“ SYLVIA!” , The happy face looked up
With love’s unvoiced reply ;
Beneath his, deep light brimmed her eye,
As a blue blossom fills its cup
From fulness of the sky.
Sylvia ! It was her wedding-day :
Her story seemed complete.
No voice had made her name so sweet
Along the rustic maiden’s way, —
So rhythmic to repeat.
The sylvan, quaint, romantic name
Had drifted to her door
From the Atlantic’s eastern shore,
Where some ancestral English dame
Its style Arcadian wore.
But here it breathed of rose and fern,
And salt winds of Cape Ann ;
Of timid wild-flowers hid from man
Behind the gray cliffs’ barrier stern,
In woods where shy streams ran.
And they twain wandered in a wood
By vague sea-whisperings swept ;
To soul, through sense, fine odors crept;
Within the northern air, the mood
Of tropic sunshine slept.
’Mid sassafras and wintergreen,
Elder and meadow-rue,
In dazzling bridal-raiment new,—
Glorious in exile as a queen,—
The white magnolia grew.
“ Sylvia ! my own magnolia-flower ! ”
The proud young husband said.
With creamy buds he crowned her head ;
And Sylvia smiled, and blessed the hour
Of summer she was wed.
The years went on, and Sylvia grew
Pale at her work, and thin.
The pair no green woods wandered in ;
Cold through the corn the north-wind blew;
Their bread was hard to win.
Furrowed his brow became, and stern,
As his own farm-lands rough.
He called her “ Wife ! ” in accents gruff.
Why should she for her girl-name yearn ?
Was she not his ? Enough.
Enough! — enough to fill the bound
Of woman’s heart is he
Who leaves no heaven-growth in her free ?
Who guards not for her what he found
Her life of life to be ?
The tired wife’s woodland name to her
Gospels of freedom meant.
And he with every dream was blent;
His “ Sylvia ! ” in her soul could stir
Long ripples of content.
But now, for dreary weeks and years,
Her name he never spoke.
Into no storm her dull dawns broke ;
Life was not sad enough for tears ;
Her heart more slowly broke.
Sometimes, deep in an oaken chest
With ample linen filled,
The touch of a dead blossom thrilled
Into blind pain sweet thoughts repressed,
And in long silence chilled ;
Again the rich magnolia breathed
Through the New England air
Its hint of Southern summers rare ;
Again her head the warm buds wreathed ;
Her bridegroom twined them there.
She shut the chest: she would not think
Her life the dry pressed flower
She knew it was. Yet hour on hour
More stifling grew; and lock and link
Crushed down with steadier power.
He boasted of her skilful hands,
Her quick, unresting feet.
“ No woman like my wife I meet;
On all the Cape none understands
How to make home so neat.”
She, proud to be her husband’s pride,
For bread received a stone.
Love lives not by such bread alone ;
And hungry longings woke and cried
For better things unknown.
Only by toil the wife could keep
Her girl-heart’s clamor down.
Care’s ashes all her tresses brown
Sprinkled with gray. An early sleep
Came death, life’s ache to drown.
When, by the blank around, he knew
What she had been to him,
And, in remorseful guesses dim,
Measured the joy she failed of, too,
Thought bittered, to its brim.
He sought the sea-washed woods, where tall
Black pines at noon made night.
The flowers stood still in lovely light :
He seemed to hear his dead bride call
From every blossom white.
The warm-breathed, fresh magnolia-bloom
In hands that never stirred
He laid, with one beseeching word —
“Sylvia!” — that pierced the death-dimmed room:
Her soul smiled back : she heard !
Lucy Larcom.