The Plaint of Eve

Dedicated to All Valiant Women Endungeoned

When this poem was first written it seemed to me somewhat pale and academic, but recent events in Washington and in New York have given it a new birth and a new life. Originally his poem was dedicated to a woman of great gifts who is now engaged in driving an ambulance in France. I re-dedicate it today to the brave women who are battling to make America safe for Democracy.

“Man’s mate was I in Paradise,
Since of the fruit we twain did eat,
Through the slow toiling days his slave.
Because I asked for truth, God gave
All the world’s anguish and the grave.
But, being merciful and wise,
He bade His angel bathe mine eyes
    With the salt dew of sorrow. Sweet
Had been the dew of Paradise.”
Yet through the immemorial years,
Has she not healed us with her tears?

“Albeit upon my lips I wore
A smile, my heart was ever sore.
Because I heard the Serpent hiss,
    Therefore I suffered patiently.
But now I pray for bread, and ye
    Give me a stone or worse — a kiss.”
Shall not the stone rebound on us?
Shall not the kiss prove venomous?

“No expiation dearly won,
Can turn the ancient loss to gain,
The Son of Manw as Mary’s Son…
    Have I not borne the child in pain?
My sighs were mingled with His breaths!
Yet, though I died a thousand deaths,
    A thousand times a thousandfold,
With Him, my babe, upon the Cross,
    My bloody sweats are never told,
And still the world’s gain is my loss.”
Has she not suffered, has not died,
With every creature crucified?

“The hallowed light of Mary’s eyes
Within my bosom never dies.
    The learned Faust, for all his pride,
    Was saved by Gretchen — glorified —
    To God, his master, thrice denied.
Love’s smallest holy offices
When have I shirked them, even these?
From the grey dawn when time began
To the Crimean battle-field,
    By every wounded soldier’s side
With cool and soothing hand I kneeled.”
She is the good Samaritan
Upon life’s every battle-field.

“The secret book of Beauty was
Unlocked through me to Phidias.
Petrarcha’s dream and Raphael’s,
Rossetti’s blessèd damozels,
    And all men’s visions live in me.
The shadow queens of Maeterlinck,
Clothed with my soft flesh, cross the brink
    Of utter unreality.
Rautendelein and Juliet,
Who shall their wistful smile forget?
The leader of my boyish band
I rule in Neverneverland.”
Hers is the sweetest voice in France,
And hers the sob that like a lance
Has pierced the heart of Italy.

“With stylus, brush and angelot,
I seize life’s pulses, fierce and hot.
In Greece, a suzerain of song,
    The swallow was my singing mate,
My lyric sisters still prolong
    My strain more strange than sea or fate.
Though Shakespeare’s sonnets, sweet as wine,
Were not more ‘sugared’ than were mine,
Ye who with myrtle crown my brow,
Withhold the laurel even now.”
The world’s intolerable scorn
Still falls to every woman born.

“Strong to inspire, strong to please,
My love was unto Pericles;
    The Corsican, the demigod
    Whose feet upon the nation trod,
    Shrunk from my wit as from a rod.
The number and its secret train
Eluded not my restless brain.
Beyond the ken of man I saw,
With Colon’s eyes, America.
    Into the heart of mystery,
    Of light and earth I plunged, to me
The atom bared its perfect plot.”
What gifts have we, that she has not?
“Was I not lord of life and death
    In Egypt and in Ninevah?
    Clothed with Saint Stephen’s majesty
    My arm dealt justice mightily.
Men that beheld me caught their breath
With awe. I was Elizabeth
I was the Maid of God. Mine was
The sway of all the Russias.
What was my guerdon, mine to take?
A crown of slander, and the stake!”
How shall we comfort her, how ease
The pang of thousand centuries?

“Back from my aspiration hurled,
I was the harlot of the world.
The levelled walls of Troy confess
My devastating loveliness.
Upon my bosom burns the scar
Eternal as the sexes are.
    I was Prince Borgia’s concubine,
    Phryne I was, and Messaline,
    And Circe, who turned men to swine.”
But shall they be forgotten, then,
Whom she has turned from swine to men?

“New creeds unto the world I gave,
    But my own self I could not save.
For all mankind one Christ has sighed
    Upon the Cross, but hourly
    Is every woman crucified!
    The iron stake of destiny
Is plunged into my living side.
    To Him that died upon the Tree
Love held out trembling hands to lend
Its reverential ministry,
    And then came Death, the kindest friend —
Shall my long road to Calvary,
And man’s injustice, have no end?”
O sons of mothers, shall the pain
Of all child-bearing be in vain?
Shall we drive nails, to wound her thus,
Into the hands that fondled us?

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