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Read by the Academy of American Poets Staff.
About this Poem 

“The Mortal Lease” was published in Artemis to Actæon (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909).

The Mortal Lease

II.

Because our kiss is as the moon to draw
The mounting waters of that red-lit sea
That circles brain with sense, and bids us be
The playthings of an elemental law,
Shall we forego the deeper touch of awe
On love's extremest pinnacle, where we,
Winging the vistas of infinity,
Gigantic on the mist our shadows saw?

Shall kinship with the dim first-moving clod
Not draw the folded pinion from the soul,
And shall we not, by spirals vision-trod,
Reach upward to some still-retreating goal,
As earth, escaping from the night's control,
Drinks at the founts of morning like a god?

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton, born January 24, 1862, is the author of numerous books, including Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verse (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909) and Verses (privately printed, 1878).

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Before the clepsydra had bound the days
Man tethered Change to his fixed star, and said:
"The elder races, that long since are dead,
Marched by that light; it swerves not from its base
Though all the worlds about it wax and fade."

When Egypt saw it, fast in reeling spheres,
Her

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Like Crusoe with the bootless gold we stand 
Upon the desert verge of death, and say: 
“What shall avail the woes of yesterday 
To buy to-morrow’s wisdom, in the land 
Whose currency is strange unto our hand? 
In life’s small market they had served to pay 
Some late-found

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I

Immense, august, like some Titanic bloom, 
   The mighty choir unfolds its lithic core, 
Petalled with panes of azure, gules and or, 
   Splendidly lambent in the Gothic gloom, 
And stamened with keen flamelets that illume 
   The pale high-altar. On the prayer-worn floor, 
By