow ;
And from the boats a great shout rose : —
' We have seen the dream that our hearts must follow
To where the pearl-flower blows;

" 'For it leads us beyond the great gray water,
Down to the jewelled coral throne
In the realm of the King and his foam-white daughter,
Who will give us realms of our own !'

"And the cloud and the light moved over the ocean.
Behind them all the raised sails sped.
But I closed my eyes, and with hard-thrown tiller
Turned from their path and fled.

"They are gone with the light and the cloud of purple
Along a path that I dared not go.
And I think that they came to the Sea King's garden,
I think, but I do not know."

Still in the sea-born town of Dzushi
The story lingers, like some old rhyme
In which as a vial is distilled the perfume
And bloom of forgotten time.

And once, 'tis said, in each generation
A fisher must dream that dream again.
In some one heart it rises sudden
When the autumn flowers wane,

That he goes, without a word of parting,
To seek the land in the purple west
Beyond to ocean, where waits the Sea King
To give him flowers of rest.

And if you ask strong men in Dzushi,
They laugh and call it but a tale
Woven of wandering twilight shadows
That hour the west lights pale.

But if you ask of the youths or old men,
Or maids, whose eyes see more than ours,
They tell you the long-lost Dreamers are dwelling
In peace 'mid the soft pearl-flowers.

And many a one of them looks to westward
And longs I know not how wistfully
That she were one of the Dreamers of Dzushi
In the garden beyond the sea.


Again, the sheer beauty of the words is a great part of the poem's effect: the haunting beat of 'fairest of all the hundred Summers that had died before', 'the perfume And bloom of forgotten time', 'Woven of wandering twilight shadows', and such.

G.K. Chesterton -- dedication to The Ballad of the White Horse
G.K. Chesterton's dedication to his epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse is quite long, and also includes an apologia for the poem. Here it is:

Of great limbs gone to chaos,
A great face turned to night--
Why bend above a shapeless shroud
Seeking in such archaic cloud
Sight of strong lords and light?
Where seven sunken Englands
Lie buried one by one,
Why should one idle spade, I wonder,
Shake up the dust of thanes like thunder
To smoke and choke the sun?
In cloud of clay so cast to heaven
What shape shall man discern?
These lords may light the mystery
Of mastery or victory,
And these ride high in history,
But these shall not return.
Gored on the Norman gonfalon
The Golden Dragon died:
We shall not wake with ballad strings
The good time of the smaller things,
We shall not see the holy kings
Ride down by Severn side.
Stiff, strange, and quaintly coloured
As the broidery of Bayeux
The England of that dawn remains,
And this of Alfred and the Danes
Seems like the tales a whole tribe feigns
Too English to be true.
Of a good king on an island
That ruled once on a time;
And as he walked by an apple tree
There came green devils out of the sea
With sea-plants trailing heavily
And tracks of opal slime.
Yet Alfred is no fairy tale;
His days as our days ran,
He also looked forth for an hour
On peopled plains and skies that lower,
From those few windows in the tower
That is the head of a man.
But who shall look from Alfred's hood
Or breathe his breath alive?
His century like a small dark cloud
Drifts far; it is an eyeless crowd,
Where the tortured trumpets scream aloud
And the dense arrows drive.
Lady, by one light only
We look from Alfred's eyes,
We know he saw athwart the wreck
The sign that hangs about your neck,
Where One more than Melchizedek
Is dead and never dies.
Therefore I bring these rhymes to you
Who brought the cross to me,
Since on you flaming without flaw
I saw the sign that Guthrum saw
When he let break his ships of awe,
And laid peace on the sea.
Do you remember when we went
Under a dragon moon,
And 'mid volcanic tints of night
Walked where they fought the unknown fight
And saw black trees on the battle-height,
Black thorn on Ethandune?
And I thought, "I will go with you,
As man with God has gone,
And wander with a wandering star,
The wandering heart of things that are,
The fiery cross of love and war
That like yourself, goes on."
O go you onward; where you are
Shall honour and laughter be,
Past purpled forest and pearled foam,
God's winged pavilion free to roam,
Your face, that is a wandering home,
A flying home for me.
Ride through the silent earthquake lands,
Wide as a waste is wide,
Across these days like deserts, when
Pride and a little scratching pen
Have dried and split the hearts of men,
Heart of the heroes, ride.
Up through an empty house of stars,
Being what heart you are,
Up the inhuman steeps of space
As on a staircase go in grace,
Carrying the firelight on your face
Beyond the loneliest star.
Take these; in memory of the hour
We strayed a space from home
And saw the smoke-hued hamlets, quaint
With Westland king and Westland saint,
And watched the western glory faint
Along the road to Frome.

Some of the references here (as in the rest of this poem) are a bit obscure.

gonfalon: banner, standard.
the Golden Dragon: used as a symbol of Wessex; it is unclear whether this symbol actually dates from before the Norman conquest
the broidery of Bayeux: The Bayeux Tapestry is a famous depiction of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest.
Melchizedek: Obscure Biblical figure from Genesis 14; the interpretation of him as a prefiguration of Jesus is from Hebrews 5:6

I will post more bits of Ballad of the White Horse as time permits.

Another long G. K. Chesterton poetic dedication, the one to The Man Who Was Thursday, has been blogged by John C. Wright here.

"God's World" -- Millay

Another Edna St. Vincent Millay piece. First published in Renascence and Other Poems.

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
   Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
   Thy mists that roll and rise!
Thy woods this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour!  That gaunt crag
To crush!  To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
   But never knew I this;
   Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart, -- Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me, -- let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Another Ficke sonnet
Yeah, a return to the Arthur Davison Ficke sonnets -- XLVIII in the 1914 edition of Sonnets of a Portrait-Painter. Unlike most of those in this sequence, this one is more or less a pure 'nature' poem.

The clouds that steal across the sun of June
Are swift; and out of them the sun comes free.
The mists that drift beneath the flying moon
Reveal new brightness of her wizardry.
Not so the shadows that on the spirit fall,
Moving like torrents that wind the mountain-steep.
Down from the slopes they bear beyond recall
Earth and flowers; their pathway is graven deep.
They wear the iron rock; they change the hills;
The slopes are torn; the peaks fall; the vales flood wide.
And when the waters cease, and sound of rills
Remains, the battle's echo, down the mountain-side,
Passers-by shall marvel, in far-off days--
"Here lie forever the torrent's ancient ways!"

Again, one I love for the pure sound pattern - "reveal new brightness of her wizardry", "when the waters cease, and sound of rills / Remains"...

G. K. Chesterton -- Ecclesiastes
There is one sin: to call a green leaf gray,
Whereat the sun in heaven shuddereth.
There is one blasphemy: for death to pray,
For God alone knoweth the praise of death.

There is one creed: ’neath no world-terror’s wing
Apples forget to grow on apple-trees.
There is one thing is needful everything
The rest is vanity of vanities.

Millay - from "The Lamp and the Bell"
Not sure why I like this bit so much, but I do.

Beat me a crown of bluer metal;
Fret it with stones of a foreign style:
The heart grows weary after a little
Of what it loved for a little while.

Weave me a robe of richer fibre;
Pattern its web with a rare device:
Give away to the child of a neighbour
This gold gown I was glad in twice.

But buy me a singer to sing one song--
Song about nothing--song about sheep--
Over and over all day long;
Patch me again my thread-bare sleep.

Millay -- Ode to Silence
This is one of Edna St. Vincent Millay's trickier works to a modern audience. In Millay's time it could be expected that educated people had a pretty wide knowledge of classical mythology, but this is no longer true. (Still, the stuff here isn't *too* obscure compared to, say, some of Swinburne's references, or even some of Ficke's stuff.) Notes at the end for those without a mythology background...

Ode to Silence

AYE, but she?
Your other sister and my other soul
Grave Silence, lovelier
Than the three loveliest maidens, what of her?
Clio, not you,
Not you, Calliope,
Nor all your wanton line,
Not Beauty's perfect self shall comfort me
For Silence once departed,
10 For her the cool-tongued, her the tranquil-hearted,
Whom evermore I follow wistfully,
Wandering Heaven and Earth and Hell and the four seasons through;

Thalia, not you,
Not you, Melpomene,
Not your incomparable feet, O thin Terpsichore,
I seek in this great hall,
But one more pale, more pensive, most beloved of you all.

I seek her from afar.
I come from temples where her altars are,
20 From groves that bear her name,
Noisy with stricken victims now and sacrificial flame,
And cymbals struck on high and strident faces
Obstreperous in her praise
They neither love nor know,
A goddess of gone days,
Departed long ago,
Abandoning the invaded shrines and fanes
Of her old sanctuary,
A deity obscure and legendary,
30 Of whom there now remains,
For sages to decipher and priests to garble,
Only and for a little while her letters wedged in marble,
Which even now, behold, the friendly mumbling rain erases,
And the inarticulate snow,
Leaving at last of her least signs and traces
None whatsoever, nor whither she is vanished from these places.
"She will love well," I said,
"If love be of that heart inhabiter,
The flowers of the dead;
40 The red anemone that with no sound
Moves in the wind, and from another wound
That sprang, the heavily-sweet blue hyacinth,
That blossoms underground,
And sallow poppies, will be dear to her.
And will not Silence know
In the black shade of what obsidian steep
Stiffens the white narcissus numb with sleep?
(Seed which Demeter's daughter bore from home,
Uptorn by desperate fingers long ago,
50 Reluctant even as she,
Undone Persephone,
An! even as she set out again to grow
In twilight, in perdition's lean and inauspicious loam).
She will love well," I said,
"The flowers of the dead;
Where dark Persephone the winter round,
Uncomforted for home, uncomforted,
Lacking a sunny southern slope in northern Sicily,
With sullen pupils focussed on a dream,
60 Stares on the stagnant stream
That moats the unequivocable battlements of Hell,
There, there will she be found,
She that is Beauty veiled from men and Music in a swound."

"I long for Silence as they long for breath
Whose helpless nostrils drink the bitter sea;
What thing can be
So stout, what so redoubtable, in Death
What fury, what considerable rage, if only she,
Upon whose icy breast,
70 Unquestioned, uncaressed,
One time I lay,
And whom always I lack,
Even to this day,
Being by no means from that frigid bosom weaned away,
If only she therewith be given me back?"

I sought her down that dolorous labyrinth,
Wherein no shaft of sunlight ever fell,
And in among the bloodless everywhere
I sought her, but the air,
80 Breathed many times and spent,
Was fretful with a whispering discontent,
And questioning me, importuning me to tell
Some slightest tidings of the light of day they know no more,
Plucking my sleeve, the eager shades were with me where I went.
I paused at every grievous door,
And harked a moment, holding up my hand, and for a space
A hush was on them, while they watched my face;
And then they fell a-whispering as before;
So that I smiled at them and left them, seeing she was not there.
90 I sought her, too,
Among the upper gods, although I knew
She was not like to be where feasting is,
Nor near to Heaven's lord,
Being a thing abhorred
And shunned of him, although a child of his,
(Not yours, not yours; to you she owes not breath,
Mother of Song, being sown of Zeus upon a dream of Death).
Fearing to pass unvisited some place
And later learn, too late, how all the while,
100 With her still face,
She had been standing there and seen me pass, without a smile,
I sought her even to the sagging board whereat
The stout immortals sat;
But such a laughter shook the mighty hall
No one could hear me say:
Had she been seen upon the Hill that day?
And no one knew at all
How long I stood, or when at last I sighed and went away.

There is a garden lying in a lull
110 Between the mountains and the mountainous sea,
I know not where, but which a dream diurnal
Paints on my lids a moment till the hull
Be lifted from the kernel
And Slumber fed to me.
Your foot-print is not there, Mnemosene,
Though it would seem a ruined place and after
Your lichenous heart, being full
Of broken columns, caryatides
Thrown to the earth and fallen forward on their jointless knees,
120 And urns funereal altered into dust
Minuter than the ashes of the dead,
And Psyche's lamp out of the earth up-thrust,
Dripping itself in marble wax on what was once the bed
Of Love, and his young body asleep, but now is dust instead.

There twists the bitter-sweet, the white wisteria
Fastens its fingers in the strangling wall,
And the wide crannies quicken with bright weeds;
There dumbly like a worm all day the still white orchid feeds;
But never an echo of your daughters' laughter
130 Is there, nor any sign of you at all
Swells fungous from the rotten bough, grey mother of Pieria!

Only her shadow once upon a stone
I saw,and, lo, the shadow and the garden, too, were gone.

I tell you you have done her body an ill,
You chatterers, you noisy crew !
She is not anywhere!
I sought her in deep Hell;
And through the world as well;
I thought of Heaven and I sought her there;
140 Above nor under ground
Is Silence to be found,
That was the very warp and woof of you,
Lovely before your songs began and after they were through !
Oh, say if on this hill
Somewhere your sister's body lies in death,
So I may follow there, and make a wreath
Of my locked hands, that on her quiet breast
Shall lie till age has withered them!

                 (Ah, sweetly from the rest
150 I see
Turn and consider me
Compassionate Euterpe!)
"There is a gate beyond the gate of Death,
Beyond the gate of everlasting Life,
Beyond the gates of Heaven and Hell", she saith,
"Whereon but to believe is horror !
Whereon to meditate engendereth
Even in deathless spirits such as I
A tumult in the breath,
160 A chilling of the inexhaustible blood
Even in my veins that never will be dry,
And in the austere, divine monotony
That is my being, the madness of an unaccustomed mood.

This is her province whom you lack and seek;
And seek her not elsewhere.
Hell is a thoroughfare
For pilgrims,Herakles,
And he that loved Euridice too well,
Have walked therein; and many more than these;
170 And witnessed the desire and the despair
Of souls that passed reluctantly and sicken for the air;
You, too, have entered Hell,
And issued thence; but thence whereof I speak
None has returned,for thither fury brings
Only the driven ghosts of them that flee before all things.
Oblivion is the name of this abode: and she is there."

Oh, radiant Song! Oh, gracious Memory!
Be long upon this height
I shall not climb again !
180 I know the way you mean,the little night,
And the long empty day,never to see
Again the angry light,
Or hear the hungry noises cry my brain !

Ah, but she,
Your other sister and my other soul,
She shall again be mine;
And I shall drink her from a silver bowl,
A chilly thin green wine,
Not bitter to the taste,
190 Not sweet,
Not of your press, oh, restless, clamorous nine,
To foam beneath the frantic hoofs of mirth
But savoring faintly of the acid earth,
And trod by pensive feet
From perfect clusters ripened without haste
Out of the urgent heat
In some clear glimmering vaulted twilight under the odorous vine.

Lift up your lyres ! Sing on!
But as for me, I seek your sister whither she is gone.

Lines 5-15: Clio, Calliope, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore. Five of the nine Muses, patronesses of the arts. (Specifically, the Muses of history, epic poetry, comedy, tragedy and dance.)

Lines 39-43: The flowers of the dead: In Greek mythology, the hyacinth sprang from the blood of Hyacinthus, accidentally killed by the god Apollo, and the anemone arose from the blood of Adonis, a mortal loved by the goddess Aphrodite, killed by a boar (which may have been the god Ares, another lover of Aphrodite).

Lines 48- 62: Demeter's daughter: Persephone, was the daughter of Demeter, goddess of grain and the earth's fertility. Persephone was kidnapped and married by Hades, god of the dead; Zeus king of the gods, was inclined to rule in Hades' favor, but the wrath and grief of Demeter made the whole earth barren. It was eventually agreed among the gods that Hades would spend half the year with Hades and half with her mother Demeter; this was said to cause summer and winter, as plants die when Demeter grieves for her daughter.

Line 61: The stagnant stream: Styx, poisonous river that was the boundary of the Underworld.

Line 97: Mother of Song: Mnemosyne (Millay's spelling Mnemosene), Memory, mother of the Muses.

Line 131: Pieria: Mountain of the Muses; thus Mnemosyne is here called 'mother of Pieria'.

Line 152: Euterpe: Muse of lyric poetry.

Line 167: Herakles: Greek equivalent of the Roman Hercules. Herakles descended into the Underworld to retrieve its guard-dog, Cerberus, as one of his Twelve Labors.

Line 168: he who loved Euridice too well: Orpheus, the great singer of Greek mythology, whose music could charm the rocks and trees, married Euridice (the more usual spelling is Eurydice). Shortly after their wedding, Eurydice died of a snakebite. The forlorn Orpheus descended to the Underworld,  playing music so lovely that its guardians did not bar his way. He went before Hades on his throne and sang a song so sad that even the famously inexorable god of the dead was moved; he agreed to allow Eurydice to return to life, if Orpheus did not look upon her till they had left the Underworld. Fearing Hades had lied to him and Eurydice was not there, Orpheus looked back, and she was again lost. Orpheus mourned for the remainder of his life and was eventually murdered by the Maenads.

Another A. D. Ficke poem - Portrait of a Violinist


THE tropic body forever crying its needs
And demanding its perilous splendors;
The heart forever homesick and desolate
Toward its inalienable kinships;
The mind ceaselessly pushing on
Its iron prow into the ice-fields;
The soul, loneliest of them all,
Weaving from their insistent clamors
And adventures and defeats and triumphs
An arabesque that shall have beauty,
That must have beauty, or it die. .

Hey, it's not a sonnet! :)

I absolutely love a lot of Ficke's phrases - 'tropic body', 'perilous splendors', the last line of this one...

Snowtimes (Ficke)


IS it Summer that you crave —
Swallows dipping wing—
Evening light across the wave —
Or some remoter thing?

Some report of happier places —
Golden times and lands —
New and wonder-laden faces —
New and eager hands?

Nay, you know not. . . . But I know
Round you cold is furled
Like this shroud of trampled snow
That smothers up the world —

Where no trust in any Spring
Now can heal or save,
Nor the icy sunlight bring
Swallows o'er the wave.

Not a sonnet this time!

More Ficke

Two more Ficke sonnets from Sonnets of a Portrait-Painter, fitting my mood today...

 I love the first four lines of this one, especially "midnight argent mad moon-archery".


This is a record of what has not been,

Is not, and never while time lasts can be.

It is a tale of lights down rain-gusts seen,—

Of midnight argent mad moon-archery.

Ah, life that vexes all men plagued us most!

And made us motes in winds that blew from far,—

Credulous of the whispers of a ghost,—

Fain of the light of some long-quenched star.

What were you that I loved you? What was I

That I perturbed you? Shapes of restless sleep!

A shadow from a cloud that hurried by,—

A ripple of great powers that stirred the deep.

And we, too supple for life's storms to break,

Writhed at a dream's touch, for a shadow's sake!

And this one is wonderful, especially the last two lines -- I know someone like that!


You are not peace, you are not happiness;

I look not on you with content or trust;

Nor is there in you aught with power to bless

Or heal my spirit weary of life's dust.

No, you are that which, on a leaden day,

As endless clouds sluggish with rain pass by,

Leaps brilliant once across the sullen grey,

A vivid lightning-gleam in that dead sky.

And I, whose days of sun or cloud have grown

Changelessly furled in one grey monstrous pall,

I thirst for fierce lights, triumphs, trumpets blown,

And you, most wild and passionate of all,—

You, the bright madness lightening the curse

Of reason's dull reign in the universe.


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