Anna Hempstead Branch
To An Enemy - Poem by Anna Hempstead Branch
I saw thee once. I shall know thee ever.
Beyond the frantic mesh
Of thy wild sorrowing flesh,
Oh, thou wert beautiful!
Let me be dutiful
To thy high spirit.
Knowing thee great and wise
Let me inherit
All the calm Paradise
Hidden behind thine eyes.
Never again shall any way,
Or look, or word of thine deceive.
I saw thee once. I must believe
The vision of that day.
How shall I say
What splendor and what awe
Seized on my eyes that suddenly they saw,
Beyond all praise or blame
An angelic creature shaped of snow and flame.
Oh, shame on me
If I should ever be
A traitor unto thee!
If I believe thy lying flesh that says
'It was not so.'
Or if its wrathful and complaining speech
Make me forget the secret lovely ways
Of thy soul's ritual…if I should forego
My memory of thy grace
Or how in a strange inner place
Just for a moment I saw thy face.
I saw thee once. I shall know thee ever.
Swiftly my earthly sight
Shadowed thy lovely light,
Then thy mortal semblance gazed
On me with sullen eye.
I wept and I was sore amazed
At thy deep hostility.
But oh, I did not blame thee
When thou didst rend and shame me.
I said, 'The wrong's my own
That was so dazzled at thy spirit's throne
I could not bear the splendor and the might.
Why shouldst thou not accuse me,
Yes, terribly refuse me,
And scourge with splendor for my lack of sight!'
I saw thee once and I shall not forget.
Faithful, oh faithful will I be
To thy more starry nature sunk in thee,
That bright, mysterious guest,
To thine own thought not yet made manifest.
I will do thee service lowly
Because thou art so holy.
What can I think of to do,
Beautiful, because of you?
Exquisite actions unto thee,
Deeds that thou wilt never see,
Hidden from thy mortal sight!
And God will praise thee for the deeds I do,
Knowing that somehow they were done by you.
Yes, it shall be my sole elation
That when I light my flame
Saying, 'In thy name '—
That deed will somehow count to thy salvation.
Then, when thy mortal self shall scorn and hate,
And from thy lips shall fall
Therefore I will exult, nor will abate
My joyous carnival,
That so I more may prove
My deep and ardent love.
I will set a flower to grow
Where flowers never grew at all;
In the thick grass, or covert of the wall.
Then beauty will have come to pass.
I will drop a pebble in a stream
So it will quicken and gleam
And brighten all alone
A joy unto none.
Still it will be
Secretly beautiful—and all for thee!
Because thou art!
So will I make thee more than human,
Set thee in Heaven's deepest heart,
One of God's laws,
Of loveliness the being and the cause.
Once I wished my mortal self to be
Of my own deepest self the fair expression.
Now I yield it unto thee
To be thy glad articulate confession.
Once I could loiter, growing beautiful,
And serving mine own soul could take mine case.
I serve thee now. I must be dutiful.
Constant as sky is, urgent as the seas,
More swift than time, as patient as the trees,
I must be robed in natural majesties.
Yes, shouting to the cities and the skies
Show thee to mortal eyes.
How easy heroisms are,
Now I have seen thy face!
My will can bind them as God binds a star,
In my soul's orbit. Never any more
Do they plunge forth, escaping me in night.
They have grown docile now, and with delight
Attend me ever, brightening my brow.
Oh, in my breast I hold their throbbing spheres.
My spirit sings with laughter, achieving now
What once it did with bleeding and with tears.
Beauty in many a secret place
I will make for thee.
Because I saw thy face
I will manifest thy grace
And thou shalt be
A visible splendor on the earth,
A festival of mirth!
Though men shall see thee not and none shall
Thy beauteous hidden ways,
Still I will not be daunted.
My spirit shall be haunted
With thy more starry nature,
Thou high and blessèd creature!
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