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.
Leon to Annabella
(Attributed to Lord Byron, c. 1865)

Se non e vero, e ben trovato.

FROM proud Venetia’s desolated strand
Peruse these traces of a husband’s hand;
Or, if that honoured word offends thy ear,
Read for the sake of him who once was dear.
An exile in a foreign clime I roam,        5
Expelled thy bed, and driven from my home.
Be this enough to satisfy thy hate,
If not enough my crime to expiate.
  My crime!—What was it?—Publish it aloud—
Why thus in mystery thy dudgeon shroud?        10
Utter thy wrongs; or mine, if just, redress;
Lady, be bold, and prove my wickedness;
Nor let malicious calumny proclaim,
With foulest tongue, dishonour on my name.
  Thou know’st, when first I wooed thy maiden vow,        15
A poet’s laurels decked my youthful brow;
And, thou descended from a noble race,
Whose blazon’d scutcheons might their issue grace,
My pride was not by them alone to shine;
The lustre borrowed I repaid with mine.        20
Thou know’st, how many matrons spread their wiles,
How many daughters lavished all their smiles!
All these I scorned—that scorn by thee returned,
Whilst others burned for me, for thee I burned,
Till, won at last, I to the altar led        25
Thy faltering steps: the priest his rubric said.
Thy promised troth to honour and obey
Was faintly pledged, and pledged but to betray,
  How rash the mariner would seem to be,
Who launches forth his vessel on the sea        30
Without a compass, with no lead to sound;
No marks to show the harbour where he’s bound:
Unknown what shoals lie hid, what winds assail,
What fogs mephitic on the coast prevail.
So thoughtless man, who sets his mast afloat        35
To seek the haven of a petticoat,
Upon an inauspicious strand may run,
And mourn his folly e’er his course is done.
Nay, e’en the morrow’s dawn may see him rise,
In vain regretting his rash enterprise.        40
  Oh! woman, oft the homage you inspire
Is not on you bestowed, but your attire.
For who can say if what delights our eyes
Is nature’s self, or nature in disguise?
The pallid cheek and bloodless lip we see,        45
But all the rest is clothed in mystery.
In airy dreams imagination strays;
Counts every charm, and, daring, seems to raise
The jealous robe that hides your snowy limbs,
Till, drunk with thought, the brain in pleasure swims.        50
Vain hopes! which cruel disappointments pay.
That tissue covers only mortal clay.
When marriage comes the gaudy vestments fall,
And all our joys may prove apocryphal.
For when the Abigail’s officious hand        55
Has loosened here a string, and there a band;
When, slipping to the tag, the bursting lace
Has given you breath; and, rumbling to their place,
The joyous entrails set your flanks at ease;
When nothing veils you but a thin chemise;        60
The bridegroom’s happy, who, between the sheets,
Without alloy the promised banquet meets.
What lot was mine—and, on my wedding night,
What viands waited for my appetite—
I will not say: but e’en the best repast,        65
Repeated often, surfeits us at last.
The surfeit came: to this my crime amounts,
I fain would slake my thirst from other founts.
But, not like those, who, with adult’rous steps,
Seek courtesans and hackneyed demireps,        70
I left thee not beneath a widow’d quilt,
To take another partner of my guilt.
Thy charms were still my refuge—only this,
I hoped to find variety in bliss.
Thou know’st, when married, from the church we came,        75
Heedless I called thee by thy maiden name.
Unmeaning words!—yet some malignant fiend,
Who under friendship’s garb the poison screened,
Could draw an omen from a verbal slip,
And drug the nuptial chalice at thy lip:        80
Could bid thee mark that man with evil eye,
Whose thoughts still lingered on celibacy.
Believe it not:—the scene my mind confused,
Of coming joys, and not on past I mused.
I saw the ring upon thy finger shine;        85
If that could make a wife, I saw thee mine.
The surplice man his mockery had done,
And Mother Church of two had made us one.
Attesting hands had inked the feathered quill,
And yet there seemed a something wanting still;        90
And yet, I know not why, my tongue denied
To call thee dame, although thou wast my bride.
For still thy virgin look and maiden guise
Were seemings stronger than realities;
Which said, “Beside thee hangs a lovely flower,        95
Pluck it, ’tis thine: thou only hast the power.”
But nature whispered, till that hour arrived,
Though fools might tell me so, I was not wived.
And Cynthia’s lamp had lit the firmament;
  But when lone night had spread her sable tent,        100
When the flushed bride-maid had her office done,
And ingress to the bridal bow’r was won;
When on thy naked neck a fervent kiss
Announced the prelude of impending bliss;
When, half resisting, yielding half, I pressed        105
Thy trembling form; when—but thou know’st the rest.
Then, and then only, would my heart avow,
This is the wedding—thou art madam now:
And glibly to my lips the accents came
At next day’s dawn, “How fares it with thee, dame?”        110
  The happy moments in thy arms enjoyed,
Whilst love was new, nor yet possession cloyed.
Our joys, when virgin diffidence was o’er,
I pass in silence: moments now no more.
For oft a bride from modesty restrains        115
The latent heat that bubbles in her veins.
From coyness checks the impulse that she feels,
And on the sense by slow caresses steals.
Thus passed the fleeting hours, and still had passed,
But fate resolved our nuptial joys to blast.        120
One day a boon thou seemedst to require.
“Leon, I go to see my honoured sire:
“My mother, too—’tis long since we have met;
“And, loving thee, I must not them forget.”
“Speed thee,” I cried, “and brief, dame, make thy stay        125
“Dreary’s the husband’s couch whose wife’s away.
“Nor let thy filial piety preclude
“Some lines each day to cheer my solitude.”
When thy much-longed for tablets came,
To tell thy Leon thou wert still the same.        130
Another letter followed close the first.
With eager hand the waxen seal I burst:
But could I read, and credit what I read:
“Leon, in future think of me as dead.
“Take back the ring which late my finger wore;        135
“For, though thy wife, thou ne’er wilt see me more.”
  Aghast I stood, in motionless surprise,
And whence, thought I, can such a change arise?
At first I hoped there might some error be:
But no! the hand was thine, and sent to me.        140
Not more amaz’d, while feasting in his hall,
Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall:
Not e’en the felon looks with deeper gloom
Upon the warrant which decides his doom.
In vain I passed my actions in review:        145
My faults were many, but they were not new.
The harlot’s smile, the wassail’s merriment,
With boon companions all my substance spent;
All this was known before thou wast my bride;
Methought for this ’twas now too late to chide.        150
Thus mused I long: ’till, with conjecture tired,
Alone and sad I to my couch retired.
The night was cold, the wind tempestuous blew:
My curtain round me mournfully I drew.
And wert thou there (thus to myself I said)        155
My breast should be a pillow for thy head,
Lock’d in my arms the storm might rage its fill:
’Twould only make me clasp thee closer still,
Then, as I lay, my memory portrayed
A picture of thy charms; and Love, in aid,        160
Called up the tender pastimes of the night,
When shame was lulled, and transport at its height.
Yes, truth to tell (I cried) thy form was fair;
Thy skin was alabaster, and thy hair
Fell in profusion down thy taper waist.        165
And oh! what undulating beauties graced
Those loins whose fall had mocked the sculptor’s hand,
And gained thee worship in a Cnidian land.
  Whilst these reflections in my brains ferment,
Sudden their course assumed another bent.        170
What! if by thoughtless indiscretion led,
Thou couldst betray the secrets of our bed?
I know thy unsuspecting soul too well—
All, all thou would’st, interrogated tell.
*        *        *        *        *
  Oh, lovely woman! by your Maker’s hand        175
For man’s delight and solace wisely planned.
Thankless is she who nature’s bounty mocks,
Nor gives Love entrance whereso’er he knocks.
The breechless vagrant has no settled spot,
Now seeks the brook, now nestles in the grot.        180
Where pleasure offers nectar to the lip,
Anon he steals the honied draught to sip.
Shall priest-born prejudice the honey’d draught deny
And send away the thirsty votary?
  Matrons of Rome, held ye yourselves disgraced        185
In yielding to your husband’s wayward taste?
Ah, no!—By tender complaisance ye reign’d:
No wife of wounded modesty complained.
Though Gracchus sometimes his libations poured
In love’s unhallowed vase; yet, still adored        190
By sage Cornelia, ’twas her pride to be
His paradise, with no forbidden tree.
The blooming damsel, on the wedding night,
Conducted to the hymenaeal fight,
Would pray her lord to spare a virgin’s fear,        195
And take his restive courser to the rear—
Put off the venue to another place,
And dread the trial more than the disgrace.
But now no couple can in safety lie;
Between the sheets salacious lawyers pry.        200
Yet nature varies not:—desires we feel,
As Romans felt; but woe if we reveal,
For what were errors then, our happy times
With sainted zeal have registered as crimes.
  Lady, inscribed in characters of gold        205
This adage—“Truth not always must be told.”
Virtues and vices have no certain dye,
But take the colour of society.
The ore which bears the impress of the crown,
Is passed as standard money through the town;        210
But what we fashion into private plate,
We keep at home and never circulate.

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