A SEQUENCE ON PROFANE LOVE
GEORGE HENRY BOKER
Leander swimming towards the Mysian shore,
Saw not the waves that curled above his head,
Nor the deep hollows, desolate and dread,
Betwixt the surges, nor the rocks that tore
The seas to spray; nor heard the far-off roar
Of breakers bursting on that shelly bed
Towards which his fixed but pathless purpose led:
He only saw the light which Hero bore.
If by the inward or the outward fear,
My daring constancy could be undone,
I should have turned and all my love foregone,
Ere danger's warning shape approached so near,
Or ere thy love-light shone so close and clear;
But, as thou seest, I boldly struggle on.
December 17, 1861
In truth, Love, but a single hope remains--
The hope to win thee at the bitter end
Of many trials. Countless dangers bend
Around my path. I plot with weary brains,
Using love's cunning to outwit love's pains;
And heavy with the boding thoughts that blend
With love itself, and love's deceptions rend,
Grows my poor heart. I tug against my chains
Of fear and conscience, like a wretch foredoomed
To waste in bonds the remnant of his ife,
Who knows the hopeless nature of the strife;
Yet still remembers how the hillsides bloomed
In his free world, how all the woods were rife
With flying songs, and all the air perfumed!
December 17, 1861
I am already entered on the way
Too far to live beyond thy presence now.
Once, like a bird upon a swinging bough,
I might have sung my carol, sad or gay,
Into thy heedless ear, and flown away;
Leaving small cause to cloud thy placid brow,
And one mere memory in my heart, to show
The lingering twilight of a brighter day.
But I am tamed to perch upon thy hand,
To nestle in thy bosom, taste my food
By thy lips sweetened, and to thy command
My cultured voice is artfully subdued.
I have forgot the wild ways of the wood;
And live or die but as thy bounties stand.
December 21, 1861
If I have served my God with faithful soul,
Using the talent which He gave in trust,
So that His truth shone clear from earthly rust,
And some faint whisper of the songs that roll
From heaven's fixed centre to its topmost pole,
Found a rude echo in my vocal dust;--
If this has been, I know that God is just,
To crown the brow that bore His human dole;
And in some state removed from what we see,
With all life's bars and hindrances undone,
Our meeting souls, like meeting streams shall run;
And my reward for duties past shall be
A heaven pervaded by a sense of thee,
This mortal love made an immortal one.
January 11, 1862
I strive to live my life in whitest truth,
Even in the face of this deceitful world;
And if in errors I am caught and whirled
From the fair courses of my candid youth,
I view my trespasses with thoughtful ruth;
And the poor mummer's scornful lip is curled,
And a low curse indignantly is hurled
At arts which others blindly take as sooth.
But when I enter thy pure presence, Sweet,
I come as one into a holy shrine.
I taste the mystic wafer and the wine,
And fraud and falsehood from my heart retreat.
Through thy divinity I grow divine,
And my world's mask lies empty at thy feet.
January 10, 1862
The lagging days crawl slowly to their end,
The weeks sum up in months, and glide away,
The jolly bells proclaim it New Year's Day,
As if they felt the wicked times would mend.
But I, alas! I see the old things wend
Under new names, with scarce a change, to say
How the fresh mortal differs from the clay
Over whose sins the pitying grasses bend.
So we, who boast our love of matchless height,
Might find like boasts were in their dusty bones;
And when beneath such dumb, sepulchral stones
Ourselves are laid forever out of sight,
Some pair may rob us of our sovereign right,
Some poet shame thy poet's tenerest tones.
February 4, 1862
Although the story of our love be lost
In the long vista of the coming years,--
All its fair smiles, its crosses and its tears,
And the hard trial and remorseless cost
At which we bought the priceless thing, be tossed
As dust amidst the world's new hopes and fears:
Yet we can fancy what a crowd of peers
Are ours amongst the long-departed host.
Like a forgotten king, we wore our crown
Of splendid passion through this span of life.
Yea, life was ours; the glory of the strife,
And the proud triumph, and the day's renown!
What matter if its memory be not rife,
After dark centuries have settled down!
February 6, 1862
Our hearts are like two night-bound, shipwrecked barks,
Lashed fast, through terror of the raging sea,
That, though they gride together till there be
Great strains inflicted, and a thousand marks
Of dangerous contact, though each vessel harks,
For fear its comrade shall part company,
Still cling together. Even thus are we
Drifting together in our mortal arks.
We dare not rend the bond that makes us groan,
Though wounded sorely by the straining ties;
For each upon the other's strength relies.
And if we needs must sink,--oh! not alone,
Companionless, and with despairing cries,
Dear God, but thus forever, knit in one!
February 6, 1862
If I am never merry when my brow
Aches with the pressure of this laurel crown;
And looks severe, and almost half a frown
Of sober awe my vestured figure bow;
'Tis but because the service will allow
No scanted worship; for the heart must own
What the mouth speaketh, or the words were sown
Upon the winds that idly ebb and flow.
I often enter at the temple door
As light of heart as any layman may;
But when I think of poets, gone before,
Who served this ancient shrine with harp and lay,
And what traditions sanctify their clay,
My solemn functions touch me to the core.
February 9, 1862
When, Love, I sing of thee, such little cares
As here oppress us on this narrow earth,
The things that draw from circumstance their birth,
The mean, vile nothings, which our own despairs
Paint, giant-like, against the murky airs,
Before my soul become mere toys of mirth,
That owe to life the secret of their worth
Which the high spirit neither owns nor shares.
Then I behold thee take thy lofty place
In thy pure essence--a transfigured maid,
On whom earth's finger lays no spot nor shade.
So rare thy form, that I can only trace
Thy mortal likeness by the lingering grace
That makes thee now divine, and cannot fade.
February 11, 1862
When I remember, Love, the happy hours
That came too rarely, and appeared too brief,
Rescued by us from our divided grief,
I say with joy, therein this lot of ours
Was gilt with sunshine and bedecked with flowers;
And, in so much, stands out in bright relief,
As that which partial fate has blessed in chief,
Above the lots o'er which her forehead lowers.
I trust that such remembrances abide
For the soul's gratitude and endless praise,
Even through the mystery of those untried ways
Where I shall walk forever at thy side;
And that these golden memories shall glide
Into our thoughts like heaven's fair yesterdays.
February 13, 1862
This love of mine is no light thing, no toy
To trifle with, and fill a vacant hour;
No fragrant incense of a passing flower
That I can pluck, and, when my senses cloy,
Fling in the dew, for others to enjoy;
Or swear the former sweet is present sour,
And with the ruthless haste of selfish power,
Neglect, betray, abandon, or destroy.
No, no! My love is master and not slave.
It grasps my nature in its firm control;
It is the blessing of the days, that roll
O'er my else hapless head; its pinions wave
Above the earth, beyond the dreary grave;
The faith, the hope, the comfort of my soul.
February 14, 1862
Dear Lord, this sense of supernatural power,
This stately mastery over earthly things,
This plastic art that modulates and brings
Out of the discord of the Babel-tower
Thoughts wrapped in music, while the jarring hour
Lulled with strange magic, droops its wounded wings,
And shuts its bloodshot lids, and brooding sings,
Like sun-struck Memnon from his throned tower;
Oh! surely this is cause for honest pride,
And long thanksgiving to the hand above;
That through coarse clay and coarser lusts can move
His chosen one to ends so pure and wide.
I place this wondrous bounty, side by side
On the same altar with our sacred love.
February 16, 1862
Roll the grand harmonies which finite mind
Can neither reason of nor understand,
Thou instrument, on which a higher hand
Plays the vast prelude that had strength to bind
The circling stars, the ocean and the wind,
When the creative spirit's first command
Moved on through heaven and over sea and land
As earth emerged from chaos blank and blind!
O humble creature, burn not to aspire,
But lowly to the hidden law incline;
And of thy duty neither stint nore tire.
Fulfill thy mission to thy Lord's design;
Make glad the common way and household fire:
A higher lot hereafter may be thine.
February 18, 1862
Is love a pleasure or a pain in mask,
The more to lure us on to final woe,
By that which only is a treacherous show?--
I often of my doubting reason ask.
For when beneath my Lady's smile I bask,
I am a very fool who only know
That life is sweeter than the tender glow
Which follows conscience at a holy task.
But when she frowns--Oh! strange, unfrequent ill,
That chastens so the frailty of my deeds!--
A thousand discords sow their angry seeds
In the fair garden of my life, until
I taunt my silly heart and feeble will,
That stray from home to gather thorns and weeds.
February 19, 1862
Tonight I walked with the grim Florentine
Through all the woes of his material hell;
And wondered greatly of the joy which fell
On his stern spirit o'er the foes who pine
Forever in those waves of fiery brine
Beneath the malediction of his spell.
Yet wondered more he nowhere chose to tell
Of such a dreary destiny as mine.
He paints no lover with a weary sense
That what he loves is just beyond his sight,
Towards which in vain he wings his wistful flight,
Drawn ever backward by omnipotence:
Perhaps his hatred was not so intense
As to curse any with such cruel despite.
February 20, 1862
To watch the night out is a dreary thing:
To muse and sorrow o'er my desperate lot,
Flitting in thought around the distant spot
Blessed by thy beauty; circling ring on ring,
Closer and closer, in vain flights that bring
My dreams but nearer to their end, and blot
The vision out with truths not well forgot,--
This is the very point of fancy's sting.
But I must watch while other mortals sleep,
That is the fortune of my restless art;
And how much worse were it to sit apart,
In cold seclusion, while my labors creep,
Than thus for thee to wake and muse and weep
With a full fancy and a fuller heart?
March 26, 1862
When last I saw my darling's wondrous eyes,
For my mere presence grow so gladly bright,
I felt ennobled in my own poor sight;
My monkish heart threw back the cowl, which lies
So thick upon it that God's sunbeam flies
That jealous gloom,--and ventured towards the light.
And I exclaimed, "Oh, never more shall night
Drown this celestial joy in gloomy sighs!"
But as I spoke the vesper-bell replied,
And the long shadows far around us lay,
And out of heaven the rosy sunset died.
Poor dreamers, we had dreamed our time away!
So with locked hands we turned apart and sighed;
For night has drowned the last faint trace of day.
April 22, 1862
I cannot tell what charms my lady finds
In this dull face, huge form and sullen soul;
Nor how my earthy nature keeps control