A SEQUENCE ON PROFANE LOVE
GEORGE HENRY BOKER
I could not hope that one so rarely fair
As thou, could firmly brook this shameful brand,
This bare exposure on the martyr's stand,
Did not Love keep thee in his holy care.
The smoke rolls upward and the faggots flare;
But through the flame he reaches in his hand,
And thy white body, by his pinions fanned,
Suffers no stain nor blemish anywhere.
Thus men make angels from our mortal clay;
Love works his purpose through his craftsman, Hate,
And Love's design seems rounded as by Fate.
So thou, who passest through the fire away,
Meek, patient culprit of a savage date,
Shalt shine in sainthood at a later day.
February 10, 1865
Clamber again into thy midday place,
O sun of love, now so besmirched with cloud;
So crossed and railed against by tempests loud,
That beat poor nature on her tearful face!
Gather again thy potent beams, and chase
That gloom away, beneath whose weight are bowed
Our festive roses and our lilies proud,
And let them rally in their wonted grace!
Ah! surely, gentle Love, it is not night
Whose leaden eyelids watch the day's decline,
But passing vapors that o'erveil thy light.
For if 'twere night indeed, some star of thine
Would now be trembling in my anxious sight,
Hung forth from heaven as hope's unfailing sign.
February 11, 1865
You say my Love no marvel is to you.
As she sedately treads the dust and stir
Of earthly ways, a brightness follows her,
Like morning's track across the shaking dew.
How shall you judge, who see her beauty through
The haze of distance, how your sight may err?
Or what delights her presence may confer
Upon the privilege of a nearer view?
But keep your judgment; you may rail as well
Against the moon, and hope to dim her rays,
Which the great ocean follows and obeys.
Ring out your censure with the crier's bell;
For beauty lives not by your blame or praise;
But, as you rate it, thus your worth you tell.
I cannot say my lady is to you,
Who estimate her beauties from afar,
Of more renown than yonder little star
That struggles faintly in the dusty blue.
Doubt your own senses, blame your point of view,
Be with yourself, or aught but her, at war
For were you standing where the angels are,
Wonder would balk your judgment of her due.
Her orbit circles through a higher zone
Than mankind reckon in their highest flight;
And heaven, not earth, is glad that she is bright.
I, only I, approach her; I alone
Bask in her blaze, a grateful satellite,
And to her world my darkened side is shown.
February 12, 1865
Heavy and dark, with gusts of spiteful snow,
The moody moments of today lagged by;
And when the boding evening gathered nigh
The buzzing swarms of winter, thick and slow,
Whitened the earth and eddied to and fro,
In whirling currents of the breathing sky;
Until the ghastly land appeared to lie
Stiff as a corpse beneath its sheet of woe.
But why should I above wan nature's bier,
Mourning her sorrow with another grief,
Find in the act a selfish heart's relief?
I play the trickster: every sigh and tear
Is mere distraction, shallow, false, and brief,
And masks a woe I dare not venture near.
February 14, 1865
Out on the heart that has not faith enough
To recognize another's constancy;
That vaunts its arrogant fidelity,
And scorns another as of meaner stuff!
It is my fate to bear the spurn and cuff
of her, whose duty 'tis, confidingly,
To find her boasted honesty in me,
And spare my love unmerited rebuff.
O read my heart by what you see within
The purer cloister of that virgin shrine
On which I look as on a thing divine;
And charge my nature with no grosser sin,
Than striving humbly from thy heaven to win
An earthly likeness for this heart of mine.
February 15, 1865
A noble woman! One who can forgive,
Without descending from her native height,
Not a mere trespass, not a foible slight,
But some great wrong that made her spirit grieve.
Ah, such a one deserves her fame should live,
In something better than a sonnet's light,
Or bronze or marble, or the proudest sight
That man's constructive genius can conceive.
No earthly honor is a fitting meed
To crown an act so brave and heavenly fair,
Save the dread halo which the martyrs wear.
O Christ, I pray Thee, to my words give need,
And take my darling to Thy sovereign care--
The sweetest flower arisen from Thy seed!
February 16, 1865
I raise this mantling beaker to my lip,
Filled with the dews and perfumes of the Rhine;
The clustering bubbles proudly swell and shine,
As on the tiny waves they rise and dip.
Holding this precious crystal, ere I sip
With thirsty haste, its freight of lucid wine;
What name is worthy of this draught divine?
With that libation shall the goblet drip?
Breathing thy name, I hurl the glass, with all
Its fiery essence whirled in glittering rain,
Against the farthest corner of the wall.
O shattered vessel, nothing shall profane
Henceforth thy dedication, nor recall
To meaner use thy sacred wreck again.
February 18, 1865
Oh! what a hollow and a bootless thing
Is human life, to sum it all in all,
From restless cradle unto quiet pall,
Whether it be of beggar or of king!
We buzz and fret, we suffer and we sting;
We base our fortunes on another's fall,
Truckle to great ones, trample out the small,
Till vapid sameness tires the spirit's wing.
Heaven knows how calmly I would lay my head,
At rest from dreams of wealth and power and fame,
Beneath the broidery of a daisy bed,
Were I not lured by Love's unselfish aim,
That shines along the lowly way I tread,
Pure, bright and steady as an altar-flame.
February 23, 1865
The way I walk, an angel of God's throne,
The dearest, brightest, oft with drooping wings,
Bound on a mission amongst earthly things,
Treads, as the nearest path to angels known.
O mighty Seraph, do not thou disown
The mounting pilgrim, though the song he sings
Too much, perchance, with human passion rings,
And grates and falters in its purest tone!
'Tis true that I bedim thy holy way
With worldly dust, and my unhallowed feet
With uncouth marks thy even footprints beat.
I am unworthy, in this vile array,
To stand before thee; and I can but say,
I wandered hither and see no retreat.
February 23, 1865
I never courted miser, fool or knave;
Nor held my heart up as a thing to sell
In open market, with the crier's bell
To tell the world the cheapness of the slave.
Though I have ceased to imprecate and rave
Against the horrors of the sordid hell
In which my fellows roll--as knowing well
That God's own voice has lost the power to save--
Yet in that I have kept my conscience white,
Defying meanness wheresoe'er I met
Its brazen brows in darkened counsel set,
Thou may'st regard me with a glance less light
Than these ignoble things thou would'st forget,
And hold me higher in thy lofty sight.
March 7, 1865
If it has been the misery of my fate
To mix too closely with the knave and fool,
In these sad years which adverse planets rule)
And on whose hours degrading furies wait;
'Twas not my pleasure, but my luckless state,
That made me frowning fortune's luckless tool,
And taught me manners in so vile a school
That I have caught the scoundrel's slouching gait.
Mistake me not. The flicker of my eye,
The look of cunning, the distrustful smile,
But serve my turn when guile encounters guile.
Before thy candor, I would blush to try
The masker's antic, or the liar's wile,
Or aught at which you shake the head and sigh.
March 8, 1865
"O for my sake do you with fortune chide"--
I almost took sad Shakespeare's thought for mine,
So closely fits his sonnet line by line
The wretched case in which my life was tried.
Fraud, falsehood, avarice, the beastly pride
That swells the entrails of the gorging swine,
The selfish greed that guzzles filth as wine,
The grovelling spite that vaunts what it should hide;
All these foul things have compassed me around,
And with this hell of baseness I have striven,
Till God's ten laws in solemn jest seemed given.
Then do not wonder that I kissed the ground
Beneath thy feet; my joy was so profound,
To hail a soul that was designed in heaven.
March 8, 1865
I pity him, unhappy gentleman,
Whom chance or luckless fortune has conveyed
Into companionship with those who trade,
Who always cheat and pilfer when they can.
These vermin once my person overran,
And on my purse, my time, my patience preyed,
Esteeming virtue only as it paid,
Religion only as it hid a plan.
Ah! beasts, amongst your ignominious crew
I felt as one alone on Circe's isle,
Wandering amazed amidst her changelings vile;
Or e'er the loathsome goddess met his view,
And with the glamor of her hellish guile
Into a swine transformed his nature too.
March 10, 1866
As stands a statue on its pedestal,
Amidst the storms of civil mutiny,
With an unchanged and high serenity,
Though Caesar's self be toppled to his fall;
So stands my faith in thee amidst the brawl
Within my heart--the woeful tragedy
Of passions that conspire for mastery
Above the power that holds their rage in thrall.
Image of comfort! Lustrous as the star
That crests the morning, and as virgin pure,
All is not lost if thou wilt but endure!
If through the dust and turmoil of this war,
I may behold thee, stately and secure,
Brooding on things unearthly and afar.
March 17, 1865
Less in myself than thee do I believe.
I know the weakness of my wandering mind;
Its fickle fancies, mounting every wind,
Eager to light, but restless soon to leave.
The morning's joy, at evening makes me grieve;
Today's display, tomorrow finds me blind;
To this hour's grief, the next will be resigned;
Bitter and sweet I hold but as a sieve.
Upon thy constant nature I rely;
To thee all beauty is as sculptured stone,
And any love love-worthy while 'tis shown;
Or how could'st thou my frailties deify,
Descry a worth, and claim it as thy own,
In anything so mutable as I?
March 19, 1865
When at confession by thy knee I kneel,
I must reveal a thousand sins to hate,
With scarce a virtue as a counterweight,
To poise the groaning burden which I feel.
If thou shouldst turn thy heavenly face, and seal
Thy hopeful eyes against my hopeless state,
I would accept the justice of my fate,
And from thy purer presence meekly steal.
But to find mercy ever in thine eyes,
Forerunning pardon, as the dawn the day,
And smiling gently at my sin's array,
Is such a grace as the divine surprise
Of heaven descending upon one who lies
In awful wonder passing from the clay.
March 19, 1865
If I were able to disclose thy charms,
And truly paint, as they appear to me,
Those latent beauties I alone may see
In the confiding circle of thy arms;
I should incite the sluggish world, that warms
At the suggested thought of rivalry,
To spread its treacherous snares abroad for thee,
And vex my jealous bosom with alarms.
Therefore, discreetly, I am silent still,
When men pronounce thy features wondrous fair,
And hear their praises with a distant air;
Lest all mankind should gain the fatal skill
To know thee, and my babbling tongue should fill
The land with dogged rivals everywhere.
March 21, 1865
Should I portray thee merely as I can,
In my conceit belittling all thy worth