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Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

Sacred And Profane Love


In the dark shadow of the windless pines
Whose gloomy glory lines the obsequies
Of the gaunt Claudian Aqueduct along
The lone Campagna to sepulchral Rome,
A Northern youth, companionless, reclined,
Pondering on records of the Roman Past,
Kingdom, Republic, Empire, longwhile gone.
Hard-by, through marble tomb revivified,
Rippled and bubbled water crystalline,
Inwelling from the far-off Sabine hills.
When lo! upon the tomb's deep-dinted rim
Slowly there broadened on his gaze two shapes,
Material embodiment of those
The great Venetian in resplendent hues
Upon the canvas lastingly portrayed,
Christened by fame Profane and Sacred Love.
One was in rich habiliments arrayed,
With dimpling folds about her rounded limbs,
And heaving corset of embossed brocade,
Compressing beaker for her brimming breasts.
Jewels were in her hair, jewels entwined
Themselves round her columnar throat, and thus
On him she gazed unshrinkingly, and seemed
Sensuous seduction irresistible.
The other in nude innocency clad,
All save veined vineleaf cincture round her waist,
Sate with her gaze averted, and beheld
Only her image trembling in the wave.
Her had he fain accosted, but the dread
Of violating her aloofness checked
The movement of his mind, and held him mute.
So to the One resplendently enrobed,
Familiarly fearless as herself,
He turned, albeit his thought was otherwhere,
As elsewhere his desire, and boldly said:
``If with your earthly seeming be conjoined
Gift and capacity of earthly speech,
Speak to me, earthly, an you will, and break
The all too spacious silence with your voice.''
Her curving lips, whose fulness seemed to pledge
Intoxicating kisses, drooped apart,
And to her orbs upsurged volcanic fire,
As she with prompt unhesitating voice,
Commanding more than musical, rejoined.
Whereat that Other ever and anon
Would for a moment turn to him her face,
To note the interpretation of his heart
And wavering of his will, and then once more
Her look averted to the Sabine hills,
And cloudless vault of overarching Heaven.

Profane Love speaks
``I am the Goddess mortals call Profane,
Yet worship me as though I were divine;
Over their lives, unrecognised, I reign,
For all their thoughts are mine.

``I was coeval with the peopled Earth,
And, while it lasts, I likewise shall endure,
For Destiny endowed me at my birth
With every mundane lure.

``Men rear no marble temple to my name,
No statues mould in Minster or in mart,
Yet in their longings silently proclaim
My throne is on their heart.

``Unto the phantom Deities of air
They pay lip homage, carven altars raise,
To these bow down with ceremonial prayer,
And sycophantic praise.

``With them I kneel, but neither praise nor pray,
While tapers burn, hymns float, and organ rolls,
Because I know that there too can I sway
And stupefy their souls.

``Their pompous flatteries are not for me,
My panegyric is the secret sigh:
Wherefore should mortals monuments decree
To Me who cannot die?

``I am the fountain of wealth, titles, power,
'Tis I ordain the pedestal and bust,
When there doth toll the inevitable hour,
The hour of death and dust.

``Ruby, and pearl, and diamond, and the ore
Torn from the entrails of the Earth, are mine;
Mine are the cargoes shipped from shore to shore,
Spices, and silks, and wine:

``Wherewith men buy what crafty barter brings,-
Greater the gain, more hazardous the risks,-
Toil from the many, coronets from Kings,
And lust from odalisques.

``If such content not, since your hopes aspire
On heights of popularity to tower,
I can conduct you on yet swifter tire
To winning-peak of Power.

``Then without scruple, pity, or restraint,
Cleave you your conquering way; for there is nought,
Of all that worldlings crave and hirelings paint,
But can be seized or bought.

``Myriads from mine and furrow, quay and loom,
Shall congregate to hear you pledge and prate,
Hailing you heaven-sent warder-off of gloom,
And Saviour of the State.

``And lissom sirens, temptingly attired,
With heartless hearts, self-seeking as your own,
By your sonorous phrases will be fired,
And gather round your throne.

``Platform and Senate, Cabinet and Court,
You shall cajole, convert, or overawe;
Whithersoe'er you speciously disport,
Your wordy Will be law.

``But many and many a worshipper have I,
So cannot grant monopoly of power:
Others there be who fain would climb as high
As you, and have their hour.

``Then their ambition with your own will shock,
And they awhile on foremost seat may reign:
Men's favour is a quicksand, not a rock,
And veers like gust and vane.

``Then must you with invectives fume and rage
All through the land, denouncing evil times,
With histrionic passion; 'tis a stage
For mountebanks and mimes-

``Slandering the foes who slander you, and so,
If thousands hate, thousands will hail, your name,
Till you in notoriety shall grow,
The herd confound with Fame.

``Them that o'erwhelm, vindictiveness o'erwhelms,
So nought shall you from Fortune's wheel entice,
Gambling for Self's predominance with Realms
And Empires for your dice.

``If with the years male energy should wane,
Orders and honours on you shall be shed:
Thus will you still in man's remembrance reign,
A halo round your head.

``And when at length the End of all life's ends
Doth with the little lay the mighty down,
And domination finally descends
Graveward without its Crown,

``Processions populous, bedizened hearse,
And mourners ermined shall your dust convey
To pompous tomb, and vying prose and verse
Protract your little day.

``What though your name grow faint, as time recedes,
Like scarce-heard wave upon a far-off shore,
And wax the record of your words and deeds
A voice and nothing more,

``You will have drained all that the world can give,
All boons and blandishments of Love Profane,
Success and homage, for which sane men live,
And all the rest is vain.''

She ceased; and, as she ceased, then Sacred Love,
That ever and anon meanwhile had bent
On him her look, and smilingly surmised,
From his vague gaze and inattentive ears,
That he was only waiting for Her voice,
Like to the moon fleeting through fleecy clouds,
Her undissembled beauty on him bared,
And with a voice like sylvan rivulet
That haunts the woodlands, muffled half by leaves,
Serene and slow with silvery clearness spake.

``In the unseen first-fostering of breath
Whose secret is by Science vainly sought,
Uncertain borderland 'twixt Life and Death,
I share the silence of the Mother's thought.

``Her love is not more anxious than is mine,
Together we await the human cry,
For even then I, Sacred Love, divine
If it will grow to voice that may not die.

``And I its foster-mother am, and feed
Its suckling dreams, and watch it waxing strong,
Giving it for its plaything moorland reed,
That it may grow and ripen into Song.

``For Love Profane doth sleeplessly await
Its coming, to mislead it on its way,
Whispering, `Become what Greatness deemeth great,
Till mighty Rulers recognise your sway.'

``I listened tremblingly while Love Profane
Strove to entice you to the worldling's throne,
Along the worldling's way, but strove in vain.
Now hath She gone, and we are here alone.''

His gaze that had on Her who thuswise spake
Fastened, since indivisibly intent
Upon the cadence of her voice, quick turned
At these last words, to look for Love Profane.
But lo! its effigy from marble rim
Had vanished, like the face of Roman sway,
Kingship, Republic, Empire; and the flow
Of water welling through the rifled tomb
Was the sole sound he heard, until her voice
Melodiously measured, spake once more.

``Rise and come near to me, and take my hand,
And lay your cheek against my cheek, for sign
That you henceforth will know and understand
That all the children of the Muse are mine.

``Your parent am I, though I seem so young,
It is my birthright never to grow old;
Young shall I keep so long as songs are sung,
By such fresh offspring gladdened and consoled.

``I was beside the font when you were brought
Into the granite-pillared House of Prayer;
Smiled at your loneliness when first you sought
To sing away your load of childish care.

``Rapture maternal fluttered in my heart
When you yourself disdainfully denied
What worldlings prize, and chose the better part,
Wending where now I find you at my side.

``I know your present sorrow, since you fear
I have forsaken you and left you lone,
And Rome has silenced what you held so dear.
Wait! from the unseen seed the flower is grown.

``Rome is the tomb of Heroes, and of Kings,
Consuls, and conquerors, and world-wide sway:
What wonder, should it silence him that sings
Before he learns what he must sing and say?

``But you may live and die, a Voice unheard:
I promise not what I can not fulfil:
Only,-in the Beginning was the Word,
It was with God, and it is godlike still.

``But unto you, as unto all my line,
Or strong or weak, resounding or obscure,
I pledge the gifts inalienably mine,
Gifts that content and pleasures that endure:

``Companionship of woodlands, hills, and streams,
And gentle womenkind, to whom you owe
Youth in your heart, and shaping of your dreams,
And these will teach what more you need to know.

``Nature's still fresh society will keep
Your feelings young, as you each April follow
Coy maiden Spring, when she awakes from sleep
In windflower dell and primrose pillowed hollow:

``Watch Autumn wax in splendour day by day,
Then, slowly yielding unto Time's assault,
Her moribund magnificence decay,
To sleep entombed in Winter's icy vault;

``And when the boughs stretch bare and fallows hoar,
And plovers wheel about the moorland wide,
Hear the pinched wind wailing through chink and door,
With piteous prayer to share the warm fireside.

``Nature's capriciousness leaves just the same
Her inmost self; she does nor change nor veer;
Just as the seasons lend, with varying name,
Their contrast to the oneness of the year.

``The Poet's love no base-bred difference knows
Of high and low, the peasant and the peer,
Save that his tenderness more heed bestows
On humble sorrow than luxurious tear.

``Childhood's keen questioning, Youth's gropings blind,
Manhood's ambition, Age's graver part,
Alike can move his understanding mind,
And rouse his promptly sympathising heart.

``Here, 'mid the ruins that you now behold,
You will imbibe the meaning of the Past,
Learning to weigh the new by what is old,
The things that perish, and the things that last.

``Instructed thus, keep severed in your mind
The Passing from the Permanent, and prize
Only the precious heirlooms of Mankind,
Thought that ennobles, Art that vivifies.

``Vex not your mind with riddles that beguile
The unwise to wrangle over things unknown.
'Tis not for Song to enrage, but reconcile,
So to the Tower of Babel add no stone.

``But while from futile feuds you dwell apart,
Never forget to render what is due,
In hour of need, from manly hand and heart,
To the male Land whose soil engendered you.

``Should opulence, and ease, and base desire
Deaden effeminate ears to just alarms,
Sound all the clanging octaves of the lyre,
And rouse a nation's manhood unto arms,

``Save only then, no clamorous crowds must mar
The musing silence of secluded days,
Whose course should journey quiet as a star,
That moves alone along Heaven's trackless ways.

``Then will you 'mid deserted Abbey walls
Hear both the matin and the vesper bell,
The girdled Brothers chanting in their stalls,
And see the Prior praying in his cell.

``The Present and the Past shall seem but one,
Kingdoms, and Creeds, and Sceptres, passed away,
Stand out, in retrospection's noonday sun,
As Kingdoms, Creeds, and Sceptres, of to-day.

``In the fair hospitable Tuscan Land,
Where Raphael and Donatello wrought,
Sojourn, and ponder till you understand
The masculine restraint themselves were taught-

``Taught by the disentombed Minervan mind
That, in the days still governing if gone,
Within the rugged Parian block divined
Majestic calmness of the Parthenon.

``And when, departing hence, you wandering wend
Where the brief Attic splendour dawned and shone,
Pray to Athene she to you will lend
The golden curb she lent Bellerophon.

``Nor be the Hill Hellenic sculptors trod
Your one sole haunt, but, let who will condemn,
Kneel at all altars `To the Unknown God,'
Alike at Athens or Jerusalem.

``Siren and seraph, athlete, anchorite,
Saints of the cloister, satyrs of the grove,
In one and all seek meaning and delight,
Reigning Jehovah, abdicated Jove.

``Deem not the Oracles to-day are dumb;
They from their graves the World's course still forecast,
From things long gone expound the things to come,
And prophesy the Future from the Past.

``And not from Gothic shrine and classic urn,
From dome, or spire, or portico alone,
Study the mystery of Art, but learn
From each in turn to apprehend your own.

``Not least from its loved twin, melodious sound,
The universal unseen soul of things,
Whose utterance men invoke when words are found
Powerless to frame their vague imaginings.

``And, when the riper Youth that men call Age
Welcomes the closing dispensation, death,
Song that soothes sorrow and makes suffering sage,
Shall linger with you till your farewell breath.

``Not crowded aisle and ceremonial nave
Claim those that have from me life's lesson learned.
Who best have loved them bear them to their grave,
Where they near home lie `quietly inurned.'''

Then, like the cadence of a closing song,
Her soft voice sank to silence, and he felt
Her arms fold round him, and so widened his,
Eager to share in privileged embrace:
When, lo! the vision vanished with the voice,
And all he saw were the calm Sabine hills,
And all he heard, the lisping of the wave
Clear-welling through the rifled marble tomb.
But all She had said sank deep into his heart,
And what She said is truly written here.

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

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