Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ROMAN WOMEN, by THOMAS EDWARD BROWN



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ROMAN WOMEN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Close by the mamertine
Last Line: O pincian woman, do not come to rome!
Alternate Author Name(s): Brown, T. E.
Subject(s): Roman Empire; Women


I

CLOSE by the Mamertine
Her eyes swooped into mine.
O Jove supreme!
What gleam
Of sovereignty! what hate --
Large, disproportionate!
What lust
August!
Imperial state
Of full-orbed throbbings solved
In vast and dissolute content --
Love-gluts revolved
In lazy rumination, rent,
As then, by urgence of the immediate sting!
The tiger spring
Is there; the naked strife
Of sinewy gladiators, knife
Slant-urged, Locusta drugs,
Suburran rangings, Messalina hugs;
Neronic crapula-pangs
I' the dizzy morning; gangs
Of captives: -- "Pretty men enough,
Eh, Livia?" Puff
Of lecherous torches; ooze
Of gutter-creeping gore; the booze
Gnathic, Trimalchial; hot hiss
Of leno in the lobby -- This,
And more. No wonder if her brow
Is arched to empire even now!
No wonder
If bated thunder
Sleeps in her silken lashes!
If flashes
Of awful splendour light the purple mud
That clogs the sphered depths palatial!
No wonder if a blotch of blood
Lies murd'rous in the centre of the ball!

II

That look was Heaven or Hell,
As you shall please to take it --
Enormity of love, or lust so fell
The Devil could not slake it --
And so -- and so --
She passes -- I shall never know.

III

Ah! now
I have you, Julia, Brutus' mate,
Such lip, such brow,
Such port, such gait:
A body, where the act of every sense,
Compounds a final excellence --
Ah, glorious woman! Whence
This perfect good,
If not from juice
Of finer blood,
Perfumed with use
Of ardours pure, intense
With strains of sweet control?
Clear soul,
If unpropitious starr'd,
You wear the fitting vesture,
You have the native gesture,
And your most wanton thought mounts guard
On chastity's fair fence.

IV

Woman, a word with you!
Round-ribbed, large-flanked,
Broad-shouldered (God be thanked!),
Face fair and free,
And pleasant for a man to see --
I know not whom you love; but -- hark! be true:
Partake his honest joys;
Cling to him, grow to him, make noble boys
For Italy.

V

Pomegranate, orange, rose,
Chewed to a paste
(Her flesh);
A miscellaneous nose,
No waist;
Mouth ript and ragg'd,
Ears nipt and jagg'd,
As fresh
From bull-dog grapplings; tongue
Beet-root, crisp, strong,
Now curled against the teeth,
Lip-cleaving now, like flower from sheath.
Now fix'd, now vibrant, blowing spray
Of spittle on the King's highway.

VI

Pretty? I think so;
Crushed, I admit it, and crumpled and bruised,
And smashed out of shape,
The poor little ape,
And sorely and sadly abused
Yes, I should say so --
Like a streamlet defiled at the source,
Condemned in advance --
Not a ghost of a chance --
Invertebrate morals, of course!

Pretty? yes, pretty --
For the sighs and the sobs and the tears
Have got mixed with the mesh
Of her wonderful flesh,
And leavened the growth of the years.

Pretty, and more --
For she sighs not, and sobs not, nor weeps;
But the sobs and the sighs
And the tears of her eyes
Dissolve in the physical deeps.
And they soften and sweeten the whole,
And in abject submission
To any condition
She fashions the ply of her soul.

VII

Good wife, good mother -- yes, I know.
But what a glow
Of elemental fires!
What breadth, what stately flow
Of absolute desires --
How bound
To household task
And daily round,
It boots not ask!

Good mother, and good wife --
These women seem to live suspended life.
As lakes, dark-gleaming till the night is done,
Expect the sun,
So these,
That wont to hold Jove's offspring on their knees,
Take current odds,
Accept life's lees,
And wait returning Gods.

VIII

Ah! naughty little girl,
With teeth of pearl,
You exquisite little brute,
So young, so dissolute --
Ripe orange brushed
From an o'erladen tree, chance-crushed
And bruised and battered on the street,
And yet so merry and so sweet!
Ah, child, don't scoff --
Yes, yes, I see -- you lovely wretch, be off!

IX

This is the Forum of Augustus -- see
The continuity
Of all these Forums, and the size --
(By Jove, those eyes!).

Three pillars of the peristyle -- that's all;
A fragment of the wall;
Some doubtful traces of the cella --
(Down the Bonella!).

Corinthian capitals -- observe how fine
The helices entwine --
Your Badeker a minutino --
(Ha! the Baccino!).

The Arco de' Pantani shows the ground
Has risen all around.
Of course you know we're far above the level
Of -- (Gone? The Devil!).

Badeker tells how many feet we stand
Above old Rome. He's grand!
He is so plain, is Badeker --
(Again she's there!).

I really -- 'pon my word, you know, this book
This badeker -- (Look! look!) --
This English Badeker's so plain --
(She's there again!).

You don't seem quite to -- (What a heavenly boddice!) --
You don't -- (A perfect goddess!) --
I mean, you seem a bit distrait --
(O, blue! O, green! O -- blazes -- Fire away!).

X

"You seem so strange to me,
You merman from the Northern sea" --
"A barnacle from Noah's ark?"
"Well -- yes -- a sort of shark!"
"Ah, blow then, darling, blow!
Blow in my ears, and let the warm breath flow,
And search the inmost vault
Of my sad brain. Blow, love --
Blow in the cooing of the dove,
Blow out the singing of the salt!"

XI

A little maiden, fifteen years or under --
And, as the curtain swings with heavy lurch,
Behold, she stands within St. Peter's Church --
O wonder! wonder! wonder!

And yet not so -- her birthright rather seems it
She claims, whose breast the brooding sunshine warms
To absolute sense of colours and of forms --
Her birthright 'tis she deems it.

Or nothing deems -- but, very sweet and grave,
Yet proud withal to be at last in Rome,
And see the shops, and see St. Peter's Dome,
She passes up the nave.

And if some angel spreads a silver wing
I know not -- Visibly accompanying her
Are but her mother and her grandmother --
The lovely little thing!

Such soil, such children, representing clearly
The land they live in; so that if this pet
Of subtlest variance had the alphabet,
You'd think it nature merely.

And if, where stemming crags the torrent shatter,
She stood before the sunlit waterfall,
And wrapp'd the rainbow round her like a shawl,
It were a simple matter.

Now Mary and her dead Son -- she has seen them: --
"Yes, darling, wrought by Michael Angelo"!
And now, too short to reach to Peter's toe,
They lift her up between them;

And, having kissed, she soft unclasps her mother,
As graduated woman from to-day;
And blushing thinks, how Seppe's sick till they
Shall marry one another.

And when to-night her Seppe comes to meet her,
And, for the one poor kiss she gave to Peter,
Exacts a vengeful twenty, if she can
For kisses, she will tell him all the plan
Of Peter's Church, and What a tiny kiss
It was, "Seppino; not like this, or this!"
And how, hard by, the hungry Englishman
Looked just as if he'd eat her!

XII

Why does she stare at you like that? The glow
Flew sheeted,
As from the furnace seven times heated
For Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego.
Is it immediate sense
Of difference?
Of complement? And so --
While we want sun and grapes,
This burning creature gapes
For ice and snow!

XIII

O Englishwoman on the Pincian,
I love you not, nor ever can --
Astounding woman on the Pincian!
I know your mechanism well-adjusted,
I see your mind and body have been trusted
To all the proper people:
I see you straight as is a steeple;
I see you are not old;
I see you are a rich man's daughter;
I see you know the use of gold,
But also know the use of soap-and-water;
And yet I love you not, nor ever can --
Distinguished woman on the Pincian!

You have no doubt of your preeminence,
Nor do I make pretence
To challenge it for my poor little slattern,
Whose costume dates from Saturn --
My wall-flower with the long, love-draggled fringes
But then the controversy hinges
On higher forms; and you must bear
Comparisons more noble. Stare, yes, stare --
I love you not, nor ever can,
You peerless woman on the Pincian.

No, you'll not see her on the Pincian,
My Roman woman, wife of Roman man!
Elsewhere you may --
And she is bright as is the day;
And she is sweet, that honest workman's wife
Fulfilled with bounteous life:
Her body balanced like a spring
In equipoise of perfect natural grace;
Her soul unquestioning
Of all but genial cares; her face,
Her frock, her attitude, her pace
The confluence of absolute harmonies --
And you, my Lady Margaret,
Pray what have you to set
'Gainst splendours such as these?
No, I don't love you, and I never can,
Pretentious woman on the Pincian!

But morals -- beautiful serenity
Of social life, the sugar and the tea,
The flannels and the soup, the coals,
The patent recipes for saving souls,
And other things: the chill dead sneer
Conventional, the abject fear
Of form-transgressing freedom -- I admit
That you have these; but love you not a whit
The more, nor ever can,
Alarming female on the Pincian!

Come out, O woman, from this blindness!
Rome, too, has women full of loving-kindness,
Has noble women, perfect in all good
That makes the glory of great womanhood --
But they are Women! I have seen them bent
On gracious errand; seen how goodness lent
The grave, ineffable charm
That guards from possibility of harm
A creature so divinely made,
So softly swayed
With native gesture free --
The melting-point of passionate purity.
Yes -- soup and flannels too,
And tickets for them -- just like you --
Tracts, books, and all the innumerable channels
Through which your bounty acts --
Well -- not the tracts,
But certainly the flannels --
Her I must love, but you I never can,
Unlovely woman on the Pincian.

And yet --
Remarkable woman on the Pincian! --
We owe a sort of debt
To you, as having gone with us of old
To those bleak islands, cold
And desolate and grim,
Upon the ocean's rim,
And shared their horrors with us -- not that then
Our poor bewildered ken
Could catch the further issues, knowing only
That we were very lonely!
Ah well, you did us service in your station;
And how the progress of our civilisation
Has made you quite so terrible
It boots not ask; for still
You gave us stalwart scions,
Suckled the young sea-lions,
And smiled infrequent, glacial smiles
Upon the sulky isles --
For this and all His mercies ---- stay at home!
Here are the passion-flowers!
Here are the sunny hours!
O Pincian woman, do not come to Rome!





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