EMBLEMS OF LOVE
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
INTERLUDES AND POEMS
EMBLEMS OF LOVE
DESIGNED IN SEVERAL DISCOURSES BY LASCELLES ABERCROMBIE
_"Wonder it is to see in diverse mindes How diversly love doth his pageaunts play"
"Ego tamquam centrum, circuli, cui simili modo se habent circumferentiae partes"_
TO MY WIFE
page HYMN TO LOVE 3
PART I DISCOVERY AND PROPHECY PRELUDE 7 VASHTI 16
PART II IMPERFECTION THREE GIRLS IN LOVE: MARY: A LEGEND OF THE '45 77 JEAN 94 KATRINA 109
PART III VIRGINITY AND PERFECTION JUDITH 127 THE ETERNAL WEDDING 188
MARRIAGE SONG 200 EPILOGUE: DEDICATION 209
EMBLEMS OF LOVE
HYMN TO LOVE
We are thine, O Love, being in thee and made of thee, As thou, Love, were the deep thought And we the speech of the thought; yea, spoken are we, Thy fires of thought out-spoken:
But burn'd not through us thy imagining Like fierce mood in a song caught, We were as clamour'd words a fool may fling, Loose words, of meaning broken.
For what more like the brainless speech of a fool,— The lives travelling dark fears, And as a boy throws pebbles in a pool Thrown down abysmal places?
Hazardous are the stars, yet is our birth And our journeying time theirs; As words of air, life makes of starry earth Sweet soul-delighted faces;
As voices are we in the worldly wind; The great wind of the world's fate Is turned, as air to a shapen sound, to mind And marvellous desires.
But not in the world as voices storm-shatter'd, Not borne down by the wind's weight; The rushing time rings with our splendid word Like darkness filled with fires.
For Love doth use us for a sound of song, And Love's meaning our life wields, Making our souls like syllables to throng His tunes of exultation.
Down the blind speed of a fatal world we fly, As rain blown along earth's fields; Yet are we god-desiring liturgy, Sung joys of adoration;
Yea, made of chance and all a labouring strife, We go charged with a strong flame; For as a language Love hath seized on life His burning heart to story.
Yea, Love, we are thine, the liturgy of thee. Thy thought's golden and glad name, The mortal conscience of immortal glee, Love's zeal in Love's own glory.
DISCOVERY AND PROPHECY
Night on bleak downs; a high grass-grown trench runs athwart the slope. The earthwork is manned by warriors clad in hides. Two warriors, BRYS and GAST, talking.
Gast. This puts a tall heart in me, and a tune Of great glad blood flowing brave in my flesh, To see thee, after all these moons, returned, My Brys. If there's no rust in thy shoulder-joints, That battle-wrath of thine, and thy good throwing, Will be more help for us than if the dyke Were higher by a span.—Ha! there was howling Down in the thicket; they come soon, for sure.
Brys. Has there been hunger in the forest long?
Gast. I think, not only hunger makes them fierce: They broke not long since into a village yonder, A huge throng of them; all through the night we heard The feasting they kept up. And that has made The wolves blood-thirsty, I believe.
Brys. O fools To keep so slack a waking on their dykes! Now have they made a sleepless winter for us. Every night we must look, lest the down-slope Between us and the woods turn suddenly To a grey onrush full of small green candles, The charging pack with eyes flaming for flesh. And well for us then if there's no more mist Than the white panting of the wolfish hunger.
Gast. They'll come to-night. Three of us hunting went Among the trees below: not long we stayed. All the wolves of the world are in the forest, And man's the meat they're after.
Brys. Ay, it must be Blood-thirst is in them, if they come to-night, Such clear and starry weather.—What dost thou make, Gast, of the stars?
Gast. Brother, they're horrible. I always keep my head as much as I may Bent so they cannot look me in the eyes.
Brys. I never had this awe. The fear I have Is not a load I crouch beneath, but something Proud and wonderful, that lifteth my heart. Yea, I look on a night of stars with fear That comes close against glee. 'Tis like the fear I have for the wolves, that maketh me joy-mad To drive the yellow flint-edge through their shags. So when I gaze on stars, they speak high fear Into my soul; and strangely I think they mean The fear must prompt me to some unknown war.
Gast. Be thou well ware of this. I have not told thee How the stars, with their perilous overlooking, Have raught away from all his manhood Gwat, Our fiercest strength. For when the conquering wolves Into that village won, we in our huts Lay hearkening to their rejoicing hunger; But Gwat stayed out in the stars all night long. I peered at him as much as that whipt dog, My heart, had daring for; and he stood stiff, With all his senses aiming at the noise. Some strong bad eagerness kept tightly rigged The cordage of his body, till his nerves Loosed on a sudden. He yelled, "What do we here, High up among bleak winds, always afraid Of murder from the wolves? I will be man No more; the grey four-footed fellows have The good meats of the world, and the best lodging, Forest and weald." And then he wolfish howled, And hurled off towards the snarling and the baying. And now his soul wears the strength and fury Of a huge dun-pelted wolf; he's the wolves' king; And the fiends have learnt from him to laugh at our flints. Now always in the assaults there's one great beast, With yellow eyes and hackles like a mane, That plays the captain, first to reach the dyke; And I have heard that when he stands upright To ramp against the bulwarks, in his throat Are chattering yelps half tongued to grisly words. Doubtless to-night thou'lt see him, leading his pack, And with his jaws savagely tampering With our earth-builded safety.—But now, Brys, Is it not certain that the stars have done This evil to Gwat's heart, and curdled all The manhood in him?
Brys. When I was wanderer, I came upon a lake, set in a land Which has no fear of wolves. A fisher folk Live there in houses stilted over the water, And the stars walk like spectres of white fire Upon the misty waters of the mere. Ay, if they have no wolves, they have the fear All as thou hast; the sedges in the night Shudder, and out of the reeds there comes a cry Half chuckling, half bewailing; but, as I think, It is the mallard calling. Now among This haunted folk, I markt a man who went With shining eyes, and a joy in his face, about His needs of living. Clear it was to me He knew of some sweet race in his daily wont Which blest him wonderly. I lived with him, And from him learnt marvels. Yea, for he gave me A wit to see in our earth more than fear. Brother, how shall I tell thee, who hast still Fear-poisoned nerves, that like a priest he brewed My heart keen drink from out the look of earth?— Gast, is it nothing to thee that all in green The wolds go heaping up against the blue? And is it only fear to thee that night Is thatched with stars?—Ah, but I took his wit Further than he e'er did; in women I found The same amazement for my wakened eyes As in the hills and waters. Ay, gape at me, And think me bitten by some evil tooth; But as a quiet stream at the cliff's edge Breaks its smooth habit into a loud white force, So this delight the earth pours over me Leaps out of women with such excellence, It seems as I must brace my sinews to it,— The comely fashion of their limbs, their eyes, Their gait, and the way they use their arms. And now My eyes have a message to my heart from them Such as thou only through a blind skin hast. Therefore I came back here;—I scarce know why, But now that women are to me not only The sacred friends of hidden Awe, not only Mistresses of the world's unseen foison, Ay, and not only ease for throbbing groins, But things mine eyes enjoy as mine ears take songs, Vision that beats a timbrel in my blood, Dreams for my sleeping sight, that move aired round With wonder, as trembling covers a hearth,— It seems I must be fighting for them, must Run through some danger to them now before Delighting in them. I am here to fight Wolves for the joy of the world, marvellous women!
Gast. Star-madden'd! What is this in earth and women That pricks thee into wrath against the wolves? Do I not fight for women too? But I For what is certain in them, not for madness.
Brys. I make my fierceness of a mind to set My spirit high up in the winds of joy, Before I tumble down into the darkness. Not thus thy women send thee to thy fighting: All fear thy battle-courage is, fear-bred Thine anger. Thou heavily drudgest women, But yet thou art afraid of them.
Gast. Ay, truly; For look how from their wondrous bodies comes Increase: who knoweth where such power ends? They are in league with the great Motherhood Who brings the seasons forth in the open world; And if to them She hands, unseen by us, Their marvellous bringing forth of children, what Spirit of Her great dreadful mountain-spell, Wherein the rocks have purpose against us, Sealed up in watchful quiet stone, may not Pass on to their dark minds, that seem so mild, Yet are so strange; or what charm'd word from out Her forests whispering endless dangerous things, Wherefrom our hunters often have run crazed To hear the trees devising for their souls; What secret share of Her earth's monstrous power May She not also grant to women's lives? Yea, wise is our fear of women; but we fight For more than fear; we give them liking too. Who but the women can deliver us From this continual siege of the wolves' hunger? High above comfort, on the shrugging backs Of downland, where the winds parch our skins, and frost Kneads through our flesh until his fingers clamp The aching bones, our scanty families Hold out against the ravin of the wolves, Fended by earthwork, fighting them with flint. But if we keep the favour of our women, They will breed sons to us so many and strong We shall have numbers that will make us dare Invade the weather-shelter'd woods, and build Villages where now only wolves are denn'd; Yea, to the beasts shall the man-folk become Malice that haunts their ways, even as now Our leaguer'd tribes must lurk and crouch afraid Of wolfish malice always baying near. And fires, stackt hugely high with timber, shall With nightlong blaze make friendly the dark and cold, Cheer our bodies, and roast great feasts of flesh,— Ah, to burn trunks of trees, not bracken and ling! This is what women are to me,—a fear Lest the earth-hidden Awe, who unseen gives The childing to their flesh, should make their minds As darkly able as their wombs, with power To think sorceries over us; and hope That with their breeding they will dispossess The beasts of the good lowlands, until man, No longer fled to the hills, inhabit all The comfort of the earth.
Brys. These are mine too, But as great rivers own the brook's young speed. For in my soul, the women do not dwell A torch going through darkness, with a troop Of shadows gesturing after; but as the sun Upon his height of golden blaze at noon, With all the size of the blue air about him. Fear that in women the unseen is seen And the unknown power sits beside us known,— This fear is good, but better is than this Their beauty, and the wells of joy in women. I speak dumb words to thee; but know thou, Gast, My soul is looking at the time to come, And seeing it not as a cavern lit With smoky burning brandons of thy fear, But as a day shining with my new joy. Thou canst not fight with me for the coming heart Of man,—fear cannot fight with joy. And I Am setting such a war of joy against thee, It shall be as man's heart became a god Murdering thy mind of weakling darkness. All the hot happiness of being wroth And seeing a stroke leave behind it wound, The pleasures of wily hunting, and a feast After long famine, and the dancing stored Within the must of berries,—these, and all Gladdenings that make thrill the being of man Shall pour, mixt with an unknown rage of glee, Into the meaning men shall find in women. And if we have at all a fear of them, It shall not be the old ignorant dismay, But of their very potency to delight, The way their looks make Will an enemy Hating itself, shall men become afraid. Women shall cause men know for why they have Being in the earth;—not to be quailing slack As if the whole world were a threat, but tuned Ready for joy as harp-strings for the player. And great desire of beauty and to be glad Shall prompt our courages. Ha, what are those Breaking from out the thickets?
Gast. Wolves! They come! Brothers, the fiends are on us: have good hearts! Ho for the women and their sacred wombs!
Brys. Ho for the women, their beauty and my pleasure!
AHASUERUS AND VASHTI
Vashti. My lord requires me here.
Ahasuerus. Does Heaven see this? Dare I have this one humble unto me? Was it not enough, Stars, to have given me This marriage? but you must persuade your God To have me as well the greatest king beneath you! Look you now if men grow not insolent Because of me, a man so throned, so wived. Yea, and in me insolent groweth my love; For if the wheels of the careering world Brake, felley and spoke, that, pitching on the road, It spilt the driving godhead from his seat, And the unreined team of hours riskily dragg'd Their crippled duty,—if in that lurching world Like jarred glass my power shattered about me, And I were a head unking'd, 'twere but a game, So I were left possessing thee, and that Escape from Heaven, the beauty that goes with thee. Here is an insolence! Hast thou not wonder'd, Vashti, what gave thee into such a love, That in the brain of me, the chosen king, It is so loud, so insolent, thy love? O this shrill sweet heart-mastering love!
Vashti. Alas, Do I deserve that love?—But yes, I wonder; For what am I that the king loveth me? Lo, I am woman, thou art man, the lord; Out of mere bounty are we loved of you, And not for our deserving. We are to sit In a high calm, and not go down and help Among the toil, and choosing, chosen, find Companionship therein. For thou, for man Has such a treasure in his heart of love, It must be squandered out in charity, Not used as a gentle money to repay Worth (as a woman spends her love). A trick Of posture in a girl, and see the alms Of generous love man will enrich her with! Might there not be sometimes too much of alms About his love? But we will blink at that. Yet sometimes we are liked ashamed, to be Taking so much love from you, all for naught. Now therefore tell me, Man, my king, my master: Lovest thou me, or dost thou rather love The pleasure thou hast in me? This is not nice, Believe me. They're more sundered, these two loves, Than if all the braving seas marcht between them.
Ahasuerus. What, shrinking from thine own delightsomeness? Hear then. Nature, so ordered from the God, Has given strength to man and work to do, But to woman gave that she should be delight For man, else like an overdriven ox Heart-broke. The world was made for man, but made Wisely a steep difficulty to be climbed, That he, so labouring the stubborn slant, May step from off the world with a well-used courage, All slouch disgrace fought out of him, a man Well worthy of a Heaven. And this great part Has woman in the work; that man, fordone And wearied, may find lodging out of the noise Upon her breast, and looking in her eyes May wash in pools of kindness, fresh as Heaven, The soil of sweat and trouble from his limbs; And turning aside into this pleasant inn Called woman, there is entertainment kept For man, such that for cheating craftily The stabled palter'd heart that it can pass Through the world's grillage and be large as fate, The sweet anxiety of reeded pipes Is a mere thing to it. Like Heaven street When the steel of God's army surges through it, Bright anger burning on an errand of swords, So is the sense of man when woman-joy Pours through his flesh a throng of deity, White clamorous flame; yea, desire of woman Maketh the mind of more room for amazement Than that blue loft hath for the light, more charged With spiritual joy that goes in stress As far as tears, with this more throbbingly charged Than the starr'd night wept full of silver fires,— Dangerously endured, labours of joy! Is it not virtuous, not powerful, this? Wouldst thou have more? Man knows he can possess Than woman's beauty nought more treasurable. And high above our loud activities We keep, pure as the dawn, the house of love, Woman, wherein we entering leave outside Our rank sweat-drenched weeds of toil, and there Enjoy ourselves, out of the world, awhile.
Vashti (aside). O yes, I know. Filthiness! Filthiness!
Ahasuerus. Now here have I been toiling under press Of glory. Should I not stumble in my gait, Were there no Vashti, and with her a welcome I do not need to buy, since all she wants Is that I love her? Going in unto her I may unstrap my burdenous pack of kingship, Shift me of reign, and escape my splendour. Yea, and strange largeness in this power of love For men too much limited! Now I am sick Of knowing my greatness, now I want to be Placed where my soul can feel vast room about me, To be contained. Outside, among the men, I am the room of the world; I and my rule Contain the world; and I am sick thereof. Vashti can remedy this; for here thy beauty More spacious is for my senses to be in, Than his own golden kingdom for the sun.
Vashti. Thine eyes are glad with me? I please the King?
Ahasuerus. Eyes? But there is no nerve thou takest not, No way of my life thronging not with thee, And my blood sounds at the story of thy beauty. What thing shall be held up to woman's beauty? Where are the bounds of it? Yea, what is all The world, but an awning scaffolded amid The waste perilous Eternity, to lodge This Heaven-wander'd princess, woman's beauty? The East and West kneel down to thee, the North And South, and all for thee their shoulders bear The load of fourfold place. As yellow morn Runs on the slippery waves of the spread sea, Thy feet are on the griefs and joys of men That sheen to be thy causey. Out of tears, Indeed, and blitheness, murder and lust and love, Whatever has been passionate in clay, Thy flesh was tempered. Behold in thy body The yearnings of all men measured and told, Insatiate endless agonies of desire Given thy flesh, the meaning of thy shape! What beauty is there, but thou makest it? How is earth good to look on, woods and fields The seasons' garden, and the courageous hills, All this green raft of earth moored in the seas? The manner of the sun to ride the air, The stars God has imagined for the night? What's this behind them, that we cannot near, Secret still on the point of being blabbed, The ghost in the world that flies from being named? Where do they get their beauty from, all these? They do but glaze a lantern lit for man, And woman's beauty is the flame therein Feeding on sacred oil, man's desire, A golden flame possessing all the earth. Or as a queen upon an embassage From out some mountain-guarded far renown, Brings caravans stockt from her slavish mines, Her looms and forges, with a precious friendship; So comest thou from the chambers of the stars On thy famed visit unto man the king; So bringing from the mints and shops of Heaven, Where thou didst own labours of all the fates, A shining traffic, all that man calls beauty: There is no holding out for the heart of man Against thee and such custom. O hard to be borne, Often hard to be borne is woman's beauty!— And well I guess it does but cover up Enmity, hanging falseness between our souls, And buy at a dishonest price the mouth True nature hath for thee, to speak thee fair. Were not man's thought so gilded with thy beauty, Woman, and caught in the desire of thee, O, there'ld be hatred in his use of thee. You should be thankful for your pleasantness!
Vashti. Yes, I am thankful. For I hope, my lord, We women know our style. Ay, we are fooled Sometimes with heady tampering thoughts, that come To bother our submission, I confess. We to ourselves have said, that when God took The fierce beginning of the unwrought world From out his fiery passion, and, breathing cool, Tamed the wild molten being, with his hands Fashion'd and workt the hot clay into world, Then with green mercy quieted the land And claspt it with the summer of blue seas, With brooches of white spray along the shores,— It was to be an equal dwelling-place For humans that he did it, into sex Unknowably dividing human kind. But wickedly we say this. God made man For his delight and praise, and then made woman For man's delight and praise, submiss to man. Else wherefore sex? And it is better thus, To be man's pleasure. What noble work is ours, To have our bodies proper for your love, The means of your delight! Ay, and minds too, Sometimes; we think, we women think we know What shape of mind pleases our masters best, And that we build up in us. A tender shyness, A coy reluctancy,—we use these well. Man is our master; it is best for us Persuading him line our captivity With wool-soft love, lest it be bitter iron.
Ahasuerus. This is the marvel's head, that thou, so fair, And loved by me, should keep so good a mind. —They shall not see thee, when I display at large The riches and the honour; I've enough Possession, without thee, to stupify The assembly of my men, my herd of kings. I mean there shall not be a hint of doubt About whose world this is. So I have bid, From all the utter regions of my land, The kings whom I allow to rule, who breathe My air, to feast with me and for a while Flatter their trivial lives with a brief relish Of being king of the world's kings in Shushan. Yea, and I will dismay their wits with splendour; No noise shall be against me in the world. I am more open, kinder than Lord God, Who never shows how much he has of thunder; Wherefore against him men presume, and go Often out of his ways extravagant. But all the fear I keep obedient by me Now to the gather'd world I openly shew. So God is spoken against, I am never, And I have a better terror in the world; And chiefly for the happiness built round me Divinely firm. O all the kings, my men, Shall fear this terrible happiness of mine! But thee I will not shew; I'll have some wealth Not public. I'll have no adulteries, No eyes but mine enjoying thee. To me The sight of thee, all as the touch of thee, Belongeth, only my pleasure thou art: None but my senses shall come unto thee, And I will keep my pleasure pure as Heaven. Happy art thou, Vashti, to have wedded One who so dearly rates possession of thee. Better it is to spend my heart on thee Than on any of the women that I have.
THE FEAST OF KINGS: MIDNIGHT
Ahasuerus. You kings, you thrones that burn about the world, Whom yet I king, lifted higher above you Than you are lifted up above your folks: This is my day. I have agreed with Heaven, My fellow in the fear of the world, to have This day unshar'd; and it is all mine, All that the Gods from baseless fires and steams Have harden'd into the place and kind of the world: The great high quiet journey of the stars, And all the golden hours which the sun Utters aloft in heaven;—the whole is mine To fill with ceremonies of my throne. This one day, I am where Heaven and I Commonly stand together; you shall not have Shelter from me in a worshipt God to-day, Kings; look yonder at many-power'd night, Telling her beauty to the sea and taking The prone adoring waters into her blue Desire, setting them as herself on flame With perils of joy, lending them her achieved Raptures, her white experiences of stars. So shall your souls lie under me these hours; As they were waters shall they be beneath My burning, set alight with me, and none Escape from utterly understanding me And why I am so kindled in my soul. Who has been like to me? My name travels A hundred seven and twenty languages, My name a ship upon them, trading fear. My unseen power weighs upon the heads Of nations, like the blown abasement given By sedges when they are wretched to the wind. Ay, and the farthest goings of the air Can reach no land my taxes do not labour. The fear of me is the conscience of the world. Ahasuerus is a region large As there is light upon the earth; when dawn With golden duties celebrates the sun, It does but serve to fetch the lives I own Out of shadow flinching into the light,— Out of sleep's mercy the sore lives that know Only a penal sun, that are so chapt In winds of my sent spirit: I care not, I. For as my flesh out of my father's joy Came, fraught from him with hunger for like joy,— As, when roused ages of desire within me Play with my blood as storms play with the sea, And all my senses tug one way like sails, My flesh obeys, and into that perilous dream, Woman, exults;—so, but much more, my soul, That had its faculties from far beyond The tingling loam of flesh, obeys a need: Conquest, and nations to enjoy with war. For 'tis a need that rode down out of God Upon my journeying soul into this world's Affairs, like smouldering fire besiegers throw Among a city's roofs, which cannot choose But take blaze from the whole town's timber; so My soul's desire for flame hath charred the world. Till now, as the night full of perfect fires, I, full of conquests, am large over you. And you must be like waters underneath me, Full of my burning; there's no more for me Now, but to dwell alone in my still soul's Hoarding of ecstasies, a great place of lusts Achieved and shining fixt; for every man Is mine, and every soil is mine, from here Round to the furthest cliffs that steadfast are To keep the hoofs of the sea from murdering The tilled leagues of the land. And by the coasts I am not kept. Far into the room of waters, Into the blue middle of ocean's summer, The white gait of my sea-going war invades. I have a man here, one who makes with words, And he shall be my messenger to your hearts. Not to make much of me; but he's the speech Of Spirit,—I the dangerous exultation, The Spirit's sacred joy in wrath against The heaps of its own spent kinds, melting anew To found in another image of itself. He is the man to shew you, withinside The flashing and exclaim of my great moving About the places of the world; within The heat of my pleasure that has molten down, Like ingots in a furnace, all your nations Into my likeness treading on the earth; Within the smokes that make your eyes pour grief, This gleam of infinite purpose quietly nested,— That I am given the world, and that my pleasure Is plain the latest word spoken by God. So while our senses go among these wines, Wander in green deliciousness and crimson, And fragrance searches the else-unsearchable brain, Poet, tell out the glory of the king.
The Poet. The glory of the king of all the kings.— You with the golden power on your brows, You kings, I think you know not what you are. First you shall learn yourselves: for neither light Understandeth itself, nor darkness light. You see your glory; but you cannot see That which your glory conquers; and the peoples Know nought but that the glooming of their night Maketh a shining scope for crowns, as he, Even as he, your king, Ahasuerus, Maketh your splendour a darkness for his light. But I, neither belonging to the kings Nor to the people, only I may know The golden fortune of light anointing kings. Come with me now, and take my vision awhile. The people of this world are misery. What doth Man here? How thinketh God on him? Surely he was sent here as if thereby God might forget him. Like infamous desire A wise heart puts aside, which yet remains A secret hated memory, man was In God, and is vainly discarded here. I see him coming here; I see man's life Falling into this base and desert ground, This world that seems an evil riddance thrown Down by the winds of God's swift purposes; Some shame of grossness, that would cling upon The errand of their holy speed, and here Heapt up and strewn into the place wherein The mind and being of man wander darkly. Behold him coming here!—Against my sight, Warning aback the gleam of sacred heaven, Is vast forbiddance raised; creatures like hills, Or darkness surging at the coasts of light, Stand, a great barricade behind our lives, Rankt as Eternity had put on stature. The sharp sides of the peaks are finger'd white With flame, lit by the fires of God beyond; The rest is night; the whole people of dark hills A front of high impenetrable doom. But lo! Black in the blackness, is a yawn in the doom, And out of it flows the kind of man. Behold, It is a river, through the permission sent As through a snarling breakage in a cliff; Turned like a hated thing away from God; Spat out, the water of man's life, to spill Down bleak gullies, and thrid the gangways dark Through the reluctant hills, pouring as if It knew God were ashamed of it. And thence, Rejected down the abhorring steeps, man's life Is wasted in this country, set to run A blind, ignorant, unremembered course, Treading with hopeless feet of griev'd waters Unending unblest spaces, the shameful road Of dirt thickening into slime its flow, An insane weather driving. For at the issue, Hovering mightily fledge to beat it on, A climate of demon's wings o'erarches man, The hatred God has sent pursuing him. Fierce hawking spirits wrong him, hungry Cold, Crazes of Fear and sickening Want, and huge Injurious Darkness, lord of the bad wings That pester all the places beyond God,— These at the door, with lust to embody themselves, Wait for the naked journey of man's life To seize it into ache, ravenously. They never leave, down all its patient way, To meddle with its waters, till they be sour As venom, salt as weeping, foully ailing With foreign evil,—all the sort of desires Whoring the shuddering life unto their lust. Behold man's river now; it has travelled far From that divine loathing, and it is made One with the two main fiends, the Dark and Cold, The faithful lovers of mankind. Behold, Broad it is now become, a plenteous water, A roomy tide. And lo, what oars are these? To sweet sung measure rows what happy fleet, With at the lifted prows banners of flame, Bravely scaring the darkness to betray The black embarasst flood sheared by the stems? Behold, at last God for man's misery Hath found excuse! Behold his wretchedness Gilded at last with beauty pleasant to God! No longer a useless grief is man's life now; For floating on it, for enjoying it, A state of barges goes, the state of kings. They bring a day with them of many lamps, And as they move, on the black slabbed waters Red wounds, and green, and golden, do they shoot About them, beautiful cruelty of light; And they throw music over the sounding river. I too am walking on the sea of man; I watch your singing and your lamps row past; And under me I hear the river speaking, The great blind water moaning to itself For sorrow it was made. But in your blithe ships Silverly chained with luxury of tune Your senses lie, in a delicious gaol Of harmony, hours of string'd enchantment. Or if you wake your ears for the river's voice, You hear the chime of fawning lipping water, Trodden to chattering falsehood by the keels Of kings' happiness. And what is it to you, When strangely shudders the fabric of your navy To feel the thrilling tide beneath it grieving; Or when its timber drinks the river's mood, The mighty mood of man's Despair, which runs Like subtle electric blood through all the hulls, And tips each masthead with a glimmering candle Blue pale and flickering like a ghost? For you Are too much lit to mark a corposant. Nor yours the stale smell of the unhealthful stream, Clotted with mud and sullen with its weeds, Who carry your own air with you, blest sweet And drencht with many scattered fragrances. You, sailing in golden ignorance, know not The anxious flow of life under your way: Do you not miss half the wonder of you?— That so your happiness in the thought of God Stands, that he open'd man's expense of grief To give your oars unscrupulous room, to be The buoyancy of your delighted barges, Sliding with fortunate lanterns and with tunes And odorous holiday, O kings, O you The pleasure of God, richly, joyously launcht On this kind sea, the tame sorrow of Man? You need poets to reckon your marvellousness——
Ahasuerus. Where is he driving? I set thee not to this; It was to tell what I, not what they, be.
Poet. How can they know what thou art, if not first I tell them what they are themselves, my king?
Ahasuerus. Thou hast a night, man, not a week to tell them. You men of words, dealers in breath, conceit Too bravely of yourselves;—O I know why You love to make man's life a villainous thing, And pose his happiness with heavy words. You mean to puff your craft into a likeness Of what hath been in the great days of the Gods. When Tiamat, the old foul worm from hell, Lay coiled and nested in the unmade world, All the loose stuff dragg'd with her rummaging tail And packt about her belly in a form, Where she could hutch herself and bark at Heaven,— The god's bright soldier, Bel, fashioned a wind; And when her jaws began her whining rage Against him, into her guts he shot the wind And rent the membranes of her life. So you Wordmongers would be Bel to the life of man. You like not that his will should heap the world About him in a fumbled den of toil; And set the strength of his spirit, not to joy, But to laborious money; so you stand forth And think with spoken wind to make such stir And rumble in the inwards of man's life, That he in a noble colic will leap up Out of his cave of work and breathe sweet air. You will not do it: man prefers his den. Now leave mankind alone and sing of me.
Poet. So; I will tell thy glory now aright. I will not make it thy chief wonder, King, That thou hast tied the world upon a rack; Or that thy armies be so huge, the earth Sways like a bridge of planks beneath their march, And leagues about their way out of the ground Like thunder comes the rumour of thy vengeance. These be but shows of kingship; but one thing Exclaims, inevitably as a word Announced by God, thee first of the world's souls,— That thou mayst have in thy arms Vashti the Queen.— Princes, what looks are these? Why are your minds astonisht so unwisely? What, think you war the thing, or pompous fame? See if I speak not truth of love and woman. You will have heard how lightning's struck a man, Shepherd or wayfarer, and when they found The branded corpse, the rayment was torn off, Blown into tatters and strewn wide by that Withering death, and he birth-naked stretcht: Bethink you, is not that now very like How woman smites your souls? Whatever dress Of thought you take to royalize your nature,— Gorgeous shawls of kingship, a world's fear, Or ample weavings of imagination, Or the spun light of wisdom,—like a gust Of flame, that weather of impersonal thought You strut beneath, that hanging storm of Love, Strikes down a terrible swift dazzling finger, Sight of some woman, on your clothed hearts, And plucks the winding folly off, and leaves Bare nature there. And hear another likeness. Look, if the priests have made an altar-fire, They can have any flame they list, as gums Sprinkle the fluel, or salts, or curious earths,— Tawny or purple, green, scarlet, or blue, Or moted with an upward rain of sparks; But first there must be air, or else no fire: Man's being is a fire lit unto God, And many thoughts colour the sacred flame; But the air for him, the draught wherein he glows, The breathing spirit that has turned mere life Into the hot vehement being of man Lambent upon the altar of the world, Is woman and desire of her, nought else. Behold, we know not what we do at all When we love women: is it we who love, Or Destiny rather visiting our souls In passion?—How shall I name thee what thou art, Woman, thou dream of man's desire that God Caught out of man's first sleep and fashioned real? Deliverance art thou from his own strait thought, Wind come from beyond the stars To blow away like mist all the disgrace Of reasonable bars, The forgery of time and place, Whereinto soul was narrowly brought When it was gridded close behind The workings of man's mind. But Woman comes to bless With an immoderateness, With a divine excess, Lust of life and yearn of flesh, Till there seems naught hindering our souls: Else we should crawl along the years Labour'd with measurable joys No greater than our life, Things carefully devised against tears; And as snails harden their sweat To brittle safety, a carried shell, So we might build out of our woe of toil Serious delight. But to see and hear and touch Woman Breaks our shell of this accursed world, And turns our measured days to measureless gleam. Up in a sudden burning flares The dark tent of nature pitched about our souls; And light, like a stound of golden din, A shadowless light like weather of infinite plains, Light not narrowed into place, Amazes the naked nerves of the soul; And like the pouring of immortal airs Out of a flowery season, Over us blows the inordinate desire.— Ah, who from Hell did the wisdom bring That would make life a formal thing? Who has invented all the manner and wont, The customary ways, That harness into evil scales Of malady our living? But how they shrivel and craze If love but glance on them! And as a bowl of glass to shattering Shivers at a sounding string, The brittle glittering self of man At beauty of Woman throbs apieces, And seems into Eternity spilled The being it contained. Let it touch Woman and flesh becomes Finer and more thrilled Than air contrived in tune, Lighter round the soul Than flame is round burning. She is God's bribery to man That he the world endure, His wage for carrying the weight of being. Nay, she is rather the eternal lure Out of form and things that end, Out of all the starry snares, Out of the trap of years, Into measureless desire; Lest man be satisfied with mind,— Be never stung into self-hate At crouching always in the crate Of prudent knowledge round him wrought, And so grow small as his own thought. Kings, think of the woman's body you love best How the beloved lines twin and merge, Go into rhyme and differ, swerve and kiss, Relent to hollows or like yearning pout,— Curves that come to wondrous doubt Or smooth into simplicities; Like a skill of married tunes Curdled out of the air; How it is all sung delivering magic To your pent hamper'd souls! I tell you, kings, yours are but stammer'd songs To that enchantment fashion'd for him, That ceremony of life's powers, The loveliness of Vashti; That unbelievable worship made For King Ahasuerus. He to whom the loveliest she is given, Least is bound to ended things, Belongeth most on earth to Heaven; Hath the whitest wind of flame To burn his soul clean of the world, Clean of mortal imaginings, And back to the Beauty whence he came. Now you hear the glory of the king of kings, That he knows Vashti, that he lives In this pleasure always. Ah, could you see her! But perhaps she is Too fearful in her beauty for most men. I think she would dismay you, and unhitch The sinews from their purchase on your bones, And have you spelled as a wizard spells his ghosts. Yet 'twould be mercy so to harm your sense. The truth does not more wonderfully walk, Whose gestures are the stars, than in her ways This queen's body sways. And there is such language in her hair As the sun's self doth talk. King, let them see her! lest they return unwise Of thy true kingship, and among themselves Imagine that they are even as thou, Save in the height of throne. Let them perceive That, having Vashti, there is none like thee: Others are men; but thou art he whose spirit Is station'd in the beauty of the queen, Whose flesh knows such amazement as before Never beneath the lintels of man's sense Came, an especial messenger from Heaven.
Ahasuerus. Bring her! let the Queen come crowned before us! Slaves, fetch here all your light to shine upon My Vashti's beauty; let there be clear floor; Make the air worthy her with camphire lit And frankincense; and fill the hall with flames. Then gaze, kings, and stare, hunger with your eyes Upon her face; but within brakes of fear Fasten your wills, and move not from your seats. Exult, you thron'd nations, that to your sight She shall be lent, the pleasure of the king, She whom to visit so inflames my soul, That I can judge how God burns to enjoy The beauty of the Wisdom that he made And separated from himself to be Wife to the divine act, mother of heavens.— Let Vashti come and stand before the kings!
VASHTI AND THE KING'S WOMEN AT THEIR FEAST
1st Woman. Queen, is it well to be so sorrowful?
2nd Woman. And when the King our lord spendeth on us This festival out of his rich heart, to shoot Thy looks upon us as thou wouldst rebuke us?
Vashti. Your pardon: do I trouble your greed?
1st Woman. Our greed? Rather our gratitude——
2nd Woman. That we have share In these devices of the King's own cooks, These costly breads,—
1st Woman. And these delicious meats, These sauces mixt of spicy treacle and balm.
3rd Woman. And wines, purple and blue and like gold fire, Made of the colours of the morning sea And fragrance wild as woman's need of love.
Vashti. Enjoy them then: who lets you?
3rd Woman. Thou dost, Queen. Thou sittest with hands folded in thy robe, And in the midst of delicacies wilt fast.
1st Woman. We see thine eyes upon them as they were Wickedness.
2nd Woman. 'Tis rare bounty that we women Halve with the King his festival.
3rd Woman. And thou, It seems, scarce findest it thankworthy.
Vashti. Again, Your pardon: but ye need not gaze on me.— And yet, why am I sorrowful? In truth, Is it a sorrow that so leans upon me? I know not. But my soul knoweth right well That I am watched.
3rd Woman. Then in thy conscience, Queen, Thou feelest the King requiring thanks of thee.
Vashti. Be careful of thy tongue,—and of the wine.— Who watches me? Eyes are fixt on my soul, Eyes of desire. I think some great event Hath pusht its spirit forward of its time, To stand here quietly waiting, into my mind Inflicting its strange want of me, and ready To fetch my heart, and ready to take my hand And lead me away shrinking: is it Death? It is some marvellous thing: for I know surely Behind it crowd out of their discipline The coming hours to watch me seized, and stare With questioning brows on me, and lift lean hands From under gowns of shadow to point me out One to another, saying: "This is she: How will she bear it, think ye?"—Is it not cold? Was there not wind just then?—The flames are steady.
1st Woman. No wind at all: the air's like one closed room.
2nd Woman. There is no talk like this at the King's feast, I warrant. Were we not best be merry, And thank the King so for these wines and sweets?
Vashti. Yes, let us not forget our thankfulness; For is not, sisters, everything we have Mere gift?
2nd Woman. My beauty pays for what I get.
Vashti. I would, 'twere not so.
2nd Woman. Queen, I doubt thee not.
Vashti. Pert little fool, where lies thy beauty, then? Thou hast it not: its place is not thy flesh, But the delighting loins of men, there only. Thy beauty! And thou knowest not that man Hath forged in his furnace of desire our beauty Into that chain of law which binds our lives— Man, please thyself, and woman, please thou man. But thou wilt have thy beauty pence, thou sayest? And what's thy purchase? Listen, I will tell thee: Just that thou art not whipt and drudged: the rest, All that thou hast beyond, is gift.
2nd Woman. Why not?
Vashti. Truly, for thee, why not?
2nd Woman. Wouldst thou, 'twere yours?
1st Woman. Thou shudderest again; what ails thee, Queen?
Vashti. I would have lived in beauty once.
2nd Woman. In whose?
Vashti. I know the King finds relish in thy looks, Wench, and I have no care to grudge thy pride; But when thy face is named throughout the world For wonder, I will bear thy impudence.
1st Woman. But tell us, Queen, thy thought; for we have made An end almost of eating; and it seems It will be somewhat strange, pleasing our mood.
Vashti. Strange you will find it doubtless; but scarce pleasing, Unless 'tis pleasing to have news of danger. Listen! your lives are propt like a rotten house. Your souls, that should have noble lodging here, Have crept like peasants into huts that have No force within their walls, but must be shored With borrowed firmness. Yea, man's stubborn lust To feed his heart upon your beauty, is all The strength your lives have, all that holdeth you Safe in the world,—propt like a rotten house.
1st Woman. Shall woman then not love to have man's love?
3rd Woman. To feed his heart on us, thou sayest? O yea! And how can a woman know such might of living As when upon her breast she feels the man, The man of her desire, like sacrament Feeding his heart, yea and his soul, on her?
Vashti. Are we for nought but so to nourish him?
3rd Woman. Thou art too proud, O Queen, too proud and lonely, And goest apart to have thy thought too much. 'Tis known, too much thought dazes oft a mind, Till it can learn nought of the signed evil God hath put in the faces of evil notions, That spiritual sight may ken them coming Sly and demure, and safely shut the brain Ere they be in and swell themselves to lordship. Hence is it that an evil thought in thee Hath dared so far, and played its wickedness Strangely within thee, braving even into speech.
1st Woman. Strangely indeed thy brain's inhabited. What, is there aught prosperity for woman But to be shining in the thought of man?
Vashti. I wisht to prosper in the life I had, That the Gods might approve the flourishing Their heavenly graft of soul took from my flesh. Therefore I wisht to love. And I did love.— There came Ahasuerus conquering Into my father's land. My fancying hate Had made a man-beast of him, a thing, like man, Tall in his walk, but in the mood of his eyes A beast, and in the noise of his mouth a beast. He came, and lookt at me; and, in a while, I saw that he was speaking to me there. And all the maiden went in me before him, Swifter than in a moon which looks against The morning, all the silver courage fails.— How cam'st thou to the King?
1st Woman. Sold to him, I.
2nd Woman. Bought by him, I: for he had heard of me.
Vashti. I also, sold or bought; nay, rather paid: Paid like cash to him, that as servant king My father might have life, and a throne in life. It mattered nothing then. [The QUEEN pauses. Often in early summer, as I walkt A girl singing her happiness, beside The high green corn, holding all earth my own, I saw, as my feet and my voice past by, How in its hiding some croucht little beast Startled, and filled a space of the gentle corn With plunging quivering fear. And always then My heart answer'd the fear that shook the corn, With a sudden doubt in its beating; for I knew Within my life such rousing of dismay I myself should watch, with seizing wonder. It was so: in the midst of my new love, That promist such a plenty in my soul, At last some sleeping terror leapt awake, And made the young growth shiver and wry about Inwardly tormented. Yea, and my heart It was, my heart in its hiding of green love, That took so wildly the approaching sound Of something strangely fearful walking near.
3rd Woman. A queer tale, this.
1st Woman. A spectre visited you?
Vashti. Indeed, a spectre.
1st Woman. That have I never seen. Was it the kind with nose and mouth grown sharp To an eagle's bill, and claws upon its fingers, The curve of them pasted with a bloody glue?
Vashti. The spectre was—my beauty.
3rd Woman. It is as I said. O Queen, send for a wise man in the morning; And let him leech thy spirit.
4th Woman. I've heard, the best Riddance for evil notions in the mind, Is for a toad to sit upon the tongue; While, breathed against the scalp, some power of spells Loosens the clasp the notion hath digg'd deep Into the soul; so that it passeth down, Shaken and mastered, and creeps into the toad,—
3rd Woman. Which gives a foolish kick or start to feel it,—
4th Woman. Then the trapt notion may be easily burnt.
Vashti. Yea?—I think mine would not burn easily. With fire, with such indignant fire as pride Yields, when it must destroy itself to feel The power of the world touch it with humbling flame,— With such a fire, whose heat you know not of, Have I assayed this—notion, didst thou say? And it stood upright, with its shape unquencht, And lived within the fire.
3rd Woman. Thou hast it wrong.
4th Woman. Thou hast not understood the cure we meant.
2nd Woman. Stop brabbling, fools; I would hear the Queen's mind.
1st Woman. I too; I hate a thing I cannot skill; And thee and all that lives in thee, O Queen, I would keep friendly to my spirit; yet I do suspect something amazing in thee.
Vashti. And if thou seest not how slippery Is women's place in the world of men, 'tis like Thou wilt amazedly the vision take, When I have led thee up my tower of thought.
2nd Woman. How are we dangerous? Are we not women, Man's endless need?
Vashti. Ay, and therein the danger! Is it not possible he hate the need? For not as he were a beast it urges him: He is aware of it, he knows its force,— The kind of beasts is in their blood alone, But man is blood and spirit. And in him, As in all creature, is the word from God, "Utter thyself in joy."
2nd Woman. And we his joy.
Vashti. But such an one that may become, perhaps, Something not utterance, but strict commanding, Yea, mastery, like the dancing in the blood Of one bitten by spiders. And it is Spirit, Spirit enjoying woman, that hath sent A beating poison in the blood of man, The poison which is lust. Spirit was given To use life as a sense for ecstasy; Life mixt with Spirit must exult beyond Sex-madden'd men and sex-serving women, Into some rapture where sweet fleshly love Is as the air wherein a music rings. But blood hath captured Spirit; Spirit hath given The strength of its desire of joy to make What ecstasy it may of woman's beauty, And of this only, doing no more than train The joys of blood to be more keen and cunning; As men have trained and tamed wild lives of the forests, Breeding them to more excellent shape and size And tireless speed, and to know the words of men. So the wise masterful Spirit rules the joys That come all fierce from roaming the dark blood; They are broken to his desire, they are wily for him, A pack of lusts wherewith the Spirit hunts Pleasure; and the chief prey the pleasure hid In woman.
1st Woman. What joys are these?
Vashti. What joys? The joys of rutting beasts, tamed to endure, Tamed to be always swift to answer Spirit, Yet fiercer for their taming, wilder hungers; So that the Spirit, if he hunt them not, Fears to be torn by them in mutiny. Now know you woman's beauty! 'Tis these joys, The heat of the blood's desires, changed and mastered By the desire of spirit, trained to serve Spirit with lust, spirit with woman enjoy'd.
2nd Woman. Queen, I am beautiful, and cannot boast Thy subtle thinking; and to one like me, What matters whence come beauty, so I have it? Let it be but the witless mating of beasts, Tamed and curiously knowing itself And cunning in its own delight: What then? The nightingale desires his little lass, And that brings out of his heart a radiant song; A man desires a woman, and for song Out of his heart comes beauty, that like flame Reaches towards her, and covers her limbs with light. If it so please thee, say that neither loves Aught but his life's desire, fashioning it Adorably to marvellous song and beauty. What then? Enough that the wonder lights on me, To me is paid the worship of the wonder.
Vashti. O well I know how strong we are in man; His senses have our beauty for their god, And his delight is built about us like Towering adoration, housing worship.— The spirit of man may dwell in God: the world, From the soft delicate floor of grass to those Rafters of light and hanging cloths of stars, Is but the honour in God's mind for man, Wrought into glorious imagination. But women dwell in man; our temple is The honour of man's sensual ecstasy, Our safety the imagined sacredness Fashion'd about us, fashion'd of his pleasure. Beauty hath done this for us, and so made Woman a kind within the kind of man. Yea, there is more than this: a mighty need Hath man made of his woman in the world. Now man walks through his fate in fellowship Of two companion spirits; ay, and these With double mastery go on with him. The one in black disgraceful weeds is Toil; She sows with never-ending gesture all The path before his feet, cursing the way She drags him on with growth of flouting crops, Urchin thistles, and rank flourishing nettles. But the other has a wear of woven gleam, And with soft hand beseeches him his face Away from the hardships of his hurt stung feet, That with his eyes he may desire her looks: And she is Beauty of Woman, man's dear blessing. And if you would be wise, be well afraid To think you have more office than to be A sweet delicious while amid man's hours Of worldly labour: we are too precious, so. Yet see you not how this that Spirit hath done Is also dangerous?—For there are mightier needs! There's no content for Spirit in the world Till he has striven out of bounded fate, And sent an infinite desire forth Into the whole eternity of things. Yea, spirit ails with loathing secretly The irremediable force of being; Unless, with free expatiate desire, He shape into the endless burning flux Of starry world blindly adventuring Some steady righteous destiny for Spirit: Even as dreaming brain fashions the fume Of life asleep to marshall'd imagery. But we are in the way of this: and man, The more he needs to announce upon the world, Over him going like a storming air, That fashioning word which utters the divine Imagination working in him like anger; The more he finds his virtue caught and clogged In the fierce luxury he hath made of woman. Thence are we sin, thence deliciously Persuading man refuse his highest ardour. Too easily kindled was the ecstasy Of fleshly passion, with a joyous flame Too readily answering the Spirit's fire! He burns with us alone, so fragrantly His noblest vigour swoons delighted. Yea, Women, I tell you, not far now is man From hating us, so passionate the joy Of loving us, so mightily drawing down Into the service of his pleasure here All forces of his being. The pleasure soon Becomes a shame, scarce to be spoken aloud; And in best minds, either detested doting Man's joy in woman's beauty will become; Or a strict binding fire, holding him down In lust of beauty where no beauty is.
[The KING'S MESSENGER comes in.
Messenger. To Vashti, to the Queen of the world, to her In whom the striving beauty of the world Hath made perfection, from the King I come. And the King bids me say, Rise from thy feast; For thou must be to-night thyself a feast: The vision of thy loveliness must now Feed with astonishment my vassals' hearts. Therefore thou art to come.
Vashti. And tell the King I will not come.
Messenger. What was there in my words Thou dost not understand?—I say, the King Would show thy beauty to his under-kings, That with this also they may be amazed And utterly fear his fortune.
Vashti. So. Go back, Tell the King I have hearkened to his message, And tell him I will not come.
Messenger. What sickness shall I say has lighted on thee, So that thou canst not come?
Vashti. Thou weariest me. Say this to the King, Vashti will not come. Are they not plain, my words? Canst thou not learn them?
Messenger. Give me some softer speech. Must I not fear I shall earn whipping if I take these words?
Vashti. I pray thee, go. Thou art a trouble here; Seest thou not how all these feasting women Pause, and the pleasure is distrest in them? Thou hast thy message: say, She will not come.— Back to the King, now!
Messenger. I am whipt for this.
Vashti. It seems, my sisters, we have changed our moods. But now, my mind was heavy, you were blithe; And in a moment, you, behold, are fixt Gazing like desperate things, while I rejoice.
1st Woman. Rejoice! thou dost rejoice? then madness does.
Vashti. I know not that: but certainly I know A mind, that has been feeling for long time The greatness of some hovering event Poised over life, will rejoice marvellously When the event falls, suddenly seizing life: Like faintness when a thunderstorm comes down, That turns to exulting when the lightning flares, Shattering houses, making men afraid. And this is my event: I am its choice. Yea, not as a storm, but as an eagle now It stoops on me; and, though I am its prey, I am lifted by majestic wings, my soul Is clothed in swiftness of a mighty soaring.
3rd Woman. What glory can her wondrous eyes behold?
4th Woman. Seemeth her flesh to glow! and her throat pants As one who feels a god within her, come Out of his heaven to enjoy her.
2nd Woman. Ay, Now it is true, the Queen is beautiful; She could, so looking, enrage love in one Whose blood a hundred years had frozen dry.
1st Woman. Ah, but I fear thee, Queen: this dreadful mood Will break the pleasantness of friendship thou Hast kept for me, as a ship in a gale is broken.
Vashti. Ay, very like: and the event will rouse Such work in the water where your comfort sails, More than my fortune will to pieces blow; You too I think will get some perilous tossing From what proves my destruction.
2nd Woman. And, so knowing, For mere insane delight in violent things, Wilt thou awake in the fickle mood of men Again that ancient ignominy which once, Till beauty freed them, loaded the souls of women?
3rd Woman. Truly, long time will work what now thou doest.
Vashti. I know not rightly what I here begin; No more than one, who stands in midst of wind On a tall mountain, knows what breaking down The earth must have ere the wind's speed is done, And it hath drawn out of the drenched soil The clinging vapours, and made bright the air.
2nd Woman. But we'll not have thee disobedient. The King's mind is a summer over us; Thou with a storm wilt fill him, and the hail That shatters thee will leave us bruised and weeping.
Vashti. Be sulky in his arms: the weather soon Will pleasantly favour thee again.
4th Woman. No, no; Not because from our heaven of man's mind Thou wilt bring down on us a rain of scorn, But because thou art wicked, thou must go And tell the King the wine was rash in thee.
Vashti. I must!
3rd Woman. Thou must indeed: words such as thine Never were impudent in men's ears before.
2nd Woman. We will not have thee disobedient.
1st Woman. Here comes another: gentle words, my Queen, Let him take from thee now, and swiftly follow Contrite, and let the beauty of thy grief Bend pleading against the King's furious eyes.
[The POET comes in, and kneels.
Poet. I will not ask thee what strange anger sent That blaze of proud contempt in the King's face: But ere the voice of the King seals up thy life In an unalterable judgment, I Am granted now to come as his last message: And, as I will, to speak. Here then I am Not as commanding, but on my knees beseeching, And for myself beseeching.
Vashti. What hast thou To do with this? and wherefore wert thou chosen?
Poet. I was to praise the splendour of the King; And I made thee his splendour; and the King, Knowing my truth, would have thee brought, to break All the pride of his under-kings, already Desperate with his riches, and now seeing What marvellous fortune also hath his love, How marvellously delighted.
Vashti. Get thee back: And tell the King 'tis time his judgment fell.
Poet. Not till thou hearest me.
Vashti. I will not hear thee. Wouldst thou go on before me, and say, Look, This is the woman which I told you of, You kings; does she not, as I said, stir up Quaking desire through all your muscles? Look, And thank the King for showing you his lust!— I will not hear thee.
Poet. Dost thou not know, my Queen, That, when I taught thee songs, thou taughtest me The divine secret, Beauty? My small tunes Were games to thee; but now I am he who knows How man may walk upon Eternity Wearing the world as a god wears his power, The world upon him as a burning garment; For I am he whose spirit knoweth beauty,— And thou art the knowledge, Queen! Therefore thou must Come with me to the kings of all the nations; For the whole earth must know of thee. These kings, Though it be but a lightning-moment struck Upon the darkness of their ignorant hearts, Must know what I know; that there is a beauty, Only in thee shown forth in bodily sign, Which can of life make such triumphant glee, The force of the world seems but man's spirit utter'd.
Vashti. And what am I to know?—This must, no doubt, Content me, that we are as wine, and men By us have senses drunk against his toil Of knowing himself, for all his boasting mind, Caught by the quiet purpose of the world, Burnt up by it at last, like something fallen In molten iron streaming. But I know Not drunken may man's soul master his world; And I now make for woman a new mood, Wherein she will not bear to know herself A heady drug for man.—I will not come.
Poet. I, who have brought thy insult on the King, Will scarce escape his judgment. But not this My pleading. Seest thou not how wonderfully The mean affairs of living fill with gleam, Like pools of water lying in the sun, Because above men's minds renown of thee, The certain knowledge of beauty, now presides? It must not be that thou, for a whim of scorn, Wilt let thyself be made unseen, unheard of. Beauty is known in thee; but, without thee, It is a rumour buzzing hardly heard. And without beauty men are scurrying ants, Rapid in endless purpose unenjoyed; Or newts in holes under the banks of ponds, Feeding and breeding without sound or light. For the one thing that is the god in man Is a delight that admirably knows Itself delighted; and it is but beauty. And thou art beauty known.
Vashti. Truly, I say, I know not how to bear it; that for you To feel yourselves, though in the depth of the world, Dizzy, and thence as if elate on high, We women are devised like drunkenness. And what are we to make of ourselves here, When in the joy of us you think the world No more than your spirits crying out for joy? Is this your love, to dream a god of man, And women to keep as wine to make you dream?— Now, back! or the eunuchs handle thee.
Vashti. You will not hear of me after this night, And thus I say farewell. It may be, far In time not yet appointed, our life's spirit Will know its fate, through all the thickets of grief, As simply and as gladly as one's eyes Greet the blue weather shining behind trees. Yea, and I think there will be more than this: Is not the world a terrible thing, a vision Of fierce divinity that cares not for us? Do we not seem immortal good desire, Mortally wronged by capture in swift being Made of a world that holds us firm for ever? And yet is it not beautiful, the world? How read you that? How is our wrong delightful? Thus it is: Spirit finding the world fair, Is spirit in dim perception of its own Radiant desire piercing the worldly shadow. But what is dim will become glorious clear: All in a splendour will the Spirit at last Stand in the world, for all will be naught else But Spirit's own perfect knowledge of itself; Yea, this dark mighty seeming of the world Is but the Spirit's own power unsubdued; And as the unruled vigours of thought in sleep Crowd on the brain, and become dream therein; So the strange outer forces of man's spirit Are the appearing world. But all at last, Subdued, becomes self-knowing ecstasy, The whole world brightens into Spirit's desire. This is for Spirit to be lord of life; And man, with foolish hope looking for this, Takes the ravishing drunkenness he hath From us, for knowledge of the Spirit's power. But it will come by love. It will be twain Who go together to this height of mastery Over the world, governing it as song Is govern'd by the heart of him who sings; But never one by means of one shall reach it: Not man alone, nor woman alone, but each Enabling each, together, twain in one.
[The KING'S MESSENGER comes in.
Messenger. I speak to the rebellious woman Vashti. Thou art no more a Queen; thou hast no place In the King's house, nor in the life of men: Thus art thou judged. Go forth now; let the night Befriend thee, for no other friend thou hast, For the day shall reveal thee to men's eyes, And they, obedient to the King, will hate thee. Therefore be gone: and as the beasts have homes In the wild ground, have thy home from henceforth.
Vashti. Gives the King reason for this judgment?
Messenger. Yea; Because thou art a danger to all marriage, Because men are dishonoured in their rule Of women by thy insult, thou art judged.
2nd Woman. But if the King had heard her crazy words He would have put her where they tame with thongs Maniacs.
4th Woman. When the King hath slept, we will To-morrow crave his presence, and will stand In humble troop before him, thanking him For that his virtue hath this wicked woman Purged from among us, saved us from infection.
1st Woman. Alas, my Queen! where lies thy journey now?
Vashti. Ay, where to go? What shelter for me now Will any of the dwelt earth dare to give? My beauty as a branding now will mark me; And shame will run before me, and await My coming, wheresoever I would lodge. For out of Shushan to the ends of the earth Great news runs, with a hidden soundless speed Through secret channels in the folks' dim mind, As water races through smooth sloping gutters. Swifter than any feet could bear the tale, Going unheard, already posts abroad A buried river, and will soon burst up In towns and markets, far as the width of day, A bubbling clamour, wonderful wild news: "Vashti the Queen is judged and forced to go Roaming the earth, outcast and infamous; Look out for her! Be ready, if she comes, With stones and hooting voices!"—Fare you well, Women whom once I knew. You are quit of me: Pardon me if I add, And I of you.
Into the darkness fared the outcast Queen; Fearless her face, and searching with proud gaze The impenetrable hour. Behind her burned The sky, held by the open kiln of the town In a great breath of fire, yellow and red, From out the festival streets, and myriad links. Still might she taste, and still must choke to taste, The fragrance of sweet oils and gums aflame Capturing the cool night with spicy riches; Still after her through the hollow moveless air The sounded ceremonies came, the cry Of dainty lust in winding tune of fifes, The silver fury of cymbals clamouring Like frenzy in a woman-madden'd brain; And drumming underneath the whole wild noise, Like monstrous hatred underneath desire, The thunder of the beaten serpent-skins. Yea, in the town behind her, flaring Shushan, She heard Man, meaning to adore himself, Throned on the wealth of earth as God in heaven, And making music of his glorying thought, Merely betray the mastery of his blood, His sexual heart, his main idolatry,— Woman, and his lust to devour her beauty, Himself devoured ceaselessly by her beauty. And well she knew, to herself bitterly smiling, How the King seated amid his fellow-kings Devised his grievous rage, feeling himself Insulted in his dearest mind, his rule Over the precious pleasure of his women Wounded: how the man's wrath would hiss and swell Like gross spittle spat into red-hot coals. But as the Queen fared through the blinded hour, Sudden against the darkness of her eyes There came a wind of light. Crimson it was, With smokey lightnings braided, in its first Swift surge into the gloom before her face; But it began to golden, and became Astonishingly white. And as she stood With rigour in her nerves, a mighty shudder Ravish the light, and in the midst appeared Vision, a goddess, terrible and kind; And to the Queen the goddess spoke, in voice That healed her anger with its quietness.
Ishtar. I am the goddess Ishtar, and thou art My servant. Wilt any of thou help me?
Vashti. Am I then one whom gods may help? I am By men judged hateful: surely I am thereby Made over to the demons, and not thine.
Ishtar. Yet art thou mine, because thou knowest well Thou disobeyest me.
Vashti. How do I so?
Ishtar. I am the goddess of the power of women, And passion in the hearts of men is my Divinity.
Vashti. Yea, then I disobey thee.
Ishtar. And yet thou shalt not fear me wronging thee: Tell me, O thou Despair, whither thou goest?
Vashti. Thy taunt goes past me; I am not despair.
Ishtar. Verily, but thou art. Is not thy mind A hot revolter from the service due To my divinity, passion in men's hearts? Is there aught else that thou mayst serve? Thou knowest There is naught else: therefore thou art Despair.
Vashti. That I am infamous, I know. But even now, Now when I learn I am to gods no more Than to the lust of men, I will not be Despair.
Ishtar. Who means so greatly to serve pride, That the service of the world is a thing loath'd, Is desperate, avoided by mankind, Unpleasing to the gods. We, who look down, Know that the world and pride may both be served. Yet also that it was too hard for thee We know, and pardon. Thou shalt tell me now Why thou refusest the life given thee.
Vashti. Because I will not, woman should be sin Amid man's life. You gods have given man Desire that too much knows itself; and thence He is all confounded by the pleasure of us. How sweetly doth the heart of man begin Desiring us, how like music and the green First happiness of the year! But this can grow To uncontrollably crowding lust, beyond All power of delight to utter, thence Inwardly turned to anger and detesting! Till, looking on us with strange eyes, man finds We are not his desire: it was but sex Inflamed, so that it roused the breaking forth Of secret fury in him, consuming life, Yea, even the life that would reach up to know The heaven of gods above it.
Ishtar. And what, for this, Dost thou refuse?
Vashti. I refuse woman's beauty! Not merely to be feasting with delight Man's senses, I refuse; but even his heart I will not serve. Are we to be for ever Love's passion in man, and never love itself? Always the instrument, never the music?
Ishtar. I have not done with man.—Thou sayest true, Women are as a sin in life: for that The gods have made mankind in double sex. Sin of desiring woman is to be The knowledgeable light within man's soul, Whereby he kills the darken'd ache of being. But shall I leave him there? or shall I leave Woman amid these hungers? Nay: I hold The rages of these fires as a soft clay Obedient to my handling; there shall be Of man desiring, and of woman desired, A single ecstasy divinely formed, Two souls knowing themselves as one amazement. All that thou hatest to arouse in man Prepareth him for this; and thou thyself Art by thy very hate prepared: wherefore The gods forgive thee, seeing what comes of thee. Behold now! of my godhead I will make Thy senses burn with vision, storying The spirit of woman growing from loved to love.
The First Vision: Helen. Helen am I, a name astonishing The world, a fame that rings against the sky, Like an alarm of brass smitten to sound The news of war against the stone of mountains. I move in power through the minds of men, And have no power to hold my power back. Men's passions fawn upon my feet, as waves That fiercely fawn after the going wind; But not as the wind, shaking off the foam Of the pursuing lust of the moaning waves, And over the clamour of the evil seas' Monstrous word running lightly, unhurt. They fawn upon me, all the lusts of the world, Bewildering my steps with straining close, And breathe their horrible spittle against me. Passions cry round me with the yelling cry Of dogs chained and starving and smelling blood. Yea, for through me the world becomes a den Of insane greed. In helpless beauty I stand Alone in the midst of dreadful adoration; And, round me thronged, the fawning, fawning lusts Open their throats upon me and whine and lick My feet with dripping tongues, or gaze to pant Hot hunger in my face. For I am made To set their hearts grim to possess my life, And with an anger of love devour my beauty; And yet to seal up in their mastered hearts The rage, and bring them in croucht worship down Before me, bent with impotent desire. A quiet place the world was ere I came A strife, a dream of fire, into its sleep; And with their senses ended men's delights. But I struck through their senses burning news Of impossible endless things, and mixt Wild lightning into their room of darkness.—Then Agony, and a craving for delight Escaping sensual grasp, began in men; And the agony was poison in the health Of sweet desire.—The joy of me men tried To compass with strange frenzy and desire Made new with cunning. But still at my feet The lusts they tarr on me crouch down and fawn And snarl to be so fearful of their prey. I see men's faces grin with helpless lust About me; crooked hands reach out to please Their hot nerves with the flower of my skin; I see the eyes imagining enjoyment, The arms twitching to seize me, and the minds Inflamed like the glee-kindled hearts of fiends. And through the world the fawning, fawning lusts Hound me with worship of a ravenous yearning: And I am weary of maddening men with beauty.
The Second Vision: Sappho. Into how fair a fortune hath man's life Fallen out of the darkness!—This bright earth Maketh my heart to falter; yea, my spirit Bends and bows down in the delight of vision, Caught by the force of beauty, swayed about Like seaweed moved by the deep winds of water: For it is all the news of love to me. Through paths pine-fragrant, where the shaded ground Is strewn with fruits of scarlet husk, I come, As if through maidenhood's uncertainty, Its darkness coloured with strange untried thoughts; Hither I come, here to the flowery peak Of this white cliff, high up in golden air, Where glowing earth and sea and divine light Are in mine eyes like ardour, and like love Are in my soul: love's glowing gentleness, The sunny grass of meadows and the trees, Towers of dark green flame, and that white town Where from the hearths, a fragrance of burnt wood, Blue-purple smoke creeps like a stain of wine Along the paved blue sea: yea, all this kindness Lies amid salt immeasurable flowing, The power of the sea, passion of love. I, Sappho, have made love the mastery Most sacred over man; but I have made it A safety of things gloriously known, To house his spirit from the darkness blowing Out of the vast unknown: from me he hath The wilful mind to make his fortune fair. Yea, here I stand for the whole earth to see How life, breathing its fortune like sweet air, Mixing it with the kindled heart of man, May utter it proud against the double truth Of darkness fronting him and following him, In a prevailing, burning, marvellous lie! And it is love kindles the burning of it, The quivering flame of spoken-forth desire, Which man hath made his place within the world,— Love, learnt of Sappho! and not only bright With gladness: I have devised an endless pain, The fearful spiritual pain of love, to hold In a firm fire, unalterably bright, The shining forth of Spirit's imagination Declared against the investing dark, a light Of pain and joy, equal for man and woman.
The Third Vision: Theresa. Come, golden bridegroom, break this mortal night, Five times chained with darkness of my senses. At last now visit my desire, and turn Thy feet, and the flaming path of thy feet, Unto these walls lockt round me like a death. Death I would have them till thou comest; yea, The earthly stone whereof man's fortune here Is made, strongly into deliberate death I have built about my soul, to fend its life From gazes of the world. I am too proud To endure the world's desire of my beauty; I know myself too marvellous in love To be the joy of aught that thou hast made: I am to be bride of thee, of the world's maker. O God, the heart I have from thee, the heart Uttering itself in an endless word of love, Is sealed up in the stone of worldly night: Set hitherward the flaming way of thy feet, Break my night, and enter in unto me. Come, wed my spirit; and like as the sea, Into the shining spousal ecstasy Of sun and wind, riseth in cloudy gleam, So let the knowing of my flesh be clouds Of fire, mounting up the height of my spirit, Fire clouding with flame the marriage hour Wherein my spirit keeps thy dreadful light Away from Heaven in a bridal kiss,— Fire of bodily sense in spiritual glee Held, as fire of water in sunlit air. Ah God, beautiful God, my soul is wild With love of thee. Hitherward turn thy feet, Turn their golden journeying towards this night,— This night of cavernous earth; and now let shine These walls of stone, against thy nearing love, Like pure glass smitten by the power of the sun; And let them be, in thy descending love, Like glass in a furnace, falling molten down, Back from thy burning feet streaming and flowing, Leaving me naked to thy bright desire.— Enjoy me, God, enjoy thy bride to-night.
Vashti. Too well I know the first, the scarlet clad; And she, that was in shining white and gold, Was as the sound of bees and waters, at last Heard by one long closed in the dins of madness. But what was she, the black-robed, with the eyes So fearfully alight, the last who spoke?
Ishtar. Take none of these for perfect: they are moods Purifying my women to become My unexpressive, uttermost intent.— As music binds into a strict delight The manifold random sounds that shake the air, Even so fashioned must I have the being That fills with rushing power the boundless spirit: Amidst it, musically firm, a joy That is a fiery knowledge of itself, Thereby self-continent, a globed fire. And she who gave thee wonder, is the sign Of those who firmest, brightest hold their being Fastened and seized in one enjoyed desire. Yet even they are but a making ready For what I perfectly intend: in them Joy of self-bound desire hath burnt itself To extreme purity; I am free thereby To work my meaning through them, my divinity. Yea, such clean fire in man and such in woman To mingle wonderfully, that the twain Become a moment of one blazing flame Infinitely upward towering, far beyond The boundless fate of spirit in the world. But in the way to this are maladies And anguish; and as a perilous bridge Over the uncontrolled demanding world, Virginity, passionate self-possessing, Must build itself supreme, unbreakable. —I leave thee: as thou mayst, be comforted By prophecy of what I mean in life. Against thee is not Heaven, and thou must Endure the hatred men will throw upon thee.
* * * * *
The shining place where Ishtar looked at her Empty the Queen beheld; and into mist The glory fainted, and the stars came through Untroubled. Into the night the Queen went on.
[A LEGEND OF THE FORTY-FIVE]
A street in Carlisle leading to the Scottish Gate. Three girls, MARY, KATRINA, and JEAN.
Katrina. What a year this has been!
Mary. There's many a lass Will blench to hear the date of it—Forty-five,— Poor souls! Why will the men be fighting so, Running away to find out death, as if It were some tavern full of light and fiddling? And when the doors are shut, what of the girls Who gave themselves away, and still must live? Are not men thoughtless?
Katrina. Leaving only kisses To be remembered by.
Jean. That's not so bad As when the dead lads went beyond kissing.
Mary. Poor souls! Well, Carlisle has at least three hearts That are not crying for a lad who's gone Listening to the lean old Crowder, Death. We needn't mope: and yet it's sad.
Jean. Come on, Why are we dawdling? All the heads are up, Steepled on spikes above the Scottish Gate,— Some of the rebels rarely handsome too.
Mary. Won't it be rather horrible?
Katrina. A row Of chopt-off heads sitting on spikes—ugh!
Jean. Yes, And I daresay blood dribbling here and there.
Mary. Don't, Jean! I am going back. I was Forbid the gate.
Katrina. And so was I.
Jean. And I.
Katrina. But a mere peep at them?
Jean. Yes, come on, Mary.
Mary. We might just see how horrible they are.
Jean. Sure, they will make us shudder;
Katrina. Or else cry.
[A MAN meets them.
Man. Are you for the show, my girls?
Jean. We aren't your girls.
Katrina. Do you mean the heads upon the Scottish Gate?
Man. Ay, that's the show, a pretty one.
Jean. Are all The rebels' heads set up?
Man. All, all; their cause Is fallen flat; but go you on and see How wonderly their proud heads are elate.
Katrina. Do any look as if they died afeared?
Man. Go and learn that yourselves. And when you mark How grimly addled all the daring is Now in those brains, do as your hearts shall bid you, And that is weep, I hope.
Mary. O let's go back.
Jean. We have no friends spiked on the Scottish Gate.
Man. No? Well, there's quite a quire of voices there, Blessing the King's just wisdom for his stern Strong policy with the rebels.
Mary. Who are those?— I think it's fiendish to have killed so many.
Man. The chattering birds, my lass, and droning flies: They're proper Whigs, are birds and flies,—or else The Whigs are proper crows and carrion-bugs.
[He goes on past them.
Katrina. A Jacobite?
Jean. That's it, I warrant you. One of the stay-at-homes.
Mary. Now promise me, We'll only take a glimpse, girls, a short glimpse.
Jean (laughing). Yes, just to see how horrible they are.
[They go on towards the gate.
The Scottish Gate, Carlisle. Among the crowd.
Mary. O why did we come here?
Jean. One, two, three, four— A devil's dozen of them at the least.
Katrina. Poor lads! They did not need to set them up So high, surely. Which is the one you'ld call Prettiest, Jean?
Jean. That fellow with the sneer; The axe's weight could not ruffle his brow,— How signed it is with scorn!
Katrina. Ah yes, he's dark And you are red: Mary and I will choose Some golden fellow. Which do you think, Mary?
Jean. O, but mine is the one! Look—do you see?— He must have put his curls away from the axe; Or did they part themselves when he knelt down, And let the stroke have his nape white and bare? O could a girl not nestle snug and happy Against a neck, with such hair covering her!
Katrina. Now, Mary, we must make our yellow choice; You've got good eyes; which do you fancy?—Jean! What ails her?
Jean. How she stares! which is the one She singles out? That topmost boy it is,— Pretty enough for a flaxen poll indeed. Is that your lad, Mary?
Katrina. She's ill or fey; They are too much for her; and I truly Am nearly weeping for them and their wives and lasses. Her eyes don't budge! She's fastened on his face With just the look that one would have to greet The ghost of one's own self. See, all her blood Is trapt in her heart,—pale she is as he.
A Man in the Crowd. Can't you see she's fainting? 'Tis no sight For halfling girls.
Jean. Halfling yourself.
Mary. Let us go home now: help me there, Katrina.
Katrina. Yes, dear, but are you ill?
Mary. No: let us go home.
Katrina (to Jean). Come, Jean. Did you not hear her gasp? We must Be with her on her way home.
Jean. You go then. I've not lookt half enough at these. Besides—
[MARY and KATRINA go.
Well, sir, how dare you speak to girls like that, When they're alone?
The Man. You needn't be so short; I guess you're one to take fine care of yourself.
Jean. Yes, and I'ld choose a better-looking man Than you, my chap, if I wanted company.
The Man. Come this way, you'll see better.
Jean. Impudence! Who said your arm might be there?
The Man. O, it's all right.
Jean. And what do you think of the rebels now they're dead?
Mary lying awake in bed. O let me reason it out calmly! Have I No stars to take me through this terror, poured Suddenly, dreadfully, on to my heart and spirit? Why is it I, of all the world I only Who must so love against nature? I knew Always, that not like harbour for a boat, Not a smooth safety, Love would take my soul; But like going naked and empty-handed Into the glitter and hiss of a wild sword-play, I should fall in love, and in fear and danger: But a danger of white light, a fear of sharpness Keen and close to my heart, not as it proves,— My heart hit by a great dull mace of terror!
* * * * *
So it has come to me, my hope, my wonder! Now I perceive that I was one of those Who, till love comes, have breath and beating blood In one continual question. All the beauty My happy senses took till now has been Drugg'd with a fiery want and discontent, That settled in my soul and lay there burning. The hills, wearing their green ample dresses Right in the sky's blue courts, with swerving folds Along the rigour of their stony sinews— (Often they garr'd my breath catch and stumble),— The moon that through white ghost of water went, Till she was ring'd about with an amber window,— The summer stars seen winking through dusk leaves; All the earth's manners and most loveliness, All made my asking spirit stir within me, And throb with a question, whose answer is, (As now I know, but then I did not know) There is a Man somewhere meant for me.— And I have seen the face of him for whom My soul was made! Ah, somewhere? Where is that? Have I not dreamt that he is gone away, Gone ere he loved me? Now I lose myself. I only have seen my boy's murder'd head.
* * * * *
Yes, again light breaks through and quells my thought. The whole earth seemed as it belonged to me, A message spoken out in green and blue Specially to my heart; and it would say That some time, out of the human multitude A face would look into my soul, and sign All my nature, easily as it were wax, With its dear image; but after that impress I would all harden, so that nought could raze The minting of that seal from off my being. And yesterday it fell. An idle whim To see the rebels on the Scottish Gate,— And there was the face of him I was made to love, There,—ah God,—on the gate, my murder'd lad! Did any girl have first-sight love like this? Not to have ever seen him, only seen Such piteous token that he has been born, Lived and grown up to beauty, the man who was meant To sleep upon my breast, and dead before The sweet custom of love could be between us! To have but seen his face?—Is that enough To make me clear he is my man indeed? Why, sure there are tales bordering on my lot In misery?—Of hearts who have been stabbed By knowledge that their mates were in the earth, Yet never could come near enough to be healed; Of those who have gone longing all a life, Because a voice heard singing or a gesture Seen from afar gospell'd them of love; And no more than the mere announcement had. Ah, but all these to mine were kindly dealing; For not till they'd trepann'd him out of life Did he, poor laggard, come to claim my soul.— O my love, but your ears played you falsely When they were taken by Death's wily tunes!
* * * * *
Am I so hardly done to, who have seen My lover's face, been near enough to worship The very writing of his spirit in flesh? For having that in my ken, I am not far From loving with my eyes all his body. What a set would his shoulders have, and neck, To bear his goodly-purposed head; what gait And usage of his limbs!—Ah, do you smile? Why, even so I knew your smile would be, Just such an over-brimming of your soul. O love, love, love, then you have come to me! How I have stayed aching for you! Come close, Here's where you should have been long time, long time. It is your rightful place. And I had left Thinking you'ld come and kiss me over my heart! Ah lad, my lad, they told me you were dead.
At Dawn. The Scottish Gate.
Mary (on her way to the gate, singing to herself). As a wind that has run all day Among the fragrant clover, At evening to a valley comes; So comes to me my lover.
And as all night a honey'd warmth Stays where the wind did lie, So when my lover leaves my arms My heart's all honey.
But what have I to do with this? And when Was that song put in hiding 'mid my thought? I might be on my way to meet and give Good morrow to my—Ah! last night, last night! O fie! I must not dream so.
[At the Gate. It was I! I am the girl whose lover they have killed, Who never saw him until out of death He lookt into my soul. I was to meet Somewhere in life my lover, and behold, He has turned into an inn I dare not enter, And gazes through a window at my soul Going on labour'd with this loving body.— Did I not sleep last night with you in my arms? I could have sworn it. Why should body have So large a part in love? For if 'twere only Spirit knew how to love, an easy road My feet had down to death. But I must want Lips against mine, and arms marrying me, And breast to kiss with its dear warmth my breast,— Body must love! O me, how it must ache Before it is as numb as thine, dear boy! Poor darling, didst thou forget that I was made To wed thee, body and soul? For surely else Thou hadst not gone from life.— Ah, folk already, Coming to curse the light with all their stares.
KATRINA and JEAN.
Katrina. Where are you off to, Jean, in such a tear?
Jean. I'm busy.
Katrina. O you light-skirts! who is it now? You think I can't guess what your business is? Is it aught fresh, or only old stuff warmed?
Jean. Does not the smartness in your wits, Katrina, Make your food smack sourly?—Well, this time, It's serious with me. I believe I'm caught.
Katrina. O but you've had such practice in being caught, You'll break away quite easily when you want. Tell me now who it is.
Jean. The man who spoke When we were at the Scottish Gate that day. O, he's a dapper boy! Did you mark his eyes?
Katrina. Nay, I saw nought but he was under-grown.
Jean. Pooh! He can carry me.
Katrina. Jean, have you heard Of Mary lately?—I vow she's in love.
Jean. Never! with whom?
Katrina. The thing's a wonder, Jean. She'll speak to no one now, and every day, Morning and evening, she's at the gate Gazing like a fey creature on that head She was so stricken to behold—you mind it?— I tell you she's in love with it.