Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
Liber Amoris
By Arthur Symons (1865–1945)
(Bianca, X. From London Nights, 1895)

WHAT’S virtue, Bianca? Have we not
Agreed the word should be forgot,
That ours be every dear device
And all the subtleties of vice,
And, in diverse imaginings,        5
The savour of forbidden things,
So only that the obvious be
Too obvious for you and me,
And the one vulgar final act
Remain an unadmitted fact?        10
And, surely, we were wise to waive
A gift we do not lose, but save.
What moment’s reeling blaze of sense
Were rationally recompense
For all the ecstasies and all        15
The ardours demi-virginal?
Bianca, I tell you, no delights
Of long, free, unforbidden nights,
Have richlier filled and satisfied
The eager moments as they died,        20
That your voluptuous pretence
Of unacquainted innocence,
Your clinging hands and closing lips
And eyes slow sinking to eclipse
And cool throat flushing to my kiss;        25
That sterile and mysterious bliss,
Mysterious, and yet to me
Deeper for that dubiety.
Once, but that time was long ago,
I loved good women, and to know        30
That lips my lips dared never touch
Could speak, in one warm smile, so much.
And it seemed infinitely sweet
To worship at a woman’s feet,
And live on heavenly thoughts of her,        35
Till earth itself grew heavenlier.
But that rapt mood, being fed on air,
Turned at the last to a despair,
And, for a body and soul like mine,
I found the angel’s food too fine.        40
So the mood changed, and I began
To find that man is merely man,
Though women might be angels; so,
I let the aspirations go,
And for a space I held it wise        45
To follow after certainties.
My heart forgot the ways of love,
No longer now my fancy wove
Into admitted ornament
In spider’s web of sentiment.        50
What my hands seized, that my hands held,
I followed as the blood compelled,
And finding that my brain found rest
On some unanalytic breast,
I was contented to discover        55
How easy ’tis to be a lover.
No sophistries to ravel out,
No devious maytyrdoms of doubt,
Only the good firm flesh to hold,
The love well worth its weight in gold,        60
Love, sinking from the infinite,
Now just enough to last one night.
So the simplicity of flesh
Held me a moment in its mesh,
Till that too palled, and I began        65
To find that man is mostly man
In that, his will being sated, he
Wills ever new variety.
And then I found you, Bianca! Then
I found in you, I found again        70
That chance or will or fate had brought
The curiosity I sought.
Ambiguous child, whose life retires
Into the pulse of those desires
Of whose endured possession speaks        75
The passionate pallor of your cheeks;
Child, in whom neither good nor ill
Can sway your sick and swaying will,
Only the aching sense of sex
Wholly controls, and does perplex,        80
With dubious drifts scarce understood,
The shaken currents of your blood;
It is your ambiguity
That speaks to me and conquers me,
Your capturing heats of captive bliss,        85
Under my hands, under my kiss,
And your strange reticences, strange
Concessions, your elusive change,
The strangeness of your smile, the faint
Corruption of your gaze, a saint        90
Such as Luini loved to paint.
What’s virtue, Bianca? nay, indeed,
What’s vice? for I at last am freed,
With you, of virtue and of vice:
I have discovered Paradise.        95
And Paradise is neither heaven,
Where the spirits of God are seven,
And the spirits of men burn pure,
Nor is it hell, where souls endure
An equal ecstasy of fire,        100
In like repletion of desire;
Nay, but a subtlier intense
Unsatisfied appeal of sense,
Ever desiring, ever near
The goal of all its hope and fear,        105
Ever a hair’s-breadth from the goal.
So Bianca satisfies my soul.

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