IT is not long since, here among all these folk
in London, I should have held myself
of no account whatever,
but should have stood aside and made them way
thinking that they, perhaps,
had more right than I–for who was I?
Now I see them just the same, and watch them.
But of what account do I hold them?
Especially the young women. I look at them
as they dart and flash
before the shops, like wagtails on the edge of a pool.
If I pass them close, or any man,
like sharp, slim wagtails they flash a little aside
pretending to avoid us; yet all the time calculating.
They think that we adore them–alas, would it were true!
Probably they think all men adore them,
howsoever they pass by.
What is it, that, from their faces fresh as spring,
such fair, fresh, alert, first-flower faces,
like lavender crocuses, snowdrops, like Roman hyacinths,
scyllas and yellow-haired hellebore, jonquils, dim anemones,
even the sulphur auriculas,
flowers that come first from the darkness, and feel cold to the touch,
flowers scentless or pungent, ammoniacal almost;
what is it, that, from the faces of the fair young women
comes like a pungent scent, a vibration beneath
that startles me, alarms me, stirs up a repulsion?
They are the issue of acrid winter, these first-flower young women;
their scent is lacerating and repellant,
it smells of burning snow, of hot-ache,
of earth, winter-pressed, strangled in corruption;
it is the scent of the fiery-cold dregs of corruption,
when destruction soaks through the mortified, decomposing earth,
and the last fires of dissolution burn in the bosom of the ground.
They are the flowers of ice-vivid mortification,
thaw-cold, ice-corrupt blossoms,
with a loveliness I loathe;
for what kind of ice-rotten, hot-aching heart
must they need to root in!