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Title: A Prelude
Author: Sherman, Francis
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Prelude" ***

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                               A PRELUDE


                            Francis Sherman



                          _Privately Printed_
                             _at Christmas_
                                 _1897_



                               A Prelude


    Watching the tremulous flicker of the green
    Against the open quiet of the sky,
    I hear my ancient way-fellows convene

    In the great wood behind me.  Where I lie
    They may not see me; for the grasses grow
    As though no foot save June’s had wandered by;

    Yet I, who am well-hidden, surely know,
    As I have waited them, they yearn for me
    To lead them whither they are fain to go.

    Weary as I, are they, O Time, of thee!
    Yea, we, who once were glad only of Spring,
    Gather about thy wall and would be free!

    With wounded feet we cease from wandering,
    And with vain hands beat idly at thy gate;
    And thou,—thou hast no thought of opening,
    And from thy peace are we still separate.


    Yet, comrades, though ye come together there,
    And search across the shadows for my face,
    Until the pines murmur of your despair,

    I think I shall not tell my hiding-place,
    For ye know not the path ye would pursue,
    And it is late our footsteps to retrace.

    Too weak am I, and now not one of you—
    So weary are ye of each ancient way—
    Retaineth strength enough to seek a new;

    And ye are blind—knowing not night from day;
    Crying at noontime, "Let us see the sun!"
    And with the even, "O for rest, we pray!"

    O Blind and fearful!  Shall I, who have won
    At last this little portion of content,
    Yield all to be with you again undone?

    Because ye languish in your prisonment
    Must I now hearken to your bitter cry?
    Must I forego, as ye long since forewent,

    My vision of the far-off open sky?
    Nay!  Earth hath much ungiven she yet may give;
    And though to-day your laboring souls would die,
    From earth my soul gaineth the strength to live.


    O covering grasses!  O Unchanging trees!
    Is it not good to feel the odorous wind
    Come down upon you with such harmonies

    Only the giant hills can ever find?
    O little leaves, are ye not glad to be?
    Is not the sunlight fair, the shadow kind,

    That falls at noon-time over you and me?
    O gleam of birches lost among the firs,
    Let your high treble chime in silverly

    Across the half-imagined wind that stirs
    A muffled organ-music from the pines!
    Earth knows to-day that not one note of hers

    Is minor.  For, behold, the loud sun shines
    Till the young maples are no longer gray,
    And stronger grow their faint, uncertain lines

    Each violet takes a deeper blue to-day,
    And purpler swell the cones hung overhead,
    Until the sound of their far feet who

    About the wood, fades from me; and, instead,
    I hear a robin singing—not as one
    That calls unto his mate, uncomforted—
    But as one sings a welcome to the sun.


    Not among men, or near men-fashioned things,
    In the old years found I this present ease,
    Though I have known the fellowship of kings

    And tarried long in splendid palaces.
    The worship of vast peoples has been mine,
    The homage of uncounted pageantries.

    Sea-offerings, and fruits of field and vine
    Have humble folk been proud to bring to me;
    And woven cloths of wonderful design

    Have lain untouched in far lands over-sea,
    Till the rich traffickers beheld my sails.
    Long caravans have toiled on wearily—

    Harassed yet watchful of their costly bales—
    Across wide sandy places, glad to bear
    Strange oils and perfumes strained in Indian vales,

    Great gleaming rubies torn from some queen’s hair,
    Yellow, long-hoarded coin and golded dust,
    Deeming that I would find their offerings fair.

    —O fairness quick to fade!  Ashes and rust
    And food for moths!  O half-remembered things
    Once altar-set!—I think when one is thrust

    Far down in the under-world, where the worm clings
    Close to the newly-dead, among the dead
    Not one awakes to ask what gift she brings.

    The color of her eyes, her hair outspread
    In the moist wind that stifles ere it blows,
    Falls on unwatching eyes; and no man knows
    The gracious odors that her garments shed.


    And she, unwearied yet and not grown wise,
    Follows a little while her devious way
    Across the twilight; where no voice replies

    When her voice calls, bravely; and where to-day
    Is even as yesterday and all days were.
    Great houses loom up swiftly, out of the gray.

    Knocking at last, the gradual echoes stir
    The hangings of unhaunted passages;
    Until she surely knows only for her

    Has this House hoarded up its silences
    Since the beginning of the early years,
    And that this night her soul shall dwell at ease

    And grow forgetful of its ancient fears
    In some long-kept, unviolated room.
    And so the quiet city no more hears
    Her footsteps, and the streets their dust resume.


    But what have I to do with her and death
    Who hold these living grasses in my hands,—
    With her who liveth not, yet sorroweth?

    (For it shall chance, however close the bands
    Of sleep be drawn about her, nevertheless
    She must remember alway the old lands

    She wandered in, and their old hollowness.)
    —Awaiting here the strong word of the trees,
    My soul leans over to the wind’s caress,

    One with the flowers; far off, it hears the sea’s
    Rumor of large, unmeasured things, and yet
    It has no yearning to remix with these.

    For the pines whisper, lest it may forget,
    Of the near pool; and how the shadow lies
    On it forever; and of its edges, set

    With maiden-hair; and how, in guardian-wise,
    The alder trees bend over, until one
    Forgets the color of the unseen skies

    And loses all remembrance of the sun.
    No echo there of the sea’s loss and pain;
    Nor sound of little rivers, even, that run

    Where with the wind the hollow reeds complain;
    Nor the soft stir of marsh-waters, when dawn
    Comes in with quiet covering of rain:

    Only, all day, the shadow of peace upon
    The pool’s gray breast; and with the fall of even,
    The noiseless gleam of scattered stars—withdrawn
    From the unfathomed treasuries of heaven.


    And as the sea has not the strength to win
    Back to its love my soul, O Comrades, ye—
    In the wood lost, and seeking me therein—

    Are not less impotent than all the sea!
    My soul at last its ultimate house hath won,
    And in that house shall sleep along with me.

    Yea, we shall slumber softly, out of the sun,
    To day and night alike indifferent,
    Aware and unaware if Time be done.

    Yet ere I go, ere yet your faith be spent,
    For our old love I pass Earth’s message on:
    "In me, why shouldst thou not find thy content?

    "Are not my days surpassing fair, from dawn
    To sunset, and my nights fulfilled with peace?
    Shall not my strength remain when thou art gone

    "The way of all blown dust?  Shall Beauty cease
    Upon my face because thy face grows gray?
    Behold, thine hours, even now, fade and decrease,

    "And thou hast got no wisdom; yet I say
    This thing there is to learn ere thou must go:
    _Have no sad thoughts of me upon the way_

    "_Thou takest home coming; for thy soul shall know_
    _The old glad things and sorrowful its share_
    _Until at last Time’s legions overthrow_
    _The House thy days have builded unaware._"


    Now therefore am I joyful who have heard
    Earth’s message plain to-day, and so I cry
    Aloud to you, O Comrades, her last word,

    That ye may be as wise and glad as I,
    And the long grasses, and the broad green leaves
    That beat against the far, unclouded sky:

    _Who worships me alway, who alway cleaves_
    _Close unto me till his last call rings clear_
    _Across the pathless wood,—his soul receives_
    _My peace continually and shall not fear._



                      A PRELUDE WRITTEN BY FRANCIS
                    SHERMAN IS PRIVATELY PRINTED FOR
                      HIM AND FOR HERBERT COPELAND
                    AND F. H. DAY AND THEIR FRIENDS
                        CHRISTMAS M D CCC XCVII





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