new zealand electronic poetry centre


Robin Hyde

Persephone in Winter

Joseph’s Lilies
I am the cuckold, who may take
Out of your tale no share at all,
Save that I did not turn from them,
The breasts grown deep, the brown hands small
As broken olive birds, that crept
To shelter in her blue-sleeved dress —
Ere yet my Lady knew her heart
Pierced most by wonder or distress.

If in a dream news came to her
Of shining glory or alarm,
If God looked down to do her grace
Or beast crouched back to do her harm,
If flowers drew down a flame on her —
Then mine to ward off shame from her,
By worship in a mortal face,
By power of a mortal arm.

I am the carl that elbowed way
Through flaring lights and thrusting din
And chaffered in a stable-yard
With broad-tongued ostlers of the inn.
And though the golden bee-swarm stars
Burning may sing it otherwise,
I was the first to kiss her feet,
The first to kiss her wetted eyes.

When a full measure’s span He stood,
There in my village shop I taught
The weight and stretch of manlihood,
Without the which a boy were naught;
Ply of grained boards, and willow’s spring,
The cleft white chips on axe’s ring,
And the muscled heart that reigns as king
O’er craft and mystery of wood.

Hard bound to earth is man’s belief,
Deep bite his roots in stubborn clod —
By whiles I feared the shine in Him,
The sapling tree, the lad named God.
Yet never since the white wood laughs,
Nor ever since the wild birds dare
Fly in a circlet from the dusk
To sing and sparkle round men’s hair.

But when they took their way with Him,
The lewd and treacherous of mirth,
Whose eyes have lost the look of sky,
Whose feet have lost the grip of earth,
I prayed by every spell of bark,
I prayed by every power of sap
The wood should blossom ’neath His cheek,
The bough be gentle to His hap;
And a springing wild-rose stay with Him,
Entwined and wrought through bloody dark.

Now, since the sum of things be clear,
The total counted, gain and loss,
Since she, my Lady and my dear,
Breaks bloomy branches from the Cross,
And stands them up, as tall as prayer —
Me they have given a vesselled flower,
A white and golden glance of pride;
And named it for the sweating hour
Of standing at the manger-side —
There, and at lifted Terror’s side;
And Joseph’s lily comes the dower
That bridegroom gathers with his bride.

O love I had, and standing by
Till life and death were done,
And sight of olive cheek curved down,
And sight of olive breast bent nigh
The lips of Him, not Joseph’s son.
But now lest maid too much to Heaven
Look up on wedding-day,
Or too much in her heart be given
To brown old, bare old, bitter earth,
To lips with rancour in their mirth,
They break the white and golden spray;
And Joseph’s lilies ease her dearth,
And Joseph’s lilies be her crown.



Last updated 21 September, 2003