Woman! When I Behold thee Flippant, Vain
In the 1817 volume, where this poem was first published, with no title, it is placed at the end of a group of poems which are thus advertised on the leaf containing the dedication: "The Short Pieces in the middle of the Book as well as some of the Sonnets, were written at an earlier period than the rest of the Poems". In the abscence of any documentary evidence, it seems reasonable to place it near the "Imitation of Spenser" rather than near "Calidore".
Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain,
Inconstant, childish, proud, and full of fancies;
Without that modest softening that enhances
The downcast eye, repentant of the pain
That its mild light creates to heal again:
E’en then, eleate, my spirit leaps, and prances,
E’en then my soul with exultation dances
For that tolove, so long, I’ve dormant lain:
But when I see thee meek, and kind, and tender,
Thy winning graces; – to be thy defender
I hotly burn – to be a Calidore –
A very Red Cross Knight – a stout Leander –
Might I be loved by thee like these of yore.
Light feet, dark violet eyes, and parted hair;
Soft dimpled hands, white neck, and creamy breast,
Are things on which the dazzled senses rest
Till the fond, fixed eyes forget they stare.
From such fine pictures, heavens! I cannot dare
To turn my admiration, though unpossess’d
They be of what is worthy, – though not drest
In lovely modesty, and virtues rare.
Yet these I leave as thoughtless as a lark;
These lures I straight forget, – e’en ere I dine,
Or thrice my palate moisten: but when I mark
Such charms with mild intelligences shine,
My ear is open like a greedy shark,
To catch the tunings of a voice divine.
Ah! who can e’er forget so fair a being?
Who can forget her half retiring sweets?
God! she is like a milk-white lamb that bleats
For man’s protection. Surely the All-seeing,
Who joys to see us with his gifts agreeing,
Will never give him pinions, who intreats
Such innocence to ruin, – who vilely cheats
A dove-like bosom. In truth there is no freeing
One’s thoughts from such a beauty; when I hear
A lay that once I saw her hand awake,
Her form seems floating palpable, and near;
Had I e’er seen her from an arbour take
A dewy flower, oft would that hand appear,
And o’er my eyes the trembling moisture shake.