Old it is, and worn and battered,
As I lift it from the stall;
And the leaves are frayed and tattered,
And the pendent sides are shattered,
Pierced and blackened by a ball.
'Tis the tale of grief and gladness
Told by sad St. Pierre of yore,
That in front of France's madness
Hangs a strange seductive sadness,
Grown pathetic evermore.
And a perfume round it hovers,
Which the pages half reveal,
For a folded corner covers,
Interlaced, two names of lovers,--
A "Savignac" and "Lucile."
As I read I marvel whether,
In some pleasant old château,
Once they read this book together,
In the scented summer weather,
With the shining Loire below?
Nooked--secluded from espial,
Did Love slip and snare them so,
While the hours danced round the dial
To the sound of flute and viol,
In that pleasant old château?
Did it happen that no single
Word of mouth could either speak?
Did the brown and gold hair mingle,
Did the shamed skin thrill and tingle
To the shock of cheek and cheek?
Did they feel with that first flushing
Some new sudden power to feel,
Some new inner spring set gushing
At the names together rushing
Of "Savignac" and "Lucile"?
Did he drop on knee before her--
"Son Amour, son Coeur, sa Reine"--
In his high-flown way adore her,
Urgent, eloquent implore her,
Plead his pleasure and his pain?
Did she turn with sight swift-dimming,
And the quivering lip we know,
With the full, slow eyelid brimming,
With the languorous pupil swimming,
Like the love of Mirabeau?
Stretch her hand from cloudy frilling,
For his eager lips to press;
In a flash all fate fulfilling
Did he catch her, trembling, thrilling--
Crushing life to one caress?
Did they sit in that dim sweetness
Of attained love's after-calm,
Marking not the world--its meetness,
Marking Time not, nor his fleetness,
Only happy, palm to palm?
Till at last she,--sunlight smiting
Red on wrist and cheek and hair,--
Sought the page where love first lighting,
Fixed their fate, and, in this writing,
Fixed the record of it there.
* * * * *
Did they marry midst the smother,
Shame and slaughter of it all?
Did she wander like that other
Woful, wistful, wife and mother,
Round and round his prison wall;--
Wander wailing, as the plover
Waileth, wheeleth, desolate,
Heedless of the hawk above her,
While as yet the rushes cover,
Waning fast, her wounded mate,--
Wander, till his love's eyes met hers,
Fixed and wide in their despair?
Did he burst his prison fetters,
Did he write sweet, yearning letters,
"A Lucile,--en Angleterre"?
Letters where the reader, reading,
Halts him with a sudden stop,
For he feels a man's heart bleeding,
Draining out its pain's exceeding--
Half a life, at every drop:
Letters where Love's iteration
Seems to warble and to rave;
Letters where the pent sensation
Leaps to lyric exultation,
Like a song-bird from a grave.
Where, through Passion's wild repeating,
Peep the Pagan and the Gaul,
Politics and love competing,
Abelard and Cato greeting,
Rousseau ramping over all.
Yet your critic's right--you waive it,
Whirled along the fever-flood;
And its touch of truth shall save it,
And its tender rain shall lave it,
For at least you read Amavit,
Written there in tears of blood.
* * * * *
Did they hunt him to his hiding,
Tracking traces in the snow?
Did they tempt him out, confiding,
Shoot him ruthless down, deriding,
By the ruined old château?
Left to lie, with thin lips resting
Frozen to a smile of scorn,
Just the bitter thought's suggesting,
At this excellent new jesting
Of the rabble Devil-born.
Till some "tiger-monkey," finding
These few words the covers bear,
Some swift rush of pity blinding,
Sent them in the shot-pierced binding
"A Lucile, en Angleterre."
* * * * *
Fancies only! Nought the covers,
Nothing more the leaves reveal,
Yet I love it for its lovers,
For the dream that round it hovers
Of "Savignac" and "Lucile."