Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, VARIATIONS ON A THEME: ROMANCE, by EDITH SITWELL



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VARIATIONS ON A THEME: ROMANCE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: She grew within his heart as the flushed rose
Last Line: A ghost turn to a perfume on the leaves.
Subject(s): Romance


SHE grew within his heart as the flushed rose
In the green heat of the long summer grows
Deep in the sorrowful heaven of her leaves.
And this song only is the sound that grieves
When the gold-fingered wind from the green veins
Of the rich rose deflowers her amber blood,
The sharp green rains.
Such is the song, grown from a sleepy head,
Of lovers in a country paradise,—
You shall not find it where a song-bird flies,
Nor from the sound that in a bird-throat grieves,
Its chart lies not in maps on strawberry leaves.

Green were the pomp and pleasure of the shade
Wherein they dwelt; like country temples green
The huge leaves bear a dark-mosaic'd sheen
Like gold on forest temples richly laid.

And when the day first gleaned the sun's corn sheaves
The nymphs among those temples of the leaves
Hunted the boar; Zenobia and Aspasia
Were black beneath those great corn-sheaves like Asia—

For the rich heat had made them black as cloud
Or smooth-leaved trees; they lay by waters loud,
And gold-stringed citherns of loud waters made
A madrigal, a country serenade.

In feathered head-dresses with bows and arrows
Beside the caves as green as gherkins, marrows,
Or gourds they walked; the Asian pomp and train
Of waves beside the glittering wide sea-main

They seemed, or like a fleet from India, fraught
With all the riches of the rising sun
And precious sand from southern climates brought—
Rich as the tears from incense trees that run.

And there the satyr wind's long hands forlorn
Plucked the gold spangles of the dew from corn
And from the Asian darkness of the trees
To make more glittering the gowns of these,

Where swan-skin leaves of cherries seem a cloud
And coral tears of the rich light fall loud
In that smooth darkness; the gourds dark as caves
Hold thick gold honey for their fountains waves,

Figs dark and wrinkled as Silenus hold
Rubies and garnets, and the melons cold
Waves like a fountain; falling on the grass
The apples boom like sharp green summer rain.

But Time drifts by as the long-plumaged winds
And the dark swans whose plumes seem weeping leaves
In the shade's deepest splendour,—these drift by.
And sometimes he would turn to her and sigh:

"The bright swans leave the wave ... so leave not me.
With Aethiopæa, smooth Aërope¯
Amid the pomp and splendour of the shade
Their rich and leafy plumes a lulling music made.

Dark are their plumes, and dark the airs that grew
Amid those weeping leaves.
Plantations of the East drop precious dew
That ripened by the light, rich leaves perspire,
Such are the drops that from the bright swans' feathers flew.

Come then, my pomp and pleasure of the shade,
Most lovely cloud that the hot sun made black
As dark-leaved swans.
Come then, O precious cloud,
Lean to my heart. No shade of some rich tree
Shall pour such splendour as your heart to me."

So these two lovers dreamed the time away
Beside smooth waters like the honey waves
In the ripe melons that are dark as caves;
Eternity seemed but a summer day.

And they forgot, seeing the Asian train
Of waves upon the glittering wide sea main
And rich gold waves from fountain caverns run,
That all the splendour of the eastern sun

And many a rose-shaped heart must lie beneath
The maps on strawberry leaves dark green as snows,
With amber dust that was a nymph or rose—

And worlds more vast lie ruined by sad Time
That is the conqueror of our green clime.

For even the beasts eschew the shrunken heart
That dieth of itself, small deaths devour—
Or that worm mightier than death's,—the small corroding hour.

How ancient is the Worm, companionless
As the black dust of Venus? Dulled to this
And loathèd as the Worm, she is alone
Though all the morbid suns lay in her kiss.

How old, the small undying snake that wreathes
Round lips and eyes, now that the kiss has gone?
In that last night, when we, too, are alone
We have, for love that seemed eternity
The old unchanging memory of the bone—
That porphyry whence grew the summer rose.

Most ancient is the Worm,—more old than night
Or the first music heard among the trees
And the unknown horizons' harmonies
Where the huge suns come freshened. Shrunk and cold
Is he, like Venus blackened, noseless, old.

Yet all immensities lie in his strong
Embrace, horizons that no sight hath known,
The veins whose sea had heard the siren song
And worlds that grew from an immortal kiss.

And still their love amid this green world grieves:
"The gold light drips like myrrh upon the leaves
And fills with gold those chambers of the South
That were your eyes, that honeycomb your mouth.

And now the undying Worm makes no great stir,
His tight embrace chills not our luxuries
Though the last light perfumes our bones like myrrh
And Time's beat dies.
Come, with your kiss renew
The day till all the old worlds die like dew.

When the green century of summer rains
Lay on the leaves, then like the rose I wept.
For I had dwelt in sorrow as the rose
In the deep heaven of her leaves lies close.
Then you, my gardener, with green fingers stroked my leaves
Till all the gold drops turned to honey. Grieves
This empire of green shade when honeyed rains
And amber blood flush all the sharp green veins
Of the rich rose?
So doth my rose-shaped heart
Feel the first flush of summer; love's first smart
Seemed no more sorrowful than the deep tears
The rose wept in that green and honeyed clime.

The green rains drip like the slow beat of Time
That grows within the amber blood, green veins
Of the rich rose, and in the rose-shaped heart,—
Changing the amber flesh to a clay wall.
Then comes the endless cold
At last, that is the Zero, mighty, old,
Huge as the heart, but than the worm more small—
Our final structure, the heart's ragged dress
That rose from Nothing, fell to Nothingness.

For the vast universal Night shall cover
The earth from Pole to Pole, and like a lover
Invade your heart that changed into my stone,
And I your Sisyphus. We two shall lie
Like those within the grave's eternity
And dream our arms hold the horizons deep
Where the strong suns come freshened from deep seas,
The continents beyond discoveries,
Eternal youth, and the god's wisdom, sleep.

How should I dream that I must wake alone
With a void coffin of sad flesh and bone—
You, with the small undying serpent's kiss,
You, the dull rumour of the dust's renown—
The polar night, a boulder rolling down
My heart, your Sisyphus, to that abyss
Where is nor light, nor dark, nor soul, nor heart to eat—
Only the dust of all the dead, the sound of passing feet,"

So winter fell, the heart shaped like the rose
Beneath the mountain of oblivion lies
With all death's nations and the centuries.
And this song ending fades like the shrill snows,

Dim as the languid moon's vast fading light
That scatters sparkles faint and dim and chill
Upon the wide leaves round my window sill
Like Aethiopæa ever jewelled bright...

So fading from the branches the snow sang
With a strange perfume, a melodious twang
As if a rose should change into a ghost—
A ghost turn to a perfume on the leaves.





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