Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, TEA PARTY, by ELEANOR (ELINOR) CHIPP

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TEA PARTY, by            
First Line: My body sits here in the room
Last Line: "I've had so nice an afternoon!"
Subject(s): Conversation; Food & Eating; Love; Tea

My body sits here in the room
Where through the window scent of bloom
Drifts languidly.
The sunlight shines

On silver forks with polished tines,
On silver kettles in a row,
On cups and napkins white as snow.
My body sits here side by side
With gentle folk; but far and wide
My spirit, seeking to be free,
Moves back and forward restlessly
With other thoughts.
My lips are curled
Into a smile for all the world
As though I had no other mind
Than to be sweet and good and kind.
And yet I know that out of doors
A spring is blooming just like ours,
That larks are soaring flight on flight,
And in the orchards buds are white.
Oh, buds were white that other day
When we went down the sunlit way,
By fields up-ploughed and fresh for sowing,
Where we could hear the live things growing.
And I am thinking of long hills
Where cowslips grow and daffodils,
And I am seeing all the way
A lane grown thick with blossoming May;
White clouds that drift beyond the hill
Like phantom ships; am hearing still
His whispers in that silent place,
(White petals falling on my face)
Where through the bracken faery eyes
Looked out at us without surprise,
While all their play was hushed and sweet
To watch the lips of lovers meet.
Then were we cleansed in and out,
Freed of old mysteries and doubt;
Our souls slipped through our bodies' mesh
And rose unhampered of the flesh
Until we stood in open day
Naked and unashamed as they.
You well-dressed people in a row,
You'd call it shame, such thoughts, I know!
Yet have you seen spring out of doors,
White, white as love?
Has this been yours?
To know the peace of some high hill,
Far hidden, when the winds were still;
Lulled by the singing breeze that passes,
Deep, deep couched in the waving grasses,
Heeding never the skimming swallows,
Nor humming bees in the shady hollows;
Until so sweet and shrill and high
The cuckoo calls, one love-sick cry;
Then mad with scent of the sweet-leaved clover,
The sudden turning, lover to lover --
I hold my cup out in my hand.
No fear that they would understand.
"Another cup," I say, and smile,
"Another cup!" and all the while
My heart is crying out -- "Oh, see!
This, this was mine!"
This was, but he
That kissed my lips with eager breath
Has kissed instead the lips of Death.
Down ways too deep for man, too wide,
My thoughts are whirling in a tide.
If I were deaf, if I were blind,
Could never see the sun nor find
Our path which leads where once we loved
When we had life and breath and moved,
Would I forget? Would I be free
From this strange grief that tugs at me?
Content to think it but a dream,
And this the real?
(I must not scream!)
Instead I say, "The buds this year
Are wondrous thick."
Where are you, dear?
That cannot see the blithesome May,
Decked for a bridal holiday,
Come swinging down the orchard aisles
With singing lips and eager smiles,
Nor how the sun makes aureoles
About the shining elm tree boles,
Nor hear the robin's song of praise
At sunset time --
"How much the days
Are lengthening out," one turns to say.
I sip my tea. "Yes, aren't they!"
Yet I would cry -- God send the night
Lest I should madden at the sight
Of lovers going down our lanes,
'Twixt hedges fresh with springtime rains;
Lest I should guess the love he bears,
Should know too well the joy that's theirs,
Just how he stoops and turns to know,
There where our own wild roses grow,
The rapture of her lifted lips,
The yielding form that downward slips --
What if I lost the power to lie?
What if I uttered one fierce cry?
Would all these proper people rise
In curious and strained surprise,
In shocked and shamefaced scrutiny
To turn their well-dressed backs on me?
I think I hear my host explain --
"We'll not ask her to tea again!"
They need not fear so mad a mood.
"My dear," I say, "these cakes are good.
How are they made as light as that?
And are they really fried in fat?"
How are they made? How is life made?
Of bitterness and joys that fade,
Of springtide laughter quick to flee
And tears that linger endlessly!

Yet all the while my lips are curled
Into a smile, for all the world
As if my heart were gay and free
And youth had never died in me.
For these are folk who'd scorn my tears,
So I must ever down the years
Endure this silly painted show,
This madding talk of "so and so,"
A heavy secret in my side,
That I must hide, and hide, and hide
In idle gossip, light as birds,
And futile froth of empty words,
A round of calls and drinking tea,
With stupid faces watching me,
And genteel voices humming low --
Until at last 'tis time to go.
With no rude haste we rise and we
Stretch out our hands most courteously.
"Do come," I say, "to see me soon.
I've had so nice an afternoon!"

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