Meeting And Parting

When from the tower, like some sweet flower,
The bell drops petals of the hour,
That says the world is homing,
My heart puts off its garb of care
And clothes itself in gold and vair,
And hurries forth to meet her there
Within the purple gloaming.

It's Oh! how slow the hours go,
How dull the moments move!
Till soft and clear the bells I hear,
That say, like music, in my ear,
'Go meet the one you love.'

When curved and white, a bugle bright,
The moon blows glamour through the night,
That sets the world a-dreaming,
My heart, where gladness late was guest,
Puts off its joy, as to my breast
At parting her dear form is pressed,
Within the moon's faint gleaming.

It's Oh! how fast the hours passed!
They were not slow enough!
Too soon, too soon, the sinking moon
Says to my soul, like some sad tune,
'Come! part from her you love.'

March set heel upon the flowers,
Trod and trampled them for hours:
But when April's bugles rang,
Up their starry legions sprang,
Radiant in the sun-shot showers.

April went her frolic ways,
Arm in arm with happy days:
Then from hills that rim the west,
Bare of head and bare of breast,
May, the maiden, showed her face.

Then, it seemed, again returned
March, the iron-heeled, who turned
From his northward path and caught
May about the waist, who fought
And his fierce advances spurned.

What her strength and her disdain
To the madness in his brain!
He must kiss her though he kill;
Then, when he had had his will,
Go his roaring way again.

Icy grew her finger-tips,
And the wild-rose of her lips
Paled with frost: then loud he laughed,
Left her, like a moonbeam-shaft,
Shattered, where the forest drips....

Mourn for her, O honey-bees!
Mourn, O buds upon the trees!
Birds and blossoms, mourn for May!
Mourn for her, then come away!
Leave her where her flowers freeze.

Leave her. Nothing more may save.
Leave her in her wildwood grave.
Nothing now will waken her,
Loved and lost, and lovelier
For the kiss that wild March gave.

She passed the thorn-trees, whose gaunt branches tossed
Their spider-shadows round her; and the breeze,
Beneath the ashen moon, was full of frost,
And mouthed and mumbled to the sickly trees,
Like some starved hag who sees her children freeze.

Dry-eyed she waited by the sycamore.
Some stars made misty blotches in the sky.
And all the wretched willows on the shore
Looked faded as a jaundiced cheek or eye.
She felt their pity and could only sigh.

And then his skiff ground on the river rocks.
Whistling he came into the shadow made
By that dead tree. He kissed her dark brown locks;
And round her form his eager arms were laid.
Passive she stood, her secret unbetrayed.

And then she spoke, while still his greeting kiss
Ached in her hair. She did not dare to lift
Her eyes to his-her anguished eyes to his,
While tears smote crystal in her throat. One rift
Of weakness humored might set all adrift.

Fields over which a path, overwhelmed with burrs
And ragweeds, noisy with the grasshoppers,
Leads,-lost, irresolute as paths the cows
Wear through the woods,-unto a woodshed; then,
With wrecks of windows, to a huddled house,
Where men have murdered men.

A house, whose tottering chimney, clay and rock,
Is seamed and crannied; whose lame door and lock
Are bullet-bored; around which, there and here,
Are sinister stains.-One dreads to look around.-
The place seems thinking of that time of fear
And dares not breathe a sound.

Within is emptiness: The sunlight falls
On faded journals papering the walls;
On advertisement chromos, torn with time,
Around a hearth where wasps and spiders build.-
The house is dead: meseems that night of crime
It, too, was shot and killed.

Oh, roses, roses everywhere but only one for me!
But one wild-rose for me, my boy, your face that's like the morn's;
My rose of roses, dear my lad, my dark-eyed Romany;
The world may keep its roses now, that gave me only thorns.

Oh, song and singing everywhere; the woods are wild with song:
One simple song I knew, my lad, you crooned it in my ears;
It cheered my way by night and day; but, oh, the way was long!
And all the hard world gave to me was evil words and sneers.

Oh, song and blossoms everywhere and nature full of love:
But one sweet look of love was mine, and that you gave, my joy:
A look of love, a look of trust they helped my heart enough;
They helped me bear the look of scorn, the world's black look, my boy.

Oh, spring and love are everywhere; soft breezes kiss and woo:
Your kiss was all I had, my son, to ease me of my woe:
But, oh, it helped me far, dear heart; how far I only knew:
But otherwise nor kiss nor smile, but only curse and blow.

But now I'm going to die, my boy; and now I'm going to rest;
The road was long, and tired am I; and only you will care:
Give me a kiss, O boy I bore! I did what I thought best:
But it was bad for me, my lad; O boy whom I did bear!

'Your father?' Ask me not of him! He was a tramp, a thief:
And I I was a country girl a wayward, so they say,
They kept too strict, perhaps, you see; and he, he brought relief:
I went with him, a woman tramp, and here I am to-day.

My dream of bliss was brief, ah me! Wild spring had played its part,
A vagabond part in vagabond blood that mates with any kind.
I woke one morn upon the straw with you upon my heart
The man was gone, my all was gone, and shame was left behind.

Since then I've tramped the road, my lad, and faced the rain and sun;
In snow and sleet I've trudged and begged, with you hugged in my arms:
Oh, few would give a wanton work, or kindly word, dear one!
A baby at her breast, you see they drove me from their farms.

Now you are big and strong, my boy; and you are twelve years young;
Oh, grasp your chance, when I am gone, and leave the past behind:
Perhaps by you, as 'tis your due, some fortune may be wrung
From what I missed in life and love, some good luck of some kind.

Now I am going to die, my boy; just lean me 'gainst that tree,
And dig my grave and lay me in and make no more delay;
Cut all the wildflowers down around, and throw them there, you see,
And bring a thorn and plant it here when I am laid away.

Perhaps you'll come again some day when you are big and grown,
And have a wife and boy yourself but do not let them know!
They might not understand it, lad; so you must come alone
And tell your mother how it goes, the one who loved you so.

'Tis birds and blossoms everywhere; and now, how strange! I see
How life and love are smiling down, O face that's like the morn's!
Come! lay me in my gipsy grave you dug beneath the tree,
Away from all the roses there and deep among the thorns.

The Black Knight

I had not found the road too short,
As once I had in days of youth,
In that old forest of long ruth,
Where my young knighthood broke its heart,
Ere love and it had come to part,
And lies made mockery of truth.
I had not found the road too short.

A blind man, by the nightmare way,
Had set me right when I was wrong.-
I had been blind my whole life long-
What wonder then that on this day
The blind should show me how astray
My strength had gone, my heart once strong.
A blind man pointed me the way.

The road had been a heartbreak one,
Of roots and rocks and tortured trees,
And pools, above my horse's knees,
And wandering paths, where spiders spun
'Twixt boughs that never saw the sun,
And silence of lost centuries.
The road had been a heartbreak one.

It seemed long years since that black hour
When she had fled, and I took horse
To follow, and without remorse
To slay her and her paramour
In that old keep, that ruined tower,
From whence was borne her father's corse.
It seemed long years since that black hour.

And now my horse was starved and spent,
My gallant destrier, old and spare;
The vile road's mire in mane and hair,
I felt him totter as he went:-
Such hungry woods were never meant
For pasture: hate had reaped them bare.
Aye, my poor beast was old and spent.

I too had naught to stay me with;
And like my horse was starved and lean;
My armor gone; my raiment mean;
Bare-haired I rode; uneasy sith
The way I'd lost, and some dark myth
Far in the woods had laughed obscene.
I had had naught to stay me with.

Then I dismounted. Better so.
And found that blind man at my rein.
And there the path stretched straight and plain.
I saw at once the way to go.
The forest road I used to know
In days when life had less of pain.
Then I dismounted. Better so.

I had but little time to spare,
Since evening now was drawing near;
And then I thought I saw a sneer
Enter into that blind man's stare:
And suddenly a thought leapt bare,-
What if the Fiend had set him here!-
I still might smite him or might spare.

I braced my sword: then turned to look:
For I had heard an evil laugh:
The blind man, leaning on his staff,
Still stood there where my leave I took:
What! did he mock me? Would I brook
A blind fool's scorn?-My sword was half
Out of its sheath. I turned to look:

And he was gone. And to my side
My horse came nickering as afraid.
Did he too fear to be betrayed?-
What use for him? I might not ride.
So to a great bough there I tied,
And left him in the forest glade:
My spear and shield I left beside.

My sword was all I needed there.
It would suffice to right my wrongs;
To cut the knot of all those thongs
With which she'd bound me to despair,
That woman with her midnight hair,
Her Circe snares and Siren songs.
My sword was all I needed there.

And then that laugh again I heard,
Evil as Hell and darkness are.
It shook my heart behind its bar
Of purpose, like some ghastly word.
But then it may have been a bird,
An owlet in the forest far,
A raven, croaking, that I heard.

I loosed my sword within its sheath;
My sword, disuse and dews of night
Had fouled with rust and iron-blight.
I seemed to hear the forest breathe
A menace at me through its teeth
Of thorns 'mid which the way lay white.
I loosed my sword within its sheath.

I had not noticed until now
The sun was gone, and gray the moon
Hung staring; pale as marble hewn;-
Like some old malice, bleak of brow,
It glared at me through leaf and bough,
With which the tattered way was strewn.
I had not noticed until now.

And then, all unexpected, vast
Above the tops of ragged pines
I saw a ruin, dark with vines,
Against the blood-red sunset massed:
My perilous tower of the past,
Round which the woods thrust giant spines.
I never knew it was so vast.

Long while I stood considering.-
This was the place and this the night.
The blind man then had set me right.
Here she had come for sheltering.
That ruin held her: that dark wing
Which flashed a momentary light.
Some time I stood considering.

Deep darkness fell. The somber glare
Of sunset, that made cavernous eyes
Of those gaunt casements 'gainst the skies,
Had burnt to ashes everywhere.
Before my feet there rose a stair
Of oozy stone, of giant size,
On which the gray moon flung its glare.

Then I went forward, sword in hand,
Until the slimy causeway loomed,
And huge beyond it yawned and gloomed
The gateway where one seemed to stand,
In armor, like a burning brand,
Sword-drawn; his visor barred and plumed.
And I went toward him, sword in hand.

He should not stay revenge from me.
Whatever lord or knight he were,
He should not keep me long from her,
That woman dyed in infamy.
No matter. God or devil he,
His sword should prove no barrier.-
Fool! who would keep revenge from me!

And then I heard, harsh over all,
That demon laughter, filled with scorn:
It woke the echoes, wild, forlorn,
Dark in the ivy of that wall,
As when, within a mighty hall,
One blows a giant battle-horn.
Loud, loud that laugh rang over all.

And then I struck him where he towered:
I struck him, struck with all my hate:
Black-plumed he loomed before the gate:
I struck, and found his sword that showered
Fierce flame on mine while black he glowered
Behind his visor's wolfish grate.
I struck; and taller still he towered.

A year meseemed we battled there:
A year; ten years; a century:
My blade was snapped; his lay in three:
His mail was hewn; and everywhere
Was blood; it streaked my face and hair;
And still he towered over me.
A year meseemed we battled there.

'Unmask!' I cried. 'Yea, doff thy casque!
Put up thy visor! fight me fair!
I have no mail; my head is bare!
Take off thy helm, is all I ask!
Why dost thou hide thy face?-Unmask!'-
My eyes were blind with blood and hair,
And still I cried, 'Take off thy casque!'

And then once more that laugh rang out
Like madness in the caves of Hell:
It hooted like some monster well,
The haunt of owls, or some mad rout
Of witches. And with battle shout
Once more upon that knight I fell,
While wild again that laugh rang out.

Like Death's own eyes his glared in mine,
As with the fragment of my blade
I smote him helmwise; huge he swayed,
Then crashed, like some cadaverous pine,
Uncasqued, his face in full moonshine:
And I-I saw; and shrank afraid.
For, lo! behold! the face was mine.

What devil's work was here!-What jest
For fiends to laugh at, demons hiss!-
To slay myself? and so to miss
My hate's reward?-revenge confessed!-
Was this knight I?-My brain I pressed.-
Then who was he who gazed on this?-
What devil's work was here!--What jest!

It was myself on whom I gazed-
My darker self!-With fear I rose.-
I was right weak from those great blows.-
I stood bewildered, stunned and dazed,
And looked around with eyes amazed.-
I could not slay her now, God knows!-
Around me there a while I gazed.

Then turned and fled into the night,
While overhead once more I heard
That laughter, like some demon bird
Wailing in darkness.-Then a light
Made clear a woman by that knight.
I saw 'twas she, but said no word,
And silent fled into the night.