The Me Within Thee Blind!

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I

At the convent doors, full of alarm
She stood, like a young bird quitting its nest.
Her first flight flown right into my arm,
Her first tears wept upon my breast.
It was the young dove, wond’ring and afraid
To find the narrow circle of its home
Held not the forests in its ingle shade,
Held not the Heavens ‘neath its simple dome.
Upon my heart she rested, finding so
A window to the world, and whisp’ring said,
‘Your arms shall shield from evil winds that blow,
There from all sorrows I shall hide my head.
Your eyes my outlook to this wild’ring place
That I know nothing of, and you know all.’
So at my soul’s dark windows pressed her face,
Saw there the world’s first evil shadows fall.

She was not very learnèd, but all sweet,
All yielding, to a fault—exceeding kind.
A woman-child from dainty head to feet,
Too quick to act each impulse of her mind.
A lily grown within a holy place,
In air too pure the snowy bell uncurled
Ever the lashing winds of sin to face,
Or brave alone the knowledge of the world.
I set the blossom in the World’s hot glare,
No walls to shelter it, no doors to keep
Its purity; I loved the crowd to stare,
Nor thought that time would change its snowy sleep.
A lamb it was, a little weakling one,
That I, the shepherd, took without its fold
And let—almost ere life was well begun—
The wolf get to, that tore it from my hold.

From out the walls that know not of men’s love,
To meet her father’s dying voice she flew,
Then turned to me—last friend the earth above—
She, loving little, thought she loved so true,
Wept long upon my breast, crept to my heart,
Became my wife, and lived in joy a while.
And then, as time went on, she drew apart,
I saw much tears and the less frequent smile,
The doubtful look the eyes had, bent on me,
As though some great illusion she had known.

And then, alas! I did not know nor see,
But now, too late, too plain the cause is shown.
Full of a quaint belief in God and man,
In prayers and miracles, and in all good,
The crystal fate of her pure teaching ran
Beneath my eyes, and was not understood.
I sullied the fair stream, for who was I
To meet a woman’s eyes when up they steal
From gazing in the well where they descry
The dream reflection of a fair ideal?
A would-be cynic, and a man who had
No hope of Heaven, no belief in Hell,
To teach her of the world, its good and bad,
Why was it to his lot the teaching fell?
The little body, quickly satisfied,
Expressed no want I did not love to give—
I warmed it, clad it, fed it, yet denied
The larger soul within the right to live.
Her body would have loved me, been content
With my great worship, had her soul gone down
Beneath its living, but it fought and bent
The body to its will, till, with a frown
Of almost hate, she grew to see me come
To draw her to me in a fond embrace,
And kiss her lips, to all my kisses dumb.
And then I learned the anger of her face,

Spoke to her, questioned her, and got reply—
Not in these words, for she spake as a child,
Half full of anger, half inclined to cry,
Full of deep troubles, incoherent, wild.
But I have read their meaning to my heart,
Placed every thought, and speak them day by day,
Until I feel the sorrow and the smart
Will burn into my flesh when it is clay.

‘I do not love you any more,’ she said,
‘Nor this great world. Oh, I were better dead,
Or never born, for everything is wrong
I once thought good. I am not brave nor strong
To understand and keep my weak soul white;
It wanders from me to some dreadful night.
Before you took me, life was good and sweet,
Easy to understand and all complete;
Within four walls we trod our daily way,
A holy life and love for each new day
Sinless bright faces, purity and prayer,
A narrow life, yet oh, to me so fair!
But in your mighty world I do not know
Among its thousand ways the road to go;
No great community doth wield the whole,
But many sects confront the seeking soul.
My wrong my neighbour’s right, my joy his shame,
My tears his laughter, or my praise his blame.

Alas! if some sure haven I had found,
Or viewed the world from some near vantage-ground;
But in your arms no shelter do I know
From all the blinding winds that round me blow.
Life was so fair to me, and death more sweet
With Heaven’s joy, to make the crown complete.
But you, who had no God, have shut for me
The Heaven’s gates, and bid me only see
A deaf, blind dome above me, and below
The wormy grave—I shudder as I go.

‘Death was so sweet a dream, a meeting-place
Where we again should find each lost, dear face.
And all God’s love, alas! for me no more,
But now the grave so dark I stand before.
Cold, black, and lonely my warm body’s bed,
No prize for living—and for ever dead.
She too is gone, the Mary full of grace,
To me, a woman, took a mother’s place,
Heard all the little griefs I dare not tell
To her dear Son. To her a mother-maid
So comforting I went, all unafraid.

‘Since God is lost, then all is lost indeed.
You did not know the comfort or the need
Of God for me, who am so frail and weak.
Blown by all winds, I know not where to seek.

Too busy with your books, you did not know
I stood beside you, and I suffered so,
For each vain question silenced with a kiss,
For each lost hope you did not pause to miss.
You did not hear my soul beside you cry,
‘Look to me, friend; your help, or else I die.’
Like some wayfarer on an Alpine height,
You with your glass would bring within your sight
And say, ‘How soft he goes amidst the snow!’
So smile upon him, for you could not know
That every mound a mountain was, and deep
Each velvet crevice—where the death-wolves creep
With purple jaws,—so that to fall or rest
Were but to die. He struggles with despair,
While you beside your fire doth watch him there,
And say—‘How soft he goes amidst the snow!’
Wherein he battles, shrieking to the sky,
‘O God, your pity, lest I faint and die!’
I was a wife you had no time to woo,
I was a woman—and you never knew.
A child to you, because you could not hear
My woman’s soul that called so loud and clear.
You thought that like a child I was afraid,
With all life’s instinct, of the death you made
Me look to, and you kissed my tears away,
While I was weeping for the friends you say
I’ll see no more, and all the loss of those

Who never had been lost till you arose
To close God’s gates and Heaven hide from me.
You gave me kisses, thinking I should be
As easy silenced as a child with sweets.
My soul will not be silent; it repeats
All the wise reasons that you bid me write
(I went with laughter, bidding you indite
For that great book of yours that went to prove
No Godhead bid the mighty world to move)
Against the probability of God.

‘With your strong brain my weaker reason trod,
Until at last it followed step with you,
Beheld no God in all the starry blue.
And at my tears you smiled, and bid me go
Buy a new ring, a ribbon, or a bow.
I was too childish in my prayers, I see,
Now that all prayer has passed away from me.
Too much belief will make another go
Into too little, and ’twas even so
That I believed in God, and to my woe
Did not with reason temper my belief.
Your kindly humour, worse than biting scorn,
Smiled on my soul, till doubt at last was born
Better harsh words to drive my soul to bay
Continual laughter wore my faith away.

‘When foolishly I first would make you come
Into the church, you knelt with heart all dumb.
You came to please me, weary of it all,
Until beside you I could hear the call
Your soul made at this mockery of prayer,
Till I too read your thoughts, and saw the glare
Of altar lights, as I had seen the flame
Of heathen worship. And the priest who came
To serve his God, no longer seemed to me,
Being God’s servant, more than man to be,
Saintlier, and purer, more than others are,
Who look on God’s high altar from afar.
And reading thus your soul as you sat dumb,
I prayed again you would not seek to come.
And so you smiled, as though ’twas to your mind,
Saying belief sat well on womankind,
Fed their emotions, sentiments, and so
You loved a woman to a church to go,
But as I did not mind, you would remain
To write your book till I came home again.

‘These were the little things doubt fattened on,
Until at last I found my faith had gone.
That day—I do remember all so well—
My baby died, I cried to God and fell
Down on my knees, and raised my eyes to you
For comfort from the horror that I knew.

I cried to God to let me meet again
My little one, where there was no more pain,
Only great love. And ever by His feet
Each lost familiar face to see and greet.
And as I cried I turned and looked to you,
All dumbly praying you would say, ”Tis true,
That sweet old story. There is no good-bye.’
But your sad pitying eyes gave me the lie,
Saying he’s dead, and there’s no more than death.
I kissed the parted lips that had no breath,
So young to go into the dark alone,
Never to rise. My heart seemed turned to stone,
And my soul dead. Lest you should see my eyes
I looked through the dim window, and surprise
Dawned on me, for the world went by the same
As though behind our narrow wall the flame
Of life had not been quenched, and in its hair
The same sad wind of death blew even there,
Making the grey where once the gold had been,
Blew in its eyes, and all that they had seen
Was half forgotten. Thus I stood and saw
The world go by, obeying some strange law
It knew not of, yet hurried to some goal
By this same death, that had us all in thrall.
And oh! I seemed to see into each brain,
So busy with small thoughts, and all so vain,
Of petty fashions, plans for years to come—

Plans made for times when most their lips were dumb.
It seemed to me that death stood by my side
And smiled upon the crowd, well satisfied
To see them pass so gay, all fashion’s slave.
And then I fell to thinking, even so
The world was ill and cruel, since my woe
Was all unwept for, that it drew not near
From out the sunshine once, to shed a tear,
But flitted by with laughter, and all gay,
Through the dim hours that tread their time away.
And so my heart cried to me ‘Open wide
The doors of your sad house, and call inside
The passing crowd; say, ‘Wherefore with such speed,
Since here is what you haste to, death indeed!’’

‘It was that night I dreamed the same sad dream,
That I upon a barren hill did seem
To watch the world go by in one great throng;
As mountain winds will blow the leaves along,
By time’s swift wind they ever hurried on;
And as they passed their faces paled or shone
With fear or love of God. And then I saw
That each poor, weary traveller did draw
A burden with him, and it seemed I knew
What was within the load that each one drew.
In one lay sorrow, in another pain,

In this stern duty done that bore no gain.
Here poverty was big, there bravely borne
Harsh words, then blows some weary back had torn.
So on, so on, but more with grief were bent
Than aught besides, tears did they bear content.
And when I closed my eyes a while to rest
From all these moving thousands, strangely blessed
With their sad loads, I looked again, and there
Beheld a figure, white, divinely fair,
Stretched on a cross, by hands that still were red
With dropping blood; and on the glorious head
A crown of thorns, while yet the eyes unclosed
Had not the glare of death’s most chill repose,
But glowed yet with a love beyond man’s power.

‘And as I gazed, the people in the shower
Of His life’s blood laid down their burdens there,
Departing whole, and with their faces fair,
‘Through all the ages, living still,’ I cried,
‘O Thou belovèd God!’ And on the earth
I saw Faith move, and knew it had its birth
As soon as Time, and all beneath the sun
Drew comfort from their Gods—that were but One,
The only God, though served in many ways.
And as I prayed, I heard to my amaze
Long laughter, hard and loud, that shook and spread
Around, above us, over every head

In that vast crowd, that shuddered, fell apart
Before the mockery, and in my heart
Cold horror grew. I turned to seek the cause
Of that strange humour—coming without pause,
And there, upon a little hill, beheld
A man, face hid in hands, whose laughter swelled
Above all cries. ‘Wherefore,’ I said, ‘you dare
Disturb the people, busy with their prayer?
What do you see to move your laughter so?’
‘I see,’ he said, ‘a multitude, that go
All full of prayer, yet laden down with grief,
With pain and tears, yet, such is their belief,
The load is light.’ And so he laughed again.
‘And is your mirth,’ I said, ‘at joy or pain?’
‘I laugh to see them come and pray,’ he said,
‘To pray, and pray, and pray, when God is dead.’
And as he spoke, the people, parting, fell
Into confusion, underneath the spell
Of his loud laughter, and beneath the Cross
Came sounds of strife; he laughed, ‘Behold the loss
Of Him who never was.’ I looked, and there,
Still nailed, a wooden God the tree did bear.
And then the crowd slow-drifting crept away,
All deeply laden; I alone did stay,
Hearing their parting cries, as on and on
Into the dust that hid them they were gone.
And then he spoke, when all had passed us by,

‘They are but as the leaves that fall and fly;
Blown by the winds of time, they on are borne
To separate, and from each other torn
To fade apart, to wither there and die.’
And as he laughed, I gave a bitter cry
And sprang to stop him; raising up a stone
To slay him with, I vowed he should atone
For this black horror, in a holy place.
He raised his head—O God, he had your face!’

And here she ended all the bitter tale,
And I, poor fool, no word could find to speak,
But let her go, with little face all pale,
And heavy sobbing like her heart would break.
I was so angry, finding all my care
And all my love as nothing in her sight,
I had forgotten that the larger share
Was in my heart, and never saw the light.
I was too old to act a lad’s gay part,
To hang upon her words, be by her side
All the long day, yet oh! within my heart
She had no rival since she was my bride,
Save those same books, that did divorce indeed
Her love for me. Ah, would that I had torn
Them leaf from leaf, and so destroyed my creed,
Before they caused that gentle heart to mourn!
Would I had thrown myself down at her feet,

And learnèd there the simple faith she knew,
Not by a sneer the every sign to meet,
And pierce the gentle soul thus through and through!
Would I had caught her as she passed me then,
All full of tears, and flung my book away,
And vowed no more to wound her with my pen—
What grief was brought me for that brief delay!
Oh, what was fame, that I should sacrifice
My love’s sweet soul to catch the world’s vain ear—
More joy, indeed, to keep the heart I prize
Above all fame, beside me ever dear.
But I with sullen look let her pass by,
And did not speak when last she turned her head,
Nor when beside the door I heard a sigh
Breathing farewell, although my own heart bled.
‘Good-bye,’ ‘Good-bye,’ I hear it night and day,
Always with tears, and then the whisper low,
‘I do not care now what I do or say,
There is no right, and I am glad to go.’
She glad to go!—I did not heed her speech
Until, all tired of anger, I had gone
Into her room, a pardon to beseech,
And found the bed had not been pressed upon,
And it so late. All through the empty room
And through the house I searched for her in vain,
And staggered, like a man to meet his doom,
Out in the darkness to the storm and rain,

And there I ran and called to her till dawn.
Like some mad thing, I hunted through the night,
Until the glowing stars that on me shone
Withdrew in pity, giving me the light.
Sane with the morning, home I sought once more,
My home to me now ever desolate;
But day, alas! did not my peace restore,
And bring her back in love, who left in hate.

‘Good-bye,’ ‘Good-bye,’ ‘and I am glad to go,’
O God! those words that echo down the years,
To drop upon my heart in endless woe,
With all the bitter hopelessness of tears.
Gone, gone!—how did they ever pass,
The lone, long months, the endless weeks and days,
The wingèd hopes that flew from me, alas,
And left me helpless in a stunned amaze!
Gone, gone, for ever gone!—a ghost stole by
Within my house to dwell, and met me there,
Behind each open door to peep and fly,
And look upon me from her empty chair;
Sweet ghost it was, that had no face but hers.
One time I thought her fingers brushed my cheek,
Thinking she had returned all unawares,
Reached up to hold her, half afraid to speak—
Reached up, and found within my eager hand
A withered leaf blown through the open door;

And then again I seemed to see her stand,
And hear the sobbing of her voice once more.
‘We are but as the leaves that fall and fly,
Blown by the wind of time they on are borne,
To fade apart, to wither there and die,
To separate, each from the other torn.’
Oh, the long days!—I could not stay nor go
By my lone house, but like a maddened thing
Would dream some time she, wounded, home might stray
Like some lost dove upon a broken wing.
Like some poor bird robbed of its nestling, I
Would hasten home to find it cold and drear,
Again fly forth, because some hidden cry
Would seem her voice that called in trouble near.
Oh, the long hours of sorrow and of gloom
‘Neath the snow-lifting curtain of the night,
When each black hour might be her stroke of doom.
And every second make her deadly plight!

Did I then ever sleep, or was my dream
So like to waking that there seemed to be
No slaking of my anguish! In the stream
Of drowning thoughts there was no hope for me.
‘I do not care now what I do,’ she said.
O God! I trembled, seeking in the night,
Did she guess at her dangers, so untried,

What did she dream of in her desperate flight?
I do believe in hell, I do believe
In all its tortures. I have known great grief
As few men know it, nor did I receive
Or for a moment gain a prayer’s relief.
But through the night I wander, damned, alone,
With Hell’s despair high flaming in my breast,
My every hope long turned into a stone;
And yet I go, still seeking without rest.

Once, crouching in the shadow of my hall
I saw a woman raise her hand to ring.
Eager with hope I hurried—heard her fall
To drunken weeping, then begin to sing.
Cold with this horror, out into the night
I ran and wandered through the streets till morn;
And once again between me and the light
I saw one pass—and hope again was born.
Slow did I follow, till my foolish heart
Leaped up and claimed her, so I took her hand,
To meet a stranger’s eyes, and feel her start,
Surprised at grief she could not understand.
For one brief moment did the womanhood,
Half quenched in her, look forth with pity sweet,
As though a sorrow once she understood—
Then mocking laughter echoed through the street
And left me broken, adding to my hell
Another torture. Could I live and know
My child was out amongst these fiends to dwell,
Her small, lost feet went straying to and fro?

All the cold river did I walk beside,
Thinking her face would some time meet my eyes
White on some dark wave pillow, but the tide
Lay dull and silent till the grey sunrise.
Once did I see a little form all bent
Go by the water, creeping in the shade,
As though the last small grain of hope were spent,
And all were lost, the debtor still unpaid.
She flung herself upon a bench at last,
Her thin face hidden in a shaking hand;
My soul cried to her when I would have passed,
I knelt beside her, by my grief unmanned.
I called one name, I raised her drooping head,
My hands, wet with her tears, lay on her cheek.
‘Beloved!’ I cried, she thrust me off and fled
Before the words my heart had made me speak,
But not before her face I saw, and knew
She was not my lost love, but one so sad,
So lost to hope, that I should track her too,
Or solitude and grief would make her mad.
But when I tried to seek her, she had passed
Into the whirling world, to tread alone
Life’s bitter fruit, and drain the wine at last
Whose every drop will burn her heart to stone.
O women, women, in these awful nights
I learned the cruel burden which is yours!
Thrust from the giddy world of dear delights
Into the dark, she suffers and endures.
Tender, you are not fit for such a fight
Or such a foe as man can be to you.
God pity those who wander in the night,
And have no star of love to guide them through!

And oh! God pity me who may not know
Where go her straying feet by night or day,
When each long mile I eagerly do go
May bear me from her yet more far away!
God pity me, who in the night awake
Do fear the cruel laughter of the town
And women’s cries,—the echoing feet, who make
Life’s bitter struggle ere they sink, go down.

II
To-night I found her; fate was kind to me;
For one brief hour I had her once again,
And her dear face once more was blessed to see,
Although my voice did call to her in vain.
Back to her convent home she had returned,

Walked many miles, and fell before the door,
All weary save the brain that throbbed and burned,
And restless fever through her pulses tore.
There was she found, and borne into the home
She left all full of eager hopes, and gay
With life’s young innocence that loved to roam,
And fell by thieves upon the world’s highway.
Robbed of all joys, and whipped by time and care,
This poor wayfarer had once more gone back
To that lost home she once remembered fair,
To seek her jewels on the homeward track.
And so I found her. Sitting by her bed,
I marvelled greatly how she ever came
So many miles, for yet her soft feet bled,
And bitter hardship marred her tender frame.
I may not ever know what she has borne
Through these long days when she was lost to me,
But oh! the bitterest grief I have to mourn
Are those most cruel trials I did not see—
Are those sad, unseen tears, whose track remained
In her sad eyes that did not rest in sleep,
Are those unknown afflictions, marked and stained
On the small hands she did not let me keep.
I heard her fevered lips call on the dead
In loving cries that through her bosom tore,
And then, repeating all the words I said
Of resurrection, fall to weeping sore.
And then she sobbed ‘Death stands here by my side,
And my sad soul is all afraid to go,
Because the hope of Heaven is still denied.
What bears the darkness yet I cannot know;
I would be brave if I could overcome
The evil thoughts that follow me and cry,
All in my ears, that Heaven itself is dumb,
And death be mine for ever when I die.’

And so, to soothe her, spoke my tortured voice,
Breathing a poem that once she loved and knew,
How in death’s anguish shall the soul rejoice,
And joy be hers when last she struggles through.
And ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘some time I too shall see
‘Peace out of pain,’ ‘a light,’ and ‘then thy breast.’
Safe in my arms, belovèd, you shall be
In long embrace, ‘and with God be the rest.’’
And hearing me with her bewildered brain,
She caught the verses with a sudden smile,
And ‘One fight more,’ she quotes the verse again,
‘The last and best,’ she quiet lay a while,
And then she spoke more calmly than before
‘I was a dreamer, and I’ll dream again,
One dream, the last and best, the first and last.
Death blesses me the dream I can retain,
My first sweet dream, the evil time is past.
The dream that made the world a joyful place,
Worth being born for, strong one’s load to bear,
Easy to live, easy to fight and face,
To suffer all its tortures and its care.
Death shall not conquer me, I will not die
In his cold land, but fly to some embrace
In that belovèd sphere, where my one cry
Can summon to my aid an angel’s face.
I will not die.’ And then she turned to me,
And peace and sanity shone in her eyes,
As though at last my face she chanced to see.
I hid it from her, seeking a disguise,
For fear she still did hate me, but she said,
As though the first days were, ‘And have you come?
You were so long!’ then heavy leaned her head
Upon my shoulder, and her lips were dumb.

Thus did I lose her for a second time,
Now without hope of meeting. In my grief
I go from church to church, from clime to clime,
A lone man, damnèd by his unbelief.

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