At that moment [he writes], I say most truly that the spirit of life, which hath its dwelling in the secretest chamber of the heart, began to tremble so violently that the least pulse of my body shook therewith; and in trembling it said these words: “Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur mihi. (Here is a deity stronger than I, who, coming, shall rule over me.)”
And, loverlike, he records of “this youngest of the angels” that “her dress on that day was of a most noble colour, a subdued and goodly crimson, girdled and adorned in such sort as best suited with her very tender age.” Ah! that “little frock,” that sacred little frock we first saw her in! Don’t we all know it? And the little handkerchief, scented like the breath of heaven, we begged as a sacred relic! And—
after you are dead
I will kiss the shoes of your feet....
Yes! anything she has worn or touched; for, as a modern writer has said:
Everything a woman wears or
touches immediately incarnates something
of herself. A handkerchief, a glove, a flower—with a breath she
endows them with immortal souls.
Waller with his girdle, Donne with “that subtle wreath of hair about his arm,” the mediaeval knight riding at tourney with his lady’s sleeve at his helm, and all relic-worshipping lovers through the ages bear witness to that divine supernaturalism of woman. To touch the hem of that little frock, to kiss the mere imprint of those little feet, is to be purified and exalted. But when did man affect woman in that way? I am tolerably well read in the poetry of woman’s emotions, but I recall no parallel expressions of feeling. No passionate apostrophes of his golf stockings come to my mind, nor wistful recollections of the trousers he wore on that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon. The immaculate collar that spanned his muscular throat finds no Waller to sing it:
A narrow compass—and
Dwelt all that’s good, and all that’s fair,
and probably the smartest negligee shirt that ever sported with the summer winds on a clothes-line has never caused the smallest flutter in feminine bosoms. The very suggestion is, of course, absurd—whereas with women, in very deed, it is as with the temple in Keats’s lines:
even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple’s self.
Properly understood, therefore, the cult of the skirt-dancer has a religious significance, and man’s preoccupation with petticoats is but the popular recognition of the divinity of woman. All that she is and does and wears has a ritualistic character, and she herself commands our reverence because we feel her to be the vessel of sacred mysteries, the earthly representative of unearthly powers, with which she enjoys an intimacy of communication denied to man. It is not a reasonable