The Muse and the Poet

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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.
      Sing of


   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.

from An Englishman and Other Poems by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1912)

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