The Phantom (1902)

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The Phantom
written by Walter de la Mare
Songs of Childhood (1902)




    'Upstairs in the large closet, child,
      This side the blue-room door,
    Is an old Bible, bound in leather,
      Standing upon the floor;

    'Go with this taper, bring it me;
      Carry it on your arm;
    It is the book on many a sea
      Hath stilled the waves' alarm.'

    Late the hour, dark the night,
      The house is solitary,
    Feeble is a taper's light
      To light poor Ann to see.

    Her eyes are yet with visions bright
      Of sylph and river, flower and fay,
    Now through a narrow corridor
      She takes her lonely way.

    Vast shadows on the heedless walls
      Gigantic loom, stoop low:
    Each little hasty footfall calls
      Hollowly to and fro.

    In the dim solitude her heart
      Remembers tearlessly
    White winters when her mother was
      Her loving company.

    Now in the dark clear glass she sees
      A taper mocking hers,--
    A phantom face of light blue eyes,
      Reflecting phantom fears.

    Around her loom the vacant rooms,
      Wind the upward stairs,
    She climbs on into a loneliness
      Only her taper shares.

    Her grandmother is deaf with age;
      A garden of moonless trees
    Would answer not though she should cry
      In anguish on her knees.

    So that she scarcely heeds--so fast
      Her pent-up heart doth beat--
    When, faint along the corridor,
      Falleth the sound of feet:--

    Sounds lighter than silk slippers make
      Upon a ballroom floor, when sweet
    Violin and 'cello wake
      Music for twirling feet.

    O! in an old unfriendly house,
      What shapes may not conceal
    Their faces in the open day,
      At night abroad to steal?

    Even her taper seems with fear
      To languish small and blue;
    Far in the woods the winter wind
      Runs whistling through.

    A dreadful cold plucks at each hair,
      Her mouth is stretched to cry,
    But sudden, with a gush of joy,
      It narrows to a sigh.

    It is a wilding child which comes
      Swift through the corridor,
    Singing an old forgotten song,
      This ancient burden bore:-

    'Thorn, thorn, I wis,
    And roses twain,
      A red rose and a white,
    Stoop in the blossom, bee, and kiss
      A lonely child good-night.

    'Swim fish, sing bird,
    And sigh again,
      I that am lost am lone,
    Bee in the blossom never stirred
      Locks hid beneath a stone!'

    Her eye was of the azure fire
      That hovers in wintry flame;
    Her raiment wild and yellow as furze
      That spouteth out the same;

    And in her hand she bore no flower,
      But on her head a wreath
    Of faded flag-flowers that did yet
      Smell sweetly after death.

    Clear was the light of loveliness
      That lit her face like rain;
    And sad the mouth that uttered
      Her immemorial strain.

        * * * *

    Gloomy with night the corridor
      Is now that she is gone,
    Albeit this solitary child
      No longer seems alone.

    Fast though her taper dwindles down,
      Heavy and thick the tome,
    A beauty beyond fear to dim
      Haunts now her alien home.

    Ghosts in the world malignant, grim,
      Vex many a wood, and glen,
    And house, and pool,- the unquiet ghosts
      Of dead and restless men.

    But in her grannie's house this spirit -
      A child as lone as she -
    Pining for love not found on earth,
      Ann dreams again to see.

    Seated upon her tapestry-stool,
      Her fairy-book laid by,
    She gazes in the fire, knowing
      She hath sweet company.

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