We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,  
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,  
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.  
Better go down upon your marrow—bones  
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones  
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;  
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet  
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen  
The martyrs call the world.’
                                         And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake  
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache  
On finding that her voice is sweet and low  
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing  
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be  
So much compounded of high courtesy  
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks  
Precedents out of beautiful old books;  
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’
 
We sat grown quiet at the name of love;  
We saw the last embers of daylight die,  
And in the trembling blue—green of the sky  
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell  
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell  
About the stars and broke in days and years.
 
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:  
That you were beautiful, and that I strove  
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown  
As weary—hearted as that hollow moon.

Ars Poetica

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