Camille

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Camille  (1858) 
by Anne Whitney
Featured in Vol 1., No.7 of The Atlantic Monthly.

Camille

 I bore my mystic chalice unto Earth
    With vintage which no lips of hers might name;
  Only, in token of its alien birth,
    Love crowned it with his soft, immortal flame,
           And, 'mid the world's wide sound,
      Sacred reserves and silences breathed round,--
    A spell to keep it pure from low acclaim.

  With joy that dulled me to the touch of scorn,
    I served;--not knowing that of all life's deeds
  Service was first; nor that high powers are born
    In humble uses. Fragrance-folding seeds
         Must so through flowers expand,
      Then die. God witness that I blessed the Hand
   Which laid upon my heart such golden needs!

  And yet I felt, through all the blind, sweet ways
    Of life, for some clear shape its dreams to blend,--
  Some thread of holy art, to knit the days
    Each unto each, and all to some fair end,
        Which, through unmarked removes,
      Should draw me upward, even as it behooves
    One whose deep spring-tides from His heart descend.

  To swell some vast refrain beyond the sun,
    The very weed breathed music from its sod;
  And night and day in ceaseless antiphon
    Rolled off through windless arches in the broad
        Abyss.--Thou saw'st I, too,
      Would in my place have blent accord as true,
    And justified this great enshrining, God!

  Dreams!--Stain it on the bending amethyst,
    That one who came with visions of the Prime
  For guide somehow her radiant pathway missed,
    And wandered in the darkest gulf of Time.
          No deed divine thenceforth
      Stood royal in its far-related worth;
    No god, in truth, might heal the wounded chime.

  Oh, how? I darkly ask;--and if I dare
    Take up a thought from this tumultuous street
  To the forgotten Silence soaring there
    Above the hiving roofs, its calm depths meet
           My glance with no reply.
      Might I go back and spell this mystery
    In the new stillness at my mother's feet,--

  I would recall with importunings long
    That so sad soul, once pierced as with a knife,
  And cry, Forgive! Oh, think Youth's tide was strong,
    And the full torrent, shut from brain and life,
           Plunged through the heart, until
      It rocked to madness, and the o'erstrained will
    Grew wild, then weak, in the despairing strife!

  And ever I think, What warning voice should call,
    Or show me bane from food, with tedious art,
  When love--the perfect instinct, flower of all
    Divinest potencies of choice, whose part
           Was set 'mid stars and flame
      To keep the inner place of God--became
    A blind and ravening fever of the heart?

  I laugh with scorn that men should think them praised
    In women's love,--chance-flung in weary hours,
  By sickly fire to bloated worship raised!--
    O long-lost dream, so sweet of vernal flowers!
           Wherein I stood, it seemed,
      And gave a gift of queenly mark!--I dreamed
    Of Passion's joy aglow in rounded powers.

  I dreamed! The roar, the tramp, the burdened air
    Pour round their sharp and subtle mockery.
  Here go the eager-footed men; and there
    The costly beggars of the world float by;--
              Lilies, that toil nor spin,
      How should they know so well the weft of sin,
    And hide me from them with such sudden eye?

  But all the roaming crowd begins to make
    A whirl of humming shade;--for, since the day
  Is done, and there's no lower step to take,
    Life drops me here. Some rough, kind hand, I pray,
                 Thrust the sad wreck aside,
      And shut the door on it!--a little pride,
    That I may not offend who pass this way.

  And this is all!--Oh, thou wilt yet give heed!
    No soul but trusts some late redeeming care,--
  But walks the narrow plank with bitter speed,
    And, straining through the sweeping mist of air,
              In the great tempest-call,
      And greater silence deepening through it all,
    Refuses still, refuses to despair!

  Some further end, whence thou refitt'st with aim
    Bewildered souls, perhaps?--Some breath in me,
  By thee, the purest, found devoid of blame,
    Fit for large teaching?--Look!--I cannot see,--
           I can but feel!--Far off,
      Life seethes and frets,--and from its shame and scoff
    I take my broken crystal up to thee.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1915, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.