Two wives



INTO the shadow-white chamber silts the white
Flux of another dawn. The wind that all night
Long has waited restless, suddenly wafts
A whirl like snow from the plum-trees and the pear,
Till petals heaped between the window-shafts
            In a drift die there.
A nurse in white, at the dawning, flower-foamed
Draws down the blinds, whose shadows scarcely
The white rugs on the floor, nor the silent bed
That rides the room like a frozen berg, its crest
Finally ridged with the austere line of the dead
            Stretched out at rest.
Less than a year the fourfold feet had pressed
The peaceful floor, when fell the sword on their rest.
Yet soon, too soon, she had him home again
With wounds between them, and suffering like a
That will not go. Now suddenly going, the pain
            Leaves an empty breast.


A tall woman, with her long white gown aflow
As she strode her limbs amongst it, once more
She hastened towards the room. Did she know
As she listened in silence outside the silent door?
Entering, she saw him in outline, raised on a pyre
            Awaiting the fire.
Upraised on the bed, with feet erect as a bow,
Like the prow of a boat, his head laid back like the
Of a ship that stands in a shadowy sea of snow
With frozen rigging, she saw him; she drooped like
   a fern
Refolding, she slipped to the floor as a ghost-white
   peony slips
            When the thread clips.
Soft she lay as a shed flower fallen, nor heard
The ominous entry, nor saw the other love,
The dark, the grave-eyed mistress who thus dared
At such an hour to lay her claim, above
A stricken wife, so sunk in oblivion, bowed
            With misery, no more proud.


The stranger's hair was shorn like a lad's dark poll
And pale her ivory face: her eyes would fail
In silence when she looked: for all the whole
Darkness of failure was in them, without avail.
Dark in indomitable failure, she who had lost
            Now claimed the host,
She softly passed the sorrowful flower shed
In blonde and white on the floor, nor even turned
Her head aside, but straight towards the bed
Moved with slow feet, and her eyes' flame steadily
She looked at him as he lay with banded cheek,
            And she started to speak
Softly: "I knew it would come to this," she said,
"I knew that some day, soon, I should find you thus.
So I did not fight you. You went your way instead
Of coming mine—and of the two of us
I died the first, I, in the after-life
            Am now your wife."


"'Twas I whose fingers did draw up the young
Plant of your body: to me you looked e'er sprung
The secret of the moon within your eyes!
My mouth you met before your fine red mouth
Was set to song—and never your song denies
            My love, till you went south."
"'Twas I who placed the bloom of manhood on
Your youthful smoothness: I fleeced where fleece
   was none
Your fervent limbs with flickers and tendrils of new
Knowledge; I set your heart to its stronger beat;
I put my strength upon you, and I threw
            My life at your feet."
"But I whom the years had reared to be your bride,
Who for years was sun for your shivering, shade for
   your sweat,
Who for one strange year was as a bride to you—you
   set me aside
With all the old, sweet things of our youth;—and
   never yet
Have I ceased to grieve that I was not great enough
            To defeat your baser stuff."


"But you are given back again to me
Who have kept intact for you your virginity.
Who for the rest of life walk out of care,
Indifferent here of myself, since I am gone
Where you are gone, and you and I out there
            Walk now as one."
"Your widow am I, and only I. I dream
God bows his head and grants me this supreme
Pure look of your last dead face, whence now is gone
The mobility, the panther's gambolling,
And all your being is given to me, so none
            Can mock my struggling."
"And now at last I kiss your perfect face,
Perfecting now our unfinished, first embrace.
Your young hushed look that then saw God ablaze
In every bush, is given you back, and we
Are met at length to finish our rest of days
            In a unity."


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