A SEQUENCE ON PROFANE LOVE
GEORGE HENRY BOKER
When with the courage lent me by thy smile,
I laid my hands upon thy sacred form,
Dared, passion-wild, thy scented mouth to warm
With cleaving kisses, unrepelled the while;
Was it thy patience or my venturous guile
Shook virtue's outworks with a fiery storm,
And made her guards the trembling ramparts swarm,
To meet a foe who came in friendly style?
I know not, Love; but since that trustful day
I grow more careful of myself, less stained
By worldly touch, as though that touch profaned.
I am all thine, more like thee; if thou'lt say
Those kisses brushed thy purest bloom away,
Say also this, that what thou lost, I gained.
February 21, 1871
I play the masquer to the world, I grant,
I flash the spangles of my art before
Its staring eyes; my witless jests I pour
Into its ears with many a strut and vaunt.
I would not have thee, for that reason, scant,
In thy esteem, my virtue's little store,
Nor deem me inly false, because I wore
A cap and bells, and uttered empty cant.
Alas! the burden of the face to me!
Alas! the aching heart, that rose and fell
Beneath my gauds, and shook my jester's bell!
The lie I planned, for thy security,
Lured men's mistrust from what 'twere mad to tell;
Falsehood to them was very truth to thee.
February 22, 1871
Falsehood to thee would be the blackest crime
My conscience frowns at; and 'twere falsehood sure
To thee, whose soul I rate as heavenly pure,
To risk my dove within the fowler's lime.
Such love as ours is censured by the time
As gross defcct, and cannot live secure
Before a world whose justice will endure
The harshest mockery of the marriage chime.
With heart unsullied and with upturned brow,
Beneath the mercy of our God we stand,
Bound by a love whose strength disdains a vow.
If man's decree be backed by God's command,
I reason darkly; let us therefore bow--
O, not in fear--thus trustful, hand in hand.
February 23, 1871
Yes, true to thee, if false to all beside;
That is my purpose, that the solemn creed
Whose rule suffices for the present deed,
And to the last shall be my trusted guide.
I hope no serpent to our bower will glide,
And with the law and us a discord breed;
Or make me choose 'twixt truth and thee; or need,
Through falsehood for thy safety to provide.
But should it happen, lo, the perjury
Knocks at my lips; and any truth, to dim
Thy fame, must first subdue that hydra grim.
Judged, doomed, and lost, I'd proudly turn with thee,
To quit our Eden, nor unsmiling see,
Behind, the flaming swords of seraphim.
February 24, 1871
If it be sin, as rigid men aver,
To love, as we have loved, above the law
That sanctions living, there's a grievous flaw
Within my soul that no remorse can stir.
Nor, sworn to judge, can I impute to her
That foul transgression which I never saw
Purple her cheeks--those wandering thoughts which thaw,
In their own heat, the senses prone to err.
Virgin at heart, her soft-descending kiss
Leaves on my brow a benediction light,
That makes me purer to my inward sight.
Each deed is sacrificial; ay, and this,
Love's utmost favor and consummate bliss,
Yielded by her, becomes a sacred rite.
February 25, 1871
Know you a soul so white and inly pure
That sin itself, committed by her hand,
Permitted by her brain, done by command
Of every lust, could not her loss assure?
Know you a soul whose nature could endure
That earthy stain, yet as yon cygnet stand--
Now fluttering from the muddy pool to land--
Self-cleansed, a snowy star above the mure?
With souls thus pure, the parents of our race
Might have transgressed before their witless fall,
Not knowing sin as sin, nor grace as grace.
Search for this soul that sin cannot enthrall;
Vain quest! then turn, and see her radiant face,
Here, in my Love, if she can sin at all.
February 26, 1871
They at the altar pledge their formal vow,
Then go, and straight forget that vow was made--
These common lovers, making marriage trade,
Who often wed sore heart to moody brow.
Not thus we married, for the temple now
Bends o'er us both, in which is daily said
Love's sacrament, and ever on thy head,
Glistens the chaplet of the orange bough.
Immortal bride, in every grateful prayer
My heart renews our holy marriage tie,
Vows at thy voice, thy touch, thy laugh, thy sigh;
And Hope, white-favored, through the sunny air
Points with a solemn smile to mansions fair,
As Heaven's abode for love that cannot die.
February 27, 1871
Sing of her beauty! Sing of that which grows
My daily wonder! Shall this lute essay
To paint the color of the changing ray
That makes her eye my source of joys and woes?
Or sculpture you a statue in repose,
Lithe as her shape; or give it grace to play
Her part in motion; or a voice to say
In words, what I half hear and half suppose?
Sing of her beauty! For that hair alone
The saint would doff an aureole; and that skin
Nude Venus envies, in the Parian stone.
Lo! I have sung her beauty, and the tone
Dies on the.string, as conscious of a sin;
Yet not a feature have portrayed, I own.
February 28, 1871
O, I am apt of others' charms to sing.
I had a mistress with a scarlet lip,
Shaped by Love's bow, where wandering bees might sip,
Nor know from pink or rose that odorous thing;
Her eyes were heavens of blue, through which the wing
Of Venus' silver dovelets flashed. To slip
Her net of crowded tresses was to dip
Wrist-deep in flossy gold, ring coiled on ring.
Her nostrils fluttered at the slightest swell
Of waking passion; and her cheeks would tell
Her thoughts in blushes ere a word found place.
Her rosy chin, the curve with which it fell
Into her ivory neck, the airy grace
That poised her head, made truth half miracle.
March 5, 1871
The pearly vales that circled round her breast
Were laced with azure veins; the roseate glow
Of the twin buds, that crowned the rising snow,
Looked in defiance from each haughty crest.
Her slender waist, full hips, deep flanks, comprest
At the round knees, swelled out again below
The dimpled joint, into a leg whose flow
In ankles fine and fairy feet had rest.
Grace moved her figure; 'twas a treasured prize
Of every sense to see her tread the ground;
And patient wonder followed her around.
She was a being such as might arise
But in the light of Raphael's dreaming eyes,
And to himself his boasted art confound.
March 6, 1871
She on the jealous gods' Olympian hill,
Unrecognized as mortal, might have taken
The nectar cup from Hebe's hand unshaken,
And lent her voice to Pan's melodious trill.
Her kiss was sweeter than the entering bill
Which Jove gave Leda; and wild memories waken--
Frenzied, unearthly, which no tongue hath spaken--
How of her full embrace I took my fill.
Men called her perfect; she was perfect, too,
Within my youthful eyes, till sager proved,
Another shape within their vision grew.
For now I say, by no mere fancy moved,
Sifting the false discreetly from the true,
She was a gipsy to my own Beloved!
March 7, 1871
The love of this dear woman is so sweet
To me, whose heart has been the spurn and cuff
Of wantons, that I cannot thank enough
My God and her, whose bounties in me meet.
O sweeter now is love to me, whose rough
And straitening locks the snows of winter beat,
Than when my tresses felt the amorous heat
Of breathing girls within them sigh and puff.
Love's gratitude is more than mere return;
Love's latest offering is his garnered store,
Given by a hand that henceforth gives no more.
Upon this shrine my life's whole treasures burn--
Past, present, future; when the flame is o'er,
My ashen heap can sleep but in an urn.
March 7, 1871
I will not have our holy love profaned
By that untruth which slanders as impure
The rites we keep, however far they lure
The twain by whom the sacred cup is drained.
Love is the faith; who swerves, should be arraigned;
Even if the sin be done in lines secure
Of legal contract, 'tis a crime as sure
Against the law which nature's self ordained.
But love once granted, all that follows thence--
The fervid kiss, the interlocked caress--
Is heavenly pure to love's most dainty sense.
May not the temple's priest and priestess press
The burning grapes of joy, without distress
To gods whose promptings chartered the offense?
March 8, 1871
Once as I slumbered, with my heart awake--
Love's lonely sentinel--my lady stood,
Fair in the glory of her womanhood,
Beside the bed made restless for her sake.
Awhile she paused in pity, as to slake
The burning eyes I plunged beneath her flood
Of gold-brown hair, sole veil to flesh and blood
That shone, like morn, through every rift and break.
Slowly I traveled with my longing glance
From budded bosom down to supple feet--
Delicious voyage, that lagged at each advance!
What more delight might then have been my chance,
Had not my heart a wild alarum beat--
Too faithful watcher, thus to end my trance!
March 16, 1871
The color of my lady's hair is brown;
A hot, rich brown, shot through with fiery gold;
That tint Etruscan artists chased of old
Into a clasp for Lydia's fluttering gown.
Dark in the shade, but blazing like a crown
Of ruddy light, through locks and curls untold,
When the sun strikes it and its manifold
Great tresses almost to her knees sweep down.
Sweet, sweet as amber is her hair to smell,
When winds awake its fragrance from repose--
Balm to the senses and the heart as well.
And I have lain where all that glory fell
Across my face; have kissed it, felt it close
My eyes in dreams I dare not try to tell.
March 17, 1871
My darling's brow is classic, low and wide,
A forehead Grecian Helen might have kissed,
In envious homage that her own just missed
Its perfect form--a brow I kiss in pride.
Across her rosy temple's pulsing side,
A thousand rosy veinlets branch and twist,
As though her heart by deputy kept tryst
With ghostly thoughts, half spirit, half descried.
Under this snowy dome, in council grave,
Meet the ideas that issue grace to me--
Long-suffering almoners of leniency!
And here, for judgment on the faults I have,
Countless as sands beside the roaring sea,
Sits the great soul, to whom my soul is slave.
March 17, 1871
Her eyes are of that pure and perfect grey
Which Pallas flashed upon the men of Greece,
While Hector shore their army as a fleece,
And mad Achilles by his galleys lay.
Deep-set and shy, they ever seem to play
With inner fancies; and a heart, at peace
With all creation, pulses its increase
Of joyful love through every tender ray.
These are the eyes whose planetary height
Rules o'er the horoscope I never tire
To cast myself, while fate foreruns delight;
Dreading alone that by their gentle fire,
My guilty self may be discerned aright,
Condemned, and driven from all my soul's desire.
March 18, 1871
Heaven shaped her ear in fashioning the shell,
A pearly circlet, lined with faintest pink;
So dainty thin, the light of heaven may wink
Through the fine curves of its translucent cell.
A Delphic pilgrim at the mystic well,
Resolved untimely of his fate to drink,
Not more devoutly o'er the awful brink
Poured prayers, than I to my sweet oracle.
By night and day, one plenteous act of grace
From my disposer for myself I claim--
No novel favor, nought of power or fame;
But only this, to keep my present place,
Unchanged and changeless in her breast; the same
Dear smile of welcome in her pensive face.
March 19, 1871
Her nose is not the rigid Phidian line,
From tip straight upward to the low-grown hair,
A line too perfect, too severe and rare