Modern Love: XVII

- 1828-1909
At dinner, she is hostess, I am host.
Went the feast ever cheerfuller? She keeps
The Topic over intellectual deeps
In buoyancy afloat. They see no ghost.
With sparkling surface-eyes we ply the ball:
It is in truth a most contagious game:
‘Hiding the skeleton,’ shall be its name.
Such play as this, the devils might appal!
But here’s the greater wonder; in that we
Enamoured of an acting naught can tire,
Each other, like true hypocrites, admire; 
Warm-lighted looks, Love’s ephemoerioe,
Shoot gaily o’er the dishes and the wine.
We waken envy of our happy lot.
Fast, sweet, and golden, shows the marriage-knot.
Dear guests, you now have seen Love’s corpse-light shine.
 

Modern Love: II

It ended, and the morrow brought the task.
Her eyes were guilty gates, that let him in
By shutting all too zealous for their sin:
Each sucked a secret, and each wore a mask.
But, oh, the bitter taste her beauty had!
Her sickened as at breath of poison-flowers:
A languid humour stole among the hours,
And if their smiles encountered, he went mad,
And raged, deep inward, till the light was brown
Before his vision, and the world forgot,
Looked wicked as some old dull murder-spot.
A star with lurid beams, she seemed to crown
The pit of infamy: and then again
He fainted on his vengefulness, and strove
To ape the magnanimity of love,
And smote himself, a shuddering heap of pain.
 

Modern Love: IV

All other joys of life he strove to warm,
And magnify, and catch them to his lip:
But they had suffered shipwreck with the ship,
And gazed upon him sallow from the storm.
Or if Delusion came, ’t was but to show
The coming minute mock the one that went.
Cold as a mountain in its star-pitched tent,
Stood high Philosophy, less friend than foe:
Whom self-caged Passion, from its prison-bars,
Is always watching with a wondering hate.
Not till the fire is dying in the grate,
Look we for any kinship with the stars.
Oh, wisdom never comes when it is gold,
And the great price we pay for it full worth:
We have it only when we are half earth.
Little avails that coinage to the old!
 

Modern Love: V

A message from her set his brain aflame.
A world of household matters filled her mind,
Wherein he saw hypocrisy designed:
She treated him as something that is tame,
And but at other provocation bites.
Familiar was her shoulder in the glass,
Through that dark rain: yet it may come to pass
That a changed eye finds such familiar sights
More keenly tempting than new loveliness.
The ‘What has been’ a moment seemed his own:
The splendours, mysteries, dearer because known,
Nor less divine: Love’s inmost sacredness,
Called to him, ‘Come!’—In his restraining start,
Eyes nurtured to be looked at, scarce could see
A wave of the great waves of Destiny
Convulsed at a checked impulse of the heart.
 

Related Poems

Deer Ode, Tangled & Horned

Always the sun first
then the doe sunning, the stag
running toward the doe, wherein

this ramshackle causality
a taste for flesh buds
at birth—when mouth clasps

to breast—quieting
the gut’s ache, not hunger
for touch. If you don’t believe

touch is a famine
fed by need, in another
scene, see an orphaned fawn

bow before a block of salt
crowned on the lone stump
in a clearing where sudden

wind has instructed him
in a lick’s dripping scent.
Right. Now, who then

betrays his permanence
but the huntsmen—
himself? Who then but palette—

appetite’s kissing cousin, driven
only by science of nature—
O Desire, you mother—

You Adam
of the valley, crouched
with a catcher’s mitt

always signaling for the quince
to roll downhill. You’re not much
of a nurturer from behind

this rifle scope,
especially on nights when
I am Lot’s hermaphrodite wife—

all pillar
& looking back
on my downfall from the future

which is surely paradise
or purgatory, depending
on how I decipher my scripture, O

Desire, if you’re a Catholic’s
Tree of Life I must be Buddhist-
free. I’m not interested

in you for the progeny
so much as your skyscraping—
your telephone poles—miraculous,

glazed, glistening with December’s
beckoning slick—crisscrossed
with tiny horizontal beams, wired-

horizon & morning dew,
forming, Dear Sire,
your anointing—this

intimately connected rosary
I can’t help but prick
my tongue to.