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By Edith Wharton

I


Leaguered in fire

The wild black promontories of the coast extend

Their savage silhouettes;

The sun in universal carnage sets,

And, halting higher,

The motionless storm-clouds mass their sullen threats,

Like an advancing mob in sword-points penned,

That, balked, yet stands at bay.

Mid-zenith hangs the fascinated day

In wind-lustrated hollows crystalline,

A wan Valkyrie whose wide pinions shine

Across the ensanguined ruins of the fray,

And in her hand swings high o’erhead,

Above the waster of war,

The silver torch-light of the evening star

Wherewith to search the faces of the dead.


                                    II


Lagooned in gold,

Seem not those jetty promontories rather

The outposts of some ancient land forlorn,

Uncomforted of morn,

Where old oblivions gather,

The melancholy unconsoling fold

Of all things that go utterly to death

And mix no more, no more

With life’s perpetually awakening breath?

Shall Time not ferry me to such a shore,

Over such sailless seas,

To walk with hope’s slain importunities

In miserable marriage? Nay, shall not

All things be there forgot,

Save the sea’s golden barrier and the black

Close-crouching promontories?

Dead to all shames, forgotten of all glories,

Shall I not wander there, a shadow’s shade,

A spectre self-destroyed,

So purged of all remembrance and sucked back

Into the primal void,

That should we on the shore phantasmal meet

I should not know the coming of your feet?


Source: American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (The Library of America, 1993)

  • Nature

Poet Bio

Edith Wharton
A New York City aristocrat, Edith Wharton wrote poetry and fiction mainly about high society life. Her marriage to a wealthy businessman gave Wharton ample time to devote to writing such well-known novels as The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence, and Ethan Frome. By age 18 she had already published poems in magazines including the Atlantic Monthly.

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