"Shall Man be Man? And shall he miss Of other thoughts no thought but this, Harmonious dews of sober bliss?
"What boots it? Shall his fevered eye Through towering nothingness descry The grisly phantom hurry by?
"And hear dumb shrieks that fill the air; See mouths that gape, and eyes that stare And redden in the dusky glare?
"The meadows breathing amber light, The darkness toppling from the height, The feathery train of granite Night?
"Shall he, grown gray among his peers, Through the thick curtain of his tears Catch glimpses of his earlier years,
"And hear the sounds he knew of yore, Old shufflings on the sanded floor, Old knuckles tapping at the door?
"Yet still before him as he flies One pallid form shall ever rise, And, bodying forth in glassy eyes
"The vision of a vanished good, Low peering through the tangled wood, Shall freeze the current of his blood."
Still from each fact, with skill uncouth And savage rapture, like a tooth She wrenched some slow reluctant truth.
Till, like a silent water-mill, When summer suns have dried the rill, She reached a full stop, and was still.
Dead calm succeeded to the fuss, As when the loaded omnibus Has reached the railway terminus:
When, for the tumult of the street, Is heard the engine's stifled beat, The velvet tread of porters' feet.
With glance that ever sought the ground, She moved her lips without a sound, And every now and then she frowned.
He gazed upon the sleeping sea, And joyed in its tranquillity, And in that silence dead, but she
To muse a little space did seem, Then, like the echo of a dream, Harked back upon her threadbare theme.
Still an attentive ear he lent But could not fathom what she meant: She was not deep, nor eloquent.
He marked the ripple on the sand: The even swaying of her hand Was all that he could understand.
He saw in dreams a drawing-room, Where thirteen wretches sat in gloom, Waiting--he thought he knew for whom:
He saw them drooping here and there, Each feebly huddled on a chair, In attitudes of blank despair:
Oysters were not more mute than they, For all their brains were pumped away, And they had nothing more to say -
Save one, who groaned "Three hours are gone!" Who shrieked "We'll wait no longer, John! Tell them to set the dinner on!"
The vision passed: the ghosts were fled: He saw once more that woman dread: He heard once more the words she said.
He left her, and he turned aside: He sat and watched the coming tide Across the shores so newly dried.
He wondered at the waters clear, The breeze that whispered in his ear, The billows heaving far and near,
And why he had so long preferred To hang upon her every word: "In truth," he said, "it was absurd."
The Third Voice
Not long this transport held its place: Within a little moment's space Quick tears were raining down his face
His heart stood still, aghast with fear; A wordless voice, nor far nor near, He seemed to hear and not to hear.
"Tears kindle not the doubtful spark. If so, why not? Of this remark The bearings are profoundly dark."
"Her speech," he said, "hath caused this pain. Easier I count it to explain The jargon of the howling main,
"Or, stretched beside some babbling brook, To con, with inexpressive look, An unintelligible book."
Low spake the voice within his head, In words imagined more than said, Soundless as ghost's intended tread:
"If thou art duller than before, Why quittedst thou the voice of lore? Why not endure, expecting more?"
"Rather than that," he groaned aghast, "I'd writhe in depths of cavern vast, Some loathly vampire's rich repast."
"'Twere hard," it answered, "themes immense To coop within the narrow fence That rings THY scant intelligence."
"Not so," he urged, "nor once alone: But there was something in her tone That chilled me to the very bone.
"Her style was anything but clear, And most unpleasantly severe; Her epithets were very queer.
"And yet, so grand were her replies, I could not choose but deem her wise; I did not dare to criticise;
"Nor did I leave her, till she went So deep in tangled argument That all my powers of thought were spent."
A little whisper inly slid, "Yet truth is truth: you know you did." A little wink beneath the lid.