Excerpt Before the Altar Before the Altar, bowed, he standsWith empty hands;Upon it perfumed offerings burnWreathing with smoke the sacrificial urn.Not one of all these has he given,No flame of his has leapt to HeavenFiresouled, vermilion-hearted,Forked, and darted,Consuming what a few spare penceHave cheaply bought, to fling from henceIn idly-asked petition.His sole conditionLove and poverty.And while the moonSwings slow across the sky,Athwart a waving pine tree,And soonTips all the needles thereWith silver sparkles, bitterlyHe gazes, while his soulGrows hard with thinking of the poorness of his dole."Shining and distant Goddess, hear my prayerWhere you swim in the high air!With charity look down on me,Under this tree,Tending the gifts I have not brought,The rare and goodly thingsI have not sought.Instead, take from me all my life!"Upon the wingsOf shimmering moonbeamsI pack my poet's dreamsFor you.My wearying strife,My courage, my loss,Into the night I tossFor you.Golden Divinity,Deign to look down on meWho so unworthilyOffers to you:All life has known,Seeds withered unsown,Hopes turning quick to fears,Laughter which dies in tears.The shredded remnant of a manIs all the spanAnd compass of my offering to you."Empty and silent, IKneel before your pure, calm majesty.On this stone, in this urnI pour my heart and watch it burn,Myself the sacrifice; but beStill unmoved: Divinity."From the altar, bathed in moonlight,The smoke rose straight in the quiet night. Suggested by the Cover of a Volume of Keats's Poems Wild little bird, who chose thee for a signTo put upon the cover of this book?Who heard thee singing in the distance dim,The vague, far greenness of the enshrouding wood,When the damp freshness of the morning earthWas full of pungent sweetness and thy song?Who followed over moss and twisted roots,And pushed through the wet leaves of trailing vinesWhere slanting sunbeams gleamed uncertainly,While ever clearer came the dropping notes,Until, at last, two widening trunks disclosedThee singing on a spray of branching beech,Hidden, then seen; and always that same songOf joyful sweetness, rapture incarnate,Filled the hushed, rustling stillness of the wood?We do not know what bird thou art. PerhapsThat fairy bird, fabled in island tale,Who never sings but once, and then his songIs of such fearful beauty that he diesFrom sheer exuberance of melody.For this they took thee, little bird, for thisThey captured thee, tilting among the leaves,And stamped thee for a symbol on this book.For it contains a song surpassing thine,Richer, more sweet, more poignant. And the poetWho felt this burning beauty, and whose heartWas full of loveliest things, sang all he knewA little while, and then he died; too frailTo bear this untamed, passionate burst of song. Apples of Hesperides Glinting golden through the trees,Apples of Hesperides!Through the moon-pierced warp of nightShoot pale shafts of yellow light,Swaying to the kissing breezeSwings the treasure, golden-gleaming,Apples of Hesperides...!
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