On Leucadia When Sappho Was Young

SIDE by side through the cypress grove,
Treading the shadow, treading the light,
A pale youth, holocaust of Love,
And a broad-browed girl, through the moonlit night,
Paced slow, their dark fate darkening each face,
To the cliff and the sea and the destined place.
Of him fame’s pitiless page is mute ;
Nameless he loved, and nameless died,
Falling to earth as untimely fruit.
For him the mighty bosom wide
That nourisheth man, of milk was dry,
And the heavens as brass to the soul’s great cry.
But of her the later age is filled,
As a flower-filled room, with the fragrant fame.
No leaf have the thousand winters killed
Of the lustrous laurel wreathed with her name :
First of the women whose song is as fire,
Doom-gifted priestess of Death and Desire.
But the pulse of the fawn-like frame not yet,
As in the devouring time to come,
To the rhythm of wasting passion was set,
And the depths of the virginal eyes were dumb, —
Strangers as yet to the aches and fears
That fevered their light in the riper years.
And the lost Youth gazed from the cliff o’er the sea,
And gazed in the depths of the girl’s dark eyes.
“ Both depths are the depths of death for me,”
Said his voiceless heart by grief made wise.
And the silence held them awhile ere they spake,
As the heavens are hushed ere the storm-clouds break.
“Wherefore,” she cried, “ah ! wherefore again ?
Have not denying lips once spoken ?
When heart is dumb unto heart, should the brain
Seek from the brain for a sign or a token ?
The thread of girl’s love is as fate’s own thread,
And the lips unloved are as lips of the dead.
“ But the grave of such dead is rich with flowers
That spring from the still, unmurmuring breast,
Which our memory waters with tender showers ;
And a sweet second good, if not the best,
May yet on the silent faithful attend :
Die to me, lover, but live to me, friend.
“Lest scorn” — but the stream of her speech froze here
At the stare of his wan and wintry face,
And his gesture of hand all wasted and sere,
Imperious with passion, pathetic with grace ;
And his brow flushed o’er with a brief disdain,
Ere words came, like blood from the open vein :—
“To paltering heart and twilight soul,
Content, brute-like, with crumbs from the board,
Preach mutilate life instead of whole ;
But lover and warrior wear the sword,
Not for half-mercy in hour of defeat,
But for bay-crowned head and a deed complete.
“ In field of battle and field of love,
Not less than his life takes man in his hand ;
And the bright, stern gods with their smiles approve
The blood that is rather spilled in the sand
Than suffered, by him who hath failed in the strife,
To curdle at heart of his broken life.
“ Not of thy water, if not of thy wine,
Shall my lips, though parched with the death-thirst, drink ;
Not in thy courts, if not at thy shrine ;
If not in the depths, then not at the brink ;
Nor shall my mendicant hand to thy wealth
Stretch itself forth with the glance of stealth.
“For the great soul feasts with Love in the vale,
Or starves on the height where the world spreads wide ;
And bides not the narrowing hours and pale,
The fragments of joy, and the perished pride
Of the life not mingled, yet not set apart, —
The half-dead throbs of the outcast heart.
“ Make a dirge for me, then, with thy deep, subtle tones,
And feed with my ruin the song of thy breast.
Bid thy lyre, like the god’s, give feet to the stones,
For a tomb where my wandering ghost may have rest ;
While men say, to last ebb of Time’s dreadful tide,
' Great was great Sappho for whom lovers died ! ’
“ But write me no date and name me no name,
Lest my shade know old pangs in its bloodless veins.
Clasped not to thy breast, link me not with thy fame,
As an alms to the ghost for the wrecked life’s pains.
Be he, who perished by thee unblessed,
Evermore, by the unloving world, unguessed.
“O heart all flame! O loved and lost!
Girl-goddess of song for whom I die !
How will thy soul yet be tempest-tossed
When the whirlwind of love’s rushing wing goes by !
How shall I comfort thee, how shall I save,
As I moulder beneath the salt, salt wave ?
“ Where wilt thou find me, where shall I find thee,
When thy heart-strings break like mine with despair ?
Will the fate of my life be a fate to bind thee ?
To wait, and to take thee at last in the snare ?
What answer of Fate to the voice of the dust ?
Die silent. The silent gods are just !”
Then he bent on the girl a fixed, dark smile
From eyes brim-filled with the rapture of death ;
And his face yearned earthward and skyward awhile
With deep, strong gasps of the latest breath ;
Then he bowed his head to the seaward gloom,
And sprang far forth from the cliff to his doom.
Alfred H. Louis.