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.
The God of Love
By Joseph T. Shipley (1893–1988)

IN the days when the dawn thrust its lances over hills that were fresher than dew,
When there burned upon upstartled glances new glories of lands that were new,
Men stood forth and plucked what they fancied as the bee drinks full of the flower;
Thorns pricked? or the garner was rancid? there were manifold fruits to devour.
No question was cloud on their doing, no self-searching led them amiss,        5
They saw, they desired, and pursuing won to the maid with a kiss,
With a kiss that he took and she granted in fulness of open delight,
For they were not abashed, neither flaunted their joys on indifferent sight,
But loved where they found, without query of motive and intent and scheme
As the brown bear gobbles the berry, as wild geese scream,        10
As Charon waits at the ferry of death, and as poets dream.
  The forests and glades then were crowded with creatures of turbulent range,
Whose passionate sun never clouded, whose ardor was endless as change.
The lake closed over the naïad, a silent sheltering cloak,
The faun leapt forth at the dryad, and stumbled over the oak;        15
Each lad felt a power greater than freshet mad with the spring:
“Weak is the boast of the satyr!—but a nymph is a tender thing;
She may fly me the moment, but later she shall nest in my heart, and sing;
Sing low of her tender caresses, sing wild of her passion-throes;
I shall pilfer a curl of her tresses, I shall rest,—ah, rest!—when she goes,        20
Till memory splendidly dresses her, till memories close….”
  And strange gods have leapt from their passion: Priapus, o’erweening, outthrust,
Cotytto, whose glance lays the lash on, whose warm waxen flesh is the crust
Of a vented volcano whose fires suck the breath of the lover that comes,
And his limbs are the chords of her lyres, his body the beat of her drums;        25
Their passion has sprung through Astarte, whose eyes ever close in love’s death,
And all that is lusty and hearty breathes deep of her maddening breath.
Through their gods we have glimpse of a fashion whose fragrance we know not of;
The pagans have proffered us passion, but thou art the god of love.
  Thou art love: in all forms to all peoples do thy multiple mysteries throb,        30
From thy strident Priapean steeples to thy soul that is cupped in a sob;
With children thy fingers are tender as beaver to beaver-young;
Thou art the undaunted defender of the thief and the harlot, outflung
From the doors of the holy, and mender of hearts that disaster has wrung.
Thou art love of the feeble, the pallid; thou art tolerance of the strong,        35
Thou art comfort for him who has dallied on the threshold of wrong,
And the starveling has filled him and rallied with breath of thy song.
Thou art love of the virgin mother, who walks in a robe of white
Like the snowdrifts that silently smother the moist earth’s might.
  And men cry that thy garments are ashes, the hem of thy robe is a dust;        40
And pity wells under thy lashes more potent than anger’s gust:
But I see there gleam memoried flashes of flaming lust.
  To thy spirit are women forbidden things, carnal, cunning, and cruel,
Their flesh is by demons ridden, their souls are the devil’s fuel,
From the sight of man must they be hidden; man deems hell-fire a jewel.        45
(Is Satan a subtler schemer than thy simplicity grasps?
Thou that art man’s redeemer when Satan clasps.)
Warn us of woman; do we spurn her? It is danger that sets man afire;
A secret, man hungers to learn her; a sin, and she feeds his desire.
A veil, and it cries to be lifted, it flutters to give man a glimpse        50
Of a goddess supernally gifted;—and a thousand manna-tongued imps
Quiver “Woman’s a shallow delusion, her mystery manifest snare;
Her eyes are the gates of confusion, that close when you’re captured there.”
Are the imps and thy word in collusion? Man is blind when ye bid him beware.
In what pagan whose passion imperious the envious lover paints        55
Rose ever a ferment delirious as whirled in the dreams of the saints?
No secret abode could avail them, no penance still their alarms;
Through the lonely ways she would trail them, entwine them with sinuous charms,
Till their saintly endurance would fail them, or they fled through death to thine arms.
  When woman was held for the pleasure and comfort and solace of man        60
Joy had its ultimate measure, in a world of measure and plan——
Now she is a trial and a treasure we may not span.
  And she too gives thanks for thy coming; thou hast taught her her wondrous might;
Out of thy chill and thy numbing she has burned to a ruddier flight,
And made of thy corseted mumming her arms for the fight.        65
Thou has made her man’s dream and damnation, and her piety pays for thy gifts;
She is demure, but elation thrills quietly under and lifts
In her soul to a mystical paean, in her form to a lambent grace
(Fused with the Cytherean ardor, is a withheld embrace)
That first in the empyrean accords thee thy holy place.        70
  Oh God, linger on with the nations while the suns of my days endure;
When man stays not to pour thee libations, what things will be sure?
When woman, unmasked and ungirdled, understood, stands cleansed of her sin,
The cream of her love will have curdled, the world of our love ceased to spin;
Yield not to the clamor of science that seeing all, yet never knows;        75
Are thy pallor and meekness defiance to chill thy blustering foes?
The pagan was youth, and was bolder to flash the sword from the sheath,
Man and maiden shoulder to shoulder entwined round their limbs one wreath;
Science is older and colder, and queries “What lieth beneath?”
Thou layest thy gentle cover alike over query and quest,        80
As the arm of the tender lover droops on the tenderer breast;——
Whatever of gods may be mortal, hold thou thy throne above,
And smile to man over thy portal; thou alone art God, being love.


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