The Mortal Lease

- 1862-1937
II.

Because our kiss is as the moon to draw
The mounting waters of that red-lit sea
That circles brain with sense, and bids us be
The playthings of an elemental law,
Shall we forego the deeper touch of awe
On love's extremest pinnacle, where we,
Winging the vistas of infinity,
Gigantic on the mist our shadows saw?

Shall kinship with the dim first-moving clod
Not draw the folded pinion from the soul,
And shall we not, by spirals vision-trod,
Reach upward to some still-retreating goal,
As earth, escaping from the night's control,
Drinks at the founts of morning like a god?

More by Edith Wharton

Life

Life, like a marble block, is given to all,
A blank, inchoate mass of years and days,
Whence one with ardent chisel swift essays
Some shape of strength or symmetry to call;
One shatters it in bits to mend a wall;
One in a craftier hand the chisel lays,
And one, to wake the mirth in Lesbia’s gaze,
Carves it apace in toys fantastical.

But least is he who, with enchanted eyes
Filled with high visions of fair shapes to be,
Muses which god he shall immortalize
In the proud Parian’s perpetuity,
Till twilight warns him from the punctual skies
That the night cometh wherein none shall see.

Belgium

Le Belgique ne regrette rien

Not with her ruined silver spires,
Not with her cities shamed and rent,
Perish the imperishable fires
That shape the homestead from the tent.

Wherever men are staunch and free,
There shall she keep her fearless state,
And homeless, to great nations be
The home of all that makes them great.

Chartres

I

Immense, august, like some Titanic bloom, 
   The mighty choir unfolds its lithic core, 
Petalled with panes of azure, gules and or, 
   Splendidly lambent in the Gothic gloom, 
And stamened with keen flamelets that illume 
   The pale high-altar. On the prayer-worn floor, 
By worshippers innumerous thronged of yore, 
   A few brown crones, familiars of the tomb, 
The stranded driftwood of Faith’s ebbing sea— 
   For these alone the finials fret the skies, 
The topmost bosses shake their blossoms free, 
   While from the triple portals, with grave eyes, 
Tranquil, and fixed upon eternity, 
   The cloud of witnesses still testifies. 
 

II 

The crimson panes like blood-drops stigmatise 
   The western floor. The aisles are mute and cold. 
A rigid fetich in her robe of gold, 
   The Virgin of the Pillar, with blank eyes, 
Enthroned beneath her votive canopies, 
   Gathers a meagre remnant to her fold. 
The rest is solitude; the church, grown old, 
   Stands stark and grey beneath the burning skies. 
Well-nigh again its mighty framework grows 
   To be a part of nature’s self, withdrawn 
From hot humanity’s impatient woes; 
   The floor is ridged like some rude mountain lawn, 
And in the east one giant window shows 
   The roseate coldness of an Alp at dawn.

Related Poems

Come Slowly—Eden (211)

Come slowly—Eden
Lips unused to Thee—
Bashful—sip thy Jessamines
As the fainting Bee—

Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums—
Counts his nectars—
Enters—and is lost in Balms.