The Two Angels
Once Youth and Innocence, side by side,
With flaming swords at a garden gate
Stood forth in silence, to watch and wait,
Lest lust and evil their might defied.
Love's rarest fruits in that garden grew,
And lo ! a Pilgrim of pain and sin
Grown tired, would gladly have entered in,
And washed his soul in the gleaming dew.
He looked at Youth, and the Angel said :
' Behold me young, and behold me weak :
If you but crush me, the joy you seek
Shall quench desire on a rose-strewn bed,
'Yet oh! I pray you another hour,
For should you enter this Holy place,
My soul is given again to space,
And I must die as a blighted flower.'
Then all the sorrow and all the shame,
That life had taught him to understand,
Rose up, and fettered the Pilgrim's hand,
And murmur'd: 'Youth is a sacred name.'
He looked at Innocence, nude and white,
And all unconscious she met his gaze;
Her eyes were soft as an evening haze,
Her red lips fashioned to give delight.
She sighed,'I know not the boon you ask,
But Nature sent me to guard the way
That leads to realms of Eternal day;
I may not shrink from the Mother's task.
'Yet these fair limbs that are pure as snow,
Should you but sully by thought or deed
Must droop and fade as a broken reed,
That every wind of the earth may blow.'
Then all the goodness that he had missed,
Each dream of sweetness that passed him by,
Rose up, and cried: 'Thou shalt still deny
Thyself'—and Innocence stood unkissed.
And so we closed the book, wherein we wrote
How many words of ecstasy and pain,
How oft repeated passion's deep refrain,
Like ebb and flow of tide, whose echo smote
Upon the hearing of our listening sense.
These pages will become the prey of years,
And time, who stretches forth an envious hand,
Shall make impossible to understand
Our burning words, that shine with unshed tears,
Ay, and we two may offer no defence !
The early mornings of awakening Spring
That smote our inspiration and desire
They still shall call, yet find no answering fire
Within the eyes of two at least, who bring
But wormwood, from the once so flowering path.
And limpid winter twilights when we gazed
Thro' frosted panes across the purpling snow,
Or turned our eyes towards the cheerful glow
Of logs, whose kindly voices cracked and blazed
With invitation to the sheltered hearth—
They too shall come in season as before,
Yet we be absent, and within the room
Our vacant places cast a little gloom ;
Then shall there fall a shadow on the floor,
As of one passing, who is yet unseen.
Perchance a pilgrim wind will pause to look
Within this volume where our tale unfolds,
And sorry at the text he there beholds,
Rustle with sighs the vellum of this book,
But leave no trace of where his breath has been.
Perchance a rose that through the casement bent,
Might cast her ardent eyes upon this lay,
And being touched, hide one soft leaf away
Between its pages, out of sentiment,
Then toss her wanton fragrance to the South.
Aye, many roses shall be born to grace
The garden, and the day will still rejoice,
Yet never at the echo of thy voice,
Nor shall a rose lift up its longing face
That we may cool our lips upon its mouth.
And side by side with petals and with sighs,
With overweening tenderness and trust,
Shall rest the deadly layer of choking dust :
A weary skull, its sockets bare of eyes,
With grinning pathos from the title page
Will bear stark record of its master Death.
Sightless, yet seeing all Eternity,
With silent voice that rings more truthfully
Than any words we quickened with our breath
More full of wisdom than the speech of sage.
We two have loved, and have outlived the laws
Of love, e'en as these bones survive their flesh
With awful vigour gleaming strangely fresh
Amid the ruin of their natal cause,
A peg on which the gods may hang their wit !
We two have cast each other in the flame
Of searing passion, that we deemed was life.
Alas ! those fiery billows flowing rife
Upon the sand, they have defaced love's name,
And there remains no smallest trace of it.
And yet we live, and walk upon the earth,
Beneath the pall of dusk the dome of dawn,
And all created creatures being born
Must do, and thus atone their hour of birth,
A living sacrifice to what! Who knows?
Poor futile things, we make our little moan,
And clasp our puny hands in useless prayers
To that which neither wots of us nor cares,
And in our grief behold, we stand alone,
Till our complaining lips in anguish close.
My eyes shall still behold the stars above,
And you, how oft will count the hosts of night,
But never, never can we feel delight
In them together, swearing that our love
Is more enduring than eternal things !
Oh ! blessed madness that possessed the heart,
Oh ! sweet unreason that could cloud the mind,
Alas ! that we have left you far behind,
And growing wise must lose the dearer part,
Of which not even the faintest perfume clings.
What would we not surrender overjoyed,
To hear once more the music that is still;
We sweep the strings, but lo ! no answering thrill
From shattered harps, that eager hands destroyed,
From souls whom ravishment has smitten dumb.
Oh ! for one hour snatched from the throbbing past,
Replete with its embodied ecstasy!
How little would we count Eternity,
How ready be, to know that hour, our last,
No matter what the penalty to come.
Oh ! bitterness, that we ourselves did write
These pages with heart's blood, yet cannot feel
To-day one little tremor o'er us steal
Save of regret for so much past delight !
The cup is spilt of which we two partook.
For this last time, oh ! once beloved, stay
Close here beside me, while my drying pen
Has still the strength to write our last Amen.
'Tis written .... there is nothing left to say,
And so together .... thus, we close the book.
Ring on! Oh endless vesper bell!
What can you know of that deep Hell
Upon this Earth, where men may dwell.
Ring on ! Your calling is in vain,
What holy rite can lull the pain
Of mortal Sin's Immortal stain.
* * * *
It was the heavy hour of noon,
When Nature still as in a swoon
Reclines beneath the spell of June.
I left the Monastery gate,
And sought the forest shade, to wait
For even hour, and meditate.
Upon the beads hung from my side
A silver Christus crucified.
God mocked, and scourged, and denied !
My missal in my hand I took,
And read within the Holy Book
How vain the joys a monk forsook.
I thought of Heaven, and all therein
I hoped by penitence to win;
My heart was free from mortal sin.
When lo ! as of enchanted spheres
A languid music smote my ears,
With vast delight, and vaster fears.
It was as if all deadly wrong
Grown honied sweet in magic song
Caressed my senses, deep and long.
My eyes upon the missal bent
Sprang upward, and in ravishment
Beheld a gaze on me intent.
The figure of a tender maid,
Within the larches' trembling glade
Clothed in sunlight and in shade—
Was bending o'er me, and her breast
Full worthy of a King's behest
She offered, that my head might rest.
She was most pale, and frail, and white,
Like moonlit mist on Summer's night,
Like memory of wan delight.
And thro' the tendrils of her hair
There blew a breath of scented air,
Of all sweet things from everywhere.
A limpid magic were her eyes,
Two mountain lakes, where sunlight lies
Enamoured, and of passion dies.
From out her lips proceeded words
More soft than distant pipe of herds,
More tender than the song of birds.
I know not what the tongue she spake,
But all my senses leapt to ache
With longing, for her asking's sake.
As in a dream I rose and pressed
Her bending slimness to my breast:
With eager kiss my mouth caressed
The flaming redness of her own,
All else on earth had nothing grown,
Save that we two were there alone.
Within my ears the rush of streams,
My vision shot with lurid gleams,
My spirit bathed in burning dreams!
A vital fragrance round her clung,
As if from earth's deep veins was wrung
The sap of springs for ever young.
It turned my blood to living fire,
The universe immense, entire,
Was bound in me, and my desire.
No mortal man was I, while still
I kissed and wreaked my ardent will
Upon that form of tender ill.
She cast her magic over me,
Her spell of Immortality,
That lost my soul Eternity.
The sunlight faded, and the day
As one affrighted fled away,
Suddenly tremulous and gray.
An icy wind sprang up, and blew
A shuddering breath along the dew,
It chilled my body thro' and thro'.
I sought the shelter of her hair,
But lo ! my sinful breast was bare,
My arms outstretched to empty air.
I wept aloud, in anguish cried,
The echoes hastened to deride !
She came no longer to my side.
And in her stead, with agony
Of dumb regret, most bitterly
My soul came forth, and looked on me !
* * * *
Within the forest's depth a bird
Began to twitter, and I heard
Trees stirring at its tender word.
I woke as from a searing dream,
Beside my feet a little stream
Grew rosy with a sunset beam.
The earth gave forth her fragrant store;
Obedient to Eternal law,
All things were even as before,
All things save I, who moaned, and stood
A stranger, in the tranquil wood.
My spirit shrank away, nor could
Refresh itself at Nature's breast,
Its lips were burnt, denied, caressed
Of sin, unholy and unblessed !
I knew it then ! fulfilled desires
Are in themselves Hell's deepest fires,
And man when highest he aspires
The more may fall beneath his lust.
And yet, ah ! Heaven, the while I thrust
My sense in penitential dust
I knew that thro' my misery
A tremor stole persistently,
Of rapture at her memory.
Shall I confess with spirit bent
That hour of awful ravishment?
Dear God, but slwuld I not repent'?
'Twere better that we two should die
A thousand deaths, my soul and I,
Than live an everlasting lie !
Oh soul ! What would you have me say,
To Him whose hand shall never stay-
Its vengeance on this woeful day !
* * * *
Ring on ! oh endless vesper bell !
What can you know of that deep Hell
Upon this earth where men may dwell,
And God, does He know? Who can tell