The Stream's Secret

By Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828–1882
            What thing unto mine ear
      Wouldst thou convey,—what secret thing,
O wandering water ever whispering?
      Surely thy speech shall be of her.
Thou water, O thou whispering wanderer,
            What message dost thou bring?

            Say, hath not Love leaned low
      This hour beside thy far well-head,
And there through jealous hollowed fingers said
      The thing that most I long to know—
Murmuring with curls all dabbled in thy flow
            And washed lips rosy red?

            He told it to thee there
      Where thy voice hath a louder tone;
But where it welters to this little moan
      His will decrees that I should hear.
Now speak: for with the silence is no fear,
            And I am all alone.

            Shall Time not still endow
      One hour with life, and I and she
Slake in one kiss the thirst of memory?
      Say, streams, lest Love should disavow
Thy service, and the bird upon the bough
            Sing first to tell it me.

            What whisperest thou? Nay, why
      Name the dead hours? I mind them well.
Their ghosts in many darkened doorways dwell
      With desolate eyes to know them by.
That hour must still be born ere it can die
            Of that I'd have thee tell.

            But hear, before thou speak!
      Withhold, I pray, the vain behest
That while the maze hath still its bower for quest
      My burning heart should cease to seek.
Be sure that Love ordained for souls more meek
            His roadside dells of rest.

            Stream, when this silver thread
      In flood-time is a torrent brown,
May any bulwark bind thy foaming crown?
      Shall not the waters surge and spread
And to the crannied boulders of their bed
            Still shoot the dead drift down?

            Let no rebuke find place
      In speech of thine: or it shall prove
That thou dost ill expound the words of Love.
      Even as thine eddy's rippling race
Would blur the perfect image of his face
            I will have none thereof.

            O learn and understand
      That 'gainst the wrongs himself did wreak
Love sought her aid; until her shadowy cheek
      And eyes beseeching gave command;
And compassed in her close compassionate hand
            My heart must burn and speak.

            For then at last we spoke
      What eyes so oft had told to eyes
Through that long-lingering silence whose half-sighs
      Alone the buried secret broke,
Which with snatched hands and lips' reverberate stroke
            Then from the heart did rise.

            But she is far away
      Now; nor the hours of night grown hoar
Bring yet to me, long gazing from the door,
      The wind-stirred robe of roseate gray
And rose-crown of the hour that leads the day
            When we shall meet once more.

            Dark as thy blinded wave
      When brimming midnight floods the glen,—
Bright as the laughter of thy runnels when
      The dawn yields all the light they crave;
Even so these hours to wound and that to save
            Are sisters in Love's ken.

            Oh sweet her bending grace
      Then when I kneel beside her feet;
And sweet her eyes' o'erhanging heaven; and sweet
      The gathering folds of her embrace;
And her fall'n hair at last shed round my face
            When breaths and tears shall meet.

            Beneath her sheltering hair,
      In the warm silence near her breast,
Our kisses and our sobs shall sink to rest;
      As in some still trance made aware
That day and night have wrought to fulness there
            And Love has built our nest.

            And as in the dim grove,
      When the rains cease that hushed them long,
'Mid glistening boughs the song-birds wake to song,—
      So from our hearts deep-shrined in love,
While the leaves throb beneath, around, above,
            The quivering notes shall throng.

            Till tenderest words found vain
      Draw back to wonder mute and deep,
And closed lips in closed arms a silence keep,
      Subdued by memory's circling strain,—
The wind-rapt sound that the wind brings again
            While all the willows weep.

            Then by her summoning art
      Shall memory conjure back the sere
Autumnal Springs, from many a dying year
      Born dead; and, bitter to the heart,
The very ways where now we walk apart
            Who then shall cling so near.

            And with each thought new-grown,
      Some sweet caress or some sweet name
Low-breathed shall let me know her thought the same:
      Making me rich with every tone
And touch of the dear heaven so long unknown
            That filled my dreams with flame.

            Pity and love shall burn
      In her pressed cheek and cherishing hands;
And from the living spirit of love that stands
      Between her lips to soothe and yearn,
Each separate breath shall clasp me round in turn
            And loose my spirit's bands.

            Oh passing sweet and dear,
      Then when the worshipped form and face
Are felt at length in darkling close embrace;
      Round which so oft the sun shone clear,
With mocking light and pitiless atmosphere,
            In many an hour and place.

            Ah me! with what proud growth
      Shall that hour's thirsting race be run;
While, for each several sweetness still begun
      Afresh, endures love's endless drouth;
Sweet hands, sweet hair, sweet cheeks, sweet eyes, sweet mouth,
            Each singly wooed and won.

            Yet most with the sweet soul
      Shall love's espousals then be knit;
What time the governing cloud sheds peace from it
      O'er tremulous wings that touch the goal,
And on the unmeasured height of Love's control
            The lustral fires are lit.

            Therefore, when breast and cheek
      Now part, from long embraces free,—
Each on the other gazing shall but see
      A self that has no need to speak:
All things unsought, yet nothing more to seek,—
            One love in unity.

            O water wandering past,—
      Albeit to thee I speak this thing,
O water, thou that wanderest whispering,
      Thou keep'st thy counsel to the last.
What spell upon thy bosom should Love cast,
            Its secret thence to wring?

            Nay, must thou hear the tale
      Of the past days,—the heavy debt
Of life that obdurate time withholds,—ere yet
      To win thine ear these prayers prevail,
And by thy voice Love's self with high All-hail
            Yield up the amulet?

            How should all this be told?—
      All the sad sum of wayworn days,—
Heart's anguish in the impenetrable maze;
      And on the waste uncoloured wold
The visible burthen of the sun grown cold
            And the moon's labouring gaze?

            Alas! shall hope be nurs'd
      On life's all-succouring breast in vain,
And made so perfect only to be slain?
      Or shall not rather the sweet thirst
Even yet rejoice the heart with warmth dispers'd
            And strength grown fair again?

            Stands it not by the door!—
      Love's Hour—Till she and I shall meet
With bodiless form and unapparent feet
      That cast no shadow yet before,
Though round its head the dawn begins to pour
            The breath that makes day sweet?

            Its eyes invisible
      Watch till the dial's thin-thrown shade
Be born,—yea, till the journeying line be laid
      Upon the point that wakes the spell,
And there in lovelier light than tongue can tell
            Its presence stands array'd.

            Its soul remembers yet
      Those sunless hours that passed it by;
And still it hears the night's disconsolate cry,
      And feels the branches wringing wet
Cast on its brow, that may not once forget,
            Dumb tears from the blind sky.

            But oh! when now her foot
Draws near, for whose sake night and day
      Were long in weary longing sighed away,—
The hour of Love, 'mid airs grown mute,
      Shall sing beside the door, and Love's own lute
            Thrill to the passionate lay.

            Thou know'st, for Love has told
      Within thine ear, O stream, how soon
That song shall lift its sweet appointed tune.
      O tell me, for my lips are cold,
And in my veins the blood is waxing old
            Even while I beg the boon.

            So, in that hour of sighs
      Assuaged, shall we beside this stone
Yield thanks for grace; while in thy mirror shown
      The twofold image softly lies,
Until we kiss, and each in other's eyes
            Is imaged all alone.

            Still silent? Can no art
      Of Love's then move thy pity? Nay,
To thee let nothing come that owns his sway:
      Let happy lovers have no part
With thee; nor even so sad and poor a heart
            As thou hast spurned to-day.

            To-day? Lo! night is here.
      The glen grows heavy with some veil
Risen from the earth or fall'n to make earth pale;
      And all stands hushed to eye and ear,
Until the night-wind shake the shade like fear
            And every covert quail.

            Ah! by another wave
      On other airs the hour must come
Which to thy heart, my love, shall call me home.
      Between the lips of the low cave
Against that night the lapping waters lave,
            And the dark lips are dumb.

            But there Love's self doth stand,
      And with Life's weary wings far flown,
And with Death's eyes that make the water moan,
      Gathers the water in his hand:
And they that drink know nought of sky or land
            But only love alone.

            O soul-sequestered face
      Far off,—O were that night but now!
So even beside that stream even I and thou
      Through thirsting lips should draw Love's grace,
And in the zone of that supreme embrace
            Bind aching breast and brow.

            O water whispering
      Still through the dark into mine ears,—
As with mine eyes, is it not now with hers?—
      Mine eyes that add to thy cold spring,
Wan water, wandering water weltering,
            This hidden tide of tears.

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Poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828–1882



Subjects Men & Women, Relationships, Nature, Time & Brevity, Landscapes & Pastorals, Love, Disappointment & Failure, Living, Romantic Love, Heartache & Loss, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Alliteration, Allusion, Rhymed Stanza

 Dante Gabriel Rossetti


Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born 12 May 1828 in London, the second child and eldest son of Italian expatriates. His father, Gabriele Rossetti, was a Dante scholar, who had been exiled from Naples for writing poetry in support of the Neapolitan Constitution of 1819. Rossetti’s mother had trained as a governess and supervised her children's early education. Few Victorian families were as gifted as the Rossettis: the oldest child, . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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