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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

William Shakespeare

By Richard Henry Stoddard (1825–1903)

[From Poems. Complete Edition. 1880.]

April 23, 1564.

SHE sat in her eternal house,

The sovereign mother of mankind;

Before her was the peopled world,

The hollow night behind.

“Below my feet the thunders break,

Above my head the stars rejoice;

But man, although he babbles much,

Has never found a voice.

“Ten thousand years have come and gone,

And not an hour of any day

But he has dumbly looked to me

The things he could not say.

“It shall be so no more,” she said.

And then, revolving in her mind,

She thought: “I will create a child

Shall speak for all his kind.”

It was the spring-time of the year,

And lo, where Avon’s waters flow,

The child, her darling, came on earth

Three hundred years ago.

There was no portent in the sky,

No cry, like Pan’s, along the seas,

Nor hovered round his baby mouth

The swarm of classic bees.

What other children were he was,

If more, ’twas not to mortal ken;

The being likest to mankind

Made him the man of men.

They gossiped, after he was dead,

An idle tale of stealing deer;

One thinks he was a lawyer’s clerk;

But nothing now is clear,

Save that he married, in his youth,

A maid, his elder; went to town;

Wrote plays; made money; and at last

Came back, and settled down,

A prosperous man, among his kin,

In Stratford, where his bones repose.

And this—what can be less? is all

The world of Shakespeare knows.

It irks us that we know no more,

For where we love we would know all;

What would be small in common men

In great is never small.

Their daily habits, how they looked,

The color of their eyes and hair,

Their prayers, their oaths, the wine they drank,

The clothes they used to wear,

Trifles like these declare the men,

And should survive them—nay, they must;

We’ll find them somewhere; if it needs,

We’ll rake among their dust!

Not Shakespeare’s! He hath left his curse

On him disturbs it: let it rest,

The mightiest that ever Death

Laid in the earth’s dark breast.

Not to himself did he belong,

Nor does his life belong to us;

Enough he was; give up the search

If he were thus, or thus.

Before he came his life was not,

Nor left he heirs to share his powers;

The mighty Mother sent him here,

To be her voice and ours.

To be her oracle to man;

To be what man may be to her;

Between the maker and the made

The best interpreter.

The hearts of all men beat in his,

Alike in pleasure and in pain;

And he contained their myriad minds,

Mankind in heart and brain.

Shakespeare! What shapes are conjured up

By that one word! They come and go,

More real, shadows though they be,

Than many a man we know.

Hamlet, the Dane, unhappy Prince

Who most enjoys when suffering most:

His soul is haunted by itself—

There needs no other Ghost.

The Thane, whose murderous fancy sees

The dagger painted in the air;

The guilty King, who stands appalled

When Banquo fills his chair.

Lear in the tempest, old and crazed,

“Blow winds. Spit fire, singe my white head!”

Or, sadder, watching for the breath

Of dear Cordelia—dead!

The much-abused, relentless Jew,

Grave Prospero, in his magic isle,

And she who captived Anthony,

The serpent of old Nile.

Imperial forms, heroic souls,

Greek, Roman, masters of the world,

Kings, queens, the soldier, scholar, priest,

The courtier, sleek and curled;

He knew and drew all ranks of men,

And did such life to them impart

They grow not old, immortal types,

The lords of Life and Art!

Their sovereign he, as she was his,

The awful Mother of the Race,

Who, hid from all her children’s eyes,

Unveiled to him her face;

Spake to him till her speech was known,

Through him till man had learned it; then

Enthroned him in her Heavenly House,

The most Supreme of Men!