When people tell me they have loved
But once in youth,
I wonder, are they always moved
To speak the truth?
Not that they wilfully deceive:
They fondly cherish
A constancy which they would grieve
To think might perish.
They cherish it until they think
'Twas always theirs.
So, if the truth they sometimes blink,
Yet unawares, I must profess,
They do deceive
Themselves, and those who questionless
Their tale believe.
For I have loved, I freely own,
A score of times,
And woven, out of love alone,
A hundred rhymes.
Boys will be fickle. Yet, when all
Is said and done,
I was not one whom you could call
A flirt--not one
Of those who into three or four
Their hearts divide.
My queens came singly to the door,
Not side by side.
Each, while she reigned, possessed alone
My spirit loyal,
Then left an undisputed throne
To one more royal,
To one more fair in form and face
Sweeter and stronger,
Who filled the throne with truer grace,
And filled it longer.
So, love by love, they came and passed,
These loves of mine,
And each one brighter than the last
Their lights did shine.
Until--but am I not too free,
Most courteous stranger,
With secrets which belong to me?
There is a danger.
Until, I say, the perfect love,
The last, the best,
Like flame descending from above,
Kindled my breast,
Kindled my breast like ardent flame,
With quenchless glow.
I knew not love until it came,
But now I know.
You smile. The twenty loves before
Were each in turn,
You say, the final flame that o'er
My soul should burn.
Smile on, my friend. I will not say
You have no reason;
But if the love I feel to-day
Depart, 'tis treason!
If this depart, not once again
Will I on paper
Declare the loves that waste and wane,
Like some poor taper.
No, no! This flame, I cannot doubt,
Despite your laughter,
Will burn till Death shall put it out,
And may be after.