Walter de la Mare

(1873 - 1958 / Kent / England)

Sephina - Poem by Walter de la Mare

Black lacqueys at the wide-flung door
Stand mute as men of wood.
Gleams like a pool the ballroom floor —
A burnished solitude.
A hundred waxen tapers shine
From silver sconces; softly pine
'Cello, fiddle, mandoline,
To music deftly wooed —
And dancers in cambric, satin, silk,
With glancing hair and cheeks like milk,
Wreathe, curtsey, intertwine.

The drowse of roses lulls the air
Wafted up the marble stair.
Like warbling water clucks the talk.
From room to room in splendour walk
Guests, smiling in the æry sheen;
Carmine and azure, white and green,
They stoop and languish, pace and preen
Bare shoulder, painted fan,
Gemmed wrist and finger, neck of swan;
And still the pluckt strings warble on;
Still from the snow-bowered, link-lit street
The muffled hooves of horses beat;
And harness rings; and foam-fleckt bit
Clanks as the slim heads toss and stare
From deep, dark eyes. Smiling, at ease,
Mount to the porch the pomped grandees
In lonely state, by twos, and threes,
Exchanging languid courtesies,
While torches fume and flare.

And now the banquet calls. A blare
Of squalling trumpets clots the air.
And, flocking out, streams up the rout;
And lilies nod to velvet's swish;
And peacocks prim on gilded dish,
Vast pies thick-glazed, and gaping fish,
Towering confections crisp as ice,
Jellies aglare like cockatrice,
With thousand savours tongues entice.
Fruits of all hues barbaric gloom —
Pomegranate, quince and peach and plum,
Mandarine, grape, and cherry clear
Englobe each glassy chandelier,
Where nectarous flowers their sweets distil —
Jessamine, tuberose, chamomill,
Wild-eye narcissus, anemone,
Tendril of ivy and vinery.

Now odorous wines the goblets fill;
Gold-cradled meats the menials bear
From gilded chair to gilded chair:
Now roars the talk like crashing seas,
Foams upward to the painted frieze,
Echoes and ebbs. Still surges in,
To yelp of hautboy and violin,
Plumed and bedazzling, rosed and rare,
Dance-bemused, with cheek aglow,
Stooping the green-twined portal through,
Sighing with laughter, debonair,
That concourse of the proud and fair —
And lo! 'La, la!
Mamma ... Mamma!'
Falls a small cry in the dark and calls —
'I see you standing there!'

Fie, fie, Sephina! not in bed!
Crouched on the staircase overhead,
Like ghost she gloats, her lean hand laid
On alabaster balustrade,
And gazes on and on
Down on that wondrous to and fro
Till finger and foot are cold as snow,
And half the night is gone;
And dazzled eyes are sore bestead;
Nods drowsily the sleek-locked head;
And, vague and far, spins, fading out,
That rainbow-coloured, reeling rout,
And, with faint sighs, her spirit flies
Into deep sleep....

Come, Stranger, peep!
Was ever cheek so wan?


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, March 30, 2010



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