A Voice from the World

Fragments of " An answer to Miss Rossetti's Convent Threshold "

Fragments of " An answer to Miss Rossetti's Convent Threshold "

At last I hear the voice well known;
Doubtless the voice: now fall'n, now spent,
Now coming from the alien eaves, —
You would not house beneath my own;
To alien eaves you fled and went, —
Now like the bird that shapes alone
A turn of seven notes or five,
When skies are hard as any stone,
The fall is o'er, told off the leaves,
'Tis marvel she is yet alive.
Once it was scarce perceived Lent
For orience of the daffodil;
Once, jostling thick, the bluebell sheaves┬░
The peacock'd copse were known to fill;
Through other bars it used to thrill,┬░
And carried me with ravishment,
Your signal, when apart we stood,
Tho' far or sick or heavy or still
Or thorn-engaged, impaled and pent
With just such sweet-potential skill,
Late in the green weeks of April
Cuckoo calls cuckoo up the wood.
Five notes or seven, late and few.
From parts unlook'd-for, alter'd, spent,┬░
At last I hear the voice I knew.

*****

I plead: familiarness endears
My evil words thorny with pain:
I plead: and you will give your tears:
I plead: and ah! how much in vain!

*****

I know I mar my cause with words:
So be it; I must maim and mar.
Your comfort is as sharp as swords;
And I cry out for wounded love.
And you are gone so heavenly far
You hear nor care of love and pain.
My tears are but a cloud of rain
My passion like a foolish wind
Lifts them a little way above.
But you, so sphered, see no more —
You see but with a holier mind —
You hear and, alter'd, do not hear
Being a stoled apparel'd star.
You should have been with me as near
As halves of sweet-pea-blossom are;
But now are fled, and hard to find
As the last Pleiad, yea behind
Exiled most remote El Khor.

*****

The love of women is not so strong, —
'Tis falsely given — as love in men;
A thing that weeps, enduring long:
But mine is dreadful leaping pain,
Phrenzy, but edged and clear of brain
Ruinous heart-beat, wandering, death.
I walk towards eve our walks again;
When lily-yellow is the west.
Say, o'er it hangs a water-cloud
And ravell'd into strings of rain.
At once I struggle with my breath.
" The light was so, the wind so loud
No louder, when I was with you.
Always the time remembereth
His very looks in other years,
Only with us is old and new."
I fall, I tear and shower the weed,
I bite my hands, my looks I shroud;
My cry is like a bleat; a few
Intolerable tears I bleed.
Then is my misery full indeed:
I die, I die, I do not live. —
Alas! I rave, where calm is due;
I would remember. Love, forgive.
I cannot calm, I cannot heed.
I storm and shock you. So I fail.
And like a self-outwitted blast
Fling to the convent wicket fast.
Who would not shelter from the hail?
But is there a place for tenderness,
There was a charm would countervail
The spell of woe if any could.
Once in a drawer of Indian wood
You folded (did you not?) your dress.
The essence ne'er forgot the fold;
And I esteem'd the sandal good
And now I get some precious slips.

*****

. . . upon you dreamed:┬░
I [dream'd] my counterpart. It seem'd
[A bell] at midnight woke the town
[And all] into the Duomo ran:
You met me, I had hasten'd down:
That night the judgment day began:
'Twas said of none but all men knew:
Nocturns I thought were hurried through.
Some knelt, some stood: I seem'd to feel
Who knelt were for the Lord's right hand;┬░
They are the goats who stand, said I.
I stood; but does she stand or kneel?
I strove to look; I lost the trick
Of nerve; the clammy ball was dry.
Then came the benediction.
His lips moved fast in sense too thick!
The others heard; I could not hear
Him ...┬░
Save me: and you were standing near.

An angel came: " The judgment done,
Mercy is left enough for one:
Choose, one for hell and one for heaven!"
You cried " But I have served thee well,
O Lord; but I have wrought and striven;
Duly, dear Lord, my prize is won.
I did repent; I am forgiven.
Give him the gift." I cannot tell
But all the while it seem'd to me
I reason'd the futility.

Or this, or else I do not love,
I inly said; but could not move
My fast-lodged tongue. " [To her the gift]┬░
I yield" I would have cried. At last,
Something I said; I swooned and fell.
The angel lifted us above.
The bitterness of death was past,
My love; and all was sweet and well.

...
...

Who say that angels, in your ear
Are heard, that cry " She does repent",
Let charity thus begin at home, —
Teach me the paces that you went
I can send up an Esau's cry;┬░
Tune it to words of good intent.
This ice, this lead, this steel, this stone,
This heart is warm to you alone;
Make it to God. I am not spent
So far but I have yet within
The penetrative element
That shall unglue the crust of sin.
Steel may be melted and rock rent.
Penance shall clothe me to the bone.
Teach me the way: I will repent.

*****

But grant my penitence begun:
I need not, love, I need not break
Remember'd sweetness. For my thought┬░
No house of Rimmon may I take,
To bow but little, and worship not?
Is not some little Bela set
Before the mountain? — No, not one,
The heaven-enforced answer comes,
Yea, to myself I answer make:
Who can but barter slender sums
By slender losses are undone;
They breathe not who are late to run. —
O hideous vice to haggle yet
For more with Him who gives thee all,
Freely forgives the monstrous debt!
Having the infinitely great
Therewith to hanker for the small!

Knowledge is strong but love is sweet. —
I found the ways were sown with salt
Where you and I were wont to tread;
Not further'd far my travell'd feet
For all the miles that they were sped;
No flowers to find, no place to halt,
No colour in the overhead,
No running in the river-bed;
And passages where we used to meet, —
Fruit-cloistering hyacinth-warding woods,
I call'd them and I thought them then —
When you were learner and I read,
Are waste, and had no wholesome foods,┬░
Unpalateable fruits to eat.
What have I more than other men,
For learning stored and garnered?
And barely to escape the curse,
I who was wise would be untaught,
And fain would follow I who led.
How shall I search, who never sought?
How turn my passion-pastured thought
To gentle manna and simple bread?
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