NEVER again! When first that sentence fell
From lips so loth the bitter truth to tell,
Death seemed the balance of its burdening care,
The only end of such a strange despair.
To live deformed; enfeebled; still to sigh
Through changeless days that o’er the heart go by
Colourless,–formless,–melting as they go
Into a dull and unrecorded woe,–
Why strive for gladness in such dreary shade?
Why seek to feel less cheerless, less afraid?
What recks a little more or less of gloom,
When a continual darkness is our doom?
But custom, which, to unused eyes that dwell
Long in the blankness of a prison cell,
At length shows glimmerings through some ruined hole,–
Trains to endurance the imprisoned soul;
And teaching how with deepest gloom to cope,
Bids patience light her lamp, when sets the sun of hope.
And e’en like one who sinks to brief repose
Cumbered with mournfulness from many woes;
Who, restless dreaming, full of horror sleeps,
And with a worse than waking anguish weeps,
Till in his dream some precipice appear
Which he must face, however great his fear:
Who stepping on those rocks, then feels them break
Beneath him,–and, with shrieks, leaps up awake;
And seeing but the grey unwelcome morn,
And feeling but the usual sense forlorn,
Of loss and dull remembrance of known grief,
Melts into tears that partly bring relief,
Because, though misery holds him, yet his dreams
More dreadful were than all around him seems:–
So, in the life grown real of loss and woe,
She woke to crippled days; which, sad and slow
And infinitely weary as they were,
At first, appeared less hard than fancy deemed, to bear.
But as those days rolled on, of grinding pain,
Of wild untamed regrets, and yearnings vain,
Sad Gertrude grew to weep with restless tears
For all the vanished joys of blighted years.
And most she mourned with feverish piteous pining,
When o’er the land the summer sun was shining;
And all the volumes and the missals rare,
Which Claud had gathered with a tender care,
Seemed nothing to the book of nature, spread
Around her helpless feet and weary head.
Oh! woodland paths she ne’er again may see,
Oh! tossing branches of the forest tree,
Oh! loveliest banks in all the land of France,
Glassing your shadows in the silvery Rance;
Oh! river with your swift yet quiet tide,
Specked with white sails that seem in dreams to glide;
Oh! ruddy orchards, basking on the hills,
Whose plenteous fruit the thirsty flagon fills;
And oh! ye winds, which, free and unconfined,
No sickness poisons, and no heart can bind,–
Restore her to enjoyment of the earth!
Echo again her songs of careless mirth,
Those little Breton songs so wildly sweet,
Fragments of music strange and incomplete,
Her small red mouth went warbling by the way
Through the glad roamings of her active day.
It may not be! Blighted are summer hours!
The bee goes booming through the plats of flowers,
The butterfly its tiny mate pursues
With rapid fluttering of its painted hues,
The thin-winged gnats their transient time employ
Reeling through sunbeams in a dance of joy,
The small field-mouse with wide transparent ears
Comes softly forth, and softly disappears,
The dragon-fly hangs glittering on the reed,
The spider swings across his filmy thread,
And gleaming fishes, darting to and fro,
Make restless silver in the pools below.
All these poor lives–these lives of small account,
Feel the ethereal thrill within them mount;
But the great human life,–the life Divine,–
Rests in dull torture, heavy and supine,
And the bird’s song, by Garaye’s walls of stone,
Crosses, within, the irrepressible moan!
The slow salt tears, half weakness and half grief,
That sting the eyes before they bring relief,
And which with weary lids she strives in vain
To prison back upon her aching brain,
Fall down the lady’s cheek,–her heart is breaking:
A mournful sleep is hers; a hopeless waking;
And oft, in spite of Claud’s beloved rebuke,
When first the awful wish her spirit shook,–
She dreams of DEATH,–and of that quiet shore
In the far world where eyes shall weep no more,
And where the soundless feet of angels pass,
With floating lightness o’er the sea of glass.
Nor is she sole in gloom. Claud too hath lost
His power to soothe her,–all his thoughts are tost
As in a storm of sadness: shall he speak
To her, who lies so faint, and lone, and weak,
Of pleasant walks and rides? or yet describe
The merry sayings of that careless tribe
Of friends and boon companions now unseen,–
Or the wild beauty of the forest green,–
Or daring feats and hair-breadth ‘scapes, which they
Who are not crippled, think a thing for play?
He dare not:–oft without apparent cause
He checks his speaking with a faltering pause;
Oft when she bids him, with a mournful smile,
By stories such as these the hour beguile,
And he obeys–only because she bids–
He sees the large tears welling ‘neath the lids.
Or if a moment’s gaiety return
To his young heart that scarce can yet unlearn
Its habits of delight in all things round,
And he grows eager on some subject found
In their discourse, linked with the outward world,
Till with a pleasant smile his lip is curled,–
Even with her love she smites him back to pain!
Upon his hand her tears and kisses rain;
And with a suffocated voice she cries,
‘O Claud!–the old bright days!’
And then he sighs,
And with a wistful heart makes new endeavour
To cheer or to amuse;–and so for ever,
Till in his brain the grief he tries to cheat,
A dreary mill-wheel circling seems to beat,
And drive out other thoughts–all thoughts but one:
That he and she are both alike undone,–
That better were their mutual fate, if when
That leap was taken in the fatal glen,
Both had been found, released from pain and dread,
In the rough waters of the torrent’s bed,
And greeted pitying eyes, with calm smiles of the Dead!
A spell is on the efforts each would make,
With willing spirit, for the other’s sake:
Through some new path of thought he fain would move,–
And she her languid hours would fain employ,–
But bitter grows the sweetness of their love,–
And a lament lies under all their joy.
She, watches Claud,–bending above the page;
Thinks him grown pale, and wearying with his care;
And with a sigh his promise would engage
For happy exercise and summer air:
He, watches her, as sorrowful she lies,
And thinks she dreams of woman’s hope denied;
Of the soft gladness of a young child’s eyes,
And pattering footsteps on the terrace wide,–
Where sunshine sleeps, as in a home for light,
And glittering peacocks make a rainbow show,–
But which seems sad, because that terrace bright
Must evermore remain as lone as now.
And either tries to hide the thoughts that wring
Their secret hearts; and both essay to bring
Some happy topic, some yet lingering dream,
Which they with cheerful words shall make their theme;
But fail,–and in their wistful eyes confess
All their words never own of hopelessness.
Was then DESPAIR the end of all this woe?
Far off the angel voices answer, No!
Devils despair, for they believe and tremble;
But man believes and hopes. Our griefs resemble
Each other but in this. Grief comes from Heaven;
Each thinks his own the bitterest trial given;
Each wonders at the sorrows of his lot;
His neighbour’s sufferings presently forgot,
Though wide the difference which our eyes can see
Not only in grief’s kind, but its degree.
God grants to some, all joys for their possession,
Nor loss, nor cross, the favoured mortal mourns;
While some toil on, outside those bounds of blessing,
Whose weary feet for ever tread on thorns.
But over all our tears God’s rainbow bends;
To all our cries a pitying ear He lends;
Yea, to the feeble sound of man’s lament
How often have His messengers been sent!
No barren glory circles round His throne,
By mercy’s errands were His angels known;
Where hearts were heavy, and where eyes were dim,
There did the brightness radiate from Him;
God’s pity,–clothed in an apparent form,–
Starred with a polar light the human storm,
Floated o’er tossing seas man’s sinking bark,
And for all dangers built one sheltering ark.
When a slave’s child lay dying, parched with thirst,
Till o’er the arid waste a fountain burst,–
When Abraham’s mournful hand upheld the knife
To smite the silver cord of Isaac’s life,–
When faithful Peter in his prison slept,–
When lions to the feet of Daniel crept,–
When the tried Three walked through the furnace glare,
Believing God was with them, even there,–
When to Bethesda’s sunrise-smitten wave
Poor trembling cripples crawl’d their limbs to lave;–
In all the various forms of human trial,
Brimming that cup, filled from a bitter vial,
Which even the suffering Christ with fainting cry
Under God’s will had shudderingly past by:–
To hunger, pain, and thirst, and human dread;
Imprisonment; sharp sorrow for the dead;
Deformed contraction; burdensome disease;
Humbling and fleshly ill!–to all of these
The shining messengers of comfort came,–
God’s angels,–healing in God’s holy name.
And when the crowning pity sent to earth
The Man of Sorrows, in mysterious birth;
And the angelic tones with one accord
Made loving chorus to proclaim the Lord;
Was Isaac’s guardian there, and he who gave
Hagar the sight of that cool gushing wave?
Did the defender of the youthful Three,
And Peter’s usher, join that psalmody?
With him who at the dawn made healing sure,
Troubling the waters with a freshening cure;
And those, the elect, to whom the task was given
To offer solace to the Son of Heaven,
When,–mortal tremors by the Immortal felt,–
Pale, ‘neath the Syrian olives, Jesu knelt,
Alone,–‘midst sleeping followers warned in vain;
Alone with God’s compassion, and His pain!
Cease we to dream. Our thoughts are yet more dim
Than children’s are, who put their trust in Him.
All that our wisdom knows, or ever can,
Is this: that God hath pity upon man;
And where His Spirit shines in Holy Writ,
The great word COMFORTER comes after it.