Maurice Thompson

To Sappho

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Up from the Caribbean
The wind comes like a pæan,
As on my fragrant orange-bough I swing,
Dreaming, and wondering,
And piping Sapphic fragments o'er and o'er.

Along the shore
The surf foams madly and the breakers roar.
Strange odors from afar,
Spice, amber, nard, and tar,
And Lesbian roses grown in Mitylene,
And violet breath, and waft of myrtle green,
Steep me in visions passionate and wild,
Of love, all undefiled,
Whereby was Sappho's bright
Rose garden of delight,
Flooded with starry splendors of old night!

A bower of June,
With morning freshness lingering after noon
Upon the petals of the passion-rose;
All round through apple boughs the cool air blows,
Shaking soft slumber down the dusky leaves,
Where still the subtle violet-weaver weaves!

Eden of Love's own choice,
Haunted of Love's own voice,
Thy ways I could not take--
Nay, not for Sappho's sake,
And leave my orange grove
And the fresh promise of the land I love!
Wild liberty,
Not license, give to me!
Give me the glory of what is to come--
Fill me with prophecy--the mighty hum
Of swarming years and wonders yet to be!
And still, O Sappho! still I turn and sigh
That all but these stray notes of all thy songs should die;
That these chance fragments old,
Of things more golden than the virgin gold,
To music set beyond all melody,
Have come to me,
Of all thy treasure, blown across the sea!

Mad maid of Mitylene,
Song-slave, song-mistress, and song-queen!
Blessëd the nightingale
Whom thou didst sing
And hail
As tender messenger of Spring!
Sappho, oh thou--
Sweet-apple on the bough,
Yea, blushing on the top spray of the tree,
Whom all the apple gatherers failed to see,
Nay, saw, but could not reach, and cannot now,
Thy song perforce will fill my throat
And burn it with each golden, molten note!
Who knows thee best
Knows never peace or rest,
And yet his every thought
Is a joy from Heaven caught;
And his heart-flower open blows
Like a dark red Lesbian rose!
God-like he thrones himself, who sits by thee,
And feels the dear delirium of thy words,
And of thy laughter hears the tender chords!
The vision thrills my heart; for if I see,
In merest glimpse, thy form, my voice fails me,
My tongue is numb, with fire my blood is shot,
My ears hum, and my straining eyes see not,
My frame, bedewed with madness, quivereth
And, paler than pale grass, I look like death!

Oh, not in wanton whirls
Thy singing bevy sweet
Danced round thee on charmed feet,
Oh, blessëd girls!
Who felt thy song-breath on their shining curls
And thy fierce flame of longing in their veins!
What delicate, deep, delicious bitterness,
What stress
Of overmastering, sad ecstasy within
Each quivering heart! What glorious din
Of girlish voices and love-smitten lyres!
What incense from what all-consuming fires!

O Sappho, didst thou sing
This haunting, saddening thing?--
Ever shalt thou lie dead,
No more rememberëd,
Since no Pierian roses blew for thee,
Unnoticed mid the shadows dim and dread,
Alone in the hereafter shalt thou be!
Didst thou mean me?

But what care I?
I shall not die,
For Liberty lends to me her deathless wing;
My land is the eternal home of spring,
Beyond all clouds my purple dome of sky,
The nations hunger for the songs I sing
Making the New World's groves with Freedom's transports ring!
Naught have I for the tomb,
Blooming, as centuries bloom,
Fairer with each new day,
No petal of my song-flower shall decay!
Not so with thine.
Veined like the lily's, as the rose's fine;
Plucked by the vulgar hand of comedy,
They scent the desert dust and sweeten all the sea!

Pressed thin between the pages
Of the torn book of ages,
Suggestive of what fragrant thoughts it is
To find a bloom like this:
Last night I spoke with Venus in my dream!
Ah, in what bower of bliss,
By what Pan-haunted stream,
Didst thou the lips of Aphrodite kiss?

What bitter-sweet
Wild love shook thee from head to feet,
And tore thy breast,
Like a wind that rends the oak-tree on the mountain's crest?
What garland didst thou wear?
And who was Althis fair,
Loved once, loved madly, loved so long ago?
And oh!
For whom didst thou lie lonesome when the moon had set,
And the Pleiades were down?
What purple gown
Didst thou quit wearing when thy love came not?
And (O delicate thought!)
For thy lost girlhood crying all in vain,
What strange, wild joys were caught
And tangled in thy pain?

Far in the night,
When the moon sails high and white,
In the rich, dark firmament,
And the sea-wind is spent,
And the magnolia's heavy flowers are hung,
Like ghastly death-bells waiting to be rung,
I yearn
In a low, many-toned, deep, sweet nocturne,
To guess,
And so express,
The lost notes that, once stricken from thy lyre,
Touched all the world with fiery tenderness,
And filled the air with veins of tender fire;
But of my longing cometh unto me
Never the bubbling honey, nor the honey-bee!

Never tongue may say
What founts of inspiration and delight
Forsook the day, what stars shrank from the night,
When all thy songs,
Torn into shreds and smirched with foulest wrongs,
Were scattered,
Bruised, and so left to lie
In places lone and high,
Dark petals of a hyacinth, odorous still,
Crushed by rude feet on many a windy hill!

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Maurice Thompson