Symptoms of Love


Love is a universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.
Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;
Are omens and nightmares —
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:
For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.
Take courage, lover!
Could you endure such pain
At any hand but hers?


Since now I dare not ask
Any gift from you, or gentle task,
Or lover’s promise — nor yet refuse
Whatever I can give and you dare choose —
Have pity on us both: choose well
On this sharp ridge dividing death from hell.


We never would have loved had love not struck
Swifter than reason, and despite reason:
Under the olives, our hands interlocked,
We both fell silent:
Each listened for the other’s answering
Sigh of unreasonableness —
Innocent, gentle, bold, enduring, proud.


Drowsing in my chair of disbelief
I watch the door as it slowly opens —
A trick of the night wind?
Your slender body seems a shaft of moonlight
Against the door as it gently closes.
Do you cast no shadow?
Your whisper is too soft for credence,
Your tread like blossom drifting from a bough,
Your touch even softer.
You wear that sorrowful and tender mask
Which on high mountaintops in heather-flow
Entrances lonely shepherds;
And though a single word dispels all doubts
I quake for wonder at your choice of me:
Why, why and why?


Are you shaken, are you stirred
By a whisper of love?
Spellbound to a word
Does Time cease to move,
Till her calm gray eye
Expands to a sky
And the clouds of her hair
Like storms go by?


Though cruel seas like mountains fill the bay,
Wrecking the quayside huts,
Salting our vineyards with tall showers of spray;
And though the moon shines dangerously clear,
Fixed in another cycle
Than the sun’s progress round the felloed year;
And though I may not hope to dwell apart
With you on Apple Island
Unless my breast be docile to the dart —
Why should I fear your element, the sea,
Or the full moon, your mirror,
Or the halved apple from your holy tree?


It is hard to be a man
Whose word is his bond
In love with such a woman,
When he builds on a promise
She lightly let fall
In carelessness of spirit.
The more sternly he asks her
To stand by that promise
The farther she flies.
But is it less hard
To be born such a woman
With wings like a falcon
And in carelessness of spirit
To love such a man?


“Do you delude yourself?” a neighbor asks,
Dismayed by my abstraction.
But though love cannot question love
Nor need deny its need,
Pity the man who finds a rebel heart
Under his breastbone drumming
Which reason warns him he should drown
In midnight wastes of sea.
Now as he stalks between tormented pines
(The moon in her last quarter)
A lissome specter glides ahead
And utters not a word.
Waves, tasseled with dark weed, come rearing up
Like castle waves, disclosing
Deep in their troughs a ribbed sea-floor
To break his bones upon.
— Clasp both your hands under my naked foot
And press hard, as I taught you:
A trick to mitigate the pangs
Either of birth or love.


Your sudden laugh restored felicity —
Everything grew clear that before would not:
The impossible genies, the extravagants,
Swung in to establish themselves fairly
As at last manageable elements
In a most daylight-simple plot.
It was the identity of opposites
Had so confused my all too sober wits.


Lying below your sheets, I challenge
A water snake in a swoll’n cataract
Or a starved lioness among drifts of snow.
Yet dare it out, for after each death grapple,
Each gorgon stare borrowed from very hate,
A childish innocent smile touches your lips,
Your eyelids droop, fearless and careless,
And sleep remolds the lineaments of love.


A difficult achievement for true lovers
Is to lie mute, without embrace or kiss,
Without a rustle or a smothered sigh,
Basking each in the other’s glory.
Let us not undervalue lips or arms
As reassurances of constancy,
Or speech as necessary communication
When troubled hearts go groping through the dusk;
Yet lovers who have learned this last refinement —
To lie apart, yet sleep and dream together
Motionless under their starred coverlet —
Crown love with wreaths of myrtle.


Going confidently into the garden
Where she made much of you four hours ago
You find another person in her seat.
If your scalp crawls and your eyes prick at sight
Of her white motionless face and folded hands
Framed in such thunderclouds of sorrow,
Give her no word of comfort, man,
Dissemble your own anguish,
Withdraw in silence, gaze averted —
This is the dark edge of her double ax:
Divine mourning for what cannot be.


Since I was with you last, at one with you,
Twelve hours have passed. Can I now swear it true
That love rose up in wrath to make us blind,
And stripped from us all powers of heart and mind,
So we were mad and had no pulse or thought
But love, love, love, in the one balefire caught?
You pass, you smile: yet is that smile I see
Of love, and of your all-night gift to me?
Now I too smile, for doubt, and own the doubt,
And wait in fear for night to root it out,
And doubt the more; but take heart to be true,
Each time of change, to a fresh hope of you,
That love may prove his worth once more and be
Fierce as the tides of spring in you and me,
And bear with us till dawn shall break, though soon
With dreams of doubt to vex us at high noon.


Almost I could prefer
A flare of anger
To your dumb signal of displeasure.
Must it be my task
To assume the mask
Of not desiring what I may not ask?
On a wide bed,
Both arms outspread,
I watch the spites do battle in my head,
Yet know this sickness
For stubborn weakness
Unconsonant with your tenderness.
O to be patient
As you would have me patient:
Patient for a thousand nights, patient!


I awoke in profuse sweat, arms aching,
Knees bruised and soles cut to the raw —
Preserved no memory of that night
But whipcracks and my own voice screaming
Through what wild, flinty wastes of fury,
Hag of the Mill,
Did you ride your madman?


No lover ever found a cure for love
Except so cruel a thrust under the heart
(By her own hand delivered).
His wound was nine long years in healing
Purulent with dead hope,
And ached yet longer at the moon’s changes ...
More tolerable the infection than its cure.


Goddess of Midsummer, how late
You let me understand
My lines of head, life, fate
And heart: a broad M brand
Inerasable from either hand.


Every woman of true royalty owns
A secret land more real to her
Than this pale outer world:
At midnight when the house falls quiet
She lays aside needle or book
And visits there unseen.
Shutting her eyes, she improvises
A five-barred gate among tall birches,
Vaults over, takes possession.
Then runs, or flics, or mounts a horse
(A horse will canter up to greet her)
And travels where she will;
Can make grass grow, coax lilies up
From bud to blossom as she watches,
Lets fish cat from her palm;
Has founded villages, planted groves
And hollowed valleys for brooks running
Cool to a landlocked bay.
I never dared question my love
About the government of her queendom
Or its geography,
Nor followed her between those burches,
Setting one leg astride the gate,
Spying into the mist.
Yet she has pledged me, when I die,
A lodge beneath her private palace
In a level clearing of the wood
Where gentians grow with gillyflowers
And sometimes we may meet.


Seldom, yet now: the quality
Of this fierce love between us —
Seldom the encounter,
The presence always,
Free of oath or promise.
And if we were not so,
But birds of similar plumage caged
In the peace of everyday,
Could we still conjure wildfire up
From common earth, as now?


Never forget who brings the rain
In swarthy goatskin bags from a far sea:
It is the Moon as she turns, repairing
Damages of long drought and sunstroke.
Never count upon rain, never foretell it,
For no power can bring rain
Except the Moon as she turns; and who can rule her?
She is prone to delay the necessary floods,
Lest such a gift might become obligation,
A month, or two, or three; then suddenly
No relenting but by way of whim
Will perhaps conjure from the cloudless west
A single raindrop to surprise with hope
Each haggard, upturned face.
Were the Moon a Sun, we could count upon her
To bring rain seasonably as she turned;
Yet no one thinks to thank the regular Sun
For shining fierce in summer, mild in winter —
Why should the Moon so drudge?
But if one night she brings us, as she turns,
Soft, steady, even, copious rain
That harms no leaf nor flower, but gently falls
Hour after hour, sinking to the taproots,
And the sodden earth exhales at dawn
A long sigh scented with pure gratitude,
Such rain — the first rain of our lives, it seems,
Neither foretold, cajoled, nor counted on —
Is woman giving as she loves.


Your scepter awes me, Aphrodite,
The knot-of-wisdom in your grasp.
Though you have deigned my couch to warm
And my firm neck in love to clasp,
How am I more than a man-lion
To you a goddess, the world’s queen?
Ten thousand champions of your choice
Are gone as if they had not been.
Yet while you grant me power to stem
The tide’s unalterable flow,
Enroyaled I await your pleasure
And starve if you would have it so.