Who says I wrong thee, my half-opened rose?
Little he knows of thee or me, or love. -
I am so tender of thy fragile youth,
Yea, in my hours of wildest ecstasy,
Keeping close-bitted each careering sense.
Only I give mine eyes unmeasured law
To feed them where they will, and their delight
Was curbed at first, until thy tender shame
Died in the bearing of thy first born joy.
I am not cruel, my half-opened rose,
Though in the sunshine of my own desire
I have uncurled thy petals to the light
And fed the tendrils of thy dawning sense
With delicate caresses, till they leave
Thee tremulous with the newness of thy joy,
Sharing thy lover's fire with innocent flame.
Others will wrong thee, that I well foresee,
Being a man, knowing my fellow men,
And they who, knowing, would blame my love of thee
Contentedly will see thy beauty given,
When the world judges thou art ripe to wed, -
To the rough rites of marriage, to the pain
And grievous weariness of child-getting, -
This shall be right and licit in their eyes -
But it would break my heart, were I alive.
Yea, this will be; many will doubtless share
The rose whose bud has been my one delight,
And I shall not be there to shield my flower.
Yet, I have taught thee of the ways of men,
Much I have learnt in cities and in courts,
Winnowed to suit thy tender brain, - is thine,
Thus Life shall find thee, not all unprepared
To face its callous, subtle cruelties.
Still, - it will profit little; I discern
Thou art of those whose love will prove their curse,
- Thou sayest thou lovest me, to thy delight?
Nay, little one, it is not love as yet.
Dear as thou art, and lovely, thou canst not love,
Thy later loves shall show the truth of this.
Ay, by some subtle signs I know full well
That thou art capable of that great love
Whose glory has the light of unknown heavens,
And makes hot Hell for those who harbour it.
Naught I can say could save thee from thyself,
Ah, were I half my age! Yet even that,
Had been too old for thy sweet thirteenth year.
Still, thou art happy now, and glad thine eyes,
When, as the lilac evening gains the sky,
I lay thee, 'twixt thine own soft hair and me,
Kissing thy senses into soft delight.
Ruffling the petals of my half-closed rose
With tender touches, and perpetual care
That no wild moment of mine own delight
Deep in the flower's heart, - should set the fruit.
Ah, in the days to come, it well may be,
When thou shalt see thy beauty stained and torn
By the harsh sequel of some future love,
Thy thoughts shall stray to thy first lover's grave,
And thou shalt murmur, "Ay, but that was love.
They were most wrong who said he did me wrong.
Only I was too young to understand."
Early Love by Laurence Hope (Adela Florence Cory Nicolson)