by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt



WHEN is life other than a tragedy,
Whether it is played in tears from the first scene,
In sable robes and grief's mute pageantry,
For loves that died ere they had ever been,
Or whether on the edge of joys set keen,
While all the stage with laughter is agog,
Death stepping forward with an altered mien
Pulls off his mask, and speaks the epilogue?
Life is a play acted by dying men,
Where, if its heroes seem to foot it well
And go light-tongued without grimace of pain,
Death will be found anon. And who shall tell
Which part was saddest, or in youth or age,
When the tired actor stops and leaves the stage?


Yes, who shall tell the value of our tears,
Whether we wept aright or idly grieved?
There is a tragedy in unloved years,
And in those passionate hours by love deceived,
In lips unkissed and hopes too soon bereaved,
And youth's high courage which no strength could save,
And manhood's web of fate by folly weaved,
And grey-haired grief brought down into the grave.
Who shall distinguish truly and be wise
'Twixt grief and grief, 'twixt night and night? The sun
Has its own sorrow and a voice that cries
Louder than darkness of its joys undone,
And pleads with that exceeding bitter cry,
"I have tasted honey, and behold, I die!"


A little honey! Ay, a little sweet,
A little pleasure when the years were young,
A joyous measure trod by dancing feet,
A tale of folly told by a loved tongue.
These are the things by which our hearts are wrung
More than by tears. Oh, I would rather laugh,
So I had not to choose such tales among
Which was most laughable. Man's nobler half
Resents mere sorrow. I would rather sit
With just the common crowd that watch the play
And mock at harlequin and the clown's wit,
And call it tragedy and go my way.
I should not err, because the tragic part
Lay not in these, but sealed in my own heart.


And thus it is. The tale I have to tell
Is such another. He who reads shall find
That which he brings to it of Heaven or Hell
For his best recompense where much is blind,
A jest-book or a sermon or mere wind,--
Each as he may,--for life's least godly mirth
Is mingled strangely here with fate unkind,
And this is a true story of the Earth.
The passionate heart of youth with its desires
Is not all noble, and some baseness clings
For ever mixed with its eternal fires,
Else were it single among human things.
And all life's wisdom learns but this last plan,
To jest at tears and weep Man's mirth and Man.


I had been an hour at Lyons. My breath comes
Fast when I think of it. An hour, no more,
I trod those streets and listened to the drums,
The mirth, the music, and the city's roar,
And found no sermon for me in her stones.
It was the evening of St. Martin's fair,
And all the world, its working bees and drones,
Had gone out to the quays in the sweet air,
To taste that thing more sweet to human breath,
Its own mad laughter at its own mad kind.
"An hour of prayer," I mused, "for men of faith."
Yet all these worshippers were only blind.
And I, no whit less blind, among them went
In search of pleasure for my punishment.


The Lyons fair! In truth it was a Heaven
For idlers' eyes, a feast of curious things,
Swings, roundabouts, and shows, the Champions Seven,
Dramas of battles and the deaths of kings,
The whole Place d'Armes grown white as if with snow,
With canvas booths arrayed in triple lines,
And jugglers, lions, snakes from Mexico,
Dancers on tight ropes, clowns and columbines.
I went among them all with grave intent,
I, too, to find it may be some delight.
I was a boy and knew not what life meant,
Nor what the pleasures were men seek in it.
Only I knew that mingling with that throng,
I was a stranger a strange world among.


I had made my round, as yet with little gain
Of undiscovered good in that gay place.
I had sought my share of pleasure, but in vain.
Laughter was not for me, and hid her face.
I had asked for mirth. The oracles were dumb.
No sound of Folly with her tinkling feet
Had bid my own feet follow, and no home
Was mine for merriment or musings sweet.
I had ceased to hope and almost ceased to seek,
When, from the farthest booth of all, the bray
Of brass and drums and fiddling and the shriek
Of a dwarf's voice invited me to stay.
The crowd, as scenting some more mirthful thing,
Surged round that booth agape and wondering.


It was a booth no larger than the rest,
No loftier fashioned and no more sublime,
As poor a shrine as ever youth possessed
In which to worship truth revealed in time.
Yet to my soul the mean remembrance clings
With all the folly of that far fair eve,
And my pulse throbs with lost imaginings,
And passion rises from its grave to grieve.
Vain dreams, brute images! and over all
The shrill-voiced dwarf its hierarch and priest,
Vaunting its praise, a pagan prince of Baal.
It scared me as of some wild idol feast.
"The Booth of Beauty," thus it was I read,
Blazoned in scarlet letters overhead.


I stopped, I listened, and I entered in,
With half-a-dozen more, that sight to see.
"The Booth of Beauty," 'twas a name of sin
Which seemed to promise a new mystery.
There was a crowd already in the place,
And 'twixt me and the stage, now darkly hid,
The gathering evening had come down apace,
And all was dim within and overspread.
I know not by what instinct or mute proof
Of Providence it was, but this is true,
Even as I stepped 'neath that ignoble roof,
A prescience warned me there of portents new,
And a voice spoke with no uncertain sound
Warning me back as from ungodly ground.


An instant, just an instant, and no more,
And it was gone, and I with eyes unsealed
Saw the bald pageant stripped to its thought's core,
And naked there to my scared eyes revealed.
Upon a throne which filled the upper space
Two female monsters sat, the first a girl
Marked like a leopard with pied arms and face,
And restless eyes aflame and teeth of pearl.
Her as we ventured near, I heard awhile
Say she was hungry, and a gleam like blood
Lighted her lips and died in a fierce smile.
A woman's hand behind me in the crowd
Clutched at my arm, and through the booth there went
A shiver of half fear, half merriment.


Beyond her sat a second monster. She
In shape and sense was undisguisedly real,
An ox-eyed queen of full-fed majesty
And giant height and comeliness ideal.
She too her tale related, as was due,
In measured tones, her age, her birth, her name,
Bourgeois her parents, friends of order too,
And good Imperialists of honest fame,
Her age eighteen, her height seven feet, her waist
An ell and more in its circumference,
Her leg above the knee, and where was placed
Its point of full development. . . The sense
Of the rest I lost, for laughing half aloud
Again a woman touched me in the crowd.


She was a little woman dressed in black,
Who stood on tiptoe with a childish air,
Her face and figure hidden in a sacque,
All but her eyes and forehead and dark hair.
Her brow was pale, but it was lit with light,
And mirth flashed out of it, it seemed in rays.
A childish face, but wise with woman's wit
And something, too, pathetic in its gaze.
In the bare dusk of that unseemly place
I noted all, and this besides, a scar
Which on her cheek had left a paler trace.
It seemed to tell its tale of love and war.
That little scar! Doubt whispered of this one,
Boy as I was, she had not lived a nun.


A second warning, nor unheeded. Yet
The thought appealed to me as no strange thing,
Pure though I was, that love impure had set
Its seal on that fair woman in her Spring.
Her broken beauty did not mar her grace
In form or spirit. Nay, it rather moved.
It seemed a natural thing for that gay face
It should have known and suffered and been loved.
It kindled in me, too, to view it thus,
A mood of daring which was more than mine,
And made my shamefaced heart leap valorous,
And fired its courage to a zeal divine.
All this, in one short instant, as I gazed
Into her eyes, admiring, yet amazed.


Me, too, she doubtless read. For, with her hand
Raised as for help and pointing to a chair,
She bade me, with a gesture, part command
And part entreaty, I would set her there.
She could not see, she said, the Queen of Love
My eyes so coveted, and laughed and laid
Upon my lips the fingers of her glove
When I protested at the words she said.
I hardly know how it all came about
But did her bidding as she would, and she
From her new vantage bore the humour out
And mocked the more at each new mockery.
And still she held my arm and I her dress,
"Lest she should fall," she said, in waywardness.


Thus it began with laughter. But anon
The ox-eyed queen, who had resumed by rote
The tale of her perfections one by one,
Turned by some ominous chance towards the spot
Where we two stood. "And take good note," said she,"
All here is honest beauty, flesh and blood,
As any in the world. Yet, if there be
A doubt between you, let me make it good.
Which of you two will honour me so near
As to prove the truth?" My cheeks in spite of me
Flamed in the dark, and I was seized with fear
And a wild doubt lest mine the choice should be.
The little woman on the chair began
To shout aloud and bid me play the man.


Oh, 'tis a terrible thing in early youth
To be assailed by laughter and mute shame,
A terrible thing to be befooled forsooth
By one's own foolish face betrayed in flame.
The little traitor, when she saw me dumb,
Went on to clap her hands, till all and each
Took up the jest and called on me to come
And prove my courage in the manly breach.
The imperious queen stood waiting for me there,
Pointing and beckoning, and the crowd closed in.
Under the cover of a wilder air
From the brass band, the darkness and the din,
I know not how it was, in fear or fun,
I touched that monster's knee, and all was done.


I touched that knee. She did not show surprise,
And the earth had not opened at our feet.
She did not even laugh. Her foolish eyes
Twinkled a moment in her cheeks, then set
Like fog-bound stars for ever from my sight.
And at a signal from the little woman,
Who clung to me still, a chorus left and right
Of laughter rose Homeric and inhuman,
Drowning all further sense in one wild roar.
I heard the spotted girl with leopard lips
Complain that she was hungry as before,
And all the world was merged in an eclipse,
Darkening the air around and overhead,
And then I broke away and turned and fled.


Alas, poor Queen of Beauty! In my heart
I could weep for you and your sad graceless doom.
You stand at my life's threshold in the part
Of king's chief jester in the ante-room,
And none more near the throne. You made us sport
According to your folly, and passed on,
And now you live with pension in Love's Court,
And privilege to jest and wear the crown.
Yes, I could weep for you. Your part it was
To strike the cymbals on a night sublime
For Love's first bridal dance. Alas, alas!
Time, the avenger of our manhood's prime,
Is gathering all life courtiers to his cell,
And you among the rest. So fare you well.


I fled the booth with feelings as of Cain,
Yet laughing at my own bewilderment.
My cheeks had blushed till it was physical pain,
And my eyes smarted. Through my head there went
The little woman's last appealing word
Bidding me stop, in tones that smote afresh.
And 'twixt my finger and thumb there throbbed and stirred
The semblance of that monstrous pound of flesh,
The knee that I had handled. With it too
The jet beads of the little woman's skirt,
Where I had held her, left an impress new
And touched my conscience to a deeper hurt.
I was ashamed of all with shame intense,
My youth, my frailty, and my innocence.


I fled into the bosom of the night,
Leaving the Fair behind me. I had need
Of the sweet healing darkness to my sight,
As a bruise needs a poultice. And in speed
I went thus half through Lyons, loath to win
Back to the crowd, and doubly loath to go
Thus foolishly transfigured to my inn.
Strange fateful night! Even to this hour 'tis so.
Night in a city with the distant hum
Of laughing crowds, the silence of strange streets,
My own mute footfalls and the redolent gloom
Of oil-lit thresholds brings it back and cheats
My sorrow still to the last dreams of good
I dreamed that evening in my solitude.


If I have since done evil in my life,
I was not born for evil. This I know.
My soul was a thing pure from sensual strife.
No vice of the blood foredoomed me to this woe.
I did not love corruption. Beauty, truth,
Justice, compassion, peace with God and man,
These were my laws, the instincts of my youth,
And hold me still, conceal it as I can.
I did not love corruption, nor do love.
I find it ill to hate and ill to grieve.
Nature designed me for a life above
The mere discordant dreams in which I live.
If I now go a beggar on the Earth,
I was a saint of Heaven by right of birth.


You know the story of my birth, the name
Which I inherited for good and ill,
The secret of my father's fame and shame,
His tragedy and death on that dark hill.
You know at least what the world knows or knew,
For time has taken half the lookers-on,
As it took him, and leaves his followers few,
And those that loved him scarce or almost none.
To me, his son, there had remained the story,
Told and retold by her who knew it best,
A mystery of love, perhaps of glory,
A heritage to hold and a bequest.
Ah, how it loved him, that sad woman's heart,
What faith was hers and what a martyr's part!


Nor later, when with her my childhood died,
Was life less sealed to me. The Church became
My guardian next and mother deified,
Who lit within me a more subtle flame
Of constancy, and clothed me in her mood.
No sound, no voice within that sanctuary
Told me of common evil. Unsubdued
And vast and strange, a thing from which to flee,
The world lay there without us. We within,
Fenced in and folded safe in our strong home,
Knew nothing of the sorrow and the sin.
'Tis no small matter to have lived in Rome,
In the Church's very bosom and abode,
Cloistered and cradled there, a child of God.


Thus through these griefs I had been set apart,
As for a double priesthood. Life to me,
In those first moments when I probed my heart,
Less an enchantress seemed than enemy.
My knowledge of the world had nothing human.
I saw Mankind a tribe, my natural foe,
Whom I must one day battle with; and Woman,
Ah! Woman was a snare I did not know.
Indeed, it may be that already hope
Knocked at my soul with tales it dared not own
Of woman's kindness in my horoscope.
Man, only Man I feared with eyes bent down,
Man the oppressor, who with pale lips curled
Sheds blood in the high places of the world.


My childhood, then, had passed a mystery
Shrouded by death, my boyhood a shut thing.
The passion of my soul as it grew free
With growing youth, a bird with broken wing,
Knew nothing of its strength to dare or do,
Or, if it dreamed of battle still to come,
That was its secret hidden in the blue
Of life's great vault of tears which was its doom,
A duty of revenge some day for blood.
Enough! You know I held me from the press
To whom base things are nothing, that I stood
Parted from this world's weekday wickedness
By a whole legend of romance sublime,
Perhaps by the dead virtue of a crime.


I linger on the threshold of my youth.
If you could see me now as then I was,
A fair-faced frightened boy with eyes of truth
Scared at the world yet angry at its laws,
Plotting all plots, a blushing Cataline
Betrayed by his own cheeks, a misanthrope
In love with all things human and divine,
The very fool of fortune and high hope,
You would deny you knew me. Oh, the days
Of our absurd first manhood, rich in force,
Rich in desire of happiness and praise
Yet impotent in its heroic course,
And all for lack of that one worthless thing,
Knowledge of life and love and suffering I


At such a time indeed of youth's first morn,
There is a heaving of the soul in pain,
A mighty labour as of joys unborn,
Which grieves it and disqulets it in vain.
The soul is scared at her own lack of peace,
Her cradle song is mute, and she has fled
From her old life as to a wilderness.
She finds herself awake and without bread.
'Tis then the body, her new counsellor,
Speaks in her ear, and still with eloquence
Pleads for more action, and his voice to her
Is sweet with love, and sadly she consents.
There is a day of youth which needs must come
When each must learn his life and leave his home.


The summer I had passed in my own fashion
High in the Alps, a proselyte to toil.
I was released and free, and spent my passion
On the bare rocks as on a fruitful soil.
I had soothed my soul with labour, and its fire
Borne to those naked heights where I unfurled
My flag with new ambitions, high and higher
Even to the last bleak outposts of the world.
My soul had needed courage, and behold!
Here in these battles with the hosts of air
And rock and snow and storm she had grown bold
And proved her temper for the coming war.
This was her gain, the strife she must engage
With physical fear, her childhood's heritage.


A glorious triumph. On that day of days
When, standing on the summit's utmost edge
Of my first mountain-top, I viewed the maze
Which I had travelled upwards, ledge on ledge,
And all that wilderness of rock and plain
Rolled at my feet, and, when with heel fast set
On Nature's neck, I knew the giant slain,
My thrall, my prisoner, on the parapet,
I was transfigured. Slowly in me rose
The throb of courage as a sense new born.
Even Man," I cried, "Man's self, my foe of foes,
The phantom of my fears, shall feel my scorn
Yet in a nobler war." And trembling then
I seemed to stand, I too, a man with men.


Thus was my soul enfranchised. But anon,
With courage fired to full-fledged enterprise,
And pushing still the vantage I had won,
I sought communion with a world less wise,
The living world. I mixed with not a few,
Shepherds and countrymen, and village priests,
Bagmen at inns, and all the motley crew
Which comes and goes on market days and feasts
In old-world hostelries of old-world towns.
These gave a second schooling, till the grace
Of the summer ended on the upper downs,
And, carrying still its glory on my face,
I came to Lyons where these things befell.
The why and wherefore of it who shall tell?


The booths were shut. The Fair was at an end,
And the crowd gone with multitudinous feet
Noisily home, or lingering still to spend
At Café doors or at the turn of the street
In twos and threes its laughter with good-night.
All turned to silence. Even my heart had peace
As, self-possessed and freed from its vain fright,
I found myself once more upon the quays.
I stopped before the theatre grown dark,
With its extinguished lamps and blank repose
A scene of melancholy sad to mark,
Made sadder too by the white moon which rose
Behind it virginal with vaporous wings,
Aloof and careless of all earthly things.


I had stopped to read a handbill of the play,
Caught by the lettering. Thus it was I read,
"Programme of this night's pieces, Saturday
The twentieth of October, 'X. Y. Z.,'
A piece in one act, and 'Les Bergers Fous,'
These to be followed by the well-known 'drame'
Of 'Manon Lescaut,' here brought out anew
For the first time at Lyons." And a name
Followed in giant type of one who then
Illustrious stood in all the world of folly,
The most sublime Comedian known to men,
Mademoiselle Esther, Muse of Melancholy."
She in her part of Manon, so 'twas writ,
Three nights would play in honour infinite.


Such was the legend. I had read it through
Twice ere I thought of thinking what it meant.
And as I turned with a sigh because I knew
That I alone perhaps of all who went
Homewards that night should bid good-night to none,
From a side door thrust open on the street
And calllng as she passed in petulant tone
To one within who seemed to rouse her heat,
Ah, mauvais plaisant! " ere she slammed it to,
Out stepped my little woman of the Fair.
Her face was altered, but its form and hue,
If I had doubted in the moonlight there,
Was marked for me by that unaltered sign,
The little scar, its beauty's underline.


She saw me in an instant, and stopped short
With a sudden change of look from fierce to gay.
Her black eyes gleamed with triumph as they caught,
Like some wild bird of chase, their natural prey.
Ha, ha," she cried, "c'est lui, c'est l'ingénu.
Ah, vagabond! 'Tis thus you find me out.
Standing en faction, and at midnight too,
At the actors' door; with no more fear or doubt
Than any sinner of them all. Oh wise!
Who would have guessed it? No. You shall not speak.
You shall not soil your innocent lips with lies
For any foolish reason in the week,
Nor for the year together if you told
Your stories here till both of us grew old.


"Silence. I will not listen! " "And for what?"
She added strangely, in a softer mood.
"You see I am not angry. Do you not?
Only soft-hearted, and alas! too good.
Why did you follow me?" She took my hand
With a sudden action so devoid of guile
That I, who could not choose but understand,
Was softened too and fooled into a smile.
"Why did you follow me ? Here, feel," she said,
"How my heart beats. It frightens me to find
So much of cunning in so young a head,
So young a heart,--and mine which is not blind!"
She pressed my hand to her side. In truth, her heart
Was beating there, my own heart's counterpart.


She watched me curiously with mocking eyes,
Yet tenderly, till once again her mirth
Prevailed with her, and quick in feigned surprise
Thrusting me back, "Ah, traitor!" she broke forth,
"'Twas not for me then you were waiting there,
Not me, poor foolish me. The Queen of Love,
The woman of the booth! She was your care!
Monster! to dare me thus! And yet you prove
Your wit in vain, for, look, you foolish boy,
She cannot walk the streets like you and me,
Or the town would be at her heels." Convulsed with joy
At this new jest she laughed remorselessly,
Till I was almost angry and inclined
To leave her there. And then she changed her mind.


She seemed to change as if with a change of the wind,
And growing serious sighed, "Now look," she said,
"You think me a mad woman and unkind,
But that is nonsense. I am sound of head
And not unsound of heart, ah, no, not there!
But you turn my head with your John the Baptist's face.
I will not be made jealous, so beware."
She looked entreatingly as if for grace,
And held me by the arm. "We are strangers both
Among these heavy Lyonnese. By right
We so should hold together. Tell me truth.
You never saw me, did you, till to-night?"
I said, "I came here not twelve hours ago!
Why should you think it? " "No," she broke in, "no.


"I do not doubt it. You have a look of truth
Which is beyond suspicion. But the world
Is as full of knaves as fools. You have your youth
And I my wisdom. Then your head is curled
Just as I like it, and your face is smooth,
And it can blush like your red innocent hands.
I saw it in an instant in the booth
That we should know each other and be friends.
It does not do to question. Look at me.
I am not pretty, yet the world's best sense
Has raved about my beauty foolishly
These five years past in every mood and tense!
Say. Would you like we should be friends for good?"
Not knowing what I said, I said I would.


We shall be friends. How friends? You must know me first.
What? Like the Pont Neuf? Should you wish it? Well,
None ever yet repented it who durst.
Oh you shall know me as I dare not tell.
You said I was not pretty. 'Tis the paint
That ruins the complexion and the hours
Spent at the footlights. These would rob a saint,
Much more a sinner, of her natural powers.
Voilà la casse du métier! Then, this scar,
Some praise it as a beauty. They are fools.
At best it but an honour is of war,
And beauty is not measured by foot-rules.
So you forgive it me, what need we care?
Fair faces are but signs of things more fair."


She went on talking like a running stream,
Without more reason or more pause or stay
Than to gather breath and then pursue her whim
Just where it led her, tender, sad, or gay.
Her moods seemed all alike to her. But soon
With a little shudder, for the wind was chill
And we had lingered on there in the moon,
She bade me follow, and I bowed my will.
The torrent of her words had drowned in me
What humour of resistance there had been,
And the last sense of danger ceased to be
In the first joy of yielding to such sin.
There is no pleasure in the world so sweet
As, being wise, to fall at folly's feet.


Who might describe the humours of that night,
The mirth, the tragedy, the grave surprise,
The treasures of fair folly infinite
Learned as a lesson from those childlike eyes?
When we had left our river of fair hope,
The world once more engulfed us in its ways,
And street on street we passed, and shop on shop,
Still loitering by to peer within and praise.
At each new stall we stopped as if in doubt,
Asking a price, and in pretence to buy.
I thought she would have worn men's patience out
With her fool's talk while I stood idly by.
And still, as each grew warm, with cunning word
She turned their wrath from surly to absurd.


And so we went our way,--yes, hand in hand,
Like two lost children in some magic wood
Baffled and baffling with enchanter's wand
The various beasts that crossed us and withstood.
Each step was an experience. Every mood
Of that fair woman a fresh gospelling,
Which spoke aloud to me and stirred my blood
To a new faith, I knew not with what sting.
One thing alone I knew or cared to know,
Her strange companionship thus strangely won.
The past, the future, all of weal or woe
In my old life was gone, for ever gone.
And still to this I clung as one who clings
To hope's last hencoop in the wreck of things.


How shall I tell my fall? The life of man
Is but a tale of tumbles, this way thrown
At his beginning by mere haste of plan
In the first gaping ditch with flowers o'ergrown;
Anon more cautious for his wounded knees,
Yet falling still through much expectancy;
And so to age, the goal of his heart's ease,
Stumbling in blindness on he knows not why.
How shall I tell it ? As the poets tell
Who wrap love in a garment of vain light?
Or plainly naked, the poor child of Hell
And laughter that it is and starless night?
I like the truth best. Yet this love, sad thing,
Mired and defiled, I saw it once a king.


We came at last, alas! I see it yet,
With its open windows on the upper floor,
To a certain house still stirring, with lights set,
And just a chink left open of the door.
Here my companion stopped and bade me in;
Her dressmaker's, she said. And I, who heard
A sound of women's voices from within,
Shrank back alarmed and ready at a word
From any damsel stoutly to deny.
But "Madame Blanche," she said to ease my fears,
"Is a good soul, and far too wise to pry
Or fancy evil of her customers
At any hour of the night they choose to come,
Much less of me." And so I followed dumb.


I followed dumb and shrinking like a thief
Close in her shadow from the women's guess,
Yet ruthlessly betrayed for my cheeks' grief
From head to foot in the tall pier-glasses.
My vagabond attire, my coat all rags,
My tattered plaid stained with the summer's dust,
The sash which bound my waist all gaps and jags,
With gaiters frayed and such sad shoes as must
Have served Ulysses at his journey's close;
All these I saw revealed to my disgrace,
My hat still crowned with its last Alpine rose,
And what she had called my "John the Baptist's face"
Red with confusion and the rage of youth,
I saw it all, the whole remorseless truth.


Not so my little sponsor. She, with eyes
Proudly unconscious of my fool's display,
Talked volubly to all and scorned disguise,
While Madame Blanche herself, no less than they,
Smiled us a welcome, and with upraised hands
Disclaimed excuse and led us straightway through
To an inner room as to a Conference.
There I first saw to my amazement new
That fair white mystery, a woman's dress,
And heard its language spoken. Stuffs were brought
And cards unrolled before us, braids and lace
Lauded and handled and their merits taught
To ears that listened and to eyes that saw
Their secret sense, the law within the law.


Sublime discussions! Let who will be wise!
These are the things that touch us and transcend.
The logic of all beauty is surprise,
The reason of all love the unseen end.
Still as they argued on of this and that,
Turning perchance to me as arbiter
Where in my corner I still speechless sat
To end their strife, my vision seemed to clear,
The scales fell from my eyes of ignorance,
The terror from my heart. One thing alone
Stood plain before me, the supreme fair chance
Of a first fortune, glorious and unknown,
Which beckoned me with no uncertain hand
To touch and taste and learn and understand.


Suddenly then my strange companion cried,
"Bring me the body." In a moment more
She had thrown off her hat, her veil untied,
And motioning all the women to the door,
While I sat speechless by who would have gone,
Undid her jacket and anon her dress,
With the jet buttons of it one by one,
And stood but clothed the more in loveliness,
A sight sublime, a dream, a miracle,
A little goddess from some luminous field
Brought down unconscious on our Earth to dwell,
And in an age of innocence revealed,
Naked but not ashamed. Nay, wherefore shame?
And I, ah, who shall blame me, who shall blame?


I will not tell the secrets of that place.
When Madame Blanche returned to us again
I was kneeling there, while Esther kissed my face
And dried and comforted my tears. O vain
And happy tears! O griefs thrice comforted!
I trembled, but not with fear. If I was dumb,
'Twas not for lack of speech where all was said.
My doubts were ended and my fears o'ercome,
And joy had triumphed. Life has given me much
And pleasure much, and Heaven may yet have store
Of nobler hopes to kindle and to touch,
But never for all time, ah, never more,
That delicate dawn of wonder when lips move
First to the love of life and love of love.


He who has once been happy is for aye
Out of destruction's reach. His fortune then
Holds nothing secret, and Eternity,
Which is a mystery to other men,
Has like a woman given him its joy.
Time is his conquest. Life, if it should fret,
Has paid him tribute. He can bear to die.
He who has once been happy! When I set
The world before me and survey its range,
Its mean ambitions, its scant fantasies,
The shreds of pleasure which for lack of change
Men wrap around them and call happiness,
The poor delights which are the tale and sum
Of the world's courage in its martyrdom;


When I hear laughter from a tavern door,
When I see crowds agape and in the rain
Watching on tiptoe and with stifled roar
To see a rocket fired or a bull slain,
When misers handle gold, when orators
Touch strong men's hearts with glory till they weep,
When cities deck their streets for barren wars
Which have laid waste their youth, and when I keep
Calmly the count of my own life and see
On what poor stuff my manhood's dreams were fed
Till I too learned what dole of vanity
Will serve a human soul for daily bread,
--Then I remember that I once was young
And lived with Esther the world's gods among.


I lived with Esther, not for many days,
If days be counted by the fall of night
And the sun's rising, yet through years of praise,
If truth be timepiece of joys infinite.
And what a life it was! No vain sweet dream
Of love in idleness which all men know,
But a full drama fashioned on the theme
Of strength victorious over death and woe.
Here was no faltering. Ours the triumph was
Of that strong logic which beholds each day
As a new world to conquer, and the cause
Itself complete of a more glorious fray.
To-day our cycle was. In it sublime
We sat enthroned as on the neck of Time.


For Esther was a woman most complete
In all her ways of loving. And with me
Dealt as one deals who careless of deceit
And rich in all things is of all things free.
She did not stop with me to feel her way
Into my heart, because she all hearts knew,
But, like some prodigal heir of yesterday
Just in possession, counted not her due
And grandly gave. O brave humility!
O joy that kneels! O pride that stoops to tears!
She spent where others had demanded fee,
Served where all service had of right been hers,
Casting her bread of life upon love's ways,
Content to find it after many days.


I must not speak of it. Even yet my heart
Is but a feeble thing to fret and cry,
And it might chance to wake and with a start,
When nights were still and stars were in the sky,
Sit up and muse upon its lonely state,
With the same stars to mock at it as then,
And certain chords that touched might touch it yet,
And griefs find issue and tears come again.
I must not venture farther in this mood.
Grief is forsworn to me. I will not grieve,
Nor think too much on Esther's womanhood,
Rather on that which was its make-believe.
And yet awhile she loved me. In this thought
I long found rest when all was come to nought.


We stayed at Lyons three days, only three,
In Esther's world of wonder and renown,
She, glorious star, each night immortally
Playing her Manons to the listening town.
I glorious too, but in Love's firmament,
Watching her face by which alone I moved,
A shadow near her raptured and intent,
And seeking still the signs that I was loved.
Thrice happy days! Thrice blessed tragedy!
Her Des Grieux was I, her lover lorn
Bound to her fortunes, blest to live or die,
And faithful ever though to faith forsworn,
Waiting behind the scenes in that stage-land
To greet her exits and to squeeze her hand.


Who has not wept with Manon? Of all tales
That thrill youth's fancy or to tears or mirth
None other is there where such grief prevails,
Such passionate pity for the loves of Earth.
Who has not wept with Manon in her sin,
Wept in her punishment? What angry heart
Has been unmoved in youth to see her win
With those sad archers to the inhuman cart?
Who has not followed her beyond the seas,
And sold his life for her, and bowed his pride,
And sinned all sins to buy her back to ease,
And died all deaths to venge her when she died?
And I, blest boy, who each new happy night
When all was done still lived in her delight!


This was my term of glory. All who know
Something of life will guess untold the end.
In love, one ever kisses for his woe,
One lends his cheek, alas! or seems to lend,
One has the pleasure, one the penalties,
One is in earnest, one has time to laugh,
One turns impatient from imploring eyes,
And one in terror spells love's epitaph.
There was no wisdom in this love of mine,
Therefore it perished earlier than the rest,
Although I poured out all my heart like wine
And watered it with tears, and prayed unblest
In my soul's rage to all the Saints of heaven
To give me this and yet to be forgiven.


It might not be. Some things are possible,
And some inipossible for even God.
And Esther had no soul which Heaven or Hell
Could touch by joy or soften by the rod.
She could not really love me. The day came,
How soon, how late, I need not to devise,
When passion prayed its last, and only shame
Stood for my portion in a world grown wise,
And I went forth for ever from her sight
Knowing the good and evil. On that day
I did her wrong by anger. Now life's light
Illumines all, and I behold her gay
As I first knew her in my love purblind,
Dear passionate Esther, soulless but how kind!