Six Songs for Chloë


I The Vintage

The grapes that in my vineyard grow
Ripen and load the heavy boughs.
I cut the clustering fruit and go
Laden myself toward the house
To heap them on my table there
And sit and watch them from my chair.

Exquisite in their grace and bloom,
Their perfect ripeness, fragrance, youth,
With invitation fill the room
And they implore the poet’s mouth
To ravish, to bite deep, to taste
And make them one with him at last.

But no, the poet smiles to see
Their urgent, innocent distress:
He takes them in their ecstasy,
Tumbles them in his cruel press
And, while the must runs strong and sweet,
Tramples them with his bloody feet,

Then pours their blood into his vats
And there ferments them into song
In which transmuted beauty waits
Her last perfection ages long
For men unborn to taste and praise
The masterwork of ancient days.

But when my wine is laid in store,
I come home weary and athirst
And sit and for myself I pour
A wine of ageless beauty first
And till it glows in heart and head,
Chloë, I shall not come to bed;

For, while my eyes delight to view
That lustrous, fresh, delicious shape,
The great debate my thoughts renew
Between the liquor and the grape,
And, while I know you hate the thought,
Love blesses me with double sport;

Though in your arms at lover’s work
All night I labour and rejoice,
My soul reviews like any Turk
The vintages it has at choice
And all your charms I then rehearse
And plan to bottle you in verse.

II The Perfume

“… marked males of the silkworm moth have been known to fly upwind seven miles to a fragrant female of their kind … the chemical compound with which a female silkworm moth attracts mates is highly specific; no other species seem aware of it. In 1959, the Nobel Laureate Adolph Butenandt of the Max Planck Institute for Bio-chemistry in Munich succeeded in analysing it. He found it to be an alcohol with sixteen carbon atoms per molecule. …”
[L. and M. Milne: The Senses of Animals and Men.]

O Chloë, have you heard it,
This news I sing to you?
It’s true, my lovely bird, it
Is absolutely true!
A biochemist probing
Has caught without a doubt
The Queen of Love disrobing
And found her secret out.

What drives the Bombyx mori
To fly, intrepid male,
Lured by the old, old story
Six miles against the gale?
The formula, my Honey,
Is now in print to prove
What is, and no baloney,
The very stuff of love.

At Munich on the Isar
Those molecules were found
Which everyone agrees are
What makes the world go round;

What draws the male creation
To love, my darling doll,
Turns out, on trituration,
To be an alcohol.

A Nobel Laureatus
Called Adolph Butenandt
Contrived to isolate us
This strong intoxicant.
The boys are celebrating
And singing at the club:
Here’s Bottoms up! to mating,
Since Venus keeps a pub!

My angel, O, my angel,
What is it you suffuse,
What redolent evangel,
What nosegay of good news?
What draws me like a dragnet
And holds and keeps me tight?
What odds! my fragrant magnet,
I shall be drunk tonight!

III Going to Bed

Chloë, let down that chestnut hair;
Let it flow full; let it fall free;
Loosen that zone, those clasps that bare
Your breasts: then leave the rest to me.

First like a cloud your dress shall float
Over your shoulders and away;
And next the faithless petticoat
Those exquisite, breathing flanks display;

Stockings and drawers I shall peel off
From your lithe legs and lovely thighs,
And think the rustling silks you slough
The foam from which, new-born, you rise.

Thus Love in mime despoils this world:
Fashions, beliefs and customs fall;
In brutal, naked grace unfurled
He shows the root and ground of all.

But when his power has stripped us stark,
These purged and primal selves shall find
A better and a brighter mark
Than those poor ventures of mankind;

For we whose fate is to retrace
The labyrinth and re-wind the clew,
All patterns of the past crase
And find our world begins anew.

Our nature then puts off, my dear,
What parts it from the true divine:
Bare as the gods we must appear
And as those blessed beings shine.

A single, soaring flame shall bound,
Frame and enfold our nakedness;
And with that glory clothed and crowned
Our souls shall want no other dress.

No roof can shelter us, no house
That falls to ruin as fabrics must;
No crumbling temple hear our vows
Or sanction that immortal lust.

Our bed must be the bracken brown
Or the waste dunes beside the sea,
And the wide heaven arching down
Our portion of eternity.

IV The Quarrel

Chloë, be still!
Not one word more;
The gale is not so shrill
Under my door.

Shriek, then, fury, shriek:
Call me brute and worse!
Where was I this week?
I was writing verse.

Do you doubt me then?
Have you sworn to prove
That I spent it in
Bed making love?

Who then, who, hell-cat?
Only tell her name.
What, you dare say that:
Chloë, hush, for shame!

Never think a few
Tears will soften me.
I’ve a mind to lay you
Across my knee.

What was that, you vixen,
Words I hear you spit?
“You and who else then?”
Let me show you, pet.

See, I’ve got you, precious,
Skirt folded back
To give that delicious
Bottom one smack.

One more, permit me!—
Then another one—
—Hell, girl you bit me
Almost to the bone!

Girls should be made of
Sugar and spice;
Girls should be afraid of
Brutal men and mice.

But not my Chloë; she’s
A brimstone wench;
Dragon, cockatrice
Would not make her blench.

Chloë, what is this?
After lightning, rain?
Do you sob and kiss,
Are you mild again?

Do you hate me less?
Do you nod your head?
Yes, Yes, Yes!
Chloë, come to bed!

V The Lamp

Night and the sea; the firelight glowing;
We sit in silence by the hearth;
I musing, you beside me sewing,
We glean the long day’s aftermath.

After the romping surf, the laughter,
The salt and sun, the roaring beach,
These flames glancing on wall and rafter
Are tongues of pentecostal speech.

And while their whispers come and go, I
Turn to watch you in your grace,
My gallant, radiant, reckless Chloë,
Who love and lead me such a chase,

To find it vanished, that incessant
Fulfilment of the urgent Now:
For here, absolved from past and present,
There broods a girl I do not know.

The clear, the gay, the brilliant nature
Matching your body’s pride, gives place
To a soft, wavering change of feature:
This grave, remote and troubled face;

A face all women have in common
When, lost within themselves, alone,
They hear the demiourgos summon
And draw their ocean like the moon.

The moon is up; the beaches glisten,
The land grows faceless as the sea;
And you withdraw and, while you listen,
Put on your anonymity.

I hear my pulses, as they travel,
Drop one by one to the abyss;
I feel the skein of life unravel
And ask in dread: who then is this?

Who is this shade that sits beside me
And on what errand has she come:
To drive me on the dark, or guide me,
To tempt, or bring my spirit home?

Or is she lost herself, uncertain
And helpless on that timeless track?
Whichever way, I draw the curtain
And light the lamp that brings us back.

VI The Lunch

Under these trellised vines, below
The summer trees our table waits;
A smiling waiter lays our plates.
Ah, Chloë, will you leave me now?
For though you may come back, you say,
How shall I live until that day?

Shall we have oysters on the shell?
Shall we choose mushrooms with the steak?
I never thought a heart could break
Between two sips of the moselle:
You laugh and ask me if my heart
Breaks table d’h or à la carte.

Laugh, Chloë, that delightful sound
Restores my spirits with my sense.
The present is the only tense
For love to make the world go round
And round and round until the sea
That takes you, bears you back to me.

Laugh, Chloë; in an hour you sail.
Let us remember while we can:
You are a woman, I a man
And nothing those two words entail
Of ventured or unbidden joy
Can time deny us or destroy.

Do you you recall how long ago
You taught me with a laughing glance
To set my heart upon the dance
And let the dancers come and go
Since the fulfilment of desire
Asks still to feed, not fix, that fire?

Look up: the grapes are on the vine,
Green promises, unripe as yet;
Only two summers since we met
And just a year you have been mine,
Yet in that brief eternity
You have remade the world and me.

But when I try to keep it so
You look and laugh and raise your glass
And answer: “Only things that pass
Live and renew themselves and grow;
A love that does not change is dead
And offers stone for living bread.

“These oysters smelling of the brine
Are now our summer by the sea;
Those grapes, though sour still, will be
Next summer’s heritage of wine;
Love’s every landfall is one more
Departure for an unknown shore.

“You will not be, suppose we meet
Next year, the man you are today,
Nor I the girl who went away;
And if we never do, my sweet,
You may promote this changing heart
To be a changeless work of art.

“For whether I come back or no,
You are a poet, I a theme
Composed to realize your dream.
I was content to have it so,
Since I too have my art: to give
Visions the flesh by which they live.

“But this is done: who would repeat
One rôle to the last tick of time?
Break off now at the peak and prime,
Not at love’s wane or its retreat
To which all natures in the end
Come if they live at all, my friend.

“You fight against it still? Recall:
Your first song set me by to be
A vintage for futurity,
A part no woman likes at all.
And now your wine is poured, I think:
Like it or not, but you must drink.”

Yes, Chloë, so I said at first
When I, as the magician then
Transformed you with my magic pen;
But now the parts are quite reversed:
Only your power supplanting mine
Can change my water into wine.

And yet each power in turn has made
This love which is both life and art
Where each of us has played our part
Of mutual and essential aid
By which the weak soul comes to be
Capable of eternity.

Now it is done: that noble draught
Is poured for me. I shall not shrink
And as a toast to you I drink!
For, the first time we met you laughed,
And, Chloë, you are laughing still.
Here comes the waiter with my bill.

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