John Boyle O'Reilly
The Statues In The Block - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly
“LOVE is the secret of the world,' he said;
'The cup we drain and still desire to drink.
The loadstone hungers for the steel; the steel,
Inert amid a million stones, responds to this.
So yearn and answer hearts that truly love:
Once touch their life-spring, it vibrates to death;
And twain athrill as one are nature-wed.'
But silent stood the three who heard, nor smiled
Nor looked agreement. Strangers these who stood
Within a Roman studio—still young,
But sobered each with that which follows joy
At life's fresh forenoon, and the eye of each
Held deep within a restless eager light,
As gleams a diamond in a darkened room
With radiance hoarded from the vanished sun.
'The meteor-stone is dense and dark in space,
But bursts in flame when through the air it rushes,
And our dull life is like an aerolite
That leaps to fire within the sphere of love.'
Unchecked his mood ran on: 'Sweet amorous hours
That lie in years as isles in tropic seas,
You spring to view as Art is born of Love,
And shape rich beauties in this marble block!'
Before them rose within the shaded light
A tall and shapely mass of Alp-white crystal
Fresh from the heart of a Carrara quarry.
'Opaque to you this marble; but to me,
Whose eyes the chrism of passion has anointed,
The stone is pregnant with a life of love.
Within this monolith there lives a form
Which I can see and would reveal to you,
Could hand and chisel swiftly follow sight.
From brow to foot her lissome form stands forth—
The ripe lips smiling reached; with nestling press,
As round the sailor frozen in the berg
The clear ice closes on the still dead face,
The marble, grown translucent, touches soft
Each comely feature—rippled hair, and chin,
And lily sweep of bust and hip and limb—
Ah, sweet mouth pouting for the lips that cling,
And white arms raised all quivering to the clasp—
Ah, rich throat made for .burning lover's kiss,
And reckless bodice open to the swell,
And deep eyes soft with love's suffusion—Love!
O Love! still living, memory and hope,
Beyond all sweets thy bosom, breath, and lips—
My jewel and the jewel of the world!'
They stood in silence, each one rapt and still,
As if the lovely form were theirs as his,
Till one began—harsh voice and clouded face—
With other presence in his eye—and said:
'Opaque to me with such a glow-worm ray
As Love's torch flings—but, mark, the dense rock melts
When from my soul on fire the fiercer beam,
The mighty calcium-glare of hate leaps out
And eats the circumambient marble—See!
Laid bare as corpse to keen anatomist,
With every sinuous muscle picked with shadow,
And every feature tense with livid passion,
And all the frame aheave with sanguine throbs—
The ecstasy of agonized Revenge!
0 stone, reveal it—how my parting kiss
Was wet upon her mouth when other lips
Drank deep the cursed fountain; how the coin
1 hung with rapture 'tween her glowing breasts,
And fondly thought if I should die and she
Should live till age had blanched her hair and flesh,
This golden medal's touch would still have power
To light the love-fire in the faded eyes
And swell the shriveled breast to maiden roundness—
This thought I nursed—O Stygian abyss!—
Away thy picture of the rippled hair!
Her hair was rippled and her eyes were deep,
Her breasts and limbs were white and lily-curved,
But all the woman, soul and wondrous flesh,
Was poison-steeped and veined with vicious fire;
And I, blind fool who trusted, was but one
Who swooned with love beside her—But I drank
The wine she filled, and made her eat the dregs—
I drenched her honey with my sea of gall.
I see her in the marble where she shrinks
In shuddered fear, as if my face were fire—
Her cowering shadow making whiter still
The face of him that writhes beside her feet.
I see him breathe, the last deep breath, and turn
His eyes upon me horror-filled—his hand,
Still hot with wanton dalliance, clutched hard
Across the burning murder in his side—
And now he sinks still glaring—And my heart
Is there between them, petrified, O God!
And pierced by that red blow that struck their guilt.
O balm and torture! he must hate who loves,
And bleed who strikes to see thy face, Revenge!'
Grown deep the silence for the words that died,
And paler still the marble for its grief.
'Ah, myrrh and honey!' spake a third, whose eyes
Were deep with sorrow for the woe; ' blind hands
That grope for flowers and pierce the flesh with thorns!
All love of woman still may turn to hate,
As wine to bitterness, as noon to night.
But sweeter far and deeper than the love
Of flesh for flesh, is the strong bond of hearts
For suffering Motherland—to make her free!
Love's joy is short, and Hate's black triumph bitter,
And loves and hates are selfish—save for thee,
0 chained and weeping at thy pillar's foot,
Thy white flesh eaten by accursed bands.
No love but thine can satisfy the heart,
For love of thee holds in it hate of wrong,
And shapes the hope that molds humanity!
Not mine your passions, yet I weigh them well—
Who loves a greater sinks all lesser love,
Who hates a tyrant loses -lesser hate.
My Land! I see thee Id the marble, bowed
Before thy tyrant, bound at foot and wrist—
Thy garments rent—thy wounded shoulder bare—
Thy chained hand raised to ward the cruel blow—
My poor love round thee scarf-like, weak to hide
And powerless to shield thee—but a boy
1 wound it round thee, dearest, and a man
I drew it close and kissed thee—Mother, wife!
For thee the past and future days; for thee
The will to trample wrong and strike for slaves;
For thee the hope that ere mine arm be weak
And ere my heart be dry may close the strife
In which thy colors shall be borne through fire,
And all thy griefs washed out in manly blood—
And I shall see thee crowned and bound with love,
Thy strong sons round thee guarding thee. O star
That lightens desolation, o'er her beam,
Nor let the shadow of the pillar sink
Too deep within her, till the dawn is red
Of that white noon when men shall call her Queen!'
The deep voice quivering with affection ceased,
And silent each they saw within the stone
The captive nation and the mother's woe.
Yet while their hearts the fine emotion warmed,
Ere ebbed the deep-pulsed throb of brotherhood,
The last one spoke, and held the wave at full:—
'Yea, brothers, his the noblest for its grief;
Your love was loss—but his was sacrifice.
Your light was sunlight, for the shallow sense
That bends the eyes on earth and thinks it sees;
His love was nightlike, when we see the stars,
Forgetting petty things around our feet.
Yet here, too, find his weakness, for his hope
Is still for sunlight, and your shallow sense,
And golden crowns and queendom for his love.
I, too, within the stone behold a statue,
Far less than yours, but greater, for I know
My symbol a beginning, not an end.
O, Grief, with Hope! The marble fades—behold!
The little hands still crossed—a child in death.
My link with love—my dying gift from her
Whose last look smiled on both, when I was left
A loveless man, save this poor gift, alone.
My heart had wound its tendrils round one life,
But when my joy was deepest, she was stricken,
And I was powerless to save. My prayers
And piteous cries were flung against my face—
My life was blighted by the curse of Heaven!
But from the depths her love returned to soothe:
Her dear hand readied from death and placed her child
Where she had lived, within the riven tendrils,
And firmly these closed round their second treasure.
And she, my new love, in her infant hold
Took every heart-string as her mother's gift,
And touched such tender fine-strung chords, and played
Such music in my heart as filled my life
With trembling joy and fondness for the child.
I feared to be so blest—her baby cheek,
When laid on mine, was Heaven's sweetest touch;
And when she looked me in the eyes, I saw
Her mother look at me from deep within,
And bless me for the love I gave and won.
Yet, when I loved her most she, too, was doomed:
I saw it come upon her like a shadow,
And watched the change, appalled at first, but
To ward the danger from my darling. She,
As day by day still failing, grew so tender
And crept so often to my heart, as if,
Though but a babe who could not speak a word,
She knew full well my life would soon be shattered.
But all my love was fruitless, and my prayers
To leave her with me beat the gates in vain.
I thought my love must hold her, till at last
I held the tiny body like a leaf
All day and night within my arms; and so,
Close nestled to my yearning heart, Death passed,
As merciless as God, but left that look
Of two dead loves, as if Death's self knew pity.
And I was lost heart-withered in a night
That knew no star and held no ray of hope,
And heard no word but my despairing curse
With lifted hands, at life and Him who gave it!
My graves were all. I had—the little mound
Where my hands laid her, with the sweet young grass—
The tiny hill that, grew until the sun
Was hid behind it, and I sat below
And gnawed my heart in grief within its shadow.
So one day bowed in woe beside the grave
The weight grew deadly, and I called aloud
That God should witness to my life in ruin.
And God's word reached me through the little grave
Where in the grass my face was buried weeping—
His peace came through it like a pent-up breath
That rolled from some great world whose gates had oped,
And blew upon my wild and hardened heart,
And swept my woe before it like a leaf.
My dried heart drank the meaning of the peace:
True love shall trust, and selfish love must die,
For trust is peace, and self is full of pain;
Arise, and heal thy brother's grief; his tears
Shall wash thy love and it will live again.
O little grave, I thought 'twas love had died,
But in thy bosom only lies my sorrow.
I see my darling in the marble now—
My wasted leaf—her kind eyes smiling fondly,
And through her eyes I see the love beyond,
The biding light that moves not—and I know
That when God gives to us the clearest sight
He does not touch our eyes with Love, but Sorrow.'
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