Modern Love: XXXIII

George Meredith - 1828-1909
‘In Paris, at the Louvre, there have I seen
The sumptuously-feathered angel pierce
Prone Lucifer, descending. Looked he fierce,
Showing the fight a fair one? Too serene!
The young Pharsalians did not disarray
Less willingly their locks of floating silk:
That suckling mouth of his, upon the milk
Of heaven might still be feasting through the fray.
Oh, Raphael! when men the Fiend do fight,
They conquer not upon such easy terms.
Half serpent in the struggle grown these worms.
And does he grow half human, all is right.’
This to my Lady in a distant spot,
Upon the theme: ‘While mind is mastering clay,
Gross clay invades it.’ If the spy you play,
My wife, read this! Strange love talk, is it not?

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 Eternal City

Sometimes I picture your face on money. 

But this isn’t Rome, where they know
what money’s worth, which is almost 

the paper it’s printed on (a kind of art), 

and where I stared what seemed eternity
into a guidebook, lost, side-skipping

pigeon past, motorbikes, and swarms 

of gypsy tykes excavating the ruins
of tourists’ pockets, until I stumbled

onto the Temple of the Golden Arches-

McDonald’s!- and across the piazza, 
the Pantheon.... Inside, third niche left, 

alone a moment with the Ossa et cineres

of Raphael, I thought of you; “put it all
in the poem” was your advice so, okay, 

here you are! – among the camcorders, 

cell phones, retired gods, and a pair of
kings – rumpled, broke, and amused 

as you were the Green Mountain morning

you asked: among us who was writing 
for posterity?, and one of us knew. Bill, 

I haven’t paid you your due, but need

another favor: could you please undie
so I can buy you the glass of good

rosso in the Eternal City I owe you? 



               William Matthews, poet and teacher (1942 – 1997)