by George Meredith
Within a Temple of the Toes,
Where twirled the passionate Wili,
I saw full many a market rose,
And sighed for my village lily.
With cynical Adrian then I took flight
To that old dead city whose carol
Bursts out like a reveller's loud in the night,
As he sits astride his barrel.
We two were bound the Alps to scale,
Up the rock-reflecting river;
Old times blew thro' me like a gale,
And kept my thoughts in a quiver.
Hawking ruin, wood-slope, and vine
Reeled silver-laced under my vision,
And into me passed, with the green-eyed wine
Knocking hard at my head for admission.
I held the village lily cheap,
And the dream around her idle:
Lo, quietly as I lay to sleep,
The bells led me off to a bridal.
My bride wore the hood of a Beguine,
And mine was the foot to falter;
Three cowled monks, rat-eyed, were seen;
The Cross was of bones o'er the altar.
The Cross was of bones; the priest that read,
A spectacled necromancer:
But at the fourth word, the bride I led
Changed to an Opera dancer.
A young ballet-beauty, who perked in her place,
A darling of pink and spangles;
One fair foot level with her face,
And the hearts of men at her ankles.
She whirled, she twirled, the mock-priest grinned,
And quickly his mask unriddled;
'Twas Adrian! loud his old laughter dinned;
Then he seized a fiddle, and fiddled.
He fiddled, he glowed with the bottomless fire,
Like Sathanas in feature:
All through me he fiddled a wolfish desire
To dance with that bright creature.
And gathering courage I said to my soul,
Throttle the thing that hinders!
When the three cowled monks, from black as coal,
Waxed hot as furnace-cinders.
They caught her up, twirling: they leapt between-whiles:
The fiddler flickered with laughter:
Profanely they flew down the awful aisles,
Where I went sliding after.
Down the awful aisles, by the fretted walls,
Beneath the Gothic arches:-
King Skull in the black confessionals
Sat rub-a-dub-dubbing his marches.
Then the silent cold stone warriors frowned,
The pictured saints strode forward:
A whirlwind swept them from holy ground;
A tempest puffed them nor'ward.
They shot through the great cathedral door;
Like mallards they traversed ocean:
And gazing below, on its boiling floor,
I marked a horrid commotion.
Down a forest's long alleys they spun like tops:
It seemed that for ages and ages,
Thro' the Book of Life bereft of stops,
They waltzed continuous pages.
And ages after, scarce awake,
And my blood with the fever fretting,
I stood alone by a forest-lake,
Whose shadows the moon were netting.
Lilies, golden and white, by the curls
Of their broad flat leaves hung swaying.
A wreath of languid twining girls
Streamed upward, long locks disarraying.
Their cheeks had the satin frost-glow of the moon;
Their eyes the fire of Sirius.
They circled, and droned a monotonous tune,
Abandoned to love delirious.
Like lengths of convolvulus torn from the hedge,
And trailing the highway over,
The dreamy-eyed mistresses circled the sedge,
And called for a lover, a lover!
I sank, I rose through seas of eyes,
In odorous swathes delicious:
They fanned me with impetuous sighs,
They hit me with kisses vicious.
My ears were spelled, my neck was coiled,
And I with their fury was glowing,
When the marbly waters bubbled and boiled
At a watery noise of crowing.
They dragged me low and low to the lake:
Their kisses more stormily showered;
On the emerald brink, in the white moon's wake,
An earthly damsel cowered.
Fresh heart-sobs shook her knitted hands
Beneath a tiny suckling,
As one by one of the doleful bands
Dived like a fairy duckling.
And now my turn had come-O me!
What wisdom was mine that second!
I dropped on the adorer's knee;
To that sweet figure I beckoned.
Save me! save me! for now I know
The powers that Nature gave me,
And the value of honest love I know:-
My village lily! save me!
Come 'twixt me and the sisterhood,
While the passion-born phantoms are fleeing!
Oh, he that is true to flesh and blood
Is true to his own being!
And he that is false to flesh and blood
Is false to the star within him:
And the mad and hungry sisterhood
All under the tides shall win him!
My village lily! save me! save!
For strength is with the holy:-
Already I shuddered to feel the wave,
As I kept sinking slowly:-
I felt the cold wave and the under-tug
Of the Brides, when-starting and shrinking -
Lo, Adrian tilts the water-jug!
And Bruges with morn is blinking.
Merrily sparkles sunny prime
On gabled peak and arbour:
Merrily rattles belfry-chime
The song of Sevilla's Barber.