Ihr verblühet, süße Rosen. — Goethe

You were an angel,
Wings of feathered white,
Golden nimbus over your shining hair,
Gliding as you
Traversed the gusty currents of your cloud-world,
Laughing at the play of mists,
Singing hymns to the sun and moon.
My pagan angel,
Did you know nothing of the earth below?

The clouds offer many amusements,
Shapes that arrange themselves according to fancy.
What did you see there?
White robes and the flight of doves?
I saw giants at the anvil,
Sullen brutes casting their titanic weapons for war,
Eternal war upon the race of proud and suffering mortals.
You hovered over their chaos
In that clear space where the sun shines unchecked.
How could you know of the battle and the bloodstained earth?

Oh, my morning star;
I nearly swooned when you answered my summons.
I, a melancholy son of men,
Lying restless before the approaching dawn,
My voice in prayer barely crossing the threshold of shadows,
Heard you say,
"I too am lonely,
I too,
And how I tire of hymns and sunshine."
Then, risen early from your pillow of clouds,
You descended like an eager moth on a faint summer breeze,
Lit on the lawn by my porch,
And, in the manner that moths at night will linger
To dazzle with their iridescence,
You came into my house,
Overflowing with love.
The sun found me trembling naked in your arms,
Tears in my eyes;
And I came to know a part of your world,
The light and laughter of your paradise.

Oh, my angel,
How sadly I have repaid your devotion,
Not for lack of love, but lack of youth.
Does it not sorrow you
How your smooth hand
Now caresses a gnarled cypress of a man,
How your fingers sift hair of ashes?
Your eyes are telling with grief.
Your wings are atrophied from disuse,
Halo dimmed with care,
But you are wise now
From making your bed with this venerable trunk.
This is the earth, my love.
Would that it might give you pleasure, this
Knowledge of good and evil.

Do you see now that the war never ends?
The war between the earth and all above,
And I,
I have been the earth's helpless instrument,
Your rack and guillotine.
Was it not I that drew you from your pleasant skies
Into this place of sighs and tears?
You would have fallen in time, my love,
But I have served to hasten your descent,
And see, the descent of a man:
I am drawn by another.
Unwillingly, I falter before Her jealous summons.

Kiss me sweetly, my angel
This sinner who loves you
Close my eyes and spare me not the passions of your flesh.
Another embrace awaits me,
One much colder and more desolate.
Let me see you at last as I first knew you:
Laughing, a wild, wingéd woman,
Vision of rapturous song,
Hair flying in joyous disdain.
This is the memory I must take
To Her realm, so that it may sustain my thoughts
While She caresses me with those terrible fingers,
The devouring worms.

Will we sleep abreast, my love,
Raise a flower together over this suffering earth?
What angels will come to pick flowers from our garden,
Never hearing the whispers of warning
Cunningly masked by the ever-hungering soil?
Will they dig up our bones,
And piece them together for their cloud-museums?
It is certain, they will not understand at first,
That which you now know,
And that which I knew before you
They who still sing hymns to the sun and moon,
And who have never learned the lessons of the earth.
But they too will come to weep,
Learning that gravity cannot be cheated,
And that they must quickly have their season of love
Before they too are joined
Into the earth's vast sepulcher.

George Chadderdon © 1996