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Edith Wharton's Verse, 1879-1919, from various journals.

Edith Wharton

  EDITH WHARTON’S VERSE, 1879-1919, from various journals.

  "The Parting Day." Atlantic Monthly 45 (Feb. 1880): 194.

  SOME busy hands have brought to light,

  And laid beneath my eye,

  The dress I wore that afternoon

  You came to say good-by.

  About it still there seems to cling

  Some fragrance unexpressed,

  The ghostly odor of the rose

  I wore upon my breast;

  And, subtler than all flower-scent,

  The sacred garment holds

  The memory of that parting day

  Close hidden in its folds.

  The rose is dead, and you are gone,

  But to the dress I wore

  The rose’s smell, the thought of you,

  Are wed forevermore.

  That day you came to say good-by

  (A month ago! It seems a year!)

  How calm I was! I met your eye,

  And in my own you saw no tear.

  You heard me laugh and talk and jest,

  And lightly grieve that you should go;

  You saw the rose upon my breast,

  But not the breaking heart below.

  And when you came and took my hand,

  It scarcely fluttered in your hold.

  Alas, you did not understand!

  For you were blind, and I was cold.

  And now you cannot see my tears,

  And now you cannot hear my cry.

  A month ago? Nay, years and years

  Have aged my heart since that good-by.

  "Aeropagus." Atlantic Monthly 45 (Mar. 1880): 335.

  WHERE suns chase suns in rhythmic dance,

  Where seeds are springing from the dust,

  Where mind sways mind with spirit-glance,

  High court is held, and law is just.

  No hill alone, a sovereign bar;

  Through space the fiery sparks are whirled

  That draw and cling, and shape a star,--

  That burn and cool, and form a world

  Whose hidden forces hear a voice

  That leads them by a perfect plan:

  "Obey," it cries, "with steadfast choice,

  Law shall complete what law began.

  "Refuse,--behold the broken arc,

  The sky of all its stars despoiled;

  The new germ smothered in the dark,

  The snow-pure soul with sin assoiled."

  The voice still saith, "While atoms weave

  Both world and soul for utmost joy,

  Who sins must suffer,--no reprieve;

  The law that quickens must destroy."

  "A Failure." Atlantic Monthly 45 (April 1880): 464-65.

  ( She Speaks.)

  I MEANT to be so strong and true!

  The world may smile and question, When?

  But what I might have been to you

  I cannot be to other men.

  Just one in twenty to the rest,

  And all in all to you alone,--

  This was my dream; perchance ’tis best

  That this, like other dreams, is flown.

  For you I should have been so kind,

  So prompt my spirit to control,

  To win fresh vigor for my mind,

  And purer beauties for my soul;

  Beneath your eye I might have grown

  To that divine, ideal height,

  Which, mating wholly with your own,

  Our equal spirits should unite.

  To others I am less than naught;

  To you I might have been so much,

  Could but your calm, discerning thought

  Have put my powers to the touch!

  Your love had made me doubly fair;

  Your wisdom made me thrice as wise,

  Lent clearer lustre to my hair,

  And read new meanings in my eyes.

  Ah, yes, to you I might have been

  That happy being, past recall,

  The slave, the helpmeet, and the queen,--

  All these in one, and one in all.

  But that which I had dreamed to do

  I learned too late was dreamed in vain,

  For what I might have been to you

  I cannot be to other men.

  "Patience." Atlantic Monthly 45 (April 1880): 548-49.

  PATIENCE and I have traveled hand in hand

  So many days that I have grown to trace

  The lines of sad, sweet beauty in her face,

  And all its veiled depths to understand.

  Not beautiful is she to eyes profane;

  Silent and unrevealed her holy charms;

  But, like a mother’s, her serene, strong arms

  Uphold my footsteps on the path of pain.

  I long to cry,--her soft voice whispers, "Nay!"

  I seek to fly, but she restrains my feet;

  In wisdom stern, yet in compassion sweet,

  She guides my helpless wanderings, day by day.

  O my Beloved, life’s golden visions fade,

  And one by one life’s phantom joys depart;

  They leave a sudden darkness in the heart,

  And patience fills their empty place instead.

  "Wants." Atlantic Monthly 45 (May 1880): 599.

  WE women want to many things;

  And first we call for happiness,--

  The careless boon the hour brings,

  The smile, the song, and the caress.

  And when the fancy fades, we cry,

  Nay, give us one on whom to spend

  Our heart’s desire! When Love goes by

  With folded wings, we seek a friend.

  And then our children come, to prove

  Our hearts but slumbered, and can wake;

  And when they go, we’re fain to love

  Some other woman’s for their sake.

  But when both love and friendship fail,

  We cry for duty, work to do;

  Some end to gain beyond the pale

  Of self, some height to journey to.

  And then, before our task is done,

  With sudden weariness oppressed,

  We leave the shining goal unwon

  And only ask for rest.

  "The Last Giustianini." Scribner’s Magazine 6 (Oct. 1889): 405-06. By Edith Wharton.

  O WIFE, wife, wife! As if the sacred name

  Could weary one with saying! Once again

  Laying against my brow your lips’ soft flame,

  Join with me, Sweetest, in love’s new refrain,

  Since the whole music of my late-found life

  Is that we call each other "husband--wife."

  And yet, stand back, and let your cloth of gold

  Straighten its sumptuous lines from waist to knee,

  And, flowing firmly outward, fold on fold,

  Invest your slim young form with majesty

  As when, in those calm bridal robes arrayed,

  You stood beside me, and I was afraid.

  I was afraid--O sweetness, whiteness, youth,

  Best gift of God, I feared you! I, indeed,

  For whom all womanhood has been, forsooth,

  Summed up in the sole Virgin of the Creed,

  I thought that day our Lady’s self stood there

  And bound herself to me with vow and prayer.

  Ah, yes, that day. I sat, remember well,

  Half-crook’d above a missal, and laid in

  The gold-leaf slowly; silence in my cell;

  The picture, Satan tempting Christ to sin

  Upon the mount’s blue, pointed pinnacle,

/>   The world outspread beneath as fair as hell--

  When suddenly they summoned me. I stood

  Abashed before the Abbot, who reclined

  Full-bellied in his chair beneath the rood,

  And roseate with having lately dined;

  And then--I standing there abashed--he said:

  "The house of Giustiniani all lie dead."

  It scarcely seemed to touch me (I had led

  A grated life so long) that oversea

  My kinsmen in their knighthood should lie dead,

  Nor that this sudden death should set me free,

  Me, the last Giustiniani--well, what then?

  A monk!--The Giustiniani had been men.

  So when the Abbot said: "The state decrees

  That you, the latest scion of the house

  Which died in vain for Venice overseas,

  Should be exempted from your sacred vows,

  And straightway, when you leave this cloistered place,

  Take wife, and add new honors to the race,"

  I hardly heard him--would have crept again

  To the warped missal--but he snatched a sword

  And girded me, and all the heart of men

  Rushed through me, as he laughed and hailed me lord,

  And, with my hand upon the hilt, I cried,

  "Viva San Marco!" like my kin who died.

  But, straightway, when, a new-made knight, I stood

  Beneath the bridal arch, and saw you come,

  A certain monkish warping of the blood

  Ran up and struck the man’s heart in me dumb;

  I breathed an Ave to our Lady’s grace,

  And did not dare to look upon your face.

  And when we swept the waters side by side,

  With timbrelled gladness clashing on the air,

  I trembled at your image in the tide,

  And warded off the devil with a prayer,

  Still seeming in a golden dream to move

  Through fiendish labyrinths of forbidden love.

  But when they left us, and we stood alone,

  I, the last Giustiniani, face to face

  With your unvisioned beauty, made my own

  In this, the last strange bridal of our race,

  And, looking up at last to meet your eyes,

  Saw in their depths the star of love arise,

  Ah, then the monk’s garb shrivelled from my heart,

  And left me man to face your womanhood.

  Without a prayer to keep our lips apart

  I turned about and kissed you where you stood,

  And gathering all the gladness of my life

  Into a new-found word, I called you "wife!"

  "Euryalus." Atlantic Monthly 64 (Dec. 1889): 761.

  UPWARD we went by fields of asphodel,

  Leaving Ortygia’s moat-bound walls below;

  By orchards, where the wind-flowers’ drifted snow

  Lay lightly heaped upon the turf’s light swell;

  By gardens, whence upon the wayside fell

  Jasmine and rose in April’s overflow;

  Till, winding up in Epipolae’s wide brow,

  We reached at last the lonely citadel.

  There, on the ruined rampart climbing high,

  We sat and dreamed among the browsing sheep,

  Until we heard the trumpet’s startled cry

  Waking a clang of arms about the keep,

  And seaward saw, with rapt foreboding eye,

  The sails of Athens whiten on the deep.

  Edith Wharton.

  "Happiness." Scribner’s Magazine 6 (Dec. 1889): 715. By Edith Wharton.

  THIS perfect love can find no words to say.

  What words are left, still sacred for our use,

  That have not suffered the sad world’s abuse,

  And figure forth a gladness dimmed and gray?

  Let us be silent still, since words convey

  But shadowed images, wherein we lose

  The fulness of love’s light; our lips refuse

  The fluent commonplace of yesterday.

  Then shall we hear beneath the brooding wing

  Of silence what abiding voices sleep,

  The primal notes of nature, that outring

  Man’s little noises, warble he or weep,

  The song the morning stars together sing,

  The sound of deep that calleth unto deep.

  "Botticelli’s Madonna in the Louvre." Scribner’s Magazine 9 (Jan. 1891): 74.

  WHAT strange presentiment, O Mother, lies

  On thy waste brow and sadly-folded lips,

  Forefeeling the Light’s terrible eclipse

  On Calvary, as if love made thee wise,

  And thou couldst read in those dear infant eyes

  The sorrow that beneath their smiling sleeps,

  And guess what bitter tears a mother weeps

  When the cross darkens her unclouded skies?

  Sad Lady, if some mother, passing thee,

  Should feel a throb of thy foreboding pain,

  And think--"My child at home clings so to me,

  With the same smile . . . and yet in vain, in vain,

  Since even this Jesus died on Calvary"--

  Say to her then: "He also rose again."

  "The Tomb of Ilaria Giunigi." Scribner’s Magazine 9 (Feb. 1891): 156. By Edith Wharton.

  ILARIA, thou that wert so fair and dear

  That death would fain disown thee, grief made wise

  With prophecy thy husband’s widowed eyes

  And bade him call the master’s art to rear

  Thy perfect image on the sculptured bier,

  With dreaming lids, hands laid in peaceful guise

  Beneath the breast that seems to fall and rise,

  And lips that at love’s call should answer, "Here!"

  First-born of the Renascence, when thy soul

  Cast the sweet robing of the flesh aside,

  Into these lovelier marble limbs it stole,

  Regenerate in art’s sunrise clear and wide

  As saints who, having kept faith’s raiment whole,

  Change it above for garments glorified.

  "The Sonnet." Century Magazine 43 (Nov. 1891): 113.

  PURE form, that like some chalice of old time

  Contain’st the liquid of the poet’s thought

  Within thy curving hollow, gem-enwrought

  With interwoven traceries of rhyme,

  While o’er thy brim the bubbling fancies climb,

  What thing am I, that undismayed have sought

  To pour my verse with trembling hand untaught

  Into a shape so small yet so sublime?

  Because perfection haunts the hearts of men,

  Because thy sacred chalice gathered up

  The wine of Petrarch, Shakspere, Shelley--then

  Receive these tears of failure as they drop

  (Sole vintage of my life), since I am fain

  To pour them in a consecrated cup.

  Edith Wharton.

  "Two Backgrounds." Scribner’s Magazine 12 (Nov. 1892): 550. By Edith Wharton.

  HERE by the ample river’s argent sweep,

  Bosomed in tilth and vintage to her walls,

  A tower-crowned Cybele in armored sleep

  The city lies, fat plenty in her halls,

  With calm, parochial spires that hold in fee

  The friendly gables clustered at their base,

  And, equipoised o’er tower and market-place,

  The Gothic minster’s winged immensity;

  And in that narrow burgh, with equal mood,

  Two placid hearts, to all life’s good resigned,

  Might, from the altar to the lych-gate, find

  Long years of peace and dreamless plenitude.

  Yon strange blue city crowns a scarped steep

  No mortal foot hath bloodlessly essayed;

  Dreams and illusions beacon from its keep,

  But at the gate a
n Angel bares his blade;

  And tales are told of those who thought to gain

  At dawn its ramparts; but when evening fell

  Far off they saw each fading pinnacle

  Lit with wild lightnings from the heaven of pain;

  Yet there two souls, whom life’s perversities

  Had mocked with want in plenty, tears in mirth,

  Might meet in dreams, ungarmented of earth,

  And drain Joy’s awful chalice to the lees.

  "Experience." Scribner’s Magazine 13 (Jan. 1893): 91. By Edith Wharton.

  LIKE Crusoe with the bootless gold we stand

  Upon the desert verge of death, and say:

  "What shall avail the woes of yesterday

  To buy to-morrow’s wisdom, in the land

  Whose currency is strange unto our hand?

  In life’s small market they have served to pay

  Some late-found rapture, could we but delay

  Till Time hath matched our means to our demand."

  But otherwise Fate wills it, for, behold,

  Our gathered strength of individual pain,

  When Time’s long alchemy hath made it gold,

  Dies with us--hoarded all these years in vain,

  Since those that might be heir to it the mould

  Renew, and coin themselves new griefs again.

  O, Death, we come full-handed to thy gate,

  Rich with strange burden of the mingled years,

  Gains and renunciations, mirth and tears,

  And love’s oblivion, and remembering hate,

  Nor know we what compulsion laid such freight

  Upon our souls--and shall our hopes and fears

  Buy nothing of thee, Death? Behold our wares,

  And sell us the one joy for which we wait.

  Had we lived longer, life had such for sale,

  With the last coin of sorrow purchased cheap,

  But now we stand before thy shadowy pale,

  And all our longings lie within thy keep--

  Death, can it be the years shall naught avail?

  "Not so," Death answered, "they shall purchase sleep."

  "Chartres." Scribner’s Magazine 14 (Sept. 1893): 287. By Edith Wharton.

  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