A SEQUENCE ON PROFANE LOVE
GEORGE HENRY BOKER
Within our lips is stored the bitterness
Of the dread tree that made the meadow's bleat
A cry of terror, and the beast's caress
A war of rage and sanguinary heat.
How groans and sweats the weary world to bless
Its pinched existence with the iron beat
Of clanking wheels, to make its task complete!
How individual joy grows less and less!
Yet not the more would I contented stand,
The pigmy creature of our paradise,
For all the questioned legends of the wise.
Give me the endless struggles, hand to hand,
The pathway conquered with the fiery brand,
Beneath the cross of promise in the skies!
September 12, 1866
Love stirs the pulses of my deeper thought,
Muses on things that were and things to be,
Weaves for himself the threads of destiny,
Till from their mesh a splendid web is wrought.
So from oppressive mysteries is brought
Assurance of his immortality--
Far-reaching faith, that watches patiently
For what, erewhile, love's yearnings only sought.
But having made this hopeful scheme to bless
The ways of earth and founded him a heaven,
And time and death, as shackles, from him riven,
He turns with passion for one more caress,
One other kiss, thus taken and thus given,
And finds in it his only happiness.
September 12, 1866
Night takes the scepter from the hand of day,
And sets her drowsy stars about the world;
The winds are hushed; the voyaging clouds have furled
Their fleecy sails within the empty grey.
Toil drops his tools; the gush of fiery spray
Dies in the forge's throat, no more are twirled
The buzzing spindles, and the flocks are curled
In soft, white sleep, along the vacant way.
Rest, perfect rest, within the smoky mart,
Upon the hillside, in the darkling wood--
Rest to all things except this anxious mood--
Love's endless craving and eternal smart,
Which sting to life my over-wearied heart,
That fain, O God, would slumber if it could!
If Grecian Helen pleaded with the tongue
The Chian lent her--sweetest tongue of earth!
If Agamemnon's child forgot her birth,
And at my knee in panting beauty clung;
If fiery Cleopatra sued and hung
Fast to my restless hand in prurient mirth;
If chaste Lucretia wrecked her ancient worth;
And Rosamond's hair about my face were flung;
If all the fairest creatures that have worn
The poets' wreaths, the crowns of chivalry,
Were singly or in concourse offered me;
I would reject, in haste and simple scorn
The night-born stars, whose rise foreran thy morn,
Yea, from their homage turn to worship thee.
September 14, 1866
For what to me were Helen's honeyed word,
Or guiltless Iphigenia's sacred charms;
Or Cleopatra's lustrous breast and arms,
By every gust of reckless passion stirred?
Or what to me the tempting face that spurred
The royal felon to contrive his harms;
Or the bright tresses, bristling with alarms
When the dark queen's foreboding step was heard?
What Laura, Leonor, or Beatrice;
Or Guenever, who saw with steady eye
The lists engored to glut her vanity?
What were all these, if any sense might miss
Yon airy vision as she draws more nigh,
And wraps my being in ethereal bliss?
September 14, 1866
When men distrust me, not because they find
Baseness in me, but basely they mistake
The native sins, which in their natures wake,
For true reflections of the candid mind;
I shall be wholly patient and resigned
To wait time's judgment on the charge they make,
Nor in my conscious purpose turn or shake,
For all the tribes of fools and rogues combined;
If only thou wilt bear the howl unmoved,
Nor join thy music to the harsher cry,
That louder grows as greater grows the lie.
If I lie only clear and unreproved
Under the pity of thy tender eye,
Clothed in thy grace, and therefore not unloved.
September 15, 1866
This fellow calls me sordid, that one poor--
Poorer in spirit than in purse, perchance;
Another's humid eyeballs shine and dance
To tell some slip of which his lust is sure.
One has a conscience that can scarce endure
My private dealings, but will not advance
When what he scorned becomes his circumstance,
And soils his fingers with a gain less pure.
I laugh at these. I cannot tell thee, Sweet,
In what contempt I hold the chaffering crew
Who rob the market and defile the stew;
Whose only virtue is to scold and beat
The public jades whom they in private meet,
To kiss and hug in God's insulted view.
September 15, 1855
Speed on thy solemn pilgrimage, O Earth;
And count thy rosary of golden days
Before thy Maker's feet in prayerful praise
For all the issues gained by death and birth!
To me the present is of little worth;
I pine with evil men in narrow ways;
The dust of human meanness scants my gaze,
And chokes my breath with its accursed dearth.
Better for me were any change than this,
This stupor of the spirit, heart and mind,
In which I languish, helplessly confined;
Ah, any future that may bring the bliss
Inhaled by action as I breast the wind,
Or Death's serene and everlasting kiss.
September 29, 1866
When first I met thee, as thou know 'st, I stood
Dumb and abashed beneath thy splendid eyes;
Lost in the mazes of a blank surprise,
That made thee smile at my unwonted mood.
Since then so much of manly hardihood
I have attained to, as by looks and sighs
May hint a meaning that still secret lies,
As under the dove's wing her callow brood.
Yea, I have spoken; now and then a word--
Whose echo seemed to silence and appall
The tougue that uttered it--my lips let fall;
And doubtless in the phrases thou hast heard,
A feeble sense of my intention stirred;
Yes, I have told thee something, but not all.
October 2, 1866
Amidst the lottery of days I draw
More blanks than prizes; though the hand of hope
Still in the luckless wheel will blindly grope,
Placing in chance the trust we owe to law.
'Tis many a weary morning since I saw
Thy presence rising o'er yon dewy slope;
And many an eve has fired the azure cope
Since we were sheltered in our leafy shaw.
These days were vacant, worthless, and should be
Not marked against me in the count we give
Of earth's subtraction from eternity.
Yet were it so, alas! my soul might grieve
Some day in tunes no man alive shall see,
And I the ancient patriarchs outlive.
October 4, 1866
I cannot liken thee to any flower,
As they of old, the master poets, chose
From fancy's bed, to meetly emblem those
On whom they laid their laurels as a dower.
With what sweet product of the sun and shower
Peer thee, whose beauty by observance grows?
Too shy the violet and too bold the rose,
Too pale the lily of thy garden bower.
Nor in the humbler sisterhood is she
That dares to look thee in thy perfect face,
As earthly rival of thy airy grace.
if violet, rose and lily all could be
Combined in one, unfriendly eyes might trace
In that, perhaps, some sorry hint of thee.
October 7, 1866
Cast on the lily's cheek the rose's glow,
And while the world with morning dew is wet,
Inhale the fragrance of the violet,
And breathe it in the lily's throat of snow;
Around her feet let all the flowers that blow,
Weeded of every blemish they may get
From careless nature, in array be set,
As foils to make her beauties clearer show;
Add golden sunshine and a blessed air,
That makes the dullest pulse of being start,
And life a fervent triumph everywhere;
And this supremest lily may impart,
To sluggish minds, what fairer flower I bear
Within the happy garden of my heart.
October 8, 1866
White as this paper was my lady's mind
Ere with my bold and desecrating hand
I scrawled its face with characters that stand
In pity's sight till weeping makes her blind.
I wrote--what wrote I?--things that you may find
Hissed at in whispers, humbled with a brand,
Skulking from daylight and the law's command,
Death-doomed by warrant sealed and countersigned.
Ah! Wretch, what found I in a work like this,
To drug my ghastly memories of sin,
By counterbalance to the pain within?
Only this solace, this most wretched bliss,
That mercy's lips thy golden head shall kiss,
And thy atonement my salvation win.
October 8, 1866
Like to an aged poet who reviews
An early volume, once his secret pride,
With a distaste that scarcely can abide
The olden lines which read like shameful news;
A thousand faults and weaknesses he rues,
That in their making, he remembers, cried
Impatiently for that which man denied,
The fame which seasoned judgment should refuse;
So I, when blushing memory returns
Unto mine eyes the record of our days,
Reread the volume to my own dispraise.
Ah! let me close the cover that inurns
The desperate past, and all its legends raze,
As something base, for which oblivion yearns.
October 10, 1866
Even as the level sunlight glorifies
A musky vapor, born of dust and mist,
Turning its motes to lucent amethyst,
Shot with the milky opal's trembling dyes;
Such was the change the dawning of your eyes
Wrought on a nature earthy, sluggish, trist,
When with divinest charity you kissed
To radiant life a thing you might despise.
And men who wonder at the novel view--
The glow, the color and the vital stir--
Give to effect the cause's proper due;
But I, who justly part the false and true--
Ah, I have grown a mere idolater,
And seeking light to worship, worship you!
October 11, 1866
"I write too coldly and I write too much!"
The more, the colder seems whate'er I write,
That I confess; though still I strain for flight,
Who scarce can walk, a cripple, on my crutch.
Through all these leaves, which perish in the clutch
Of my presumption, what poetic height
Of airy song might charm the thoughtful night,
Winged by another's more melodious touch!
Bear with my sonnets, though they do thee wrong;
Mine is a failure only in degree,
Showing how great a greater bard's might be.
For what if Petrarch blushed above his song,
Or Dante frowned, or Tasso's sighs grew long,
To own a shame that humbles only me?
October 12, 1866
These gusts of passion blown in many a mood
Through heart and spirit and conceiving brain,
May to my ear be wafted back again
From him who pauses where I one time stood.
I cannot hope each motion of my blood
Will fit all hours with its peculiar pain,
Or stranger gladness--motives for disdain
To him who balances both ill and good.
I can but say this work is honest stuff,
Wrung from my nature, and no mean display
Of fancy's ware, to catch the gaping day.
Rare greeting, then, shall be content enough
For things not fashioned in the modern way,
And little wonder when they meet rebuff.
October 16, 1866
The present only do we hold in thrall;
The past is gone, and all its glories hushed;
The kiss we parted and the blush you blushed
As rosy summons to our rapturous fall.
Nor, were I able, would I now recall
Our earliest love; such fiery wine has gushed
Beneath his feet, triumphant, passion-flushed,
Since to each other we were all in all.
Ah God! and shall the future, vague and dread,
Fit to those limbs a robe of moveless snow,
And place a garland on that wondrous head?
Shall every atom, as the ages go,
Sever, to mingle with the dusty dead,
And be the wonder of the gods below?
December 26, 1866
If beauty is not an immortal thing,
And that fair casket, thy transcendent form,
Never again to throbbing life shall warm,