Vestal Flame

A poem by Josephine Preston Peabody

Light, light,--the last:
Till the night be done,
Keep the watch for stars and sun, and eyelids over-cast.

Once there seemed a sky,
Brooding over men.
Now no stars have come again, since their bright good-bye!

Once my dreams were wise.
Now I nothing know;
Fasting and the dark have so put out my heart's eyes.

But thy golden breath
Burns against my cheek.
I can feel and love, and seek all the rune it saith.

Do not thou be spent,
Holy thing of fire,--
Only hope of heart's desire dulled with wonderment!

While there bide these two
Hands to bar the wind;
Though such fingers chill and thinned, shed no roses through.

While this body bends
Only for thy guard;
Like a tower, to ward and worship all the light it sends.

It is not for fear
Lest there ring some cry
On the midnight, 'Rise and come. Lo, the Bridegroom near!'

It is not for pride,
To be shining fair
In a wedding-garment there, lighting home the Bride.

It is not to win
Love, for hoarded toil,
From those poor, with their spent oil, weeping, 'Light us in!'--

No; but in despite
Of all vigils set,
Do I bind me to thee yet,--strangest thing of Light!

Only, all, for thee
Whatsoe'er thou art,
Smiling through the blinded heart, things it cannot see.

Very Soul's Desire,
Take my life; and live
By the rapture thine doth give, ecstasy of fire!

Hold thy golden breath!
For I feel,--not hear--
Spent with joy and fear to lose thee, all the song it saith.

Light, light, my own:
Do not thou disown
Thy poor keeper-of-the-light, for Light's sake alone.

The dark had left no speech save hand-in-hand
Between us two the while, with others near.
Mine questioned thine with 'Why should I be here?'
'Yet bide thou here,' said thine, 'and understand.'

And mine was mute; but strove not then to go;
And hid itself, and murmured, 'Do not hear
The listening in my heart!' Said thine, 'My Dear,
I will not hear it, ever. But I know.'

Said mine to thine: 'Let be. Now will I go!--
For you are saying,--you who do not speak,
This hand-in-hand is one day cheek-to-cheek!'
And said thy hand around me, 'Even so.'

Then mine to thine.--'Yea, I have been alone;
--Yet happy.--This is strange. This is not I!
You hold me, but you can not tell me why.'
And said thy hand to mine again, 'My Own.'

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