A Wall Between: A Dying Woman Speaks

THEN, do I doubt? Not so.
Though the stars wander without any Guide
Out there in loneliest dark, almost I know
I do believe that He was crucified.
And risen and ascended to
The heavens? O priest, I do.
Still, you were kind to come. Only to tell me, then, that I must die?
I knew as much. Ah me ! the mouth was dumb
That told me first (let by-gone things go by),—
The young sad mouth without a breath.
Yes, I believe in death.
It is a vain world ? Oh,
It is a goodly world, — a world wherein
We hear the doves (that moan?) — the winds (that blow
The buds away?) It is a world of sin,
And therefore sorrow?— Was it, then,
Fashioned and formed of men?
Oh, call it what you will !
Light, hollow, brief, and bitter? Yes, I know.
With cruel seas and sands? Yes, yes, and still―
And fire and famine following where we go?
And still I leave it at my feet,
Moaning, “ The world is sweet.”
Why, it was here that I
Had youth and all that only youth can bring.
Fair sir, if you would help a woman die,
Show me a glass. There! that one look will wring
My heart, I think, out of its place; —
The earth may take my face.
Think of the blessèd skies?
If in the cheek one have no rose to wear,
If nights all full of tears have changed the eyes,—
Why, would one be immortal and not fair?
With faded hair, one would not quite
Contrast an aureole’s light.
You talk of things unseen
With all the pretty arrogance of a boy.
Why, one could laugh at what you think you mean.
You see the bud upon the bough with joy,
You look through summer toward the fruit―
The worm is at the root?
Well — if it is. You see,
Your feet are set among our pleasant dews;
Therefore, that crown of phantom stars for me,
In distance most divine, you kindly choose,
Content to leave your own unwon,
And shine here with the sun.
Hush! Wait! Somehow—I know.
You do remind me tenderly of — yes,
Of him, your kinsman (long, so long ago),
But for these sacred garments. I confess,
O father, I cannot forget
The world where he stays yet!
Quick! will you look away?
Too cruelly like him in the dusk you grow,—
This awful dusk that ends it all, I say.
You pity us when we are young, you know,
And lose a lover. Surely then
There may be other men.
But when the hand we bind
So that it cannot reach out anywhere,
Then find, or, sadder, fancy that we find,
The ring is not true gold, you do not care; —
These tragedies writ in wedding rings
Are common, tiresome things.
On earth there was one man —
There were no men. They all had faded through
His shadow. Surely, where our grief began,
In that old garden, he, that one of two,
Looked not to Eve before the fall,
So much the lord of all.
And yet he said―I crave
Your patience. I will not forget to die.
And there is no remembrance in the grave.
That comforts one. Better it is to lie
Not knowing thistles grow above,
Than to remember love.
Then tell him, priest, if he―
Tell him, I pray you, this — ah, yet he said―
Then only tell him — nothing sweet for me.
Tell him I have not tasted once his bread
Since then. Tell him I die too proud
To take of him a shroud.
Ask him if I forgot
One household care. If I, in such poor ways
As I could know, through piteous things have not
Tried still to please him, lo, these many days —
Ah, bitter task, self-set and vain.
... I hear the wind and rain.
I have not seen his face
Since then. We lived a wall apart, we two,
While dark and void between us was all space.
Sometimes I hid, and watched his shadow through
Too Wistful eyes, as it would pass,
Ghost-like, from off the grass.
Tell him beneath his roof
I felt I had not where to lay my head,
Yet could not dare the saintly world’s reproof,
And withered under my own scorn instead;
Still whispering, “For the children’s sake,”
I let my slow heart break.
The children? Let them sleep —
To waken motherless. Could I put by
Their arms, and lie like snow, and have them weep,
With my own eyes so empty and so dry?
I’ve left some pretty things, you see,
To comfort them for me, —
Sweet dresses, curious toys―
But, after all, what will the baby do?
. . . Hush! Here he is, waked by the wind’s wild noise.
Let mamma count the dimples, one and two.
Whose baby has the goldest head ?
I dreamed once he was dead.
Dead, and for many a year? —
Can a dead baby laugh and babble so?
Do you not see me kiss and kiss him here,
And hold death from me still to kiss him? No.
Yet I did dream white blossoms grew―
Do cruel dreams come true?
... As the tree falls, one says,
So shall it lie. It falls, remembering
The sun and stillness of its leaf-green days,
The moons it held, the nested bird’s warm wing,
The promise of the buds it wore,
The fruit it never bore.
So―take my cross, and go.
Where my Lord Christ descended I descend.
Shall I ascend like Him? — I do not know.
I loved the world ; the world is at an end.
Therefore, I pray you, shut your book,
And take away that look.
That look — of his! You stay.
Then, say I loved him bitterly to the last!
Who loves one sweetly loves not much, I say.
Love’s blush by moonlight will fade out full fast.
Love’s lightning scar at least we keep.
Now, let me —go to sleep.
― His voice, too, in disguise!
It is―in pity, no! Yes, it is he.
With tears of memory in his steadfast eyes.
Mock-priest, how sharply you have shriven me!
Your cousin’s righteous robes―I fear
You had somewhat to hear.
Ah? ― Had you said but this
A year ago. Now, let my chill hand fall;
It gives you back your youth. But you will miss
My shadow from your sunshine. That is all.
Yet — if some lovelier life should dawn
And I should love you on ?