Modern Love: XVIII

- 1828-1909
Here Jack and Tomare are paired with Moll and Meg.
Curved open to the river-reach is seen
A country merry-making on the green.
Fair space for signal shakings of the leg.
That little screwy fiddler from his booth,
Whence flows one nut-brown stream, commands the joints
Of all who caper here at various points.
I have known rustic revels in my youth:
The May-fly pleasures of a mind at ease.
An early goddess was a country lass:
A charmed Amphion-oak she tripped the grass.
What life was that I lived? The life of these?
Heaven keep them happy! Nature they seem near.
They must, I think, be wiser than I am;
They have the secret of the bull and lamb.
’Tis true that when we trace its source, ’tis beer.
 

More by George Meredith

Winter Heavens

Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive
Leap off the rim of earth across the dome.
It is a night to make the heavens our home
More than the nest whereto apace we strive.
Lengths down our road each fir-tree seems a hive,
In swarms outrushing from the golden comb.
They waken waves of thoughts that burst to foam:
The living throb in me, the dead revive.
Yon mantle clothes us: there, past mortal breath,
Life glistens on the river of the death.
It folds us, flesh and dust; and have we knelt,
Or never knelt, or eyed as kine the springs
Of radiance, the radiance enrings:
And this is the soul's haven to have felt.

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!
 

Related Poems

The Blade of Nostalgia

When fed into the crude, imaginary
machine we call the memory,

the brain's hard pictures
slide into the suggestive
waters of the counterfeit.

They come out glamorous and simplified,

even the violent ones,
even the ones that are snapshots of fear.

Maybe those costumed,
clung-to fragments are the first wedge

nostalgia drives into our dreaming.

Maybe our dreams are corrupted
right from the start: the weight

of apples in the blossoms overhead.

Even the two thin reddish dogs
nosing down the aisles of crippled trees,
digging in the weak shade

thrown by the first flowerers,
snuffle in the blackened leaves
for the scent of a dead year.

Childhood, first love, first loss of love--

the saying of their names
brings an ache to the teeth
like that of tears withheld.

What must happen now 
is that the small funerals
celebrated in the left-behind life

for their black exotica, their high relief,

their candles and withered wreaths,
must be allowed to pass through
into the sleeping world,

there to be preserved and honored
in the fullness and color of their forms,

their past lives their coffins.

Goodbye then to all innocent surprise
at mortality's panache,
and goodbye to the children fallen

ahead of me into the slow whirlpool
I conceal within myself, my death, 

into its snow-froth and the green-black
muscle of its persuasion.

The spirits of children
must look like the spirits of animals,
though in the adult human

the vacancy left by the child
probably darkens the surviving form.

The apples drop their blossom-shadows 
onto the still-brown grass.
Old selves, this is partly for you,

there at the edge of the woods
like a troop of boy soldiers.

You can go on living with the blade
of nostalgia in your hearts forever,
my pale darlings. It changes nothing.

Don't you recognize me? I admit 
I too am almost invisible now, almost.

Like everything else, I take on 
light and color from outside myself,
but it is old light, old paint.

The first shadows are supple ones,
school of gray glimpses, insubstantial.

In children, the quality of darkness
changes inside the sleeping mouth,

and the ghost of child-grime--
that infinite smudge of no color--

blows off into the afterlife.