The Stream's Secret

Original Text: 
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poems (London: Ellis and White, 1881). end R677 A155 1881 (Fisher Library).
1        What thing unto mine ear
2    Wouldst thou convey,--what secret thing,
3O wandering water ever whispering?
4    Surely thy speech shall be of her.
5Thou water, O thou whispering wanderer,
6        What message dost thou bring?
7        Say, hath not Love leaned low
8    This hour beside thy far well-head,
9And there through jealous hollowed fingers said
10    The thing that most I long to know--
11Murmuring with curls all dabbled in thy flow
12        And washed lips rosy red?
13        He told it to thee there
14    Where thy voice hath a louder tone;
15But where it welters to this little moan
16    His will decrees that I should hear.
17Now speak: for with the silence is no fear,
18        And I am all alone.
19        Shall Time not still endow
20    One hour with life, and I and she
21Slake in one kiss the thirst of memory?
22    Say, streams, lest Love should disavow
23Thy service, and the bird upon the bough
24        Sing first to tell it me.
25        What whisperest thou? Nay, why
26    Name the dead hours? I mind them well.
27Their ghosts in many darkened doorways dwell
28    With desolate eyes to know them by.
29That hour must still be born ere it can die
30        Of that I'd have thee tell.
31        But hear, before thou speak!
32    Withhold, I pray, the vain behest
33That while the maze hath still its bower for quest
34    My burning heart should cease to seek.
35Be sure that Love ordained for souls more meek
36        His roadside dells of rest.
37        Stream, when this silver thread
38    In flood-time is a torrent brown,
39May any bulwark bind thy foaming crown?
40    Shall not the waters surge and spread
41And to the crannied boulders of their bed
42        Still shoot the dead drift down?
43        Let no rebuke find place
44    In speech of thine: or it shall prove
45That thou dost ill expound the words of Love.
46    Even as thine eddy's rippling race
47Would blur the perfect image of his face
48        I will have none thereof.
49        O learn and understand
50    That 'gainst the wrongs himself did wreak
51Love sought her aid; until her shadowy cheek
52    And eyes beseeching gave command;
53And compassed in her close compassionate hand
54        My heart must burn and speak.
55        For then at last we spoke
56    What eyes so oft had told to eyes
57Through that long-lingering silence whose half-sighs
58    Alone the buried secret broke,
59Which with snatched hands and lips' reverberate stroke
60        Then from the heart did rise.
61        But she is far away
62    Now; nor the hours of night grown hoar
63Bring yet to me, long gazing from the door,
64    The wind-stirred robe of roseate gray
65And rose-crown of the hour that leads the day
66        When we shall meet once more.
67        Dark as thy blinded wave
68    When brimming midnight floods the glen,--
69Bright as the laughter of thy runnels when
70    The dawn yields all the light they crave;
71Even so these hours to wound and that to save
72        Are sisters in Love's ken.
73        Oh sweet her bending grace
74    Then when I kneel beside her feet;
75And sweet her eyes' o'erhanging heaven; and sweet
76    The gathering folds of her embrace;
77And her fall'n hair at last shed round my face
78        When breaths and tears shall meet.
79        Beneath her sheltering hair,
80    In the warm silence near her breast,
81Our kisses and our sobs shall sink to rest;
82    As in some still trance made aware
83That day and night have wrought to fulness there
84        And Love has built our nest.
85        And as in the dim grove,
86    When the rains cease that hushed them long,
87'Mid glistening boughs the song-birds wake to song,--
88    So from our hearts deep-shrined in love,
89While the leaves throb beneath, around, above,
90        The quivering notes shall throng.
91        Till tenderest words found vain
92    Draw back to wonder mute and deep,
93And closed lips in closed arms a silence keep,
94    Subdued by memory's circling strain,--
95The wind-rapt sound that the wind brings again
96        While all the willows weep.
97        Then by her summoning art
98    Shall memory conjure back the sere
99Autumnal Springs, from many a dying year
100    Born dead; and, bitter to the heart,
101The very ways where now we walk apart
102        Who then shall cling so near.
103        And with each thought new-grown,
104    Some sweet caress or some sweet name
105Low-breathed shall let me know her thought the same:
106    Making me rich with every tone
107And touch of the dear heaven so long unknown
108        That filled my dreams with flame.
109        Pity and love shall burn
110    In her pressed cheek and cherishing hands;
111And from the living spirit of love that stands
112    Between her lips to soothe and yearn,
113Each separate breath shall clasp me round in turn
114        And loose my spirit's bands.
115        Oh passing sweet and dear,
116    Then when the worshipped form and face
117Are felt at length in darkling close embrace;
118    Round which so oft the sun shone clear,
119With mocking light and pitiless atmosphere,
120        In many an hour and place.
121        Ah me! with what proud growth
122    Shall that hour's thirsting race be run;
123While, for each several sweetness still begun
124    Afresh, endures love's endless drouth;
125Sweet hands, sweet hair, sweet cheeks, sweet eyes, sweet mouth,
126        Each singly wooed and won.
127        Yet most with the sweet soul
128    Shall love's espousals then be knit;
129What time the governing cloud sheds peace from it
130    O'er tremulous wings that touch the goal,
131And on the unmeasured height of Love's control
132        The lustral fires are lit.
133        Therefore, when breast and cheek
134    Now part, from long embraces free,--
135Each on the other gazing shall but see
136    A self that has no need to speak:
137All things unsought, yet nothing more to seek,--
138        One love in unity.
139        O water wandering past,--
140    Albeit to thee I speak this thing,
141O water, thou that wanderest whispering,
142    Thou keep'st thy counsel to the last.
143What spell upon thy bosom should Love cast,
144        Its secret thence to wring?
145        Nay, must thou hear the tale
146    Of the past days,--the heavy debt
147Of life that obdurate time withholds,--ere yet
148    To win thine ear these prayers prevail,
149And by thy voice Love's self with high All-hail
150        Yield up the amulet?
151        How should all this be told?--
152    All the sad sum of wayworn days,--
153Heart's anguish in the impenetrable maze;
154    And on the waste uncoloured wold
155The visible burthen of the sun grown cold
156        And the moon's labouring gaze?
157        Alas! shall hope be nurs'd
158    On life's all-succouring breast in vain,
159And made so perfect only to be slain?
160    Or shall not rather the sweet thirst
161Even yet rejoice the heart with warmth dispers'd
162        And strength grown fair again?
163        Stands it not by the door!--
164    Love's Hour--Till she and I shall meet
165With bodiless form and unapparent feet
166    That cast no shadow yet before,
167Though round its head the dawn begins to pour
168        The breath that makes day sweet?
169        Its eyes invisible
170    Watch till the dial's thin-thrown shade
171Be born,--yea, till the journeying line be laid
172    Upon the point that wakes the spell,
173And there in lovelier light than tongue can tell
174        Its presence stands array'd.
175        Its soul remembers yet
176    Those sunless hours that passed it by;
177And still it hears the night's disconsolate cry,
178    And feels the branches wringing wet
179Cast on its brow, that may not once forget,
180        Dumb tears from the blind sky.
181        But oh! when now her foot
182Draws near, for whose sake night and day
183    Were long in weary longing sighed away,--
184The hour of Love, 'mid airs grown mute,
185    Shall sing beside the door, and Love's own lute
186        Thrill to the passionate lay.
187        Thou know'st, for Love has told
188    Within thine ear, O stream, how soon
189That song shall lift its sweet appointed tune.
190    O tell me, for my lips are cold,
191And in my veins the blood is waxing old
192        Even while I beg the boon.
193        So, in that hour of sighs
194    Assuaged, shall we beside this stone
195Yield thanks for grace; while in thy mirror shown
196    The twofold image softly lies,
197Until we kiss, and each in other's eyes
198        Is imaged all alone.
199        Still silent? Can no art
200    Of Love's then move thy pity? Nay,
201To thee let nothing come that owns his sway:
202    Let happy lovers have no part
203With thee; nor even so sad and poor a heart
204        As thou hast spurned to-day.
205        To-day? Lo! night is here.
206    The glen grows heavy with some veil
207Risen from the earth or fall'n to make earth pale;
208    And all stands hushed to eye and ear,
209Until the night-wind shake the shade like fear
210        And every covert quail.
211        Ah! by another wave
212    On other airs the hour must come
213Which to thy heart, my love, shall call me home.
214    Between the lips of the low cave
215Against that night the lapping waters lave,
216        And the dark lips are dumb.
217        But there Love's self doth stand,
218    And with Life's weary wings far flown,
219And with Death's eyes that make the water moan,
220    Gathers the water in his hand:
221And they that drink know nought of sky or land
222        But only love alone.
223        O soul-sequestered face
224    Far off,--O were that night but now!
225So even beside that stream even I and thou
226    Through thirsting lips should draw Love's grace,
227And in the zone of that supreme embrace
228        Bind aching breast and brow.
229        O water whispering
230    Still through the dark into mine ears,--
231As with mine eyes, is it not now with hers?--
232    Mine eyes that add to thy cold spring,
233Wan water, wandering water weltering,
234        This hidden tide of tears.
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
W. J. Alexander; William Hall Clawson
RPO Edition: 
RP (1916), pp. 414-16 RPO 1997.