Muriel Stuart

1889-1967 / England

In Praise Of Mandragora

O, MANDRAGORA, many sing in praise
Of life, and death, and immortality,--
Of passion, that goes famished all her days,--
Of Faith, or fantasy;
Thou, all unpraised, unsung, I make this rhyme to thee.

The womby underworlds thy roots enclose,
In human shape, sprung from abhorrent seed;
But when through crumbling roof the daylight shows,
And thou my breast hast freed
Thou growest in the field as any flower or weed.

At many a cross-road bare thy leaves protrude,
Upon the brow of lonely, moon-blanched heath,
And from a loathly breast thou draggest food,
That moulders far beneath . . .
Whereon a crazy moon stares out and bares her teeth.

And sometimes, in the purblind face of morn
The stealthy hinds slink out to gather thee,
Then shudder, as thy shrieking roots are torn,
And turn at last, and flee,
Leaving a slimy pulp that bleedeth suddenly.

Ah!--well thou mayest shriek, for he who lies
In clotted earth, with stones upon his breast,
Feareth a victim who drags out his eyes
In vengeance deadliest,
While to thy loosened feet his screaming mouth is pressed!

O mystic one, thou hast a couch more dread
Than Isabella's Basil ever knew;--
Whose petals on gentle brow were fed,
Whose leaves in fragrance grew,
That Death, in sorrowful amend, made sweet with dew.

O Mandragora, though thy features dwell
Beneath the earth in such ill company
Far sweeter than that plant to Isabel,
Thy blossoms are to me.
Thou Root of dreamless sleep, take this in praise of thee!

Close thou Pandora's casket by whose aid
That goddess Discord queens the escapèd woes,
She had no power to hinder or dissuade,
Yet Mandragora shows
A hope uncabined, and a peace that conquers those!

From the Nepenthe doth her pitcher fill,
That barters with the merchandise of grief,
And for all suffering and every ill
Hath such a sweet relief,
That sleep the haven seems, and pain the voyage brief.

Thou thro' still gardens in the timorous Dusk,
When all the sky is purpled with the pain
Of dying Day, dost walk, and myrrh and musk
Fall from thy misty train,
And totter all about, and are caught up again.

There the lulled world within the opiate blue
Forgets her long-continued pain and falls
Into an easy sleep; the winds pursue
Each other round the walls;
A night bird cries, then lists, then then answers its own calls.

The moon exhalts her yellow Lily-cup
Above the rainy evening goldenly,
The wan tent of her beauty foldeth up
The frail Anemone,
From whose white bosom spins the spent and touseled bee.

I would not proffer any highest god
Praise for the poor gift of eternity.
When sin has sucked the honey from its rod,
And reason bows the knee,
And Fame beats out her torch, what fire, what feast, for me?

When Sense is numb, and Song forgets her chant,
And beauty swells the ashes of the dead,
And Love's denied white breast forgets to pant
Beneath some lovely head.
What Life shall I desire when Love and Youth are fled?

O Mandragora, when thy lips are laid
On other paling lips, remember mine.
Beneath thy kiss all other kisses fade;
Let Life herself resign
Her breath upon thy lip, her being unto thine.

Then all in vain my golden trump declare,
No flickering lid shall Thracian music raise,
And Pan in vain shall pipe his cunning air
In secret woodland ways.
My closèd lips shall sing my triumph and my praise.

O Mandragora, we have pledged our vows,
And I will spill for thee my cup of wine.
Though poets few have woven for thy brows
A coronet divine.
Give thy immortal gift--these verses shall be thine!
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