by Hervey Allen

Hervey Allen

When I first loved, I loved a wraith,
Yet in my youth I still have faith,
For though dark mills were thundering 'round
I met my love on Roman ground.
Through her I learned to know the peace
Of balance, journeying through Greece,
Then stars above Arabia's dearth
Brought unity to my vexed earth,
And while in England, hand in hand,
I learned to love the love of land,
And everything was in her kiss
My starving city did not miss.

For she was lovely, thin and lithe,
And supple as a willow withe,
Although her youth was very old,
And many an ancient tale she told
Of lands that I might never see,
Of vales in far-off Thessaly,
Of Umbria and Sicily,
Of Attica and Arcady,
Of men who were God's instruments
And never walking documents.
Thick walls and curtains we passed through,
A boy, I saw what lovers do,
And knew that I should be one, too.
In eagle-vallumed camps we saw
The laureled Caesars saying law;
We saw in Alexandria's dives
Religion forged to bind our lives,
And up the Nile on monoliths
We found the mother of its myths —
And tarried for a little while
With Isis on her drowning isle.

No one who lived within our house
Suspected that a little mouse
Had found the pantry of the gods
And nibbled there at lotus pods;
No one within our city wall,
And it was very thick and tall,
Suspected it — at all, at all.

Yet every night I used to meet
My love between a double sheet,
And kiss her mouth, and found it sweet,
And kiss her hands, and kiss her feet.

But that was in another aeon.
Now Clio is a pedant's peon,
And she wears glasses and a smock
And orders life upon the clock,
Or makes a budget out of blood,
While love is reason's breeding stud.
And all her breasts have fallen in;
Her face is like a parchment skin
With nothing lovely writ therein.
To lie with her would be a sin.

So I behold her now with tears
And long to box her on the ears,
For she no longer is a joy,
The passionate sweetheart of a boy.
In truth, she's not the girl at all
I met beside the Roman wall,
Where through the harvest mist of years
Twinkled the vexillaries' spears.

Last updated September 05, 2017