Owen Innsley

From Love Poems and Sonnets, 1881. (Sharp)

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Burnt Ships

Upon the hopeless desert of her love
I landed, lured by glamour of her face.
And, scarce on shore,--a desolate strange place,--
I said,--but surely some green cedar grove
Awaits me, proffering its cooling shade,
And in its depths melodious fountains spring;
So tear the canvas from the masts and bring
Planks, beams, and spars until the pile be laid.
Then with my own mad hands I lit the fire,
And watched with fevered eyes the dark mass burn,
So blotting out the prospect of return.
But daily cools the pulse of my desire,
And bitter is the redness of her lips.
Oh! god of love, why did I burn my ships?
(See Burnt Ships by Helen Jackson.)


Suppose the dreaded messenger of death
Should hasten steps that seem, though sure, so slow,
And soon should whisper with his chilly breath:
"Arise! thine hour has sounded, thou must go;
For they that earliest taste life's holiest feast
Must early fast, lest, grown too bold, they dare
Of them that follow after seize the share."

Then, though my pulse's beat forever ceased,
If where I slumbered thou shouldst chance to pass,
Though grave-bound, I thy presence should discern,
Heedless of coffin-lid and tangled grass,
Upward to kiss thy feet my lips would yearn;
And did one spark of love thy heart inflame,
With the old rapture I should call thy name.


"And this is freedom?" cried the serf. "At last
I tread free soil, the free air blows on me;"
And, wild to learn the sweets of liberty,
With eager hope his bosom bounded fast.
But not for naught had the long years amassed
Habit of slavery; among the free
He still was servile, and, disheartened, he
Crept back to the old bondage of the past.
Long did I bear a hard and heavy chain
Wreathèd with amaranth and asphodel,
But through the flower-breaths stole the heavy pain.
I cast it off and fled, but 'twas in vain;
For when once more I passed by where it fell,
I took it up and bound it on again.


One cannot draw the bars against the friends
And guests that crowd for entrance at his gate
He opes, inviting, nor the simple state
Of his abode against their train defends,
But there are chambers where the lover tends
His sacred fires; where no feet penetrate,
Save of immortals; where, early and late,
The breath of prayer and sacrifice ascends.
In such a spot as this, as in the shrine
Of some white temple, in a dusk made sweet
With incense, far from outer noise and heat,
And hollow haste of them that part and meet,
Surrounded by dim presences divine,
My soul communes eternally with thine.

(Text from American Sonnets)