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Poem by Caroline Norton
I Cannot Love Thee!
I CANNOT love thee, tho' thy soul Be one which all good thoughts control; Altho' thy eyes be starry bright, And the gleams of golden light Fall upon thy silken hair, And thy forehead, broad and fair; Something of a cold disgust, (Wonderful, and most unjust,) Something of a sullen fear Weighs my heart when thou art near; And my soul, which cannot twine Thought or sympathy with thine, With a coward instinct tries To hide from thy enamour'd eyes, Wishing for a sudden blindness To escape those looks of kindness; Sad she folds her shivering wings From the love thy spirit brings, Like a chainéd thing, caress'd By the hand it knows the best, By the hand which, day by day, Visits its imprison'd stay, Bringing gifts of fruit and blossom From the green earth's plenteous bosom; All but that for which it pines In those narrow close confines, With a sad and ceaseless sigh-- Wild and wingéd Liberty! Can it be, no instinct dwells In th' immortal soul, which tells That thy love, oh! human brother, Is unwelcome to another? Can the changeful wavering eye, Raised to thine in forced reply,-- Can the cold constrainéd smile, Shrinking from thee all the while,-- Satisfy thy heart, or prove Such a likeness of true love? Seems to me, that I should guess By what a world of bitterness, By what a gulf of hopeless care, Our two hearts divided were: Seems to me that I should know All the dread that lurk'd below, By want of answer found In the voice's trembling sound; By the unresponsive gaze; By the smile which vainly plays, In whose cold imperfect birth Glows no fondness, lives no mirth; By the sigh, whose different tone Hath no echo of thine own; By the hand's cold clasp, which still Held as not of its free will, Shrinks, as it for freedom yearn'd;-- That my love was unreturn'd. When thy tongue (ah! woe is me!) Whispers love-vows tenderly, Mine is shaping, all unheard, Fragments of some withering word, Which, by its complete farewell, Shall divide us like a spell! And my heart beats loud and fast, Wishing that confession past; And the tide of anguish rises, Till its strength my soul surprises, And the reckless words, unspoken, Nearly have the silence broken, With a gush like some wild river,-- "Oh! depart, depart for ever!" But my faltering courage fails, And my drooping spirit quails; So sweet-earnest looks thy smile Full of tenderness the while, And with such strange pow'r are gifted The eyes to which my own are lifted; So my faint heart dies away, And my lip can nothing say, And I long to be alone,-- For I weep when thou are gone! Yes, I weep, but then my soul Free to ponder o'er the whole, Free from fears which check'd its thought, And the pain thy presence brought, Whispers me the useless lie,-- "For thy love he will not die, Such pity is but vanity." And I bend my weary head O'er the tablets open spread, Whose fair pages me invite All I dared not say to write; And my fingers take the pen, And my heart feels braced again With a resolute intent;-- But, ere yet that page be sent, Once I view the written words Which must break thy true heart's chords; And a vision, piercing bright, Rises on my coward sight, Of thy fond hand, gladly taking What must set thy bosom aching; While too soon the brittle seal Bids the page the worst reveal, Blending in thy eager gaze-- Scorn, and anguish, and amaze. Powerless, then, my hand reposes On the tablet which it closes, With a cold and shivering sense Born of Truth's omnipotence: And my weeping blots the leaves, And my sinking spirit grieves, Humbled in that bitter hour By the very consciousness of power! What am I, that I should be Such a source of woe to thee? What am I, that I should dare Thus to play with thy despair, And persuade myself that thou Wilt not bend beneath the blow? Rather should my conscience move Me to think of this vain love, Which my life of peace beguiles, As a tax on foolish smiles, Which--like light not meant for one Who, wandering in the dark alone, Hath yet been tempted by its ray To turn aside and lose his way-- Binds me, by their careless sin, To take the misled wanderer in. And I praise thee, as I go, Wandering, weary, full of woe, To my own unwilling heart; Cheating it to take thy part By rehearsing each rare merit Which thy nature doth inherit. To myself their list I give, Most prosaic, positive:-- How thy heart is good and true, And thy face most fair to view; How the powers of thy mind Flatterers in the wisest find, And the talents God hath given Seem as held in trust for Heaven; Labouring on for noble ends,-- Steady to thy boyhood's friends,-- Slow to give, or take, offence,-- Full of earnest eloquence,-- Hopeful, eager, gay of cheer,-- Frank in all thy dealings here,-- Ready to redress the wrong Of the weak against the strong,-- Keeping up an honest pride With those the world hath deified, But gently bending heart and brow To the helpless and the low;-- How, in brief, there dwells in thee All tht's generous and free, All that may most aptly move My Spirit to an answering love. But in vain the tale is told; Still my heart lies dead and cold, Still it wanders and rebels From the thought that thus compels, And refuses to rejoice Save in unconstrainēd choice. Therefore, when thine eyes shall read This, my book, oh take thou heed! In the dim lines written here, All shall be explained and clear; All my lips could never speak When my heart grew coward-weak,-- All my hand could never write, Tho' I planned it day and night,-- All shall be at length confest, And thou'lt forgive,--and let me rest! None but thou and I shall know Whose the doom, and whose the woe; None but thou and I shall share In the secret printed there; It shall be a secret still, Tho' all look on it at will; And the eye shall read in vain What the heart cannot explain. Each one, baffled in his turn, Shall no more its aim discern, Than a wanderer who might look On some wizard's magic book, Of the darkly-worded spell Where deep-hidden meanings dwell. Memory, fancy, they shall task This sad riddle to unmask,-- Or, with bold conjectural fame, Fit the pages with a name;-- But nothing shall they understand, And vainly shall the stanger's hand Essay to fling the leaves apart, Which bear MY message to THY heart!
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