California

By George Sterling

    What little child but knows
Its mother's face the fairest? Is there one?
    Tho long ago the rose
Have faded from her cheek, for labor done,
    Vigils, and anxious tears,
Her child sees not the loss, nor counts her years.
    So has each land her brood
That cherish her in fond solicitude,
And sing her beauty to the stranger's ears.

    O mother of our hearts!
O California, still fair and young!
    The beautiful departs,
And all too soon the sweetest song is sung.
    Thou hast not sorrowed yet;
Seldom for grief thy laughing face is wet.
    May tears be very far,
For on thy forehead is a happy star,
A light of joy that elder lands regret.

    Though gracious youth be thine
And virginal reluctancies of heart,
    Yet in thy gardens shine
The marbles and the poppy-flame of Art;
    And ah! thy maiden blood!
But ecstasies are hidden in its flood—
    Red lips that sing unseen
The secret fires to be thine own, O Queen!
And all the scarlet buried in the bud.

    Let not thine envy rise
For eastern kingdoms mournful with romance:
    Below thy tranquil skies,
To lutes as sweet maidens as fair shall dance.
    Bower and bird and tune
Await the lovers and their mystic moon.
    O raptures yet to be!
O sweet adventure that the years shall see,
Ambered in legend's everlasting June!

    Thy laughing loveliness
Compels to vision, and our fancies roam,
    Led by a fragrant tress,
To groves as sweet and fields of meadow-foam,
    Or timeless thrones of snow,
Or azure inlets that the naiads know-
    By some enchantment drawn
Whose light is not in the refusing dawn,
Whose voice is not where any rivers flow.

    What is it we have lost,
And in thine evening shadow fain would find?
    Pearls of a deep uncrossed?
Tidings entrusted only to the wind?
    Between thy snows and main,
Somewhere thou hast the answer to our pain—
    A secret to impart
Ere the last bird hide music in her heart,
Or star and sunset meet beyond the rain.

    Dream as we will, thy face
Is fairer than the vision that we found.
    The wild, reluctant grace
That fancy gives a dryad newly crowned
    Is portion of thy lure;
So lives a forest flower that dares endure
    In some unknown recess
Where only shadows touch its loveliness,
And new-born waters chant to winds as pure.

    O beautiful and glad!
The gifts in thy bestowal seem too fair;
    If any heart be sad,
Thou waitest with the balsam for its care;
    And if one question thee
Thy love shall speak, tho low the answer be
    As dip of distant oar,
Or conchs blown faintly on a haunted shore-
Heard when the fog's white dusk is on the sea.

    But dream and memory meet,
Wistful to know thy future way through Time.
    We see thy fearless feet,
But not the hostile mountains thou shalt climb.
    Untried thy heart that must
Be battle-tested ere the cannon rust;
    And peace is yet thy dow'r,
O thou regardless of the patient Pow'r
Within whose hour-glass falls the nations' dust!

    So, crown thy careless head,
And bid the sun make roses for thy breast!
    Be thine eyes richly fed
And thy swift limbs too passionate to rest!
    Far eastward lies the night,
And thou art beautiful in all men's sight,
    And all men laud thy ways,
Who givest to the mercenary days
A time and place for laughter and delight.

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