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"Ianthe" by James Russell Lowell

The following is the complete text of James Russell Lowell's "Ianthe." The various books, short stories and poems we offer are presented free of charge with absolutely no advertising as a public service from Internet Accuracy Project.

Visit these other works by James Russell Lowell
"The Bobolink"
The Chief Mate
"The Courtin'"
"The Departed"
"A Dirge"
"A Glance Behind the Curtain"
"An Incident of the Fire at Hamburg"

"New Year's Eve, 1844"
"On the Death of a Friend's Child"
"The Pious Editor's Creed"
"The Present Crisis"
Lowell's Short Poems and Sonnets
"The Sirens"
"To The Future"

To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

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NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"Ianthe" by James Russell Lowell


by James Russell Lowell


There is a light within her eyes,
Like gleams of wandering fire-flies;
From light to shade it leaps and moves
Whenever in her soul arise
The holy shapes of things she loves;
Fitful it shines and changes ever,
Like star-lit ripples on a river,
Or summer sunshine on the eaves
Of silver-trembling poplar leaves,
Where the lingering dew-drops quiver.
I may not tell the blessedness
Her mild eyes send to mine,
The sunset-tinted haziness
Of their mysterious shine,
The dim and holy mournfulness
Of their mellow light divine;
The shadow of the lashes lie
Over them so lovingly,
That they seem to melt away
In a doubtful twilight-gray,
While I watch the stars arise
In the evening of her eyes.
I love it, yet I almost dread
To think what it foreshadoweth;
And, when I muse how I have read
That such strange light betokened death--
Instead of fire-fly gleams, I see
Wild corpse-lights gliding waveringly.


With wayward thoughts her eyes are bright,
Like shiftings of the northern-light,
Hither, thither, swiftly glance they,
In a mazy twining dance they,
Like ripply lights the sunshine weaves,
Thrown backward from a shaken nook,
Below some tumbling water-brook,
On the o'erarching platan-leaves,
All through her glowing face they flit,
And rest in their deep dwelling-place,
Those fathomless blue eyes of hers,
Till, from her burning soul re-lit,
While her upheaving bosom stirs,
They stream again across her face
And with such hope and glory fill it,
Death could not have the heart to chill it.
Yet when their wild light fades again,
I feel a sudden sense of pain,
As if, while yet her eyes were gleaming,
And like a shower of sun-lit rain
Bright fancies from her face were streaming,
Her trembling soul might flit away
As swift and suddenly as they.


A wild, inspired earnestness
Her inmost being fills,
And eager self-forgetfulness,
That speaks not what it wills,
But what unto her soul is given,
A living oracle from Heaven,
Which scarcely in her breast is born
When on her trembling lips it thrills,
And, like a burst of golden skies
Through storm-clouds on a sudden torn,
Like a glory of the morn,
Beams marvellously from her eyes.
And then, like a Spring-swollen river,
Roll the deep waves of her full-hearted thought
Crested with sun-lit spray,
Her wild lips curve and quiver,
And my rapt soul, on the strong tide upcaught,
Unwittingly is borne away,
Lulled by a dreamful music ever,
Far--through the solemn twilight-gray
Of hoary woods--through valleys green
Which the trailing vine embowers,
And where the purple-clustered grapes are seen
Deep-glowing through rich clumps of waving flowers--
Now over foaming rapids swept
And with maddening rapture shook--
Now gliding where the water-plants have slept
For ages in a moss-rimmed nook--
Enwoven by a wild-eyed band
Of earth-forgetting dreams,
I float to a delicious land
By a sunset heaven spanned,
And musical with streams;--
Around, the calm, majestic forms
And god-like eyes of early Greece I see,
Or listen, till my spirit warms,
To songs of courtly chivalry,
Or weep, unmindful if my tears be seen,
For the meek, suffering love of poor Undine.


Her thoughts are never memories,
But ever changeful, ever new,
Fresh and beautiful as dew
That in a dell at noontide lies,
Or, at the close of summer day,
The pleasant breath of new-mown hay.
Swiftly they come and pass
As golden birds across the sun,
As light-gleams on tall meadow-grass
Which the wind just breathes upon.
And when she speaks, her eyes I see
Down-gushing through their silken lattices,
Like stars that quiver tremblingly
Through leafy branches of the trees,
And her pale cheeks do flush and glow
With speaking flashes bright and rare
As crimson North-lights on new-fallen snow,
From out the veiling of her hair--
Her careless hair that scatters down
On either side her eyes,
A waterfall leaf-tinged with brown
And lit with the sunrise.


When first I saw her, not of earth,
But heavenly both in grief and mirth.
I thought her; she did seem
As fair and full of mystery,
As bodiless, as forms we see
In the rememberings of a dream;
A moon-lit mist, a strange, dim light,
Circled her spirit from my sight;--
Each day more beautiful she grew,
More earthly every day,
Yet that mysterious, moony hue
Faded not all away;
She has a sister's sympathy
With all the wanderers of the sky,
But most I've seen her bosom stir
When moonlight round her fell,
For the mild moon it loveth her,
She loveth it as well,
And of their love perchance this grace
Was born into her wondrous face.
I cannot tell how it may be,
For both, methinks, can scarce be true,
Still, as she earthly grew to me,
She grew more heavenly too;
She seems one born in Heaven
With earthly feelings,
For, while unto her soul are given
More pure revealings
Of holiest love and truth,
Yet is the mildness of her eyes
Made up of quickest sympathies,
Of kindliness and ruth;
So, though some shade of awe doth stir
Our souls for one so far above us,
We feel secure that she will love us,
And cannot keep from loving her.
She is a poem, which to me
In speech and look is written bright,
And to her life's rich harmony
Doth ever sing itself aright;
Dear, glorious creature!
With eyes so dewy bright,
And tenderest feeling
Itself revealing
In every look and feature,
Welcome as a homestead light
To one long-wandering in a clouded night;
O, lovelier for her woman's weakness,
Which yet is strongly mailed
In armor of courageous meekness
And faith that never failed!


Early and late, at her soul's gate,
Sits Chastity in warderwise,
No thoughts unchallenged, small or great,
Go thence into her eyes;
Nor may a low, unworthy thought
Beyond that virgin warder win,
Nor one, whose password is not "ought,"
May go without or enter in.
I call her, seeing those pure eyes,
The Eve of a new Paradise,
Which she by gentle word and deed,
And look no less, doth still create
About her, for her great thoughts breed
A calm that lifts us from our fallen state,
And makes us while with her both good and great--
Nor is their memory wanting in our need:
With stronger loving, every hour,
Turneth my heart to this frail flower,
Which, thoughtless of the world, hath grown
To beauty and meek gentleness,
Here in a fair world of its own--
By woman's instinct trained alone--
A lily fair which God did bless,
And which from Nature's heart did draw
Love, wisdom, peace, and Heaven's perfect law.

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