A Triptych

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A temple by the wayside, a shut gate
Which no priest enters, going in to God;
Within, carved marble columns rise in state,
Making a delicate and royal road
To the mosaic of the heavenly choir.
Where in the dome the stars about the cross
Break into golden and pale lunar fire,
And the six sheep from Bethlehem move across
To where sis sheep come from Jerusalem,
Seeking their shepherd, Christ; for these are Christ's
Apostles, sheep that love Him, and with them,
Not less than they, the four Evangelists.
Age has not dwindled nor rude time effaced
This splendour: S. Apollinare stands,
Exiled, a mighty temple in the waste.
Without, a grey mist and unhappy lands;
Wide, flat, unending meadows of coarse grass;
A pool, a thin straight line of fragile trees;
A treeless moor, a shivering brown morass;
Woods ruddy with the lovely bright disease
Of autumn dying into winter; pines,
Their dark-green heads aloft into the air,
Crowding together, or in travelling lines;
Jewelled and dim, marsh-waters everywhere.

The little country girl who plucks a rose
Goes barefoot through the sunlight to the sea,
And singing of Isotta as she goes.

When I am dead, men shall remember me
Under my marble roses in the tomb
Built like the Virgin's shrine in Rimini.

Why should my beauty last beyond the bloom
Of any summer rose? but I must live,
Old, and not knowing, in the narrow room.

My rose, I would be frail and fugitive,
As you are; but my lover and my king
Gives me the fatal gift he has to give.

Sigismund gives me, as a little thing,
His immortality; his will is mine,
For I am his, but I stand wondering.

The woman that I am to be divine,
The body that I have to stand in stone
As Michael, and be worshipped at his shrine!

But I, like my pale roses over-blown,
Would fade and fall, and be the dust in dust,
And nothing that I ever was be known.

A little while we have for life and lust:
My marble roses, pity me, and shed
Your petals carved to hold my name in trust,

And let me be forgotten, being dead!

Death has a chapel here, and on the wails
You read his chronicle: how men who die
Are not at end after their funerals,

And how the busy loving worm sucks dry
The marrow of their bones, and other men
Sicken and slop their noses, riding by;

And how an angel wakens them, and then
The manner of their judgment, and the way
That leads to hell and the eternal pain.

Also there is a heaven, where minstrels play
And men and women under summer boughs
Talk with each other in a golden day.

Upon the walls men love and men carouse.
Men sleep and wake, and death comes when he will,
And gathers all into his equal house.

The mournful and memorial walls are chill:
All flesh is grass, they say, and withereth;
Yet (shall not all flesh live?) live grasses fill

These cloisters of this sanctuary of death.

© Arthur Symons