Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
1682. From “The House of a Hundred Lights”
By Frederic Ridgely Torrence

I SAW them kissing in the shade and knew the sum of all my lore:
God gave them Youth, God gave them Love, and even God can give no more.
I know not from the fading Rose with parted lips what whisper went.
I only know the Nightingale sang once again his old lament.

A NIGHTINGALE once lost his voice from too much love, and he who flees
From Thirst to Wine-of-his-Desire must not forget the last—the lees.
Night is a woman vaguely veiled and made to woo, I see her now:
The newborn moon is suddenly her slender, golden, arched eyebrow.
I know a Thief who longs to steal from the moon’s granary on high,
Or snatch the bunch of Pleiades from out the cornfield of the sky.        10
Desire’s gold gates are always barred and open at no call or knock.
Age knows the only key is Pain, but Youth still thinks to force the lock.
You invalids who cannot drink much wine or love, I say to you:
“Content yourselves with laughing at the antics of the fools who do.”

TELL Youth to play with Wine and Love and never bear away the scars!
I may as well tilt up the sky and yet try not to spill the stars.
Yet even for Youth’s fevered blood there is a certain balm herein
This maiden’s mouth: O sweet disease! and happy, happy medicine!
And, maiden, should these bitter tears you shed be burdensome, know this:
There is a cure worth all the pain—tonight—beneath the moon—a kiss.        20
Girl, when he gives you kisses twain, use one, and let the other stay,
And hoard it; for moons die, red fades, and you may need a kiss—some day.
One says,—“Truth’s false and false is true.” Well, since I ’ve seen this maiden’s eyes,
I ’ll be so false as to be true, and such a fool as to be wise.

WHEN I ’m in health and asked to choose between the This and That, alas!
I all too gladly yield my throne up there beside the Sea of Glass.
Why! ’mongst all languages of earth there ’s none so sweet nor yet so fine
As that one spoken daily thrice by two and thirty teeth of mine.
Yet what have I to do with sweets like Love, or Wine, or Fame’s dear curse?
For I can do without all things except—except the universe.        30
The sieve-like cup of Earthly Joy still foams for me with many a bead,
But I have found another wine called Charity-without-a-Creed.
And if I want to sleep, I ’ll sleep more than Religion’s laws allow.
We ’ll have a long sleep in the grave ere-long; and should we not learn how?
Whether my days are cooled with calm or filled with fever’s ardent taint,        35
I have the same blue sky as God, I have the same God as the saint.

THE GREAT SWORD BEARER only knows just when He ’ll wound my heart,—not I:
But since He is the one who gives the balm, what does it signify?
If my Control should lose its hold on Fortune’s collar through some hurt,
What then?—Why then I ’d simply cling to old gray Resignation’s skirt.        40
Of all the languages of earth in which the human kind confer
The Master Speaker is the Tear: it is the Great Interpreter.
Man’s life is like a tide that weaves the sea within its daily web.
It rises, surges, swells, and grows,—a pause—then comes the evening ebb.
In this rough field of earthly life I have reaped cause for tears enough,        45
Yet, after all, I think I ’ve gleaned my modicum of Laughing-Stuff.


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