ALL ALONE, UP IN THE SKY.
The very dead that lay at his feet,
Lapt in the mouldy winding-sheet.
But he curbed him and spurred him, until he stood
Still in his place, like a horse of wood,
With nostrils uplift, and eyes wide and wan;
But the sweat in streams from his fetlocks ran.
A ghost grew out of the shadowy air,
And sat in the midst of her moony hair.
In her gleamy hair she sat and wept;
In the dreamful moon they lay and slept;
The shadows above, and the bodies below,
Lay and slept in the moonbeams slow.
And she sang, like the moan of an autumn wind
Over the stubble left behind:
Alas, how easily things go wrong
! A sigh too much, or a kiss too long,
And there follows a mist and a weeping rain,
And life is never the same again.
Alas, how hardly things go right!
'Tis hard to watch on a summer night,
For the sigh will come and the kiss will stay,
And the summer night is a winter day.
"Oh, lovely ghosts my heart is woes
To see thee weeping and wailing so.
Oh, lovely ghost," said the fearless knight,
"Can the sword of a warrior set it right?
Or prayer of bedesman, praying mild,
As a cup of water a feverish child,
Sooth thee at last, in dreamless mood
To sleep the sleep a dead lady should?
Thine eyes they fill me with longing sore,
As if I had known thee for evermore.
Oh, lovely ghost, I could leave the day
To sit with thee in the moon away
If thou wouldst trust me, and lay thy head
To rest on a bosom that is not dead."
The lady sprang up with a strange ghost-cry,
And she flung her white ghost-arms on high:
And she laughed a laugh that was not gay,
And it lengthened out till it died away;
And the dead beneath turned and moaned,
And the yew-trees above they shuddered and groaned.
"Will he love me twice with a love that is vain?
Will he kill the poor ghost yet again?
I thought thou wert good; but I said, and wept:
`Can I have dreamed who have not slept?'
And I knew, alas! or ever I would,
Whether I dreamed, or thou wert good.
When my baby died, my brain grew wild.
I awoke, and found I was with my child."
"If thou art the ghost of my Adelaide,
How is it? Thou wert but a village maid,
And thou seemest an angel lady white,
Though thin, and wan, and past delight."
The lady smiled a flickering smile,
And she pressed her temples hard the while.
"Thou seest that Death for a woman can
Do more than knighthood for a man."
"But show me the child thou callest mine,
Is she out to-night in the ghost's sunshine?"
"In St. Peter's Church she is playing on,
At hide-and-seek, with Apostle John.
When the moonbeams right through the window go,
Where the twelve are standing in glorious show,
She says the rest of them do not stir,
But one comes down to play with her.
Then I can go where I list, and weep,
For good St. John my child will keep."
"Thy beauty filleth the very air,
Never saw I a woman so fair."
"Come, if thou darest, and sit by my side;
But do not touch me, or woe will betide.
- Alas, I am weak
- I might well know
This gladness betokens some further woe.
Yet come. It will come. I will bear it. I can.
For thou lovest me yet--though but as a man."
The knight dismounted in earnest speed;
Away through the tombstones thundered the steed,
And fell by the outer wall, and died.
But the knight he kneeled by the lady's side;
Kneeled beside her in wondrous bliss,
Rapt in an everlasting kiss:
Though never his lips come the lady nigh,
And his eyes alone on her beauty lie.
All the night long, till the cock crew loud,
He kneeled by the lady, lapt in her shroud.
And what they said, I may not say:
Dead night was sweeter than living day.
How she made him so blissful glad
Who made her and found her so ghostly sad,
I may not tell; but it needs no touch
To make them blessed who love so much.
"Come every night, my ghost, to me;
And one night I will come to thee.
'Tis good to have a ghostly wife:
She will not tremble at clang of strife;
She will only hearken, amid the din,
Behind the door, if he cometh in."
And this is how Sir Aglovaile
Often walked in the moonlight pale.
And oft when the crescent but thinned the gloom,
Full orbed moonlight filled his room;
And through beneath his chamber door,
Fell a ghostly gleam on the outer floor;
And they that passed, in fear averred
That murmured words they often heard.
'Twas then that the eastern crescent shone
Through the chancel window, and good St. John
Played with the ghost-child all the night,
And the mother was free till the morning light,
And sped through the dawning night, to stay
With Aglovaile till the break of day.
And their love was a rapture, lone and high,
And dumb as the moon in the topmost sky.
One night Sir Aglovaile, weary, slept
And dreamed a dream wherein he wept.
A warrior he was, not often wept he,
But this night he wept full bitterly.
He woke--beside him the ghost-girl shone
Out of the dark: 'twas the eve of St. John.
He had dreamed a dream of a still, dark wood,
Where the maiden of old beside him stood;
But a mist came down, and caught her away,
And he sought her in vain through the pathless day,
Till he wept with the grief that can do no more,
And thought he had dreamt the dream before.
From bursting heart the weeping flowed on;
And lo! beside him the ghost-girl shone;
Shone like the light on a harbour's breast,
Over the sea of his dream's unrest;
Shone like the wondrous, nameless boon,
That the heart seeks ever, night or noon:
Warnings forgotten, when needed most,
He clasped to his bosom the radiant ghost.
She wailed aloud, and faded, and sank.
With upturn'd white face, cold and blank,
In his arms lay the corpse of the maiden pale,
And she came no more to Sir Aglovaile.
Only a voice, when winds were wild,
Sobbed and wailed like a chidden child.
Alas, how easily things go wrong!
A sigh too much, or a kiss too long,
And there follows a mist and a weeping rain,
And life is never the same again.
This was one of the simplest of her songs, which, perhaps, is
the cause of my being able to remember it better than most of the
others. While she sung, I was in Elysium, with the sense of a
rich soul upholding, embracing, and overhanging mine, full of all
plenty and bounty. I felt as if she could give me everything I
wanted; as if I should never wish to leave her, but would be
content to be sung to and fed by her, day after day, as years
rolled by. At last I fell asleep while she sang.
When I awoke, I knew not whether it was night or day. The fire
had sunk to a few red embers, which just gave light enough to
show me the woman standing a few feet from me, with her back
towards me, facing the door by which I had entered. She was
weeping, but very gently and plentifully. The tears seemed to
come freely from her heart. Thus she stood for a few minutes;
then, slowly turning at right angles to her former position, she
faced another of the four sides of the cottage. I now observed,
for the first time, that here was a door likewise; and that,
indeed, there was one in the centre of every side of the cottage.
When she looked towards the second door, her tears ceased to
flow, but sighs took their place. She often closed her eyes as
she stood; and every time she closed her eyes, a gentle sigh
seemed to be born in her heart, and to escape at her lips. But
when her eyes were open, her sighs were deep and very sad, and
shook her whole frame. Then she turned towards the third door,
and a cry as of fear or suppressed pain broke from her; but she
seemed to hearten herself against the dismay, and to front it
steadily; for, although I often heard a slight cry, and sometimes
a moan, yet she never moved or bent her head, and I felt sure
that her eyes never closed. Then she turned to the fourth door,
and I saw her shudder, and then stand still as a statue; till at
last she turned towards me and approached the fire. I saw that
her face was white as death. But she gave one look upwards, and
smiled the sweetest, most child-innocent smile; then heaped fresh
wood on the fire, and, sitting down by the blaze, drew her wheel
near her, and began to spin. While she spun, she murmured a low
strange song, to which the hum of the wheel made a kind of
infinite symphony. At length she paused in her spinning and
singing, and glanced towards me, like a mother who looks whether
or not her child gives signs of waking. She smiled when she saw
that my eyes were open. I asked her whether it was day yet. She
answered, "It is always day here, so long as I keep my fire
I felt wonderfully refreshed; and a great desire to see more of
the island awoke within me. I rose, and saying that I wished to
look about me, went towards the door by which I had entered.
"Stay a moment," said my hostess, with some trepidation in her
voice. "Listen to me. You will not see what you expect when you
go out of that door. Only remember this: whenever you wish to
come back to me, enter wherever you see this mark."
She held up her left hand between me and the fire. Upon the
palm, which appeared almost transparent, I saw, in dark red, a
mark like this --> which I took care to fix in my mind.
She then kissed me, and bade me good-bye with a solemnity that
awed me; and bewildered me too, seeing I was only going out for a
little ramble in an island, which I did not believe larger than
could easily be compassed in a few hours' walk at most. As I
went she resumed her spinning.
I opened the door, and stepped out. The moment my foot touched
the smooth sward, I seemed to issue from the door of an old barn
on my father's estate, where, in the hot afternoons, I used to go
and lie amongst the straw, and read. It seemed to me now that I
had been asleep there. At a little distance in the field, I saw
two of my brothers at play. The moment they caught sight of me,
they called out to me to come and join them, which I did; and we
played together as we had done years ago, till the red sun went
down in the west, and the gray fog began to rise from the river.
Then we went home together with a strange happiness. As we went,
we heard the continually renewed larum of a landrail in the long
grass. One of my brothers and I separated to a little distance,
and each commenced running towards the part whence the sound
appeared to come, in the hope of approaching the spot where the
bird was, and so getting at least a sight of it, if we should not
be able to capture the little creature. My father's voice
recalled us from trampling down the rich long grass, soon to be
cut down and laid aside for the winter. I had quite forgotten
all about Fairy Land, and the wonderful old woman, and the
curious red mark.
My favourite brother and I shared the same bed. Some childish
dispute arose between us; and our last words, ere we fell asleep,
were not of kindness, notwithstanding the pleasures of the day.
When I woke in the morning, I missed him. He had risen early,
and had gone to bathe in the river. In another hour, he was
brought home drowned. Alas! alas! if we had only gone to sleep
as usual, the one with his arm about the other! Amidst the
horror of the moment, a strange conviction flashed across my
mind, that I had gone through the very same once before.
I rushed out of the house, I knew not why, sobbing and crying
bitterly. I ran through the fields in aimless distress, till,
passing the old barn, I caught sight of a red mark on the door.
The merest trifles sometimes rivet the attention in the deepest
misery; the intellect has so little to do with grief. I went up
to look at this mark, which I did not remember ever to have seen
before. As I looked at it, I thought I would go in and lie down
amongst the straw, for I was very weary with running about and
weeping. I opened the door; and there in the cottage sat the old
woman as I had left her, at her spinning-wheel.
"I did not expect you quite so soon," she said, as I shut the
door behind me. I went up to the couch, and threw myself on it
with that fatigue wherewith one awakes from a feverish dream of
The old woman sang:
The great sun, benighted,
May faint from the sky;
- love, once uplighted,
Will never more die.
Form, with its brightness,
From eyes will depart:
It walketh, in whiteness,
The halls of the heart.
Ere she had ceased singing, my courage had returned. I started
from the couch, and, without taking leave of the old woman,
opened the door of Sighs, and sprang into what should appear.
I stood in a lordly hall, where, by a blazing fire on the hearth,
sat a lady, waiting, I knew, for some one long desired. A mirror
was near me, but I saw that my form had no place within its
depths, so I feared not that I should be seen. The lady
wonderfully resembled my marble lady, but was altogether of the
daughters of men, and I could not tell whether or not it was she.
It was not for me she waited. The tramp of a great horse rang
through the court without. It ceased, and the clang of armour
told that his rider alighted, and the sound of his ringing heels
approached the hall. The door opened; but the lady waited, for
she would meet her lord alone. He strode in: she flew like a
home-bound dove into his arms, and nestled on the hard steel. It
was the knight of the soiled armour. But now the armour shone
like polished glass; and strange to tell, though the mirror
reflected not my form, I saw a dim shadow of myself in the
"O my beloved, thou art come, and I am blessed."
Her soft fingers speedily overcame the hard clasp of his helmet;
one by one she undid the buckles of his armour; and she toiled
under the weight of the mail, as she WOULD carry it aside. Then
she unclasped his greaves, and unbuckled his spurs; and once more
she sprang into his arms, and laid her head where she could now
feel the beating of his heart. Then she disengaged herself from
his embrace, and, moving back a step or two, gazed at him. He
stood there a mighty form, crowned with a noble head, where all
sadness had disappeared, or had been absorbed in solemn purpose.
Yet I suppose that he looked more thoughtful than the lady had
expected to see him, for she did not renew her caresses, although
his face glowed with love, and the few words he spoke were as
mighty deeds for strength; but she led him towards the hearth,
and seated him in an ancient chair, and set wine before him, and
sat at his feet.
"I am sad," he said, "when I think of the youth whom I met twice
in the forests of Fairy Land; and who, you say, twice, with his
songs, roused you from the death-sleep of an evil enchantment.
There was something noble in him, but it was a nobleness of
thought, and not of deed. He may yet perish of vile fear."
"Ah!" returned the lady, "you saved him once, and for that I
thank you; for may I not say that I somewhat loved him? But tell
me how you fared, when you struck your battle-axe into the
ash-tree, and he came and found you; for so much of the story you
had told me, when the beggar-child came and took you away."
"As soon as I saw him," rejoined the knight, "I knew that earthly
arms availed not against such as he; and that my soul must meet
him in its naked strength. So I unclasped my helm, and flung it
on the ground; and, holding my good axe yet in my hand, gazed at
him with steady eyes. On he came, a horror indeed, but I did not
flinch. Endurance must conquer, where force could not reach. He
came nearer and nearer, till the ghastly face was close to mine.
A shudder as of death ran through me; but I think I did not move,
for he seemed to quail, and retreated. As soon as he gave back,
I struck one more sturdy blow on the stem of his tree, that the
forest rang; and then looked at him again. He writhed and
grinned with rage and apparent pain, and again approached me, but
retreated sooner than before. I heeded him no more, but hewed
with a will at the tree, till the trunk creaked, and the head
bowed, and with a crash it fell to the earth. Then I looked up
from my labour, and lo! the spectre had vanished, and I saw him
no more; nor ever in my wanderings have I heard of him again."
"Well struck! well withstood! my hero," said the lady.
"But," said the knight, somewhat troubled, "dost thou love the
"Ah!" she replied, "how can I help it? He woke me from worse
than death; he loved me. I had never been for thee, if he had
not sought me first. But I love him not as I love thee. He was
but the moon of my night; thou art the sun of my clay, O
"Thou art right," returned the noble man. "It were hard, indeed,
not to have some love in return for such a gift as he hath given
thee. I, too, owe him more than words can speak."
Humbled before them, with an aching and desolate heart, I yet
could not restrain my words:
"Let me, then, be the moon of thy night still, O woman! And when
thy day is beclouded, as the fairest days will be, let some song
of mine comfort thee, as an old, withered, half-forgotten thing,
that belongs to an ancient mournful hour of uncompleted birth,
which yet was beautiful in its time."
They sat silent, and I almost thought they were listening. The
colour of the lady's eyes grew deeper and deeper; the slow tears
grew, and filled them, and overflowed. They rose, and passed,
hand in hand, close to where I stood; and each looked towards me
in passing. Then they disappeared through a door which closed
behind them; but, ere it closed, I saw that the room into which
it opened was a rich chamber, hung with gorgeous arras. I stood
with an ocean of sighs frozen in my bosom. I could remain no
longer. She was near me, and I could not see her; near me in the
arms of one loved better than I, and I would not see her, and I
would not be by her. But how to escape from the nearness of the
best beloved? I had not this time forgotten the mark; for the
fact that I could not enter the sphere of these living beings
kept me aware that, for me, I moved in a vision, while they moved
in life. I looked all about for the mark, but could see it
nowhere; for I avoided looking just where it was. There the dull
red cipher glowed, on the very door of their secret chamber.
Struck with agony, I dashed it open, and fell at the feet of the
ancient woman, who still spun on, the whole dissolved ocean of my
sighs bursting from me in a storm of tearless sobs. Whether I
fainted or slept, I do not know; but, as I returned to
consciousness, before I seemed to have power to move, I heard the
woman singing, and could distinguish the words:
O light of dead and of dying days!
O Love! in thy glory go,
In a rosy mist and a moony maze,
O'er the pathless peaks of snow.
But what is left for the cold gray soul,
That moans like a wounded dove?
- wine is left in the broken bowl!--
'Tis-- TO LOVE, AND LOVE AND LOVE.
Now I could weep. When she saw me weeping, she sang:
Better to sit at the waters' birth,
Than a sea of waves to win;
To live in the love that floweth forth,
Than the love that cometh in.
Be thy heart a well of love, my child,
Flowing, and free, and sure;
- a cistern of love, though undefiled,
Keeps not the spirit pure.
I rose from the earth, loving the white lady as I had never loved
Then I walked up to the door of Dismay, and opened it, and went
out. And lo! I came forth upon a crowded street, where men and
women went to and fro in multitudes. I knew it well; and,
turning to one hand, walked sadly along the pavement. Suddenly I
saw approaching me, a little way off, a form well known to me
(WELL-KNOWN!--alas, how weak the word!) in the years when I
thought my boyhood was left behind, and shortly before I entered
the realm of Fairy Land. Wrong and Sorrow had gone together,
hand-in-hand as it is well they do.
Unchangeably dear was that face. It lay in my heart as a child
lies in its own white bed; but I could not meet her.
"Anything but that," I said, and, turning aside, sprang up the
steps to a door, on which I fancied I saw the mystic sign. I
entered--not the mysterious cottage, but her home. I rushed
wildly on, and stood by the door of her room.
"She is out," I said, "I will see the old room once more."
I opened the door gently, and stood in a great solemn church. A
deep- toned bell, whose sounds throbbed and echoed and swam
through the empty building, struck the hour of midnight. The
moon shone through the windows of the clerestory, and enough of
the ghostly radiance was diffused through the church to let me
see, walking with a stately, yet somewhat trailing and stumbling
step, down the opposite aisle, for I stood in one of the
transepts, a figure dressed in a white robe, whether for the
night, or for that longer night which lies too deep for the day,
I could not tell. Was it she? and was this her chamber? I
crossed the church, and followed. The figure stopped, seemed to
ascend as it were a high bed, and lay down. I reached the place
where it lay, glimmering white. The bed was a tomb. The light
was too ghostly to see clearly, but I passed my hand over the
face and the hands and the feet, which were all bare. They were
cold--they were marble, but I knew them. It grew dark. I turned
to retrace my steps, but found, ere long, that I had wandered
into what seemed a little chapel. I groped about, seeking the
door. Everything I touched belonged to the dead. My hands fell
on the cold effigy of a knight who lay with his legs crossed and
his sword broken beside him. He lay in his noble rest, and I
lived on in ignoble strife. I felt for the left hand and a
certain finger; I found there the ring I knew: he was one of my
own ancestors. I was in the chapel over the burial-vault of my
race. I called aloud: "If any of the dead are moving here, let
them take pity upon me, for I, alas! am still alive; and let some
dead woman comfort me, for I am a stranger in the land of the
dead, and see no light." A warm kiss alighted on my lips through
the dark. And I said, "The dead kiss well; I will not be
afraid." And a great hand was reached out of the dark, and
grasped mine for a moment, mightily and tenderly. I said to
myself: "The veil between, though very dark, is very thin."
Groping my way further, I stumbled over the heavy stone that
covered the entrance of the vault: and, in stumbling, descried
upon the stone the mark, glowing in red fire. I caught the great
ring. All my effort could not have moved the huge slab; but it
opened the door of the cottage, and I threw myself once more,
pale and speechless, on the couch beside the ancient dame. She
sang once more:
- dreamest: on a rock thou art,
High o'er the broken wave;
Thou fallest with a fearful start
But not into thy grave;
For, waking in the morning's light,
Thou smilest at the vanished night
So wilt thou sink, all pale and dumb,
Into the fainting gloom;
- ere the coming terrors come,
Thou wak'st--where is the tomb?
Thou wak'st--the dead ones smile above,
With hovering arms of sleepless love.
She paused; then sang again:
We weep for gladness, weep for grief;
The tears they are the same;
We sigh for longing, and relief;
The sighs have but one name,
And mingled in the dying strife,
Are moans that are not sad
The pangs of death are throbs of life,
Its sighs are sometimes glad.
- face is very strange and white:
It is Earth's only spot
That feebly flickers back the light
The living seeth not.
I fell asleep, and slept a dreamless sleep, for I know not how
long. When I awoke, I found that my hostess had moved from where
she had been sitting, and now sat between me and the fourth door.
I guessed that her design was to prevent my entering there. I
sprang from the couch, and darted past her to the door. I opened
it at once and went out. All I remember is a cry of distress
from the woman: "Don't go there, my child! Don't go there!"
But I was gone.
I knew nothing more; or, if I did, I had forgot it all when I
awoke to consciousness, lying on the floor of the cottage, with
my head in the lap of the woman, who was weeping over me, and
stroking my hair with both hands, talking to me as a mother might
talk to a sick and sleeping, or a dead child. As soon as I
looked up and saw her, she smiled through her tears; smiled with
withered face and young eyes, till her countenance was irradiated
with the light of the smile. Then she bathed my head and face
and hands in an icy cold, colourless liquid, which smelt a little
of damp earth. Immediately I was able to sit up. She rose and
put some food before me. When I had eaten, she said:
"Listen to me, my child. You must leave me directly!"
"Leave you!" I said. "I am so happy with you. I never was so
happy in my life."
"But you must go," she rejoined sadly. "Listen! What do you
"I hear the sound as of a great throbbing of water."
"Ah! you do hear it? Well, I had to go through that door--the
door of the Timeless" (and she shuddered as she pointed to the
fourth door)-- "to find you; for if I had not gone, you would
never have entered again; and because I went, the waters around
my cottage will rise and rise, and flow and come, till they build
a great firmament of waters over my dwelling. But as long as I
keep my fire burning, they cannot enter. I have fuel enough for
years; and after one year they will sink away again, and be just
as they were before you came. I have not been buried for a
hundred years now." And she smiled and wept.
"Alas! alas!" I cried. "I have brought this evil on the best and
kindest of friends, who has filled my heart with great gifts."
"Do not think of that," she rejoined. "I can bear it very well.
You will come back to me some day, I know. But I beg you, for my
sake, my dear child, to do one thing. In whatever sorrow you may
be, however inconsolable and irremediable it may appear, believe
me that the old woman in the cottage, with the young eyes" (and
she smiled), "knows something, though she must not always tell
it, that would quite satisfy you about it, even in the worst
moments of your distress.
Now you must go."
"But how can I go, if the waters are all about, and if the doors
all lead into other regions and other worlds?"
"This is not an island," she replied; "but is joined to the land
by a narrow neck; and for the door, I will lead you myself
through the right one."
She took my hand, and led me through the third door; whereupon I
found myself standing in the deep grassy turf on which I had
landed from the little boat, but upon the opposite side of the
cottage. She pointed out the direction I must take, to find the
isthmus and escape the rising waters.
Then putting her arms around me, she held me to her bosom; and as
I kissed her, I felt as if I were leaving my mother for the first
time, and could not help weeping bitterly. At length she gently
pushed me away, and with the words, "Go, my son, and do something
worth doing," turned back, and, entering the cottage, closed the
door behind her.
I felt very desolate as I went.