Light silken curtain, colorless and soft,
Dreamlike before me floating! what abides
Behind thy pearly veil’s
Opaque, mysterious woof?
Where sleek red kine, and dappled, crunch day-long
Thick, luscious blades and purple clover-heads,
Nigh me I still can mark
Cool fields of beaded grass.
No more; for on the rim of the globed world
I seem to stand and stare at nothingness.
But songs of unseen birds
And tranquil roll of waves
Bring sweet assurance of continuous life
Beyond this silvery cloud. Fantastic dreams,
Of tissue subtler still
Than the wreathed fog, arise,
And cheat my brain with airy vanishings
And mystic glories of the world beyond.
A whole enchanted town
Thy baffling folds conceal—
An Orient town, with slender-steepled mosques,
Turret from turret springing, dome from dome,
Fretted with burning stones,
And trellised with red gold.
Through spacious streets, where running waters flow,
Sun-screened by fruit-trees and the broad-leaved palm,
Past the gay-decked bazaars,
Walk turbaned, dark-eyed men.
Hark! you can hear the many murmuring tongues,
While loud the merchants vaunt their gorgeous wares.
The sultry air is spiced
With fragrance of rich gums,
And through the lattice high in yon dead wall,
See where, unveiled, an arch, young, dimpled face,
Flushed like a musky peach,
Peers down upon the mart!
From her dark, ringleted and bird-poised head
She hath cast back the milk-white silken veil:
’Midst the blank blackness there
She blossoms like a rose.
Beckons she not with those bright, full-orbed eyes,
And open arms that like twin moonbeams gleam?
Behold her smile on me
With honeyed, scarlet lips!
Divine Scheherazade! I am thine.
I come! I come!—Hark! from some far-off mosque
The shrill muezzin calls
The hour of silent prayer,
And from the lattice he hath scared my love.
The lattice vanisheth itself—the street,
The mart, the Orient town;
Only through still, soft air
That cry is yet prolonged. I wake to hear
The distant fog-horn peal: before mine eyes
Stands the white wall of mist,
Blending with vaporous skies.
Elusive gossamer, impervious
Even to the mighty sun-god’s keen red shafts!
With what a jealous art
Thy secret thou dost guard!
Well do I know deep in thine inmost folds,
Within an opal hollow, there abides
The lady of the mist,
The Undine of the air—
A slender, winged, ethereal, lily form,
Dove-eyed, with fair, free-floating, pearl-wreathed hair,
In waving raiment swathed
Of changing, irised hues.
Where her feet, rosy as a shell, have grazed
The freshened grass, a richer emerald glows:
Into each flower-cup
Her cool dews she distills.
She knows the tops of jagged mountain-peaks,
She knows the green soft hollows of their sides,
And unafraid she floats
O’er the vast-circled seas.
She loves to bask within the moon’s wan beams,
Lying, night-long upon the moist, dark earth,
And leave her seeded pearls
With morning on the grass.
Ah! that athwart these dim, gray outer courts
Of her fantastic palace I might pass,
And reach the inmost shrine
Of her chaste solitude,
And feel her cool and dewy fingers press
My mortal-fevered brow, while in my heart
She poured with tender love
Her healing Lethe-balm!
See! the close curtain moves, the spell dissolves!
Slowly it lifts: the dazzling sunshine streams
Upon a newborn world
And laughing summer seas.
Swift, snowy-breasted sandbirds twittering glance
Through crystal air. On the horizon’s marge,
Like a huge purple wraith,
The dusky fog retreats.