The Tower of the Dream: Part 4 [poem by Charles Harpur]

[Editor: This is part 4 of The Tower of the Dream (1865), by Charles Harpur.]

Part IV.

At last, all suddenly, in the air aloft,
O’er the tower a wild, weird, wailful song
Woke flying, many-voiced; — then sweeping off
Out tow’rds the echoey hills, so passed away
In dying murmurs through the hollow dark.


In vain were our spells wrought —
In vain was She well taught
How that dread Watcher’s eyes drowsy to keep ;
In vein was the dragon-steed
There at the hour of need,
Out with his double-freight blissward to sweep.

Lost — lost — lost — lost!
In vain were our spells of an infinite cost!
Lost — lost — lost — lost!
Yon Gulf by a mortal may never be crossed never!
Never — ah never!
The doom holds for ever!
And to aid her eught mere
Is out of sphere and transcendeth our lore.
Lost — lost — lost — lost!
Come away — come away.
Since only in soul yon vague Gulf can be crost,
Our beautiful Mistress her failure must weep —
Weep — weep — weep — weep!
Away — come away!
For see, wide uprolling, the white front of day!
Away to the mystic mid-regions of Sleep —
Of the beautiful Spirit of Sleep!
Lost — lost — lost — lost!

So passed that song (of which the drift alone
Is here reached after in such leaden speech
As uncharmed mortals use). And when its tones
Out tow’rds the mountains in the dark afar,
Had wasted, I grew sensible, methought,
Of seasonable change; — that now the Cell
Kept clarifying till the darkness seemed
Marbled with grey; and then the steed again,
With his strange dragon-claws and half spread wings,
And eke the tripod, where it still had stood,
Figured like shadows through the thinning gloom,
And gradually thence, by just the same
Degrees reversed in which they’d faded there
Into the darkness as the night advanced,
Came forth in full development again.

It was the Dawn : and thus it clearing kept,
Till through the eastern port a golden rod
Of light fell transiently, and so bespake
The sunrise! Oh, it was a desolate pass,
To feel, — immured in that relentless keep, —
How on the purple bills the sun was then
Rejoicing in his glory! Then to know
That he was wheeling up the heaven, and o’er
My prison roof, — hour after hour, to think
How he was tracking with a step of fire
His midway course, and loudening through the world
The thunder of its universal life!
Or how his mighty orb had sloped in Time’s
Descending scale, and thence was glorying down
Into the crimson waves of some wide sea
Beyond the Hesperides! But this, alas!
Was my dread fate while seven times day and night
So wearily came, — so wore away ; and yet
I slept not! nor (to my amazement) there,
Through all this drear time, did the wintry tooth
Of hunger gnaw within my corporal frame!
No thirst inflamed me! While by the grim door
Which seemed to shut athwart some stairway, stood
That strange, unmoving, dragon-footed Steed,
As from the first, — and there the tripod, placed
As if to aid some fugitive to mount
At once — and fly! Mere wonder at my doom,
So unimaginably wild and vague,
Relieved the else-fixed darkness of despair.

But on the seventh night, in the stillness, — hark!
What might I hear? A step? — a small light step,
That by the stair ascending, swiftly came
Straight to the inner door — then stopt. Alas!
The black leaf opened not; and yet, the while,
In evidence of some bright Being that out
Beyond it stood, a rainbow radiance through
Its solid breadth, in subtle wave on wave
Came flushing, — even as a sunset glow
Through some dense cloud upon the verge of heaven,
In swift rich curves wells percolating forth:
So came it — filling all the cell at length
With rosy lights that in the darkness fumed
Like luminous odors; at the scent of which,
The mystic steed, so rigid until then,
Moved, and spread wide his glimmering bat-like wings.
When hark! deep down in the mysterious Tower,
Another step? Yea, the same strenuous tramp
That once before I’d heard big-beating up,
Came following — till a low sad cry without
Went to my heart, and I might hear ensue
A struggle as of one forced down the stair
By that so ruthless Guard! — down, till the cell
Again had darkened, and the Tower itself
Stood once more as in some mute void of Time,
Or depth of distance infinitely out,
Achingly still. But not for long! Again
The Monster’s hateful tramp came booming up,
Quake above quake that with a shudder stopt
Dead at the door. It opened; and he stood
In dubious presence ’twixt the mighty jambs,
Filling the whole wide space. But ere the Fiend
Might enter farther, rage and hate at once
Possessed me, and I charged him! For awhile
His horrible glooms voluminously vague,
Yet with a smothering pressure in their folds,
Involved me! — concentrating more and more,
And lapping closer in yet denser coils,
Every dread moment! But my anguish now,
My pain, and hate, and loathing, — all had grown
Into so vast a horror, that methought
I burst with irresistible strength away!
Rushed through the door, and down the stairway — down
An endless depth; till a portcullis, hinged
In the Tower’s basement, opened to my flight!
No sooner had I passed it, than it fell
In thunder too! and thence my passage lay
Along the difficult ledges of a rock
Against whose base the Lake’s long ripple lapped.

And when at last, breathless and faint, I paused
In that so giddy flight, methought I saw
The lustrous Lady up through the lit air
Ascending, with a steadfast downward look
Of parting recognition, — full of love,
But painless, passionless. Upward she passed,
Above the Tower, and o’er the clouds, — and when
Her radiance melted through heaven’s marble dome
And left it vacant in its infinite vastness,
All things methought had changed, and I was there
Standing alone in a wide waste that stretched
On all hands out — inimitably out!
Standing alone in a waste universe,
That showed, as under an abortive dawn,
Its grey immensity, and nothing more!
Still, empty, objectless! — and thereupon
There fell back on my soul a sense of loss
So bleak, so desolate, that with a wild
Sleep-startling outcry, suddenly I awoke!
Awoke, to find it but a Dream of Wonder!
Yet ever since to feel as if some pure
And guardian Soul, out of the day and night,
Had passed for ever from the reach of Love!
Albeit I know, that to the Poet’s mind,
No light, no loveliness it once hath known,
Though only through the mystery of a dream,
Is after lost; but in effect remains,
As comfort, or as wisdom, or as grace,
In union with its substance evermore —
A gathered portion of the life and might
Of His predestined influence on the world.

Clarson, Shallard & Co., Printers, Sydney and Melbourne.

Charles Harpur, The Tower of the Dream, Sydney: Clarson, Shallard, and Co., 1865, pages 20-24

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