Speaking of the human condition:
Sad, painted flower, cast unwist
Into Life’s lap; poor face that Fate
Has mocked at, drunk to, smitten, kissed.
Until I read the rune thereof
With more in it to love than hate,
With more to pity than to love:
What nights were thine! What morns had they
Whose sleep was incense, vital, rare,
Burned into ashes by the day
Before thy desecrated shrine!
Thy barren bosom freed their care,
Because its milk was bitter wine.
Of all who loved and let thee go.
Is there not one whose lips impressed
Their stamp upon thy memory so —
Or dark or fair, or black or white —
His eyes outsparkle all the rest.
The casual Antonies of night?
Of all the mouths thy mouth hath drained,
Of all the bodies thine hath sought
And clung to, mad, desired, disdained,
In that long catalogue of dole.
Is there not one that something taught,
His soul embracing thy lost soul?
That fair first lover on whose head
Thy maiden shame and passion place —
Living and loving, or purged and dead —
So rich a crown of memory
That to thine inner heart his face
A sinning saint’s seems: is it he?
Or is it some poor drunken fool.
Wiser than thou — God save the mark! —
In that salacious, brutal school
Where beasts, as thou and I are, sweat
Over the Lessons of the Dark,
Whom thou recall’st with dear regret?
Perhaps some country lad, who came
Fresh from his home to town and thee.
Is closest — his the charmed name —
Who with the parting tears fresh shed
And all his sweet virginity
Thy sacramental table spread?
My canker-eaten rose, what then?
My scape-goat of an out-worn code,
“All things,” said Paul, “unto all men” —
So thou, who with the setting sun
Farest nightly on the endless road.
To all men mistress, wife to none
But mine tonight, though not to kiss I
I lay my head upon that breast
Whose scar our sisters’ safety is.
And, from our darkest misery,
To beg thy mercy is my quest.
Lest that we perish utterly.
Forgive our women’s scornful glance.
Our poor, pale, pure maidens decorous.
Virgins by purse and circumstance;
Forgive the tiger tusk and claw;
Forgive the law that made thee thus; —
Forgive the God that made the law.