“Vengeance of Jenny’s case! Fie on her! Never name her, child!”—Mrs. Quickly
Lazy laughing languid Jenny, Fond of a kiss and fond of a guinea, Whose head upon my knee to-night Rests for a while, as if grown light With all our dances and the sound To which the wild tunes spun you round: Fair Jenny mine, the thoughtless queen Of kisses which the blush between Could hardly make much daintier; Whose eyes are as blue skies, whose hair Is countless gold incomparable: Fresh flower, scarce touched with signs that tell Of Love’s exuberant hotbed:—Nay, Poor flower left torn since yesterday Until to-morrow leave you bare; Poor handful of bright spring-water Flung in the whirlpool’s shrieking face; Poor shameful Jenny, full of grace Thus with your head upon my knee;— Whose person or whose purse may be The lodestar of your reverie?
This room of yours, my Jenny, looks A change from mine so full of books, Whose serried ranks hold fast, forsooth, So many captive hours of youth,— The hours they thieve from day and night To make one’s cherished work come right, And leave it wrong for all their theft, Even as to-night my work has left: Until I vowed that since my brain And eyes of dancing seemed so fain, My feet should have some dancing too:— And thus it was I met with you. Well, I suppose ’twas hard to part, For here I am. And now, sweetheart, You seem too tired to get to bed.
It was a careless life I led When rooms like this were scarce so strange Not long ago. What breeds the change,— The many aims or the few years? Because to-night it all appears Something I do not know again.
The cloud’s not danced out of my brain,— The cloud that made it turn and swim While hour by hour the books grew dim. Why, Jenny, as I watch you there,— For all your wealth of loosened hair, Your silk ungirdled and unlac’d And warm sweets open to the waist, All golden in the lamplight’s gleam,— You know not what a book you seem, Half-read by lightning in a dream! How should you know, my Jenny? Nay, And I should be ashamed to say:— Poor beauty, so well worth a kiss! But while my thought runs on like this With wasteful whims more than enough, I wonder what you’re thinking of.
If of myself you think at all, What is the thought?—conjectural On sorry matters best unsolved?— Or inly is each grace revolved To fit me with a lure?—or (sad To think!) perhaps you’re merely glad That I’m not drunk or ruffianly And let you rest upon my knee.
For sometimes, were the truth confess’d, You’re thankful for a little rest,— Glad from the crush to rest within, From the heart-sickness and the din Where envy’s voice at virtue’s pitch Mocks you because your gown is rich; And from the pale girl’s dumb rebuke, Whose ill-clad grace and toil-worn look Proclaim the strength that keeps her weak, And other nights than yours bespeak; And from the wise unchildish elf, To schoolmate lesser than himself Pointing you out, what thing you are:— Yes, from the daily jeer and jar, From shame and shame’s outbraving too, Is rest not sometimes sweet to you?— But most from the hatefulness of man Who spares not to end what he began, Whose acts are ill and his speech ill, Who, having used you at his will, Thrusts you aside, as when I dine I serve the dishes and the wine.
Well, handsome Jenny mine, sit up: I’ve filled our glasses, let us sup, And do not let me think of you, Lest shame of yours suffice for two. What, still so tired? Well, well then, keep Your head there, so you do not sleep; But that the weariness may pass And leave you merry, take this glass. Ah! lazy lily hand, more bless’d If ne’er in rings it had been dress’d Nor ever by a glove conceal’d!
Behold the lilies of the field, They toil not neither do they spin; (So doth the ancient text begin,— Not of such rest as one of these Can share.) Another rest and ease. Along each summer-sated path From its new lord the garden hath, Than that whose spring in blessings ran Which praised the bounteous husbandman, Ere yet, in days of hankering breath, The lilies sickened unto death.
What, Jenny, are your lilies dead? Aye, and the snow-white leaves are spread Like winter on the garden-bed. But you had roses left in May,— They were not gone too. Jenny, nay, But must your roses die, and those Their purfled buds that should unclose? Even so; the leaves are curled apart, Still red as from the broken heart, And here’s the naked stem of thorns.
Nay, nay mere words. Here nothing warns As yet of winter. Sickness here Or want alone could waken fear,— Nothing but passion wrings a tear. Except when there may rise unsought Haply at times a passing thought Of the old days which seem to be Much older than any history That is written in any book; When she would lie in fields and look Along the ground through the blown grass, And wonder where the city was, Far out of sight, whose broil and bale They told her then for a child’s tale.
Jenny, you know the city now, A child can tell the tale there, how Some things which are not yet enroll’d In market-lists are bought and sold Even till the early Sunday light, When Saturday night is market-night Everywhere, be it dry or wet, And market-night in the Haymarket. Our learned London children know, Poor Jenny, all your pride and woe; Have seen your lifted silken skirt Advertise dainties through the dirt; Have seen your coach-wheels splash rebuke On virtue; and have learned your look When, wealth and health slipped past, you stare Along the streets alone, and there, Round the long park, across the bridge, The cold lamps at the pavement’s edge Wind on together and apart, A fiery serpent for your heart.
Let the thoughts pass, an empty cloud! Suppose I were to think aloud,— What if to her all this were said? Why, as a volume seldom read Being opened halfway shuts again, So might the pages of her brain Be parted at such words, and thence Close back upon the dusty sense. For is there hue or shape defin’d In Jenny’s desecrated mind, Where all contagious currents meet, A Lethe of the middle street? Nay, it reflects not any face, Nor sound is in its sluggish pace, But as they coil those eddies clot, And night and day remembers not.
Why, Jenny, you’re asleep at last!— Asleep, poor Jenny, hard and fast,— So young and soft and tired; so fair, With chin thus nestled in your hair, Mouth quiet, eyelids almost blue As if some sky of dreams shone through!
Just as another woman sleeps! Enough to throw one’s thoughts in heaps Of doubt and horror,—what to say Or think,—this awful secret sway, The potter’s power over the clay! Of the same lump (it has been said) For honour and dishonour made, Two sister vessels. Here is one.
My cousin Nell is fond of fun, And fond of dress, and change, and praise, So mere a woman in her ways: And if her sweet eyes rich in youth Are like her lips that tell the truth, My cousin Nell is fond of love. And she’s the girl I’m proudest of. Who does not prize her, guard her well? The love of change, in cousin Nell, Shall find the best and hold it dear: The unconquered mirth turn quieter Not through her own, through others’ woe: The conscious pride of beauty glow Beside another’s pride in her, One little part of all they share. For Love himself shall ripen these In a kind of soil to just increase Through years of fertilizing peace.
Of the same lump (as it is said) For honour and dishonour made, Two sister vessels. Here is one.
It makes a goblin of the sun.
So pure,—so fall’n! How dare to think Of the first common kindred link? Yet, Jenny, till the world shall burn It seems that all things take their turn; And who shall say but this fair tree May need, in changes that may be, Your children’s children’s charity? Scorned then, no doubt, as you are scorn’d! Shall no man hold his pride forewarn’d Till in the end, the Day of Days, At Judgement, one of his own race, As frail and lost as you, shall rise,— His daughter, with his mother’s eyes?
How Jenny’s clock ticks on the shelf! Might not the dial scorn itself That has such hours to register? Yet as to me, even so to her Are golden sun and silver moon, In daily largesse of earth’s boon, Counted for life-coins to one tune. And if, as blindfold fates are toss’d, Through some one man this life be lost, Shall soul not somehow pray for soul?
Fair shines the gilded aureole In which our highest painters place Some living woman’s simple face. And the stilled features thus descried As Jenny’s long throat droops aside,— The shadows where the cheeks are thin, And pure wide curve from ear to chin,— Whit Raffael’s, Leonardo’s hand To show them to men’s souls, might stand, Whole ages long, the whole world through, For preachings of what God can do. What has man done here? How atone, Great God, for this which man has done? And for the body and soul which by Man’s pitiless doom must now comply With lifelong hell, what lullaby Of sweet forgetful second birth Remains? All dark. No sign on earth What measure of God’s rest endows The many mansions of his house.
If but a woman’s heart might see Such erring heart unerringly For once! But that can never be.
Like a rose shut in a book In which pure women may not look, For its base pages claim control To crush the flower within the soul; Where through each dead rose-leaf that clings, Pale as transparent psyche-wings, To the vile text, are traced such things As might make lady’s cheek indeed More than a living rose to read; So nought save foolish foulness may Watch with hard eyes the sure decay; And so the life-blood of this rose, Puddled with shameful knowledge, flows Through leaves no chaste hand may unclose: Yet still it keeps such faded show Of when ’twas gathered long ago, That the crushed petals’ lovely grain, The sweetness of the sanguine stain, Seen of a woman’s eyes, must make Her pitiful heart, so prone to ache, Love roses better for its sake:— Only that this can never be:— Even so unto her sex is she.
Yet, Jenny, looking long at you, The woman almost fades from view. A cipher of man’s changeless sum Of lust, past, present, and to come, Is left. A riddle that one shrinks To challenge from the scornful sphinx.
Like a toad within a stone Seated while Time crumbles on; Which sits there since the earth was curs’d For Man’s transgression at the first; Which, living through all centuries, Not once has seen the sun arise; Whose life, to its cold circle charmed, The earth’s whole summers have not warmed; Which always—whitherso the stone Be flung—sits there, deaf, blind, alone;— Aye, and shall not be driven out Till that which shuts him round about Break at the very Master’s stroke, And the dust thereof vanish as smoke, And the seed of Man vanish as dust:— Even so within this world is Lust.
Come, come, what use in thoughts like this? Poor little Jenny, good to kiss,— You’d not believe by what strange roads Thought travels, when your beauty goads A man to-night to think of toads! Jenny, wake up. . . . Why, there’s the dawn!
And there’s an early waggon drawn To market, and some sheep that jog Bleating before a barking dog; And the old streets come peering through Another night that London knew; And all as ghostlike as the lamps.
So on the wings of day decamps My last night’s frolic. Glooms begin To shiver off as lights creep in Past the gauze curtains half drawn-to, And the lamp’s doubled shade grows blue,— Your lamp, my Jenny, kept alight, Like a wise virgin’s, all one night! And in the alcove coolly spread Glimmers with dawn your empty bed; And yonder your fair face I see Reflected lying on my knee, Where teems with first foreshadowings Your pier-glass scrawled with diamond rings: And on your bosom all night worn Yesterday’s rose now droops forlorn, But dies not yet this summer morn.
And now without, as if some word Had called upon them that they heard, The London sparrows far and nigh Clamour together suddenly; And Jenny’s cage-bird grown awake Here in their song his part must take, Because here too the day doth break.
And somehow in myself the dawn Among stirred clouds and veils withdrawn Strikes greyly on her. Let her sleep. But will it wake her if I heap These cushions thus beneath her head Where my knee was? No,—there’s your bed, My Jenny, while you dream. And there I lay among your golden hair Perhaps the subject of your dreams, These golden coins. For still one deems That Jenny’s flattering sleep confers New magic on the magic purse,— Grim web, how clogged with shrivelled flies! Between the threads fine fumes arise And shape their pictures in the brain. There roll no streets in glare and rain, Nor flagrant man-swine whets his tusk; But delicately sighs in musk The homage of the dim boudoir; Or like a palpitating star Thrilled into song, the opera-night Breathes faint in the quick pulse of light; Or at the carriage-window shine Rich wares for choice; or, free to dine, Whirls through its hour of health (divine For her) the concourse of the Park. And though in the discounted dark Her functions there and here are one, Beneath the lamps and in the sun There reigns at least the acknowledged belle Apparelled beyond parallel. Ah Jenny, yes, we know your dreams.
For even the Paphian Venus seems, A goddess o’er the realms of love, When silver-shrined in shadowy grove: Aye, or let offerings nicely placed But hide Priapus to the waist, And whoso looks on him shall see An eligible deity.
Why, Jenny, waking here alone May help you to remember one, Though all the memory’s long outworn Of many a double-pillowed morn. I think I see you when you wake, And rub your eyes for me, and shake My gold, in rising, from your hair, A Danaë for a moment there.
Jenny, my love rang true! for still Love at first sight is vague, until That tinkling makes him audible.
And must I mock you to the last, Ashamed of my own shame,—aghast Because some thoughts not born amiss Rose at a poor fair face like this? Well, of such thoughts so much I know: In my life, as in hers, they show, By a far gleam which I may near, A dark path I can strive to clear.
Only one kiss. Good-bye, my dear.