'Twas June, Not I

by Frances Fuller Victor

"Come out into the garden, Maud;"

In whispered tones young Percy said:

He but repeated what he'd read

That afternoon, with soft applaud:

A snatch, which for my same name's sake,

He caught, out of the sweet, soft song,

A lover for his love did make,

In half despite of some fond wrong:—

And more he quoted, just to show

How still the rhymes ran in his head,

With visions of the roses red

That on the poet's pen did grow.

The poet's spell was on our blood;

The spell of June was in the air;

We felt, more than we understood,

The charm of being young and fair.

Where everything is fair and young—

As on June eves doth fitly seem:

The Earth herself lies in among

The misty, azure fields of space,

A bride, whose startled blushes glow

Less flame-like through the shrouds of lace

That sweeter all her beauties show.

We walked and talked beneath the trees—

Bird-haunted, flowering trees of June—

The roses purpled in the moon:

We breathed their fragrance on the breeze—

Young Percy's voice is tuned to clear

Deep tones, as if his heart were deep:

This night it fluttered on my ear

As young birds flutter in their sleep.

My own voice faltered when I said

How very sweet such hours must be

With one we love. At that word he

Shook like the aspen overhead:

"Must be!" he drew me from the shade,

To read my face to show his own:

"Say are, dear Maud!"—my tongue was stayed;

My pliant limbs seemed turned to stone.

He held my hands I could not move—

The nerveless palms together prest—

And clasped them tightly to his breast;

While in my heart the question strove.

The fire-flies flashed like wandering stars—

I thought some sprang from out his eyes:

Surely some spirit makes or mars

At will our earthly destinies!

"Speak, Maud!"—at length I turned away:

He must have thought it woman's fear;

For, whispering softly in my ear

Such gentle thanks as might allay

Love's tender shame; left on my brow,

And on each hand, a warm light kiss—

I feel them burn there even now—

But all my fetters fell at this.

I spoke like an injured queen:

It's our own defence when we're surprised—

The way our weakness is disguised;

I said things that I could not mean,

Or ought not—since it was a lie

That love had not been in my mind:

'Twas in the air I breathed; the sky

Shone love, and murmured it the wind.

It had absorbed my soul with bliss;

My blood ran love in every vein,

And to have been beloved again

Were heavenly!—so I thought till this

Unlooked for answer to the prayer

My heart was making with its might,

Thus challenged, caught in sudden snare,

Like two clouds meeting on a height,

And, pausing first in short strange lull,

Then bursting into awful storm,

Opposing feelings multiform,

Struggled in silence: and then full

Of our blind woman-wrath, broke forth

In stinging hail of sharp-edged ice,

As freezing as the polar north,

Yet maddening. O, the poor mean vice

We women have been taught to call

By virtue's name! the holy scorn

We feel for lovers left love-lorn

By our own coldness, or by the wall

Of other love 'twixt them and us!

The tempest past, I paused. He stood

Silent,—and yet "Ungenerous!"

Was hurled back, plainer than ere could

His lips have said it, by his eyes

Fire-flashing, and his pale, set face,

Beautiful, and unmarred by trace

Of aught save pain and pained surprise.

—I quailed at last before that gaze,

And even faintly owned my wrong:

I said I "spoke in such amaze

I could not choose words that belong

To such occasions." Here he smiled,

To cover one low, quick-drawn sigh:

"June eves disturb us differently,"

He said, at length; "and I, beguiled

By something in the air, did do

My Lady Maud unmeant offence;

And, what is stranger far, she too,

Under the baleful influence

of this fair heaven"—he raised his eyes,

And gestured proudly toward the stars—

"Has done me wrong. Wrong, lady, mars

God's purpose, written on these skies,

Painted and uttered in this scene:

Acknowledged in each secret heart;

We both are wrong, you say; 'twould mean

That we too should be wide apart—

And so, adieu!"—with this he went.

I sat down whitening in the moon,

With heat as of a desert noon,

Sending its fever vehement

Across my brow, and through my frame—

The fever of a wild regret—

A vain regret without a name,

In which both love and loathing met.

Was this the same enchanted air

I breathed one little hour ago?

Did all these purple roses blow

But yestermorn, so sweet, so fair?

Was it this eve that some one said

"Come out into the garden, Maud?"

And while the sleepy birds o'erhead

Chirped out to know who walked abroad,

Did we admire the plumey flowers

On the wide-branched catalpa trees,

And locusts, scenting all the breeze;

And call the balm-trees our bird-towers?

Did we recall the "black bat Night,"

That flew before young Maud walked forth—

And say this Night's wings were too bright

For bats'—being feathered, from its birth,

Like butterflies' with powdered gold:

Still talking on, from gay to grave,

And trembling lest some sudden wave

Of the soul's deep, grown over-bold,

Should sweep the barriers of reserve,

And whelm us in tumultuous floods

Of unknown power? What did unnerve

Our frames, as if we walked with gods?

Unless they, meaning to destroy,

Had made us mad with a false heaven,

Or drunk with wine and honey given

Only for immortals to enjoy.

Alas, I only knew that late

I'd seemed in an enchanted sphere;

That now I felt the web of fate

Close round me, with a mortal fear.

If only once the gods invite

To banquets that are crowned with roses;

After which the celestial closes

Are barred to us; if in despite

Of such high favor, arrogant

We blindly choose to bide our time,

Rejecting Heaven's—and ignorant

What we have spurned, attempt to climb

To heavenly places at our will—

Finding no path thereto but one,

Nemesis-guarded, where atone

To heaven, all such as hopeful still,

Press toward the mount,—yet find it strewn

With corses, perished by the way,

Of those who Fate did importune

Too rashly, or her will gainsay.

If I have been thrust out from heaven,

This night, for insolent disdain,

Of putting a young god in pain,

How shall I hope to be forgiven?

Yet let me not be judged as one

Who mocks at any high behest;

My fault being that I kept the throne

Of a Jove vacant in my breast,

And when Apollo claimed the place

I was too loyal to my Jove;

Unmindful how the masks of love

Transfigure all things to our face.

Ah, well! if I have lost to fate

The greatest boon that heaven disposes;

And closed upon myself the gate

To fields of bliss; 'tis on these roses,

On this intoxicating air,

The witching influence of the moon,

The poet's rhymes that went in tune

To the night's voices low and rare;

To all, that goes to make such hours

Like hasheesh-dreams. These did defy,

With contrary fate-compelling power,

The intended bliss;—'twas June, not I.