Jean Ingelow.

Poems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I online

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And he compared her trouble with his own,
And had no heart to speak. And yet 'twas keen;
It filled her to the putting down of pain
And hunger, - what could his do more?
He brought
The children to their home, and suddenly
Regained himself, and wondering at himself,
That he had borne, and yet been dumb so long,
The weary wailing of the girl: he paid
Money to buy her pardon; heard them say,
"Peace, we have feared for you; forget the milk,
It is no matter!" and went forth again
And waded in the snow, and quietly
Considered in his patience what to do
With all the dull remainder of his days.

With dusk he was at home, and felt it good
To hear his kindred talking, for it broke
A mocking, endless echo in his soul,
"It is no matter!" and he could not choose
But mutter, though the weariness o'ercame
His spirit, "Peace, it is no matter; peace,
It is no matter!" For he felt that all
Was as it had been, and his father's heart
Was easy, knowing not how that same day
Hope with her tender colors and delight
(He should not care to have him know) were dead;
Yea, to all these, his nearest and most dear,
It was no matter. And he heard them talk
Of timber felled, of certain fruitful fields,
And profitable markets.
All for him
Their plans, and yet the echoes swarmed and swam
About his head, whenever there was pause;
"It is no matter!" And his greater self
Arose in him and fought. "It matters much,
It matters all to these, that not to-day
Nor ever they should know it. I will hide
The wound; ay, hide it with a sleepless care.
What! shall I make these three to drink of rue,
Because my cup is bitter?" And he thrust
Himself in thought away, and made his ears
Hearken, and caused his voice, that yet did seem
Another, to make answer, when they spoke,
As there had been no snowstorm, and no porch,
And no despair.
So this went on awhile
Until the snow had melted from the wold,
And he, one noonday, wandering up a lane,
Met on a turn the woman whom he loved.
Then, even to trembling he was moved: his speech
Faltered; but when the common kindly words
Of greeting were all said, and she passed on,
He could not bear her sweetness and his pain,
"Muriel!" he cried; and when she heard her name,
She turned. "You know I love you," he broke out:
She answered "Yes," and sighed.
"O pardon me.
Pardon me," quoth the lover; "let me rest
In certainty, and hear it from your mouth:
Is he with whom I saw you once of late
To call you wife?" "I hope so," she replied;
And over all her face the rose-bloom came,
As thinking on that other, unaware
Her eyes waxed tender. When he looked on her,
Standing to answer him, with lovely shame,
Submiss, and yet not his, a passionate,
A quickened sense of his great impotence
To drive away the doom got hold on him;
He set his teeth to force the unbearable
Misery back, his wide-awakened eyes
Flashed as with flame.
And she, all overawed
And mastered by his manhood, waited yet,
And trembled at the deep she could not sound;
A passionate nature in a storm; a heart
Wild with a mortal pain, and in the grasp
Of an immortal love.
"Farewell," he said,
Recovering words, and when she gave her hand,
"My thanks for your good candor; for I feel
That it has cost you something." Then, the blush
Yet on her face, she said: "It was your due:
But keep this matter from your friends and kin,
We would not have it known." Then cold and proud,
Because there leaped from under his straight lids,
And instantly was veiled, a keen surprise, -
"He wills it, and I therefore think it well."
Thereon they parted; but from that time forth,
Whether they met on festal eve, in field,
Or at the church, she ever bore herself
Proudly, for she had felt a certain pain,
The disapproval hastily betrayed
And quickly hidden hurt her. "'T was a grace,"
She thought, "to tell this man the thing he asked,
And he rewards me with surprise. I like
No one's surprise, and least of all bestowed
Where he bestowed it."
But the spring came on:
Looking to wed in April all her thoughts
Grew loving; she would fain the world had waxed
More happy with her happiness, and oft
Walking among the flowery woods she felt
Their loveliness reach down into her heart,
And knew with them the ecstasies of growth,
The rapture that was satisfied with light,
The pleasure of the leaf in exquisite
Expansion, through the lovely longed-for spring.

And as for him, - (Some narrow hearts there are
That suffer blight when that they fed upon
As something to complete their being fails,
And they retire into their holds and pine,
And long restrained grow stern. But some there are,
That in a sacred want and hunger rise,
And draw the misery home and live with it,
And excellent in honor wait, and will
That somewhat good should yet be found in it,
Else wherefore were they born?), - and as for him,
He loved her, but his peace and welfare made
The sunshine of three lives. The cheerful grange
Threw open wide its hospitable doors
And drew in guests for him. The garden flowers,
Sweet budding wonders, all were set for him.
In him the eyes at home were satisfied,
And if he did but laugh the ear approved.
What then? He dwelt among them as of old,
And taught his mouth to smile.
And time went on,
Till on a morning, when the perfect spring
Rested among her leaves, he journeying home
After short sojourn in a neighboring town,
Stopped at the little station on the line
That ran between his woods; a lonely place
And quiet, and a woman and a child
Got out. He noted them, but walking on
Quickly, went back into the wood, impelled
By hope, for, passing, he had seen his love,
And she was sitting on a rustic seat
That overlooked the line, and he desired
With longing indescribable to look
Upon her face again. And he drew near.
She was right happy; she was waiting there.
He felt that she was waiting for her lord.
She cared no whit if Laurance went or stayed,
But answered when he spoke, and dropped her cheek
In her fair hand.
And he, not able yet
To force himself away, and never more
Behold her, gathered blossom, primrose flowers,
And wild anemone, for many a clump
Grew all about him, and the hazel rods
Were nodding with their catkins. But he heard
The stopping train, and felt that he must go;
His time was come. There was nought else to do
Or hope for. With the blossom he drew near
And would have had her take it from his hand;
But she, half lost in thought, held out her own,
And then remembering him and his long love,
She said, "I thank you; pray you now forget,
Forget me, Laurance," and her lovely eyes
Softened; but he was dumb, till through the trees
Suddenly broke upon their quietude
The woman and her child. And Muriel said,
"What will you?" She made answer quick and keen,
"Your name, my lady; 'tis your name I want,
Tell me your name." Not startled, not displeased,
But with a musing sweetness on her mouth,
As if considering in how short a while
It would be changed, she lifted up her face
And gave it, and the little child drew near
And pulled her gown, and prayed her for the flowers.
Then Laurance, not content to leave them so,
Nor yet to wait the coming lover, spoke, -
"Your errand with this lady?" - "And your right
To ask it?" she broke out with sudden heat
And passion: "What is that to you! Poor child!
Madam!" And Muriel lifted up her face
And looked, - they looked into each other's eyes.

"That man who comes," the clear-voiced woman cried,
"That man with whom you think to wed so soon,
You must not heed him. What! the world is full
Of men, and some are good, and most, God knows,
Better than he, - that I should say it! - far
Better." And down her face the large tears ran,
And Muriel's wild dilated eyes looked up,
Taking a terrible meaning from her words;
And Laurance stared about him half in doubt
If this were real, for all things were so blithe,
And soft air tossed the little flowers about;
The child was singing, and the blackbirds piped,
Glad in fair sunshine. And the women both
Were quiet, gazing in each other's eyes.

He found his voice, and spoke: "This is not well,
Though whom you speak of should have done you wrong;
A man that could desert and plan to wed
Will not his purpose yield to God and right,
Only to law. You, whom I pity so much,
If you be come this day to urge a claim,
You will not tell me that your claim will hold;
'Tis only, if I read aright, the old,
Sorrowful, hateful story!"
Muriel sighed,
With a dull patience that he marvelled at,
"Be plain with me. I know not what to think,
Unless you are his wife. Are you his wife?
Be plain with me." And all too quietly,
With running down of tears, the answer came,
"Ay, madam, ay! the worse for him and me."
Then Muriel heard her lover's foot anear,
And cried upon him with a bitter cry,
Sharp and despairing. And those two stood back,
With such affright, and violent anger stirred
He broke from out the thicket to her side,
Not knowing. But, her hands before her face,
She sat; and, stepping close, that woman came
And faced him. Then said Muriel, "O my heart,
Herbert!" - and he was dumb, and ground his teeth,
And lifted up his hand and looked at it,
And at the woman; but a man was there
Who whirled her from her place, and thrust himself
Between them; he was strong, - a stalwart man:
And Herbert thinking on it, knew his name.
"What good," quoth he, "though you and I should strive
And wrestle all this April day? A word,
And not a blow, is what these women want:
Master yourself, and say it." But he, weak
With passion and great anguish, flung himself
Upon the seat and cried, "O lost, my love!
O Muriel, Muriel!" And the woman spoke,
"Sir, 'twas an evil day you wed with me;
And you were young; I know it, sir, right well.
Sir, I have worked; I have not troubled you,
Not for myself, nor for your child. I know
We are not equal." "Hold!" he cried; "have done;
Your still, tame words are worse than hate or scorn.
Get from me! Ay, my wife, my wife, indeed!
All's done. You hear it, Muriel; if you can,
O sweet, forgive me."
Then the woman moved
Slowly away: her little singing child
Went in her wake: and Muriel dropped her hands,
And sat before these two that loved her so,
Mute and unheeding. There were angry words,
She knew, but yet she could not hear the words;
And afterwards the man she loved stooped down
And kissed her forehead once, and then withdrew
To look at her, and with a gesture pray
Her pardon. And she tried to speak, but failed,
And presently, and soon, O, - he was gone.

She heard him go, and Laurance, still as stone,
Remained beside her; and she put her hand
Before her face again, and afterward
She heard a voice, as if a long way off,
Some one entreated, but she could not heed.
Thereon he drew her hand away, and raised
Her passive from her seat. So then she knew
That he would have her go with him, go home, -
It was not far to go, - a dreary home.
A crippled aunt, of birth and lineage high,
Had in her youth, and for a place and home,
Married the stern old rector; and the girl
Dwelt with them: she was orphaned, - had no kin
Nearer than they. And Laurance brought her in,
And spared to her the telling of this woe.
He sought her kindred where they sat apart,
And laid before them all the cruel thing,
As he had seen it. After, he retired:
And restless, and not master of himself,
He day and night haunted the rectory lanes;
And all things, even to the spreading out
Of leaves, their flickering shadows on the ground,
Or sailing of the slow, white cloud, or peace
And glory and great light on mountain heads, -
All things were leagued against him, - ministered
By likeness or by contrast to his love.

But what was that to Muriel, though her peace
He would have purchased for her with all prayers,
And costly, passionate, despairing tears?
O what to her that he should find it worse
To bear her life's undoing than his own?

She let him see her, and she made no moan,
But talked full calmly of indifferent things,
Which when he heard, and marked the faded eyes
And lovely wasted cheek, he started up
With "This I cannot bear!" and shamed to feel
His manhood giving way, and utterly
Subdued by her sweet patience and his pain,
Made haste and from the window sprang, and paced,
Battling and chiding with himself, the maze.

She suffered, and he could not make her well
For all his loving; - he was naught to her.
And now his passionate nature, set astir,
Fought with the pain that could not be endured;
And like a wild thing suddenly aware
That it is caged, which flings and bruises all
Its body at the bars, he rose, and raged
Against the misery: then he made all worse
With tears. But when he came to her again,
Willing to talk as they had talked before,
She sighed, and said, with that strange quietness,
"I know you have been crying": and she bent
Her own fair head and wept.
She felt the cold -
The freezing cold that deadened all her life -
Give way a little; for this passionate
Sorrow, and all for her, relieved her heart,
And brought some natural warmth, some natural tears.


III.

And after that, though oft he sought her door,
He might not see her. First they said to him,
"She is not well"; and afterwards, "Her wish
Is ever to be quiet." Then in haste
They took her from the place, because so fast
She faded. As for him, though youth and strength
Can bear the weight as of a world, at last
The burden of it tells, - he heard it said,
When autumn came, "The poor sweet thing will die:
That shock was mortal." And he cared no more
To hide, if yet he could have hidden, the blight
That was laying waste his heart. He journeyed south
To Devon, where she dwelt with other kin,
Good, kindly women; and he wrote to them,
Praying that he might see her ere she died.

So in her patience she permitted him
To be about her, for it eased his heart;
And as for her that was to die so soon,
What did it signify? She let him weep
Some passionate tears beside her couch, she spoke
Pitying words, and then they made him go,
It was enough they said, her time was short,
And he had seen her. He HAD seen, and felt
The bitterness of death; but he went home,
Being satisfied in that great longing now,
And able to endure what might befall.

And Muriel lay, and faded with the year;
She lay at the door of death, that opened not
To take her in; for when the days once more
Began a little to increase, she felt, -
And it was sweet to her, she was so young, -
She felt a longing for the time of flowers,
And dreamed that she was walking in that wood
With her two feet among the primroses.

Then when the violet opened, she rose up
And walked: the tender leaf and tender light
Did solace her; but she was white and wan,
The shadow of that Muriel, in the wood
Who listened to those deadly words.
And now
Empurpled seas began to blush and bloom,
Doves made sweet moaning, and the guelder rose
In a great stillness dropped, and ever dropped,
Her wealth about her feet, and there it lay,
And drifted not at all. The lilac spread
Odorous essence round her; and full oft,
When Muriel felt the warmth her pulses cheer,
She, faded, sat among the Maytide bloom,
And with a reverent quiet in her soul,
Took back - it was His will - her time, and sat
Learning again to live.
Thus as she sat
Upon a day, she was aware of one
Who at a distance marked her. This again
Another day, and she was vexed, for yet
She longed for quiet; but she heard a foot
Pass once again, and beckoned through the trees.
"Laurance!" And all impatient of unrest
And strife, ay, even of the sight of them,
When he drew near, with tired, tired lips,
As if her soul upbraided him, she said,
"Why have you done this thing?" He answered her,
"I am not always master in the fight:
I could not help it."
"What!" she sighed, "not yet!
O, I am sorry"; and she talked to him
As one who looked to live, imploring him, -
"Try to forget me. Let your fancy dwell
Elsewhere, nor me enrich with it so long;
It wearies me to think of this your love.
Forget me!"

He made answer, "I will try:
The task will take me all my life to learn,
Or were it learned, I know not how to live;
This pain is part of life and being now, -
It is myself; but yet - but I will try."
Then she spoke friendly to him, - of his home,
His father, and the old, brave, loving folk;
She bade him think of them. And not her words,
But having seen her, satisfied his heart.
He left her, and went home to live his life,
And all the summer heard it said of her,
"Yet, she grows stronger"; but when autumn came
Again she drooped.

A bitter thing it is
To lose at once the lover and the love;
For who receiveth not may yet keep life
In the spirit with bestowal. But for her,
This Muriel, all was gone. The man she loved,
Not only from her present had withdrawn,
But from her past, and there was no such man,
There never had been.

He was not as one
Who takes love in, like some sweet bird, and holds
The winged fluttering stranger to his breast,
Till, after transient stay, all unaware
It leaves him: it has flown. No; this may live
In memory, - loved till death. He was not vile;
For who by choice would part with that pure bird,
And lose the exaltation of its song?
He had not strength of will to keep it fast,
Nor warmth of heart to keep it warm, nor life
Of thought to make the echo sound for him
After the song was done. Pity that man:
His music is all flown, and he forgets
The sweetness of it, till at last he thinks
'Twas no great matter. But he was not vile,
Only a thing to pity most in man,
Weak, - only poor, and, if he knew it, undone.
But Herbert! When she mused on it, her soul
Would fain have hidden him forevermore,
Even from herself: so pure of speech, so frank,
So full of household kindness. Ah, so good
And true! A little, she had sometimes thought,
Despondent for himself, but strong of faith
In God, and faith in her, this man had seemed.

Ay, he was gone! and she whom he had wed,
As Muriel learned, was sick, was poor, was sad.
And Muriel wrote to comfort her, and send,
From her small store, money to help her need,
With, "Pray you keep it secret." Then the whole
Of the cruel tale was told.
What more? She died.
Her kin, profuse of thanks, not bitterly,
Wrote of the end. "Our sister fain had seen
Her husband; prayed him sore to come. But no.
And then she prayed him that he would forgive,
Madam, her breaking of the truth to you.
Dear madam, he was angry, yet we think
He might have let her see, before she died,
The words she wanted, but he did not write
Till she was gone - 'I neither can forgive,
Nor would I if I could.'"
"Patience, my heart!
And this, then, is the man I loved!"
But yet
He sought a lower level, for he wrote
Telling the story with a different hue,
Telling of freedom. He desired to come,
"For now," said he, "O love, may all be well."
And she rose up against it in her soul,
For she despised him. And with passionate tears
Of shame, she wrote, and only wrote these words, -
"Herbert, I will not see you."
Then she drooped
Again; it is so bitter to despise;
And all her strength, when autumn leaves down dropped,
Fell from her. "Ah!" she thought, "I rose up once,
I cannot rise up now; here is the end."
And all her kinsfolk thought, "It is the end."

But when that other heard, "It is the end,"
His heart was sick, and he, as by a power
Far stronger than himself, was driven to her.
Reason rebelled against it, but his will
Required it of him with a craving strong
As life, and passionate though hopeless pain.

She, when she saw his face, considered him
Full quietly, let all excuses pass
Not answered, and considered yet again.

"He had heard that she was sick; what could he do
But come, and ask her pardon that he came?"
What could he do, indeed? - a weak white girl
Held all his heartstrings in her small white hand;
His youth, and power, and majesty were hers,
And not his own.

She looked, and pitied him.
Then spoke: "He loves me with a love that lasts.
Ah, me! that I might get away from it,
Or, better, hear it said that love IS NOT,
And then I could have rest. My time is short,
I think, so short." And roused against himself
In stormy wrath, that it should be his doom
Her to disquiet whom he loved; ay, her
For whom he would have given all his rest,
If there were any left to give; he took
Her words up bravely, promising once more
Absence, and praying pardon; but some tears
Dropped quietly upon her cheek.

"Remain,"
She said, "for there is something to be told,
Some words that you must hear.

"And first hear this:
God has been good to me; you must not think
That I despair. There is a quiet time
Like evening in my soul. I have no heart,
For cruel Herbert killed it long ago,
And death strides on. Sit, then, and give your mind
To listen, and your eyes to look at me.
Look at my face, Laurance, how white it is;
Look at my hand, - my beauty is all gone."
And Laurance lifted up his eyes; he looked,
But answered, from their deeps that held no doubt,
Far otherwise than she had willed, - they said,
"Lovelier than ever."

Yet her words went on,
Cold and so quiet, "I have suffered much,
And I would fain that none who care for me
Should suffer a like pang that I can spare.
Therefore," said she, and not at all could blush,
"I have brought my mind of late to think of this:
That since your life is spoilt (not willingly,
My God, not willingly by me), 'twere well
To give you choice of griefs.

"Were it not best
To weep for a dead love, and afterwards
Be comforted the sooner, that she died
Remote, and left not in your house and life
Aught to remind you? That indeed were best.
But were it best to weep for a dead wife,
And let the sorrow spend and satisfy
Itself with all expression, and so end?
I think not so; but if for you 'tis best,
Then, - do not answer with too sudden words:
It matters much to you; not much, not much
To me, - then truly I will die your wife;
I will marry you."

What was he like to say,
But, overcome with love and tears, to choose
The keener sorrow, - take it to his heart,
Cherish it, make it part of him, and watch
Those eyes that were his light till they should close?

He answered her with eager, faltering words,
"I choose, - my heart is yours, - die in my arms."

But was it well? Truly, at first, for him
It was not well: he saw her fade, and cried,
"When may this be?" She answered, "When you will,"
And cared not much, for very faint she grew,
Tired and cold. Oft in her soul she thought,
"If I could slip away before the ring
Is on my hand, it were a blessed lot
For both, - a blessed thing for him, and me."

But it was not so; for the day had come, -
Was over: days and months had come, and Death, -
Within whose shadow she had lain, which made
Earth and its loves, and even its bitterness,
Indifferent, - Death withdrew himself, and life
Woke up, and found that it was folded fast,
Drawn to another life forevermore.
O, what a waking! After it there came
Great silence. She got up once more, in spring,
And walked, but not alone, among the flowers.
She thought within herself, "What have I done?
How shall I do the rest?" And he, who felt
Her inmost thought, was silent even as she.
"What have we done?" she thought. But as for him,
When she began to look him in the face,
Considering, "Thus and thus his features are,"
For she had never thought on them before,
She read their grave repose aright. She knew
That in the stronghold of his heart, held back,
Hidden reserves of measureless content
Kept house with happy thought, for her sake mute.

Most patient Muriel! when he brought her home,
She took the place they gave her, - strove to please
His kin, and did not fail; but yet thought on,
"What have I done? how shall I do the rest?
Ah! so contented, Laurance, with this wife
That loves you not, for all the stateliness
And grandeur of your manhood, and the deeps
In your blue eyes." And after that awhile
She rested from such thinking, put it by
And waited. She had thought on death before:


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Online LibraryJean IngelowPoems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I → online text (page 13 of 18)