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- The Home Book of Verse, Volume 2 - 170/175 -


And, for the conqueror, welcome gay and tender! O, bright the invader's path with tribute flowers, While comrade flags flame forth on wall and towers!

Richard Watson Gilder [1844-1909]

SONNETS

AFTER THE ITALIAN

I know not if I love her overmuch; But this I know, that when unto her face She lifts her hand, which rests there, still, a space, Then slowly falls - 'tis I who feel that touch. And when she sudden shakes her head, with such A look, I soon her secret meaning trace. So when she runs I think 'tis I who race. Like a poor cripple who has lost his crutch I am if she is gone; and when she goes, I know not why, for that is a strange art - As if myself should from myself depart. I know not if I love her more than those Who long her light have known; but for the rose She covers in her hair, I'd give my heart.

I like her gentle hand that sometimes strays, To find the place, through the same book with mine; I like her feet; and O, those eyes divine! And when we say farewell, perhaps she stays Love-lingering - then hurries on her ways, As if she thought, "To end my pain and thine." I like her voice better than new-made wine; I like the mandolin whereon she plays. And I like, too, the cloak I saw her wear, And the red scarf that her white neck doth cover, And well I like the door that she comes through; I like the ribbon that doth bind her hair - But then, in truth, I am that lady's lover, And every new day there is something new.

Richard Watson Gilder [1844-1909]

STANZAS From "Modern Love"

I By this he knew she wept with waking eyes: That, at his hand's light quiver by her head, The strange low sobs that shook their common bed Were called into her with a sharp surprise, And strangled mute, like little gaping snakes, Dreadfully venomous to him. She lay Stone-still, and the long darkness flowed away With muffled pulses. Then as midnight makes Her giant heart of Memory and Tears Drink the pale drug of silence, and so beat Sleep's heavy measure, they from head to feet Were moveless, looking through their dead black years, By vain regret scrawled over the blank wall. Like sculptured effigies they might be seen Upon their marriage-tomb, the sword between; Each wishing for the sword that severs all.

II It ended, and the morrow brought the task. Her eyes were guilty gates, that let him in By shutting all too zealous for their sin: Each sucked a secret, and each wore a mask. But, oh, the bitter taste her beauty had! He sickened as at breath of poison-flowers: A languid humor stole among the hours, And if their smiles encountered, he went mad, And raged deep inward, till the light was brown Before his vision, and the world forgot, Looked wicked as some old dull murder-spot. A star with lurid beams, she seemed to crown The pit of infamy: and then again He fainted on his vengefulness, and strove To ape the magnanimity of love, And smote himself, a shuddering heap of pain.

III This was the woman; what now of the man? But pass him. If he comes beneath a heel, He shall be crushed until he cannot feel, Or, being callous, haply till he can. But he is nothing: - nothing? Only mark The rich light striking out from her on him! Ha! what a sense it is when her eyes swim Across the man she singles, leaving dark All else! Lord God, who mad'st the thing so fair, See that I am drawn to her, even now! It cannot be such harm on her cool brow To plant a kiss? Yet if I meet him there! But she is mine! Ah, no! I know too well I claim a star whose light is overcast: I claim a phantom-woman in the Past. The hour has struck, though I heard not the bell!

XIV What soul would bargain for a cure that brings Contempt the nobler agony to kill? Rather let me bear on the bitter ill, And strike this rusty bosom with new stings! It seems there is another veering fit, Since on a gold-haired lady's eyeballs pure, I looked with little prospect of a cure, The while her mouth's red bow loosed shafts of wit. Just heaven! can it be true that jealousy Has decked the woman thus? and does her head Swim somewhat for possessions forfeited? Madam, you teach me many things that be. I open an old book, and there I find, That "Women still may love whom they deceive." Such love I prize not, madam: by your leave, The game you play at is not to my mind.

XVI In our old shipwrecked days there was an hour When in the firelight steadily aglow, Joined slackly, we beheld the red chasm grow Among the clicking coals. Our library-bower That eve was left to us: and hushed we sat As lovers to whom Time is whispering. From sudden-opened doors we heard them sing: The nodding elders mixed good wine with chat. Well knew we that Life's greatest treasure lay With us, and of it was our talk. "Ah, yes! Love dies!" I said: I never thought it less. She yearned to me that sentence to unsay. Then when the fire domed blackening, I found Her cheek was salt against my kiss, and swift Up the sharp scale of sobs her breast did lift: - Now am I haunted by that taste! that sound!

XXVI Love ere he bleeds, an eagle in high skies, Has earth beneath his wings: from reddened eve He views the rosy dawn. In vain they weave The fatal web below while far he flies. But when the arrow strikes him, there's a change. He moves but in the track of his spent pain, Whose red drops are the links of a harsh chain, Binding him to the ground, with narrow range. A subtle serpent then has Love become. I had the eagle in my bosom erst: Henceforward with the serpent I am cursed. I can interpret where the mouth is dumb. Speak, and I see the side-lie of a truth. Perchance my heart may pardon you this deed: But be no coward: - you that made Love bleed, You must bear all the venom of his tooth!

XLI How many a thing which we cast to the ground, When others pick it up becomes a gem! We grasp at all the wealth it is to them; And by reflected light its worth is found. Yet for us still 'tis nothing! and that zeal Of false appreciation quickly fades. This truth is little known to human shades, How rare from their own instinct 'tis to feel! They waste the soul with spurious desire, That is not the ripe flame upon the bough. We two have taken up a lifeless vow To rob a living passion: dust for fire! Madam is grave, and eyes the clock that tells Approaching midnight. We have struck despair Into two hearts. O, look we like a pair Who for fresh nuptials joyfully yield all else?

XLIII Mark where the pressing wind shoots javelin-like, Its skeleton shadow on the broad-backed wave! Here is a fitting spot to dig Love's grave; Here where the ponderous breakers plunge and strike, And dart their hissing tongues high up the sand: In hearing of the ocean, and in sight Of those ribbed wind-streaks running into white. If I the death of Love had deeply planned, I never could have made it half so sure, As by the unblest kisses which upbraid The full-waked sense; or failing that, degrade? 'Tis morning: but no morning can restore What we have forfeited. I see no sin: The wrong is mixed. In tragic life, God wot, No villain need be! Passions spin the plot: We are betrayed by what is false within.

XLIX He found her by the ocean's moaning verge, Nor any wicked change in her discerned; And she believed his old love had returned, Which was her exultation, and her scourge. She took his hand, and walked with him, and seemed The wife he sought, though shadow-like and dry. She had one terror, lest her heart should sigh, And tell her loudly she no longer dreamed.


The Home Book of Verse, Volume 2 - 170/175

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