Affair of Honour (1966)

The date of the year grafted in the turf
With crossed swords
Eloquent between the formal hedges
Calls back across three centuries
To this pastoral place above the sweet river
The carnal liturgy mortal in the dawn.
The principals, forthright in disaster and
Foreshortened to stone,
Gaze each other pale in the truculent light
Under the bright eyes of the hooded girlchild.
She at least is present, golden
Withdrawn a little to the company of stalking shadows,
Flattered to tears by the lion pride,
Enchanted by the horror dawning
Over the reticent formalities of the hedges.
For love’s sake a virtuoso thrust
Asserts crabbed as a syllogism
The scrupulous logic of honour.
The casual enemy clenches his plea on a gasp of silence
And gives no more evidence before the chief witness.
The agile figures
Sealed in the long stride of their companion shadows
Are startled to stone;
I see the drops of blood humbled by the girl’s gaze
Blessing the grass.
Can seed and rain mingle aloud and flower
For pity at her frock’s hem? or the eloquent blood
Spring into birdsong crying to plead stay of execution
In strictest confidence of the formal hedges?
The shadows are long as snails, the dew astonishes the spiders,
The light shivers and falters, the thin pulse ebbs into silence;
And she and the man,
Braggart in their opening of the unstaunched vein,
Complacent as vultures, sardonic as astronauts,
Cut the date of the year for joy with crossed swords
In the blessed and dishonoured earth,
Laughing to think how it turns its face to the sky for good to celebrate
A brave encounter here on the grass where the blood dropped down
Between the formal hedges
Reticent these three centuries.