The Old Garden by George MacDonald


I stood in an ancient garden
With high red walls around;
Over them grey and green lichens
In shadowy arabesque wound.

The topmost climbing blossoms
On fields kine-haunted looked out;
But within were shelter and shadow,
With daintiest odours about.

There were alleys and lurking arbours,
Deep glooms into which to dive.
The lawns were as soft as fleeces,
Of daisies I counted but five.

The sun-dial was so aged
It had gathered a thoughtful grace;
‘Twas the round-about of the shadow
That so had furrowed its face.

The flowers were all of the oldest
That ever in garden sprung;
Red, and blood-red, and dark purple
The rose-lamps flaming hung.

Along the borders fringed
With broad thick edges of box
Stood foxgloves and gorgeous poppies
And great-eyed hollyhocks.

There were junipers trimmed into castles,
And ash-trees bowed into tents;
For the garden, though ancient and pensive,
Still wore quaint ornaments.

It was all so stately fantastic
Its old wind hardly would stir;
Young Spring, when she merrily entered,
Scarce felt it a place for her.


I stood in the summer morning
Under a cavernous yew;
The sun was gently climbing,
And the scents rose after the dew.

I saw the wise old mansion,
Like a cow in the noon-day heat,
Stand in a lake of shadows
That rippled about its feet.

Its windows were oriel and latticed,
Lowly and wide and fair;
And its chimneys like clustered pillars
Stood up in the thin blue air.

White doves, like the thoughts of a lady,
Haunted it all about;
With a train of green and blue comets
The peacock went marching stout.

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The birds in the trees were singing
A song as old as the world,
Of love and green leaves and sunshine,
And winter folded and furled.

They sang that never was sadness
But it melted and passed away;
They sang that never was darkness
But in came the conquering day.

And I knew that a maiden somewhere,
In a low oak-panelled room,
In a nimbus of shining garments,
An aureole of white-browed bloom,

Looked out on the garden dreamy,
And knew not it was old;
Looked past the gray and the sombre,
Saw but the green and the gold,


I stood in the gathering twilight,
In a gently blowing wind;
Then the house looked half uneasy,
Like one that was left behind.

The roses had lost their redness,
And cold the grass had grown;
At roost were the pigeons and peacock,
The sun-dial seemed a head-stone.

The world by the gathering twilight
In a gauzy dusk was clad;
Something went into my spirit
And made me a little sad.

Grew and gathered the twilight,
It filled my heart and brain;
The sadness grew more than sadness,
It turned to a gentle pain.

Browned and brooded the twilight,
Pervaded, absorbed the calm,
Till it seemed for some human sorrows
There could not be any balm.


Then I knew that, up a staircase
Which untrod will yet creak and shake,
Deep in a distant chamber
A ghost was coming awake–

In the growing darkness growing,
Growing till her eyes appear
Like spots of a deeper twilight,
But more transparent clear:

Thin as hot air up-trembling,
Thin as sun-molten crape,
An ethereal shadow of something
Is taking a certain shape;

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A shape whose hands hang listless,
Let hang its disordered hair;
A shape whose bosom is heaving
But draws not in the air.

And I know, what time the moonlight
On her nest of shadows will sit,
Out on the dim lawn gliding
That shadowy shadow will flit.


The moon is dreaming upward
From a sea of cloud and gleam;
She looks as if she had seen me
Never but in a dream.

Down the stair I know she is coming,
Bare-footed, lifting her train;
It creaks not–she hears it creaking
Where once there was a brain.

Out at yon side-door she’s coming,
With a timid glance right and left;
Her look is hopeless yet eager,
The look of a heart bereft.

Across the lawn she is flitting,
Her thin gown feels the wind;
Are her white feet bending the grasses?
Her hair is lifted behind!


Shall I stay to look on her nearer?
Would she start and vanish away?
Oh, no, she will never see me,
Stand I near as I may!

It is not this wind she is feeling,
Not this cool grass below;
‘Tis the wind and the grass of an evening
A hundred years ago.

She sees no roses darkling,
No stately hollyhocks dim;
She is only thinking and dreaming
The garden, the night, and him,

The unlit windows behind her,
The timeless dial-stone,
The trees, and the moon, and the shadows
A hundred years agone!

‘Tis a night for a ghostly lover
To haunt the best-loved spot:
Is he come in his dreams to this garden?
I gaze, but I see him not.

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I will not look on her nearer,
My heart would be torn in twain;
From my eyes the garden would vanish
In the falling of their rain.

I will not look on a sorrow
That darkens into despair,
On the surge of a heart that cannot
Yet cannot cease to bear.

My soul to hers would be calling:
She would hear no word it said!
If I cried aloud in the stillness
She would never turn her head!

She is dreaming the sky above her,
She is dreaming the earth below:–
This night she lost her lover
A hundred years ago.

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