Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BONNYBELL: THE BUTTERFLY, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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BONNYBELL: THE BUTTERFLY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: As I shall die, let your belief
Last Line: Souls must go where the lode-star lures.
Subject(s): Love


As I shall die, let your belief
Find in these words too poor and brief
My soul's essential self.
My grief
Down to the day I knew you locks
Its secret word in paradox:
I who loved truth could not be true,
Could only love the truth and glow
With words of truth who loved it so,
Even while I dishonored you.
I who loved constancy was false,
And heeded but in part the calls
Of loveliness for love and you.
I am but half of that I hoped,
And that half hardly more than words
I cheered my soul with as it groped:
As from their bowers of rain the birds
Sing feebly, pining for the sun.
As I am all of this, by fate
Lose what I could so well have won,
Life leaves me half articulate,
My failure, nature half-expressed,
Or wholly hidden in my breast.
Yes, dear, the secret of me lies
Where words scarce come to analyze.
Yet who knows why he is this or that?
What moves, defeats him, works him ill?
What blood ancestral of the bat
Narrows his music to the shrill
Squeak of a flitting thing that hunts
For gnats, which never singing, fronts
The full moon flooding down the vale,
The perfect soul, the nightingale!

You have wooed music all your life,
And I have sought for love. I think
My soul was marked, dear, by a wife
Who loved a man immersed in drink,
Who crushed her love which would not die.
If this be true, my soul's great thirst
Was blended with a fault accursed.
My mother's love is my soul's cry.
My father's vileness, lies and lusts
His cruel heart, inconstancy
That kept my mother with the crusts
Of life to gnaw, are in my blood.
My rainbow wings I scarce can loose,
Or if I free them, there's the mud
That weighs and mars their use.
You have wooed music. But suppose
The hampered hours and poverty
Broke down your spirit's harmony,
Then if you found you could achieve
The music in you, if you could
But pick a pocket or deceive,
Which would you call the greater good --
The music or a sin withstood?
Suppose you passed a window where
The violin of your despair
Lay ready for your hands! At last
You stole it as you hurried past,
And hid it underneath your rags
Until you reached your attic room,
Then tuned the strings and burned the tags,
And drew the bow till lyric fire
Should all your thieving thoughts consume:
In such case what is your desire --
The music or the violin?
And what in such case is your sin?
And if they caught you in your theft,
Would you, just to be honest, dear
Forefront your thief-self as your deft
And dominant genius, or the ear
Which tortured you?

Would you not say,
Music intrigues me night and day?
My soul is the musician's. First
In my soul's love is music. Would
You falsify to keep your good?
Deny your theft, or put the worst
Construction on your soul, obscure
Thereby your soul's investiture
Of music's gift and music's lure?
If you were flame you would pretend
What you would fain be to the end,
Keep your good name and keep as well
The violin. May this not be
In some realm an integrity?
Now for myself, dear, though I lack
The gift of utterance to explain
My life's pursuit and passion, pain,
Or why I acted thus, concealed
Thoughts that you hold were best revealed,
Your eyes to heal themselves must track
And find my soul's way in its quest
Followed from girlhood without rest.
Music is not its hope, but love. . . .
And I saw somehow I could lift
My life through you, and rise above
What I had been. And since your gift
Of love saw me as truthful, true
I kept that best side to your view,
And hoped to be what you desired
If I but struggled, still aspired.
And as for lapses, even while
I fooled you with the wanton's smile,
He was my lover till you came
To light my life with purer flame.
Was it, beloved, so great a sin?
He was a practice violin.
Oh, how I knew this when your strings
Sang to me afterward when I slept
Upon your breast again. I wept,
Do you remember? I was grieving
Neither for him, nor your deceiving,
Rather (how strange is life) that he
Was prelude to your harmony;
Rather that while I walked with him,
With you I found the cherubim,
Left my old self at last with wings,
Saw beauty clear where it was dim
Before, through my imaginings.

Do you suppose the primrose knows
What skill adds petals to its crown?
How many failures laugh and frown
Upon the hand that crosses, sows?
The hand is ignorant of the power
Obedient in the primrose flower
To the hand's skill that toils to add
New petals till the flower be clad
In fuller glory. What's the bond
Between us two, that I respond
To what you are? Nor do you know
What lies within me fain to grow
Under your hand.

But if the worm
Should call itself the butterfly,
Since it will soon become one, I
Better to be myself affirm
That I am Beauty, Truth -- for you
I would be Beauty, Truth, imbue
Your life with love and loveliness.
And you can make me Beauty, Truth,
And I can bring you soul success
If you but train my flower whose youth
Still may be governed, keep erect
My hope in this poor earthern sod.
I think this is a task which God
Appoints for us. We may neglect
The task in this life, but to find
It is a task we leave behind,
Only to meet it, till we see
Our fate worked out in lives to be.
O. from my crawling self to spread
My golden wings above your head,
Through love of love and you discard
The sting, the rings of green, the shard.
Oh, to be Psyche, passion tried
Through flesh, desire, purified!
Love is my lode-star, music yours --
Souls must go where the lode-star lures.





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