The Book of the Rose

by Charles G.D. Roberts


 

ON THE UPPER DECK


 

As the will of last year's wind,
As the drift of the morrow's rain,
As the goal of the falling star,
As the treason sinned in vain,
As the bow that shines and is gone,
5
  As the night wind cry heard no more—
Is the way of the woman's meaning
Beyond man's eldest lore.

 

HE.

 

This hour to me is like a rose just open,
The wonder of its golden heart not yet
10
Fully revealed. So long I've waited for it,
Prefigured it in dream, and scourged my hope
With fear lest jealous fortune should deny,
That now I hardly dare—Am I awake?
Can it be true I have you here beside me?
15
Can it be true I have you here alone—
Most wonderfully alone among these strangers
Who seem to me like senseless shapes of air?—
The throb of the great engines, the obscure
Hiss of the water past our speeding hull
20
Seem to enfold and press you closer to me.
No, do not move! Alone although we be,
I dare not touch your hand; your gown's dear hem
I will not touch lest I should break my dream
And just an empty deck-chair mock my longing.
25
But (for the beggar may in dreams be king),
Oh, let your eyes but touch me, let my spirit
But drink, but drain, but bathe in their deep light,
And slake its cherished anguish. Look at me!

 

SHE.

 

Look how the water's waiting holds the sky!
30
I think I never saw the Sound so still.
That wash of beryl green, that melting violet,
That fine rose-amber veiling deeps of glory
Our eyes could not endure—how each is doubled,
Lest we should miss some marvel of strange tone,
35
And be forever poor. Such beauty seems
To cry like violins. Hush, and you'll hear it.
Don't look at me when God is at his miracles.

 

HE.

 

He topped all miracle in making you.
Your mouth, your throat, your eyes, your hands, your hair—
40
To look at these is harps within my soul,
The music of the stars at Time's first morning.
How can I see the wide, familiar world
When all my being drowns in your deep eyes?
What is the maddest sunset to your eyes?
35
Let us not talk of sunsets.  

 

SHE.

 

                                        Soon this rose
Of incommunicable light will fade,
Its ultimate petals sinking in the sea.
Be still, and watch the vaster bloom unfold
40
Whose pollen is the dust of stars, whose petals
The tissue of strange tears, desire and sleep.

 

HE.

 

We talk of roses, meaning all things fair
And rare and enigmatic; but the rose
Transcending all, the Rose of Life, is you!
45

O Rose, blossom of wonder, dark blossom of ancient;

               dream,  
Wan tides of the Wandering Sorrow through your deep slumber  
               stream;  
Warm winds of the Wavering Passion are lost in your crimson  
               fold,  
And memory and foreboding at the hush of your heart lie cold.  

O Rose, blossom of mystery, holding within your deeps
50
The hurt of a thousand vigils, the heal of a thousand sleeps,
There breathes upon your petals a power from the ends of earth.
Your beauty is heavy with knowledge of life and death and birth.

O Rose, blossom of longing—the faint suspense, and the fire,
The wistfulness of time, and the unassuaged desire,
55
The pity of tears on the pillow, the pang of tears unshed—
With these your spirit is weary, with these your beauty is fed.
 

 

SHE.

 

Woman or rose, your verses do her credit,
Barring some small confusion in the figure.

 

HE.

 

'Tis fusion, not confusion. So the rose
60
Be beautiful enough, and strange enough,
Love in his haste may take its sweet for you;
And sun and rain, wise gardeners, seeing you
With face uplift, will know the rose you are.

 

SHE.

Let us not talk of roses. Don't you think

65
The engines' pulse throbs louder now the light
Has gone? The hiss of water past our hull
Is more mysterious, with a menace in it?
And that pale streak above the unseen land,
 
How ominous! A sword has just such pallor!
70
(Yes, you may put the scarf around my shoulders.)
Never has life shown me the face of beauty
But near it I have seen the fear of fear.

 

HE.

 

I knew not fear until I knew your beauty.

 

SHE.

 

Let us not talk of me. Look down, close in,
75
There where the night-black water breaks and seethes.
How its heart, torn and shuddering, burns to splendour!
What climbing lights! What rapture of white fire!
Clear souls of flame returning to the infinite!
 

 

HE.

 

If you should ever come to say "I love you,"
80
I think that even thus my life's dark tide
Would flame to sudden glory, and the gloom
Of long grief lift forever! Dear, your eyes,
Your great eyes, shine upon me, soft as with tears.
Your shoulder touches me. What does it mean?
85
I hold you to me. Is it love—and life?

 

SHE.

 

Let us not talk of—love! I know so little
Of love! I only know that life wears not
The face of beauty, but the face of fear.
The face of fear is gone. The face of beauty
90
Comes when you hold me so! Help me to live!
Help me to live, and hold me from the terror!