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Title: Shylock reasons with Mr. Chesterton - And other poems
Author: Wolfe, Humbert
Language: English
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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.

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                         SHYLOCK REASONS WITH
                            MR. CHESTERTON

                            AND OTHER POEMS


                             HUMBERT WOLFE

                               Author of

                           “LONDON SONNETS.”


                            BASIL BLACKWELL



    Only this--that when I’ve done with wearing
      Gold words upon my heart and reaching after
    My immortality, I shall be hearing
      Then, and long afterwards (be sure!) your laughter.

    Only this--that when I come to sleeping
      And later men appraise me in the quarrels
    Of poets and the bays, tell them I’m keeping
      No bays, but at my heart a lover’s laurels.

Some of these poems have appeared in “The Saturday Review,” “The
Westminster Gazette,” and “The Saturday Westminster Gazette.” They are
republished by the courtesy of the editors of those journals.





Shylock reasons with Mr. Chesterton                                    7

The Unknown God:

   I. Pheidias                                                        12

  II. Paul                                                            16

Cassio hears Othello                                                  22

The First Airman                                                      23

Mary                                                                  24

The Sicilian Expedition                                               27

Caesar and Anthony                                                    30

The Dancers                                                           31

Battersea                                                             32

The Woodcutters of Hütteldorf                                         33

Heine’s Last Song                                                     37


The Satyr                                                             39

Balder’s Song                                                         40

Mary the Mother                                                       42

Apples                                                                43

The Skies                                                             44

Three Epitaphs:

I. Flecker                                                            45

II. Edith Cavell                                                      45

III. The Little Sleeper                                               45

To him whom the cap fits                                              46

France                                                                47

Alchemy                                                               48

Orpheus                                                               49

The Wind                                                              50

Gabriel                                                               51

Opals and Amber                                                       52

After Battle                                                          53

Mademoiselle de Maupin                                                54

Du Bist wie eine Blume                                                54

Cambridge                                                             55

A Room in Bohemia                                                     55

Victory                                                               56

Cleopatra                                                             56

Medusa                                                                57

The Jungle                                                            58

The Pencil                                                            59

Columbine                                                             60

The Crowder’s Tune                                                    61

ENVOI                                                        63



    Jew-baiting still! Two thousand years are run
    And still, it seems, good Master Chesterton,
    Nothing’s abated of the old offence.
    Changing its shape, it never changes tense.
    Other things were, this only was and is.
    And whether Judas murder with a kiss,
    Or Shylock catch a Christian with a gin,
    All all’s the same--the first enormous sin
    Traps Judas in the moneylender’s mesh
    And cuts from Jesus’ side the pound of flesh.
    Nor is this all the punishment. For still
    Through centuries to suffer were no ill
    If we in human axes and the rod
    Discerned the high pro-consulate of God
    Chastening his people. But we are not chastened.
    Age after age upon our hearts is fastened
    The same cold malice, and for all they bleed
    They burn for ever with unchanging greed.
    Grosser with suffering we grow, and one
    Calls to another “If in Babylon
    Are gold and silver, be content with them,
    Better found gold than lost Jerusalem.”
    They forget Zion; in the market place
    Rebuild the Temple for the Jewish race,
    And thus from age to age do Jews like me
    Have their revenge on Christianity,
    Since thus from age to age Christians like you
    Unchristian grow in hounding down the Jew.
    And thus from age to age His will is done,
    And Shylock’s sins produce a Chesterton.

    But since we both must suffer and both are
    Bound in the orb of one outrageous star,
    Hater and hated, for a little while
    Let us together watch how mile on mile
    The heavenly moon, all milky white, regains
    Her gentle empery, and smooths the stains
    Of red our star left in her heaven, thus
    Bringing a respite even unto us
    Before the red star strikes again. The riot
    Of the heart for a moment sinks, and in the quiet
    Like a cool bandage on the forehead be
    Content a second with tranquillity.
    And from your lips the secular taunt of dog
    Banish, to hear what in the synagogue
    We heard once at Barmitzvah (as we call
    The confirmation, when the praying shawl
    Is for the first time worn, and the boy waits
    For law and manhood at the altar gates).
    Whether ’tis true or no, it shall be true
    just long enough to build a bridge to you,
    That hangs a shining second till your laughter
    Reminds me of my ducats and my daughter.

    It happened thus. When the last “adonoi”
    Had faltered into silence of some boy
    Whose voice was all a silver miracle
    Of water, a voice echoed “Israel,”
    A sweeter voice than even his, but broken
    With a sorrowful thrill, as though the heart had spoken
    Of countless generations doomed to pain
    And none to ease them found. It cried again,
    Or so we thought who listened, “Ye do well
    To let the children come, O Israel,
    But even these are lost and unforgiven,
    Since not of these His kingdom and His heaven
    Who at their fathers’ fathers’ hands was sold
    In Calvary; and not their voice, though gold,
    Nor innocent eyes, nor ways that children have
    Of magic in their reaching hands, can save.
    For, though ye offer these as sacrifice,
    A nation’s childhood is too small a price
    To pay the interest upon the debt
    That all your sorrows cannot liquidate.
    O what a usury our God has made
    On thirty pieces that the high priest paid!
    Profit was none, but from the first the loss
    That grew of the fourth ghost upon the Cross.
    Two on the Cross were seen at Jesus’ side,
    The fourth, the fourth unseen and crucified
    With piercéd hands and feet, and heart as well,
    The ghost betrayed of traitor Israel.
    Yourselves ye bought and sold, yourselves decreed
    To the end of the world your doom. For who will heed
    The prayer or utter mercy on a child,
    However sweet he call? The heart is wild
    Of your own ghost, and not the softest lamb
    Of God escapes his sentence. For I am
    The wraith of all your children from the first
    Long ere their birth inexorably cursed.”
    None saw the ghost. Some said it was the boy
    That spoke. Yet someone answered “adonoi,
    Thy will be done” and it was finished. All
    Closer about their foreheads drew the shawl
    Fearing to see, and as the darkness grows
    Deeper save where above the altar glows
    One lamp, in hearts that Pharoah would unharden
    For pity rises not a cry for pardon,
    But to the Mills of God a bitter call
    “Grind quickly, since ye grind exceeding small!”

    That is the tale. But mark, the moon in heaven
    Is hid with clouds. This little time was given
    To peace and to remembering one another
    Who might have been (God knows) brother with brother.
    But since ’tis over and the peace is done
    Shylock returns and with him Chesterton.

                   THE UNKNOWN GOD.

    “Whom you ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you.”

                   I. PHEIDIAS.

    Pheidias, the sculptor, dying bade them set
    His last-cut marble near lest he forget,
    Travelling, where beauty ends, what beauty is
    In the world and the light no longer his.
    And while they brought it, women, as they use,
    Sang in the house the litany of Zeus
    That is the god of gods, yet could not save
    His own beloved lady from the grave.
    “The dearest head” they sung, “yea even her’s,
    Whose hair was like a harp, when the wind stirs
    Upon the strings and wakes them, golden hair,
    Must droop upon the ground and perish there--
    Even her hair (the women sung), alas
    For loveliness! wherein Olympus was
    Lost for a god and found, when he, with mist
    About him of its glory twist on twist,
    Found on her mouth, more passionate for this,
    Mortality, that trembled in the kiss
   --Even that hair, for all a high god’s art,
    Long since is dust, and dust that was her heart.”
    This song of ending in the darkness came
    To Pheidias in the courtyard, where the flame
    Of torches threw a final light and shewed
    Two pillars of the house, a turn of road
    That led (he thought) beyond all sight, and he
    Must walk it with a quiet company
   --The cold imagined gods, no prayer might cozen
    To help him on the way, immortal, frozen
    Glimpses of deity his hand, creating
    In marble out of his heart where they were waiting
    For life, had carved, and given them instead
    Of life the eternal gesture of the dead.
    He with those gods must walk, since he had grown
    Into their silence, and had made his own
    Their longings thus imprisoned, and their heart
    On one beat fixed for ever. He must start
    To follow, but before his striving spirit
    Steps out upon the road or falters near it,
    One god, that guards the passage, waiting stands--
    His latest marble, made like those, with hands,
    Fashioned, like those, of a man’s dreams, but overstepping
    His maker’s mind, and into a glory sweeping
    No man might share. For the great forehead lifted
    Out of the shade of life, and light had shifted
    Her quality, whose radiant indecision
    Found, though the eyes were closed, consummate vision.
    This was the god that dying Pheidias
    Had beaten out of marble. This he was,
    And would not share with other gods their death
    In beauty, but was living with the breath
    Of his creator, who with death at strife
    Laid down his own to give his creature life.
    This god they brought to Pheidias, for whom
    The whole great world had been a little room,
    Which he had used, as others use, but he
    Looked through the window on eternity.
    And seeing his god, upon his mind the cloud
    Faded an instant, and he cried aloud,
    As though all Hellas heard him, “O be proud
    Of beauty, Hellas, nor be curious
    Of what the secret is that haunted us
    Your poets, who had strained to it, and after
    Lay down to sleep, sealing their lips with laughter.
    For laughter is the judgment of the wise,
    Who measure equally with level eyes
    What the world is, what gods, and what are men,
    And twixt too great a joy, too sharp a pain,
    Strikes on a balance, so that tears are shot
    With laughter, laughter with tears, and these are not
    Themselves, but greater than themselves, and each
    From other learns and doth to other teach.
    We are content with beauty thus, who find
    That when all’s done--sculpture or song--behind
    What we have carved or sung, a greater thing
    Startles the heart with movement of a wing
    We neither see nor dare see. For our thought
    Is larger than we know, and what we sought
    Passes and has forgotten; what we do,
    The truth we did not guess at pierces through,
    If what was done was well done. This last bust
    Of mine not as I willed but as I must
    I carved, and now, at the end of all, I can
    See that the dream he does not dream is man.
    The earlier gods I carved and knew, they wait
    My coming as their master at the gate
    Of death, for what I knew is mine to have,
    Live with my life, and wither in my grave.
    Thus beauty known is fading, known love fades,
    And the truth we know a shadow in the shades,
    And only that which lies beyond our hands,
    Beauty, no earth-bound spirit understands,
    But guesses at and faints for in desire;
    And love, that does not burn, because the fire
    Is lit beyond the world, and truth that dies
    Beyond our thoughts in unimagined lies
    That are the truth beyond truth, only these
    Are lasting and outwit our memories.
    But the familiar gods that I have made--
    With those I will not walk. O be afraid
    Of beauty attainable and love attained
    And limited immortality. Unchained
    The greatest soul must walk and walk alone
    With what it has not seen and has not known!”
    Thus Pheidias spoke and presently the flame
    Of torches died, his god that had no name
   --His latest statue--watched his spirit pass
    And the dawn came that knew not Pheidias.

               II. PAUL.

    Paul the apostle, on the sacred hill
    Of Mars at Athens, felt a hidden will
    Working against his gospel. That was old
    (It seemed), yet had the thrust of boyhood cold,
    Yet tempered in wild fires, and sensing this
    He prayed in silence. The Acropolis,
    Making a final bid for beauty, took
    The dying sun to her heart with the wild look
    As of a woman yielding to her lover;
    And he in flame confederate leaning over
    With armfuls of clouded roses, blossom on blossom,
    Rifled the sweets of evening, and for her bosom
    Dismantling heaven’s high pavilion
    With tumbled beauties wooed her thus and won.

    This Paul from prayer rising saw, nor cared,
    Watching a Cross in the East, if these had snared
    The West with meshes trailing from the wrist
    Of Venus, also an Evangelist.
    “So little is the conquest of the flesh,
    So like a spinner, weaving her small mesh
   --And a boy tears it as he passes by--
    Embroiders fruitlessly her tapestry
    The Paphian woman, and the threads are thin
    And ghostly as the new light enters in--
    The tapestry that was the world and all
    The curtain Jesus tears aside” says Paul:
    “What is there worshipful here? These skies are fleeting,
    This beauty made by hands of the sun is beating
    Into the night that swallows her, and none
    Is warm, when night has fallen, with the sun;
    And the whole frame of the celestial
    Firmament, though dusted with the stars, must fall
    As being under death, and change in Hell,
    When death is conquered, her corruptible
    Beauty, and at the trumpet’s sound put on,
    As ye must also, incorruption.”
    And while he spoke the curtain of the sky
    Night fretted with the cool embroidery
    Of stars, and the moon upon her silent spindle
    Did all the velvet warp to silver kindle.
    But a young man of the philosophers,
    Who stood about him, said “The moonlight stirs
    With beauty in the heart, and in the mind
    The things that seem do such a glory find
    Lit with this wonder of the moon and star,
    As almost to persuade us that they are,
    But these we know are broken images
    Of patterns laid-up in heaven. Socrates,
    A citizen of Athens, was betrayed
    To death for teaching this, and smiling laid
    His cup of hemlock down, because his heart
    Already of eternity was part,
    And death for such is freedom. Yet for this
    He did surrender the Acropolis,
    That had all Hellas for a coronet
    About her forehead radiantly set,
    Island on island, and for this forsook
    The friendship of his friends, his dreams, the look
    Of hesitating spring that dare not stay
    Yet will not leave the hills of Attica.
    For this all gifts, all memories, he gave
    Freely believing that the narrow grave
    Was the end of all. Thus he passed out alone,
    Content to face the gods no man had known
    Because they beggar knowledge, and persuaded
    It was enough, that, when for him had faded
    The light, for us his death a light had lit
    Would shew a path and we might walk by it.
    ‘This is the spirit of man; in vain it reaches
    Beyond the limits ordained and vainly stretches
    To where truth, beauty, goodness, three in one,
    Find each in all supreme communion.
    For what is greater than we know,’ he said
    ‘It is well to die,’ and smiling he was dead.
    This he believed, all this he sacrificed.
    Did he teach better, Jew, whom you call Christ?”

    A cloud passed by the moon, and no one spoke,
    Till suddenly her silver spear-head broke
    The cloudy targe, and leaning from the place
    She has in heaven struck with light the face
    Of Pheidias’ god. And Paul cried “Even thus
    Ye have your answer, superstitious
    Who set this idol up, and worshipped it
    In darkness, and behold the face is lit
    With fire from on high. A period
    Is set to ignorance and to the god
    Ye ignorantly worship, and the stone
    Or marble of the god ye have not known,
    Changes beneath my hand and in my speech
    Unto the living god I know and preach.
    Do you rejoice because that Socrates
    Died facing death and dark? I tell you these
    In Christ are conquered. Death has lost her sting,
    The dark her victory, and angels sing
    At the empty mouth of the grave, because my king
    Has made the grave a refuge and protection
    From the pain of living by His resurrection.
    Socrates sleeps; the god he did not know
    Sleeps with him, and long since the grasses grow
    Above their resting place, but flowers reach
    In vain their roots to find Him whom I preach.
    He is not there, but though we darkly see,
    As in a glass, his immortality
    Waits for us all, and beckons in the place
    Where we who find Him see Him face to face.
    Socrates, to death a prisoner, did well,
    But death was all; Christ by the miracle
    Of the open grave, his deity forsaken,
    For all the world has death a prisoner taken.
    Nor Socrates in vain all sacrificed
    If here his fruitless death has pled for Christ.”
    Dionysius the Areopagite
    Cried loudly unto Paul “Were it not right
    To shatter on his marble pedestal
    This idol that has stood for death?” and Paul
    Answered “What say ye brethren, for His sake
    Who vanquished death shall we the idol break?”
    But even as Paul raised his hand the light
    Faded upon the sculptured face. The night
    Cloaked it, and, though Paul pressed, the threatened blow
    Hung in the air and fell not. For a low
    Strange glory changed upon the face, and seemed
    A face that Paul had seen before or dreamed
    To see when near Damascus, and instead
    Of Pheidias’ god unknown another Head
    Sorrowful-sweet on Paul astonished shone
    And, ere his threatening hand could fall, was gone.
    But a voice whispered “Art thou after all
    Thine unknown God still persecuting, Saul?”

                 CASSIO HEARS OTHELLO.

    Thus for the last last time with the first kiss!
    O my white bird, here is the precipice!
    I throw you like a homing carrier
    Into the footless spaces of the air!
    And your spread wings, set free, beat up and out
    In mounting circles, storming death’s redoubt
    And the cloudy fortress of Avilion.
    Gone, my white bird, beyond all dreaming, gone!
    And my hands warm that held her. Cassio
    It was well done! Always to let her go
    In the grave they shall be open thus, and yet
    Feeling the half-poised wings--poor hands! Forget
    My madness, Cassio, and think of me
    As of a man who set his sea-bird free
    From the prison of his heart to see her win
    The deep blue floors of heaven and enter in.
    O I am glad, I am glad, I dared this thing.
    Even now my bird is home, awakening
    Among her shining sisters, far--so far,
    Not even the thoughts I have can trouble her.
    So carve upon the stone that marks my grave:
    “All that he had to death Othello gave,
    And has kept nothing back but the sweet wound
    Of life, that grew so dear, because he found
    The mortal knife, that stabbed him, slit the strings
    That gave his bird the guerdon of her wings.”

                   THE FIRST AIRMAN.

    Give me the wings, magician. I will know
    What blooms on airy precipices grow
    That no hand plucks, large unexpected blossoms,
    Scentless, with cry of curlews in their bosoms,
    And the great winds like grasses where their stems
    Spangle the universe with diadems.
    I will pluck those flowers and those grasses, I,
    Icarus, drowning upwards through the sky
    With air that closes underneath my feet
    As water above the diver. I will meet
    Life with the dawn in heaven, and my fingers
    Dipped in the golden floss of hair that lingers
    Across the unveiled spaces and makes them colder,
    As a woman’s hair across her naked shoulder.
    Death with the powdered stars will walk and pass
    Like a man’s breath upon a looking-glass,
    For a suspended heart-beat making dim
    Heaven brighter afterwards because of him.

    Give me the wings, magician. So their tune
    Mix with the silver trumpets of the moon
    And, beyond music mounting, clean outrun
    The golden diapason of the sun.
    There is a secret that the birds are learning
    Where the long lanes in heaven have a turning
    And no man yet has followed; therefore these
    Laugh hauntingly across our usual seas.
    I’ll not be mocked by curlews in the sky;
    Give me the wings magician, or I die.

    His call for wings or death was heard and thus
    Came both to the first airman, Icarus.


                 (Sister of Martha.)

    There was no star in the East the night I came
    With spikenard in hushed Jerusalem--
    But a light in an upper chamber dimly lit
    Was star enough--I would have followed it
    Through lonelier streets unto the smaller room
    Where afterwards it blossomed in the tomb.
    Light of the world, but how much more to me
    The light that other women also see!
    No choiring angels in gold groups adored
    Their king that night, but searching for my Lord
    Unchoired, uncrowned, whose Kingdom had not come,
    I heard none call, but dumb, as death is dumb,
    The night misled his angels, or may be
    Night and the angels made a way for me.
    My footfalls in the street rang very clear
    As I drew on. It seemed that all must hear
    My coming, eyes that peered behind the grating,
    Cloaked hands to hold me at each corner waiting.
    But nothing stirred till suddenly there ran
    The flame of the moon in heaven for a span
    Less than a heart-beat, and I saw a man
    Steal out of Simon’s house, and pass me by
    With such a horror on his lips that I,
    Also a traitor, shrunk and knew him not--
    Him that was Judas called Iscariot.
    Also a traitor I, because I came
    Not worshipping the Master in that Name
    That his disciples called him, not the Christ
    Of God for me that night. I sought a tryst
    With a man of men, and if my heart had won
    The Son of God had died in Mary’s son,
    And he, who, knowing the appointed evil,
    Sent forth Iscariot to his task, a devil,
    Also accepted, though this was more hard,
    The sweet betrayal of the spikenard.
    He knew me what I meant and in his eyes,
    That for a moment smiled, was Paradise
    Lost unto love, that for the greater sin
    Than even Judas’ might not enter in.
    And when the disciples would have stayed my hands,
    “She does but good” He said “she understands.”
    And I who poured the unguent understood,
    But good it was not, as a man means good.
    For I forget the Master, I but see
    (A woman taken in adultery
    With a dream and a dream) his human face
    I would have saved from God, and in the place
    Of Gospel and of resurrection I
    Hear him say “Mary” and behold him die.
    Judas, to death who sold him for a kiss,
    Sinned less than I, who’d buy him back for this.
    And Christ forgave me--How shall I forgive
    Jesus, my love, the man who would not live?


    To-day the Triremes sailed for Sicily
    With no wind stirring on a soundless sea;
    But a great crying of birds beat up and filled
    The empty caverns of the air and stilled
    The thrashing of the oars. The level sun
    Unto himself, it seemed, drew one by one
    With strings of gold the ships that no one heard
    Move on the waters, till at last one bird
    (Of all the wings past knowledge and past counting)
    Wheeled upwards on the air and mounting, mounting,
    Rose out of human sight, but all the rest
    Passed with the passing fleet into the West.

    To-day the Triremes sailed--and will their sailing
    Prosper or fail because a gull was wailing
    For crumbs about the prows? Who but a fool
    Would find a message in a screaming gull?
    For if gods use such messengers as these
    The less gods they (or so says Socrates).
    They are not gods (he says) of fear and hate,
    A swollen type of man degenerate,
    Catching at flattery, at sorrow fleering
    And every spiteful whisper overhearing;
    But largely on their mountain they attend
    Unflinchingly the one appointed end,
    When what was nobly done and finely striven
    Will find the archetype laid up in heaven.
    Not these by gulls pronounce or suffer doom,
    Nor cries among the ships (and yet the gloom
    Settles about Athene’s temple. If
    An injured god used his prerogative
    Of anger, might not Hermes?)--that’s the gull
    Stirring the superstition of a fool!
    What if a week ago we, waking, found
    The Hermae spoiled or fallen to the ground?
    Shall Fate be altered or a doom be spoken
    Because an image was in malice broken?
    Or Athens, that remembers Marathon,
    Rock in her empire for a splintered stone?
    How dear she is--was never city else
    So loved, or lovely in her strength; like bells
    Pealed in the brain her beauty. This is she,
    Athens, whose sweeter name is liberty.

    To-day the Triremes sailed--as Zeus decrees
    All shall be done; but hardly Socrates,
    As Westward in the dark our captains wear,
    Would frown if an Athenian spoke a prayer
    Even to Hermes, (even though it seem
    We fear the flight of birds and cries in him),
    Thus saying simply for the love of her--
    Athens--“O Hermes, called the Messenger,
    God of the wings, since now the sails are set,
    If aught was evil, evil now forget!
    If aught was left undone, think not of this
    But her remember, Hermes, what she is,
    A city leaning to the sea, and shod
    With freedom on her feet, as thou a god
    With wings art poised for flight--O, if the gull
    Were bird of thine, Hermes, be merciful.”

                  CAESAR AND ANTHONY.

    Augustus Caesar, aging by the sea,
    Remembered, musingly, dead Anthony,
    And wondered as he thought upon his days
    Which had been better, laurel leaves or bays.
    “Bays for the victor, when his fight is over,
    But laurels” thought Augustus “for the lover.
    That brown Egyptian woman, the fierce queen
    Who with a serpent died--she came between
    Him and the world’s dominion, whispering
    ‘Does empire burn so, has thy crown the sting
    These lips have when they touch thee--thus and thus?
    Choose then!’ ‘I choose!’ replied Antonius.”
    “I wonder” thought Augustus as he lay
    Watching the menial clouds of conquered day
    Applaud with vehement reflection
    The cold triumphant ending of the sun.
    “The sun’s an emperor, and all the sky
    Burns to a flame for his nativity,
    And not less beautiful nor unattended
    By conquered flocks of cloud he passes splendid,
    Throwing his slaves this laminated gold.
    Master in death, but in his death how cold!
    But to have died astonished on a kiss
    Had heat to the end and Anthony had this.”

                     THE DANCERS.

    This was the way of it, or I forget
    How visions end. The flaming sun was set
    Or setting in a sky as green as grass,
    Stained here and there like a window, where there was
    A martyr-cloud with halo dipped in gold
    Or red as the Sacred Heart is. From the old
    Low house--a country house not built with hands
    And of that country where the poplar stands
    Whose leaves have shivered in our dreams--there came
    With the rising moon the dancers to the same
    Tune we have heard we scarce remember when,
    Nor care so only that it sound again.
    Each dancer wears a fancy for a dress,
    This one with starlike tears is gemmed no less
    Than that is crowned with roses as of lips
    That kissed and do not kiss. There also trips
    Pierrot, because we all have lost, and thin,
    Cruelly swift, victorious Harlequin,
    Because some find and keep, but both entwine,
    Because she needs them both, with Columbine.
    Then lanterns on the trees to radiant fruit
    Burn till dawn plucks them, and the light pursuit
    Of dancers on the lawn is done, and laughter
    Of those who fled and those who followed after
    Dies; to a little wind the darkened trees
    Bend gravely and resume their silences.


    I have always known just where the river ends
    (Or seems to end) that I shall find my friends,
    Who are my friends no longer, being dead,
    And hear the ordinary things they said,
    That now seem wonderful, some evening when
    I take the Number Nineteen bus again
    To Battersea. It will, I think, be clear
    With stars behind the four great chimneys. Dear
    In the moon, young and unchanging, they
    Will cry me welcome in the boyish way
    They had before they went to France, but I,
    A boy no more, will greet them silently.


     “The plan by which individual Viennese are allowed to obtain their
     own wood supplies has already been described by more than one
     observer. It will, however, in time to come appear so incredible,
     and it so completely sums up the misery of the people and the
     breakdown of civilization and administration, that no excuse is
     needed for placing it once more formally and definitely on record.

     In the immediate neighbourhood of Vienna lies a forest known as the
     Wienerwald, the nearest point being on hills to the north, two or
     three miles from the centre of the city.

     The two chief centres of wood collection are the suburbs of
     Hütteldorf and Dorhbach.

     The prevalence of women and children among the collectors is the
     most painful feature of the proceedings.”

    _From_ “Peace in Austria,” _by Sir W. Beveridge_.

    Nous n’irons plus au bois: the woods are shut:
    Les lauriers sont coupés: the laurels cut.
    Thus love, when still his pitiful sweet cry
    For youth and spring, his play-boys, sensibly
    Touched at the heart. But now he does not care
    What woods, what trees are standing anywhere.
    For there’s no wood in the world to be found
    That does not stab his feet, and the trees wound
    His eyes with thorns--the eyes which did not see
    In joy, but find their sight in misery.

    There is a wood they named the Wienerwald.
    There when the spring was new the throstle called
    Spring to her ball-room, and the Viennese
    Heard her light foot provoking the grave trees,
    Half willingly at first, young leaves to stir,
    That later passionately danced with her.
    And here the cannon-fodder used to feed
    The altar-fire of the older need,
    And sweeter than the need of death. In spring
    The Austrian boys saw love awakening
    Here, and as English boys in English wood
    Have given all to love, all that they could
    These gave--their childhood, dawn’s relentless star
    That is put out with kisses. These they gave
    And buried childhood lightly in her grave
    So that a man might hear her calling yet,
    “Primrose farewell, good-morrow violet!”--
    Might yet have heard her, but the woods are shut
    To those who would return: the laurels cut.

    There are many go to-day to Wienerwald,
    But love does not go with them. He has failed
    In the Great War, who had so little skill
    In the Will to Murder, love who was the Will
    To live and make live, but the War has shewn
    His Will is treachery, and love’s alone
    In a great wilderness. For if he cries
    Aloud, they mock him in their Paradise--
    The Angels of Armageddon. “This is he
    Who ruled us, being blind, now let him see”
    They say, “a prisoner, what we have done,
    The priests of mankind’s last religion.
    Let him look deep and celebrate in Hell
    How we reverse the Christian miracle,
    Stealing their spirits from the sullen swine
    And consecrating them as yours and mine,
    So that we rush together suddenly
    Down a steep place, where by an empty sea
    Our worshippers pile on a flaming wharf
    The trees that were the woods at Hütteldorf.”

    Ares, the god of battles, has prevailed.
    At Hütteldorf, deep in the Wienerwald,
    They go to the woods for fuel, and one sees
    A child that beats upon the laurel trees
    With starved small hands that hold an axe, and how
    The spring returns to find a hooded crow
    Waiting and waiting, as the thrush once waited
    For childhood’s end. But this, it seems, was fated
    That all should change, save only that these seem
    Still unsubstantial as the lover’s dream,
    As unsubstantial, but with blossoms set
    That have no traffic with the violet
    And primrose. Here the purple flowers of Dis
    Burn their young foreheads and they fade with this,
    Who find a different end and different haven,
    Where the hooded crow is waiting with the raven.

    In Wienerwald the starving Viennese
    Have spoiled the woods and cut the laurel trees,
    Nous n’irons plus au bois: oh love, oh love!
    Will you not go the more because they prove
    So shattered, the poor woods? and will you shut
    Your heart, O love, because the trees are cut?
    Les lauriers sont coupés, but you can heal
    Even the broken laurel, and reveal
    Where in the valley of death the children falter
    That, though all else doth change, love does not alter,
    And, though the woods were dead, there is a tree
    You know of, love, planted in Calvary.

    Go back to the woods; replant the laurel trees.
    Still love than war hath greater victories,
    And while the devils beat the warlike drum
    Into their kingdom of peace the children come.

                  HEINE’S LAST SONG.

    Life’s a blonde of whom I’m tired
      (Being fair is just a knack
    Women learn to be desired
      By a Jew--who answers back).

    Blonde, oh blonde, ye lost princesses
      With the shadow in your eyes
    As of bodiless caresses
      Known ere birth in Paradise.

    Little ears of alabaster,
      Where like ocean in a shell
    Gentle murmurs drown the vaster
      Voice of rapture or of Hell.

    Tender bodies--ah too tender
      To be given or be lent
    Unto love the money-lender
      Who demands his cent per cent.

    Thus you took a man and tricked him,
      Life and ladies, to a will
    In your favour, but the victim
      Cheats you with a codicil.

    All I had, you thought, was given--
      Life and ladies, you were wrong:
    In a poet’s secret heaven
      There is always one last song.

    Even he is half afraid of,
      Even he but hears in part,
    For the stuff that it is made of,
      Ladies, is the poet’s heart.

    Not for you, oh blonde princesses
      Is that final tune, but I
    Sing it drowning in the tresses
      Of a darker Lorelei.

    For her hair than yours is stranger;
      Wilder lights are lost in hers
    Where the heart’s immortal danger,
      That you cannot know of, stirs.

    Life and ladies, it is over:
      Blonde asks all, gives nothing back;
    You must find another lover,
      For the poet chooses black.

    Where death’s raven marriage blossom
      Falls in clouds about her breast,
    On his dark beloved’s bosom
      Heinrick Heine is at rest.


                      THE SATYR.

    “Hollow” he cries and “hollow, hollow.”
    Mark how the creeping moon is yellow
    On the cold stones, enmeshing feet
    That are not soft, with blood not sweet.

    Though in the night one cry his Name
    The shuddering air shrinks from the aim;
    And failing eddies will not stir
    To let him through to Lucifer.

    What answers where no echoes fly?
    None where the moon looks balefully.
    Unheard, far-off “O hollow, hollow”
    The satyr crieth to his fellow.

                    BALDER’S SONG.

    It may be raining now, that first warm rain
      That melts the heart of earth beneath the snows,
    Our Northland snows (she feels the swimmer’s pain
      Who catches breath, half-drowned, when the blood flows
        Shuddering back into the frozen vein).
    And did ye think I should not come again
    At the long last in spring-time with the rain?

    Or may be there is singing in the air
      At building-time where the tall windy trees,
    By sap and young leaves hurt, can hardly bear
      The spring’s reiterated urgencies
    That at the woods with actual fingers tear.
    And did ye, when these songs are everywhere,
    Of Balder, who first taught them song, despair?

    Or it may be where once my altar stood
      And where my worshipped name in prayer ascended,
    Blue, like a trumpet, in the solitude
      Harebells, that ring before the winter’s ended,
    Have with the wind my litanies renewed.
    Did ye forget (alas! that any could)
    That I, the god of flowers, found these good?

    And may be where the dog-rose remedies
      With her wild flush the hedge, and spring begins,
    Born of all these there trembles the first kiss
      That from Valhalla brings the Paladins
    And ladies, who for all the immortal bliss
    Of heaven, have no joy as sharp as this.
    Did ye not know in your own memories
    That where are love and spring there Balder is?

    It may be raining now, that first warm rain
      That melts the heart of earth beneath the snows,
    Our Northland snows (she feels the swimmer’s pain
      Who catches breath, half-drowned, when the blood flows
        Shuddering back into the frozen vein).
    And did ye think I should not come again
    At the long last in spring-time with the rain?

                   MARY THE MOTHER.

                   (Cradle Song.)

    So great a lady, so dear is she,
    Princess in heaven, but mother to me!
    When little Jesus lay in her arm
    It was enough for him that he was warm.

    When the small head at her bosom did nod
    Did she remember that He was the God?
    Or when she sang to Him low in His ear,
    Did she say “Master” or did she sob “Dear”?

    Was it the star on the manger that shone
    Crowned her an empress, or was it her Son?
    So great a lady to lie in a stall--
    But only a mother (she thought) after all.

    So great a lady, so dear is she,
    Princess in heaven! but who does not see
    How against Godhead, in spite of the Cross,
    She holds to her bosom her Jesus that was?


    When there is no more sea and no more sailing
      Will God go vintaging the wine-dark seas,
    Reaping gold apples of the storm and trailing
      To harvest home the lost Hesperides?

    Will God, the gates that guard the river breaking,
      Annul the blinding gesture of the sword,
    And find the Tree, all other dreams forsaking,
      Whose apples are the knowledge of the Lord?

    Forsaking dreams--forgiveness and salvation,
      Sins that were needless needlessly forgiven,
    Hell where he knew vicarious damnation
      And ghosts of rapture in a ghost of heaven?

    No longer from self-knowledge then exempted
      Shall God the apple tasting Eve repeat
    Thus altered, saying, “By the devil tempted
      Through all these years I could and did not eat.”

    Thus at the last shall Man and Maker pardon
      Eve’s ancient wrong, seeing that, though He cursed,
    Knowledge, alone of those who used the Garden
      God was afraid of apples from the first.

    Thereafter as it was in the beginning,
      Before the spirit moved upon the deep,
    There shall be no more sea and no more sinning
      And God will share with his beloved sleep.

                      THE SKIES.

    Though the world tumble tier by tier,
      Down, down the broken galleries,
    By day the sun would shine as clear
      By night the moon would ride her seas.

    Though man and all was meant by men
      Upon the empty air were spent,
    Irrevocably Charles’s Wain
      Would swing across the firmament.

    So large they are and cool the skies;
      God’s frozen breath in dreams, or worse:
    Beautiful unsupported lies
      That simulate a universe.

                    THREE EPITAPHS.

                     I. FLECKER.

    You have made the golden journey. Samarkand
      Is all about you, Flecker, and where you lie
    How youth and her beauty perish in the sand
      They are singing in the caravanserai.

                    II. EDITH CAVELL.

    Who died for love, we use to nourish hate:
      Who was all tenderness, our hearts to harden;
    And who of mercy had the high estate
      By us escheated of her right of pardon.

                   III. THE LITTLE SLEEPER.

    This little sleeper, who was overtaken
      By death, as one child overtakes another,
    Dreams by his side all night and will not waken
      Till the dawn comes in heaven with his mother.

               TO HIM WHOM THE CAP FITS.

    _“What sword is left?” sighs England. Answer her_
    _(For you must answer) “This--Excalibur.”_


    That is the sword of England. Arthur drew
      The blade at that last battle when he failed,
      (Shadow among the shadows, who prevailed
    Victorious in disaster). Harold knew
    Its point in his heart at Hastings, and it flew
      Out of the scabbard when King Richard sailed
      And did not reach Jerusalem. It wailed
    In the false hand that on the scaffold slew
    Charles, and proud Balliol saw the light on it
      Shining for Ridley through the flame; was seen
      When Mary, Queen of Scotland, was a queen
    On earth no longer, and when William Pitt
    “England! O how I leave thee,” failing cried,
    The sword, the sword, was with him when he died.


    The line at Mons were privy to the blade,
      When God and England seemed together lost,
      And riding by the far Pacific coast
    Admiral Cradock took its accolade.
    These are its victories--to be afraid,
      To hear thin bugles sounding “The Last Post,”
      Until the blood creeps noiseless as a ghost
    And cold, and all we cherished is betrayed.
    That is the sword’s way. Those who lose shall have;
      And only those who in defeat have known
      The bitterness of death, and stood alone
    In darkness, shall have worship in the grave.
    Swordsman, go into battle, and record
    How one more English knight has found his sword!


    To-day you’ll find by field and ditch
    The small invasion of the vetch:
    And where they sleep rest-harrow will
    Follow upon the daffodil.

    These in their soft disordered ranks
    Withstand and overcome the Tanks;
    And the small unconsidered grass
    Cries to the gunner “On ne passe.”

    The corn outlasts the bayonet,
    Whose blades no blood nor rust can fret,
    Or only the immortal rust
    Of poppies failing in their thrust.

    The line these hold no force can break,
    Nor their platoons advancing shake,
    Whose wide offensive wave on wave
    Doth make a garden of a grave.

    These with the singing lark conspire
    To veil with loveliness the wire,
    While he ascending cleans the stain
    In heaven of the aeroplane.

    These in the fields and open sky
    Reverse the errors of Versailles,
    Who with a natural increase
    From year to year establish peace.

    For all the living these will cloak
    The things they spoiled, the hearts they broke;
    And where these heal the earth will be
    For all the dead indemnity.


    When Kew found spring, and we found Kew,
    Gold was the London that we knew--
    The gold of gold whose metal is
    As yellow as the primroses.

    London’s Lord Mayor, Dick Whittington,
    In heaven heard the carillon
    “Turn again;” London after all
    Is paved with gold by Chiswick Mall.

    But afterwards the town was sold
    To a mad alchemist for gold,
    Who used his art to change, instead
    Of lead to gold, the gold to lead.

    If where the streets to Hampstead twist
    You meet a doting alchemist
    Seeking lost gold, refuse him pity;
    He changed us when he changed the city!


    What Orpheus whistled for Eurydice
    (While all the shades were silent, achingly
    Holding out hands, and hands stretched evermore
    In a vain longing for the further shore).

          The blue smoke floats
    Lazily in the dawn above the white
    Flat roof you knew, and somewhere out of sight
    A child is singing the old Linus song,
    Sweeter because the baby voice goes wrong
   --The little goatherd calling to her goats.

          There’s a small hill
    On which the olive trees you used to call
    Athene’s little sisters, now grown tall,
    Watch all day long the coming of the child,
    And you’ll remember how the brook, else wild,
    About these pastures suddenly grows still.

          There’s such a peace,
    Save where a wandering beast shakes on its bell,
    You’d almost think the trees had learned a spell
    From their wise sister (or from you) to bless
    A baby frightened of the loneliness,
    Tending her herd and waiting by the trees.

          Ah! certainly
    There are two things are stronger than the fates--
    A lover’s song in Hell, a child that waits.
    The shadows lengthen. Ere the night descend
    On earth, O sweetheart, Mother, friend
    Win out of Hell! Return Eurydice!

                       THE WIND.

    What is there left? The wind makes answer
      “I saw the green leaves grow brown and fall;
    I danced with the shadows, I the dancer
    Among bare branches. For I,” he saith,
      “Hear the thin music whistle and call,
    Music, horn-music, the music of death.”

    “There stands at the edge of the wood the player
      Dark in the darkness, but I have seen,
    Ere my feet were lifted, the branches stir.
    Darker than dark, than light more fair,
      Before I have come he slips between;
    But I, the dancer,” wind saith, “do not care.”

    “The leaves have fallen and who shall discover
      What there is left in the blackened tree?
    And who will know when the years are over,
    Among bare branches if I,” wind saith,
      “Dance where the shadows and music be,
    Music, horn-music, the music of death?”


    Suppose I gave you what my heart has given--
    A door to dreams, a little road to heaven.
    Would you pass through the door, my dreams forgetting,
    And turn the corner when my sun is setting?

    So I should only have (as I have only)
    Your hair remembered, eyes that left me lonely,
    A mouth as cold as roses, and the kiss
    Of Gabriel, sealing love’s defeat with this!

                   OPALS AND AMBER.

    Call it an age, call it a day,
    What’s in the world with love away?
    The sun a round and golden ghost,
    The moon the shadow he has lost;
    And spring herself for all her green
    The bare and brown a pause between.
    Call it an age, call it a day,
    When love is gone, what’s there to say?

    Opal or gold, amber or gray,
    What’s in the world with love away?
    Opal a pool of changeling fires,
    Where the gold angel stirs desires
    That do not heal Bethesda way
    But only turn the amber gray.
    Call it an age, call it a day,
    When love is gone, what’s there to say?

    Call it a dream, call it a play,
    What’s in the world with love away?
    With love away can a man clamber
    To heaven by a rope of amber?
    Or can an opal stretch a wire
    To lead a girl to her desire?

    Amber and opal--but I remember
    Love that was better than opal or amber.
    Call it an age, call it a day,
    What’s in the world with love away?

                     AFTER BATTLE.

    After the fighting
    Comes not sudden peace, but weariness;
    A gloom no lighting
    Of little lamps of jest or speech unravels,
    But for the brain and body endless travels,
    Twisting and turning like the lovers hurled
    For punishment athwart the underworld,
    Twisting and turning and no respite sighting.

          After the living
    Comes not relief, but a grey level gloom,
    When the heart beats as in a padded room
          With wild shapes moving--
    Silence imploring and from silence flying,
    Praying to life and all athirst for dying.
    Tearing lost dreams and for the torn dreams weeping,
    Fearing to wake, tumultuously sleeping.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Death’s a poor leech with worn-out simples striving
    To heal in vain the malady of living.


    When the stir and the movement are over,
    When you that had the lightness of a wind
    Or the poise of some swift bird
    Burn no longer in any man’s mind,
    And your voice in no man’s heart is heard,
    Who in the world will dare to be a lover?

    Would any being hurt in the night be crying
    “O God! her little mouth that with a kiss
    Drank all a man; and--God! her weaving fingers!”
    Would any of another dare say this?
    Will there be other women, other singers?
    I wish with you and me love might be dying.

                DU BIST WIE EINE BLUME.


    You have the way of a blossom,
      Cold petal with April green,
    And you melt the heart in the bosom
      As your beauty enters in.

    I will fold my hands together,
      Asking of God for you
    Always in April weather
      Cold petal and colder dew.


    All that I know of Cambridge--
    The colleges and that indulgent air
    Of a great gentleman who is content
    That lesser men should make experiment
    With life, for which he does not vastly care--
    Is that you tell me you were happy there.

    All that I’ll say of Cambridge--
    Though in her courts Apollo lose the art
    Of immortality to find it where
    Rupert was used to walk at Grantchester--
    Is that for me Cambridge is but a part
    Of greater beauties than inform your heart.

                  A ROOM IN BOHEMIA.

    The sun is shining in the August weather
      In the little room and, I suppose,
    Gilding the painted parrot on the wall,
      The truckle-bed, the table and the rose
    Of the poor carpet that we bought together.
      And from the street the muted voices call
      As though we saw, as though we heard it all.


    Let it be written down, while still the wound
      Festers and there is horror in the world
      At what was done and suffered, while unfurled
    The wings of death are dark upon the ground.
    Let it be written “Death we have not found
      The worst, though death is evil, nor the curled
      Fangs of disease, nor yet to ruin hurled
    The tracery of old cities, when no sound

    Is in their broken streets. But there’s an ape
      Out of the slime into the spirit creeping,
    That twists mankind back, back into the shape
      That mumbles carrion. Here’s the cause for weeping.
    Prognathous chin, slant forehead, eyes that rust
    As their flame dies and smoulders into lust.”


    Why should I care for love? The urgent rose--
      What does she promise the heart and what fulfill?
    “Delight, delight” she whispers, and she goes ...
      But love the rose outbidding is falser still.

    Why should I care for love? But hush, oh hush!
      What bird is singing in the dawn “Forget
    The spring,” and, you,--have you forgotten, thrush?...
      But love the thrush outsinging is falser yet.

    Why should I care for love? Love does not care
      Whether you care or do not care, says she!
    But ask your lips how the rose smells in my hair,
      If the thrush beats at my heart--here--Anthony!


    In your black hair are there not nightingales
      Singing in the dark, and when you let it down
    Is there no stir in the air of tiniest sails
      That ever on lost seas of song were blown?

    In your black hair the heart of Hyacinth
      Laments the daylight he shall see no more,
    And flowers are red as in the labyrinth
      The red eyes of the crazy Minotaur.

    In your black hair, Medusa, there are snakes
      That twine themselves about Laocoon,
    How soft, how warm! and how the poor heart breaks
      Before they strike and turn it into stone.

                      THE JUNGLE.

    Truth is the fourth dimension. By her grace
    Motion, the idiot of time and space,
    Grows reasonable, so that the spirit sees
    Behind the aimless drag of categories
    The moving centuries, whose gestures mirror
    And dissipate the cloudy shapes of error.
    O there’s the long way back, the dawns that scatter
    Like startled birds about the spirit, and chatter
    Of animal voices seeking lucid speech
    In colonies of darkness. Truth can stretch,
    Though motionless, and set a hatchet blazing
    A path through the jungle where an ape is gazing
    At the edge of a little light, with dripping muzzle,
    Black writhing palms, and eyes a drowsy puzzle
    Of fears and beastlike hopes. Then the light reaches
    His pelt and holds him fast. In vain he snatches
    At the sheltering trees, in vain the leafy dance
    Down the long avenues of ignorance.
    Knowledge and the pain of knowledge fly beside him,
    And, where the leaves are darkest, clutch and ride him
    Until he sloughs the shape of beast and can
    Stand in the dawn upon his feet a man.

    But the jungle is not cleared, and still the shapes
    Of time and space and error move like apes.

                      THE PENCIL.

    With this golden pencil--write
    “Written words must serve for sight.
    For the broken lights that stirred
    Wedded eyes the complete word.

    Written words the trembling nerve
    Of the lover’s ear must serve.
    Laughter’s done and tears are over--
    Written words, instead, my lover.

    Words that have no scent must tell
    How the secret jonquils smell
    In your hair, and words protest
    There are jonquils at your breast.

    Written words the gift must waste,
    When the very air hath taste
    Of your lip, the sweets that part
    Love’s soft mouth and reach the heart.

    Separable these await
    For the fifth to consummate,
    That are nothing, each alone,
    But all heaven joined in one.

    This, being lost, had hurt too much,
    Here are words instead of touch.”

    Therefore write and break the lead
    “Love that was alive is dead.”


    If any ask, O tell them that the moon
      Was lit in heaven when Queen Ashtaroth
    Beat at her lamp and fell upon the swoon
      Of love that soars in fire to fall a moth.

    If any ask, O tell them that for this
      Priam’s great city of Troy was sacrificed,
    For love that is as bitter as the kiss
      Of Judas the Iscariot, slaying Christ.

    If any ask, O tell them it is well,
      Though love comes like the swallow and flies as soon:
    Who has not found his heaven in the Hell
      Of love unsatisfied beneath the moon?

                  THE CROWDER’S TUNE.

    The crowder’s tune
    Down a street in Babylon--
    His fiddle to the moon
    With notes like stars that one by one
    Glittered upon the empty street,
    Glittered and laughed and went
    (But there was a lisp of ghostly feet)
    To build a firmament.

    “Who walks by night in Babylon?
    ‘I,’ said a lady, ‘because
    Of the wonderful thing I was,
    And the beautiful things all done,
    I walk in Babylon.’

    Who seeks for a lady by night?
    ‘I,’ said a king, ‘My throne
    Is empty in Babylon.
    She fled from the light to the light,
    I seek for a lady by night.’

    Who calls by night in Babylon?
    ‘They,’ answered love, ‘Yes over and over
    She calls to her God, but he to his lover,
    And each of them walks by night alone,
    And they will not meet in Babylon.’”

    The crowder played
    His little tune, almost
    As though he were afraid
    Of some forgotten ghost
    And crying on the string
    Of what was lost
    And would not come
    He feared in vain.
    For the ghost, the ghost is dumb
    Of love that is past over,
    And the merciless laughter of the moon
    Pursues the ghostly lover,
    Till in the empty street
    There’s an end of the lisp of feet,
    And the crowder breaks his fiddle and the tune,
    And all the stars are gone
          In Babylon.


    Past Buckhurst Hill the motor-bus
    Takes and shakes the three of us.
    When first we went, there were but two
    In Epping Forest, I and you.

    That summer as I understand
    A forester from fairyland
    Set a notice up, “No road,”
    By the ways our feet had trod.

    No one came and no one knew,
    When the spring returned and blue
    Flowers burned, how deep behind
    Burned the blossoms of the mind.

    No one guessed and no one heard
    How beyond the singing bird,
    Some one sang in solitude
    In the wood within the wood.

    No one watched the years go by
    (Not even you, not even I),
    In the wood alone apart
    Green and waiting in the heart.

    Till last week the forester
    Heard a little footstep stir,
    Took his notice down and smiled
    At the coming of a child.

    Conquering the solitude
    A child is laughing in the wood.
    Past Buckhurst Hill the motor-bus
    Takes us back the three of us.

_Printed at The Vincent Works, Oxford._

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Shylock reasons with Mr. Chesterton - And other poems" ***

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