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I.

I classed, appraising once,

Earth's lamentable sounds,—the welladay,

The jarring yea and nay,

The fall of kisses on unanswering clay,

[5] The sobbed farewell, the welcome mournfuller,—

But all did leaven the air

With a less bitter leaven of sure despair,

Than these words—'I loved ONCE.'


II.

And who saith, 'I loved ONCE?'

[10] Not angels,—whose clear eyes, love, love, foresee,

Love through eternity,

And by To Love do apprehend To Be.

Not God, called LOVE, his noble crown-name,—casting

A light too broad for blasting!

[15] The great God changing not from everlasting,

Saith never, 'I loved ONCE.'


III.

Oh, never the 'Loved ONCE'

Dost THOU say, Victim-Christ, misprized friend!

The cross and curse might rend,

[20] But having loved Thou lovest to the end!

This is man's saying—man's. Too weak to move

One sphered star above,

Man desecrates the eternal God-word Love

With his No More, and Once.


IV.

[25] How say ye, 'We loved once,'

Blasphemers? Is your earth not cold enow,

Mourners, without that snow?

Ah, friends! and would ye wrong each other so?

And could ye say of some whose love is known,

[30] Whose prayers have met your own,

Whose tears have fallen for you, whose smiles have shone,

Such words, 'We loved them ONCE?'


V.

Could ye, 'We loved her once,'

Say calm of me, sweet friends, when out of sight?

[35] When hearts of better right

Stand in between me and your happy light?

Or when, as flowers kept too long in the shade,

Ye find my colours fade,

And all that is not love in me, decayed?

[40] Such words—Ye loved me ONCE!


VI.

Could ye, 'We loved her once,'

Say cold of me when further put away

In earth's sepulchral clay?

When mute the lips which deprecate to-day? —

[45] Not so! not then—least then! When Life is shriven,

And Death's full joy is given,—

Of those who sit and love you up in Heaven,

Say not, 'We loved them once.'

VII.

Say never, ye loved ONCE!

[50] God is too near above, the grave, below,

And all our moments go

Too quickly past our souls, for saying so.

The mysteries of Life and Death avenge

Affections light of range—

[55] There comes no change to justify that change,

Whatever comes—Loved ONCE!

VIII.

And yet that same word ONCE

Is humanly acceptive. Kings have said

Shaking a discrowned head,

[60] 'We ruled once,'—dotards, 'We once taught and led,'—

Cripples once danced i' the vines—and bards approved,

Were once by scornings, moved:

But love strikes one hour—LOVE. Those never loved,

Who dream that they loved ONCE.

Text: Poems (1853), 2:317-19.