The Three Muses.

From: The Bird and the Bell with Other Poems (1875)
Author: Christopher Pearse Cranch
Published: Osgood and Company 1875 Boston


IN a deep vale enclosed by mountains steep,
A still, green sheltered nook hid far away,
Where grand old forest-trees in shadowy sleep
Nodded above a stream that all the day
Ran rippling down o’er sun-flecked rocks and stones,
And filled the air with murmuring undertones;
Where from the sky the golden sun of June
Shed softened radiance through the stillest noon;
And in the verdure of the oaks that spread
Their gnarled and mossy branches overhead,
The shy thrush trilled his liquid clarionet
Minute by minute, with his soul all set
To music in each gush of peerless tone,
While with a bubbling base the brook played on;—
Deep in that vale so dreamy, still, and cool,
A youth lay tranced, till visionary things
Seemed real, and his heart was over-full
Of thoughts and fancies and imaginings.

And as he mused beside the flowing stream,
There came to him what seemed a waking dream.
Three radiant forms he saw before him stand,—
Three woodland nymphs, perchance, he thought,—who met
His wondering gaze, each with a beckoning hand,
While he, abashed, bewildered, stood. And yet—
For so our dreams will mix our memories dim—
Not all unknown their faces seemed to him.
And he was bound, as by a spell, to choose
One of the three to be his guiding muse.

So stood they beckoning, and yet stood apart,
As if a separate purpose each impelled;
While a divided worship in his heart
In doubtful poise his soul and senses held.

“Strange,—it was so in Ida’s vale,” he mused,
“The shepherd-prince, abashed, perplexed, confused,
Stood in the presence of the radiant Three,
To choose the goddess of his destiny.
So shone upon his soul like dawning skies
The electric splendor of Olympian eyes.
Somehow I seem to know these forms of light.
Somewhere they have lit my pathway, day and night.
If through this veil of dreams I could but hear
Their voices, my bewildered sense would clear.
And yet, alas! I cannot give to each,
While thus to me their wooing arms they reach,
The pledge of homage and fidelity,
The golden apple Nature gave to me.”

Then one of them drew near. She held a lyre,
And with low strains the enchanted silence broke.
Her mystic tones diffused a subtle fire,
And in his soul sweet harmonies awoke.
Then in his hands she placed a golden lute,
And bade him touch its sympathetic chords.
No longer now he stood abashed and mute;
But sang a prelude soft in simple words,—
A lay of love and longing,—till his song
Grew deeper, richer, blending with the strings;
Then soaring as on swift expanded wings,
With gathered strength it ran through varying moods,
And echoed from the rocks and rang around the woods.

Then said the muse, “‘T is thus that I will dower
The soul that feels my all-pervading power.
This nest of wingéd harmonies shall give
Responses to each mood that he hath known,
And all the subtler shades of feeling live
Perfected life, when wed to chord and tone.
And thou shalt know how tone embodies love,
As speech embodies thought, and haply reach
The large, creative power of those who move
The heart by music, superseding speech.
And thus would I enroll thee in the bands
Who dedicated youth and age to me
In costly strains that speak to all the lands
The language of the gods. Look up and see!”

The youth looked up, and on the mountain height
He saw a group of forms enwreathed with light;
While floated down such strains as never ear
Had dreamed of in our dim, discordant sphere.

Filled with the rapturous symphony
That from that orchestra divine
Came flowing like a spiritual wine
Into his soul, the youth in ecstasy,
As when a flower is bowed with morning dews,
Bent low before the muse.

“Spirit of Harmony divine,” he said,
“Ah, worshipped from my boyhood’s early hour!
How oft, how long my footsteps have been led
A part from men, by thy mysterious power!
How oft the deep enchanted waves of tone
Have lured me with a rapture all too sweet!
Thine were those tides, O fairest, thine alone,
That from the dull shore swept my willing feet.
Though my untutored hands but feebly ring
The imperfect chords, the themes I may not sing,
Yet fain would I thy humble votary be,
And find my muse, my guiding star, in thee!”

But now a touch, as ‘t were some earthly maiden,
Dissolved the trance with which his soul was laden.
Before him stood the second of the three;
And on his ear these accents rang in free
And healthy measure, like the morning air.
“Dream not,” she said, “these vague, seductive dreams.
I give thee choice of forms and colors rare,—
Fair images of skies, of trees, of streams;
All shapes of beauty and all forms of power;
The themes that through the past and present shine;
The varying lights that flash from hour to hour;—
Life, Nature, Spirit. Be the effort thine;
The out-world wooes thee. Give thy utmost heart
To enrich the ever-growing realm of Art.
Be this thy love, thy toil, thy high ambition,
To tread the path of Raphael, Claude, and Titian.
Here choose thy brothers, who in robes of light
Throng the green shades beneath yon woody height!”

He looked, and saw a train as bright as those
Who just had vanished, grouped in grand repose:
Great, earnest brows, and loving, piercing eyes
Which saw the unveiled divinity that lies
In forms and faces and in trees and skies.
And as they passed, woods, rocks, and mountains took
A richer light and color. Then the brook
More silvery ran, the sky shone deeper blue,
The clouds were tinted with an opal hue.
The landscape glowed as if it gave its heart
To those who loved it through the soul of art.
“Go forth,” the goddess said. “The earth is fair.
Where beauty smiles, the artist’s work is there.
What nobler task than this, canst thou but stay
The fleeting splendors of a single day!”

Thus while with breezy tones she spoke,
The youth stood rapt and listening.
The artist-fire, long smouldering, woke;
And with a sudden spring
He seized his paints and pencils eagerly,
And bent before the muse a lowly knee.

“Alas! and was I blind?” he said, “and thou,
The charm of earth and air, wast here e’en now?
Thou, with all color and rare forms allied,—
One with all nature,—thou wast by my side!
And could I slight the presence that illumes
The eye-beams and the splendors of the world,—
The mists of dawn, the depths of forest glooms,
The crimson clouds in western twilights furled,
The river, and the mountain, and the face
Of man and maid, and childhood’s winning grace?
Have I not known, O queen, O muse of art,
Thy service,—all the joyous toil of those
Who give the flowering of their hope and heart—
A sweet and yet so oft a thorn-clad rose—
To thee, as kneeling now I dare to touch
Thy garment’s hem—”
                    E’en then he felt approach
The third bright form. Taller and fairer she
Than the other two. A queenlier majesty
Upon her brow. Around her all the air
Seemed touched with wandering odors sweet and rare,
Wafted from unseen nooks of eglantine.
She neither smiled nor frowned. She made no sign,
But only stood before him. Every grace
Of mingled earth and heaven illumed her face
And shaped her form. Upon her brow a star
Flamed, like the diamond planet of the dawn
When night’s cold coronets are all withdrawn
And scattered through her solitudes afar,—
Flamed and streamed backward through her golden hair;
And all the freshness of the summer morn
Breathed from her presence. Fairest of the fair
She stood, of all in bright Olympus born.

She spoke. But hardly had she moved her lips,
When in a gradual, yet not dark eclipse
Her sisters faded. Rather did it seem
Those muses three had mingled into one,—
One form to whom all beauty tribute paid,
One bringer of an overpowering dream,
One central light all other lights obeyed.
And all that he had dreamed and felt and known,
And all that he could hear, imagine, see,
Flushed in the Morning Star of Poesy.
She was a presence that did well comprise
The soul and essence of all other art;
For all the world contains of sweetest, lies
Like an aroma hoarded in her heart.
Now all seem eel music, all was magic hue,
All was unfettered joy and inspiration.

Now Beauty bathed the universe anew,
And kindled thought, and fired imagination.
Then rose the strong necessity to write,
As once to sing, to paint his fondest dream.
Flooded he stood as in the auroral light,
Or in the waves of some great flowing stream;
While that one voice again and yet again
Came, earnest as a cry of joy or pain.
It called upon him as a trumpet calls
The laggard soldier to his spear and shield.
It seemed to sweep him as a leaf that falls
Whirls in the autumn blast across the field.
It pressed upon him as the truth sublime
Lay on the prophets of the olden time,—
The soul within the soul, the hidden life,
The fount of dreams, the vision and the strife
Of thoughts that seized on every other force,
And turned it to their own resistless course.

For the muse spake with words that came
Leaping into his heart like flame:—

“Why should I show to thee here
Shadows of poet and seer,
Bards of the olden time,
Singers of lofty rhyme?
Beauty and truth are the same
Now as of old, and the flame
Of the morning on Homer’s brow
Is it flame of the morning now.
The poets sit ever apart,
With heaven and earth in their heart,—
One truth, and unnumbered hints;
One light, and a thousand tints;
Ages of speech and of tone,
One mystical voice alone.

“When the bard utters his own,
Rivals and peers there are none.
His life is the life of the All.
His dreams are of air and of fire;
To the depths of all nature they call
In the thirst of their soaring desire.
And ever by day and by night
The arrows of thought’s delight,
Feathered with musical words,
Barbed with the adamant truth,
Fly gentle and swift as the winging of birds
To the bosom of beauty and youth.”

And still she spoke; and still he listened there,
And felt the ambrosial breathing fan his hair;
And still his soul rose brimming to her eyes,
As swells the sea beneath the moonlit skies.

“Foremost of seers and strong creators he
Who steeps life, nature, heaven, in poesy.
He is no athlete trained to win a prize
In an arena thronged with vulgar eyes;
No juggler with his tricks of tinselled phrase,
Cheap bubbles blown to catch ephemeral praise.
No lawless passion and no trivial aim
Shall dim his vision clear, or damp his flame.
Strong be his faith, and pure as it is strong,
The heart-throb pulsing through the poet’s song.
‘T is his to read the sunshine and the storms,
The mystic alphabet of natural forms,
The deeper lore of dreams and heart and brain,
The heights, the depths, the glory and the pain.

“The muse who leads the poet guides the spheres.
One orbit serves for both. He cannot stoop
To palter to unsympathetic ears.
His wings must never droop.
Buoyed by a wind that blows beyond the stars,
Lit by a sun that never fades or sets,
He comes to proffer through fate’s prison-bars
The soul’s strong amulets.
To press the wine of life from bitter hours;
To open doors where morning never streamed;
To find in common fields that rarest flowers
Are nearer than we dreamed;
To intone the music of the deepest heart
Through all the changing chords of joy and pain,—
Where canst thou track a loftier flight of Art?
Where seek diviner gain?”

She ceased, yet seemed to speak. The youth
Still heard that voice of love and truth;
And all his soul stood over-flushed,
And every clamorous impulse hushed.

Then, reverent, before her face
He half upraised his downcast eyes,
His heart all glowing in the light and grace
That matched her radiance with the unsaddened skies.
“Thou Presence dear and great!” he cried;
“Thou wast the earliest at my side.
Thou on the topmost golden stair of art
With thrilling voice dost stand and call to me.
O fairest goddess, I must give my heart,
My spirit, and my life to none but thee!”

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