The Star and The Garter

THE STAR AND THE GARTER

1904

[The simplicity of this exquisite poem renders all explanations superfluous.]

ΑΓΝΩΣΤΩ
ΘΕΩ1)

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The poet, seated with his lady, perceives (i.) that he is in some disgrace, arguing the same (ii.) from a difference in the quality of the subsisting silence. Seeking a cause, he observes (iii.) a lady's garter in one corner of the room. His annoyance is changed (iv.) to joy at the prospect of an argument, and of a better understanding. He will (v.) be frank; no poet truly cares what may happen to him. He sketches (vi.) his argument; but letting fall the word “love” is rapt away into a lyrical transport (vii. and viii.). Further, bidding her (ix.) to fly with him, he points out the value of courage, and its rarity among the bourgeoisie. He calls upon her to awake her own courage, and (x.) bids her embark. His appeal fails, since (xi.) the garter still demands explanation. He then shows (xii.) that mental states are not independent of their physical basis, and casts doubt (xiii.) upon Immortality and Freewill. He asks her (xiv.) to accommodate herself to the facts instead of wasting life upon an Ideal, and to remember that all his acts truly subserve his love for her. He reinforces this (xv.) by a distinction of the important and the unimportant, assures her of his deep passion, and appeals to her. He will (xvi.) show her the picture of the owner of the garter, and gives her (xvii.) the first hint that he does not consider her a rival, any more {1A} than dinner is a rival. As (xviii.) she cannot grasp that idea, he states it plainly and describes (xix.) the lady whose forgetfulness has caused the whole trouble. The spell broken, as it were, he describes (xx., xxi.) two other mistresses, a model and an acrobat, and then again flings at her (xxii.) the frank question: Are these rivals in “Love?” He argues that the resemblances are superficial. For (xxiii.) there is no taint of passion in his Love for his Lady. But she (xxiv.) sees that as a fault in her, and offers her person. He refuses it, fearing to destroy Love, and proves (xxv.) that sexual intimacy is no truer than virginal intimacy. He recalls (xxvi.) the hour when their love stood confessed and (xxvii.) that in which the first promptings of passion were caught and smothered in a higher ecstasy. He complains (xxviii.) that he should have needed to voice all this He urges (xxix.) that the necessary duties of sex should be performed elsewhere. But, should those duties become unnecessary, let them voyage to solitude and peace. Or (xxx.) no! it is well to have the ever-present contrast; let us, however, not despise other folk, but pity them, and for this pity's sake, retire (xxxi.) to meditate, and by this means to achieve the power of redeeming them. He formulates Lyrically (xxxii.) this conclusion; and sums up the whole (xxxiii.), insisting finally on the value of the incident as a stepping-stone to the ultimate. {1B}

I.

What sadness closes in between
Your eyes and mine to-day, my Queen?
In dewfall of our glance hath come
A chill like sunset's in hot lands
Mid iris and chrysanthemum.
Well do I know the shaken sands
Within the surf, the beaten bar
Of coral, the white nenuphar
Of moonrise stealing o'er the bay.
So here's the darkness, and the day
Sinks, and a chill clusters, and I
Wrap close the cloak: then is it so
To-day, you rose-gleam on the snow,
My own true lover? Ardently
I dare not look: I never looked
So: that you know. But insight keen
We (laugh and) call not “love.” Now crooked
The light swerves somehow. Do you mean –
What? There is coldness and regret
Set like the stinging winter spray
Blown blind back from a waterfall
On Cumbrian moors at Christmas. Wet
The cold cheek numbs itself. A way
Is here to make – an end of all?
What sadness closes in between
Your eyes and mine to-day, my Queen?

II.

You are silent. That we always were.
The racing lustres of your hair
Spelt out its sunny message, though
The room was dusk: a rosy glow
Shed from an antique lamp to fall
On the deep crimson of the wall,
And over all the ancient grace
Of shawls, and ivory, and gems2)
To cast its glamour, till your face
The eye might fall upon and rest, {2A}
The temperate flower, the tropic stems.
You were silent, and I too. Caressed
The secret flames that curled around
Our subtle intercourse. Profound,
Unmoved, delighting utterly,
So sat, so sit, my love and I.
But not to-day. Your silence stirs
No answering rapture: you are proud,
And love itself checks and deters
The thought to say itself aloud.
Oh! heart of amber and fine gold
Silverly darting lunar rays!
Oh! river of sweet passion rolled
Adown invisible waterways!
Speak! Did I wound you then unguessed?
What is the sorrow unexpressed
That shadows those ecstatic lids?
A word in season subtly rids
The heart of thoughts unseasonable.
You are silent. Do they speak in hell?

III.

Is it your glance that told me? Nay!
It know you would not look that way.
Seeing, you strove to see not. Fool!
I have ruined all in one rash deed.
Learnt I not in discretion's school
The little care that lovers need?
For see – I bite my lip to blood;
A stifled word of anguish hisses: –
O the black word that dams thought's flood!
O the bad lip that looked for kisses!
O the poor fool that prates of love!
Is it a garter, or a glove?

IV.

A fool indeed! For why complain,
Now the last five-barred gate is ope,
Held by a little boy? I hope
The hour is handy to explain
The final secret. Have I any?
Yes! the small boy shall have a penny! {2B}
Now you are angry? Be content!
Not fee the assistant accident
That shows our quarry – love – at bay?
My silver-throated queen, away!
Huntress of heaven, by my side,
As moon by meteor, rushing, ride!
Among the stars, ride on! ride on!
(Then, maybe, bid the boy begone!)

V.

I am a boy in this. Alas!
Look round on all the world of men!
The boys are oft of genus “ass.”
Think yourself lucky, lady, then,
If I at least am boy. You laugh?
Not you! Is this love's epitaph,
God's worm erect on Herod's throne?
“Ah, if I only had not known!”
All wrong, beloved! Truth be ours,
The one white flower (of all the flowers)
You ever cared for! Ignorance
May set its puppets up to dance;
We know who pulls the strings. No sage;
A man unwashed, the bearded brute!
His wife, the mother-prostitute!
Behind the marionetted stage
See the true Punch-and-Judy show,
Turn copper so to silver! Know,
And who can help forgiving? So
Said some French thinker.3) Here's a drench
Of verse unquestionably French
To follow! so, while youth is youth,
And time is time, and I am I,
Too busy with my work to lie,
Or love lie's prize – or work's, forsooth! –
Too strong to care which way may go
The ensuing history of woe,
Though I were jaw, and you were tooth;
So, more concerned with seeking sense
Than worried over consequence,
I'll speak, and you shall hear, the truth. {3A}

VI.

Truth, like old Gaul, is split in three.4)
A lesson in anatomy,
A sketch of sociology,
A tale of love to end. But see!
What stirs the electric flame of eyes?
One word – that word. Be destiny's
Inviolate fiat rolled athwart
The clouds and cobwebs of our speech,
And image, integrate of thought,
This ebony anthem, each to each: –
To lie, invulnerable, alone,
Valkyrie and hero, in the zone,
Shielded by lightnings of our wit,
Guarded by fires of intellect
Far on the mountain-top, elect
Of all the hills divinely lit
By rays of moonrise! O the moon!
O the interminable tune
Of whispered kisses! Love exults,
Intolerant of all else than he,
And ecstasy invades, insults,
Outshines the waves of harmony,
Lapped in the sun of day; the tides
Of wonder flow, the shore subsides;
And over all the horizon
Glows the last glimmer of the sun.
Ah! when the moon arises, she
Shall look on nothing but the sea.


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1)
I.e., Eros. The quotation is from Acts xvii. 23, “To the Unknown God.”
2)
The description is of Crowley's rooms in the Quartier Montparnasse.
3)
“Comprendre, c'est pardonner.”—Mme. de Stael.
4)
“Gallia est divisa in tres partes.”—Caesar de Bello Gallico, i, 1.


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