Love and Reason

A poem by Arthur Hugh Clough

When panting sighs the bosom fill,
And hands by chance united thrill
At once with one delicious pain
The pulses and the nerves of twain;
When eyes that erst could meet with ease,
Do seek, yet, seeking, shyly shun
Extatic conscious unison,
The sure beginnings, say, be these
Prelusive to the strain of love
Which angels sing in heaven above?

Or is it but the vulgar tune,
Which all that breathe beneath the moon
So accurately learn so soon?
With variations duly blent;
Yet that same song to all intent,
Set for the finer instrument;
It is; and it would sound the same
In beasts, were not the bestial frame,
Less subtly organised, to blame;
And but that soul and spirit add
To pleasures, even base and bad,
A zest the soulless never had.

It may be well indeed I deem;
But what if sympathy, it seem,
And, admiration and esteem,
Commingling therewithal, do make
The passion prized for Reason’s sake?
Yet, when my heart would fain rejoice,
A small expostulating voice
Falls in; Of this thou wilt not take
Thy one irrevocable choice?
In accent tremulous and thin
I hear high Prudence deep within,
Pleading the bitter, bitter sting,
Should slow-maturing seasons bring,
Too late, the veritable thing.
For if (the Poet’s tale of bliss)
A love, wherewith commeasured this
Is weak and beggarly, and none,
Exist a treasure to be won,
And if the vision, though it stay,
Be yet for an appointed day,
This choice, if made, this deed, if done,
The memory of this present past,
With vague foreboding might o’ercast
The heart, or madden it at last.

Let Reason first her office ply;
Esteem, and admiration high,
And mental, moral sympathy,
Exist they first, nor be they brought,
By self-deceiving afterthought,
What if an halo interfuse
With these again its opal hues,
That all o’erspreading and o’erlying,
Transmuting, mingling, glorifying,
About the beauteous various whole,
With beaming smile do dance and quiver;
Yet, is that halo of the soul?
Or is it, as may sure be said,
Phosphoric exhalation bred
Of vapour, steaming from the bed
Of Fancy’s brook, or Passion’s river?
So when, as will be by-and-by,
The stream is waterless and dry,
This halo and its hues will die;
And though the soul contented rest
With those substantial blessings blest,
Will not a longing, half confest,
Betray that this is not the love,
The gift for which all gifts above
Him praise we, Who is Love, the Giver?

I cannot say the things are good
Bread is it, if not angels’ food;
But Love? Alas! I cannot say;
A glory on the vision lay;
A light of more than mortal day
About it played, upon it rested;
It did not, faltering and weak,
Beg Reason on its side to speak
Itself was Reason, or, if not,
Such substitute as is, I wot,
Of seraph-kind the loftier lot;
Itself was of itself attested;
To processes that, hard and dry,
Elaborate truth from fallacy,
With modes intuitive succeeding,
Including those and superseding;
Reason sublimed and Love most high
It was, a life that cannot die,
A dream of glory most exceeding.

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