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They often murmur to themselves, they speak
To one another seldom, for their woe
Itself abroad ; and if at whiles it grow
To rave in turn, who lends attentive show.
The City is of Night, but not of Sleep;
There sweet sleep is not for the weary brain ; The pitiless hours like years and ages creep,
A night seems termless hell. This dreadful strain Of thought and consciousness which never ceases, Or which some moments' stupor but increases,
This, worse than woe, makes wretches there insane,
They leave all hope behind who enter there :
One certitude while sane they cannot leave, One anodyne for torture and despair ;
The certitude of Death, which no reprieve Can put off long; and which, divinely tender, But waits the outstretched hand to promptly render
That draught whose slumber nothing can bereave.
How the moon triumphs through the endless nights!
How the stars throb and glitter as they wheel Their thick processions of supernal lights
Around the blue vault obdurate as steel And men regard with passionate awe and yearning The mighty marching and the golden burning,
And think the heavens respond to what they feel
Boats gliding like dark shadows of a dream,
Are glorified from vision as they pass The quivering moonbridge on the deep biack stream;
Cold windows kindle their dead glooms of glass
To restless crystals ; cornice, dome, and column
Like faëry lakes gleam lawns of dewy grass.
With such a living light these dead eyes shine,
These eyes of sightless heaven, that as we gaze
Or cold majestic scorn in their pure rays :
They thread mere puppets all their marvellous mazo
If we could rear them with the flight unflown,
We should but find them worlds as sad as this,
Enringed by planet worlds as much amiss :
The empyrean is a void abyss.
Anear the centre of that northern crest
Stands out a level upland bleak and bare,
Sinks gently in long waves ; and thronèd there
Upon a graded granite base foursquare!
Low-seated she leans forward m massively,
With cheek on clenched left hand, the forearm's might Erect, its elbow on her rounded knee ;
Across a clasped book in her lap the right
1 The description refers to Albert Dürer's ‘Melencolia'
Words cannot picture her; but all men know
That solemn sketch the pure sad artist wrought Three centuries and threescore years ago,
With phantasies of his peculiar thought: The instruments of carpentry and science Scattered about her feet, in strange alliance
With the keen wolf-hound sleeping undistraught;
Scales, hour-glass, bell, and magic-square above
The grave and solid insant perched beside, With open winglets that might bear a dove,
Intent upon its tablets, heavy-eyed ; Her folded wings as of a mighty eagle, But all too impotent to lift the regal
Robustness of her earth-born strength and pride ;
And with those wings, and that light wreath which seems
To mock her grand head and the knotted frown
The household bunch of keys, the housewife's gown
The feet thick-shod to tread all weakness down ;
The comet hanging o'er the waste dark seas,
The massy rainbow curved in front of it Beyond the village with the masts and trees;
The snaky imp, dog-headed, from the Pit, Bearing upon its batlike leathern pinions Her name unfolded in the sun's dominions,
The 'MELENCOLIA' that transcends all wit.
Thus has the artist copied her, and thus
Surrounded to expound her form sublime, Her fate heroic and calamitous ;
Fronting the dreadful mysteries of Time, Unvanquished in defeat and desolation, Undaunted in the hopeless conflagration
Of the day setting on her baffled prime
Baffled and beaten back she works on still,
Weary and sick of soul she works the more, Sustained by her indomitable will :
The hands shall fashion and the brain shall pore, And all her sorrow shall be turned to labour, Till Death the friend-soe piercing with his sabre
That mighty heart of hearts ends bitter war.
But as if blacker night could dawn on night,
With tenfold gloom on moonless night unstarred, A sense more tragic than de eat and blight,
More desperate than strife with hope debarred, More fatal than the adamantine Never Encompassing her passionate endeavour,
Dawns glooming in her tenebrous regard :
The sense that every struggle brings defeat
Because Fate holds no prize to crown success ; That all the oracles are dumb or cheat
Because they have no secret to express ; That none can pierce the vast black veil uncertain Because there is no light beyond the curtain ;
That all is vanity and nothingness.
Titanic from her high throne in the north,
That City's sombre Patroness and Queen, In bronze sublimity she gazes forth
Over her Capital of teen and threne, Over the river with its isles and bridges, The marsh and moorland, to the stern rock-ridges,
Confronting them with a coëval mien.
The moving moon and stars from east to west
Circle before her in the sea of air ; Shadows and gleams glide round her solemn rest.
Her subjects often gaze up to her there : The strong to drink new strength of iron endurance, The weak new terrors; all, renewed assurance
And confirmation of the old dess air.
(ARTHUR WILLIAM EDGAR O'SHAUGHNESSY was born on the 14th of March, 1844. He was an ichthyologist by profession, and his entire life, from boyhood to the day of his death, was passed in the service of the British Museum. He died, after a very short illness, from the effects of a neglected cold, on the 30th of January, 1881. He published during his littime three volumes of verse, An Epic of Women, 1870; Lays of France, 1872; Music and Moonlight, 1874. His posthumous volume, Songs of a Worker, appeared in 1881.]
The same month that saw O'Shaughnessy's death deprive English literature of one of its most vigorous representatives, a woman who had no less ambition than he had to excel in verse. In the chorus of praise and regret which followed George Eliot to the grave, O'Shaughnessy passed away almost unperceived. As far as intellect is concerned he had no claim to be mentioned near her. But in poetry the battle is not always to the strong, and he seems to have possessed, what we all confess that she lacked, the indescribable quality which gives the smallest warbler admission to that forked hill from which Bacon and Hobbes are excluded. In O'S aughnessy this quality was thin, and soon exhausted. His earliest book had most of it ; his posthumous book, which ought never to have been published, had none of it. It was volatile, and evaporated with the passage of youth. But when his work has been thoroughly sifted, there will be found to remain a small residuum of exquisite poetry, full of odour and melody, all in one key, and essentially unlike the verse of anyone else. I have ventured to indicate as the central feature of this poetry its habit of etherealising human feeling, and of looking upon mundane emotion as the broken echo of a subtle and supernatural passion. This is what seems to make O'Shaughnessy's best pieces, such as The Fountain of Tears, Barcarolle, There is an Earthly Glimmer in the Tomb, Song of Betrothal, Outcry, and even, as the reverse of the medal, the were-wolf ballad of Bisclaveret, so delicate and unique. We have nothing else quite like them in English ; the Germans had a kindred product in the songs of Nɔvalis.
EDMUID W. GOSSE.