Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verse

Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

This is a version of the HTML edition at the University of Virginia.  It has been placed at the EWS site so that additional links can be added and so that it can be searched easily.  It is not intended to infringe on any copyrights from the University of Virginia version. The Edith Wharton Society is a nonprofit organization and does not benefit monetarily in any way from this version.
  • Part I -- 

  • LIFE 7
  • Part II -- 

  • GRIEF 47
  • Part III -- 

  • ORPHEUS 59
  • ALL SOULS 72
  • A GRAVE 81
  • NON DOLET! 83
  • USES 88
  • A MEETING 89
  • Artemis to Actaeon, Part II


    Page 37


    "canto" 1


    BECAUSE the currents of our love are poured
    Through the slow welter of the primal flood
    From some blind source of monster-haunted mud,
    And flung together by random forces stored
    Ere the vast void with rushing worlds was scored --
    Because we know ourselves but the dim scud
    Tossed from their heedless keels, the sea-blown bud
    That wastes and scatters ere the wave has roared --

    Because we have this knowledge in our veins,
    Shall we deny the journey's gathered lore --
    The great refusals and the long disdains,
    The stubborn questing for a phantom shore,
    The sleepless hopes and memorable pains,
    And all mortality's immortal gains?

    Page 38

    "canto" 2


    Because our kiss is as the moon to draw
    The mounting waters of that red-lit sea
    That circles brain with sense, and bids us be
    The playthings of an elemental law,
    Shall we forego the deeper touch of awe
    On love's extremest pinnacle, where we,
    Winging the vistas of infinity,
    Gigantic on the mist our shadows saw?

    Shall kinship with the dim first-moving clod
    Not draw the folded pinion from the soul,
    And shall we not, by spirals vision-trod,
    Reach upward to some still-retreating goal,
    As earth, escaping from the night's control,
    Drinks at the founts of morning like a god?

    Page 39

    "canto" 3


    All, all is sweet in that commingled draught
    Mysterious, that life pours for lovers' thirst,
    And I would meet your passion as the first
    Wild woodland woman met her captor's craft,
    Or as the Greek whose fearless beauty laughed
    And doffed her raiment by the Attic flood;
    But in the streams of my belated blood
    Flow all the warring potions love has quaffed.

    How can I be to you the nymph who danced
    Smooth by Ilissus as the plane-tree's bole,
    Or how the Nereid whose drenched lashes glanced
    Like sea-flowers through the summer sea's long roll --
    I that have also been the nun entranced
    Who night-long held her Bridegroom in her soul?

    Page 40

    "canto" 4


    "Sad Immortality is dead," you say,
    "And all her grey brood banished from the soul;
    Life, like the earth, is now a rounded whole,
    The orb of man's dominion. Live to-day."
    And every sense in me leapt to obey,
    Seeing the routed phantoms backward roll;
    But from their waning throng a whisper stole,
    And touched the morning splendour with decay.

    "Sad Immortality is dead; and we
    The funeral train that bear her to her grave.
    Yet hath she left a two-faced progeny
    In hearts of men, and some will always see
    The skull beneath the wreath, yet always crave
    In every kiss the folded kiss to be."

    Page 41

    "canto" 5


    Yet for one rounded moment I will be
    No more to you than what my lips may give,
    And in the circle of your kisses live
    As in some island of a storm-blown sea,
    Where the cold surges of infinity
    Upon the outward reefs unheeded grieve,
    And the loud murmur of our blood shall weave
    Primeval silences round you and me.

    If in that moment we are all we are
    We live enough. Let this for all requite.
    Do I not know, some winged things from far
    Are borne along illimitable night
    To dance their lives out in a single flight
    Between the moonrise and the setting star?

    Page 42

    "canto" 6


    The Moment came, with sacramental cup
    Lifted -- and all the vault of life grew bright
    With tides of incommensurable light --
    But tremblingly I turned and covered up
    My face before the wonder. Down the slope
    I heard her feet in irretrievable flight,
    And when I looked again, my stricken sight
    Saw night and rain in a dead world agrope.

    Now walks her ghost beside me, whispering
    With lips derisive: "Thou that wouldst forego --
    What god assured thee that the cup I bring
    Globes not in every drop the cosmic show,
    All that the insatiate heart of man can wring
    From life's long vintage? -- Now thou shalt not know."

    Page 43

    "canto" 7


    Shall I not know? I, that could always catch
    The sunrise in one beam along the wall,
    The nests of June in April's mating call,
    And ruinous autumn in the wind's first snatch
    At summer's green impenetrable thatch --
    That always knew far off the secret fall
    Of a god's feet across the city's brawl,
    The touch of silent fingers on my latch?

    Not thou, vain Moment! Something more than thou
    Shall write the score of what mine eyes have wept,
    The touch of kisses that have missed my brow,
    The murmur of wings that brushed me while I slept,
    And some mute angel in the breast even now
    Measures my loss by all that I have kept.

    Page 44

    "canto" 8


    Strive we no more. Some hearts are like the bright
    Tree-chequered spaces, flecked with sun and shade,
    Where gathered in old days the youth and maid
    To woo, and weave their dances: with the night
    They cease their flutings, and the next day's light
    Finds the smooth green unconscious of their tread,
    And ready its velvet pliancies to spread
    Under fresh feet, till these in turn take flight.

    But other hearts a long long road doth span,
    From some far region of old works and wars,
    And the weary armies of the thoughts of man
    Have trampled it, and furrowed it with scars,
    And sometimes, husht, a sacred caravan
    Moves over it alone, beneath the stars.

    Page 45


    "canto" 1


    LIKE Crusoe with the bootless gold we stand
    Upon the desert verge of death, and say:
    "What shall avail the woes of yesterday
    To buy to-morrow's wisdom, in the land
    Whose currency is strange unto our hand?
    In life's small market they had served to pay
    Some late-found rapture, could we but delay
    Till Time hath matched our means to our demand."

    But otherwise Fate wills it, for, behold,
    Our gathered strength of individual pain,
    When Time's long alchemy hath made it gold,
    Dies with us -- hoarded all these years in vain,
    Since those that might be heir to it the mould
    Renew, and coin themselves new griefs again.

    Page 46

    "canto" 2


    O Death, we come full-handed to thy gate,
    Rich with strange burden of the mingled years,
    Gains and renunciations, mirth and tears,
    And love's oblivion, and remembering hate.
    Nor know we what compulsion laid such freight
    Upon our souls -- and shall our hopes and fears
    Buy nothing of thee, Death? Behold our wares,
    And sell us the one joy for which we wait.
    Had we lived longer, life had such for sale,
    With the last coin of sorrow purchased cheap,
    But now we stand before thy shadowy pale,
    And all our longings lie within thy keep --
    Death, can it be the years shall naught avail?

    "Not so," Death answered, "they shall purchase sleep."

    Page 47


    "canto" 1


    ON immemorial altitudes august
    Grief holds her high dominion. Bold the feet
    That climb unblenching to that stern retreat
    Whence, looking down, man knows himself but dust.
    There lie the mightiest passions, earthward thrust
    Beneath her regnant footstool, and there meet
    Pale ghosts of buried longings that were sweet,
    With many an abdicated "shall" and "must."

    For there she rules omnipotent, whose will
    Compels a mute acceptance of her chart;
    Who holds the world, and lo! it cannot fill
    Her mighty hand; who will be served apart
    With uncommunicable rites, and still
    Surrender of the undivided heart.

    Page 48

    "canto" 2


    She holds the world within her mighty hand,
    And lo! it is a toy for babes to toss,
    And all its shining imagery but dross,
    To those that in her awful presence stand;
    As sun-confronting eagles o'er the land
    That lies below, they send their gaze across
    The common intervals of gain and loss,
    And hope's infinitude without a strand.

    But he who, on that lonely eminence,
    Watches too long the whirling of the spheres
    Through dim eternities, descending thence
    The voices of his kind no longer hears,
    And, blinded by the spectacle immense,
    Journeys alone through all the after years.

    Page 49


    "canto" 1


    IMMENSE, august, like some Titanic bloom,
    The mighty choir unfolds its lithic core,
    Petalled with panes of azure, gules and or,
    Splendidly lambent in the Gothic gloom,
    And stamened with keen flamelets that illume
    The pale high-altar. On the prayer-worn floor,
    By worshippers innumerous thronged of yore,
    A few brown crones, familiars of the tomb,
    The stranded driftwood of Faith's ebbing sea --
    For these alone the finials fret the skies,
    The topmost bosses shake their blossoms free,
    While from the triple portals, with grave eyes,
    Tranquil, and fixed upon eternity,
    The cloud of witnesses still testifies.

    Page 50

    "canto" 2


    The crimson panes like blood-drops stigmatise
    The western floor. The aisles are mute and cold.
    A rigid fetich in her robe of gold,
    The Virgin of the Pillar, with blank eyes,
    Enthroned beneath her votive canopies,
    Gathers a meagre remnant to her fold.
    The rest is solitude; the church, grown old,
    Stands stark and grey beneath the burning skies.
    Well-nigh again its mighty framework grows
    To be a part of nature's self, withdrawn
    From hot humanity's impatient woes;
    The floor is ridged like some rude mountain lawn,
    And in the east one giant window shows
    The roseate coldness of an Alp at dawn.

    Page 51


    "canto" 1


    HERE by the ample river's argent sweep,
    Bosomed in tilth and vintage to her walls,
    A tower-crowned Cybele in armoured sleep
    The city lies, fat plenty in her halls,
    With calm parochial spires that hold in fee
    The friendly gables clustered at their base,
    And, equipoised o'er tower and market-place,
    The Gothic minister's winged immensity;
    And in that narrow burgh, with equal mood,
    Two placid hearts, to all life's good resigned,
    Might, from the altar to the lych-gate, find
    Long years of peace and dreamless plenitude.

    Page 52

    "canto" 2


    Yon strange blue city crowns a scarped steep
    No mortal foot hath bloodlessly essayed:
    Dreams and illusions beacon from its keep.
    But at the gate an Angel bares his blade;
    And tales are told of those who thought to gain
    At dawn its ramparts; but when evening fell
    Far off they saw each fading pinnacle
    Lit with wild lightnings from the heaven of pain;
    Yet there two souls, whom life's perversities
    Had mocked with want in plenty, tears in mirth,
    Might meet in dreams, ungarmented of earth,
    And drain Joy's awful chalice to the lees.

    Page 53


    ILARIA, thou that wert so fair and dear
    That death would fain disown thee, grief made wise
    With prophecy thy husband's widowed eyes,
    And bade him call the master's art to rear
    Thy perfect image on the sculptured bier,
    With dreaming lids, hands laid in peaceful guise
    Beneath the breast that seems to fall and rise,
    And lips that at love's call should answer "Here!"

    First-born of the Renascence, when thy soul
    Cast the sweet robing of the flesh aside,
    Into these lovelier marble limbs it stole,
    Regenerate in art's sunrise clear and wide,
    As saints who, having kept faith's raiment whole,
    Change it above for garments glorified.

    Page 54


    ONE grief there is, the helpmeet of my heart,
    That shall not from me till my days be sped,
    That walks beside me in sunshine and in shade,
    And hath in all my fortunes equal part.
    At first I feared it, and would often start
    Aghast to find it bending o'er my bed,
    Till usage slowly dulled the edge of dread,
    And one cold night I cried: How warm thou art!

    Since then we two have travelled hand in hand,
    And, lo, my grief has been interpreter
    For me in many a fierce and alien land
    Whose speech young Joy had failed to understand,
    Plucking me tribute of red gold and myrrh
    From desolate whirlings of the desert sand.

    Page 55


    THINK you we slept within the Delphic bower,
    What time our victim sought Apollo's grace?
    Nay, drawn into ourselves, in that deep place
    Where good and evil meet, we bode our hour.
    For not inexorable is our power.
    And we are hunted of the prey we chase,
    Soonest gain ground on them that flee apace,
    And draw temerity from hearts that cower.

    Shuddering we gather in the house of ruth,
    And on the fearful turn a face of fear,
    But they to whom the ways of doom are clear
    Not vainly named us the Eumenides.
    Our feet are faithful in the paths of truth,
    And in the constant heart we house at peace.