The Incense


BEFORE the altar burns the fragrant incense;
Softly the silver censer sways and bows;
The columned smoke goes up, the cross encircling,
And with a mist anoints the saints’ white brows.

Infinite sighs of prayer and of entreaty
Under the vaults die slowly and are stilled;
Slowly the weeping flames of dim, faint tapers
Sigh, one by one, their eyes with pity filled.

Lo, a white veil, hard by the sacred column,
Trembles with sobs that shake a hidden frame;
In a white shadow wrapped, a heart is burning
Silently, like the incense, in a flame.

Out of the censer’s heart the incense passes,
Winding it rises toward the ether’s height.
Matter it was; the fire its life hath swallowed;
Now ‘tis but fragrance filled with colored light.

So, too, the grieving woman’s heart that burns there
Will not be freed from fetters and from fires
Until it melts, dissolves, etherealizes,
Wholly consumed by flames of pure desires.

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