On winter nights beside the nursery fire We read the fairy tale, while glowing coals Builded its pictures. There before our eyes We saw the vaulted hall of traceried stone Uprear itself, the distant ceiling hung With pendent stalactites like frozen vines; And all along the walls at intervals, Curled upwards into pillars, roses climbed, And ramped and were confined, and clustered leaves Divided where there peered a laughing face. The foliage seemed to rustle in the wind, A silent murmur, carved in still, gray stone. High pointed windows pierced the southern wall Whence proud escutcheons flung prismatic fires To stain the tessellated marble floor With pools of red, and quivering green, and blue; And in the shade beyond the further door, Its sober squares of black and white were hid Beneath a restless, shuffling, wide-eyed mob Of lackeys and retainers come to view The Christening. A sudden blare of trumpets, and the throng About the entrance parted as the guests Filed singly in with rare and precious gifts. Our eager fancies noted all they brought, The glorious, unattainable delights! But always there was one unbidden guest Who cursed the child and left it bitterness.
The fire falls asunder, all is changed, I am no more a child, and what I see Is not a fairy tale, but life, my life. The gifts are there, the many pleasant things: Health, wealth, long-settled friendships, with a name Which honors all who bear it, and the power Of making words obedient. This is much; But overshadowing all is still the curse, That never shall I be fulfilled by love! Along the parching highroad of the world No other soul shall bear mine company. Always shall I be teased with semblances, With cruel impostures, which I trust awhile Then dash to pieces, as a careless boy Flings a kaleidoscope, which shattering Strews all the ground about with coloured sherds. So I behold my visions on the ground No longer radiant, an ignoble heap Of broken, dusty glass. And so, unlit, Even by hope or faith, my dragging steps Force me forever through the passing days.