The collected poems of James Elroy Flecker/Lucretia


Lucretia


As one who in the cold abyss of night
Stares at a book whose grey print meaningless
Dances between the lamplight and his eyes,
Lucretius lay, soul-poisoned, conquering still
With towering travail Reason's Hellene heights.
Listen, Lucretia, to the voice of his pain:

Thrice welcome hour of Reason: ne’er of old
Knew I thy naked loveliness, till night,
The nether night of Folly pinioned forth,
Shrouded my senses, taught me terribly
That thou alone, my light and life and love,
Wearest the high insignia of the stars.
Grant then thy worshipper, austerest Queen,
Refreshing dews–Now, now, I thirst with flame:
They flee the strainings of my fevered lips
Cruelly, and in dank distance a new noise
Of rushing wings I hear. Who thunders nigh?
Devil delirium, chaos charioted,
Curb, curb, the coal-red chargers, heard not seen.
See, Madam Wife, that loveless lust of thine

Leaves no sweet savour lingering, but a curse:
And ’stead of Love and Reason, palace tenant,
There flits a weak and tremulous loathsomeness!

Suppliant fled Lucretia to the couch:
And all her glory trembled as she sang:

Awake, dead soul of dear Lucretius,
Awake, thy witless fond destroyer prays.
Awake, awake, and quit thy aimless journey
In old oblivion’s purple—misted paths.
   Dost thou remember, husband? It was evening:
We wandered shorewards, mid the ocean of air
That glassed the gliding Nereids of the Pole.
Immeasurable moonlight kissed the brow
Of the white sea whose ripples swayed to greet
Our heart’s unnumbered laughter. Strongest sleep
So held the life of earth that dimly we heard
Time’s fatal pulse through the dark reverberated.
Then died thy soul: that night I, murderess, dreamt,
Ah, dolorous dreams of limb—dissolving love.
Lucretius,
Why live I still, protracting hopeless pain?
The chillness of the long Lethean stream
Is more to be commended for my sailings
Than love’s hot eddies.
       God, for the draught of death!
What sourer, sweeter vintage could be pressed?

To slumber shall lull me, where no sorrow
Can pierce the drifted overmantling haze:
No sorrow, no despair, nor any love!

  My soul is thine, husband, thy mad soul.
Madness, swift foretaste of oblivion
Shall wed us to delirious dim despair
Till bone claim bone beneath the cypress tree.
What pleasant dawn of madness! Oft I rend
This fair hypocrisy of raiment. Down–
There’s fairer guile within–down, frippery!
Veil me not from my love. Dear arms outstretched,
Am I not fair? These quick white limbs of mine
Shall brand in thee their passionate symmetry,
Till as the bee within the lily trembles
Thyself, body and soul, shall move within me.
Has sculptured Venus thighs of richer vein?
Spread thyself round about me; let us wrench
Self unto self. Why life is lovely still!
Fair wings of madness, drift us far away
To an unseen Empyrean, where no care
Can frost the magic mirror of our loves.
Thence we shall see the sorrowful world of men,
Old castles fired, old mountains overturned,
Old majesties conculcate in the dust,
With short sad smiles for every thing destroyed.
  Why do red eyes draw nearer? Husband, wake!
The palace is tired and falling! Not with love
Thy body’s life, that throbs within me, burns

Lucretius–those same eyes, grey Furies wear them,
They seethe in double dullness ’neath their own!

Thus muttered she in dread : he glaring lay:
Passion had made him beast, and passion sated
Did leave him than the beasts more bestial.
Till phantomed reason fled his turning brain
And with a cry he struck her from his breast,
Heavily, and her hair, like the finger of night,
Pencilled the marble as she fell, and cried:

Kill me not, devil: off, blood-searching hands;
Nay, strike me thus–and rend me thus, and thus:
I would not be the mother of mad children.
Burst forth, my blood, burst forth from wound and weal.
The body’s pain is blister for the soul’s.

Then, as her anguish slumbered for awhile:
  
Oh for a word of consolation dear
Sadder than dirge from old Simonides,
Sweeter than echoes of the Linos song
Whispering through the drowsy sheaves of corn
On summer evenings, when the harvesters
Homeward return, and children rush to greet
Their father, and to snatch the kisses first–

But a new torment rent her, and she rose;
Her veins large-knotted, standing out in fire;
She grasped his arm and shrieked to the solemn sun
That rolled in horror down the Western Sea:

There, red-eyed Fury–with lash and terrible hiss,
With lash and terrible hiss of steaming snakes–
Blood from the breast-wound drips, and from my heart,
And from those eyes, and from the pillars–See
There, and the statues move. Take away the blank eyes!
  Oh wild, wild irony of Life and Lust,
Life is to death so near, and lust to loathing.
All is a jest, a shadow, and a lie,
A whirlwind-wondrous lie!
         Laugh, husband, laugh!
Laughter is man’s supreme prerogative:
The beasts are sane; they laugh not. I will laugh,
My bones and flesh are quaking. Laugh, thou fool!
For love is lust, and life is a dream of death
–Hell is opening, opening horribly.

March 1904