Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
A Woman at Dusk
By Arthur Stringer
 
ONE white hand droops across your knee; you stare
Off into space with shadowy eyes that seem
To watch a lone horizon dark with rain
And cities ruinous and seas forlorn
Of sun and movement.
                Like a dead leaf stirs
        5
That listless hand, and then grows still again,
And round your chin, the soft and child-like chin
As delicate as dew, a ghostly sigh
Hovers and then is gone.
                Serene and broad
Your white brow is beneath its banded hair;        10
Serene the bosom that so softly breathes;
Serene the milk-white throat that moves no more
Than marble moves, the gently hollowed cheek;
Serene, too, seems the body grown so still
And drooping like a wing out-wearied by        15
Too many homing seas.
                Ah, calm it seems,
But at some mystic core a mystic fire
Still burns, the ruby tumult of the blood
Still leaves it perilous, still played upon
By ghostly fingers from forgotten tombs!        20
Serene you seem to wait, yet round your eyes
So blue with weariness, a trouble lurks;
Behind the honeyed corners of your mouth
Left tremulous with passion, wakes and stirs
A protest. Close about the parted lips,        25
Rose-red and woman-weak and warm,
Broods something over-tense, a wistfulness
That has not been appeased, a hidden note
Of hunger that has gone unsatisfied,
A question tragical, a startled cry        30
Unanswered, and a thought that cannot sleep.
Out of the gloom I see your white face yearn
As silence yearns for music, or the sea
For morning waits. A mirrored wonderment,
A far-off glory, from you flashes and shines        35
And then is gone, as in a casement burns
The sunset gold. And still you scarcely move,
And speak no word, and passive droop the hands
That in their listless movements stirred so like
A little child’s, and all the weariness        40
Of all the world seems weighing on your soul.
Out of the ages gaze your brooding eyes,
And barrier gulfs of time between us drift,
And shadow-like you face the shadowy night
Above earth’s sleeping hills, and converse hold        45
With hidden things.
                And I watch desolate
Beside you; I, who but an hour ago
Seemed one with you in flesh and spirit, I
Must sit alone and lonely see you mourn,
And feel again still close some iron door        50
Between your soul and mine. For still you wait
Half-wearily content with discontent,
Still idle with unrest you idly watch.
Calm with a fever that o’er fiercely burns
And saddened with a joy too keen to endure,        55
You stare off into space and say no word.
But from those unassuaged and shadowy lips
I catch some echo of the timeless quest.
I hear your spirit’s whisper that all life
Is nothing, that from sleep to sleep we move        60
And know not where we go, that through the dark
Your groping hands seek something not of mist
And moonlight, that amid the endless cold
You crave some keen and momentary warmth,
Some glory more than earthly glory ask,        65
The wine that reddens ocean foam where far
To straining eyes the darkling waters reach,
The wine that Twilight drinks from paling rose
And leaf, the wine that tender April pours
Across the morning world, the selfsame wine        70
That sends October singing down the hills
And wakens in the sunburnt breast of youth
The wonder and the lyric ache of love.
For life’s last gift of rapture you cry out
And will not be denied, for one great flash        75
Of splendor through earth’s glooms inglorious.
Lone as a lute your pleading voice invokes
Companionship, your luring body calls
For secret consummations, for the kiss
Enkindling, and the tangled joy and grief        80
Of having given much. You question not
Time’s course uncomprehended. Childishly
You yield yourself, and in return demand
Only that you be taken. On the winds
Of fire you make a bed wherein to rest.        85
Humbled and helpless on man’s will you wait,
The appointed vessel, and the lamp ordained,
The hour predestined, and the dream fulfilled.
As women give, you give, accepting naught
But your own bosom’s grim necessity        90
Of being crushed. Across the ghostly years,
Where nothing may endure beyond the grave,
You cry that love must last; you grow content
With soft capitulation. Yet your hour
Of wayward triumph knows the chill of tombs,        95
Your dusky-lidded eyes are dark with tears,
Your softest words are saddened with the knell
Your own sad heart makes vocal.
                        Then you cling
To me and ask if Death could vanquish love,
And cry that I must keep you for all time.        100
But pitiful it seems; for as you speak
The shadow falls, the rapture melts away,
The light upon the darkling sea-line fails,
And soft as mist between your soul and mine
The solemn wonder widens. So you sit        105
In astral silence, watching still for that
Which never comes. In utter weariness
You wait, with that last emptiness of soul
Which leaves you shadowy-eyed and bowed with grief,
Yet veiled in wayward beauty, creeping back        110
And crowning you with wonder.
                    Mystical
You suddenly become, and mystical
The thrice-sealed message and the woman-thirst
That draws you passive to the shores of pain,
That flings you broken from the seas of dream,        115
And in surrender causes you to reap!
Enriched your body grows with ichors strange
And of the gods you seem, and infinite
You are, because of infinite desires:
A something to be sought of land and sea,        120
And sheltered tenderly, and sorrowed for,
And made the bearer of the final cruse.
For desolate my soul cries out again
And all your body with its crown of grief
Wakes with an answering cry, and as you sit        125
With one white hand across your huddled knees
My lips seek out your lips of mortal rose,
And tremulous you yield, and from the pain
Of utter sacrifice still garner joy.
Then burns the flame anew; then glows once more        130
The momentary splendor; then the tide
Sings back into its sea, and then the rose
Is full, and all the throats of song are soft!
But soon the voices fail, and soon we know
How keenly fugitive the glimpse, how close        135
The shadow is, how bitter-sweet the end;
And being mortal, how our mortal love
Only on winds of fire may find relief,
And from the rise and fall of passion’s tides
Still catch at some forlorn tranquillity!        140
 
 
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