Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Hymen
By H. D.
 
As from a temple service, tall and dignified, with slow pace, each a queen, the sixteen matrons from the temple of Hera pass before the curtain—a dark purple hung between Ionic columns—of the porch or open hall of a palace. Their hair is bound as the marble hair of the temple Hera. Each wears a crown or diadem of gold.
They sing—the music is temple music, deep, simple, chanting notes:

          FROM the closed garden
          Where our feet pace
          Back and forth each day,
          This gladiolus white,
          This red, this purple spray—        5
          Gladiolus tall with dignity
          As yours, lady—we lay
          Before your feet and pray:
          Of all the blessings—
          Youth, joy, ecstasy—        10
          May one gift last
          (As the tall gladiolus may
          Outlast the wind-flower,
          Winter-rose or rose),
          One gift above,        15
          Encompassing all those;
 
          For her, for him,
          For all within these palace walls,
          Beyond the feast,
          Beyond the cry of Hymen and the torch,        20
          Beyond the night and music
          Echoing through the porch till day.

The music, with its deep chanting notes, dies away. The curtain hangs motionless in rich, full folds. Then from this background of darkness, dignity and solemn repose, a flute gradually detaches itself, becomes clearer and clearer, pipes alone one shrill, simple little melody.
  From the distance, four children’s voices blend with the flute, and four very little girls pass singly before the curtain, small maids or attendants of the sixteen matrons. Their hair is short and curls at the back of their heads like the hair of the chryselephantine Hermes. They sing:
 
          Where the first crocus buds unfold
          We found these petals near the cold
              Swift river-bed.        25
 
          Beneath the rocks where ivy-frond
          Puts forth new leaves to gleam beyond
              Those lately dead:
 
          The very smallest two or three
          Of gold (gold pale as ivory)        30
            We gatherèd.

  When the little girls have passed before the curtain, a wood-wind weaves a richer note into the flute melody; then the two blend into one song. But as the wood-wind grows in mellowness and richness, the flute gradually dies away into a secondary theme and the wood-wind alone evolves the melody of a new song.
  Two by two—like two sets of medallions with twin profiles distinct, one head slightly higher, bent forward a little—the four figures of four slight, rather fragile taller children, are outlined with sharp white contour against the curtain.
  The hair is smooth against the heads, falling to the shoulders but slightly waved against the nape of the neck. They are looking down, each at a spray of winter-rose. The tunics fall to the knees in sharp marble folds. They sing:
 
          Never more will the wind
          Cherish you again,
          Never more will the rain.
 
          Never more        35
          Shall we find you bright
          In the snow and wind.
 
          The snow is melted,
          The snow is gone,
          And you are flown:        40
 
          Like a bird out of our hand,
          Like a light out of our heart,
          You are gone.

  As the wistful notes of the wood-wind gradually die away, there comes a sudden, shrill, swift piping.
  Free and wild, like the wood-maidens of Artemis, is this last group of four—very straight with heads tossed back. They sing in rich, free, swift notes. They move swiftly before the curtain in contrast to the slow, important pace of the first two groups. Their hair is loose and rayed out like that of the sun-god. They are boyish in shape and gesture. They carry hyacinths in baskets, strapped like quivers to their backs. They reach to draw the flower sprays from the baskets, as the Huntress her arrows.
  As they dart swiftly to and fro before the curtain, they are youth, they are spring—they are the Chelidonia, their song is the swallow-song of joy:
 
          Between the hollows
          Of the little hills        45
          The spring spills blue—
          Turquoise, sapphire, lapis-lazuli
          On a brown cloth outspread.
 
          Ah see,
          How carefully we lay them now,        50
          Each hyacinth spray,
          Across the marble floor—
          A pattern your bent eyes
          May trace and follow
          To the shut bridal door.        55
 
          Lady, our love, our dear,
          Our bride most fair,
          They grew among the hollows
          Of the hills;
          As if the sea had spilled its blue,        60
          As if the sea had risen
          From its bed,
          And sinking to the level of the shore,
          Left hyacinths on the floor.

  There is a pause. Flute, pipe and wood-wind blend in a full, rich movement. There is no definite melody but full, powerful rhythm like soft but steady wind above forest trees. Into this, like rain, gradually creeps the note of strings.
  As the strings grow stronger and finally dominate the whole, the bride-chorus passes before the curtain. There may be any number in this chorus. The figures—tall young women, clothed in long white tunics—follow one another closely, yet are all distinct like a procession of a temple frieze.
  The bride in the center is not at first distinguishable from her maidens; but as they begin their song, the maidens draw apart into two groups, leaving the veiled symbolic figure standing alone in the center.
  The two groups range themselves to right and left like officiating priestesses. The veiled figure stands with her back against the curtain, the others being in profile. Her head is swathed in folds of diaphanous white, through which the features are visible, like the veiled Tanagra.
  When the song is finished, the group to the bride’s left turns about; also the bride, so that all face in one direction. In processional form they pass out, the figure of the bride again merging, not distinguishable from the maidens.
 
Strophe
          But of her
        65
          Who can say if she is fair?
          Bound with fillet,
          Bound with myrtle
          Underneath her flowing veil,
          Only the soft length        70
          (Beneath her dress)
          Of saffron shoe is bright
          As a great lily-heart
          In its white loveliness.
 
Antistrophe
          But of her
        75
          We can say that she is fair.
          We bleached the fillet,
          Brought the myrtle;
          To us the task was set
          Of knotting the fine threads of silk:        80
          We fastened the veil,
          And over the white foot
          Drew on the painted shoe
          Steeped in Illyrian crocus.
 
Strophe
          But of her,
        85
          Who can say if she is fair?
          For her head is covered over
          With her mantle
          White on white,
          Snow on whiter amaranth,        90
          Snow on hoar-frost,
          Snow on snow,
          Snow on whitest buds of myrrh.
 
Antistrophe
          But of her,
          We can say that she is fair;        95
          For we know underneath
          All the wanness,
          All the heat
          (In her blanched face)
          Of desire        100
          Is caught in her eyes as fire
          In the dark center leaf
          Of the white Syrian iris.

  The rather hard, hieratic precision of the music—its stately pause and beat—is broken now into irregular lilt and rhythm of strings.
  Four tall young women, very young matrons, enter in a group. They stand clear and fair, but this little group entirely lacks the austere precision of the procession of maidens just preceding them. They pause in the center of the stage; turn, one three-quarter, two in profile and the fourth full face; they stand, turned as if confiding in each other like a Tanagra group.
  They sing lightly, their flower trays under their arms.
 
          Along the yellow sand
          Above the rocks        105
          The laurel-bushes stand.
          Against the shimmering heat
          Each separate leaf
          Is bright and cold,
          And through the bronze        110
          Of singing bark and wood
          Run the fine threads of gold.
 
          Here in our wicker-trays,
          We bring the first faint blossoming
          Of fragrant bays:        115
 
          Lady, their blushes shine
          As faint in hue
          As when through petals
          Of a laurel-rose
          The sun shines through        120
          And throws a purple shadow
          On a marble vase.
 
          (Ah, love,
          So her fair breasts will shine
          With the faint shadow above.)

  The harp chords become again more regular in simple definite rhythm. The music is not so intense as the bride-chorus; and quieter, more sedate, than the notes preceding the entrance of the last group.
  Five or six slightly older serene young women enter in processional form; each holding before her, with precise bending of arms, coverlets and linen, carefully folded, as if for the bride couch. The garments are purple, scarlet and deep blue, with edge of gold.
  They sing to simple blending of wood-wind and harp.
        125
 
          From citron-bower be her bed,
          Cut from branch of tree a-flower,
          Fashioned for her maidenhead.
 
          From Lydian apples, sweet of hue,
          Cut the width of board and lathe.        130
          Carve the feet from myrtle-wood.
 
          Let the palings of her bed
          Be quince and box-wood overlaid
          With the scented bark of yew.
 
          That all the wood in blossoming,        135
          May claim her heart and cool her blood
          For losing of her maidenhood.

  The wood-winds become more rich and resonant. A tall youth crosses the stage as if seeking the bride door. The music becomes very rich, full of color.
  The figure itself is a flame, an exaggerated symbol; the hair a flame; the wings, deep red or purple, stand out against the curtains in a contrasting or almost clashing shade of purple. The tunic falls almost to the knees, again a rich purple or crimson. The knees are bare; the sandals elaborately strapped over and over. The curtain seems a rich purple cloud, the figure, still brighter, like a flamboyant bird, half emerged in the sunset.
  Love pauses just outside the bride’s door with his gift, a tuft of black-purple cyclamen. He sings to the accompaniment of wood-winds, in a rich, resonant voice:
 
          The crimson cover of her bed
          Is not so rich, nor so deeply bled
          The purple fish that dyed it red,        140
          As when in a hot sheltered glen
          There flowered these stalks of cyclamen:
 
          (Purple with honey-points
          Of horns for petals;
          Sweet and dark and crisp,        145
          As fragrant as her maiden kiss.)
 
          There with his honey-seeking lips
          The bee clings close and warmly sips,
          And seeks with honey-thighs to sway
          And drink the very flower away.        150
 
          (Ah, stern the petals drawing back;
          Ah rare, ah virginal her breath!)
 
          Crimson, with honey-seeking lips,
          The sun lies hot across his back,
          The gold is flecked across his wings.        155
          Quivering he sways and quivering clings
          (Ah, rare her shoulders drawing back!)
          One moment, then the plunderer slips
          Between the purple flower-lips.

  Love passes out with a crash of cymbals. There is a momentary pause and the music falls into its calm, wave-like rhythm.
  A band of boys passes before the curtain. They pass from side to side, crossing and re-crossing; but their figures never confuse one another, the outlines are never blurred. They stand out against the curtain with symbolic gesture, stooping as if to gather up the wreaths, or swaying with long stiff branch as if to sweep the fallen petals from the floor.
  There is no marked melody from the instruments, but the boys’ voices, humming lightly as they enter, gradually evolve a little dance song. There are no words but the lilt up and down of the boys’ tenor voices.
  Then, as if they had finished the task of gathering up the wreaths and sweeping the petals, they stand in groups of two before the pillars where the torches have been placed. They lift the torches from the brackets. They hold them aloft between them, one torch to each two boys. Their figures are cut against the curtain like the simple, triangular design on the base of a vase or frieze—the boys’ heads on a level, the torches above them.
  They sing in clear half-subdued voices.
 
          Where love is king,        160
          Ah, there is little need
          To dance and sing,
          With bridal-torch to flare
          Amber and scatter light
          Across the purple air,        165
          To sing and dance
          To flute-note and to reed.
 
          Where love is come
          (Ah, love is come indeed!)
          Our limbs are numb        170
          Before his fiery need;
          With all their glad
          Rapture of speech unsaid,
          Before his fiery lips
          Our lips are mute and dumb.        175
 
          Ah, sound of reed,
          Ah, flute and trumpet wail,
          Ah, joy decreed—
          The fringes of her veil
          Are seared and white;        180
          Across the flare of light,
          Blinded the torches fail.
          (Ah, love is come indeed!)

  At the end of the song, the torches flicker out and the figures are no longer distinguishable in the darkness. They pass out like shadows. The purple curtain hangs black and heavy.
  The music dies away and is finally cut short with a few deep, muted chords.
 
 
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