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Oscar Wilde (1854–1900).  Poems.  1881.

24. The New Helen


WHERE hast thou been since round the walls of Troy 
  The sons of God fought in that great emprise? 
    Why dost thou walk our common earth again? 
Hast thou forgotten that impassioned boy, 
    His purple galley, and his Tyrian men,         5
  And treacherous Aphrodite’s mocking eyes? 
For surely it was thou, who, like a star 
  Hung in the silver silence of the night, 
  Didst lure the Old World’s chivalry and might 
Into the clamorous crimson waves of war!  10
  
Or didst thou rule the fire-laden moon? 
  In amorous Sidon was thy temple built 
    Over the light and laughter of the sea? 
  Where, behind lattice scarlet-wrought and gilt, 
    Some brown-limbed girl did weave thee tapestry,  15
All through the waste and wearied hours of noon; 
Till her wan cheek with flame of passion burned, 
  And she rose up the sea-washed lips to kiss 
Of some glad Cyprian sailor, safe returned 
  From Calpé and the cliffs of Herakles!  20
  
No! thou art Helen, and none other one! 
  It was for thee that young Sarpedôn died, 
    And Memnôn’s manhood was untimely spent; 
  It was for thee gold-crested Hector tried 
With Thetis’ child that evil race to run,  25
    In the last year of thy beleaguerment; 
Ay! even now the glory of thy fame 
  Burns in those fields of trampled asphodel, 
  Where the high lords whom Ilion knew so well 
Clash ghostly shields, and call upon thy name.  30
  
Where hast thou been? in that enchanted land 
  Whose slumbering vales forlorn Calypso knew, 
    Where never mower rose to greet the day 
  But all unswathed the trammelling grasses grew, 
And the sad shepherd saw the tall corn stand  35
    Till summer’s red had changed to withered gray? 
Didst thou lie there by some Lethæan stream 
  Deep brooding on thine ancient memory, 
The crash of broken spears, the fiery gleam 
  From shivered helm, the Grecian battle-cry.  40
  
Nay, thou wert hidden in that hollow hill 
  With one who is forgotten utterly, 
    That discrowned Queen men call the Erycine; 
  Hidden away that never mightst thou see 
    The face of Her, before whose mouldering shrine  45
To-day at Rome the silent nations kneel; 
  Who gat from Love no joyous gladdening, 
    But only Love’s intolerable pain, 
    Only a sword to pierce her heart in twain, 
  Only the bitterness of child-bearing.  50
  
The lotos-leaves which heal the wounds of Death 
  Lie in thy hand; O, be thou kind to me, 
    While yet I know the summer of my days; 
For hardly can my tremulous lips draw breath 
    To fill the silver trumpet with thy praise,  55
  So bowed am I before thy mystery; 
So bowed and broken on Love’s terrible wheel, 
  That I have lost all hope and heart to sing, 
  Yet care I not what ruin time may bring 
If in thy temple thou wilt let me kneel.  60
  
Alas, alas, thou wilt not tarry here, 
  But, like that bird, the servant of the sun, 
    Who flies before the northwind and the night, 
So wilt thou fly our evil land and drear, 
    Back to the tower of thine old delight,  65
  And the red lips of young Euphorion; 
Nor shall I ever see thy face again, 
  But in this poisonous garden must I stay, 
Crowning my brows with the thorn-crown of pain, 
  Till all my loveless life shall pass away.  70
  
O Helen! Helen! Helen! yet awhile, 
  Yet for a little while, O, tarry here, 
    Till the dawn cometh and the shadows flee! 
For in the gladsome sunlight of thy smile 
  Of heaven or hell I have no thought or fear,  75
    Seeing I know no other god but thee: 
No other god save him, before whose feet 
  In nets of gold the tired planets move, 
  The incarnate spirit of spiritual love 
Who in thy body holds his joyous seat.  80
  
Thou wert not born as common women are! 
  But, girt with silver splendour of the foam, 
    Didst from the depths of sapphire seas arise! 
And at thy coming some immortal star, 
    Bearded with flame, blazed in the Eastern skies,  85
  And waked the shepherds on thine island-home. 
Thou shalt not die: no asps of Egypt creep 
  Close at thy heels to taint the delicate air; 
  No sullen-blooming poppies stain thy hair, 
Those scarlet heralds of eternal sleep.  90
  
Lily of love, pure and inviolate! 
  Tower of ivory! red rose of fire! 
    Thou hast come down our darkness to illume: 
For we, close-caught in the wide nets of Fate, 
  Wearied with waiting for the World’s Desire,  95
    Aimlessly wandered in the house of gloom, 
Aimlessly sought some slumberous anodyne 
  For wasted lives, for lingering wretchedness, 
Till we beheld thy re-arisen shrine, 
  And the white glory of thy loveliness. 100


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