A Portrait

A crystal, flawless beauty on the brows
Where neither love nor time has conquered space
On which to live; her leftward smile endows
The gazer with no tidings from the face;
About the clear mounds of the lip it winds with silvery pace
And in the umber eyes it is a light
Chill as a glowworm's when the moon embrowns an August night.

She saw her beauty often in the glass,
Sharp on the dazzling surface, and she knew
The haughty custom of her grace must pass:
Though more persistent in all charm it grew
As with a desperate joy her hair across her throat she drew
In crinkled locks stiff as dead, yellow snakes …
Until at last within her soul the resolution wakes

She will be painted, she who is so strong
In loveliness, so fugitive in years:
Forth to the field she goes and questions long
Which flowers to choose of those the summer bears;
She plucks a violet larkspur,—then a columbine appears
Of perfect yellow,—daisies choicely wide;
These simple things with finest touch she gathers in her pride.

Next on her head, veiled with well-bleachen white
And bound across the brow with azure-blue,
She sets the box-tree leaf and coils it tight
In spiky wreath of green, immortal hue;
Then, to the prompting of her strange, emphatic insight true,
She bares one breast, half-freeing it of robe,
And hangs green-water gem and cord beside the naked globe.

So was she painted and for centuries
Has held the fading field-flowers in her hand
Austerely as a sign. O fearful eyes
And soft lips of the courtesan who planned
To give her fragile shapeliness to art, whose reason spanned
Her doom, who bade her beauty in its cold
And vacant eminence persist for all men to behold!

She had no memories save of herself
And her slow-fostered graces, naught to say
Of love in gift or boon; her cruel pelf
Had left her with no hopes that grow and stay;
She found default in everything that happened night or day,
Yet stooped in calm to passion's dizziest strife
And gave to art a fair, blank form, unverified by life.

Thus has she conquered death: her eyes are fresh,
Clear as her frontlet jewel, firm in shade
And definite as on the linen mesh
Of her white hood the box-tree's sombre braid,
That glitters leaf by leaf and with the year's waste will not fade.
The small, close mouth, leaving no room for breath,
In perfect, still pollution smiles—Lo, she has conquered death!
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