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Menella Bute Smedley (Менелла Бьют Смедли)


Rizpah


Two days and nights
I watch'd the winding of the changeful lights
About the ivory shadows of his face,
Which, like a rock, lay still, and nothing knew
Of gloom or glory in each passing hue
That paused upon it. Once, a little while,
It quiver'd in the sunset's rapid smile,
And then I hid mine eyes, I dared not see
What seem'd the waking which must never be.
A blast of wings aroused me, and I look'd
For coming angels,—but behold, a bird
Came like a spectre, shaking, gaunt and grim,
A darkness of great plumes above the place,
With cruel craving eyes, and hungry beak
That touch'd him where he lay, and never stirr'd;
Then I sprang up, and scared it with a shriek
That shook the palms, and then I knelt and kiss'd
His poor, pale lips, that I might comfort him
So helpless now, who, living, had not brook'd

One breath of insult near him. But I miss'd
The answering kiss that never fail'd before,
And, with a rain of tears which had no hope,
I cover'd him upon the bare bright slope
Beside his brothers, and I look'd no more.

My firstborn son!
O! wert thou with thy father, when his sword
Pierced his strong heart! The day of strife was done,
The light lay red upon that evening sward
Not only with the redness of the time,
When, dying like a dying trumpet-blast,
With wrath and grandeur in its faintest chime,
He sank as he had stood—a king to the last!
But thou—I dare not whisper of thy death,
Lest it should shame thee, sleeping at my feet
With those who were in life not dear to me,
Save for his sake, whom I loved more than thee;
And the wind, striking on my bosom, saith,
“O! night, so bitter, closing days so sweet!”
And my sobs echo it. O! sweet the day
When on my heart that head in slumber lay,
Which now lies at my feet! O! bitter night!
O! barren dawn, no life is in thy light!

I cannot say
How long my watch hath been. When by these dead
I first sat down, to guard each powerless head
That neither beast by night nor bird by day
Should stoop upon it, harvest-fields were red;
And, now, methinks, a shadow of near rain
Hangs on the sky, and softens all the plain.

There was a vision came to me at morn;
She stood upon a silver floor of dew,
The glory of the daybreak seem'd a veil
For her refulgent face. The Maid I knew;
Her for whom Judah waits and watches, pale
With hope, until the wondrous Babe is born!

He sate upon the white throne of her breast
(As once on mine sate one as fair as He!)
And stretch'd His arms above the longing earth.
Then I brake forth in praise, that there should be
A woman like myself, and yet so blest,
Who, crown'd and circled by that glorious birth,
Should pass through perfect bliss to perfect rest.

“Yea, and a sword
Shall pierce thine own heart also!” Chill and faint
On mine incredulous spirit fell the word,
And I was taught the woes of that sweet saint,
And, on my face in anguish falling down,
I felt the Cross was greater than the Crown.

This is the doom
Of women; evermore beside the tomb,
Where some pale passionate hope is laid asleep,
To sit, as in a wilderness, and weep.
And I accept it. One laments a Past,
Her whole of life, so glorious to the last,
That, looking back, she cannot see how dark
The wide seas spread before her shrinking bark.
One, speechless, weeps for joys that never were,
But might have been; her heart's unanswer'd cry
Is starved into the silence of despair.
One weeps that what she loved is in the grave,
And one, for grief is rich in fantasy,
Weeps that she had not leave to see it die;
One mourns for wrongs she suffer'd and forgave,
One waters earth with tears, whose tardy flow
Can do no more than make the grave-flowers grow;
And one—O! pity her! weeps for love's waste;
The glory of her passion was debased

To be the garment of a phantom, born
Of her own hopes—a vapour and a scorn,
A mountain-shape that melted like a sound,
With all her love irreparably crown'd!

Then am I blest!
God of my fathers, Thou hast given me rest!
These my calm faces not a change can stain,
Where no hope is I cannot hope in vain,
And my tired, troubled heart finds rest, how sweet!
Upon this quiet heart which does not beat.

Here is my place, my work, my home. He owes
To me this charm of desolate repose;
Safe in the shelter of my love he lies,
I can do all for death which life would prize;
Nay, more: he might have spurn'd my needless care.
Now am I all to him as he to me,
And, dared I lift that sheet,—(I do not dare.)
On his dear lips I should not start to see
A smile, his father's smile, my meed of yore,
“She hath done what she could!” I ask no more.

No more, save here to die. O! here, and soon
As a breeze dies upon the breast of noon!



Menella Bute Smedley's other poems:
  1. Parting
  2. A Discovery
  3. A Birthday Petition to a Butterfly
  4. A Child's Thought
  5. Ampola


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