(Francis Thompson)

Before Her Portrait in Youth

As lovers, banished from their ladys face
      And hopeless of her grace,
Fashion a ghostly sweetness in its place,
      Fondly adore
Some stealth-won cast attire she wore,
      A kerchief or a glove:
      And at the lovers beck
   Into the glove there fleets the hand,
   Or at impetuous command
Up from the kerchief floats the virgin neck:
So I, in very lowlihead of love,
      Too shyly reverencing
   To let one thoughts light footfall smooth
Tread near the living, consecrated thing,
   Treasure me thy cast youth.
This outworn vesture, tenantless of thee,
      Hath yet my knee,
   For that, with show and semblance fair
      Of the past Her
Who once the beautiful, discarded raiment bare,
      It cheateth me.
   As gale to gale drifts breath
   Of blossoms death,
So dropping down the years from hour to hour
   This dead youths scent is wafted me to-day:
I sit, and from the fragrance dream the flower.
      So, then, she looked (I say);
      And so her front sunk down
Heavy beneath the poets iron crown:
      On her mouth museful sweet
      (Even as the twin lips meet)
      Did thought and sadness greet:
      In those mournful eyes
   So put on visibilities;
As viewless ether turns, in deep on deep, to dyes.
      Thus, long ago,
She kept her meditative paces slow
Through maiden meads, with wavèd shadow and gleam
Of locks half-lifted on the winds of dream,
Till love up-caught her to his chariots glow.
Yet, voluntary, happier Proserpine!
      This drooping flower of youth thou lettest fall
      I, faring in the cockshut-light, astray,
         Find on my lated way,
      And stoop, and gather for memorial,
And lay it on my bosom, and make it mine.
To this, the all of love the stars allow me,
      I dedicate and vow me.
      I reach back through the days
A trothed hand to the dead the last trump shall not raise.
      The water-wraith that cries
From those eternal sorrows of thy pictured eyes
Entwines and draws me down their soundless intricacies!

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