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Poem by Madison Julius Cawein

The Unattainable

Mark thou! a shadow crowned with fire of hell.
Man holds her in his heart as night doth hold
The moonlight memories of day's dead gold;
Or as a winter-withered asphodel
In its dead loveliness holds scents of old.
And looking on her, lo, he thinks 'tis well.

Who would not follow her whose glory sits,
Imperishably lovely on the air?
Who, from the arms of Earth's desire, flits
With eyes defiant and rebellions hair? -
Hers is the beauty that no man shall share.

He who hath seen, what shall it profit him?
He who doth love, what shall his passion gain?
When disappointment at her cup's bright brim
Poisons the pleasure with the hemlock pain?
Hers is the passion that no man shall drain.

How long, how long since Life hath touched her eyes,
Making their night clairvoyant! And how long
Since Love hath kissed her lips and made them wise,
Binding her brow with prophecy and song!
Hope clad her nakedness in lovely lies,
Giving into her hands the right of wrong!

Lo! in her world she sets pale tents of thought,
Unearthly bannered; and her dreams' wild bands
Besiege the heavens like a twilight fraught
With recollections of lost stars. She stands
Radiant as Lilith given from God's hands.

The golden rose of patience at her throat
Drops fragrant petals - as a pensive tune
Drops its surrendered sweetness note by note; -
And from her hands the buds of hope are strewn,
Moon-flowers, mothered of the barren moon.

So in her flowers man seats him at her feet
In star-faced worship, knowing all of this;
And now to him to die seems very sweet,
Fed with the fire of her look and kiss;
While in his heart the blood's tumultuous beat
Drowns, in her own, the drowsing serpent's hiss.

He who hath dreamed but of her world shall give
All of his soul unto her restlessly:
He who hath seen but her far face shall live
No more for things we name reality:
Such is the power of her tyranny.

He, whom she wins, hath nothing 'neath the sun;
Forgetting all that she may not forget
He loves her, who still feeds his soul upon
Dreams and desires, and doubt and vain regret, -
Life's bitter bread his heart's fierce tears make wet.

What word of wisdom hast thou, Life, to wake
Him now! or song of magic now to dull
The dreams he lives in! or what charm to break
The spell that makes her evil beautiful!
What charm to show her beauty hides a snake,
Whose basilisk eyes burn dark behind a skull.

Madison Julius Cawein

Madison Julius Cawein's other poems:
  1. The Picture
  2. The Ribbon
  3. Wood Notes
  4. The Wood God
  5. Processional

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