Muriel Stuart

(1889-1967 / England)

The New Aspasia


If I have given myself to you, and you,
And if these pale hands are not virginal,
Nor these bright lips beneath your own lips true,
What matters it? I do not stand nor fall
By your old foolish judgments of desire:
If this were Helen's way it is not mine;
I bring you Beauty, but no Troys to fire:
The cup I hold brims not with Borgia's wine.
You, so sudden snared of brows and breasts,
Lightly you think upon these lips, this hair.
My thoughts are kinder: you are pity's guests:
Compassion's bed you share.

It was not lust delivered me to you;
I gave my wondering mouth for pity's sake,
For your strange, sighing lips I did but break
Many times this bread, and poured this wine anew.
My body's woven sweetness and kindling hair
Were given for heal of hurts unknown of me,
For something I could slake but could not share.
Sudden, and rough, and cruel I let you be,
I gave my body for what the world calls sin,
Even as for your souls the Nazarene
Gave once. Long years in pity I and He
Have served you-Jesus and the Magdalen.

As on the river in the fading light
A rust-red sail across the evening creeps,
Torching the gloom, and slowly sinks from sight,
The blood may rise to some old face at night,
Remembering old sins before it sleeps.
So might you hence recall me, were I true
To your sad violence. Were I not free
So me you might remember now; but you
Were no more loved by me than
Than clouds at sunset, or the wild bird going
About his pleasure on the apple tree,
Or wide-blown roses swelling to the bee;
No sweeter than flowers suddenly found growing
In frost-bound dells, or, on the bare, high hills,
The gold, unlaced, dew-drunken daffodils
Shouting the dawn, or the brown river flowing
Down quietly to the sea;
Or day in twilight's hair bound safe and dim,
Stirless in lavender, or the wind blowing,
Tumbling the poppy's turban after him.

I knew you as I knew these happy things,
Passing, unwept, on wide and tranquil wings
To their own place in nature; below, above
Transient passion with its stains and stings.
For this strange pity that you knew not of
Was neither lust nor love.

Do not repent, nor pity, nor regret.
I do not seek your pardon, nor give you mine.
Pass by, be silent, drop no tears, forget.
Return not, make no sign
When I am dead, nor turn your lips away
From Phyrne's silver limbs and Faustine's kiss.
I need no pity. No word of pity say.
I have given a new sweet name and crown to this
That served men's lust and was Aspasia.

Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010

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