A Lover's Litanies - Ninth Litany. Lilium inter Spinas.

A poem by Eric Mackay


Dearest and best of maidens, whom the Fates
have dower'd with beauty, whom the glory-gates
Have shown so splendid in my waking sight,
Is't well, thou syren! thus to haunt the night
And grant no mercy, none from week to week
All through the year? Is't well my soul to seek
And shun my body? Is't throughout ordain'd
That thou shouldst spurn a love so tender-meek?


It is my joy to serve thee, 'tis my pride
To own my follies, though anew denied
The chance of wisdom, and for this, who knows?
I shall be counted, ere the season's close,
A time-perverter. Yes! I shall be shamed,
And frown'd upon, and day by day proclaim'd
A foe to virtue, though, in seeking thee
I seek the goal that Virtue's self hath named.


O Lily mine! O Lily tipp'd with gold
And welkin-eyed for angels to behold
When down on earth! Is't well to stand apart
And gaze at me and gently break my heart
Without one word? Is't well to seem alwày
So grieved to see me, when, at fall of day,
Thou dost accept the reverence of mine eyes,
But not the homage that my lips would pay?


Oh, give me back again, at midnight hour,
As in the circuit of that starlit bower,
The right to talk with thee, and be thy friend,--
The right, in some wild way, to make an end
Of my submission, or to re-bestow
My troth on thee,--despite the overthrow
Of all my dreams, that were my constant care,
Though less to thee than flakes of alien snow.


I will unveil my meanings one by one,
And tell thee why the bird that loves the sun
Loves not the moon, though conscious of her fame.
For he's the soul of truth, in his acclaim,
And knows not treason! And of like intent
Are all my yearnings, too, when I lament.
And, though I say it, there's no troubadour
Has lov'd as I, since Cupid's bow was bent.


I have been wed in sleep, and thou hast been
Mine own true bride,--the swooning summer-queen
Of my heart-throbs. I have been wed in jest!
I have been taken wildly to thy breast,
And then repell'd, and made to feel the ire
Of eager eyes that have the strange desire
To rack my soul, a-tremble in the dark,
But not the will to aid me to aspire.


I should have died the instant that I heard
Thy whisper'd vow in slumber,--when a word
Made me thy master, for I did receive
Thy full surrender, and I'll not believe
That all was false; or that my dreaming-power
Was given for nought. The Future may devour
The facts of earth, but not its phantasies,
And not the dreams we dream from hour to hour.


Oh, thou'lt confess that love from man to maid
Is more than kingdoms,--more than light and shade
In sky-built gardens where the minstrels dwell,
And more than ransom from the bonds of Hell.
Thou wilt, I say, admit the truth of this,
And half relent that, shrinking from a kiss,
Thou didst consign me to mine own disdain,
Athwart the raptures of a vision'd bliss.


I'll seek no joy that is not link'd with thine,
No touch of hope, no taste of holy wine,
And, after death, no home in any star
That is not shared by thee, supreme, afar,
As here thou'rt first and foremost of all things!
Glory is thine and gladness and the wings
That wait on thought when, in thy spirit-sway,
Thou dost invest a realm unknown to kings.


I will accept of thee a poison-bowl
And drink the dregs thereof,--aye! to the soul,--
And sound thy praises with my latest breath!
I was a pilgrim bound for Nazareth,
But when I knew thee, when I touched thy hand,
I changed my purpose; and to-day I stand
Thine amorous vassal, though denounced afresh
And warn'd away, unkiss'd, from Edenland.


O flower unequall'd here from morn to morn,
Is't well, bethink thee, with a rose's thorn
To deck thyself, thou lily! and to seem
So irresponsive to my passion-dream?
Is't a caprice of thine to look so proud,
And so severe, athwart the shining cloud
Of thy long hair? And shall I never learn
How least to grieve thee when my vows are vow'd?


The full perfection of thy face is such
That, like a child's, it seems to know the touch
Of some glad hour that God has smiled upon.
There is a whiteness whiter than the swan,
A singing sweeter than the linnet's note.
But there is nothing whiter than thy throat,
And nothing sweeter than thy tender voice
When, love-attuned, it skyward seems to float.


Lily and rose in one! To find thy peer
Exceeds belief, all through the varying year,
For chance thereof, and hope thereof, is none.
There comes no rival to the rising sun,
And none to thee!--no rival to the moon
That sets in Venice on the far lagoon,
And none to thee, thou marvel of the months,
That art the cynosure of night and noon!


Yes, I will hope. I will not cease to turn
My thoughts to thee, and cry to thee, and yearn
As one in Hell may lift enamour'd eyes
To some sweet soul beyond the central skies
Whose face has slain him! For 'tis true, I swear:
I have been murder'd by thy golden hair,
And by the brightness of those fringèd orbs
That are at once my joy and my despair.


Winter is wild; but spring will come again;
For there's compunction in the fever-pain
That earth endures when, clamorous down the steep,
The wind out-blows the curse it cannot keep.
And so, belike, thy scorn of me may change
To something fairer than the fated range
Of dole, and doubt, and pity, and reproof;
And then my sighs may cease to seem so strange.


For thou and I will meet and not be foes,
E'en as the rue may stand beside the rose
And not affront it,--as a lonely tree
May guard a shrine and not upon the lea
Be deem'd obtrusive,--as an errant knight
May serve the sovereign of his soul's delight
And not, thereby, be deem'd of less account
Than he who keeps her daily in his sight.


Reject me not that in the world of men,
Among the wielders of the sword and pen
I have, as 'twere, detractors by the score,--
Reject me not for faults that I deplore
And fain would alter,--though, if I were wise,
I'd blunt the edge thereof in some disguise
Approved of thee! For I've a kind of hope
That we'll be friends again ere summer dies.


If this be true I'll greet thee with such fire
That thou wilt throb thereat, as throbs a lyre,
And give thine answer, too, without restraint,
And neither frown at me nor fear a taint
In my much zeal, that knows not any pause
But, night and day, is constant to the laws
Of its own making, and is fain to prove
How leagued it is throughout to Honor's cause.


I will conceal from thee no thought of mine.
All will be clear as signing of a sign
On marriage-scrips; and, though I tell thee so,
The seas and streams of earth shall cease to flow
Ere thou shalt find, in this world or the next,
A love so proud, a faith so firmly sex'd,
As this of mine. For thou'rt the polar star
To which I turn as minstrel to his text.


But woe's the hour! My heart is wounded sore,
And soon may cease to take, as heretofore,
Such keen delight in tears that comfort not,
But evermore do seem to leave a blot
On sorrow's teaching! Shall I muse thereon
One season more, till hope and faith be gone?
Or must I look for comfort up in Heaven
And then be slain by thee as night by dawn?

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