Behind the Mask

IT was an old, distorted face,—
An uncouth visage, rough and wild;
Yet from behind, with laughing grace,
Peeped the fresh beauty of a child.
And so contrasting, fair and bright,
It made me of my fancy ask
It half earth’s wrinkled grimness might
Be but the baby in the mask.
Behind gray hairs and furrowed brow
And withered look that life puts on,
Each, as he wears it, comes to know
How the child hides, and is not gone.
For, while the inexorable years
To saddened features fit their mould,
Beneath the work of time and tears
Waits something that will not grow old !
And pain and petulance and care
And wasted hope and sinful stain
Shape the strange guise the soul doth wear,
Till her young life look forth again.
The beauty of his boyhood’s smile,—
What human faith could find it now
In yonder man of grief and guile,—
A very Cain, with branded brow ?
Yet, overlaid and hidden, still
It lingers,—of his life a part;
As the scathed pine upon the hill
Holds the young fibres at its heart.
And, haply, round the Eternal Throne,
Heaven’s pitying angels shall not ask
For that last look the world hath known,
But for the face behind the mask !