Natura naturans

A poem by Arthur Hugh Clough

Beside me, in the car, she sat,
She spake not, no, nor looked to me
From her to me, from me to her,
What passed so subtly, stealthily?
As rose to rose that by it blows
Its interchanged aroma flings;
Or wake to sound of one sweet note
The virtues of disparted strings.

Beside me, nought but this! but this,
That influent as within me dwelt
Her life, mine too within her breast,
Her brain, her every limb she felt
We sat; while o’er and in us, more
And more, a power unknown prevailed,
Inhaling, and inhaled, and still
’Twas one, inhaling or inhaled.

Beside me, nought but this; and passed;
I passed; and know not to this day
If gold or jet her girlish hair,
If black, or brown, or lucid-grey
Her eye’s young glance: the fickle chance
That joined us, yet may join again;
But I no face again could greet
As her’s, whose life was in me then.

As unsuspecting mere a maid
As, fresh in maidhood’s bloomiest bloom,
In casual second-class did e’er
By casual youth her seat assume;
Or vestal, say, of saintliest clay,
For once by balmiest airs betrayed
Unto emotions too, too sweet
To be unlingeringly gainsaid:

Unowning then, confusing soon
With dreamier dreams that o’er the glass
Of shyly ripening woman-sense
Reflected, scarce reflected, pass,
A wife may-be, a mother she
In Hymen’s shrine recals not now,
She first in hour, ah, not profane,
With me to Hymen learnt to bow.

Ah no! Yet owned we, fused in one,
The Power which e’en in stones and earths
By blind elections felt, in forms
Organic breeds to myriad births;
By lichen small on granite wall
Approved, its faintest feeblest stir
Slow-spreading, strengthening long, at last
Vibrated full in me and her.

In me and her sensation strange!
The lily grew to pendent head,
To vernal airs the mossy bank
Its sheeny primrose spangles spread,
In roof o’er roof of shade sun-proof
Did cedar strong itself outclimb,
And altitude of aloe proud
Aspire in floreal crown sublime;

Flashed flickering forth fantastic flies,
Big bees their burly bodies swung,
Rooks roused with civic din the elms,
And lark its wild reveillez rung;
In Libyan dell the light gazelle,
The leopard lithe in Indian glade,
And dolphin, brightening tropic seas,
In us were living, leapt and played:

Their shells did slow crustacea build,
Their gilded skins did snakes renew,
While mightier spines for loftier kind
Their types in amplest limbs outgrew;
Yea, close comprest in human breast,
What moss, and tree, and livelier thing,
What Earth, Sun, Star of force possest,
Lay budding, burgeoning forth for Spring.

Such sweet preluding sense of old
Led on in Eden’s sinless place
The hour when bodies human first
Combined the primal prime embrace,
Such genial heat the blissful seat
In man and woman owned unblamed,
When, naked both, its garden paths
They walked unconscious, unashamed:

Ere, clouded yet in mistiest dawn,
Above the horizon dusk and dun,
One mountain crest with light had tipped
That Orb that is the Spirit’s Sun;
Ere dreamed young flowers in vernal showers
Of fruit to rise the flower above,
Or ever yet to young Desire
Was told the mystic name of Love.

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