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Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out e'en to the edge of doom:-
If this be error, and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare

1341

TH.

HE while that in mine eyes tears yet may spring

To mourn past happiness beside thee spent,
And that my voice can, keeping its intent,
Still in despite of sighs have strength to sing;
The while my hand can stretch the light lute's string
In praise of loveliness so excellent;
The while my soul is willingly content
In knowing thee to know no other thing;
That little while I will not ask to die;
But when I find these wells of grief grown dry,
My voice broken, my hand bereft of power,
And my soul lingering on the deathward way,
Too weak to show love's signals: in that hour
May death then darken my most radiant day.

Louise Labé

135 SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE 2

I

THOUGHT once how Theocritus had sung

Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years, Who each one in a gracious hand appears To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:

1 The translation is by George Wyndham, and is reprinted with the permission of Macmillan & Co., Ltd.

2 “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” as a whole, is a cycle of forty-four sonnets, in which the author has recorded the inner history of her love for Robert Browning. The main incidents or aspects of this history may be inferred from the twelve poems here reprinted. These are presented in their original order, and include the first, and the last two, of the cycle.

And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was 'ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,
“Guess now who holds thee?”—“Death,” I said.' But there,
The silver answer rang,

“Not Death, but Love.”

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UNLIKE

NLIKE are we, unlike, O princely Heart!

Unlike our uses and our destinies.
Our ministering two angels look surprise
On one another as they strike athwart
Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art
A guest for queens to social pageantries,
With gages from a hundred brighter eyes
Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part
Of chief musician. What hast thou to do
With looking from the lattice-lights at me,
A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
The dark, and leaning up a cypress-tree?
The chrism is on thine head; on mine the dew:
And Death must dig the level where these agree.

I

LIFT my heavy heart up solemnly,

As once Electra her sepulchral urn,
And, looking in thine eyes, I overturn
The ashes at thy feet.1 Behold and see
What a great heap of grief lay hid in me,
And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn
Through the ashen grayness. If thy foot in scorn

1 An allusion to a scene in Sophocles' Electra. See above, pp. 347f.

Could tread them out to darkness utterly,
It might be well, perhaps. But if, instead,
Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow

dust
up

.. those laurels on thine head,
O my beloved, will not shield thee so,
That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred
The hair beneath. Stand farther off, then! Go.

The gray

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CAN .

SAN it be right to give what I can give?

To let thee sit beneath the fall of tears As salt as mine, and hear the sighing years Re-sighing on my lips renunciative Through those infrequent smiles which fail to live For all thy adjurations? O my fears, That this can scarce be right! We are not peers, So to be lovers; and I own, and grieve, That givers of such gifts as mine are, must Be counted with the ungenerous. Out, alas! I will not soil thy purple with my dust, Nor breathe my poison on thy Venice-glass, Nor give thee any love—which were unjust. Beloved, I only love thee! let it pass.

, ,

ND wilt thou have me fashion into speech

The love I bear thee, finding words enough, And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough, Between our faces, to cast light on each? I drop it at thy feet. I cannot teach My hand to hold my spirit so far off From myself-me-that I should bring thee proof In words, of love hid in me out of reach. Nay, let the silence of my womanhood Commend my woman-love to thy belief,Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed,

And rend the garment of my life, in brief,
By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude,
Lest one touch of this heart convey its grief.

IF

F thou must love me, let it be for nought

Except for love's sake only. Do not say “I love her for her smile-her look-her way Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought That falls in well with mine, and certes brought A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”– For these things in themselves, Beloved, may Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought, May be unwrought so. Neither love me for Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry, A creature might forget to weep, who bore Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby! But love me for love's sake, that evermore Thou mayst love on, through love's eternity.

AN

ND yet, because thou overcomest so,

Because thou art more noble, and like a king, Thou canst prevail against my fears, and fing Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow Too close against thine heart henceforth to know How it shook when alone. Why, conquering May prove as lordly and complete a thing In lifting upward as in crushing low! And, as a vanquished soldier yields his sword To one who lifts him from the bloody earth, Even so, Beloved, I at last record, Here ends my strife. If thou invite me forth, I rise above abasement at the word. Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth.

NEVER gave a lock of hair away

I thee,

Which now upon my fingers thoughtfully
I ring out to the full brown length and say
“Take it.” My day of youth went yesterday:
My hair no longer bounds to my foot's glee,
Nor plant I it from rose or myrtle-tree,
As girls do, any more; it only may
Now shade on two pale cheeks the mark of tears,
Taught drooping from the head that hangs aside
Through sorrow's trick. I thought the funeral-shears
Would take this first, but love is justified, -
Take it thou, finding pure, from all those years,
The kiss my mother left here when she died.

M

Y letters! all dead paper, mute and white!

And yet they seem alive and quivering
Against my tremulous hands which loose the string
And let them drop down on my knee to-night.
This said,-he wished to have me in his sight
Once, as a friend: this fixed a day in spring
To come and touch my hand .. a simple thing,
Yet I wept for it—this ... the paper's light .
Said, Dear, I love thee; and I sank and quailed
As if God's future thundered on my past.
This said, I am thineand so its ink has paled
With lying at my heart that beat too fast.
And this ... O Love, thy words have ill availed
If, what this said, I dared repeat at last!

.

.

F I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange,

And be all to me? Shall I never miss Home-talk and blessing, and the common kiss That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange,

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