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The Stream's Secret
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1881

1             What thing unto mine ear
2         Wouldst thou convey,--what secret thing,
3     O wandering water ever whispering?
4         Surely thy speech shall be of her.
5     Thou 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,
9     And there through jealous hollowed fingers said
10       The thing that most I long to know--
11   Murmuring 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;
15   But where it welters to this little moan
16       His will decrees that I should hear.
17   Now 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 
21   Slake in one kiss the thirst of memory?
22       Say, streams, lest Love should disavow
23   Thy 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.
27   Their ghosts in many darkened doorways dwell
28       With desolate eyes to know them by.
29   That 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
33   That while the maze hath still its bower for quest
34       My burning heart should cease to seek.
35   Be 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,
39   May any bulwark bind thy foaming crown?
40       Shall not the waters surge and spread
41   And to the crannied boulders of their bed
42           Still shoot the dead drift down7 

43           Let no rebuke find place
44       In speech of thine: or it shall prove
45   That thou dost ill expound the words of Love.
46       Even as thine eddy's rippling race
47   Would 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
51   Love sought her aid; until her shadowy cheek
52       And eyes beseeching gave command;
53   And 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
57   Through that long-lingering silence whose half-sighs
58       Alone the buried secret broke,
59   Which 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
63   Bring yet to me, long gazing from the door,
64       The wind-stirred robe of roseate gray
65   And 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,--
69   Bright as the laughter of thy runnels when
70       The dawn yields all the light they crave;
71   Even 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;
75   And sweet her eyes' o'erhanging heaven; and sweet
76       The gathering folds of her embrace;
77   And 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, 
81   Our kisses and our sobs shall sink to rest;
82       As in some still trance made aware
83   That 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,
89   While 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,
93   And closed lips in closed arms a silence keep,
94       Subdued by memory's circling strain,--
95   The 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
99   Autumnal Springs, from many a dying year
100       Born dead; and, bitter to the heart,
101   The 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
105   Low-breathed shall let me know her thought the same:
106       Making me rich with every tone
107   And 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;
111   And from the living spirit of love that stands
112       Between her lips to soothe and yearn,
113   Each 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
117   Are felt at length in darkling close embrace;
118       Round which so oft the sun shone clear,
119   With 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;
123   While, for each several sweetness still begun
124       Afresh, endures love's endless drouth;
125   Sweet 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;
129   What time the governing cloud sheds peace from it
130       O'er tremulous wings that touch the goal,
131   And 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,--
135   Each on the other gazing shall but see
136       A self that has no need to speak:
137   All 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, 
141   O water, thou that wanderest whispering,
142       Thou keep'st thy counsel to the last.
143   What 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
147   Of life that obdurate time withholds,--ere yet
148       To win thine ear these prayers prevail,
149   And 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,--
153   Heart's anguish in the impenetrable maze;
154       And on the waste uncoloured wold
155   The 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,
159   And made so perfect only to be slain?
160       Or shall not rather the sweet thirst
161   Even 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
165   With bodiless form and unapparent feet
166       That cast no shadow yet before,
167   Though 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
171   Be born,--yea, till the journeying line be laid
172       Upon the point that wakes the spell,
173   And 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;
177   And still it hears the night's disconsolate cry,
178       And feels the branches wringing wet
179   Cast on its brow, that may not once forget, 
180           Dumb tears from the blind sky. 

181           But oh! when now her foot
182   Draws near, for whose sake night and day
183       Were long in weary longing sighed away,--
184   The 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
189   That song shall lift its sweet appointed tune.
190       O tell me, for my lips are cold,
191   And 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
195   Yield thanks for grace; while in thy mirror shown
196       The twofold image softly lies,
197   Until 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,
201   To thee let nothing come that owns his sway:
202       Let happy lovers have no part
203   With 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
207   Risen from the earth or fall'n to make earth pale;
208       And all stands hushed to eye and ear,
209   Until 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
213   Which to thy heart, my love, shall call me home.
214       Between the lips of the low cave
215   Against 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,
219   And with Death's eyes that make the water moan,
220       Gathers the water in his hand: 
221   And 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!
225   So even beside that stream even I and thou
226       Through thirsting lips should draw Love's grace,
227   And 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,--
231   As with mine eyes, is it not now with hers?--
232       Mine eyes that add to thy cold spring,
233   Wan water, wandering water weltering, 
234           This hidden tide of tears.

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