by Owen Meredith
I found a corpse, with golden hair,
Of a maiden seven months dead.
But the face, with the death in it, still was fair,
And the lips with their love were red.
Rose leaves on a snow-drift shed,
Blood-drops by Adonis bled,
Doubtless were not so red.
I combed her hair into curls of gold,
And I kissed her lips till her lips were warm,
And I bathed her body in moonlight cold,
‘Till she grew to a living form:
Till she stood up bold to a magic of old,
And walked to a muttered charm –
Lifelike, without alarm.
And she walks by me, and she talks by me,
Evermore, night and day;
For she loves me so, that, wherever I go,
She follows me all the way –
This corpse – you would almost say
There pined a soul in the clay.
Her eyes are so bright at the dead of night
That they keep me wake with dread:
And my life-blood fails in my veins, and pales
At the sight of her lips so red:
For her face is as white as the pillow by night
Where she kisses me on my bed:
All her gold hair outspread –
Neither alive nor dead.
I would that this woman’s head
Were less golden about the hair:
I would her lips were less red,
And her face less deadly fair.
For this is the worst to bear –
How came that redness there?
‘Tis my heart, be sure, she eats for her food;
And it makes one’s whole flesh creep
To think that she drinks and drains my blood
Unawares, when I am asleep.
How could those red lips
Their redness so damson-deep?
There’s a thought like a serpent, slips
Ever into my head, —
There are plenty of women, alive and human
One might woo, if one wished, and wed –
Women with hearts, and brains, — ay – and lips
Not so terribly red.
But to house with a corpse – and she so fair,
With that dim, unearthly, golden hair,
And those sad, serene, blue eyes,
With their looks from who knows where,
With the grave’s own secret there –
It is more than I can bear!
It were better for me, ere I cam nigh her,
This corpse – ere I looked upon her,
Had they burned my body in flame and fire
With a sorcerer’s dishonor.
For when the Devil hath made his lair,
And lurks in the eyes of a fair young woman
(To grieve a man’s soul with her golden hair,
And break his heart, if his heart be human),
Would not a saint despair
To be saved by fast or prayer
From perdition made so fair?
She is unkind, unkind!
On the windy hill, to-day,
I sat in the sound of the wind.
I know what the wind would say.
It said…or seemed to my mind…
“The flowers are falling away.
The summer,”… it said… “will not stay.
And Love with be left behind.”
The swallows were swinging themselves
In the leaden-gray air aloft;
Flitting by tens and twelves,
And returning oft and oft;
Like the thousand thoughts in me,
That went, and came, and went,
Not letting me even be
Alone with my discontent.
The hard-vext weary vane
Rattled, and moaned and was still,
In the convent over the plain,
By the side of the windy hill.
It was sad to hear it complain,
So fretful, and weak, and shrill,
Again, and again, and in vain,
While the wind was changing his will.
I thought of our walks last summer
By the convent-walls so green;
Of the firs tkiss stolen from her,
With no one near to be seen.
I thought (as we wandered on,
Each of us waiting to speak)
How the daylight left us alone,
And left his last night on her cheek.
The plain was as cold and gray
(With its villas like gleaming shells)
As some north-ocean bay.
All dumb in the church were the bells.
In the mist, half a league away,
Lay the little white house where she dwells.
I thought of her face so bright,
By the sunlight bending low
O’er her work so neat and white:
Of her singing so soft and slow:
Of her tender toned “Good-night;”
But a very few nights ago.
O’er the convent doors, I could see
A pale and sorrowful-eyes
Madonna looking at me,
As when Our Lord first died.
There was a lizard or spider
To be seen on the broken walls.
The ruts, and the rain, had grown wider
And blacker since last night’s falls.
O’er the universal dullness
There broke not a single beam.
I thought how my love at its fullness
Had changed like a change in a dream.
The olives were shedding fast
About me, to the left and right,
In the lap of the scornful blast.
Black berries and leaflets white.
I thought of the many romances
One wintry word can blight;
Of the tender and timorous fancies
By a cold look put to flight.
How many noble deeds
Strangled perchance at their birth!
The smoke of the burning weeds
Came up with the steam of the earth,
From the red, wet ledges of soil,
And there sere weeds, row over row, —
And the vineyard-men at their toil,
Who sang in the vineyard below.
Last Spring, while I thought of her here,
I found a red rose on the hill.
There it lies, withered and sere!
Let him trust to a woman who will.
I thought how her words had grown colder,
And her fair face colder still,
From the hour whose silence had told her
What has left me heart-broken and ill;
And “Oh!” I thought, … “if I behold her
Walking there with him under the hill!”
O’re the mist from the mournful city
The blear lamps gleamed aghast, —
“she has neither justice, nor pity,”
I thought… “all’s over at last!”
The cold eve came. One star
Through a ragged gray gap forlorn
Fell down from some region afar,
And sickened as soon as born.
I thought, “How long and how lone
The years will seem to be,
When the last of her looks is gone,
And my heart is silent in me!”
One streak of sorrowful gold,
In the cloudy and billowy west,
Burned with alight as cold
As love in a much-wronged breast.
And she called me by every caressing old name
She of old had invented for me:
She crouched at my feet, with her cheek on my knee,
Like a wild thing grown suddenly tame.
In the world there are women enough, maids or mothers;
Yet in multiplied millions, I never should find
The symbol of aught in her face, or her mind.
She has nothing in common with others.
And she loves me! This morning, the earth pressed beneath
Her light foot, keeps the print. ‘Twas no vision last night,
For the lily she dropped, as she went is yet white
With the dew on its delicate sheath!
† Short Stories