Artist And Model: A Love Poem


The scorn of the nations is bitter,
But the touch of a hand is warm.

Is it not pleasant to wander
In town on Saturday night,
While people go hither and thither,
And shops shed cheerful light?
And, arm in arm, while our shadows
Chase us along the panes,
Are we not quite as cozy
As down among country lanes?

Nobody knows us, heeds us,
Nobody hears or sees,
And the shop-lights gleam more gladly
Than the moon on hedges and trees;
And people coming and going,
All upon ends of their own,
Though they work a spell on the spirit,
Make it more finely alone.

The sound seems harmless and pleasant
As the murmur of brook and wind;
The shops with the fruit and the pictures
Have sweetness to suit my mind;
And nobody knows us, heeds us,
And our loving none reproves, —
I , the poor figure-painter!
You , the lady he loves!

And what if the world should scorn you
For now and again, as you do,
Assuming a country kirtle,
And bonnet of straw thereto,
Or the robe of a vestal virgin,
Or a nun's gray gabardine,
And keeping a brother and sister
By standing and looking divine?

And what if the world, moreover,
Should silently pass me by,
Because at the dawn of the struggle,
I labour some stories high!
Why, there's comfort in waiting, working,
And feeling one's heart beat right, —
And rambling alone, love-making,
In London on Saturday night.

For when, with a blush Titianic,
You peep'd in that lodging of mine,
Did I not praise the good angels
For sending a model so fine?
When I was fill'd with the pureness
You brought to the lonely abode,
Did I not learn to love you?
And — did Love not lighten the load?

And haply, indeed, little darling,
While I yearn'd and plotted and plann'd,
And you watch'd me in love and in yearning
Your heart did not quite understand
All the wonder and aspiration
You meant by your loveliness,
All the faith in the frantic endeavour
Your beautiful face could express!

For your love and your beauty have thriven
On things of a low degree,
And you do not comprehend clearly
The drift of a dreamer like me;
And perchance, when you look'd so divinely,
You meant, and meant only, to say:
" How sad that he dwells in a garret!
And lives on so little a day!"

What of that? If your sweetness and beauty,
And the love that is part of thee,
Were mirror'd in wilder visions,
And express'd much more to me,
Did the beautiful face, my darling,
Need subtler, loftier lore? —
Nay, beauty is all our wisdom, —
We painters demand no more.

Indeed, I had been no painter,
And never could hope to rise,
Had I lack'd the power of creating
The meanings for your sweet eyes;
And what you were really thinking
Scarcely imported, in sooth, —
Since the truth we artists fail for,
Is the truth that looks the truth.

Your beautiful face was before me,
Set in its golden hair;
And the wonder and love and yearning
Were shining sublimely there!
And your eyes said — " Work for glory!
Up, up, where the angels call!"
And I understood, and I labour'd,
And I love the face for it all!

I am talking, you think, so strangely!
And you watch with wondering eyes! —
Could I utter one half of the yearning.
Your face, even now, implies!
But the yearning will not be utter'd,
And never, ah! never can be,
Till the work of the world is over,
And we see as immortals see.

Yet bless thee for ever and ever,
For keeping me humble and true,
And would that my Art could utter
The wisdom I find in you.
Enough to labour and labour,
And to feel one's heart beat right,
And to wander unknown, love-making,
In London on Saturday night!

You think: " How dearly I love him!
How dearly he loves me!
How sweet to live on, and love him,
With children at my knee!
With the useless labour over,
And comfort and leisure won,
And clever people praising
The work that he has done!"

I think: " How dearly I love her!
How dearly she loves me!
Yet the beauty the heart would utter
Endeth in agony;
And life is a climbing, a seeking
Of something we never can see!
And death is a slumber, a dreaming
Of something that may not be!"

And your face is sweetly troubled,
Your little hand stirs on mine own,
For you guess at a hidden meaning,
Since I speak in so tender a tone;
And you rain the yearning upon me
You brought to my help before,
And I ask no mightier wisdom, —
We painters demand no more.

And we shall live, my darling,
Together till we grow old,
And people will buy my pictures,
And you will gather the gold,
And your loveliness will reward me,
And sanctify all I do,
And toiling for Love's sake, darling,
I may toil for Fame's sake, too.

Ah, dearest, how much you teach me,
How much of hope and of light,
Up yonder, planning and painting,
And here on Saturday night;
And I turn sad eyes no longer
From the pageant that passes around,
And the vision no more seems weary,
And the head may yet be crown'd!

And I ask no more from mortals
Than your beautiful face implies, —
The beauty the artist beholding
Interprets and sanctifies.
Who says that men have fallen,
That life is wretched and rough?
I say, the world is lovely,
And that loveliness is enough.

So my doubting days are ended,
And the labour of life seems clear;
And life hums deeply around me,
Just like the murmur here,
And quickens the sense of living,
And shapes me for peace and storm, —
And dims my eyes with gladness
When it glides into colour and form!

His form and His colour, darling,
Are all we apprehend,
Though the meaning that underlies them
May be utter'd in the end;
And I seek to go no deeper
Than the beauty and wonder there,
Since the world can look so wondrous,
And your face can look so fair.

For ah! life's stream is bitter,
When too greedily we drink,
And I might not be so happy
If I knew quite all you think;
And when God takes much, my darling:
He leaves us the colour and form, —
The scorn of the nations is bitter,
But the touch of a hand is warm.
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