Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The topaz lanthorn-light

I love the first stanza of this poem, "Revelation" by Sir Edmund Gosse:   

INTO the silver night
She brought with her pale hand
The topaz lanthorn-light,
And darted splendour o'er the land;
Around her in a band,
Ringstraked and pied, the great soft moths came flying,
And flapping with their mad wings, fann'd
The flickering flame, ascending, falling, dying. 
Behind the thorny pink
Close wall of blossom'd may,
I gazed thro' one green chink
And saw no more than thousands may,—
Saw sweetness, tender and gay,—
Saw full rose lips as rounded as the cherry,
Saw braided locks more dark than bay,
And flashing eyes decorous, pure, and merry. 
With food for furry friends
She pass'd, her lamp and she,
Till eaves and gable-ends
Hid all that saffron sheen from me:
Around my rosy tree
Once more the silver-starry night was shining,
With depths of heaven, dewy and free,
And crystals of a carven moon declining. 
Alas! for him who dwells
In frigid air of thought,
When warmer light dispels
The frozen calm his spirit sought;
By life too lately taught
He sees the ecstatic Human from him stealing;
Reels from the joy experience brought,
And dares not clutch what Love was half revealing.

The great soft moths! Ringstraked and pied! I read it -- the first stanza only, several times -- in an old volume of English verse that was sitting in the upstairs bathroom at John's parents' house in Connecticut, and made a mental note to look it up again later. The rest of the poem doesn't do much for me, though it's hard not to be fond of the third stanza too, with its furry friends and saffron sheen and rosy tree.

(Edit: Just realized this poem is about a guy masturbating in the shrubbery. He "dares not clutch what Love was half revealing"? I'm sure!)


  1. Not as fond, here, of calico, but I love the "rotted calico"--is it a skirt, or a shoreline like a skirt?--in Bishop's poem beginning "The state with prettiest name"--which I, grins, insist is ohio or tennessee.

    1. Surely Tennessee, or North Carolina, and not Ohio! Though this morning, all the state names seem pretty to me.

  2. North Carolina!; I dig the North part, but multi-syylable words with long I's strike me as blahhrgk. I hope you are doin' well!