Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward

A Man's Reply

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That heart were something cold, I think,
That on the light of stars relied
For daily fire; and cruel is
The perfumed breath of flowers denied
The longing, lifted human hand;
And bitter to the soul, I stand
And fling your woman's fancies back
Beneath the woman's tender feet!
A woman only knoweth love
To know that it is passing sweet,
To know that all her heart is glad,
Or else to know that she is sad
Because it failed her; and forsooth,
I think she has an extra sense
To love by, granted not to man:
Love's measureless own recompense
Consists in loving: there 's her creed.
A pretty thought, in faith or deed!
A feminine fair thought, but false
To man forever! false as light
To the born blind, as painted fruit
To starving lips; or as a bright
Departing sail to drowning eyes
Arch not to me, in mild surprise,
Those glorious calm brows of yours!
Man loveth in another way!
He cannot take the less without
The more; he has a bitter way
In loving, that you know not of;
No tireless, tender, calm resolve
To take Fate's meagre crumbs when dry
From life's feast-tables overswept
And salt them with his hidden, hot,
Vain tears! Contented to be kept
As cup-bearer beside a goddess' place!
Contented so he see her face,
Her dear, denied, sweet face, and die!
O lost, my love! I tell you nay,
You do not, cannot understand;
Man loveth in another way!
He is too strong, or is too weak:
I cannot be the friend you seek!


And yet, in the incertitudes
Of some uncomforted, cold moods,


I cast my soul before you, Sweet!
My very soul beneath your feet,


And, daring and despairing, think
That could I stoop but once and drink,--


One little moment lean above
The sealed, lost fountain of your love,--


Could taste, just taste before I die,
Its sacred, sheltered mystery,--


Could call you for one hour mine!
One little, little hour mine!--


I think I could arise and go
From out your presence then, and know


Myself that possible poised man
Who, living, loving, longing, can


Yet make himself the thing he may,--
Live in the woman's nobler way,--


Love, asking Love no other gauge
Than the exceeding privilege


Of adding by some patient stress.
Of pain, unto the happiness,--


Or be it bright, or be it dim--
Of the sweet soul denied to him.

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