The Nightingale unheard

Josephine Preston Peabody

Yes, Nightingale, through all the summer-time
 We followed on, from moon to golden moon;
 From where Salerno day-dreams in the noon,
And the far rose of Pæstum once did climb.
 All the white way beside the girdling blue,
Through sun-shrill vines and campanile chime,
 We listened; — from the old year to the new.
  Brown bird, and where were you?
You, that Ravello lured not, throned on high
 And filled with singing out of sun-burned throats!
 Nor yet Minore of the flame-sailed boats;
Nor yet — of all bird-song should glorify —
 Assisi, Little Portion of the blest,
Assisi, in the bosom of the sky,
 Where God's own singer thatched his sunward nest,
  That little, heavenliest!
And north and north, to where the hedge-rows are,
 That beckon with white looks an endless way;
 Where, through the fair wet silverness of May,
A lamb shines out as sudden as a star,
 Among the cloudy sheep; and green, and pale,
The may-trees reach and glimmer, near or far,
 And the red may-trees wear a shining veil.
  And still, no nightingale!
The one vain longing, — through all journeyings,
 The one:  in every hushed and hearkening spot, —
 All the soft-swarming dark where you were not,
Still longed for!  Yes, for sake of dreams and wings,
 And wonders, that your own must ever make
To bower you close, with all hearts' treasurings;
 And for that speech toward which all hearts do ache; —
  Even for Music's sake.
But most, his music whose belovèd name
 Forever writ in water of bright tears,
 Wins to one grave-side even the Roman years,
That kindle there the hallowed April flame
 Of comfort-breathing violets.  By that shrine
Of Youth, Love, Death, forevermore the same,
 Violets still! —  When falls, to leave no sign,
  The arch of Constantine.
Most for his sake we dreamed.  Tho' not as he,
 From that lone spirit, brimmed with human woe,
 Your song once shook to surging overflow.
How was it, sovran dweller of the tree,
 His cry, still throbbing in the flooded shell
Of silence with remembered melody,
 Could draw from you no answer to the spell?
  — O Voice, O Philomel?
Long time we wondered (and we knew not why): —
 Nor dream, nor prayer, of wayside gladness born,
 Nor vineyards waiting, nor reproachful thorn,
Nor yet the nested hill-towns set so high
 All the white way beside the girdling blue, —
Nor olives, gray against a golden sky,
 Could serve to wake that rapturous voice of you!
  But the wise silence knew.
O Nightingale unheard! —  Unheard alone,
 Throughout that woven music of the days
 From the faint sea-rim to the market-place,
And ring of hammers on cathedral stone!
 So be it, better so:  that there should fail
For sun-filled ones, one blessèd thing unknown.
 To them, be hid forever, — and all hail!
  Sing never, Nightingale.
Sing, for the others!  Sing; to some pale cheek
 Against the window, like a starving flower.
 Loose, with your singing, one poor pilgrim hour
Of journey, with some Heart's Desire to seek.
 Loose, with your singing, captives such as these
In misery and iron, hearts too meek,
 For voyage — voyage over dreamful seas
  To lost Hesperides.
Sing not for free-men.  Ah, but sing for whom
 The walls shut in; and even as eyes that fade,
 The windows take no heed of light nor shade, —
The leaves are lost in mutterings of the loom.
 Sing near!  So in that golden overflowing
They may forget their wasted human bloom;
 Pay the devouring days their all, unknowing, —
  Reck not of life's bright going!
Sing not for lovers, side by side that hark;
 Nor unto parted lovers, save they be
 Parted indeed by more than makes the Sea,
Where never hope shall meet — like mounting lark —
 Far Joy's uprising; and no memories
Abide to star the music-haunted dark:
 To them that sit in darkness, such as these,
  Pour down, pour down heart's-ease.
Not in Kings' gardens.  No; but where there haunt
 The world's forgotten, both of men and birds;
 The alleys of no hope and of no words,
The hidings where men reap not, though they plant;
 But toil and thirst — so dying and so born; —
And toil and thirst to gather to their want,
 From the lean waste, beyond the daylight's scorn,
  — To gather grapes of thorn!

. . . . .

And for those two, your pilgrims without tears,
 Who prayed a largess where there was no dearth,
Forgive it to their human-happy ears:
 Forgive it them, brown music of the Earth,
 Unknowing, — though the wiser silence knew!
Forgive it to the music of the spheres
 That while they walked together so, the Two
  Together, — heard not you.