The Muse and the Poet
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
The Muse said, Let us sing a little song
Wherein no hint of wrong,
No echo of the great world need, or pain,
Shall mar the strain.
Lock fast the swinging portal of thy heart;
Keep sympathy apart.
Sing of the sunset, of the dawn, the sea;
Of any thing or nothing, so there be
No purpose to thy art.
Yea, let us make, art for Art’s sake.
And sing no more unto the hearts of men,
But for the critic’s pen.
With songs that are but words, sweet sounding words,
Like joyous jargon of the birds.
Tune now thy lyre, O Poet, and sing on.
The Virgin Night, all languorous with dreams
Of her belovèd Darkness, rose in fear,
Feeling the presence of another near.
Outside her curtained casement shone the gleams
Of burning orbs; and modestly she hid
Her brow and bosom with her dusky hair.
When lo! the bold intruder lurking there
Leaped through the fragile lattice, all unbid,
And half unveiled her. Then the swooning Night
Fell pale and dead, while yet her soul was white
Before that lawless Ravisher, the Light.
The Muse said, Poet, nay; thou host not caught
My meaning. For there lurks a thought
Back of thy song.
In art, all thought is wrong.
Re-string thy lyre; and let the echoes bound
To nothing but sweet sound.
Strike now the chords
And sing of
One day sweet Ladye Language gave to me
A little golden key.
I sat me down beside her jewel box
And turned its locks.
And oh, the wealth that lay there in my sight.
Great solitaires of words, so bright, so bright;
Words that no use can commonize; like God,
And Truth, and Love; and words of sapphire blue;
And amber words; with sunshine dripping through;
And words of that strange hue
A pearl reveals upon a wanton’s hand.
Again the Muse:
Thou dost not understand;
A thought within thy song is lingering yet.
Sing but of words; all else forget, forget.
Nor let thy words convey one thought to men.
Try once again.
Down through the dusk and dew there fell a word;
Down through the dew and dusk.
And all the garments of the air it stirred
Smelled sweet as musk;
And all the little waves of air it kissed
Turned cold and amethyst.
There in the dew and dusk a heart it found;
There in the dusk and dew
The sodden silence changed to fragrant sound;
And all the world seemed new.
Upon the path that little word had trod,
There shone the smile of God.
The Muse said, Drop thy lyre.
I tire, I tire.