LOVE'S NOCTURN - Christina Rossetti Poems


Poems » christina rossetti » love s nocturn


  Master of the murmuring courts
    Where the shapes of sleep convene!--
Lo! my spirit here exhorts
    All the powers of thy demesne
    For their aid to woo my queen.
       What reports
    Yield thy jealous courts unseen?

  Vaporous, unaccountable,
    Dreamland lies forlorn of light,
Hollow like a breathing shell.
    Ah! that from all dreams I might
    Choose one dream and guide its flight!
       I know well
    What her sleep should tell to-night.

  There the dreams are multitudes:
    Some that will not wait for sleep,
Deep within the August woods;
    Some that hum while rest may steep
    Weary labour laid a-heap;
    Some, of grievous moods that weep.

  Poets' fancies all are there:
    There the elf-girls flood with wings
Valleys full of plaintive air;
    There breathe perfumes; there in rings
    Whirl the foam-bewildered springs;
       Siren there
    Winds her dizzy hair and sings.

  Thence the one dream mutually
    Dreamed in bridal unison,
Less than waking ecstasy;
    Half-formed visions that make moan
    In the house of birth alone;
       And what we
    At death's wicket see, unknown.

  But for mine own sleep, it lies
    In one gracious form's control,
Fair with honourable eyes,
    Lamps of a translucent soul:
    O their glance is loftiest dole,
       Sweet and wise,
    Wherein Love descries his goal.

  Reft of her, my dreams are all
    Clammy trance that fears the sky:
Changing footpaths shift and fall;
    From polluted coverts nigh,
    Miserable phantoms sigh;
       Quakes the pall,
    And the funeral goes by.

  Master, is it soothly said
    That, as echoes of man's speech
Far in secret clefts are made,
    So do all men's bodies reach
    Shadows o'er thy sunken beach,--
       Shape or shade
    In those halls pourtrayed of each?

  Ah! might I, by thy good grace
    Groping in the windy stair,
(Darkness and the breath of space
    Like loud waters everywhere,)
    Meeting mine own image there
       Face to face,
    Send it from that place to her!

  Nay, not I; but oh! do thou,
    Master, from thy shadowkind
Call my body's phantom now:
    Bid it bear its face declin'd
    Till its flight her slumbers find,
       And her brow
    Feel its presence bow like wind.

  Where in groves the gracile Spring
    Trembles, with mute orison
Confidently strengthening,
    Water's voice and wind's as one
    Shed an echo in the sun.
       Soft as Spring,
    Master, bid it sing and moan.

  Song shall tell how glad and strong
    Is the night she soothes alway;
Moan shall grieve with that parched tongue
    Of the brazen hours of day:
    Sounds as of the springtide they,
       Moan and song,
    While the chill months long for May.

  Not the prayers which with all leave
    The world's fluent woes prefer,--
Not the praise the world doth give,
    Dulcet fulsome whisperer;--
    Let it yield my love to her,
       And achieve
    Strength that shall not grieve or err.

  Wheresoe'er my dreams befall,
    Both at night-watch, (let it say,)
And where round the sundial
    The reluctant hours of day,
    Heartless, hopeless of their way,
       Rest and call;--
    There her glance doth fall and stay.

  Suddenly her face is there:
    So do mounting vapours wreathe
Subtle-scented transports where
    The black firwood sets its teeth.
    Part the boughs and look beneath,--
       Lilies share
    Secret waters there, and breathe.

  Master, bid my shadow bend
    Whispering thus till birth of light,
Lest new shapes that sleep may send
    Scatter all its work to flight;--
    Master, master of the night,
       Bid it spend
    Speech, song, prayer, and end aright.

  Yet, ah me! if at her head
    There another phantom lean
Murmuring o'er the fragrant bed,--
    Ah! and if my spirit's queen
    Smile those alien prayers between,--
       Ah! poor shade!
    Shall it strive, or fade unseen?

  How should love's own messenger
    Strive with love and be love's foe?
Master, nay! If thus, in her,
    Sleep a wedded heart should show,--
    Silent let mine image go,
       Its old share
    Of thy spell-bound air to know.

  Like a vapour wan and mute,
    Like a flame, so let it pass;
One low sigh across her lute,
    One dull breath against her glass;
    And to my sad soul, alas!
       One salute
    Cold as when Death's foot shall pass.

  Then, too, let all hopes of mine,
    All vain hopes by night and day,
Slowly at thy summoning sign
    Rise up pallid and obey.
    Dreams, if this is thus, were they:--
       Be they thine,
    And to dreamworld pine away.

  Yet from old time, life, not death,
    Master, in thy rule is rife:
Lo! through thee, with mingling breath,
    Adam woke beside his wife.
    O Love bring me so, for strife,
       Force and faith,
    Bring me so not death but life!

  Yea, to Love himself is pour'd
    This frail song of hope and fear.
Thou art Love, of one accord
    With kind Sleep to bring her near,
    Still-eyed, deep-eyed, ah how dear.
       Master, Lord,
    In her name implor'd, O hear!