A Trois Temps.
When, lightly leaning on my arm, you glide,
Your feet motived to music, and the spell
Of these harmonious cadences across
Us woven, threadlike, lacing you to me,
My human needs are satisfied, no more
I ask of Time or Circumstance; the warmth
Of Summer at my heart makes every thought
A blossom, with the germ of richer life
Shut fast within it, and a rosy light
Lit by your nearness sets my eager soul
To shining like a lamp against the dark
Of other, poorer peoples’ happiness,
And every sense grown keener to demand
Its rights, and wise enough to know them, halts
Fullfed, and languorously cries “Content!”
I, too, have found my home, at last, ’tis here
Against your sheltering shoulder. All my world
So large, so limitless, so full of every good
Lies yet within the circle of your arm.
Then, where is Heaven? Wherefore do they seek
With lifted eyes afar, when all the time
It lies so near, all just within your arm.
My love for you is not an alien thing,
An after-thought of God’s giving to life
A rich addendum. You to me are not
A flower that I might pluck to glut mine eye
With its entrancing beauty, nor a gem
To set about with carven gold and wear
To wake the envy of a watching world,
Upon my breast. You are to me as air,
The means whereby I live. My need of you
Is just my need of life; it is the cry
Of Nature’s self, Instinctive as the beat
Of heart’s blood in my veins. You are my right
As power to breathe, and room to stand, and share
Of wind and sunshine, and the generous
Clear promises of midnight skies are mine,
By royal right of human heritage.
When you are here I am myself, complete,
No more, not added to, but just myself
As Nature planned — a finished man; and yet
To all the world I am but one among
The common throng about you, have no claim,
Beyond the empty courtesies of life,
Upon your time. To even hold you thus,
To tell you what I tell, to need your love
Is breaking of the law. Oh! one could laugh
At such a travesty — the law! the law! —
A gibbering skeleton that men have set
Upon an iron pedestal to fright
Their phantom consciences. —— The law! the law!
I am the law unto myself. I claim
By right of my humanity, by God’s own ——
Hush, oh, hush! See, I am here.
Remember nothing else; it is enough.
My hand is in your own. Let that suffice.
Oh! see, my hand is in your own, and let
The rich entreaty of the music sweep
Our spirits to as rhythmical a chord
As this our feet have found. Ah ! when your arm
Is round me, ’tis as though a rampart stood
About my soul, and fenced its rapture in.
Oh! only think of this.
Your voice infects my blood ; it is a balm
That anodynes that gaping wound — my life;
It lulls the sobbing of my passions as
The mother-hand that soothes, with magic touch,
An infant’s crying. I am glad to cry
Because it brings the healing of your voice.
But — Heaven help us! this we linger in,
This paradise of fools
Yet still a paradise
And still a fool’s. Why should I bear it? Why?
I can endure no more. This one sweet span,
This little moment, plucked from out the great
Blank desert of my days, this tiny spark
Of time that burns so quickly to its dark
Effacement, this one happy moment when
The fetish law allows me thus to hold
You in my arms, and thus to clasp your hand,
And thus to draw your slender body close
Until I feel the beating of the heart
That times my own, and mark the mystery
Of half-hid shoulders gleaming amid lace,
And little wayward curls blown here and there
About the milk-white curving of your throat,
This little moment, trembling with the sheer
Delight of being — this is all, is all
That I may dare to claim from out your life,
This momentary dance, when, to the beat
Of low, impassioned music, and the hum
Of vapid voices, and the silken sweep
Of trailing gowns, I hold you lightly thus
And school my face to vacancy, and train
My heart’s-cry to the level tones required
From bondslaves of the law, then yield you up
To other arms, to those that — never more!
I shall not give you up. Before them all,
This gaping throng, the man whose name you bear,
And every other man who walks the earth,
I’ll claim mine own. When once this waltz is done
I’ll keep you in my arms — before them all —
And kiss you on the lips, and cry aloud —
“This woman is my own, is mine, is mine!”
And kiss your lips again, and holding you
Here close against my breast, defy them all,
And bid them come and take you. Ay, and fight
Them singly, or together press and drive
And strike and slay them with this hand of mine
That hath not strength of ten right hands for nought!
And then — before them all — I’ll bear you off,
Out from the grinning throng, the lights, the hum
Of vapid voices, out into the dim,
Mysterious starlight, clean with solitude
And merciful with silence. I am sick —
Oh! sick and senseless with this beating down,
And hemming in, and choking back of all
The sources of my life. Why was I made
A giant among men, with strength, and wealth,
And every good a sneering Fate could pour
From brimming hands, but one — the only one —
A slip of womanhood with burnished hair
And frightened eyes, and little hands that cling
In vain entreaty — yes — in vain, I said.
No ! No ! I am not drunk, save with excess
Of abstinence, a pale and fumeless wine !
Too long I have been sane, and let my life
Ooze out at every moment and enrich
The swollen flood of Hades with the drops
Of my vicarious anguish. Let me now
Be mad for preference. Ay! be mad, and let
The savage in me break his chains, and send
His war-cry pealing through this feeble din,
And fight as savages can fight, and win,
For — little trembling one — I’ll fight to win
Because I fight for you —
Oh hush! oh hush! My life is in your hand,
Do not destroy it idly. Only think
One moment what it means to me who fight
Always, alone, unaided. Will you crash
My soul to free my body? Lift the gyves
From wrist to spirit and endue a grief
That time may slay, with immortality?
When, years ago, I blindly gave my life
Into another’s keeping, I withheld
No vestige of my honour. It is his
Whose name I hear. Condemn me not to stain
A life that holds itself so proud and high.
Through all the madness of this love of ours
Which, like a flood, has whelmed my very soul
In dark, unfathomed waters, I have held —
As drowning wretches lift above the waves
A treasure that they hold more dear than life —
Unstained, his honour. ’Tis an empty thing
To save for him from out the tide that swept
My heart and all its passions to your feet,
Yet his, and saved, God knows at what a cost !
And would you make, by one mad, reckless word,
This dear-bought relic of my shattered joy
A byword for the world’s base feet to tread
And trample into filthiness ——
Mere sophistry !
Since he has never held your love, what use
To cherish so its shadow? As we stand
We all are fed with shadows, for his share
The husks of honour, yours the phantom fruit
That duty bears upon its thorny boughs,
And mine, the poisoned bread of jealousy;
And at this goodly feast we sit, like ghouls,
And fatten our despair. But now no more
Shall I fold hands and say my humble grace
Before such meat. Think not of honour, dear,
What is it, weighed beside our love —
But you forget that he — he also loves,
Unconscious of his loss. He loves me, too,
And he at least is happy. Must we then
Build up our joy upon the wreck of his?
Is this the lore our love reveals to us?
Vain dream! We might as surely hope to snatch,
With greedy fingers, from the murky cloud,
The vaporous beauty of the rainbow arch
As pluck our happiness from deeds like this.
Besides, oh! dearest, have you never felt
That this dear love of ours is as the risen
Transfigured soul of our deep-buried selves,
And only lives because of Death’s release,
The death of earthly satisfactions and ——
I almost could believe you do not know
What loving means ! Yet, no ! Forgive me, dear.
Some other time I’ll follow you, and feel
What you would have me feel, but now my soul,
And mind, and spirit are grown sick and numb,
And I am nothing but a man, not dead,
Nor risen, nor transfigured — just a man
Alive and loving you, whose pulses beat
Loud drums of revolution, whose hot blood
Is surging through his veins like liquid fire,
Whose heart is thundering out with every throb
The death-knell of delay. In vain you hold
His happiness before mine eyes a thing
Fenced round and sacred. Let him feel the edge
Of this keen tooth that gnaws into my life.
Because he loves you is no reason why
My hand should stay from smiting, though ’tis true
That if he had not loved you well his life
Had long ago paid forfeit. I’d have stamped
The breath from out his body, as I tread
Upon a noxious insect, but that he
Has wit to love you as becomes a man.
No! do not turn away, nor hide your eyes.
I still am I, though roused at last to feel
My strength and use ——
I have a child ——
His child ——
My child — a little girl, so small, so sweet,
Just four years old, with little, clustering curls
The colour of my own, and tiny hands
That lie upon my heartstrings. Part of me —
The purer part she is. The lovely soul
Is stainless; and — at night — I pray — no spot
May ever touch her — for her sake I ask,
For her — my little child ——
* * * *
The waltz is over! ’Twas a dance of death!
I see your husband waiting. Go to him!
Agnes L. Storrie. Poems, J. W. Kettlewell, Sydney, 1909, pages 75-85
gyve = a U-shaped piece of metal secured with a metal pin or bolt across the opening, usually used to shackle the leg of a prisoner or slave