Lines to a Nasturtium

Anne Spencer - 1882-1975
        A lover muses 

Flame-flower, Day-torch, Mauna Loa,
I saw a daring bee, today, pause, and soar,
Into your flaming heart;
Then did I hear crisp crinkled laughter
As the furies after tore him apart?
A bird, next, small and humming,
Looked into your startled depths and fled...
Surely, some dread sight, and dafter
Than human eyes as mine can see,
Set the stricken air waves drumming
In his flight.

Day-torch, Flame-flower, cool-hot Beauty,
I cannot see, I cannot hear your fluty
Voice lure your loving swain,
But I know one other to whom you are in beauty
Born in vain;
Hair like the setting sun,
Her eyes a rising star,
Motions gracious as reeds by Babylon, bar
All your competing;
Hands like, how like, brown lilies sweet,
Cloth of gold were fair enough to touch her feet...
Ah, how the senses flood at my repeating,
As once in her fire-lit heart I felt the furies
Beating, beating.

More by Anne Spencer

At the Carnival

Gay little Girl-of-the-Diving-Tank,
I desire a name for you,
Nice, as a right glove fits;
For you—who amid the malodorous
Mechanics of this unlovely thing,
Are darling of spirit and form.
I know you—a glance, and what you are
Sits-by-the-fire in my heart.
My Limousine-Lady knows you, or
Why does the slant-envy of her eye mark
Your straight air and radiant inclusive smile?
Guilt pins a fig-leaf; Innocence is its own adorning.
The bull-necked man knows you—this first time
His itching flesh sees form divine and vibrant health
And thinks not of his avocation.
I came incuriously—
Set on no diversion save that my mind
Might safely nurse its brood of misdeeds
In the presence of a blind crowd.
The color of life was gray.
Everywhere the setting seemed right
For my mood. 
Here the sausage and garlic booth
Sent unholy incense skyward;
There a quivering female-thing
Gestured assignations, and lied
To call it dancing;
There, too, were games of chance
With chances for none;
But oh! Girl-of-the-Tank, at last!
Gleaming Girl, how intimately pure and free
The gaze you send the crowd,
As though you know the dearth of beauty
In its sordid life.
We need you—my Limousine-Lady,
The bull-necked man and I.
Seeing you here brave and water-clean,
Leaven for the heavy ones of earth,
I am swift to feel that what makes
The plodder glad is good; and
Whatever is good is God.
The wonder is that you are here;
I have seen the queer in queer places,
But never before a heaven-fed
Naiad of the Carnival-Tank!
Little Diver, Destiny for you,
Like as for me, is shod in silence;
Years may seep into your soul
The bacilli of the usual and the expedient;
I implore Neptune to claim his child to-day!

Translation

We trekked into a far country,
My friend and I.
Our deeper content was never spoken,
But each knew all the other said.
He told me how calm his soul was laid
By the lack of anvil and strife.
"The wooing kestrel," I said, "mutes his mating-note
To please the harmony of this sweet silence."
And when at the day's end
We laid tired bodies 'gainst
The loose warm sands,
And the air fleeced its particles for a coverlet;
When star after star came out
To guard their lovers in oblivion—
My soul so leapt that my evening prayer
Stole my morning song!

Before the Feast of Shushan

Garden of Shushan!	
After Eden, all terrace, pool, and flower recollect thee:	
Ye weavers in saffron and haze and Tyrian purple,	
Tell yet what range in color wakes the eye;	
Sorcerer, release the dreams born here when	        
Drowsy, shifting palm-shade enspells the brain;	
And sound! ye with harp and flute ne'er essay	
Before these star-noted birds escaped from paradise awhile to	
Stir all dark, and dear, and passionate desire, till mine	
Arms go out to be mocked by the softly kissing body of the wind—	        
Slave, send Vashti to her King!	
 
The fiery wattles of the sun startle into flame	
The marbled towers of Shushan:	
So at each day's wane, two peers—the one in	
Heaven, the other on earth—welcome with their	        
Splendor the peerless beauty of the Queen.	
 
Cushioned at the Queen's feet and upon her knee	
Finding glory for mine head,—still, nearly shamed	
Am I, the King, to bend and kiss with sharp	
Breath the olive-pink of sandaled toes between;	        
Or lift me high to the magnet of a gaze, dusky,	
Like the pool when but the moon-ray strikes to its depth;	
Or closer press to crush a grape 'gainst lips redder	
Than the grape, a rose in the night of her hair;	
Then—Sharon's Rose in my arms.	        
 
And I am hard to force the petals wide;	
And you are fast to suffer and be sad.	
Is any prophet come to teach a new thing	
Now in a more apt time?	
Have him 'maze how you say love is sacrament;	        
How says Vashti, love is both bread and wine;	
How to the altar may not come to break and drink,	
Hulky flesh nor fleshly spirit!	
 
I, thy lord, like not manna for meat as a Judahn;	
I, thy master, drink, and red wine, plenty, and when	        
I thirst. Eat meat, and full, when I hunger.	
I, thy King, teach you and leave you, when I list.	
No woman in all Persia sets out strange action	
To confuse Persia's lord—	
Love is but desire and thy purpose fulfillment;	        
I, thy King, so say!

Related Poems

Nothing Stays Put

In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985

The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes--a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom--
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics--
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?

The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it. The green-
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor's buttons. But it isn't the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's

a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother's garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.

But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above--
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we're 
made of, is motion.