A Lover's Litanies - Fifth Litany. Salve Regina.

A poem by Eric Mackay


Glory to thee, my Queen! whom far away
My thoughts aspire to,--as the birds of May
Aspire o' mornings,--as in lonely nooks
The gurgling murmurs of neglected brooks
Aspire to moonlight,--aye! as earth aspires
When through the East, alert with wild desires,
The rapturous sun surveys the welkin's height,
And flecks the world with witcheries of his fires.


Oh, I should curb my grief. I should entone
No plaint to thee; no loss should I bemoan!
I should be patient, I, though full of care,
And not attempt, by bias of a prayer,
To sway thy spirit, or to urge anew
A claim contested. For my days are few;
My days, I think, are few upon the earth
Since I must shun the joys I would pursue.


I am not worthy of the Heaven I name
When I name thee; and yet to win the same
Is still my dream. I strive as best I can
To live uprightly on the vaunted plan
Of old-world sages. But I strive not well;
And thoughts conflicting which I cannot quell
Make me despondent; and I quake thereat,
As at the shuddering of a doomsday bell.


To die for thee were more than my desert;
To live for thee to keep thee out of hurt
And, like a slave, to wait upon thy will
Were more than fame. And lo! I nourish still
A sense of calm to feel that thou, at least,
Art sorrow-free and honor'd at the feast
Which Nature spreads for all contented minds;
And that for thee its splendours have increased.


I stand alone. I stand beneath the trees,
I guess their thoughts; I hear them to the breeze
Say tender nothings; and I dream the while
Of thy white arms, and thy remember'd smile,
When, in a spot like this, a year a-gone,
I saw thee stoop to pluck from off the lawn
A wounded bird that peer'd into thy face
As if it took thee for the nymph of dawn!


Oh, can it be, as friends of thine affirm
That thou'rt a fairy,--that, from term to term,
Month after month, belov'd of all good things,
Thou'rt seen in forests and in meadow rings
Girt for the dance? or like an Oread queen
Array'd for council? For the woods convene
Their dryad forces when the nights are clear,
And nymphs and fawns carouse upon the green.


The crescent moon, the Argosy of heaven,
Veers for the west across the Pleïads seven,
And, out beyond the ridge of Charles's Wain,
It seems to come to mooring on the main
Of that deep sky, as if awaiting there
An angel-guest with sunlight in her hair,
A seraph's cousin, or the foster-child
Of some centurion of the upper air.


Is it thy soul? Has Cynthia call'd for thee
In her white boat, to take thee o'er the sea
Where suns and stars and constellations bright
Are isles of glory,--where a seraph's right
Surpasses mine, and makes me seem indeed
A base intruder, with a coward's creed
And not an angel's, though a Christian born
And pledged alwàys to serve thee at thy need?


Thou'rt sleeping now; and in thy snowy rest,--
In that seclusion which is like a nest
For blameless human maids beheld of those
Who come from God,--thou hast in thy repose
No thought of me,--no thought of pairing-time.
For thou'rt the sworn opponent of the rhyme
That lovers make in kissing; and anon
My very love will vex thee like a crime.


But day and night, and winter-tide and spring,
Change at thy voice; and when I hear thee sing
I know 'tis May; and when I see thy face
I know 'tis Summer. Thou'rt the youngest Grace,
And all the Muses praise thee evermore.
And there are birds who name thee as they soar;
And some of these,--the best and brightest ones,--
Have guess'd the pangs that pierce me to the core.


Thou art the month of May with all its nights
And all its days transfigured in the lights
Of love-lit smiles and glances multiform;
And, like a lark that sings above a storm,
Thy voice o'er-rides the tumult of my mind.
Oh, give me back the peace I strove to find
In my last prayer, and I'll believe that Hope
Will dry anon the tears that make it blind.


There's none like thee, not one in all the world;
No face so fair, no smile so sweet-impearl'd,
And no such music on the hills and plains
As thy young voice whereof the thrill remains
For hours and hours,--belike to keep alive
The sense of beauty that the flowers may thrive.
Or is't thy wish that birds should fly to thee
Before the days of April's quest arrive?


Thou'rt noble-natured; and there's none to stand
So meek as thou, or with so dear a hand
To ward off wrong. For Psyche of the Greeks
Is dead and gone; and Eros with his freaks
Has bow'd to thee, and turn'd aside, for shame,
His useless shaft, not daring to proclaim
His amorous laws, and thou so maiden-coy
Beneath the halo of thy spotless name!


But dreams are idle, and I must forget
All that they tend to. I must cease to fret,
Moth as I am, for stars beyond the reach
Of mine up-soaring; and in milder speech
I must invoke thy blessing on the road
That lies before me,--far from thine abode,
And far from all persuasion that again
Thou wilt accept the terms of my love-code.


O Sweet! forgive me that from day to day
I dream such dreams, and teach me how to sway
My fluttering self, that, in forsaken hours,
I may be valiant, and eschew the powers
Of death and doubt! I need the certitude
Of thine esteem that I may check the feud
Of mine own thoughts that rend and anger me
Because denied the boon for which I sued.


Teach me to wait with patience for a word,
And be the sight of thee no more deferr'd
Than one up-rising of the vesper star
That waits on Dian when, supreme, afar,
She eyes the sunset. And of this be sure,
As I'm a man and thou a maid demure,
Thou shalt be ta'en aside and wonder'd at,
Before the gloaming leaves the land obscure.


Thou shalt be bow'd to as we bow to saints
In window'd shrines; and, far from all attaints
Of ribald passion, thou, as seemeth good,
Wilt smile serenely in thy virginhood.
Nor shall I know, of mine own poor accord,
Which thing in all the world is best to hoard,
Or which is worst of all the things that slay:
A woman's beauty or a soldier's sword.


I grieve in sleep. I pine away at night.
I wake, uncared for, in the morning light;
And, hour by hour, I marvel that for me
The wandering wind should make its minstrelsy
So sweet and calm. I marvel that the sun,
So round and red, with all his hair undone,
Should smile at me and yet begrudge me still
The sight of thee that art my worshipp'd one!


I count my moments as a cloister'd man
May count his beads; and through the weary span
Of each long day I peer into my heart
For hints of comfort; and I find, in part,
A self-committal, and a glimpse withal
Of some new menace in the rise and fall
Of days and nights that are the test of Time
Though Fate would make a mockery of them all.


There's a disaster worse than loss of gold,
Worse than remorse, and worse a thousand-fold,
Than pangs of hunger. 'Tis the thirst of love,
The rage and rapture of the ravening dove
We name Desire. Ah, pardon! I offend;
My fervor blinds me to the withering end
Of all good council, and, accurst thereby,
I vaunt anew the faults I cannot mend.

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