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- The House of Life - 1/9 -


The House of Life

by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Part I. YOUTH AND CHANGE

INTRODUCTORY SONNET

A Sonnet is a moment's monument,-- Memorial from the Soul's eternity To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be, Whether for lustral rite or dire portent, Of its own arduous fulness reverent: Carve it in ivory or in ebony, As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see Its flowering crest impearled and orient.

A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals The soul,--its converse, to what Power 'tis due:-- Whether for tribute to the august appeals Of Life, or dower in Love's high retinue, It serve; or, 'mid the dark wharf's cavernous breath, In Charon's palm it pay the toll to Death. LOVE ENTHRONED

I marked all kindred Powers the heart finds fair:-- Truth, with awed lips; and Hope, with eyes upcast; And Fame, whose loud wings fan the ashen Past To signal-fires, Oblivion's flight to scare; And Youth, with still some single golden hair Unto his shoulder clinging, since the last Embrace wherein two sweet arms held him fast; And Life, still wreathing flowers for Death to wear.

Love's throne was not with these; but far above All passionate wind of welcome and farewell He sat in breathless bowers they dream not of; Though Truth foreknow Love's heart, and Hope foretell, And Fame be for Love's sake desirable, And Youth be dear, and Life be sweet to Love. BRIDAL BIRTH

As when desire, long darkling, dawns, and first The mother looks upon the new-born child, Even so my Lady stood at gaze and smiled When her soul knew at length the Love it nursed. Born with her life, creature of poignant thirst And exquisite hunger, at her heart Love lay Quickening in darkness, till a voice that day Cried on him, and the bonds of birth were burst.

Now, shielded in his wings, our faces yearn Together, as his fullgrown feet now range The grove, and his warm hands our couch prepare: Till to his song our bodiless souls in turn Be born his children, when Death's nuptial change Leaves us for light the halo of his hair. REDEMPTION

O Thou who at Love's hour ecstatically Unto my lips dost evermore present The body and blood of Love in sacrament; Whom I have neared and felt thy breath to be The inmost incense of his sanctuary; Who without speech hast owned him, and intent Upon his will, thy life with mine hast blent, And murmured o'er the cup, Remember me!--

0 what from thee the grace, for me the prize, And what to Love the glory,--when the whole Of the deep stair thou tread'st to the dim shoal And weary water of the place of sighs, And there dost work deliverance, as thine eyes Draw up my prisoned spirit to thy soul! LOVESIGHT

When do I see thee most, beloved one? When in the light the spirits of mine eyes Before thy face, their altar, solemnize The worship of that Love through thee made known? Or when in the dusk hours, (we two alone,) Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies Thy twilight-hidden glimmering visage lies, And my soul only sees thy soul its own?

0 love, my love! if I no more should see Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee, Nor image of thine eyes in any spring,-- How then should sound upon Life's darkening slope The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope, The wind of Death's imperishable wing? HEART'S HOPE

By what word's power, the key of paths untrod, Shall I the difficult deeps of Love explore, Till parted waves of Song yield up the shore Even as that sea which Israel crossed dry-shod? For lo! in some poor rhythmic period, Lady, I fain would tell how evermore Thy soul I know not from thy body, nor Thee from myself, neither our love from God.

Yea, in God's name, and Love's, and thine, would I Draw from one loving heart such evidence As to all hearts all things shall signify; Tender as dawn's first hill-fire, and intense As instantaneous penetrating sense, In Spring's birth-hour, of other Springs gone by. THE KISS

What smouldering senses in death's sick delay Or seizure of malign vicissitude Can rob this body of honour, or denude This soul of wedding-raiment worn to-day? For lo! even now my lady's lips did play With these my lips such consonant interlude As laurelled Orpheus longed for when he wooed The half-drawn hungering face with that last lay.

I was a child beneath her touch,--a man When breast to breast we clung, even I and she,-- A spirit when her spirit looked through me,-- A god when all our life-breath met to fan Our life-blood, till love's emulous ardours ran, Fire within fire, desire in deity.*

*[sic] NUPTIAL SLEEP

At length their long kiss severed, with sweet smart: And as the last slow sudden drops are shed From sparkling eaves when all the storm has fled, So singly flagged the pulses of each heart. Their bosoms sundered, with the opening start Of married flowers to either side outspread From the knit stem; yet still their mouths, burnt red, Fawned on each other where they lay apart.

Sleep sank them lower than the tide of dreams, And their dreams watched them sink, and slid away. Slowly their souls swam up again, through gleams Of watered light and dull drowned waifs of day; Till from some wonder of new woods and streams He woke, and wondered more: for there she lay. SUPREME SURRENDER

0 all the spirits of love that wander by Along the love-sown fallowfield of sleep My lady lies apparent; and the deep Calls to the deep; and no man sees but I. The bliss so long afar, at length so nigh, Rests there attained. Methinks proud Love must weep When Fate's control doth from his harvest reap The sacred hour for which the years did sigh.

First touched, the hand now warm around my neck Taught memory long to mock desire: and lo! Across my breast the abandoned hair doth flow, Where one shorn tress long stirred the longing ache: And next the heart that trembled for its sake Lies the queen-heart in sovereign overthrow. LOVE'S LOVERS

Some ladies love the jewels in Love's zone And gold-tipped darts he hath for painless play In idle scornful hours he flings away; And some that listen to his lure's soft tone Do love to deem the silver praise their own; Some prize his blindfold sight; and there be they Who kissed his wings which brought him yesterday And thank his wings to-day that he is flown.

My lady only loves the heart of Love: Therefore Love's heart, my lady, hath for thee His bower of unimagined flower and tree: There kneels he now, and all-anhungered of Thine eyes grey-lit in shadowing hair above, Seals with thy mouth his immortality. PASSION AND WORSHIP

One flame-winged brought a white-winged harp-player Even where my lady and I lay all alone; Saying: 'Behold, this minstrel is unknown; Bid him depart, for I am minstrel here: Only my strains are to Love's dear ones, dear.' Then said I: 'Through thine hautboy;s rapturous tone Unto my lady still this harp makes moan, And still she deems the cadence deep and clear.'

Then said my,lady: 'Thou art Passion of Love, And this Love s Worship: both he plights to me. Thy mastering music walks the sunlit sea: But where wan water trembles in the grove And the wan moon is all the light thereof, This harp still makes my name its voluntary.' THE PORTRAIT


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