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Ray, H. Cordelia




To my Mother

(January 1, 1891)

Sweet Mother! rare in gifts of tenderness!
Thou who didst nurse my child-life into bloom,
And for each native grace made ample room
To blossom in love's light,--how can we bless
The Power that gave thee to us! In the stress
Of life's great conflict, what could e'er illume
Its mystic shadows and its deepest gloom,
Like smiles and loving words from thee! No less
Than widest sunshine is thy sympathy.
O precious Heart! so rich in sacrifice,
And--boon beyond compare--supremest love,
May Heaven's choicest blessings rest on thee,
Rarer than jewels of the costliest price!
And Peace brood o'er thy path like calmest dove!


Life! Ay, what is it? E'en a moment spun
From cycles of eternity. And yet,
What wrestling 'mid the fever and the fret
Of tangled purposes and hopes undone!
What affluence of love! What victories won
In agonies of silence, ere trust met
A manifold fulfillment, and the wet,
Beseeching eyes saw splendors past the sun
What struggle in the web of circumstance,
And yearning in the winged music! All,
One restless strife from fetters to be free;
Till, gathered to eternity's expanse,
Is that brief moment at the Father's call;
Life! Ay, at best, 'tis but a mystery!


We climb the slopes of life with throbbing heart,
And eager pulse, like children toward a star.
Sweet siren music cometh from afar,
To lure us on meanwhile. Responsive start
The nightingales to richer song than Art
Can ever teach. No passing shadows mar
Awhile the dewy skies; no inner jar
Of conflict bids us with our quest to part.
We see adown the distance, rainbow-arched,
What melting aisles of liquid light and bloom!
We hasten, tremulous, with lips all parched,
And eyes wide-stretched, nor dream of coming gloom.
Enough that something held almost divine
Within us ever stirs. Can we repine?


What soul hath struck its need of melody,
From life's strange instrument whereon it plays?
Are the aspiring strains of weary days
E'er gathered in their full intensity,
Swelling a psalm incomparable, free
To utter all their yearning? Nay! the lays
Moan on inadequately, for the ways
Of God in shaping souls we may not see.
Mid baffled hopes we cry out in our need,
And wrestle in the shadows, wond'ring when
Such dissonance can e'er be sweet, and how.

But soon the watching Father will have freed
Our earthly ears to catch the music: then
The chrism of perfect peace shall bathe each brow.


To catch the spirit in its wayward flight
Through mazes manifold, what task supreme!
For when to floods has grown the quiet stream,
Much human skill must aid its rage to fight;
And when wild winds invade the solemn night,
Seems not man's vaunted power but a dream?
And still more futile, ay, we e'en must deem
This quest to tame the soul, and guide aright
Its restless wanderings,-- to lure it back
To shoals of calm. Full many a moan and sigh
Attend the strife; till, effort merged in prayer,
Oft uttered, clung to-- when of strength the lack
Seems direst-- brings the answer to our cry:
A gift from Him who lifts our ev'ry care.


O Mother-heart! when fast the arrows flew,
Like blinding lightning, smiting as they fell,
One after one, one after one, what knell
Could fitly voice thy anguish! Sorrow grew
To throes intensest, when thy sad soul knew
Thy youngest, too, must go. Was it not well,
Avengers wroth, just one to spare? Ay, tell
The ages of soul-struggle sterner? Through
The flinty stone, O image of despair,
Sad Niobe, thy maddened grief did flow
In bitt'rest tears, when all thy wailing prayer
Was so denied. Alas! what weight of woe
Is prisoned in thy melancholy eyes!
What mother-love beneath the Stoic lies!

The Two Musicians

Love plays a lute, and Thought an organ grand.
These tones are stately, those a restless strain,
Seeming by cadenced joy to measure pain,
And capture Fancy by the soft airs fanned.
Thought sends his plans thrilling through the land;
The worshipers that bow before his fane
Find rest in contemplation, spirit-gain
In sweetest harmonies. Yon rapturous band,
Kneeling to catch the music of the lute,
Have yearning in their eyes, yet something there
That baffles all our reas'ning; is it peace,
Or only glances with beseeching mute?
Sometimes it deepens into holy prayer.
Enchanted Love! thy music never cease!

The Poet's Ministrants

The smiling Dawn, with diadem of dew,
Brings sunrise odors to perfume his shrine;
Blithe Zephyr fans him; and soft moonbeams twine
An aureole to crown him, of a hue,
Surpassing fair. The stately stars renew
Majestic measures, that he may incline
His soul unto their sweetness; whispers fine
From spirit-nymphs allure him; not a few
The gifts chaste Fancy and her sisters bring,
Rare is the lyre the Muses for him wrought,
A different meaning thrills in ev'ry string,
With ev'ry changing mood of life so fraught.
Invoked by him, when such the strains that flow,
How can the poet e'er his song forego!


O poet gifted with the sight divine!
To thee 'twas given Eden's groves to pace
With that first pair, in whom the human race
Their kinship claim: and angels did incline--
Great Michael, holy Gabriel-- to twine
Their heavenly logic, through which thou couldst trace
The rich outpourings of celestial grace
Mingled with argument, around the shrine
Where thou didst linger, vision-rapt, intent
To catch the sacred mystery of Heaven.
Nor was thy longing vain: a soul resolved
To ponder truth supreme to thee was lent;
For thy not sightless eyes the veil was riv'n,
Redemption's problem unto thee well solved.


We wonder what the horoscope did show
When Shakespeare came to earth. Were planets there,
Grouped in unique arrangement? Unaware
His age of aught so marvelous, when lo!
He speaks! men listen! what of joy or woe
Is not revealed! love, hatred, marking care,
All quivering 'neath his magic touch. The air
Is thick with beauteous elves, a dainty row,
Anon, with droning witches, and e'en now
Stalks gloomy Hamlet, bent on vengeance dread.
One after one they come, smiling or scarred,
Wrought by that mind prismatic to which bow
All lesser minds. They by thee would be fed,
Poet incomparable! Avon's Bard!


Great Painter! to thy soul aglow with thought,
Celestial forms their glory did reveal.
Not unrewarded wast thou left to kneel
At Beauty's sacred altar; not for naught
Thy gift of consecration hadst thou brought,
We see thee pensive, radiant, and there steal
Soft shadows, mystic lights; th' angelic seal
Is on thy dreamy brow; thy soul hath caught
The essence of the harmony it craved.
Behold the Mother and the Child Divine!
What rapt repose! what majesty serene!
Thy spirit tuned to contemplation, laved
In founts of light. For thee we would entwine
The asphodel bright with celestial sheen,


O great tone-master! low thy massive head
Droops, heavy with the thoughts that fain would weave
Themselves in interlacing chords, that leave
Sublimest music. Inspiration sped
On dainty pinions to thy natal bed,
And warbling notes did all the silence cleave
As for a benediction; well believe
The votaries that hie where thou hast led,
In thy supreme endowment. Who as well
Can make the Orphic echoes? Thou dost muse,
And harmony, the sweetest, is evolved.
In grave sonatas rich with surging swell,
In matchless symphonies-- but thou couldst choose--
The mystery of music thou hast solved.

The Tireless Sculptor

E'en as the sculptor chisels patiently
The marble's jagged edges, day by day,
Striving to smooth all blemishes away,
Till-- when from ev'ry flaw the stone is free,
And naught save perfect contours does he see--
Embodied harmony and beauty may
Atone for all the weary hours' delay,--
So Life, the sculptor, moulds unceasingly
The soul of man. How often in recoil
The spirit shrinks, nor can through prescience know
Of coming grace and majesty. 'Tis willed
The scars should deeper be, until the toil
And chiseling are adequate; when lo!
God's all-unfathomed plan is quite fulfilled.

The Soul's Courts

Within the soul's courts is a temple fair,
And garnished with immortal bloom of light
Than em'rald star-sheen fairer. To the sight
It rises, dazzling as some vision rare,
That haunts the artist, ere it fades in air.
There sits Reserve, a maid of sober mien,
Guarding the sacred portals. All unseen
Th' angelic ministrants that linger where
She holds control. Within, a little space,
There kneels sweet Reverie with calmest eyes;
And Love all crowned with dewy asphodels,
Through green isles wanders in unconscious grace,
His face all luminous with glad surprise,
While from his lips transcendent music wells.


The subtlest strain a great musician weaves,
Cannot attain in rhythmic harmony
To music in his soul. May it not be
Celestial lyres send hints to him? He grieves
That half the sweetness of the song, he leaves
Unheard in the transition. Thus do we
Yearn to translate the wondrous majesty
Of some rare mood, when the rapt soul receives
A vision exquisite. Yet who can match
The sunset's iridescent hues? Who sing
The skylark's ecstasy so seraph-fine?
We struggle vainly, still we fain would catch
Such rifts amid life's shadows, for they bring
Glimpses ineffable of things divine.

The Venus of Milo

O peerless marble marvel! what of grace,
Or matchless symmetry is not enshrined
In thy rare contours! Could we hope to find
The regal dignity of that fair face
In aught less beautiful? We would retrace,
At sight of thee, our willing steps where wind
The paths great Homer trod. Within whose mind
Wast thou a dream, O Goddess? Nearer pace
Brave Hector, reckless Paris, as we gaze;
Then stately temples, fluted colonnades
Rise in their sculptured beauty. Yes! 'tis Greece,
With all the splendor of her lordliest days,
That comes to haunt us: ere the glory fades
Let Fancy bid the rapture never cease.

The Quest of the Ideal

Fair Hope with lucent light in her glad eyes,
Fleet as Diana, through the meadow speeds;
Nor dewy rose nor asphodel she heeds,
For lo! unwonted radiance in the skies
Bids her not pause. The silv'ry shimmer lies
'Mid blooming vistas, whence the pathway leads
To heights aerial. The glow recedes
As panting Hope toils on, while awed surprise
Fills her sweet glances; will the vision fade
Ere she can reach it? Nay, 'tis lovelier far,
Rarer perspectives open to her gaze;
Then hasten on, expectantly, glad maid!
The splendor still will tremble there afar;
Yet count this quest the holiest of thy days

An Ocean Musing

Far, far out lie the white sails all at rest;
Like spectral arms they seem to touch and cling
Unto the wide horizon. Not a wing
Of truant bird glides down the purpling west;
No breeze dares to intrude, e'en on a quest
To fan a lover's brow; the waves to sing
Have quite forgotten till the deep shall fling
A bow across its vibrant chords. Then, lest
One moment of the sea's repose we lose,
Nor furnish Fancy with a thousand themes
Of unimagined sweetness, let us gaze
On this serenity, for as we muse.
Lo! all is restless motion: life's best dreams
Give changing moods to even halcyon days.


On shinging heights where Thought with stately tread,
Leads on her willing votaries to fanes
Of holy inspiration, and Truth deigns
The radiance of her presence rare to shed,
In Solemn consecration thou wast led,
Spirit serene; and on the dewy plains,
Where Solitude in chastest grandeur reigns,
Thy musings e'en most daintily were fed.
Round thee winds played the choicest symphony,
And vistas of celestial beauty gleamed
Along thy pathway: so we weeping, say--
Though here with us thou may'st no longer be--
"He now has climbed the mount of which he dreamed,
Into the splendors of Immortal Day."

To Laura

In Mem'ry's fairest court a shrine is set,
Round which the fragrance of a sweet life clings,--
The essence of such rare and holy things
As Love alone can sanctify. The fret
And turmoil of the world avail not yet
To quench the sweetness; for an angel's wings
Are ever hov'ring near, and longing brings
A vision loved that makes the eyelids wet.
Dear sister, in those realms of radiant light
Where thou hast grown to know a richer lore
Than that of earth, sometimes remembrest thou
The hours of our companionship so bright
With joyance? Ay, but we shall meet once more,
And at God's throne in praise together bow.

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