The Angel in the House
Part 3 out of 3
Each, rapturous, praised his lady's worth;
He eloquently thus: 'Her face
Is the summ'd sweetness of the earth,
Her soul the glass of heaven's grace,
To which she leads me by the hand;
Or, briefly all the truth to say
To you, who briefly understand,
She is both heaven and the way.
Displeasures and resentments pass
Athwart her charitable eyes
More fleetingly than breath from glass,
Or truth from foolish memories;
Her heart's so touch'd with others' woes
She has no need of chastisement;
Her gentle life's conditions close,
Like God's commandments, with content,
And make an aspect calm and gay,
Where sweet affections come and go,
Till all who see her, smile and say,
How fair, and happy that she's so!
She is so lovely, true, and pure,
Her virtue virtue so endears,
That often, when I think of her,
Life's meanness fills mine eyes with tears--'
'You paint Miss Churchill! Pray go on--'
'She's perfect, and, if joy was much
To think her nature's paragon,
'Tis more that there's another such!'
Praising and paying back their praise
With rapturous hearts, t'ward Sarum Spire
We walk'd, in evening's golden haze,
Friendship from passion stealing fire.
In joy's crown danced the feather jest,
And, parting by the Deanery door,
Clasp'd hands, less shy than words, confess'd
We had not been true friends before.
I.--FROST IN HARVEST
The lover who, across a gulf
Of ceremony, views his Love,
And dares not yet address herself,
Pays worship to her stolen glove.
The gulf o'erleapt, the lover wed,
It happens oft, (let truth be told),
The halo leaves the sacred head,
Respect grows lax, and worship cold,
And all love's May-day promising,
Like song of birds before they pair,
Or flush of flowers in boastful Spring,
Dies out, and leaves the Summer bare.
Yet should a man, it seems to me,
Honour what honourable is,
For some more honourable plea
Than only that it is not his.
The gentle wife, who decks his board
And makes his day to have no night,
Whose wishes wait upon her lord,
Who finds her own in his delight,
Is she another now than she
Who, mistress of her maiden charms,
At his wild prayer, incredibly
Committed them to his proud arms?
Unless her choice of him's a slur
Which makes her proper credit dim,
He never enough can honour her
Who past all speech has honour'd him.
To marry her and take her home!
The poet, painting pureness, tells
Of lilies; figures power by Rome;
And each thing shows by something else.
But through the songs of poets look,
And who so lucky to have found
In universal nature's book
A likeness for a life so crown'd!
Here they speak best who best express
Their inability to speak,
And none are strong, but who confess
With happy skill that they are weak.
'In heaven none marry.' Grant the most
Which may by this dark word be meant,
Who shall forbid the eternal boast
'I kiss'd, and kiss'd with her consent!'
If here, to Love, past favour is
A present boast, delight, and chain,
What lacks of honour, bond, and bliss,
Where Now and Then are no more twain!
'At Church, in twelve hours more, we meet!
This, Dearest, is our last farewell.'
'Oh, Felix, do you love me?' 'Sweet,
Why do you ask?' 'I cannot tell.'
And was it no vain fantasy
That raised me from the earth with pride?
Should I to-morrow verily
Be Bridegroom, and Honoria Bride?
Should I, in simple fact, henceforth
Live unconditionally lord
Of her whose smile for brightest worth
Seem'd all too bountiful reward?
Incredible life's promise seem'd,
Or, credible, for life too great;
Love his own deity blasphemed,
And doff'd at last his heavenly state.
What law, if man could mount so high,
To further insolence set bars,
And kept the chaste moon in the sky,
And bade him not tread out the stars!
Patience and hope had parted truce,
And, sun-like, Love obscured his ray
With dazzling mists, driven up profuse
Before his own triumphant way.
I thought with prayer how Jacob paid
The patient price of Rachel; them,
Of that calm grace Tobias said,
And Sarah's innocent 'Amen.'
Without avail! O'erwhelming wealth,
The wondrous gift of God so near,
Which should have been delight and health
Made heart and spirit sick and sere.
Until at last the soul of love,
That recks not of its own delight,
Awoke and bade the mists remove,
And then once more I breathed aright;
And I rehears'd my marriage vow,
And swore her welfare to prefer
To all things, and for aye as now
To live, not for myself, but her.
Forth, from the glittering spirit's peace
And gaiety ineffable,
Stream'd to the heart delight and ease,
As from an overflowing well;
And, orderly deriving thence
Its pleasure perfect and allow'd,
Bright with the spirit shone the sense,
As with the sun a fleecy cloud.
If now to part with her could make
Her pleasure greater, sorrow less,
I for my epitaph would take
'To serve seem'd more than to possess.'
And I perceiv'd, (the vision sweet
Dimming with happy dew mine eyes),
That love and joy are torches lit
From altar-fires of sacrifice.
Across the sky the daylight crept,
And birds grew garrulous in the grove,
And on my marriage-morn I slept
A soft sleep, undisturb'd by love.
Right art thou who wouldst rather be
A doorkeeper in Love's fair house,
Than lead the wretched revelry
Where fools at swinish troughs carouse.
But do not boast of being least;
And if to kiss thy Mistress' skirt
Amaze thy brain, scorn not the Priest
Whom greater honours do not hurt.
Stand off and gaze, if more than this
Be more than thou canst understand,
Revering him whose power of bliss,
Angelic, dares to seize her hand,
Or whose seraphic love makes flight
To the apprehension of her lips;
And think, the sun of such delight
From thine own darkness takes eclipse.
And, wouldst thou to the same aspire,
This is the art thou must employ,
Live greatly; so shalt thou acquire
Unknown capacities of joy.
Nature, with endless being rife,
Parts each thing into 'him' and 'her,'
And, in the arithmetic of life,
The smallest unit is a pair;
And thus, oh, strange, sweet half of me,
If I confess a loftier flame,
If more I love high Heaven than thee,
I more than love thee, thine I am;
And, if the world's not built of lies,
Nor all a cheat the Gospel tells,
If that which from the dead shall rise
Be I indeed, not something else,
There's no position more secure
In reason or in faith than this,
That those conditions must endure,
Which, wanting, I myself should miss.
As if I chafed the sparks from glass,
And said, 'It lightens,' hitherto
The songs I've made of love may pass
For all but for proportion true;
But likeness and proportion both
Now fail, as if a child in glee,
Catching the flakes of the salt froth,
Cried, 'Look, my mother, here's the sea.
Yet, by the help of what's so weak,
But not diverse, to those who know,
And only unto those I speak,
May far-inferring fancy show
Love's living sea by coasts uncurb'd,
Its depth, its mystery, and its might,
Its indignation if disturb'd,
The glittering peace of its delight.
I vow'd unvarying faith, and she,
To whom in full I pay that vow,
Rewards me with variety
Which men who change can never know.
Life smitten with a feverish chill,
The brain too tired to understand,
In apathy of heart and will,
I took the woman from the hand
Of him who stood for God, and heard
Of Christ, and of the Church his Bride;
The Feast, by presence of the Lord
And his first Wonder, beautified;
The mystic sense to Christian men;
The bonds in innocency made,
And gravely to be enter'd then,
For children, godliness, and, aid,
And honour'd, and kept free from smirch;
And how a man must love his wife
No less than Christ did love his Church,
If need be, giving her his life;
And, vowing then the mutual vow,
The tongue spoke, but intention slept.
'Tis well for us Heaven asks not how
We take this oath, but how 'tis kept.
O, bold seal of a bashful bound,
Which makes the marriage-day to be,
To those before it and beyond,
An iceberg in an Indian sea!
'Now, while she's changing,' said the Dean,
'Her bridal for her travelling dress,
I'll preach allegiance to your queen!
Preaching's the thing which I profess;
And one more minute's mine! You know
I've paid my girl a father's debt,
And this last charge is all I owe.
She's yours; but I love more than yet
You can; such fondness only wakes
When time has raised the heart above
The prejudice of youth, which makes
Beauty conditional to love.
Prepare to meet the weak alarms
Of novel nearness; recollect
The eye which magnified her charms
Is microscopic for defect.
Fear comes at first; but soon, rejoiced,
You'll find your strong and tender loves,
Like holy rocks by Druids poised,
The least force shakes, but none removes.
Her strength is your esteem; beware
Of finding fault; her will's unnerv'd
By blame; from you 'twould be despair;
But praise that is not quite deserv'd
Will all her noble nature move
To make your utmost wishes tree.
Yet think, while mending thus your Love,
Of snatching her ideal too.
The death of nuptial joy is sloth:
To keep your mistress in your wife,
Keep to the very height your oath,
And honour her with arduous life.
Lastly, no personal reverence doff.
Life's all externals unto those
Who pluck the blushing petals off,
To find the secret of the rose. -
How long she's tarrying! Green's Hotel
I'm sure you'll like. The charge is fair,
The wines good. I remember well
I stay'd once, with her Mother, there.
A tender conscience of her vow
That Mother had! She's so like her!'
But Mrs. Fife, much flurried, now
Whisper'd, 'Miss Honor's ready, Sir.'
Whirl'd off at last, for speech I sought,
To keep shy Love in countenance,
But, whilst I vainly tax'd my thought,
Her voice deliver'd mime from trance:
'Look, is not this a pretty shawl,
Aunt's parting gift.' 'She's always kind.'
'The new wing spoils Sir John's old Hall:
You'll see it, if you pull the blind.'
I drew the silk: in heaven the night
Was dawning; lovely Venus shone,
In languishment of tearful light,
Swathed by the red breath of the sun.
CANTO XII. HUSBAND AND WIFE
I.--THE MARRIED LOVER
Why, having won her, do I woo?
Because her spirit's vestal grace
Provokes me always to pursue,
But, spirit-like, eludes embrace;
Because her womanhood is such
That, as on court-days subjects kiss
The Queen's hand, yet so near a touch
Affirms no mean familiarness,
Nay, rather marks more fair the height
Which can with safety so neglect
To dread, as lower ladies might,
That grace could meet with disrespect,
Thus she with happy favour feeds
Allegiance from a love so high
That thence no false conceit proceeds
Of difference bridged, or state put by;
Because, although in act and word
As lowly as a wife can be,
Her manners, when they call me lord,
Remind me 'tis by courtesy;
Not with her least consent of will,
Which would my proud affection hurt,
But by the noble style that still
Imputes an unattain'd desert;
Because her gay and lofty brows,
When all is won which hope can ask,
Reflect a light of hopeless snows
That bright in virgin ether bask;
Because, though free of the outer court
I am, this Temple keeps its shrine
Sacred to Heaven; because, in short,
She's not and never can be mine.
Feasts satiate; stars distress with height;
Friendship means well, but misses reach,
And wearies in its best delight,
Vex'd with the vanities of speech;
Too long regarded, roses even
Afflict the mind with fond unrest;
And to converse direct within Heaven
Is oft a labour in the breast;
Whate'er the up-looking soul admires,
Whate'er the senses' banquet be,
Fatigues at last with vain desires,
Or sickens by satiety;
But truly my delight was more
In her to whom I'm bound for aye
Yesterday than the day before
And more to-day than yesterday.
HUSBAND AND WIFE.
I, while the shop-girl fitted on
The sand-shoes, look'd where, down the bay,
The sea glow'd with a shrouded sun.
'I'm ready, Felix; will you pay?'
That was my first expense for this
Sweet Stranger, now my three days' Wife.
How light the touches are that kiss
The music from the chords of life!
Her feet, by half-a-mile of sea,
In spotless sand left shapely prints;
With agates, then, she loaded me;
(The lapidary call'd them flints);
Then, at her wish, I hail'd a boat,
To take her to the ships-of-war,
At anchor, each a lazy mote
Black in the brilliance, miles from shore.
The morning breeze the canvas fill'd,
Lifting us o'er the bright-ridged gulf,
And every lurch my darling thrill'd
With light fear smiling at itself;
And, dashing past the Arrogant,
Asleep upon the restless wave
After its cruise in the Levant,
We reach'd the Wolf, and signal gave
For help to board; within caution meet,
My bride was placed within the chair,
The red flag wrapp'd about her feet,
And so swung laughing through the air.
'Look, Love,' she said, 'there's Frederick Graham,
My cousin, whom you met, you know,'
And seeing us, the brave man came,
And made his frank and courteous bow,
And gave my hand a sailor's shake,
And said, 'You ask'd me to the Hurst:
I never thought my luck would make
Your wife and you my guests the first.'
And Honor, cruel, 'Nor did we:
Have you not lately changed your ship?'
'Yes: I'm Commander, now,' said he,
With a slight quiver of the lip.
We saw the vessel, shown with pride;
Took luncheon; I must eat his salt!
Parting he said, (I fear my bride
Found him unselfish to a fault),
His wish, he saw, had come to pass,
(And so, indeed, her face express'd),
That that should be, whatever 'twas,
Which made his Cousin happiest.
We left him looking from above;
Rich bankrupt! for he could afford
To say most proudly that his love
Was virtue and its own reward.
But others loved as well as he,
(Thought I, half-anger'd), and if fate,
Unfair, had only fashion'd me
As hapless, I had been as great.
As souls, ambitious, but low-born,
If raised past hope by luck or wit,
All pride of place will proudly scorn,
And live as they'd been used to it,
So we two wore our strange estate:
Familiar, unaffected, free,
We talk'd, until the dusk grew late,
Of this and that; but, after tea,
As doubtful if a lot so sweet
As ours was ours in very sooth,
Like children, to promote conceit,
We feign'd that it was not the truth;
And she assumed the maiden coy,
And I adored remorseless charms,
And then we clapp'd our hands for joy,
And ran into each others arms.
'Ah, dearest Wife, a fresh-lit fire
Sends forth to heaven great shows of fume,
And watchers, far away, admire;
But when the flames their power assume,
The more they burn the less they show,
The clouds no longer smirch the sky,
And then the flames intensest glow
When far-off watchers think they die.
The fumes of early love my verse
Has figured--' 'You must paint the flame!'
'Twould merit the Promethean curse!
But now, Sweet, for your praise and blame.'
'You speak too boldly; veils are due
To women's feelings.' 'Fear not this!
Women will vow I say not true,
And men believe thine lips they kiss.'
I did not call you "Dear" or "Love,"
'I think, till after Frank was born.'
'That fault I cannot well remove;
The rhymes'--but Frank now blew his horn,
And Walter bark'd, on hands and knees,
At Baby in the mignonette,
And all made, full-cry, for the trees
Where Felix and his Wife were set.
Again disturb'd, (crickets have cares!)
True to their annual use they rose,
To offer thanks at Evening Prayers
In three times sacred Sarum Close.
Passing, they left a gift of wine
At Widow Neale's. Her daughter said:
'O, Ma'am, she's sinking! For a sign,
She cried just now, of him that's dead,
"Mary, he's somewhere close above,
Weeping and wailing his dead wife,
With forceful prayers and fatal love
Conjuring me to come to life.
A spirit is terrible though dear!
It comes by night, and sucks my breath,
And draws me with desire and fear."
Ah, Ma'am, she'll soon be his in death!'
Vaughan, when his kind Wife's eyes were dry,
Said, 'This thought crosses me, my Dove;
If Heaven should proffer, when we die,
Some unconceiv'd, superior love,
How take the exchange without despair,
Without worse folly how refuse?'
But she, who, wise as she was fair,
For subtle doubts had simple clues,
Said, 'Custom sanctifies, and faith
Is more than joy: ah, how desire
In any heaven a different path,
Though, found at first, it had been higher?
Yet love makes death a dreadful thought!
Felix, at what a price we live!'
But present pleasures soon forgot
The future's dread alternative;
For, as became the festal time,
He cheer'd her heart with tender praise,
And speeches wanting only rhyme
To make them like his winged lays.
He discommended girlhood. 'What
For sweetness like the ten-years' wife,
Whose customary love is not
Her passion, or her play, but life?
With beauties so maturely fair,
Affecting, mild, and manifold,
May girlish charms mo more compare
Than apples green with apples gold.
Ah, still unpraised Honoria, Heaven,
When you into my arms it gave,
Left nought hereafter to be given
But grace to feel the good I have.'
Her own and manhood's modesty
Made dumb her love, but, on their road,
His hand in hers felt soft reply,
And like rejoinder found bestow'd;
And, when the carriage set them down,
'How strange,' said he, ''twould seem to meet,
When pacing, as we now this town,
A Florence or a Lisbon Street,
That Laura or that Catherine, who,
In the remote, romantic years,
From Petrarch or Camoens drew
Their songs and their immortal tears!'
But here their converse had its end;
For, crossing the Cathedral Lawn,
There came an ancient college-friend,
Who, introduced to Mrs. Vaughan,
Lifted his hat, and bow'd and smiled.
And fill'd her kind large eyes with joy,
By patting on the cheek her child,
With, 'Is he yours, this handsome boy?'
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