E-text prepared by Ruth Hart
THE HOURS OF FIAMMETTA
A Sonnet Sequence
RACHEL ANNAND TAYLOR
"Thou which lov'st to be Subtle to plague thyself"—
London: Elkin Mathews, Vigo Street MCMX
The "Epilogue of the Dreaming Women" is reprinted by permission of the "English Review."
There are two great traditions of womanhood. One presents the Madonna brooding over the mystery of motherhood; the other, more confusedly, tells of the acolyte, the priestess, the clairvoyante of the unknown gods. This latter exists complete in herself, a personality as definite and as significant as a symbol. She is behind all the processes of art, though she rarely becomes a conscious artist, except in delicate and impassioned modes of living. Indeed, matters are cruelly complicated for her if the entanglements of destiny drag her forward into the deliberate aesthetic effort. Strange, wistful, bitter and sweet, she troubles and quickens the soul of man, as earthly or as heavenly lover redeeming him from the spiritual sloth which is more to be dreaded than any kind of pain.
The second tradition of womanhood does not perish; but, in these present confusions of change, women of the more emotional and imaginative type are less potent than they have been and will be again. They appear equally inimical and heretical to the opposing camps of hausfrau and of suffragist. Their intellectual forces, liberated and intensified, prey upon the more instinctive part of their natures, vexing them with unanswerable questions. So Fiammetta mistakes herself to some degree, loses her keynote, becomes embittered and perplexed. The equilibrium of soul and body is disturbed; and she fortifies herself in an obstinate idealism that cannot come to terms with the assaults of life. No single sonnet expresses absolute truth from even her own point of view. The verses present the moods, misconceptions, extravagances, revulsions, reveries—all the obscure crises whereby she reaches a state of illumination and reconciliation regarding the enigma of love as it is, making her transition from the purely romantic and ascetic ideal fostered by the exquisitely selective conspiracies of the art of the great love-poets, through a great darkness of disillusion, to a new vision infinitely stronger and sweeter, because unafraid of the whole truth.
Fiammetta is frankly an enthusiast of the things of art; and her meditations unfortunately betray the fact that Etruscan mirrors are as dear to her as the daisies, and that she cannot find it more virtuous to contemplate a few cows in a pasture than a group of Leonardo's people in their rock-bound cloisters. For the long miracle of the human soul and its expression is for her not less sacredly part of the universal process than the wheeling of suns and planets: a Greek vase is to her as intimately concerned with Nature as the growing corn—with that Nature who formed the swan and the peacock for decorative delight, and who puts ivory and ebony cunningly together on the blackthorn every patterned Spring.
The Shaksperean form of sonnet yields most readily the piercing quality of sound that helps to describe a malady of the soul. But the system of completed quatrains in that model suits more assured and dominating passion than the present matter provides. A more agitated hurry of the syllables, a more involved sentence-structure, sometimes a fainter rime-stress, seem necessary to the music of bewilderment.
THE PROLOGUE OF THE DREAMING WOMEN. I. THE PRELUDE II. PERILS. III. THE PEACE TO BE. IV. STATUES. V. THE WEDDING-GARMENT. VI. THE DEATH OF PROCRIS. VII. THE WARNING. VIII. THE ACCUSATION. IX. THE MEDIAEVAL MIRROR-CASES (1). X. THE MIRROR-CASES (2). XI. THE PASSION-FLOWER. XII. THE VOICE OF LOVE (1). XIII. THE VOICE OF LOVE (2). XIV. DREAM-GHOSTS. XV. MEMORIA SUBMERSA. XVI. A PORTRAIT BY VENEZIANO. XVII. THE ENIGMA. XVIII. THE DOUBT. XIX. THE SEEKER. XX. THE HIDDEN REVERIE. XXI. SOUL AND BODY (1). XXII. SOUL AND BODY (2). XXIII. THE JUSTIFICATION. XXIV. ASPIRATIONS. XXV. THE ANAESTHETIC. XXVI. DIVINATION. XXVII. SUB-CONSCIOUSNESS. XXVIII. SATIETY. XXIX. THE CONFESSION (1). XXX. THE CONFESSION (2). XXXI. COMRADES. XXXII. THE SUM OF THINGS. XXXIII. REACTION. XXXIV. THE IDEALIST. XXXV. WOMAN AND VISION. XXXVI. ART AND WOMEN. XXXVII. DESTINY. XXXVIII. CONFLICT. XXXIX. PREDECESSORS. XL. TRANSITION. XLI. THE VIRTUE OF PRIDE. XLII. SPELL-BOUND. XLIII. THE NIGHT OBSCURE OF THE SOUL. XLIV. THE CONQUEST OF IMMORTALITY. XLV. WOMEN OF TANAGRA. XLVI. THE INVENTORY. XLVII. COMFORT (1). XLVIII. COMFORT (2). XLIX. THE CHANGE. L. AT THE END. LI. THE SOUL OF AGE. LII. HYPNEROTOMACHIA. LIII. THE REVOLT. LIV. AFTER MANY YEARS. LV. TREASURE. LVI. THE SOUL TO THE BODY. LVII. THE IRONIST. LVIII. IN VAIN. LIX. RESERVATIONS. LX. THE NEW LOVE. LXI. THE WAYS OF LOVE. THE EPILOGUE OF THE DREAMING WOMEN.
THE PROLOGUE OF THE DREAMING WOMEN
We carry spices to the gods. For this are we wrought curiously, All vain-desire and reverie, To carry spices to the gods.
We carry spices to the gods. Sacred and soft as lotos-flowers Are those long languorous hands of ours That carry spices to the gods.
We know their roses and their rods, Having in pale spring-orchards seen Their cruel eyes, and in the green Strange twilights having met the gods.
Sometimes we tire. Upon the sods We set the great enamels by, Wherein the occult odours lie, And play with children on the sods.
Yet soon we take, O jealous gods, Those gracious caskets once again, Storied with oracles of pain, That keep the spices for the gods.
We carry spices to the gods. Like sumptuous cold chalcedony Our weary breasts and hands must be To carry spices to the gods.
Thou sayest, "O pure Palace of my Pleasures, O Doors of Ivory, let the King come in. With silver lamps before him, and with measures Of low lute-music let him come. Begin, Ye suppliant lilies and ye frail white roses, Imploring sweetnesses of hands and eyes, To let Love through to the most secret closes Of all his flowery Court of Paradise." . . . Sunder the jealous gates. Thine ivory Castle Is hung with scarlet, is the Convent of Pain. With purple and with spice indeed the Vassal Receives her King whom dark desires constrain. Rejoice, rejoice!—But far from flutes and dances The cloistered Soul lies frozen in her trances.
Ah! Since from subtle silk of agony Our veils of lamentable flesh are spun, Since Time in spoiling violates, and we In that strait Pass of Pangs may be undone, Since the mere natural flower and withering Of these our bodies terribly distil Strange poisons, since an alien Lust may fling On any autumn day some torch to fill Our pale Pavilion of dreaming lavenders With frenzy, till it is a Tower of Flame Wherein the soul shrieks burning, since the myrrhs And music of our beauty are mixed with shame Inextricable,—some drug of poppies give This bitter ecstasy whereby we live!
THE PEACE TO BE
Quell this consuming fever, quickly give Some drug of poppies white!—But Peace will come? O ashen savourless alternative, Quietude of the blind and deaf and dumb That all swift motions must alike assuage,— When we are exiled from youth's golden hosts To pace the calm cold terraces of age, With unvexed senses, being but houseled ghosts, Wise, with the uncoloured wisdom of the souls With whom great passions have no more to do, Serene, since ours the dusty arles Death doles, Oblivions dim of all there is to rue!— Peace comes to hearts of whom proud Love has tired; Beyond all danger dwell the undesired.
The great Greek lovers of gold and ivory things, Austere and perfect things, albeit they wrought Girl-shapes with driven raiment, conquering wings, And smiling queens of Cnidos, turned and sought A more inviolate beauty that should keep Their secret dream. Their grave sweet geniuses Of love and death, of rapture or of sleep, Are delicately severed from all excess.— Ah! suppliant, honey-white, the languor cleaves About the dolorous weak body He, The Dark Eros, with staunchless spear-thrust grieves; Heavy the seal of that mortality. No wounds disgrace the haughty acolytes Of heavenly sorrows, of divine delights.
Thought it be blither than roses in thine eyes, Shall I not rend this raiment of pangs and fears, This Colchian cloth white flames ensorcelise, This gaudy-veil distained with blood and tears?— What praise? "O marriage-beauty garlanded For festival, O sumptuous flowery stole For rites of adoration!"—See instead A cilice drenched with torment of my soul! Nevertheless the fibres implicate Proud exultations; burning, have revealed Rich throes of triumph, sweetness passionate As pained lilies reared in thorn-plots yield. Ah! silver wedding-garment of the bride, Ah! fiery cilice, I am satisfied!
THE DEATH OF PROCRIS
Come gaze on Procris, poor soon-perished child! Why did her innocent virginity Follow Desire within his arrowy wild? She dies pursuing the cruel ecstasy That keeps as mortal wounds for them that find. Serene her pensive body lies at last Like a mown poppy-flower to sleep resigned, Softly resigned. The wildwood things aghast, With pitiful hearts instinctive, sweet as hers, Approach her now: love, death, and virgin grace, Blue distance, and the stricken foresters, And all the dreaming, healing, woodland place Are patterned into tender melodies Of lovely line and hue—a music of peace!
As delicate gorgeous rains of dusky gold Heavy white lilies, Love importunate Besets the soul,—as that wild Splendour told Pale Danae her haughty heavenly fate. Not speared in burning points but spun in strands My senses: drowsily burning webs are they That veil me head to foot. While on mine hands And hair and lids thy kisses die away Through all my being their strange echoes thrill And from the body's flowery mysticism I draw the last white honey. What is thine ill? What wouldst thou more of that great symbolism? Beyond this ultimate moment nothing lies But moonless cold and darkness. Ah! be wise!
Mere night! The unconsenting Soul stands by, A moaning protestant. "Ah, not for this, And not for this, through rose and thorn was I Drawn to surrender and the bridal-kiss. Annunciations lit with jewelled wings Of sudden angels mid the lilies tall, Proud prothalamia chaunting enraptured things,— O sumptuous fables, why so prodigal Of masque and music, of dreams like foam-white swans On lakes of hyacinthus? Must Love seek Great allies, Beauty sound her arriere-bans That all her splendours betray us to this bleak Simplicity whereto blind satyrs run?"— The irony seems old, old as the sun.
THE MEDIEVAL MIRROR-CASES
Rondels of old French ivory to-day (Poor perished beauty's deathless mirror-cases!) Reveal to me the delicate amorous play Of reed-like flowering folk with pointed faces. Lovers ride hawking; over chess delight; The Castle of Ladies renders up its keys, Its roses all being flung; a gracious knight Kneels to his garlander mid orchard-trees. Passionate pilgrims, do ye keep so fast Your dream of miracles and heights? Ah, shent And sore-bewildered shall ye couch at last In bitter beds of disillusionment. In the Black Orchard the foul raven grieves White Love, on some Montfaucon of the thieves.
O treasonable heart and perverse words, Ye darken beauty with your plots of pain! What languors beat through me like muted chords? I know indeed that suffering shall profane These lovers, sweet as viols or violet-spices. Strangely must end their dreamy chess-playing, Strange wounds amaze their broidered Paradises, And stain the falconry and garlanding. Their bodies must be broken as on wheels, Their souls be carded with implacable shame,— Molten like wax, be crushed beneath the seals Of sin and penance. Yet, with wings aflame, Love, Love more lovely, like a triumpher, Shall break his malefactor's sepulchre.
The passion-flower bears in her violet Cup The senses of her bridal, and they seem Symbols of sacred pangs,—Love lifted up To expiate the beauty of his dream. Come and adore, ye crafty imagers, This piece of ivory and amethyst. Let Music, Colour, decorated Verse, Meditate, each like some sad lutanist, This Paten, and the marvels it uncovers, Identities of joy and anguish. Rod, Nails, bitter garlands, all ecstatic lovers Blindly repeat the dolours of a God. Subdue this mournful matter unto Art, Ivory, amethyst, serene of heart.
THE VOICE OF LOVE
"Mine, mine!" saith Love, "Deny me many times. Yet mine that body wherein mine arrow thrills, And mine the fugitive soul that bleeding climbs Hunting a vision on the frozen hills. Mine are her stigmata, sad rhapsodist.— And when to the delighted bridal-bowers They bring thee starlike through the silver mist Of music and canticles and myrtle-flowers, And the dark hour bids the consentless heart Surrender to disillusion, since in all The labyrinth of deed no counterpart Can pattern Passion's archetype, nor shall The chalice of sense endure her flaming wine, Superb and bitter dreamer, thou most art mine."
THE VOICE OF LOVE
"Mine, mine!" saith Love, "Although ye serve no more Mine images of ivory and bronze With flute-led dances of the days of yore, But leave them to barbarian orisons Of dull hearth-loving hearts, mistaking me: Yet from mine incense ye shall not divorce Remembrance. Fools, these recantations be Ardours that prove you still idolators; And, though ye hurry through the circling hells Of bright ambition like hopes and energies, That haste bewrays you. My great doctrine dwells Immortal in those fevered heresies, And all the inversions of my rites proclaim The mournful memory of mine altar-flame."
White house of night, too much the ghosts come through Your crazy doors, to vex and startle me, Touching with curious fingers cold as dew Kissing with unloved kisses fierily That dwell, slow fever, through my veins all day, And fill my senses as the dead their graves. They are builded in my castles and bridges? Yea, Not therefore must my dreams become their slaves. If once we passed some kindness, must they still Sway me with weird returns and dim disgust?— Though even in sleep the absolute bright Will Would exorcise them, saying, "These are but dust," They show sad symbols, that, when I awaken, I never can deny I have partaken.
Can souls forget what bodies keep the while? Is this among their dark antinomies? The spiritual joy is volatile: The flesh is faithful to her memories. This living silk, this inarticulate Remembrance of the nerves enwinds us fast: Delicate cells, obscure and obstinate, Secrete the bitter essence of the Past. Ah! Was the fading web of rose and white All macerated by the kisses of old As rare French queens with perfume? (So, by night, They lived like lilies mid their cloth-of-gold.) Within the sense, howe'er the soul abjure, Like flavours and fumes these ancient things endure.
A PORTRAIT BY VENEZIANO
Strange dancing-girl with curls of golden wire, With strait white veil, and sinister jewel strung Upon your brows, your sombre eyes desire Some secret thing. Garlanded leaves are young Around your head, and, in your beauty's hours, Venice yet loved that joy's enthusiast Be frail, fantastic as gilt iris-flowers. O startling reveller from out the Past, Long, long ago through lanes of chrysophrase The Dark Eros compelled his exquisite Evil apostle. This painter made your praise, A piece of art, a curious delight. But your ghost wanders. Yesterday your sweet Accusing eyes challenged me in the street.
Eternally grieving and arraigning eyes, Why vex my heart? What is it I can do? Can I call back the hounds of Time with sighs, Or find inviolate peace to bring you to, Pluck frenzy from the amazed soul of man, Or curb the horses of raging poverty That trample you until—escape who can,— Or spill the honey from rich revelry And strip the silken days?—Alas! alas! I am so dream-locked that I cannot know Why it is not much easier to pass To death than let love's haughty cloister show A common hostel for such taverners.— Ye know, who are perhaps my ransomers.
I am pure, because of great illuminations Of dreamy doctrine caught from poets of old, Because of delicate imaginations, Because I am proud, or subtle, or merely cold. Natheless my soul's bright passions interchange As the red flames in opal drowse and speak: In beautiful twilight paths the elusive strange Phantoms of personality I seek. If better than the last embraces I Love the lit riddles of the eyes, the faint Appeal of merely courteous fingers,—why, Though 'tis a quest of souls, and I acquaint My heart with spiritual vanities,— Is there indeed no bridge twixt me and these?
Curious and wistful through your soul I go. With silver-tinkling feet I penetrate Sealed chambers, and a puissant incense throw Upon the smouldering braziers, love and hate: And chaunt the grieved verses of a dirge For dying gods, remembering flutes and shawms: With perverse moods I trouble you, and urge The sense to beauty. Give me some sweet alms, Some reverie, some pang of a damasked sword, Some poignant moment yet unparalleled In my dream-broidered chronicles, some chord Of mystery Love's music never knelled Before;—but nought of the rough alchemy That disillusions all felicity.
THE HIDDEN REVERIE
The life of plants, rising through dim sweet states, Cloisters the rich love-secret more and more, Gathers it jealously within the gates Of the hushed heart; but, mightier than before, The mystery prevails and overpowers Stem, leaf, and petal. So the passion lies In this tranced flowery being which is ours Like to a hidden wound; yet softly dyes With dolorous beauty all the stuff of life, Each dream and vision and desire subduing With muted pulses, that great counter-strife Of soul with its own rhythmic pangs imbuing. Deny it and disdain it. Lo! there beat Red stigmata in heart and hands and feet.
SOUL AND BODY
It may be all my pain is woven wrong, And this wild "I" is nothing but a dream The body exhales, as roses at evensong Their passionate odour. Verily it may seem That this most fevered and fantastic wear Of nerves and senses is myself indeed, The rest, illusion taken in that snare.— But still the fiery splendour and the need Can bite like actual flame and hunger. Ah! If Sense, bewildered in the spiral towers Of Matter, dreamed this great Superbia I call the Soul, not less the Dream hath powers; Not less these Twain, being one, are separate, Like lovers whose love is tangled hard with hate.
SOUL AND BODY
Sometimes the Soul in pure hieratic rule Is throned (as on some high Abbatial chair Of moon-pearl and rose-rubies beautiful) Within the body grown serene and fair: Sometimes it weds her like a lifted rood; But she endures, and wills no anodyne, For then she flowers within the mystic Wood, And hath her lot with gods—and seems divine: Sometimes it is her lonely oubliet, Sometimes a marriage-chamber sweet with spice: It is her triumph-car with flutes beset, The altar where she lies a sacrifice.— Cold images! The truth is not in these. Both are alive, both quick with rhapsodies.
Life I adore, and not Life's accidents. A garlanded and dream-fast thurifer My Soul comes out from beauty's purple tents That incense-troubled Love may grieve and stir, Be ransomed from satiety's sad graves, And go to God up the bright stair of Wonder. Since passion makes immortal Time's tired slaves I am of those that delicately sunder Corruptions of contentment from the breast As with rare steel. Like music I unveil Last things, till, weary of earthen cups and rest, You seek Montsalvat and the burning Grail. Ah! blindly, blindly, wounded with the roses, I bear my spice where Ecstasy reposes.
Light of great swords, banners all blazoned gold, Bright lists of danger where with trumpets pass Riders like those for whom bride-bells are bold To beautiful desperate conflict, Michaelmas Of golden heroes, how my sad soul saith Your praise! Nor does to you her love deny, Solemn strange Cups that carry dreamy death To quench those fevers when they flame too high. But now the Victories have broken wings; The spirit of Rapture from the day of deeds Is banished, and must spend on sorcerous strings Her heart that perishes of splendid needs.— Saints, lovers, high crusaders, give me too Some simple and impassioned thing to do.
Like a white moth caught heavily, heavily, In the honeyed heart of some white drowsy flower, I lay behind the leaves of apathy, Where not the reddest pang has any power. Then, like one drowning, I rose and lapsed again On dim sweet tides of the great anodyne. Why must they hale me back to drink the pain That seethes in consciousness, an evil wine? I love the closing trances, howsoever Their seals be broken: they are wise and kind. If death can give such fumes of poppy, never Shall I revile him. Oh! uncertain mind! Hast thou an equal pleasure in the proud Flame-builded pillar, and the pillar of cloud?
I weary of your hesitating will; This flicker of "should" and "should not" crazes me. Rest from these vain debates of good and ill: Let me your secret swift diviner be. In the memorial blue dusk of sense, Where, spirals of doves or wreaths of ravens, rise Auguries sweet or dread, the blue dusk whence The cresseted houses of the stars surprise The heart with their mysterious horoscopes, I know the issues ere great battles begin, The ashen values of bright-burning hopes, The ultimate hours of sacrifice or sin. Do I obey the Wisdom? If I list, I too, beloved, can play the casuist.
Sometimes as Martha suddenly stood amazed By Mary's mystic eyes, and sometimes as That very dreamer Mary might have gazed Upon the Daughter of Herodias, The conscious Soul that other Soul discovers, The strange idolator who still regrets Golden Osiris, Tammuz lord of lovers, Attis the sad white god of violets. In jasper caves she lies behind her veils; And jars of spice, and gilded ears of corn, And wine-red roses and rose-red wine-grails Feed her long trances while the far flutes mourn. She lies and dreams daemonic passionate things: Cherubim guard her gates with monstrous wings.
Ah! love me not with honey-sweet excesses, With passionate prodigalities of praise, With wreaths of daisied words and quaint caresses, Adore me not in charming childish ways. This pastoral is beautiful enough: But never shall it antidote my drouth: I want a reticent ironic Love With smiling eyes and faintly mocking mouth. Sweetness is best when bitterly 'tis bought: So in Love's deadly duel I would not be Victorious, and the peace I long have sought, Sure knowledge of his great supremacy, Would buy with pangs, like that bright cuirassier, The queen-at-arms that knew the Peliad's spear.
I am initiate,—long disciplined In delicate austerities of art: The clear compulsions of the sovran mind Constrain the dreamy panics of my heart. Plato and Dante, Petrarch, Lancelot, Revealed me very Love, flame-clad, august. Also I strove to be as we are not, Loyal, and honourable, and even just. My webs of life in reveries were dyed As veils in vats of purple: so there stole Serene and sumptuous and mysterious pride Through the imperial vesture of my soul.— And lo! like any servile fool I crave The dark strange rapture of the stricken slave.
I have a banner and a great duke's way, I have an High Adventure of my own. Yet would I rather squire a knightlier,—Nay! Be the least harper by his red-hung throne. I am not satisfied with any love Till I can say, "O stronger far than I!" Is it a shame to hide the aching of, A sacred mystery to justify? Through all our spiritual discontents Thrills the strange leaven of renunciation.— Ah! god unknown behind the Sacraments Unfailing of the earthly expiation, Lift up this amethyst-encumbered Vine, Crush from her pain some ransom-cup of Wine.
Yet for the honourable felicity Of comradeship I can be chivalrous, And through love's transmutations fierily Constant as the gemmed paladin Sirius To that fair pact. We go, gay challengers, Beneath dark rampires of forbidden thought, Thread life's dim gardens masked like revellers Where dreams of roses red are dearly bought. We shall ride haughtily as bright Crusaders, As hooded palmers fare with humbled hearts, And we shall find, adoring blithe invaders, The City of Seven Towers, of Seven Arts.— Then the Last Quest, (lead you the dreadful way!) Among the unimagined Nebulae!
THE SUM OF THINGS
TO ANOTHER WOMAN
Well, I am tired, who fared to divers ends, And you are not, who kept the beaten path; But mystic Vintagers have been my friends, Even Love and Death and Sin and Pride and Wrath. Wounded am I, you are immaculate; But great Adventurers were my starry guides: From God's Pavilion to the Flaming Gate Have I not ridden as an immortal rides? And your dry soul crumbles by dim degrees To final dust quite happily, it appears, While all the sweetness of her nectaries Can only stand within my heart like tears. O throbbing wounds, rich tears, and splendour spent,— Ye are all my spoil, and I am well content.
Give me a chamber paved with emerald And hung with arras green as evening skies, Broidered with halcyons, moons, and heavily thralled White lilies, cold rare comfort for the eyes. Of triumph built was radiant yesterday: Like an imperial eagle to the sun My soul bare up her dreams the glorious way Through flagrant ordeals august, and won To burning eyries, till beneath her wing Rankled the shaft. Her Archer was abroad; And hooded with strange darkness, shuddering Down pain's dull spiral, sank she on the sod. Close round, green dusk of dews! No more we dare The blue inviolate castles of the air.
For such an one let lovers cry, Alas! Since passion's leaguer shall break through in vain To that cold centre of bright adamas.— Storm through her being, rapturous spears of pain! Ye shall not wound that queen of gracious guile, The soul that with immortal trance keeps troth: For Helen is in Egypt all the while, Learning great magic from the Wife of Thoth. Throned white and high on red-rose porphyry, And coifed with golden wings, she lifts her eyes O'er Nile's green lavers where most sacredly The Pattern of the myriad Lotos lies, Unto those clear horizons jasper-pale Her heavenly Brethren ride in silver mail.
WOMAN AND VISION
Vainly the Vision of Life entreats those eyes Where stars of glamour mock at revelations. But singular fiery moments do surprise With dreadful or delicious divinations The whorls of our blue Labyrinth: the sweet Blind sense of touch tells like an undersong Marvellous matters. What though snared feet, And wounded hands, and ravelled coils of wrong, Plead that the solemn Vision might make whole Our imperfection?—Fevered second-sight, Audacious wisdom of the blinded soul, Dim delicate auroras of delight That thrill the Dark from startled finger-tips, Are ye less precious an Apocalypse?
ART AND WOMEN
The Triumph of Art compels few womenkind; And these are yoked like slaves to Eros' car,— No victors they! Yet ours the Dream behind, Who are nearer to the gods than poets are. For with the silver moons we wax and wane, And with the roses love most woundingly, And, wrought from flower to fruit with dim rich pain, The Orchard of the Pomegranates are we. For with Demeter still we seek the Spring, With Dionysos tread the sacred Vine, Our broken bodies still imagining The mournful Mystery of the Bread and Wine.— And Art, that fierce confessor of the flowers, Desires the secret spice of those veiled hours.
The great religions of the Rose and Grape Have bound us in to their sad Paradise: We dream in crucial symbols, nor escape The cypress-garden where the slain god lies. Daughters of lamentation round the Cross Where Beauty suffers garlanded with thorn, Remembrancers through all the Night of Loss, We bear the spikenard of the Easter Morn. The yearning Springs, the brooding Autumns seethe Like philtres in our veins. O dark Election, Are then the sacrificial doors we wreathe With lilies fiery gates of Resurrexion? And does the passion of our spices feed Love's bright Arabian miracle indeed?
Why should a woman find her dream of love Irised by the strange ecstasy of Art? Is not Eros a terrible lord enough That she must bear both Hunters of the heart, The Golden Archer and the Scarlet too? Then bitter anomalies annul her choir Of puissant and subtle instincts, rended through By gorgeous dualisms of vain-desire. For Love outrages Art's clear disciplines, And Art lures Love to guilt of cryptic treason: The spirit of imagination pines, Captive in webs of exquisite unreason. Alas for this translated soul of hers, The rose's, that must be the garlander's!
Faery of Sheba, idol moulded in Onyx milk-white, moon-mailed and casqued with gems; Ye gold-swathed queens of Egypt, Isis' kin, With bright god-hawks and snakes for diadems; Serene masque-music of Greek girls that bear The sacred Veil to that Athenian feast; Hypatia, casting from thine ivory chair The gods' last challenge to the godless priest; Fantastic fine Provencals wistfully Hearkening Love, the mournful lute player; Diamond ladies of that Italy When Art and Wisdom Passion's angels were— Ye give this grail (touch with no mad misprision!) Of Beauty's rose-red miracled tradition.
But these recoil in riddles and reserves.— The dream's untuned. Ah! vanished chords thereof! Ah! keen divisions of the jangled nerves That strung so long the gracious lutes of love!— Hurry to sell old magian Lamps for new, Though beauty's moonlike domes dissolve and pass: If all things change, ye would be changing too, Crazed hearts that know not your desire, alas! Still, through these wintry treasons that forswear The lovely bitter bondage of our god, Rare perennations of the soul prepare— And Music yet shall seal the period With some new star,—with sad pure hands unveil For ransomed eyes again the gilded Grail.
THE VIRTUE OF PRIDE
My troubled bosom shall be cinct with pride, Girdled with red asterias. Is it sin If I have cast lover and friend aside, Scorning them as myself who cannot win The strengths of beauty, the heavenly altitudes?— O sad and sacred Spirit of Disdain, What penances upon thine ivory roods Within the burning Castles of thy pain!— Thy mystic will no motion ever knew Outwith the splendid danger of extremes; Thy sorrowful refusals pass thee through The great concentrics of star-builded dreams, Unto the crypt of absolute ecstasy, To God or Nothing—where thine heart would be.
I have been frozen. Once I was not cold. But I have strayed within some glittering Night Of Lapland miracle, have leagued of old With glaives and banners of wild Polar light. Yet if I could dissolve in tears this core Of ice, my heart, undo these crystal spells, We should be sisters of incense evermore Like the crowned Lover of the Canticles. Through the great honeycomb of my soul should steep The secrets of the lilies, and her fire Be ambergris, her agate flagons keep The sorcelled hydromel which brings Desire To that mysterious Dark where still prevails The dream of roses and of nightingales.
THE NIGHT OBSCURE OF THE SOUL
When the Soul travails in her Night Obscure, The nadir of her desperate defeat, What heavenly dream shall help her to endure, What flaming Wisdom be her Paraclete? No curious Metaphysic can withhold The heart from that mandragora she craves:— Unreasonable, old as Earth is old, The blind ecstatic miracle that saves. Far off the pagan trumpeters of Pride Call to the blood.—Love moans.—Some fiery fashion Of rapture like the anguish of the bride Leaps from the dark perfection of the Passion, Crying: "O beautiful God, still torture me, For if thou slay me, I will trust in Thee."
THE CONQUEST OF IMMORTALITY
Ah! not in earthy dull durations I Mine heirdom of Eternity implore. Give one star-drunken moment ere I die, Then doom me dreadless to the implacable Door. That mystical Assumption shall disown Time's haughtiest lieges. Grey mortality Will disenchant the jewel-breded throne Of Cassiopeia when more burningly My deed exults with angels. I will borrow From continuity no larva-lease: Through sworded crises and great compts of sorrow I seek the splendour that shall never cease Though Death coin from my soul through endless years Dim drachmas of his infinite arrears.
WOMEN OF TANAGRA
Have these forgotten they are toys of Death That in his sad aphelions of desire They still regret the joy that perisheth, And Spring's great reveries that exceed and tire,— Faintly accusing Love's unmercied yokes With almost wanton grace, the craft and art Of precious frailty that with subtle strokes Of sweetness finds the core of Passion's heart? They carry fans and mirrors, or make fast The mournful flute-like cadence of a veil. Slight fans that winnowed souls, mirrors that glassed The burning brooding wings which never fail! Still in such lovely vanities to-day The gods their secret wisdom hide away.
TO HER FRIEND
I love all sumptuous things and delicate, Ethereal matters richly paradised In Art's proud certitudes. I love the great Greek vases, carven ivory, subtilised Arras of roses, Magians dyed on glass, Graven chalcedony and sardonyx, Nocturnes that through the nerves like fever pass, Arthurian kings, Love on the crucifix, All sweet mysterious verse, the Byzantine Gold chambers of Crivelli, marble that flowers In shy adoring angels, patterned vine And lotos, and emblazoned Books of Hours,— And you, whose smiling eyes to ironies Reduce both me and mine idolatries.
I sang the Dolorous Stroke of Disillusion, Yet never have I broken faith with Joy: Flame-broidered trance and starless cold confusion Of slain and flying dreams shall not destroy The radiant oath to that bright Suzerain Whose lightning-lovely succour ambushed lies Even in the most impossible strait of pain. Mystical paradox, divine surprise Of rapture! By intensities alone Their spirits enter in to exultation For whom the burning winds of their sad zone Bear down the Dove of the Imagination, Who suffer superbly, in scarlet violetted, As the Sacred Kings of the Lillie mourned their dead.*
* See Favine's "Book of Chivalry."
And that is marvellous comfort;—and yet poor To what mere woman-mystery can give, The strange simplicity that will endure The pangs of death, most resolute to live. This God of riddles that shaped a thing so frail For his worst torment hid mysterious powers Within her breast who can like lilies prevail Through rains of doom that conquer brassy towers. Her heart lies broken; when some trivial chord Of sweetness chimes reveille through the sense,— A rose, a song, a smile, a courtly word. She wakes, and sighs, and softly passes thence Back to the masquers, though her soul's veiled Pyx Enclose the solemn fruits of the Crucifix.
I spun my soul about with soft cocoons Of pleasure golden-pale. For me, for me Were precious things put forth by crescent moons, Of pearl and milky jade and ivory. Grave players on ethereal harpsichords, My senses wrought a music exquisite As patterned roses, all my life's accords Were richer, ghostlier than peacocks white. So in my paradise reserved and fair I grew as dreamlike as the Elysian dead; Until a passing Wizard smote me there, And suddenly my soul inherited Some gorgeous terrible dukedom of desire Like those in bright Andromeda's realms of fire.
AT THE END
The fiery permutations of the soul Are infinite, but how to be revealed? On what impassive matter must the whole Inveterate coil of good and ill be sealed! How much too simple all the tale of deeds To pattern out these labyrinthine things, These knots of bright unreason, ghostly bredes Veiled weavers weave, moving with silver wings Within the duskling sense. Most diverse visions Their visionaries darkly reconcile At one sad end. Fate's delicate derisions Through the same hell of penance may beguile Two women, who meet with alien eyes downcast; Yet one stand first with Love, and one the last.
THE SOUL OF AGE
I have seen delicate aged women wrought Most tenderly by Time, their passionate past By the wise vigils of forgiving thought Amerced of pain, mere beauty at the last. So may my soul be chaste, serene, enriched Like an Etruscan mirror one has found In kind oblivions, graciously bewitched With precious patinas, a various round Of milky opal, or turkis, or emerald, Glistered with rubies faint and smoky pearls, Where swirls of incised pattern have enthralled Figures of sweet archaic gods and girls, And I shall say: "Thou art a curious toy, O soul that mirrored Love and Wrath and Joy!"
Ah! Pride and Wrath and Mirth and Pain and Pity, Some amethystine day at last will be, When your bright guard and Phantasy's hill-city Shall be like wonders on a tapestry; And we shall touch between tired orisons The symbolism of those freaked crowns and wings,— Then gaze across the falling Avalons, The resignations of autumnal things, And see among the pointed cypresses The one god left, the smiling perverse god, The Love that will not leave the loverless, Contending with the Stranger of the Rod,— Until these twain become as one, and all The Soul and Sense be starrily vesperal.
Not so, my Soul? Rather for thee the fate Of those hieratic Carthaginian queens Who needs must vanish through the gods' own gate, Even holy Flame, with music and great threnes Idolatrous, as on soft gorgeous wings, If Time's least kiss had subtly disallowed Their beauty's sacred unisons?—Fair things Desire their revel-raiment be their shroud. Yet, fierce insurgent, cease vain wars to wage! Art thou so pure as to decline, forsooth, These penitential usages of age That expiate proud cruelties of youth, And bring thee to the last and perfect art, To love the lovely with a selfless heart?
AFTER MANY YEARS
By mute communions and by salt sad kisses, By Pity's webs that still with fiery strands Wove us together, by the unplumbed abysses Where we have gazed and never loosened hands, By holy water we have given each other At Beauty's blessed doors, and by the hearts Of sweet Delight and Agony her brother, By bright new marriages in all great arts, By the rare wisdom like miraculous amber Won by the desolate grey sound of tears, By wedding-music of the flute and tambour Prevailing o'er Time's cruel plot of years, By all the proud prayers granted and denied us, Fate has no sword at all that can divide us.
Not mine the silver ride of the redeemer, Not mine the secret vision of the saint, Not mine the martyrdoms of Truth's dark dreamer Nor bitter beatitudes of Art. O quaint Undoing of youth's horoscope! No splendours Nor laurels, nor wisdom in a myrrhine bowl! Here is the treasure that the past surrenders, A spoil of roses coffered in the soul,— Much like another woman's! Rare perfumes And cleaving thorns, faded pathetic store Of kisses and sighs, would those heroic dooms I craved of old have yet enriched me more? I have not dwelt in Galilee nor Tyre Nor Athens. But I have my heart's desire.
THE SOUL TO THE BODY
I know thou hast a secret of thine own Which I desire. But once I broke with thee And walked among the asphodel alone: Therefore thou wilt reserve this reverie, Like sumptuous flame closed up in alabaster. They half betray, these curious magian hands: Faint music of thy breast has throbbed the faster, If I have touched it with my charming-wands. And yet,—the wonder any woman knows Thou dost deny the proud Soul that has fed Among the lilies of the White Eros.— Ere I go down among the witless Dead Give, give the secret, for my bliss or rue, Lest lack of that should craze my wisdom through.
Among high gods the absolute ironist Is Love. Therefore, when some cleft lightning mocks Thine arrogant rapture, sad idealist, Admire the wild play of his paradox. Great satires of reversal have astounded His bigots: proud fine dreamers confident Before an idol in their image are hounded Through comedies of disillusionment. Not heavenly Plato, not the Florentine, Not any mage of Epipsychidion Can the true nature of the god divine. Heresiarchs like Heine and like Donne, Bitter and sweet, and hot and cold, know best The incomparable anguish of his jest.
I said: "Confession's bitter cautery Shall fierily search my soul, destroy her ill." Natheless, the wounded wasting malady Is her unexorcised sad sovran still. Oh! that alembic fever of interwed Desire and dream and sense, rapture and rue! As soon as my sincerest words are said And heard they seem apostate and untrue. For only speech more richly dubious Than shoaling water, or a ringdove's breast, Than lighted incense more miraculous With fumes of strange remembrance, could attest The morbid beauty of that wasting ill Whereof I am the cureless lover still.
Though cold clear cruelties like diamond Burthen this silken text of dim surmise, Surely thou knowest I am pity's bond If one but look at me with stricken eyes. If like a herald I have blazoned Pride, I am Humility's own renegade. For fruits of good and evil have I sighed? If Love forbid them, Love shall be obeyed. Though the wroth soul may excommunicate Her body, yet I see the flagrant strife Of earthy and heavenly elements create Colour, change, music. For the Tree of Life Burns with this precious mystery of sorrows That Love the Phoenix find immortal morrows.
THE NEW LOVE
Ah! what if thy last canticle be said, Bright Archer of illusion adored of old, Thou dream-fast Love in raiment burning-red, Wreathed with white doves, quivered with burning gold? Pass with thy Triumph of Lovers, Aucassin, Tristram, and Pharamond, and Lancelot, Dante, and Rudel, all thy haughty kin, Princes in that high heaven, as we are not.— With some gilt couchant sphinx both casqued and crowned, All mailed in amethyst the new god comes, Whose brooding beautiful eyes at last have found Our uncanonical dark martyrdoms, Who from the sombre catacombs of these Brings his great miracles and mysteries.
THE WAYS OF LOVE
Hail the implacable Iconoclast Whose images of ivory and gold Make proud the dust that his enthusiast In her dark trance may very God behold. From the clear music of his delicate Peripheries and porches of delight He draws her down through cruel gate on gate, Through immemorial, blind, implacable rite That strips her of her dream-branched veils of youth, And naked, agonised like trodden grapes, Drags her before the imperishable Truth, The flaming Ecstacy wherefrom he shapes Real myth and doctrine. Therefore I lift up My heart like some great jubilant scarlet Cup.
THE EPILOGUE OF THE DREAMING WOMEN
Take back this armour. Give us broideries. Against the Five sad Wounds inveterate In our dim sense, can that defend, or these? In veils mysterious and delicate Clothe us again, in beautiful broideries.
Take back this justice. Give us thuribles. While ye do loudly in the battle-dust, We feed the gods with spice and canticles. To our strange hearts, as theirs, just and unjust Are idle words. Give graven thuribles.
Keep orb and sceptre. Give us up your souls That our long fingers wake them verily Like dulcimers and citherns and violes; Or at the burning disk of ecstasy Impose rare sigils on your gem-like souls.
Give mercies, cruelties, and exultations, Give the long trances of the breaking heart; And we shall bring you great imaginations To urge you through the agony of Art. Give cloud and flame, give trances, exultations.