Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE TWO FLAMES, by ELOISE BRITON



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THE TWO FLAMES, by            
First Line: Behind my mask of life there lies a shrine
Last Line: My leaping flames, the red one and the white.
Subject(s): Fire; Friendship; Life; Love; Passion; Red (Color); White (Color)


Behind my mask of life there lies a shrine
Wherein two flames are burning. Day and night
I tend these leaping treasures that are mine,
These lambent loves, the red one and the white,
While, priestess-like, I hang at either glow,
For each is perfect. And to each I bring
The oil of pure emotion, hottest so,
And draw new strength from my own offering.

The first of these my loves burns as a star
That lifts its keen, white glory into space
With virgin fervor, lavishing afar
Its vivid purity: and in the face
Of changeful worlds it glows unaltered still.
So burns my flame of friendship. In its sight
All things are silvered with a new delight
And beauty's self strikes deeper, till the thrill
Of mere existence vibrates like a string.
Then life is grown so taut that it must sing,
And all the little hills must clap their hands.
The soul is free as never bird on wing
To bathe in friendship like a sea of light:
And ever as it mounts the sea expands
In new infinities, and each new height
Grows keener than the last, until the mind
For very dizziness sweeps downward then
To simpler things, the cadence of a voice,
Or sweet, low laughter, idle as the wind,
Or fleeting touch of hands that quick rejoice
But ask no more and do not touch again.
With this white flame there comes a strange new peace,
A deep tranquility unknown beside,
Where all my life's cross-currents shift and cease
Like runways in the sand before the tide.
And all that I have longed to be, the brave
High dreams of youth that languished nigh forgot
Seem half accomplished. Easy now to slave
At tasks colossal, so my friend fail not.
And I am filled with gentle wonderment
That life can be so good and breath so sweet:
While all my world grows suddenly complete.
That I must love it with a new content.
So speech grows overfull, and we are fain
To drink of silence like a golden cup
With wine of sweet companionship filled up
That has no end, nor any thirst can drain.
And so at last no wish is left to me
Save thus to dream into eternity.
This is my first white love.
The second flame
Burns red and fierce as noon-time on the earth,
A wild, full-blooded love that sprang to birth
Naked and unafraid, yet scorning shame
And clean as winds that sweep the desert's breast.
My flame of passion this, born of the sun
And warm red earth, so æon-long ago,
In languid, throbbing noons, when dust was pressed
To amorous dust, and longing made it one.
This is a good love too, and must be so,
Though bloodless fathers crushed it and denied,
And on a cross of virtue crucified
This firm sweet flesh that colors with our soul.
Aye! it is good, and beautiful, and clean,
To feel within my veins the surge and flow
Of young desire waking, that the whole
Warm universe has felt: to call, and preen,
And dance before my mate that he may know
An answering surge, and leap, and make me his
And glad with every fecund thing that is.
God! It is good to feel the primal cry,
The deep, mad longing for another life, —
My life and his, that shall be born of me, —
A little child of flame, that when we die
We may cheat time, nor perish in the strife:
But in this hour of vital ecstasy
When life is molten, we may stamp thereon
Our own glad image, and conceive, and live.
And sweet it is, and languid, when the tide
Has ebbed, for lack of more than I can give,
To take his hand who breathes so close beside
And lay it on my breast, and humble me
To say: "Thou art my lord. Thy will my own."
So at the last this wish is mine, to be
Struck at the high-tide into nothingness,
To die, ere he can learn to love me less.

So these my loves are perfect, each alone
Sufficient in itself and all complete,
Yet one of two, like rival beacons shown,
That call and call me, but that never meet.
For yet they have not met, nor ever burned
The white flame in the red, the red in white
Till both were wed together there, and turned
To some half-dreamed intensity of light.

For I have dreamed, — yes, in my priestess soul
The longing grows for one great altar fire
That shall leap up to heaven, a winged desire,
Not two but one, a perfect, living whole.
Is this a dream? Are all great lovers dreams?
Can red and white be fused, or two be one?
Yseult and Eloise, are they but themes
Whereon men hang the yearnings they have spun?
And must I cherish so till the end's end
My sweet loves sundered, lover here, or friend?
Nay, I know not! I guard by day and night
My leaping flames, the red one and the white.





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