Muriel Stuart

Poets' Corner Scripting
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Transcribed for Poets' Corner
May 2005 by S.L.Spanoudis

[This 1922 work is believed to be in the public domain in the US. Please check local restrictions in other geographies.]

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Muriel Stuart





      Here, in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
      Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
      Forlorn as ashes, shriveled, scentless, dry-
      Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

      Dead that shall quicken at the call of Spring,
      Sleepers to stir beneath June's magic kiss,
      Though birds pass over, unremembering,
      And no bee suck here roses that were his.

      In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams,
      A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
      That will drink deeply of a century's streams,
      These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

      Here in their safe and simple house of death,
      Sealed in their shells a million trees leap;
      Here I can grow a garden with my breath,
      And in my hand a forest lies asleep.



      I am one of the wind's stories,
      I am a fancy of the rain,--
      A memory of the high noon's glories,
      The hint the sunset had of pain.


      They dreamed me as they dreamed all other;
      Hawthorn and I, I and the grass,
      With sister shade and phantom brother
      Across their slumber glide and pass.


      Twilight is in my blood, my being
      Mingles with trees and ferns and stones;
      Thunder and stars my lips are freeing,
      And there is sea-rack in my bones.


      Those that have dreamed me shall out-wake me,
      But I go hence with flowers and weeds;
      I am no more to those who make me
      Than other drifting fruit and seeds.


      And though I love them --mourn to leave them-
      Sea, earth and sunset, stars and streams,
      My tears, my passing do not grieve them . . .
      Other dreams have they, other dreams.


      If I have given myself to you, and you,
      And if these pale hands are not virginal,
      Nor these bright lips beneath your own lips true,
      What matters it? I do not stand nor fall
      By your old foolish judgments of desire:
      If this were Helen's way it is not mine;
      I bring you Beauty, but no Troys to fire:
      The cup I hold brims not with Borgia's wine.
      You, so sudden snared of brows and breasts,
      Lightly you think upon these lips, this hair.
      My thoughts are kinder: you are pity's guests:
      Compassion's bed you share.

      It was not lust delivered me to you;
      I gave my wondering mouth for pity's sake,
      For your strange, sighing lips I did but break
      Many times this bread, and poured this wine anew.
      My body's woven sweetness and kindling hair
      Were given for heal of hurts unknown of me,
      For something I could slake but could not share.
      Sudden, and rough, and cruel I let you be,
      I gave my body for what the world calls sin,
      Even as for your souls the Nazarene
      Gave once. Long years in pity I and He
      Have served you-Jesus and the Magdalen.

      As on the river in the fading light
      A rust-red sail across the evening creeps,
      Torching the gloom, and slowly sinks from sight,
      The blood may rise to some old face at night,
      Remembering old sins before it sleeps.
      So might you hence recall me, were I true
      To your sad violence. Were I not free
      So me you might remember now; but you
      Were no more loved by me than
      Than clouds at sunset, or the wild bird going
      About his pleasure on the apple tree,
      Or wide-blown roses swelling to the bee;
      No sweeter than flowers suddenly found growing
      In frost-bound dells, or, on the bare, high hills,
      The gold, unlaced, dew-drunken daffodils
      Shouting the dawn, or the brown river flowing
      Down quietly to the sea;
      Or day in twilight's hair bound safe and dim,
      Stirless in lavender, or the wind blowing,
      Tumbling the poppy's turban after him.

      I knew you as I knew these happy things,
      Passing, unwept, on wide and tranquil wings
      To their own place in nature; below, above
      Transient passion with its stains and stings.
      For this strange pity that you knew not of
      Was neither lust nor love.

      Do not repent, nor pity, nor regret.
      I do not seek your pardon, nor give you mine.
      Pass by, be silent, drop no tears, forget.
      Return not, make no sign
      When I am dead, nor turn your lips away
      From Phyrne's silver limbs and Faustine's kiss.
      I need no pity. No word of pity say.
      I have given a new sweet name and crown to this
      That served men's lust and was Aspasia.


      There shall be a song for both of us that day
      Though fools say you have long outlived your songs,
      And when, perhaps, because your hair is grey,
      You go unsung, to whom all praise belongs,
      And no men kiss your hands--your fragile hands
      Folded like empty shells on sea-spurned sands.
      And you that were dawn whereat men shouted once
      Are sunset now, but with one worshipper,
      Then to your twilight heart this song shall be
      Sweeter than those that did your youth announce
      For your brave beautiful spirit is lovelier
      Than once your lovely body was to me.
      Your folded hands and your shut eyelids stir
      A passion that Time has crowned with sanctity.
      Young fools shall wonder why, your youth being over,
      You are so sung still, but your heart will know
      That he who loved your soul was your true lover
      And the last song alone was worthy you.


      "What did she leave?" . . .
      Only these hungry miser-words, poor heart!
      Not "Did she love?" "Did she suffer?" "Was she sad
      From this green, bright and tossing world to part?"
      No word of "Do they miss her? do they grieve?"
      Only this wolf-thought for the gold she had . . .
      "What did she leave?"


      I am growing old: I have kept youth too long,
      But I dare not let them know it now.
      I have done the heart of youth a grievous wrong,
      Danced it to dust, and drugged it with the rose,
      Forced its reluctant lips to one more vow.
      I have denied the lawful grey,
      So kind, so wise, to settle in my hair;
      I belong no more to April, but September has not taught me her repose.
      I wish I had let myself grow old in the quiet way
      That is so gracious . . . I wish I did not care.
      My faded mouth will never flower again,
      Under the paint, the wrinkles fret my eyes,
      My hair is dull beneath its henna stain,
      I have come to the last ramparts of disguise.
      And now the day draws on of my defeat.
      I shall not meet
      The swift, male glance across the crowded room,
      Where the chance contact of limbs in passing has
      Its answer in some future fierce embrace.
      I shall sit here in the corners looking on
      With the older women, withered and overblown,
      Who have grown old more graciously than I,
      In a sort of safe and comfortable tomb
      Knitting myself into Eternity.
      And men will talk to me because they are kind,
      Or as cunning or a courtesy demands;
      There will be no hidden question in their eyes
      And no subtle implication in their hands.
      And I shall be so grateful who have been
      So gracious, and so tyrannous, moving between
      Denial and surrender. To-morrow I shall find
      How women live who have no lovers and no answer for life's grey monotonies.
      Upon my table will be no more flowers,
      They will bring me no more flowers until I am dead;
      There will be no violent, sweet, exciting hours,
      No wild things done or said.

      Yet sometimes I'm so tired of it all-
      This everlasting battle with the flesh,
      This pitiful slavery to the body's thrall-
      And then I do not want to lure or charm,
      I want to wear
      Soft, easy things, be comfortable and warm;
      I want to drowse at leisure in my chair.
      I do not want to wear a veil with heavy mesh,
      Or sit in shaded rooms afraid to face the light;
      I do not want to go out every night,
      And be bright and vivid and intense,
      Nor be on the alert and the defense
      With other women, fierce and afraid as I,
      Drawing a knife unseen as each goes by.

      I am so tired of men and making love,
      For every one's the same.
      There's nothing new in love under the sun;
      All love can say or do has long been said and done:
      I have eaten the fruit of knowledge long enough,
      Been over-kissed, over-praised and over-won.
      Why should I try to play still the old, foolish game?
      Because I have played the rose's part too long.
      Who plays the rose must pay the rose's price,
      And be a rose or nothing till it dies.
      And even then sometimes the blood will answer fierce and strong
      To the old hunger, to the old dance, old tune;
      I shall feel cruel and passionate and mad
      Though I have lost the look of June.
      The fever of the past will burn my hands
      A men who live long in intemperate lands
      Feel the old ague wring them, far removed
      From the old dreadful glitter of seas and sands.
      The rose dies hard in women who have had
      Lovers all their lives, and have been much loved.

      I am afraid to grow old now even if I would.
      I have fought too well, too long, and what was once
      A foolish trick to make the rose more strangely gay
      Is now a close-locked, mortal conflict of brain and blood-
      A feud too old to settle or renounce.
      I shall grow too tired to struggle, and the fight will end,
      And they will enter in at last-
      Nature and Time, long thwarted of their prey,
      Those old grey two, more cruel for the lips that said them "Nay,"
      For the bitterest foe is he who in the past
      Has been repulsed when he fain would be friend.

      I am sorry for women who are growing old,
      I do not blame them for holding youth with shameful hold,
      Or doing desperate things to lips and eyes.
      They have so pitifully short a flowering time,
      So suddenly sweet a story so soon told.
      They only strive to keep what men have taught them most to prize-
      Men who have longer, fuller lives to live,
      Who are not stopped and broken in their prime,
      With their faces still to summer, men do not know
      What Age says to a woman. They would not wait
      To feel slip from their hands without a throe,
      Without a struggle, futile and desperate,
      All that has given them wealth and love and power
      Doomed, without hope or rumour of reprieve.
      They would not smile into the eyes of that advancing hour
      Who had bent all summer to their bow, and had flung
      The widest rose, and kissed the keenest mouth
      And slept in the lordliest bed when they were young.
      That bitter twilight which sun-worshipping Youth
      Flies headlong keeps Age loitering on the hill,
      Uneager to fold such greyness to his breast,
      Knowing that none will thwart him of his will,
      None be before him on that quest.

      I am growing old.
      I was not always kind when I was young
      To women who were old, for Youth is blind-
      A small, green, bitter thing beneath its fragrant rind,
      And fanged against the old with boisterous tongue-
      Those whose poor morning heads are touched with rime,
      Walking before their misery like kings.
      I did not feel that I should feel such stings,
      Nor flinch beneath such arrows. But now I know.
      One day I shall be stupid, and rather slow,
      And easily cowed and troubled in my mind,
      And tremulous, vaguely frightened, feeble and cold.
      I am growing old. . . My God! how old! how old!. . .
      I dare not tell them, but one day they will know. . .
      I hope they will be kind.


      "The lord appeared in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush and behold, the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed."-EXODOUS iii.2.

      When to your virgin heart, unstirred, ungiven,
      Upon the quiet mountainside untrod,
      The sudden naked fire came down from heaven,
      Burning you with the very breath of God,

      Was the sun lost? Were all the sweet stars dim
      While God raised round your head those walls of light?
      Were you locked dumbly, terribly with Him,
      Within that burning temple day and night?

      What was it to have God there like a bird-
      God like a great, gold flower upon your breast-
      While He spake things that only one man heard,
      Face down before that glory manifest?

      When that strange flame went up the mountain side,
      Were your forsaken lips so burned with gold
      That the creatures of the wild stood off and cried,
      And in your breast no blossom dared unfold?

      Did you call back the startled birds to build,
      And put forth all your simple buds again,
      Forgetting how your branches once were filled,
      In sweet embrace of passing sun and rain?

      Or were all other birds forbidden sing
      After those great, gold plumes had made their nest?
      Was, in its strange and awful blossoming,
      That great, gold flower the last upon your breast?


      Round them a fierce, wide, crazy noon
      Heaves with crushed lips and glowing sides
      Against the huge and drowsy sun.
      Beneath them turn the glittering tides
      Where dizzy waters reel with gold,
      And strange, rich trophies sink and rise
      From decks of sunken argosies.
      With shining arms they cleave the cold
      Far reaches of the sea, and beat
      The hissing foam with flash of feet
      Into bright fangs, while breathlessly
      Curls over them the amorous sea.

      Naked they laugh and revel there.
      One shakes the sea-drops from his hair,
      Then, singing, takes the bubbles: one
      Lies couched among the shells, the sands
      Telling gold hours between his hands:
      One floats like sea-wrack in the sun.
      The gods of Youth, the lords of Love,
      Greeks of eternal Thessaly,
      Mocking the powers they know not of,
      Naked and unembraced and free!
      To whom the Siren sings in vain
      To-day, to-morrow who shall be
      The destined sport of gods and men.

      Unseen, the immortal ones are here,
      Remembering their mortal loves-
      The strange, sweet flesh, the lips that were
      Frail and most perishably fair.
      Diana leaves her whispering groves,
      And of Actaeon dreams and sighs,
      And hears the hounds bay in the wood.
      Oh, Cythera, the trembling blood
      Upon one petal's paling mouth
      Before thee and this noon must rise
      While thou remember Adon's eyes!
      One mournful and complaining shade
      Beyond Avernus shakes his head,
      Dreaming of one beloved youth
      Borne from him, lost and dazed and dead,
      Dragged by the nymphs avenging hair
      Into the sea-bed oozing dim,
      In that cold twilight unaware
      Of each great sunrise over him.
      .   .   .   .   .   .
      One day, while still these waters run,
      And noon still heaves beneath this sun,
      You shall creep, unremembering,
      Whom Life has humbled and subdued,
      Ruined your bodies, tamed your blood,
      No more the lords of anything.
      But spent and racked with mortal pains,
      The slow tide pushing through your veins,
      Coldly you face this magic shore;
      For you the dsenchanted noon
      Scarce haunted is with ghosts that were
      Once, and were you, and are no more.

      Faltering against the wind and sun
      That vainly seek your hair for gold,
      Stubborned with habit, grey and old,
      You know not why you wander here,
      Nor what vague dream pursues you still,
      For Life ahs taken fullest toll
      Of all your beauty; on each soul
      Love's hand has left his bitter mark,
      Has had of you his utmost will,
      And thrusts you headlong to the dark.

      And colder than these waters are
      The stream that takes your limbs at last:
      Earth's vales and hills drift slowly past. . .
      One shore far off, and one more far.

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