Last Songs from Vagabondia

by Bliss Carman and Richard Hovey


 

TO AN IRIS


 

THOU art a golden iris
Under a purple wall,
Whereon the burning sunlight
And greening shadows fall.

What Summer night’s enchantment

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Took up the garden mould,
And with the falling star-dust
Refined it to such gold?

What wonder of white magic
Bidding thy soul aspire,

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Filled that luxurious body
With languor and with fire?

Wert thou not once a beauty
In Persia or Japan,
For whom, by toiling seaway

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Or dusty caravan,

Of old some lordly lover
Brought countless treasure home
Of gems and silk and attar,
To pleasure thee therefrom?

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Pale amber from the Baltic,
Soft rugs of Indian ply,
Stuffs from the looms of Bagdad
Stained with the Tyrian dye.

Were thy hands bright with henna,

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Thy lashes black with kohl,
Thy voice like silver water
Out of an earthen bowl?

Or was thy only tent-cloth
The blue Astartean night,

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Thy soul to beauty given,
Thy body to delight?

Wert thou not well desired,
And was not life a boon,
When Tanis held in Sidon

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Her Mysteries of the Moon?

There in her groves of ilex
The nightingales made ring
With the mad lyric chorus
Of youth and love and Spring,

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Were thou not glad to worship
With some blond Paphian boy,
Illumined by new knowledge
And intimate with joy?

And did not the Allmother

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Smile in the hushed dim light,
Hearing thy stifled laughter
Disturb her holy rite?

Ah, well thou must have served her
In wise and gracious ways,

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With more than vestal fervour,
A loved one all thy days!

And dost thou, then, revisit
Our borders at her will,
Child of the sultry rapture,

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Waif of the Orient still?

Because thy love was fearless
And fond and strong and free,
Art thou not her last witness
To our apostasy?

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Just at the height of summer,
The joy-days of the year,
She bids, for our reproval,
Thy radiance appear.

Oh, Iris, let thy spirit

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Enkindle our gross clay,
Bring back the lost earth-passion
For beauty to our day!

To-night, when down the marshes
The lilac half-lights fade,

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And on the rosy shore-line
No earthly spell is laid,

I would be thy new lover,
With the dark life renewed
By our great mother Tanis

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And thy solicitude.

Feel slowly change this vesture
Of mortal flesh and bone,
Transformed by her soft witch-work
To one more like thine own.

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Become but as the rain-wind
(Who am but dust indeed),
To slake thy velvet ardour
And soothe thy darling need.

To dream and waken with thee

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Under the night’s blue sail,
As the wild odours freshen,
Till the white stars grow pale.