From the Book of Valentines

by Bliss Carman


 

A LETTER FROM LESBOS


 

More beloved than ever yet was mortal! 
Oh, but doubt not, lover, I do love thee! 
When he wrote these words, bitter and lonely 
Was that tender heart in wintry Lesbos. 
Kindly gods but speed my journey thither, 
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(How the wind burns from the scorching desert, 
Through the scarlet beds of scentless blossom!) 
And make fortunate that swift homecoming! 
For I fret in this Egyptian exile, 
Too long parted, sickening for the home-wind 
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And the first white gleam of Mitylene.

Blessed words to brave the stormy sea-way!
In this stifling city's sultry languor
I must now with joy and tears and longing, 
Now the hundredth time at least re-read them:

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It is the bitter season of the year; 
The mournful-piping sea-wind is abroad 
With driving snow and battle in the air, 
Shaking the stubborn rooftree gust by gust; 
And under the frost-gray skies without a sun 
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Cold desolation wraps the wintry world.

And I, my Gorgo, keep the fireside here, 
Chill-hearted, brooding, visited by doubt, 
Wondering how Demeter or wise Pan 
Will work the resurrection of the spring,

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Serene and punctual at the appointed time, 
With the warm sun, the swallows at the eaves, 
The slant of rain upon the purple hill,
The flame-like crocus by the garden wall, 
The light, the hope, the gladness all returned 
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With maidens singing the Adonis song!
But ah, more doubtful sad and full of fear 
There comes to me, disconsolate and lone, 
The thought of thee, my Gorgo, lovelier 
Than any premonition of the spring.
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I seem to see that radiant smile once more, 
The heaven-blue eyes, the crocus-golden hair, 
The rose-pink beauty passionate and tall, 
Dear beyond words and daring with desire, 
For which thy lover would fling life away 
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And traffic the last legacy of time.

Ah, Gorgo, too long absent, well I know 
The sun will shine again and spring come back 
Her ancient glorious golden-flowered way, 
And gladness visit the green earth once more, 

45

But where in all that wonder wilt thou be, 
The very soul and spirit of the spring?

If the high gods in that triumphant time 
Have calendared no day for thee to come 
Light-hearted to this doorway as of old, 

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Unmoved I shall behold their pomps go by,— 
The painted seasons in their pageantry, 
The silvery processions of the moon, 
And all the infinite ardours unsubdued, 
Pass with the wind replenishing the earth. 

55

Incredulous forever I must live, 
And, once thy lover, without joy behold 
The gradual uncounted years go by, 
Sharing the bitterness of all things made.

Ah, not thus! My hot tears sweet and tender,

60
And the storm within this heaving bosom,
Could he see, would tell him what the truth is,—
How the heart of Gorgo breaks to reach him,
And her arms are weak with empty waiting
Through this long monotony of summer.
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Gentle spirit, grieve not so, for love's sake!
How he raves beyond the touch of reason:

O heart of mine, be hardier for ills, 
Since thou hast shared the sorrows of the gods 
And been partaker of their destiny.

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Have I not known the bitterness that sighed 
In mournful grief upon the river marge, 
And once obscured the lonely shining sun, 
When Syrinx and when Daphne fled away? 
Not otherwise in sorrow did I fare 

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Whom Gorgo, loveliest of mortals, loved, 
And whose own folly that same Gorgo lost.

O lovers, hear me! Be not lax in love, 
Nor let the loved one from you for a day. 
For time that is the enemy of love, 

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And change that is the constant foe of man, 
But wait the turn of opportunity 
To fret the delicate fabric of our life
With doubt and slow forgetfulness and grief, 
Till he who was a lover once goes forth 

85

A friendless soul to front the joyless years, 
A brooding uncompanioned wanderer 
Beneath the silent and majestic stars.

Now what folly waits on brooding passion! 
Truly not in solitude do mortals 

90

Reach the height and nobleness of heroes. 
Can it be so swiftly fades remembrance? 
Oh, my fond heart prompt him! This is better:

The red flower of the fire is on the hearth, 
The white flower of the foam is on the sea. 

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The golden marshes and the tawny dunes 
Are gleaming white with snow and flushed with rose 
Where the pure level wintry sunlight falls. 
In the rose-garden, crimsoning each bough 
Against the purple boulders in the wall,
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Shine the rose-berries careless of the cold. 
While down along the margin of the sea, 
Just where the grey beach melts to greener grey, 
With mounting wavering combing plunge and charge, 
The towering breakers crumble in to shore.
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Now from that quiet picture of the eye,
Hark to the trampling thunder and long boom,
The lone unscansioned and mysterious rote
Whose cadence marked the building of the world,
The old reverberant music of the sea!

110

Ah, to what ghostly piping of strange flutes 
Strays in lost loveliness Persephone, 
Heavy at heart, with trouble in her eyes, 
From her deep-bosomed mother far away, 
In the pale garden of Aidoneus now? 
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And oh, what delicate piping holds thee, too,
My Kore of the beauteous golden head?
What voice, what luring laughter bid thee stay 
So long from thine own lover and so far? 
Who touches with soft words thy tender heart, 
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In some bright foreign city far from here, 
My unforgotten Gorgo beautiful?

Doubting still? O bitterest of absence
That the moth of doubt should mar the texture
And fine tissue of the spirit's garment,

125
The one garb of beauty which the soul wears,—
Love, the frailest, costliest of fabrics!
Ah, doubt not! O lover, lover, lover,
Who first taught the childlike heart of mortals
This most false and evil worldly wisdom?
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Blighting as a frost on budded aloes,
How it blackens love, the golden blossom!
Would that I could cherish him this instant,
And dissolve that aching wintry passion
In the warmth of this impatient bosom!
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By what cruel fate must I be banished
From his lonely bed? In lovely Lesbos 
All my heart is, with its passionate longing. 
O too piteous is the lot of women:

In the long night I lie awake for hours 

140
Or sleep the sleep of dreamers without rest. 
For in my soul there is discouragement, 
And cold remorse lays hands upon my heart. 
Now thou art gone, the grey world has no joy, 
But bleak and bitter is the wind of life,
145
Cutting this timid traveller to the bone.

Not all the gods can ever give me peace,
Nor their forgiveness make me glad again,
For I have sinned against my own great soul
And cherished far too little thy great love.

150
Brave was thy spirit, glad and beautiful,
Nor ever faltered nor was faint of heart
In the fair splendid path of thy desire.
Even as I speak there comes a touch of shame,
Like a friend's hand upon my shoulder laid, 
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To think such moody and unmanly words 
Could ever pass the mouth thy mouth has pressed.

Remembrance wakes. I hear the long far call 
To fortitude and courage in the night 
From my companions of the mighty past, 

160

All the heroic lovers of the world.

Hast thou not had a sudden thought of me, 
Unanxious, gay and tender with desire, 
O thou beloved more than all mortal things? 
For in my heart there was a sudden sense 

165
Just now with presage of returning joy, 
As when the wood-flowers waken to the sun 
And all their lovely ardours rearise, 
Or when the sinking tide from utmost ebb 
With one long sob summons his might once more.
170

Out of this winter will put forth one day
The incommunicable germ of spring,
The magic fervour that makes all things new,
When all the golden season will be glad
With soft south winds and birds and woodland flowers
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And the shrill marshy music of the frogs,
Piping a chorus to their father Pan.
Then thou and I shall walk the earth once more
Delirious with each other as of old,
And the soft madness lead us far away
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By meadowy roads and through the lilac hills
To our own province in the lands of love,—
My new-found Gorgo, heart-throb of the spring.

Heart of me! Ah, Cyprian deal gently!
Soon, Oh soon, restore me to my lover,

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That I may repair this outworn habit,
And reclothe him with thy golden glory,
Scarlet circumstance and purple splendour,—
State and air and pride of the immortals, 
Which these mortal men, by our devising 
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And thy favour, wear—with fleeting rapture! 
Fiercer blow, thou fervour of the desert! 
Northward, northward, you hot winds of Nilus, 
More consuming than a smelter's furnace! 
You who do the will of alien Isis, 
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To this heart you cannot be unfriendly, 
If I once may loose the sail for Lesbos, 
And along the green and foaming sea-track 
Scud before you, light as any swallow 
Flashing down the long blue slope of springtime.
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O ye home-gods, free me to my lover!