A Lover's Litanies - First Litany. Virgo Dulcis.

A poem by Eric Mackay


O thou refulgent essence of all grace!
O thou that with the witchery of thy face
Hast made of me thy servant unto death,
I pray thee pause, ere, musical of breath,
And rapt of utterance, thou condemn indeed
My venturous wooing, and the wanton speed
With which I greet thee, dear and tender soul!
From out the fullness of my passion-creed.


I am so truly thine that nevermore
Shall man be found, this side the Stygian shore,
So meek as I, so patient under blame,
And yet, withal, so minded to proclaim
His life-long ardour. For my theme is just:
A heart enslaved, a smile, a broken trust,
A soft mirage, a glimpse of fairyland,
And then the wreck thereof in tears and dust.


Thou wast not made for murder, yet a glance
May murderous prove; and beauty may entrance,
More than a syren's or a serpent's eye.
And there are moments when a smother'd sigh
May hint at comfort and a murmur'd "No"
Give signs of "Yes," and Misery's overflow
Make tears more precious than we care to tell,
Though, one by one, our hopes we must forego.


I should have shunn'd thee as a man may shun
His evil hour. I should have curst the sun
That made the day so bright and earth so fair
When first we met, delirium through the air
Burning like fire! I should have curst the moon
And all the stars that, dream-like, in a swoon
Shut out the day,--the lov'd, the lovely day
That came too late and left us all too soon.


I look'd at thee, and lo! from face to feet,
I saw my tyrant, and I felt the beat
Of my quick pulse. I knew thee for a queen
And bow'd submissive; and the smile serene
Of thy sweet face reveal'd the soul of thee.
For I was wounded as a man may be
Whom Eros tricks with words he will not prove;
And all my peace of mind went out from me.


Oh, why didst cheer me with the thought of bliss,
And wouldst not pay me back my luckless kiss?
I sought thy side. I gave thee of my store
One wild salute. A flame was at the core
Of that first kiss; and on my mouth I feel
The glow thereof, the pressure and the seal,
As if thy nature, when the deed was done,
Had leapt to mine in lightning-like appeal.


If debts were paid in full I might require
More than my kiss. I might, in time, aspire
To some new bond, or re-enact the first.
For once, thou know'st, the love for which I thirst,
The love for which I hunger'd in thy sight,
Was not withheld. I deem'd thee, day and night,
Mine own true mate, and sent thee token flowers
To figure forth the hopes I'd fain indite.


Is this not so? Canst thou detend, in truth,
The sunlike smile with which, in flush of youth,
Thou didst accept my greeting,--though so late,--
My love-lorn homage when the voice of Fate
Fell from thy lips, and made me twice a man
Because half thine, in that betrothal-plan
Whereof I spake, not knowing how 'twould be
When May had marr'd the prospects it began?


Can'st thou deny that, early in the spring,
When daisies droop'd, and birds were fain to sing,
We met, and talk'd, and walk'd, and were content
In sunlit paths? An hour and more we spent
In Keats's Grove. We linger'd near the stem
Of that lone tree on which was seen the gem
Of his bright name, there carven by himself;
And then I stoop'd and kiss'd thy garment's hem.


I gave thee all my life. I gave thee there,
In that wild hour, the great Creator's share
Of mine existence; and I turn'd to thee
As men to idols, madly on my knee;
And then uplifted by those arms of thine,
I sat beside thee, warm'd with other wine
Than vintage balm; and, mindful of thy blush,
I guess'd a thought which words will not define.


I told thee stories of the days of joy
When earth was young, and love without alloy
Made all things glad and all the thoughts of things.
And like a man who wonders when he sings,
And knows not whence the power that in him lies,
I made a madrigal of all my sighs
And bade thee heed them; and I join'd therewith
The texts of these my follies that I prize.


I spoke of men, long dead, who wooed in vain
And yet were happy,--men whose tender pain
Was fraught with fervor, as the night with stars.
And then I spoke of heroes' battle-scars
And lordly souls who rode from land to land
To win the love-touch of a lady's hand;
And on the strings of thy low-murmuring lute
I struck the chords that all men understand.


I sang to thee. I praised thee with my praise,
E'en as a bird, conceal'd in sylvan ways,
May laud the rose, and wish, from hour to hour,
That he had petals like the empress-flower,
And there could grow, unwing'd, and be a bud,
With all his warblings ta'en at singing-flood
And turned to vĂ garies of the wildest scent
To undermine the meekness in her blood.


Ah, those were days! That April should have been
My last on earth, and, ere the frondage green
Had changed to gold, I should have join'd the ranks
Of dull dead men who lived for little thanks
And made the most thereof, though penance-bound.
I should have known that in the daily round
Of mine existence, there are griefs to spare,
But joys, alas! too few on any ground.


And here I stand to-day with bended head,
My task undone, my garden overspread
With baneful weeds. Am I the lord thereof?
Or mine own slave, without the power to doff
My misery's badge? Am I so weak withal,
That I must loiter, though the bugle's call
Shrills o'er the moor, the far-off weltering moor,
Where foemen meet to vanquish or to fall?


Am I so blurr'd in soul, so out of health,
That I must turn to thee, as if by stealth,
And fear thy censure, fear thy quick rebuff,
And thou so gentle in a world so rough
That God's high priest, the morn-apparell'd sun
Ne'er saw thy like! Am I indeed undone
Of life and love and all? and must I weep
For joys that quit me, and for sands that run?


To-morrow's dawn will break; but Yesterday,
Where is its light? And where the breezes' play
That sway'd the flowers? A bird will sing again,
But not so well. The wind upon the plain,
The wintry wind, will toss the groaning trees;
But I, what comfort shall I have of these,
To know that they, unlov'd, have lost the Spring,
As I thy favour and my power to please?


I should have learnt a lesson from the songs
Of woodland birds discoursing on the wrongs
Of madcap moths and bachelor butterflies.
I should have caught the cadence of the sighs
Of unwed flowers, and learnt the way to woo,
Which all things know but I, beneath the blue
Of Heaven's great dome; for, undesired of thee,
I have but jarr'd the notes that seem'd so true.


I should have told thee all I meant to tell,
And how, at Lammas-tide, a wedding-bell
Rang through my sleep, mine own as well as thine;
And how I led thee, smiling, to a shrine
And there endow'd thee with the name I bear;
And how I woke to find the morning-air
Flooded with light. I should have told thee this
And not conceal'd the theme of my long prayer.


But I was timid. Oh, my love was such
I scarce could name it! Trembling over-much
With too much ardour, I was moved at length
To mere mad utterance. In a blameful strength
I seiz'd thy hand, to scare thee, as of old
Dryads were scared; and calm and icy-cold
Thine answer came: "I pray thee, vex me not!"
And all that day 'twas winter on the wold.

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