’I should like to be a child once more. I should like to be always a child, walking in the shadow of your gown. When I was quite little, I clasped my hands when I uttered the name of Mary. My cradle was white, my body was white, my every thought was white. I could see you distinctly, I could hear you calling me, I went towards you in the light of a smile over scattered rose-petals. And nought else did I feel or think, I lived but just enough to be a flower at your feet. No one should grow up. You would have around you none but fair young heads, a crowd of children who would love you with pure hands, unsullied lips, tender limbs, stainless as if fresh from a bath of milk. To kiss a child’s cheek is to kiss its soul. A child alone can say your name without befouling it. In later years our lips grow tainted and reek of our passions. Even I, who love you so much, and have given myself to you, I dare not at all times call on you, for I would not let you come in contact with the impurities of my manhood. I have prayed and chastised my flesh, I have slept in your keeping, and lived in chastity; and yet I weep to see that I am not yet dead enough to this world to be your betrothed. O Mary! adorable Virgin, why can I not be only five years old—why could I not remain the child who pressed his lips to your pictures? I would take you to my heart, I would lay you by my side, I would clasp and kiss you like a friend—like a girl of my own age. Your close hanging garments, your childish veil, your blue scarf—all that youthfulness which makes you like an elder sister would be mine. I would not try to kiss your locks, for hair is a naked thing which should not be seen; but I would kiss your bare feet, one after the other, for nights and nights together, until my lips should have shred the petals of those golden roses, those mystical roses of our veins.’
He stopped, waiting for the Virgin to look down upon him and touch his forehead with the edges of her veil. But she remained enwrapped in muslin to her neck and finger-nails and ankles, so slim, so etherealised, that she already seemed to be above earth, to be wholly heaven’s own.
‘Well, then,’ he went on more wildly still, ’grant that I become a child again, O kindly Virgin! Virgin most powerful. Grant that I may be only five years old. Rid me of my senses, rid me of my manhood. Let a miracle sweep away all the man that has grown up within me. You reign in heaven, nothing is easier to you than to change me, to rid me of all my strength so that evermore I may be unable to raise my little finger without your leave. I wish never more to feel either nerve, or muscle, or the beating of my heart. I long to be simply a thing—a white stone at your feet, on which you will leave but a perfume; a stone that will not move from where you cast it, but will remain earless and eyeless, content to lie beneath your heel, unable to think of foulness! Oh! then what bliss for me! I shall reach without an effort