The Tower of the Dream: Part 3 [poem by Charles Harpur]

[Editor: This is part 3 of The Tower of the Dream (1865), by Charles Harpur.]

Part III.

She ceased: and a deep tingling silence fell
Instantly round, — silence complete, and yet
Instinct as with a breathing sweetness, left
By the rare spirit of her voice foregone:
Even as the fragrance of a flower were felt
Pervading the mute air through which erewhile,
It had been borne by the delighted hand
Of some sweet-thoughted maiden. Turning then
Her bright face tow’rds me, as I stood entranced,
Yet with keen wonder stung, she said, “I love thee!
As first love loveth — utterly! But ah!
This Love itself — this purple-wingèd Love —
This life-enriching Spirit of delight
Is but a honey-bee of Paradise,
That only in the morning glory dares
To range abroad — and when a vagrant most
Adventure out into the common world
Of man and woman; — thither lured by sight
Of some sweet human soul that blooms apart,
Untainted by a rank soil’s weedy growths: —
Lured thither thus — yet being even then,
But wilful wandering away — away
From its pure birth-place (innocent only there!)
And whereunto it must again return,
Or forfeit else its natal passport, — ere
The dread night cometh. Yet of how great worth
Is all foregone affection? In the spring
Of even the lowliest love, how many rich
And gracious things that could not else have been,
Grow up like flowers, and breathe a perfume forth
That never leaves again the quickened sense
It once hath hit, as with a fairy’s wand,
However fanciful may seem at last
The charm through which it came.” And having said
These mystic sentences, so wild and sweet,
And memorably mournful, — lo, her eyes
Ran o’er with lustres as they opened up
Under mine own now melancholy gaze.

And thus we stood, turned one unto the other,
Till Love again grew glad even from the rich
And wine-like luxury and voluptuous worth
Of its own tear-showers, shed as from the heart!
Forth then once more we looked — silently happy:
Alas! not long: for with a short low gasp
Of sudden fear, she started; nor might I
Stand unalarmed. For hark! within the Tower,
A sound of strenuous steps approaching fast,
Rang upward, as it seemed, from the hard slabs
Of a steep-winding stair; and soon the huge
And brazen portal that behind us shut,
Burst open! with a clang of loosened bolts —
A clang like thunder, that went rattling out
Against the echoes of the distant hills.

With deafened ears and looks aghast, I turned
Tow’rds the harsh noise — there to behold, between
The mighty jambs in the Tower-wall from which
The door swung inward, a tremendous Form!
A horrid gloomy Form! that shapeless seemed,
And yet, in its so monstrous bulk, to Man
A hideous likeness bare! Still more and more
Deform it grew, as forth it swelled, and then
Its outlines, shadowing forward, so were lost
On all sides in a grizzly haze, that hung
Vaguely about them, — even as dull grey clouds
Beskirt a coming Tempest’s denser mass,
That thickens still internally, and shows
The murkiest in the midst — yea, murkiest there
Where big with fate, and hid in solid gloom,
The yet-still spirit of the thunder broods,
And menaces the world. So dread that Form!

Meanwhile, beholding it, the Lady of light
Had rushed to my extended arms, and hid
Her beamy face, fright-harrowed, in my bosom!
And thus we stood, made one in fear; while still
That terrible Vision out upon us glared
With horny eyeballs — all the more horrid
For that no evidence of conscious will,
Or touch of passion, vitalised their fixed
Eumenidèan, stone-cold stare, as tow’rds
Some surely destined task they seemed to guide
Its shapeless bulk and pitiless strength alone.

Then with a motion as of one dark stride
Shadowing forward, and outstretching straight
One vague-seen arm, from my reluctant grasp
It tore the radiant Lady, muttering “This
Is love forbidden!”
in a voice whose tones
Were like low guttural thunders heard afar,
Outgrowling from the clouded gorges wild
Of neighboring mountains, when a sultry storm
Is pondering in its dark pavilions there,
And concentrating, like a hill-born host,
Ere it rush valeward; and, as suddenly,
Seized by the other, I was backward thrown
Within the Tower, and heard ere I could rise
From the cold platform, the huge brazen door
Drawn harshly grating to; its beamlike bar
Dropt, with a wall-quake, and the bolts all shot
Into their sockets with a shattering jar!

I may not paint the horrible despair
That froze me new: (more horrible than aught
In actual destiny, whether bonds or death,
Could give the self-possession of my soul,
If wide awake.) I listened. All was still!
Within — without; — all silent, stirless, cold!
What was my doom? And where was she, my late
So luminous delight? Gone! Reft away
So strangely, terribly ! and I myself,
For some all-unimaginable cause,
A dungeoned wretch ! Time, every drip of which
Was as an age, kept trickling on, but there
Brought no release — no hope; — brought not a breath
That spake of fellowship, or even of life.
Out of myself — my lonely self! I stood
Utterly blank — utterly shrunken up,
In marble-cold astonishment of heart!
And when at length I cast a desperate look —
A look so desperate that the common gift
Of vision stung me like a deadly curse —
Up and around, pure pity of myself
So warmed and loosened from my brain the pent
And icy anguish, that its load at once
Came, like an alp-thaw, streaming through mine eyes;
Till resignation, that so balmy sweet
Meek flower of Grief which hath its root in tears,
Grew out of mine, — and leisure therewithal
To inspect my prison, whether weak or strong.

It was a lofty coil, half round, and had,
Massively set, within the crossing wall
That seemed to out the Tower’s whole round in twain,
A second door — shut, and all clamped with brass,
And rough with rows of monstrous iron studs,
And which might haply have thence opened in
Athwart some stairway (as I guessed) that led
Down through the Tower; and by the side of this
A bat-wing’d steed on scaly dragon claws —
A strange, mute, mystic, almost terrible thing,
Stood rigid, with a tripod near it placed.
Bare were the dull and ragged walls, but pierced
High out of reach by two small ports that looked
Eastward and westward. As I noted these,
Full on my sight a transient sunbeam fell
Slantingly through, and glowed on the damp floor
A moment, like a streak of burning blood,
Then vanished: wherefore in my heart I guessed
That o’er the mountain tops the sun was then
Oceanward sinking mid the fiery clouds.

By sure and palpable degrees the night
Came on, and the cell darkened. Yea, I saw
The steed and tripod — all its furniture —
Fade, melting gradually, more and more,
Into the darkness; even as a fish,
Through the dense medium of its element,
Retiring down, is in its outlines seen
More shadowy — till ’tis lost. Then all was black.
And to and fro I paced, hour after hour,
And heard my step, the only sound to me
In all the wide world, throb with a dull blow
Down through the hollow Tower that seemed to yawn
Immeasurably beneath me, — as it were
A monstrous well whose wide waste mouth was bridged
By that dull-quaking strip of floor alone
On which I darkling strode. Yet on I kept
Pacing, though horrified. Hour after hour
Passed as if clotting at the heart of Time —
Each an eternity of wild expectation,
And weary astonishment! — hour after hour!
And yet no other sound had being there,
Though, as I knew, one live, unmoving Thing
So near me stood in that blind solitude —
Stood waiting — wherefor? by the inner door.

Charles Harpur, The Tower of the Dream, Sydney: Clarson, Shallard, and Co., 1865, pages 14-19

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