Gladdest of all is he who gives,
Discovering that his gift hath grace,
For passeth straight into his heart
The joy of the receiver’s face.
If I could lift to longing lips
A beaker ﬁlled with drink divine,
Or sing to yearning ears a song
That should be welcomer than wine,—
I should not blush to lift my voice
And bid each passer to my side;
Nor, since I come unheralded,
Shrink back, lest favor be denied.
But I have brought a little thing,
And I am doubtful of its worth,
And, at the last, am half afraid
To show its nature clearly forth.
And if, despite my long delay,
I only cheat expectant eyes,
And you should give me formal words,
Not glad, enthusiastic cries,—
Ah! lay it honestly aside;
And I shall see my great mistake,
But, knowing my intent was sound,
I shall be patient for its sake!
Yet here and there a pensive smile,
Or, dearer, an impulsive sigh,
Shall pay me for the slights of those
Who throw my offering idly by.
And haply, if a tear should fall
Where some of mine have dropped before,
Then I shall know one heart, at least,
Has heard me knocking at the door.
But who will rise to let me in?
And shall I be a welcome guest?
A comrade and interpreter,
When all my errand is confest?
I turn the key, I lift the lid,
I lay the casket on the sill,
And, wistful, linger at the door
To know the tenor of your will.
A GIRL’S SUBTERFUGES
“Wilt thou be an ancient maiden?”
Say the matrons unto me;
“Wilt thou have no chubby children,
Clinging fondly to thy knee?”
“Ruddy matrons! happy mothers!
What are children unto me?”
“Will thou live alone forever?”
Say the matrons unto me.
Light I answer: “Who is single
Should be ever blithe and free.
Sober matrons! thoughtful mothers!
Liberty is sweet to me!”
“Youth is scornful in the sunshine,”
Say the matrons unto me.
“Drop thy kerchief, boastful beauty!
While thine eye is bright of blee,
Age is lurking in the shadow,
Age is creeping up to thee!”
And I answer, lightly laughing,
What the matrons say to me:
“I am given to Diana,—
To the huntress, fair and free,—
And the lumpy, lovesick Venus
Hath no follower in me!”
I am nineteen to-day. I’m growing old.
I saw the merest phantom of a wrinkle
Between my brows this morning. Mother says
It is because I pore above my books
So late of nights; and Mother does not like
To have me different from other girls,
Except that I should show the freshest face,
The prettiest dresses, and the readiest smile.
And ah! how shocked she would be, if she knew
That I write poems sometimes,—nay, not poems,
But wretched verses; that I’ve even dared
To publish some of them. I signed them “Faith,”
And never was so ﬂurried in my life,
Nor so exultant, as when ﬁrst I saw
My rhymes—my very own—in black and white
For all the world to read; and not a soul
Had even the least suspicion they were mine!
I hardly know what I would like to be;
But then it is so grand to be a poet!
If I might be one! “God! how Art is long!”
Great Goethe says, and at his words I shudder;
For I have done no more than play at work.
Can I do more? Can I stand all alone?
I do not know, and there are none to help me.
If Mother saw me musing, she would say
Something in substance very much like this:
“Go to your music!” or, “Go take a walk!
I hate to see you moping. It is bad
For any girl’s complexion. Do you know
That Edward Mason marries Mary Grey?
And she will wear white satin and real lace!
And you left school a year before she did,
And might have had him.” Yes, that is the way!
Leave school, get married, (just as well be buried!)
Have a ﬁne house, and get one’s life crushed out
In caring for it. Dust on the piano,—
And no book opened,—never time to think!
Then the babies come!—Is that wan woman there
The merry, pink-cheeked girl I used to know?
She dies at forty years, or thereabouts,
And fades from memory as she fades from sight.
What has she done but drag herself through life?
And Mother wants that I should be like this!
I’m sick of hearing so much about love!
I can’t take up a magazine or journal
But ’t is the same old story,— Love! Love! Love!
Whether in poem, prose, essay, or tale;
And all my music’s set to silly words.
There’s too much harping on this same old string,
I’m tired of listening to it every day.
The boys and girls can talk of nothing else;
And ’tis the same with grown-up men and women.
I used to like such stuff when I was callow,
But now it palls upon me when I think
There are so many other things to talk of,
So many other things to think about,
So many more to pray for, do, and suffer!
And—the stupidest of all!—if any woman
Dares call a man her friend, and treat him so,
Straightway around her rises a great babbling;
And all the babbling is of—Love! Love! Love!
Now, Clarence Dale has been my friend a year.
We’ve read together, walked and talked together;
Both understanding that we were but friends.
He’s all friend that I have ever had.
(I have no fancy for ﬁne school-girl frenzies.)
Older than me he is, by several years;
Wiser than me he is, beyond compare.
He has the answers for my questionings;
He helps me solve my problems, lets me lean
Upon his strength, and does not like me less
Because I am unlike other girls.
He smiles—a little sadly—when I talk
Of the grand things that I would like to do,
But says a man should never try to hinder
A woman in her climbing,—rather help her.
Ah, how I bless and honor him for that!
How proud I am to have him for my friend!
And then to think that they should dare to talk
Of anything like Love ’twixt him and me,—
I can’t endure to think of it a moment!
HIS PICTURE OF HER.
She carries heaven wherever she goes;
An angel with hidden wings,—
She’s sphered about with a sweet repose
That touches surrounding things.
You cannot look in her bonny eyes
But your thought will warm and stir
With a thankful thrill, in its glad surprise,
For the beauty born with her.
She’s the mate of all that is sweet and pure,—
The birds, the stars, and the ﬂowers,—
Her touch is delight, and her kiss a cure,
In this briery world of ours!
There’s a light that lieth upon her grace,
Like the sun on far blue seas;
And her voice is as tender as her face,
And like the harp of the breeze;
And tender as either of the twain
Her shapely and supple hand,
The soother and sweetener of pain,
And the lily of all the land!
O, under her feet the roses bloom,
Where only were thorns of yore!
She’s so bright that the shadow ﬁnds no room
Where all was so dark before!
Till by Heartsease sown in this wilderness
We reckon her years’ increase;
For she knows the ways of Pleasantness,
And ﬁnds the paths of Peace!
Sitting alone to-day, there came to me
A thought that vexed me, like a ﬂitting shadow
That comes between us and the sun. It was,
“When Clarence marries, what becomes of me?”
I shall not marry; but can I expect
That he will keep like singleness of soul?
They say fair faces wile men’s hearts away.
And yet I cannot think of him as married
Without a twinge of pain,—I am so selﬁsh!
“But then you take my friend from me!”
She looked into his eyes;
The shy, awakening womanhood
Grown bolder from surprise.
“Who ﬁnds a lover needs must lose
A friend, however tried!”
“Choose you the lover or the friend!”
His deeper voice replied.
The shadow of some coming pain,
Of some mysterious ill,
Hung round her young, uncertain soul,
And made her falter still.
Ah! sweeter far to droop and dream
Above a love untold
And vaguely guessed, than when we count
What we may have and hold!
But this faint, lingering, strange regret
Her woman’s heart construed
Into a longing for the ties
Of Friendship’s graver mood.
“Ah! let me keep my friend,” she cried,
“Whose gently guiding hand
Subdues my griefs and plans my joys,
With such serene command!”
“Mine is a man’s impulse, and you
Are wiser in your way,
And cooler in your blood; but
No medium course essay.
“Our lives must blend, or we must part,—
That ﬁat lies with you!”
She could not say, “Depart from me!”
For all that she could do.
“But I? I give you all,” she cried;
“My life, my love, my soul;
The surety of my happiness
Goes into your control!”
An answering look, a clasping arm,
A passionate caress,—
Man’s old reply to woman’s words,
Nor yet believed the less!
He left me, slightly vexed, because
I made him promise not to tell,—
At least to wait till we should see
If all would work together well.
Because my mother does not dream
That we have thought of such a thing;
Not even though she saw to-day
Upon my hand another ring.
It is not what would please her best,
And I must try to smooth the way;
And I must have some little time
To think of ﬁtting words to say.
Sitting together only yester-even,
A hush fell on us with the deepening gloom;
To me it seemed as if the peace of heaven
Descended with the twilight in the room.
You drew my head down to your sheltering bosom,
And kissed the brow, so stirless in its calm;
And then my passionate thought burst into blossom
On glowing lips: “Unworthy though I am,
Love me, Beloved!”
The charmed world may lay her hand in blessing
Upon my young head’s waves of sunny brown;
But I shall sigh for tenderer caressing,
And Love must plait the laurels for my crown.
If up the heights where gleams the golden glory
Of royal souls my woman’s feet should go,
Think not these lips could then forget the story
Now gushing from my wild heart’s overﬂow:
“Love me, Beloved!”
No, no! If in the clamor of glad voices
Blending my name with high, exultant song,
I missed the tone that most my heart rejoices,—
The very sweetest singer in the throng,—
I would not care to listen any longer;
You are all grace and melody to me;
And, leaning on your life, my life grows stronger,
Your strength shall nerve me for Eternity.
Love me, Beloved!
How tenderly you meet the mute appealing
Of eyes that ever seek to read your own.
This clinging trust—this wild excess of feeling—
But, dearest, I have been so long alone!
Henceforth there is no good beyond my grasping,
No splendor that my earth-life may not take;
The passionate heart which to your own you’re clasping
Is henceforth sacred for your princely sake.
Love me, Beloved!
I have been poring over some old papers;
Some of my earliest writings,—school-girl things,—
And found this page, which reads like prophecy
In the full light that Love casts on to-day.
When I concluded to devote my life
To writing poems and to studying
Greek, I burnt a copy of it,—called it callow,—
And did not know that I had kept this one.
How shall I know thee when thou comest, my King,
Seeing that thou wearest not thy crown abroad,
Seeing that thou sendest me no token-ring,
And that no mark is on thy forehead set?
Ah! I shall know thee as my heart knows God!
And I afﬁrm that thou art all for me,
As I thy queen and subject am for thee,
If that thou be not wrongly captive led
By any other woman’s luring smile,
Nor lay on any other heart thy head;
If thou canst live thy life apart awhile,
Waiting to have it perfected by mine;
If so be thou canst bear this long, sharp cark
Which eats my heart as it consumeth thine,
While I go groping vainly in the dark,
Hoping to touch thy hand and ﬁnd thee out,
And by thy love be robed and wrapped about,
And crying like a newly orphaned child
Because I do not grasp thee anywhere.
Or like to one who is in sleep beguiled;
For ah! in dreams what will not fancy dare?
Be true to me, as to thyself thou’rt true!
Be true to me as I am true to thee!
Keep sacred all thy tender ways for me;
Keep the caresses of thine eyes for me,
And every thrilling hand-clasp, till I come,
Like one who staggers wearied toward home,
To hold my unkissed face up unto thine,
To feel thy strong life passing into mine,
Making me likewise strong, until my feet,
Like to my heart’s responsive, steady beat,
Keep ﬁrm and even step beside thine own;
And we walk on together through the world—
Never, ah! never more to be alone—
With faces like unto the face of him
Whose life was haunted by a dream of treasure,
Which he went searching for throughout the earth,
Holding all lighter things of little worth,
Until at last he found it, one glad day,
Which it made sweeter than all ﬂowers of May,
And took it up, and went his way with pleasure!
AN IDYL OF THE EARLY SPRING
Oh! Clear and calm and open as
The forehead of a sleeping child,
And blue and cool and far away,
The April heaven o’er me smiled!
The violets from their low, green homes
Peeped up, and patterned by its hue;
“We will be like the sky,” they said,
“Forever pure, forever blue!”
Dropped through the branches of the beech,—
Unleaved and sear from wintry stress,—
The fervid kisses of the sun
Recalled the earth to blessedness.
And, startled from her long, white trance,
Abashed and scantly clad she lay;
Meanwhile the robin’s glancing breast
Gave life and gladness to the day.
And where the creeping wintergreen
Its fruit in coral broidery weaves,
I found the shy arbutus hid
Beneath the crisp and russet leaves.
The fair patrician of the woods!
Their daintiest treasure,—pink and white!
As balmy as the myrtle ﬂower
That sweetens the Italian night.
The vagrant brightness of the days
Had coaxed a freshness to the moss;
And many a brown and naked stretch
By maple blooms was blown across.
Like swarms of tiny winged things,
Clinging to branches bare and high,
Their tender scarlet clusters shone
Against the blueness of the sky.
There were mysterious gleams of white
Among the hollows, lying low,
Drooped over by dusk evergreens,—
But I could laugh at April snow.
I knew its fostering mantle hid
The darlings of the coming May,
When constant Nature should fulﬁl
Her premonitions of to-day.
And sudden, silver sweet, I heard
A bluebird singing in the hedge;
Near by a venturous wood-ﬂower sunned
Its whiteness on a mossy ledge.
Therefore I could no longer doubt,—
So much was plain to eye and ear,—
And thrilled with sudden joy, I cried,
“The Spring, the pleasant Spring, is here!”
“But such a brightness never shone
On hill and dale and stream before,—
Or else my eyes were strangely dull,
And could not see so well of yore!”
That rogue, the bluebird, as I spoke,
Proclaimed my secret far and near;
Out of his merry heart he sang:
“Be glad! For Love and Spring are here!”
This used to be a problem unto me:
Can woman’s life hold Art and Love together?
And now I know it can! Not one heart only,
But one soul and one mind are shared between us!
I stood at early dawn beside my window,
So glad! so glad! His ring was on my hand,—
I could not sleep for the joy of feeling it,—
I leant out to the dim and dewy day,
And heard the ﬁrst faint sounds of waking birds;
And saw the hills in shadow, and the deeps—
The blue, unsounded deeps—of restful skies
Unsunned above me. Then to me a voice—
A timid voice afraid of its own self,
A voice that snag the sorrow of a heart
That could not choose but suffer—ﬂoated up.
I caught the song, but could not see the singer.
A GIRL’S AFTER-SINGING
When I was a wee white maiden,
I was my mother’s delight;
She plaited my yellow tresses,
And she cuddled me close at night.
But once I woke in her clasping,
And felt that her arms were chill;
And they took me away from my mother,
Because she lay so still.
The buttercups shine in the meadow,
And her grave is wet with dew;
A sparrow is chirping near it,
Alas! what shall I do?
Love came, and sought me, and found me!
He entreated me passing fair;
It was for him that I braided
The jessamine into my hair.
He pelted me once with a rosebud;
When I stooped to where it lay,
He departed, and only left me
The ﬂower that he ﬂung away,
The bloom is all over the orchard,
While I sit here and sew;
So sorry for sweet Love’s going,
Alas! what shall I do?
Pale Christ! I’ll put thy betrayal
’Twixt me and my miseries twain;
Thou wert forsaken,—and I am
A motherless creature in pain!
Dear God! I will take thy pity,
And wrap it about my life;
O, let me be thy little one,
Since I’ll be no man’s wife!
And it is well that I had wit
To counsel silence and delay;
And he has owned that I was right,
And things have proved it so to-day.
It is his father’s wish that he
Should spend abroad at least a year,
Before he settles gravely down
Into a well-worn ofﬁce-chair.
His cousin—he is Clarence too—
(I always quiver at the name;
And never can remember that
So many others have the same!)—
His cousin makes the tour with him;
But then he says that we shall go
When we are married; then he kissed
Away the sudden overﬂow
Of rebel tears that would not wait
Till I should ﬁnd myself alone;
I thinking that he would be gone
Till next year’s clematis was blown!
I know that all his friends would think
He would be wiser to go free;
And if the thing were known, he says
’ Twould make a tedious time for me.
He will not have me set apart
Like pictures placarded as “Sold”;
He is not jealous of the state
My unclaimed maidenhood can hold.
And guessing some of her designs,
I sadly fear my mother’s frown,
Since Robert Graeme has fancied me,—
For he’s the richest man in town.
Good by, good by, my dearest!
My bravest and my rarest!
I bless thee with a blessing meet
For all thy manly worth.
Good by, good by, my treasure!
My only pride and pleasure!
I bless thee with the strength of love
Before I send thee forth.
Mine own! I fear to bless thee,
I hardly dare caress thee,
Because I love thee with a love
That overgrows my life;
And as the time gets longer
Its tender throbs grow stronger:
My maiden troth but waits to be
The fondness of the wife.
Alas! alas! my dearest,
The look of pain thou wearest!
The kisses thou dost bend to give
Are parting ones to-day!
Thy sheltering arms are round me,
But the cruel pain hath found me.
What shall I do with all this love
When thou are gone away?
Ah, well! One poor endeavor
Shall nerve me while we sever;
I will not fret my hero’s heart
With piteous sobs and tears.
I send thee forth, my dearest,
My truest and my rarest,
And yield thee to the keep of Him
Who blessed our happier years.
Once more good-by! and bless thee!
My faltering lips caress thee.
When shall I feel thy hand again
Go kindly o’er my hair?
Let the dear arms that fold me
One last sweet moment hold me;
In life or death our love shall be
No weaker for the wear!
Gone for a year and a day!
I am like a bird that guards the empty nest,
And ﬂutters in and out, and cannot rest,—
Gone for a year and a day!
Out of sight of the heated land,
Over the breezy sea;
Into the reach of the solemn mist,
Quietly drifted we.
The sky was blue as a baby’s eye
When it falleth apart in sleep,
And soft as the touch of its wandering hand,
The swell of the peaceful deep.
Hovered all day in our sluggish wake
The wonderful petrel’s wing,—
Following, following, ever afar,
Like the love of a human thing.
The day crept out at the purple west,
Dowered with glories rare;
Never a sight and never a sound
To startle the dreamy air.
The mist behind me and the mist before,
But light in the purple west,
Until we wearied to turn aside
And drift to its haunted rest.
But the mist was behind; and the mist before
Rose up like a changeless fate;
And we turned our faces toward the dark,
And drearily said, “Too late!”
So, with foreheads fronting the far-off south,
We drifted into the mist,
Turning away from the glorious west’s
Purple and amethyst.
For the sea and the sky met everywhere,
Like the strength of an evil hate,
And a thunder-cloud came out of the west,
And guarded the sunset gate.
Thou art in the royal, radiant land
That stretcheth across the sea,
And the drifting hours of each weary day
Take me further from thee!
Sleep ravished me from pain, and laid a hand
Cool, quiet, and heavy on my smarting eyelids!
My soul ﬂed from the clamors of the land,
Nor heard the distant portals close behind it.
When I awoke, the brightness of the day
Had slipped from the green earth’s tranquil visage;
And in my darkened room I freshened lay,
And Ease had wrapped me in its welcome mantle
Befringed with cheerful thoughts, and fancies sweet
That it had gathered in the realm of visions,
Whilst I therein had walked with soundless feet
Over pale asphodels and poppies crimson.
Sometimes a lone bird in its darkened nest
Makes broken twittering before the dawning.
Perhaps a leaf, wind-stirred, has brushed its breast,
But its faint chirps are for its absent comrade.
Thuswise my heart lay half awake in me,
Before the mist of dreams had faded wholly,
And, stirred by half-reminders, groped for thee,
With drowsy calls and murmurous cries unworded!
All the day was dark and weary, freighted down with shadows dreary,
Other shadows kept the sunlight from the threshold of my heart;
Failure in its circle held me; by its mighty magic spelled me.
Ere one hurt had ceased to rankle, some new prickle made me start.
“Letters!” and I, wholly broken, turned in hopelessness unspoken:
“Doubtless, other stripes to smite me—Lord! my soul is sore enough!”
Then I forced my hand to take them, but I scanned, ere I would break them,
All the seals,—for I was growing cowardly through long rebuff.
Till my spirit-broken seeming was enlightened by the gleaming
Of a dear familiar writing, by a dearer hand devised.
When the arms that ache to hold us only may in dreams enfold us,
What a blessing lies in letters then I wholly realized!
O my talisman in sadness! O, my pledge of coming gladness!
O my letter! tempest-drifted over briny billowed seas!
For the sender’s sake I bless you, for the sender’s sake I press you,
To my trial-chastened bosom,—be its comforter for these!
Ah! I know whose letter this is! there’s embalméd freight of kisses,—
Not the weapon that I dreaded in your travel-battered sheath.
You will feed my incompleteness, with your hivéd hoard of sweetness,
When I peel away the cover and pluck out the fruit beneath!
Yet my eyes with tears are ﬁlling,—my awakened pulse is thrilling
To some far-off spirit signal; and I shiver, unaware,
As the wavelets of the river to the zephyr’s kisses quiver;
Is my darling thinking of me in the distance, over there?
Trouble on trouble! When he went away
It seemed as if my darkest hours began.
My life since then has been much like a day
Bright at the dawning,—very early clouded,—
I sometimes think the clouds will never lift!
First: father failed and we lost all we had;
And he was old and could not stand the blow,
And never tried to lift his head again
After our home was sold and we came here.
I never wore a black dress in my life
Till I got this one, and it seems so strange
That it reminds me every day of father!
I have no time to think about myself
Except of nights; and then I cannot sleep
Because of all my sore perplexity.
I must do all I can for mother now;
She can do nothing for herself at all;
But sits and rocks and moans and sighs all day,
Or holds my little sister in her arms.
And I am glad that I must think for them;
For had I time to sit with folded hands,
I think I should go crazy with the strain
Of all this waiting!
How long is it since any letter came?
Now that I think, ’tis full three months to-day.
I cannot hear a word of him by chance,
His father’s house is closed,—they are away.
The ﬁrst, glad day of summer saw our parting;
Our hopes were vague, our words were very few.
I murmured—from your passionate hold upstarting—
“I’ll wait for you!”
Ah, I was brave, and life was all before me—
My love should make it beautiful and true!
I said,—when passionate, parting pains came o’er me,—
“There is so much to do!”
Come home! dearest, come home!
The summer waned and anguish fell upon me,
Such heavy loss as wears the strength away!
And for a time its greatness seemed to stun me;
And so I lay
Weak and bewildered, with one wish forever
Haunting my nights and darkening my days:
That I might fall upon your breast, ah, never
My head therefrom to raise!
Come home! dearest, come home!
A homesick child, lost in the dreary gloaming,—
Such lone estate is haply like to mine.
My eyes are weary waiting for your coming;
My sun is slow to shine!
Do you remember, dear, that charméd season
When your strong arm upheld my faltering feet?
When Life was set to rhyme,—unchilled by Reason—
And O! so blissful, sweet?
Come home! dearest, come home!
The red-leaved glories of the ripening Autumn,
Sun diamonds ﬂashing on a dimpling sea,
These pleased me once: these now I cast no thought on,—
You are away from me!
And I am very weary of this sorrow—
Where are you? O my best beloved friend!
And must I ask to-morrow and to-morrow,—
And what shall be the end?
Come home! dearest, come home!
I know too well, unless some cheering token
Comes o’er the sea. I am not less than brave;
But want and doubt and toil, uncheered, unbroken,
Lead swiftly to the grave.
Yet you are dearer far to me than heaven;
And while you live, I feel I cannot die.
Pray the dear God will smooth what is uneven
And bring you by and by!
Come home! dearest, come home!
I live my life as you would have me live it
If you were here and earth were gloriﬁed;
For you will turn again, I do believe it,
And seek my side.
When you come home you’ll ﬁnd me worthier loving,—
Pain and endeavor keep as pure and true,—
And O, remember in your farthest roving,
I wait for you!
Come home! dearest, come home!
I say at morn, “I shall have one to-day”;
I say at night, “I shall have one to-morrow”;
But day and night go creeping slow away,
And leave me with my sorrow.
And is he sick? or is he dead, or changed?
Or, haply, has he learned to love another?
If I could know him careless or estranged,
My pride my love might smother.
Last night, indeed, I dreamed a letter came.
Ah! welcomer than any ﬁrst May blossom!
And then I heard my mother call my name,
And hid it in my bosom.
And, cheated, woke, and heard the night wind rave,
And hid my wet eyes in my lonely pillow;
And dreamed again, and saw a nameless grave,
Half hidden by a willow!
Oddly enough, that which I care for least
Of all our trials, mother thinks the hardest.
True, we are very poor; and now we live
Away from town in such a tiny house!
At ﬁrst it seemed like living in a trunk.
It is the merest shell, with rooms like closets,
And narrow hall-way and still narrower stairs;
And such low ceilings! But ’tis fresh and clean,
And almost pretty; and there is a garden.
My sister Kathie races round and round it,
And says it is a garden for a doll!
But we are quiet, and that pleases me;
And I am glad to work about the house,
And save our scanty store in many ways,
And make it go as far as well I can.
I think this no great hardship. I could lead
In full contentment such an humble life,
With love to sweeten it. But then my mother
Is never done with talking of past days.
And the few friends who still come in to see us
Have such blank faces, when their kind regrets
Are all cut short at seeing that I take things
In the most natural manner in the world!
NOT FOR SALE.
Come in from the desolate darkness,
Disconsolate heart of mine!
Come in from thy homeless wandering,
For a royal estate is thine!
Here is naught but a ring and a letter—
The key and the talisman—
To open the gates of that Eden land,
The fairest under the sun.
’Tis only the old, old story:
I am beloved, of all!
He turns from the roses, and stoops to take
The violet nearest the wall.
The princeliest heart and the proudest
Is lonely for want of mine,
Though queenlier brows may darken
When he pledges me over the wine.
So, heart, come in, thou truant!
For we have a cause to try.
Wilt thou go to this lordly master—
This wooer who bids so high?
He offers us gold and diamonds;
He offers us housen and land;
And all for a pledge of thy constancy,
And a bond of this poor little hand!
Thou art weary and very lonely,
O desolate pilgrim heart!
Thou art tired of living within thyself,
From love and pleasure apart;
Thou’lt be safely and warmly nested,
Though the wintry winds should blow;
So spring to the arms of a faithful knight,—
A lover, who loves thee so!
* * * * * * * * *
Alas! there cometh a shadow
Between me and the light—
A dear, kind face that for weary months
Hath never gladdened my sight!
How could I forget that these faithless lips
Are sealed with a sacred kiss?
How dare I to dream of another love,
Whose heart hath been pressed to his?
Dear soul! though a wall as high as heaven
Should rise ’twixt thee and me,
Though ’tween the hearts that fondly yearn
Should ﬂow a boundless sea,
Still would I keep a stainless troth,
And a free, unfettered hand,
A loyal faith and a constant love
For my lover, of all the land!
So my heart stood up with a grievous cry,
Saying, “I cannot go!”
I may wander houseless and homeless,
But thou canst cheat me so!
Ah, dear! It is weary wandering,
For the heart that has no home!
Ah, dear! It is weary waiting
For the feet that never come!
But I see not the gleam of my wooer’s gold,
Love maketh my eyes so dim;
If I cannot be fair for thee, mine own,
I will never be fair for him!
I have sent him away: he comes back, and he will not be banished—
He refuses to go!
He forever is near me and round me, and hovering about me,
And he teases me so!
Does he dare still to hope for a “Yes,”
Just because I am weary
Of telling him “No”?
You took my hands in your two dear hands,—
O, but the night was a perfect night,
A sort of enchanted festival
Of music and ﬂowers and light!—
You took my hand, and I was content;
But I did not know what your petting meant
Till I saw the ring on my ﬁnger.
But the secret was out when I saw my hand,—
We never minded the night at all,—
It was only a little ring, you know,
But precious it seemed, for all:
So precious I’ve kissed it a thousand times,
And thought it deserved a thousand rhymes,
And so does your love for me, love!
And my hand? Why, it seemed such a different hand!
It didn’t look like my hand at all!
My eyes kept seeking it all the time,—
So cunning and white and small!
’Twas all the work of that wonderful ring,—
’Twas a priceless and talismanic thing.
Did I thank you with eyes or with lips, love?
Not then, you know, for we sat in the glare,—
O, but the night was a perfect night!—
But I sat still in a trustful calm,
Wrapped in a deep delight,
Nestling warm and close at your side,
Looking up at you with a pleased pride,
And my heart was as blithe as a joy-bell.
I looked up at you and down at my ring,
And I blessed the night in my thankful heart,—
You were so noble and good and grand,
And we were no more apart!
Ah! how happy you made me, love!
As happy as any brooding dove :
I could doubt you no more forever!
Many a night I’ve gone to sleep
Caressing the hand that wears your ring;
For ’tis ever to me a new delight,—
A sacred and lovely thing!
’Tis long since I looked upon your face;
I hunger and faint for its tender grace:
The smile wastes off from my own, love!
“Even this too shall pass away!”
Was graven once on a monarch’s ring;
But mine shall outwear my life, I know,
By my sick heart’s ﬂuttering.
But all the while that it slimmer grows,
And my cheek gets whiter, that once was rose,
You grow dearer to me, love!
Love shall endure, though the ring may wear;
I wait while the days and the months go by;
Days and years are the same to me,—
I am yours until I die!
If I never look into your eyes again,—
If Prayer and Patience and Pain are vain,—
They shall bury my ring with me, love!
And this is why he did not write!
And this is why he does not come!
And I have kept my troth-ring bright,
And sat and pined for him at home.
And would have waited ﬁfty years,
Or would have died in maiden white;
And he will bring his bride with him,
For they have told me so to-night.
A Spanish girl with velvet eyes
And arching foot and supple nerves;
Rich lips that utter sweet replies,
And ﬁgure full of maddening curves!
What matter that my heart is true,
Since lips and cheeks are worn and pale;
And since my eyes are dimly blue,
What can my tenderness avail?
But it was weeping made them dim,
And I will sit and weep no more;
That ever I should weep for him!—
Ah! there’s my mother at the door!
Ah, cruel! cruel! cruel!
I cannot lift my heart from out this slough
Of dead, dank hopelessness. The whip and spur
Of kindling pride avail not. O great God!
Canst thou let such things happen? Canst thou let
One human trust another, as I did him,
And in the midst of trusting be betrayed?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Last night I saw him in my dreams;
So pale my heart was almost broken;
I read within his eyes the thought
His sad, sad mouth had left unspoken:
“I love you!”
In my sleep I said,
“And left me!” laughing bitterly;
And suddenly the phantom turned
And hid its pleading face from me.
But still around me, in my sleep,
“I love you!” seemed to stir the air;
To which I—laughing bitterly—
Made answer from my hard despair:
“Ah God! That I had never known
Such love as yours has proved to me!”
My mother cut me to the heart to-day,
By saying that I had it in my hand
To give back to herself and Little Sister
All the advantages that they had lost;
And that I would not!
MY HOUSE UPON THE SANDS.
Because the heavens were blue above,
Because the ocean was so fair,
In its far-off immensity
I built my mansion there!
“But know you not,” a seer said,
“In storms those placid waves may rise,—
That cruel, treacherous, shining sea
May break its smooth disguise?”
“No! no!” my trustful answer ran:
“This sheltered spot it cannot reach;
Its waves will all their fury spend
Upon the lower beach.”
And so I built, and shaped, and planned,
Until my house stood fair to view;
Long time my willing heart found work
For willing hands to do.
It was so dear,—so fair! so fair!
That little house upon the sand,—
It had not pleased me half so well,
Built on the solid land!
For here the white birds made their nests;
And here the sunshine stayed all day,
To burnish up the plumy crests
Of infants waves at play.
“Not yet, not yet its lord has come!
I deck it for him while I wait;
My heart keeps guard before the door
In honor of his state.
“And every time the sun goes down,
His feet are one day nearer home;
I count my rosary of hours
In patience till he come.
“And when his feet the threshold cross,
And when my hand is in his hand,
There will not be a happier house
In all this happy land!
“And I shall lead him through its halls,
And show him all its pretty rooms,
And nestle shyly to his side,
Amid the twilight glooms!”
* * * * * * * * * *
The wind! The wind! The cruel wind,—
And ah! the hungry-mouthed wave!
From out the wreck, one ﬂoating thing
I could not even save!
I stand alone upon the sand,
Bereft of all my heart’s delight;
And look around and note the work
Of one black, bitter night!
My house! the fruitage of my care,—
The labor of my heart and hands,—
Cemented with my life’s best things,
And—built upon the sands!
Gone—lost! for ever, ever lost!
And I am standing here alone.
Of all the riches of my house,
There is not left a stone!
And he, for whom the house was built,
Is turned away—and will not come.
The day is changed, and he is changed,
And I am pale and dumb!
I have no home in all the land,
No heart on which to lay my head.
Such rest as now I crave is found
In one low, narrow bed!
They will not let me rest,—I am so weary!—
My mother talks from morning until night
About this marriage she would have me make;
And he is kinder now than e’er before;
And sends me books and ﬂowers; and will not slacken
His coming for my sharp, capricious moods;
And says I am more beautiful than ever,
And talks of how he loves me, while my heart
Is torn ’twixt love and pride and jealousy,—
I wish that I were dead and all were ended!
Well, let me look the truth full in the face!
I cannot part my living from my loving,
No more than I can take from off my ﬁnger
The ring he put there. For I tried to-day,
And could not do it. It was just as if
Some unseen hand withheld me.
I’ll never see or speak to him again;
But I have ceased to lie to my own heart.
I love him! Let it be. But then I love him
As we do love the dead and out of reach!
I cannot write
Unless I write my heart out! Not unless
I use my tears for ink, my sighs for pens.
And who wants anything like this sad song
That sang itself together in my brain
Last night, while I lay chaﬁng in the dark,
One throbbing mass of nerves, both eyelids propped
So wide apart I could not make them shut?
For, such revenges rebel Nature takes,
When suddenly she deftly slips from out
The long, strait-jacket we have swathed her in,
During formal days when formal looks are on us,
And makes reprisals for our tutoring!
One morning, in the past sweet time,
The hand I loved and trusted most—
As tender as an olden rhyme,
That grieves for something precious lost—
Was sharply wrested from my own,
Although my truth was free from stain.
I had not learned to walk alone;
So ﬁlled with wonder and with pain,
Childlike, I turned me, but to see
The heart where late my head reposed
Would prove no more a home for me,
Since heart and arms were coldly closed.
My feet were young and tender then,
Not hardened for the stony way,—
They’d only trod upon the ﬂowers,
And on the velvet grass, at play,—
’Twas long before they learnt the skill
That deftly threads the thorniest road,
And ﬁnds a pleasant pathway still
Where rasher feet have bleeding trod.
Yet, O, young hearts that bleed and break!
Hearts with your ﬁrst sweet hopes betrayed!
For your sad sakes my heart shall make
A shrine, where its ﬁrst hopes are laid.
For your dear sakes my pride shall bow,
And reverent pity light my eye,—
Ah, violet time! so faded now,
Your angel long since passed me by!
He lingers long away—so much the better!
I’m like a timid player perking for
A difﬁcult part, in an unwonted dress.
Then let me have my time to get mine perfect,
So that he will not miss a single shade
Of the composure that I ought to learn.
His cousin, talking near me last night, said
They should not look for him for months to come.
It is his health that calls for longer stay.
His health? Indeed, I cannot comprehend.
With love and everything to make him happy,
’Twould be more natural that he should be well!
I caught no word of his fair foreign wife,—
Indeed, I hardly ever hear his name,
Nor go where I can hear it, since his friends
Are hardly mine.
His love I measured by my own,—
Alas! the heart of man,
So swift to thrill,—so swift to change,—
Crowds years into a span!
The strongest ﬁres burn soonest out,—
And he could thus forget!
And only pities me sometimes,
Because I love him yet!
Ah, well! I fear ’tis often so;
The man will go his way,
And count his gains and freight his ships,
Forgetting but to-day!
But woman? she must gather up
Her hopes—those brittle things—
And all her work is to undo
Her life from where it clings!
We are so very, very poor, indeed!
What will become of us? Until I tried,
I thought it would be easy to ﬁnd work;
And now I say, “God help the struggling poor!”
I never fully pitied them till now.
With all I know, I cannot earn a cent!
I write and write, and send my work away,
And all comes back to me with brief regrets,—
Story or poem, it is all the same.
Ah! I perceive that ﬁngering of the lute
For our own pleasure is a different thing
From singing songs to earn our daily bread!
Poor mother cried herself to sleep last night.
Well, if I,
Being so unhappy, have it in my power
Out of my misery to make these others
In their ways happy; have I any right
To listen to my heart, whose full consent
I know that I shall never, never gain?
Either way, my day is clouded. I’m so little worth,
What matter if I give myself to bondage?
My life is no good to me any more,—
Then let it be of some good unto others!
They may make a bridge of me and walk across it
Into the kingdom of their hearts’ desire!
I should be glad of this; but I’ve forgotten
How to be glad of anything; and I
Am far too weary; and I only ask
That they should leave me quiet with my grief,
When I have promised everything they wish.
I took my pen to-day and could not write.
My grief has drained the fountain of my thoughts.
Alas! of such poor stuff are made no poets.
It is to be!
Last night he followed me
Out into the dark and dewy garden walk!
So, still the place,
I, seeing not his face,
Caught every least vibration of his talk.
He did not know
How sadly, long ago
My heart had forgotten to thrill to passionate words.
That never another hand
Might wile responses from its slackened chords.
I, sitting pale,—
The darkness for my veil,
Like one, who, leaning at the water’s side,
O’ er the surges’ roar
Hears from the further shore
Far words, borne faintly forward o’er the tide,—
In silence drooped,
Until his head he stooped
So near, I felt his breath upon my cheek.
The old, old pain
Woke suddenly up again;
It was for memory’s sake—not his—I did not speak!
And while he bent above me, all at once
The moon came forth and lighted up the place;
And ere I was aware, his face became
An awful revelation unto me,
Because it showed me how his love was set
Upon me—like the tides of some sad sea,
That spend themselves upon a cold gray shore;
And spend themselves in vain, and still return;
And still return in vain, and will not cease
And in the simile I read our fates:
He was the sad sea—I the sadder shore!
But when he yearned towards me—when he moved
To draw me to his bosom, all my heart
Within me sickened; and I lifted up
A faltering hand—my shield ’twixt him and me—
And laid it on his shoulder, while I spake,
And while I trembled very grievously :
“I have no heart to give you. If I had,
I do believe it would be yours of right,
Seeing how you regard me. Pity me,
Because I cannot love you; and forgive—
Because I am the source of all your pain!”
“You have no love to give me? May I ask
If you have given it to another man?”
From out the deeps of my despair I moaned,
“Be merciful, and do not question me!”
“Only once more!” he urged; and I could see
His face was ashen, as of one who staggers,
Death-sick, beneath a weight he cannot carry;
“And O, forgive me! Does he live, this man?
Or is he dead?” And then his searching eyes
Devoured my face in silence.
“He is dead,”—
I would have said—“to me”; but a strong pang
Sprang up and stabbed me; everything grew dark;
And then I felt his kisses on my hands.
And he was saying: “O my heart’s delight!
Let me but love and tend you in your need!
I will be very patient—will not ask
That you shall love me, till I teach you how!”
He held my hand so that the moonlight fell
Full on the ring that Clarence kissed and placed
Upon my ﬁnger, kissing both again.
“May I wear this,” I said, “beside your ring?
I cannot take it off.”
He turned his face away before he spoke;
Then said: “Do as you will,—
But let me love you!”
A bride! But not a wife! there came
A message ﬂashing o’er the wires:
“If you would save your house from shame,
Be here before the month expires.”
He had but time to kiss my lips
And strain me strongly to his breast,
And leave me mistress of the place
Which late I entered as a guest.
And he must travel night and day,
Nor slacken till he numbers ten;
And it will be a month, at least,
Before he comes to me again!
A week had passed since he whose name I bore
Had left me. I was glad at need to have
A fair excuse for shutting out the world;
And doubly thankful for the short reprieve
His absence gave me, ere my strange, new life
Began in earnest. On this sunny morn
I felt my heart drawn towards the little house
Where yet my mother lingered, though preparing
To give it up and come to live with me.
There was a bench beneath a cherry tree,
Which now I knew must be one cloud of bloom.
I thought that I should like to sit an hour
Upon that bench, and let the sunshine warm me.
And so I left my grand new home and went,
And kissed my mother; while our Kathie clung
About me, in her small impetuous way,
And followed me into the budding garden,
To show me where the blackbird had his nest,
And presently forgot me in her play.
So then I sat and watched the bustling bees;
And with the sounds and scents there fell upon me
A half contentment; and I put my hands
Together quietly, and softly thought
Of all the many things that I would do
In expiation of my one great lack,—
The lack of love for him who loved me well!
“But I will be so kind, so kind!” I said,
“And never cross or vex him any way;
And try to make him happy; and who knows
But God will smile upon my sacriﬁce,
And let me ﬁnd my happiness at last
In giving up my will to other wills!”
And then the tears that spring, but do not fall,
Stood gently in my eyes. I think it was
My heart’s protest in favor of itself,
Or some unheeded impulse of self pity.
But through these tears I saw a sudden shadow;
And lifting up my eyes—there stood before me
The same pale Clarence of my warning dream:
Only, his pallor did not plead, but threaten!
I saw the coming tempest in his eye,
But could not comprehend. “How came you here?”
I no word more could say from out my stupor.
“It is your fault,” he said; “I did not know—
Until I came. I went to Locust Grove;
Found it deserted; but a neighboring gossip
Spoke of your father’s death, and thought your mother
Was living here. I did not catch your name
Until I saw her; then she told me all,
(As she would tell it to some chance acquaintance!)
And bade me come and see you in the garden!”
“And you!” I said, as one who talks in dreams,
“How did you dare to come? Why have you come?”
And as I spoke I put my hand before me,
The back towards him, and the two rings gleaming
Upon the wedding ﬁnger, with no thought
Of anything except to keep him off.
He saw his ring upon my hand, and started
Fiercely—as if to strike me. “How dare you
To wear your troth-ring, when your troth is broken?”
“If it was broken, ’twas not ﬁrst by me”;
I answered swiftly; “and of all the world
You are the last one who should dare to taunt me;
Because, in spite of all that you have done
To turn my heart against you, it was weak
And spiritless, and clung to its old fealty,
When hope was dead and love was almost crime,
And would not let me ﬂing this ring away!”
“In spite of all that I have done!” he cried;
“What have I done but love you night and day,
Through silence and long waiting and despair,
And ill reports and sickness? And you ask
Why I am here? I came for love of you!
What else could bring me? O my God! my God!
I can’t believe it! Are you this man’s wife?
How could you turn against me without cause?
Who slandered me? Why did you cease to write?
When ﬁrst your letters did not come I wrote
And wrote again, and I would not be rebuffed.
And then in Naples I was smitten with fever,
And could not write, since I was ill for weeks.
When I was strong enough to read my letters,
The ﬁrst one that I took was from my sister;
And in the midst of other idle gossip
I saw your name. She wrote that Robert Graeme
Was courting you. And I fell back and read
No more that day,—and not for many days!
And just as soon as I could leave my bed
I turned straight homeward”; here he clutched a tree.
“Ah! better far if I had stayed away!”
“I heard that you were married.” “I!” he said;
“Ah! now I know you never loved me well!
Else you had not believed it, save from me,—
It was my cousin Clarence!”
And then I
Recalled to mind how mother had come in
From church one Sunday evening and had told me
That she had heard young Clarence Dale was married,—
His bride a Spanish girl, and beautiful.
And while she talked, a friend of ours dropped in,
And said the same thing over; and I never
Stopped once to think about that other Clarence!
(They called him oftenest Clarence L., to make
Distinction ’twixt him and his senior cousin.)
And I, made conscious by my well-kept secret,
Dared ask no questions; tacitly accepting
The tidings as they came, and shaping them
To meet the strong forebodings of my heart!
Now I began to see what I had done,
And suddenly, resolved to know the worst,—
Like one who, driven toward a precipice,
Which he conjectures, though he cannot see,
In sheer despair goes forward to the brink,
And parts the green mask of the undergrowth,
And looks straight down into the dizzying ruin
Which gapes to gulp him,—
“And you wrote?” I cried;
“I got no letters after the ﬁrst month.”
And then I saw the wonder in his eyes,
While he was saying: “Why, I wrote and wrote,
Unmindful of your silence; sending all
To the address you gave me!” And then I
Cried out at once, “But the address was changed!”
“You did not write me so.” “Indeed, I did!”
“Well then, I got no letter. I suppose
That mine have gone where all dead letters go,
In our well-ordered service of the post!
Dead letters! Ay! For they are dead indeed!
To us they’re doubly dead. But had you waited,
I might have told you all that there was in them;
And we had smiled, saying ‘No great harm is done’!”
Now when I thought of all the bitter days
And bitterer nights those letters would have saved me,
Though his reproach was just, I could not bear it.
And with no word that could express my pain,
I dropped my head between my trembling hands,
And the great deeps of woe were broken up!
* * * * *
There is no hope for us in all this world,
Nothing to do but part!
I give up every hold on life and love
When I resign your heart!
It is too late, too sadly late, to meet;
So touch my hand and go;
Come never near me with those fatal eyes
That pain and thrill me so!
Come never near me! ’Tis my only plea,—
Depart! Leave me alone!
Lest every worldly tie my spirit break
And claim you for my own!
Away! away! I hold my passionate heart
Beneath a feeble hand.
How love and pain are wrestling for my life
You may not understand.
Why did you come to darken all my fate
With hopeless, fond regret?
Why should the sunrise glory of my soul
So early fade and set?
Forgive me; soothe me with a tender touch,—
But one, before we part.
I may not even ask you, O my friend!
To wear me next your heart.
I am not quite so selﬁsh in my love,
So senseless, so unjust.
Forget; and be your noble self again,
And true to every trust.
I must not let you love me, tenderest friend!
Forget; be glad again!
I want to give you all the joy of life,
And take the lonely pain.
Too late to meet, because one sad mistake
Has come between two souls!
We may but clasp reluctant parting hands
Across the gulf that rolls
Between our lives—God! is it kind or just?
But I am mad with pain,
And all the teachings of a prudent love
Fall dull upon my brain.
Let me lean on you for a moment’s strength,
While I accept this cup.
My life’s one love! my heart is broken now,
Else I could not give you up!
I am as one who passes from the heart
Of some great storm into the silent dark;
For grief is not less grief because it broods
In stillness o’er a fate which ﬁrst awakened
But breathless writhings and despairing cries.
I hardly know what happened at the last.
He was upon his knees beside me pleading
For love as if for life. “You are not his!”
I heard him say. “In the face of God and man
I claim you. Leave him! Let me act for you.
Why should we care for what the world will say?
What is the world to us, if we are right?
Are we not all the world unto each other?”
And I, ’twixt sobs and shivers: “Go! go! go!
For I should ask break my mother’s heart and his!”
“Then you will rather break you own and mine?”
“Not yours! not yours! Go and forget me, Clarence!
For I deserve from you no other thing.
O, I will pray to God that this may be;
Even as I asked him once to let you love me!
Leave me alone to suffer for my fault.
Go and forget so mean a thing as I!”
“And have you read your heart and mine so little
As not to know one pain must thrill us twain,
One fate must smile or darken over us?
In life or death we cannot be divided,—
One spirit moves us, one desire invades us.
I will not touch you while you bear his name,
So fear me not; and for your sake—not his—
I give all honor to this worthless bond.
But break it! See, my arms are waiting for you!
One hour of courage and the worst is over!
I dare not stay,—I cannot trust myself,—
I go to wait until you call me back.
O, shame me not by any faltering!
Great God! to think this man should have my right
At his disposal! Free yourself of him,
Or I shall kill him!”
Then my mother’s hands
I felt about me,—and I knew no more!
TWO LETTERS THAT WERE NOT SENT.
O the long pain of faithful hearts!
By fate unconquered, how they yearn!
If strong, they bear an aching life;
If weak, they break, yet, breaking, burn.
With ventures wrecked, with love denied,
With pain’s fruition long delayed,
While o’er the waste of future years
I glance and turn away dismayed.
The ﬁerce regret for what is lost,—
The deep, undying tenderness!
The hatred of unworthy self,
With no sustaining, fond caress!
And all the glory gone from life!
And all the earth so dull and cold!
The bitter nights! the dismal days!
The suffering that maketh old!
But you are mine,—forever mine!
For soul will seek its kindred soul;
I send you from me, but my heart
Will never own my will’s control.
I have no fear of broken faith;
If I have doubted, that is past;
I know you noble,—’tis the false
Who ﬁnd forgetfulness at last!
I am not worthy to be loved,
But I am faithful to endure;
My penance is this lonely life,
And our eternity is sure!
Well! and the busy day is done,
And I am alone at last;
Only myself to please to-night,—
But O, to forget the past!
Because I cannot, I never shall care
To know I am fair again;
Because I cannot, these weary nights
Have shriveled my life with pain.
For my soul goes out with a cry for you,
Trying to ﬁnd the way
Out of this gloom, where the shadows are,
Into the perfect day.
My soul goes out with a cry for you:
“Come back! for I die of loss,
And there is no strength in my crippled life
To carry this cruel cross.”
O, my soul is forever calling to you,—
Crying and calling in vain,—
Weeping and wailing and calling to you,
Till living is only pain.
It is harder than death to feel and to know
We must each walk a different way,
And the fate that is walling me out of your life
Grows stronger from day to day.
And often I think I would gladly lie
Down in my winding-sheet,
Rather than battle and struggle alone,—
Rather than lose you, my sweet!
But I know I’m too young and too strong to die,
Too brave for a coward’s part;
But what shall I do with my empty hands?
And what with my haunted heart?
I know there is work for willing ones,
And I offer my sacriﬁce,—
Living henceforth outside of myself,—
Though the penance may not sufﬁce.
Sometimes my name will mix with the sounds
Floating over your busy life,
And I know that my face will haunt you then
One moment amid its strife.
But, love! my dearest! this hopeless loss
Has smitten my soul to its core;
Naked and bleeding lies the life
So strongly rooted before.
I stretch my arms through the pitiless void
To ﬁnd you, wherever you are;
And I shiver and pine in this desolate waste,
Since you are forever afar!
THE MEANING OF A SIGH. (HIS.)
My soul is invaded by many thoughts
Of thee, of thee!
Like the sweet white buds that fall in spring
From the citron-tree.
Ah! if my arm were under thy head,
On thy lips my lips,
What should we care for the cruel past,
Its cheats and slips?
UNTIL THEN. (SHE.)
We shall meet no more—no more—
In all the pleasant places of the earth;
And yet thy seal is on me, and thy feet
Shall hardly keep from following after mine!
We shall meet no more,—no more!
But in the silent watches of the night
Thy heart shall hear the calling of my heart,
And in my sleep my face shall be toward thee.
We shall meet no more,—no more—!
And I shall only speak thy name to God,
But in my memory thy face shall wax
More beautiful and dearer, year by year.
We shall meet no more—no more—
Till some glad day I fall upon thy neck—
The world being past—and tell thee, without tears,
How life was but a groping after thee.
He has come back,—pale, travel-worn, and haggard;
For he has hardly rested night or day,—
He stayed not one hour longer than the needs
Of a vast business (whose prosperity
Hung on his coolness and his skill) required.
And he was wild to see me, and I shrank
From his caresses,—would not yield my lips
To his, was nearly frantic when his arms
Enfolded me. And silence fell between us.
He left me free; and, looking in his face,
I saw that I had hurt him to the quick.
O heart of me! my punishment is heavy.
Make it not heavier than my soul can bear;
Be generous, God,—not just!
* * * * *
She’s mine! And yet she is not mine!
I dare not touch her with my hand.
My wife! and yet no more to me
Than any stranger in the land!
ALONE WITH THE NIGHT.
Ye shame me with such beauty, placid skies,
Cloud-broidered and thick-set with holy stars!
I turn away my hungry, tearless eyes.
Ah! how ye shame the human’s ﬂeshy wars,
And spirits chaﬁng behind prison bars.
I dare not shake this silence with vain cries,
Nor brave thee, Nature! in thy vestal worth.
Shrinking, disﬁgured, guilty soul, stand forth!
—If so thou canst amid these sinless things,—
Forget thy ruined Paradise on earth
To list the song God’s ﬁrst created sings.
But lovely art thou yet, thou glad, green world!
O winds, with music-laden, odorous wings,
I scarce dare weight ye with these utterings!
Thou, my crushed heart—not altogether vile
Since such strange pain sweeps o’er thy quivering strings,
Since thus responsive to the plea she brings,
Thou meetest Nature’s messages half-way—
Though all around thee lie the shadows gray,
Though sunk in night the gleam of life’s young day,
Canst thou not burst and cast thy bonds away?
’Tis terrible,—the life that we are leading,
And I begin to fear him. . . .
He grows so jealous, moody, and suspicious,
As if the very heart were changed within him.
All day I go the round that ’customed feet
Have shaped and hardened so,
I read, in brightening eyes, how life is sweet
When love’s June roses blow.
With quiet hands I do my daily task,
And wonder at this calm;
And wonder if the peace I dared to ask
Comes dipped in Lethe’s balm.
Till some chance word, some faintest memory-ﬂash,
Brings one forbidden face.
The past, the present,—how they war and clash!
One’s pain, one’s tender grace!
I can keep down the swelling of my tears
Through all the busy day;
But then the bitter nights!—to think for years
I may not put away.
This face, which, ﬁnding not, my longing eyes
Seek in each crowded street;
Low welcomes, of which memories arise,
I spring no more to greet.
How shall I live? It haunts me everywhere,—
This face,—and yet “No more!”
Is written on the future, foul or fair,
And hope, not love, is o’er!
I can no longer bear it,—I will speak
And tell him all to-night, though he should
If she had not found him so cruelly cold and so narrow,
And if, when she laid her white cheek on his shoulder and shivered,
He had not burst out with a gibe, which went home to her heart like an arrow,
Who knows but from all that came after they had been delivered?
But he knew that her heart was not his, and he had a suspicion
That she meant to make duty stand forth in the place of true loving;
And her kindness was worse unto him than its total omission,
Since he made it avail him his doubts of her fealty in proving.
I did not dare to tell him, after all.
For the ﬁrst time, he cruelly repulsed me.
Default of kindness, my weak lips were sealed;
I went unshrived unto my lonely pillow.
I meant to tell him all, and ask his counsel,—
Leave him the right to judge and sentence me.
It is not to be! I feel it is not to be!
I have made a path, but cannot walk in it.
Nor will I vex myself with longer trying.
I wrong all three by this deceitful silence,
Will make all three unhappy if I carry
The falsehood further. He will grow to hate me.
Worse could not be. So I must dare to leave him.
A WOMAN’S HEART.
Chief contradiction of all contradictions
A woman’s heart!
In the same breath she saith “Cleave unto me!”
And then “Depart!”
And when the words are said that send you from her,
With what a start
The poor, fond thing revokes her “Nay!” to nestle
Upon your heart!
Come back! come back! for the light went out
When thine eyes looked away from my own!
Grieved and weary, I wander about,
So tired of being alone,
So faint and friendless, away from thy side,—
Come, dearest, and take my hand;
Forget that its clasp was ever denied
To the tenderest one in the land.
Come back! come back! with the spring’s sweet prime
With the birds from over the sea;
For I turn mine eyes from the sunlit time
And my ears from its melody.
For my soul, in its need, cries out for a day
Ere my heart fell away from thine,—
Cries out for the cup that I pushed away,
Spilling its golden wine!
Come! and thy look shall kindle again
The faded ﬂush of my cheek,—
Come! and read in my eyes the pain
That my lips are too proud to speak,—
Come! for my heart at thy mercy lies,
Stabbed with a yearning wild
All for thee! and for thee it cries
Like a poor little frightened child!
And having made my mind up to the worst,
I found my heart was lightened of its load.
“It will be terrible for him at ﬁrst;
But he will see the utter hopelessness
Of any good from such a tie as ours,—
Nay more, that I should sin and he would sin
In living together, seeing that I love
And am beloved of another man.
I will acknowledge all my wickedness—
For weakness is a sin in such a case—
In that I let myself be overborne
By worldly counsels and belied my heart.
I will be patient, speak he ne’er so harshly—
For I deserve the bitterest rebukes,—
But I will sin no further. I will break
From this unholy tie at any cost,
Even though he curse me for it. Well I know
That scandal will be busy with my name,
And all my summer friends will quit my side,
And my poor mother!—that hurts worst of all!
But I must bear it, since I do deserve it.
And I will go away and hide myself,
And let the world forget me. By and by
We two may come together, and then life
Will just begin for me. I cannot think
That this is wrong, because we love each other;
Only ’tis hard that three must suffer ﬁrst,
The guiltless with the guilty, all because
Of my wrong-doing.”
Thus I planned the future.
My heart! why wilt thou be so sad?
Have we not had our ﬁll of sorrow?
Can I not bribe thee to be glad,
Or think a little of to-morrow?
BECAUSE OF A LETTER.
“Darling!” he wrote,—and then before his eyes
There came a sweet and gracious woman’s face,
And in his ears a voice whose low replies
Were all denials one while in the past.
But when we love how can resistance last?
And when we love we will not any more
Give heed to things that moved us much before.
So he wrote “Darling,” and perhaps he kissed
That little word for lack of kissing her
Upon the gentle hand, which his so missed,
And on the mouth that waited ripe for him,
And on the eyes, sweet, though with weeping dim,—
And had no presage of those other eyes
Which should the letter on its way surprise.
Ah, little herb, with which Titania’s lids
By spiteful Oberon were rubbed so well!
When lovers love, and all the world forbids,
What wicked fairy culls you for their bane,
Making them blind to all the world’s disdain,
Letting them see but one another’s faces,
And only those in very crowded places?
And while his soul was full of hate,
And while his brow was dark with wrath,
He lifted up his eyes and saw
His rival standing in his path.
And maddened at the radiant face,
And at the calm, triumphant air,—
To think the very man she loved
Should dare to stand before him there!
The devil that hides in the heart of every man
Leaped suddenly out of its hiding-place in his.
And then, in the breadth of a little moment’s span,—
For it takes no longer to kill than it takes to kiss,—
The thing was done that never can be undone:
One was standing up and the other lying stark;
And a woman, sitting and musing in the sun,
For a moment wondered the day should turn so dark!
PRODUCED IN COURT.
But now I wonder if this man who wrote
Could have foreseen the things that were to come,
Would not the heart within his breast have smote
So sore upon him that this faded note
Had never left his hand beyond recall,
Fixing the fate of three for once and all?
Would he have said, “Ah, love so fair and sweet!
Die now. ’Tis better thou shouldst die than I.
’Tis better thou shouldst die than she should live
To beg of death what life no more could give”?
Would he have tossed this letter in the ﬁre,
And turned the key on passionate desire?
Or, standing up, have faced the worst and said,
“Through all annoys I go to make her mine.
I’d rather she would kiss me, when I’m dead,
And plant pale-hearted roses o’er my head,
Than live to pass me on the other side.
Life is too cheap if heart’s bread be denied!”
What is impossible to him who loves?
Nothing but this,—to force Amen from God.
And not the faith for which the mountain moves
Can thrust effect out of its natural grooves.
If love could put all life in one strong kiss,
It could not cure one little wound like his!
UNTO THIS LAST.
Have I not borne
The trials of an adverse fortune well,
Giving no sign by which strange eyes might tell
Of the sore heart within?
Have I not seen
The hands that should have helped me turned away,
Leaving me, sole, to bear this bitter day
In my own strength alone?
My failing hand
From the sweetest aims of life had loosed its hold;
Peace left me as I grasped her garment’s fold,
And came not back again.
Not this! not this!
Why leave me for me this last drop in the cup,
So deathly that I cannot drink it up
Without a quivering lip?
This proud, high heart is bare before thee now!
Low in the dust I lay my deﬁant brow.
I did not know of this!
I’m conquered now!
The waves go over my defenceless head,
My vaunted strength is gone, and in its stead
Sitteth a white despair.
Life is so dead!
And the Hereafter, all untried and new,
So tempts me now, that all I want to do
Is to hide myself and die.
Look on me, Thou!
To whom I turn a still and tearless face.
I have no prayer to move thee in thy place,
But—thou art Just!
OUT OF TUNE.
O, bear with me, for I am mad!
I cannot look upon the skies,
I hate the looks of friendly eyes.
What awful things doth God devise,
In spite of all our piteous cries!
I cannot tell the night from day,
I know not good apart from bad,
I know not what is sad or glad,
Nor if a wish I ever had.
Forgive me, God! I’m worse than mad!
Forgive! I know that I, myself,
Am the sole cause of all my pain.
Have pity on my broken heart,
Have pity on my wretched brain!
It crisps, like deserts void of rain,—
I think I ne’er shall weep again.
Forgive! Have pity on my pain!
There is no sweetening for the lonely lips
In thoughts long past kisses; no delight
In tracing out a face forever vanished
Upon the sombre canvas of the night!
A LATER MOOD.
The sheep are sheltered in the fold,
The mists are marshalled on the hill,
The squirrel watches from his lair,
And every living thing is still;
The ﬁelds are gray with Immortelles!
The river, like a sluggish snake,
Creeps o’er the brown and bristly plain;
I hear the swinging of the pines
Betwixt the pauses of rain
Down-dripping on the Immortelles!
And think of faces, slimy cold,
That ﬂinch not under falling tears;
Meek-mouthed and heavy-lidded, and
With sleek hair put behind the ears,
And crowned with scentless Immortelles!
The partridge hath forgot her nest
Among the stubble by the rill.
In vain the lances of the frost
Seek for some tender thing to kill;
They cannot hurt the Immortelles!
Sad empress of the stony fell!
Gray stoic of the blasted heath!
Dullest of ﬂowers that ever bloomed,
And yet triumphant over death,
O weird and winged Immortelle!
Lie lightly upon Nature’s breast,
And cover up her altered face,
Lest we should shiver when we see
The brightness of its vernal grace
Grown grayer than the Immortelles!
The wind cries in the reedy marsh,
And wanders, sobbing, through the dell;
Poor, broken-hearted lover, he
For violets ﬁnds the Immortelle!
The Immortelle! The Immortelle!
You say that the sun is shining,
That buds are upon the trees,
That you hear the laugh of the waters,
The humming of early bees:
I am pleasured by none of these,—
I am weary!
Let me alone! The silence
Is sweeter than song to me!
Dearer than the Light is Darkness
To the eyes that loathe to see!
’Tis better to let me be,—
I am weary!
I have faltered and fallen,—
The race was but begun;
I am ashamed, and I murmur,
“O that the day were done!”
How can I love the sun,
Who am weary?
What will you do for the ﬂower
That is cut away at the root?
If the wing of the bird be broken,
What wonder the bird is mute?
O, peace! and no more dispute,—
I am weary!
I will give you a token,—
A token by which to know
When I have forgotten the trouble,—
The trouble that tires me so
That I can no farther go,
When you shall come some morning
And stand beside my bed,
And see the wonderful pallor
That over my face is spread,
Shrink not. But remember I said
I was weary.
Then you shall search my features,
But a trace you shall not see
Of all these months of sadness
That have put their mark on me;
Then know that I am free,
Who was weary.
For the Old must fall and crumble
Before we can try the New;
We must taste that the False is bitter
Before we can crave the True.
This done, there’s no more to do,
Only to droop the eyelids,
Only to bow the head,
And to pass from those who are sighing,
“Alas! for our friend is dead!”
But remember how I said,
“I am weary!”
Could I help smiling? It was May.
I saw a snow-drift in the meadow;
Late Spring was minded so to play
At Winter; but there fell a shadow,
That was not born of gloom and sun,
Upon the greenness at my side.
I felt a shiver through me run.
And all the gladness in me died.
Pale wind-ﬂowers trembling in the grass,
Each like an early blighted maiden,
Provoked regards no more, alas!
Since woodbines were all honey-laden.
The crocus withered on its stem,—
“But Summer shall supplant the Spring,
And tulips lord it over them—”
Was that the shadow of a wing?
I rose and crept across the place
Where I could smell the snow of ﬂowers;
Its ﬂakes were blown about my face
In sudden and delicious showers.
A-cold in May? My very lips
Were chill, in spite of song and shine.
I saw the shadow’s slow eclipse
Creep up again: it was not mine!
But still I soothed myself in thought:
“My May is tarnished; well what matter?
The fancies that my fears have wrought
The blessed winds of June shall scatter.”
I saw a red rose half apart;
“And when her nun-like sister blows?”—
Alas! the anguish of my heart
Before I saw the ﬁrst white rose!
I heard the robins in their nests;
I saw the blue gleam of the river;
Gruff humble-bees in yellow vests
Made all the apple-blossoms quiver.
A broken lily in the way
Was crushed beneath my careless foot.
“Thy hope,” a whisper seemed to say,
“Is like a ﬂower without a root!”
What matters it, this June, that red
And white rose-buds have burst asunder,
Since one is sad and one is dead?
How did my heart divine, I wonder?
Ah, shadows! shadows everywhere!
But then his grave is in the sun,—
Only, when I am crouching there,
It almost seems that I am one!
My ﬂesh is weary; but the way
Lies nearer to the vales of Rest,
And slowly, slowly creeps the day
Down to the threshold of the West.
Dear Father! if thy love should send
Some angel, full of pity sweet,
To nerve me for the coming end,
He’ll track me by my bleeding feet.
I think, O Father!—though my sight
Discern no sign of help around,—
Thou wilt not hold my striving light,
Nor give me any needless wound.
Thou wilt not blame the trusting heart
That witless, blindly reaching out,
No blossom from its thorn could part,
When thorns were set with ﬂowers about.
Thou ’lt lead me from this evening land,
And with a morning crown my night,
What time my victor soul shall stand
Erect, transﬁgured in thy sight!
Only lay your hand in blessing
Kindly on my stricken head;
Kiss my weary eyes and forehead
And the lips to sorrow wed.
So—I ask no more, sweet mother!
With my face upon your breast;
If I slumber, do not wake me,—
I am weary and would rest.
And I’ll tell you where to lay me,
When I’m fallen sound asleep,
That my rest may be untroubled,
Long and dreamless, still and deep,—
Where the maiden violets waken
To the kisses of the rain,
Bear me, in the dawning spring-time,
The freed prisoner of pain!
Where the young moss looks the greenest,
And the trees stand thick and tall,
And you hear the murmurous music
Of a hidden waterfall.
For I think I shall sleep sweetest
In the old woods, cool and dim;
Nature’s being blending round me
In one grand, perpetual hymn.
When upon my careworn forehead
Rests the seal of endless peace,
And my mute lips smile in blessing
For this day of glad release,—
When I’m lying, with drooped eyelids,
Heedless of the morning beam
Lighting up my lifeless tresses
Strangely, with its living gleam,—
Then remember but my sorrow,
And my strong, exceeding love;
How with ﬁery pride and passion
Long my woman’s nature strove.
Though I yielded, think how deeply
Late repentance pained my soul,
When the love I sought to stiﬂe
Would not bow to my control.
O, forget my faults, sweet mother!
Let all bitter memories go;
Thinking, with a Christ-like mercy,
How I loved and suffered so
That my passionate heart was broken
By a lot so incomplete;
How without him life grew bitter,
Till, to reach him, Death grew sweet!
A woman’s voice,
So weak it makes you think of graves, is singing:
Some hearts that are too warm, too wild,
Must needs be broken for their good;
Not till the artist’s work is done
Is the design well understood.
And suffering sublimes the soul;
So perfect peace will come at last,
And I shall know God’s kind intent
When these sharp pains are overpast!
And as for me, let all souls know my creed:
One God, one love, both strangers to betrayal,—
One sovereign heart which pities the mistakes
Of weaker hearts, and what they suffer here,
And does not stamp the petty frowns of Time
On the grand forehead of Eternity.
One God, one love, for this world and the next!
If He should will it so, one happy love;
If we should mar our fates, yet still one love—
Though one unhappy love—that knows no change,
No questioning, no doubting to the end;
Till two twin souls be free to lose themselves
Each in the other, in such natural wise,
Their guardian angels, even, shall not be able
To separate and name them!
Because I do believe, with all my strength,
That God will never wholly put asunder
Two souls that truly love,—that count not death,
Nor pain, nor shame, nor loss of worldly good,
As anything in face of that great need
Which draws them toward each other.
They may sin, and so put love to shame;
And if they sin, I know that they must suffer;
Suffering, if love stays with them, they are puriﬁed.
And though God may divide them in this world,
If they keep faithful, God himself is for them,
Since He is love. And if they are but patient
I know that He will mate them in that future
Where every atom ﬁnds its proper place
Because of sheer attraction!
* Numerous segments of this poem were also published separately in periodicals like Galaxy, Atlantic, Appleton’s Journal, Hearth and Home, and Harper’s.