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Poem by Leigh Gordon Giltner


Roses and Rue


I.

A swift thought flashed to my mind that day
When I first saw you, regally tall
'Mid a throng of pigmies--a very Saul--
How some woman's heart must admit your sway,
Some woman's soul to your soul be thrall;
(And though not for me were the rapture to prove you,
I thrilled as I thought how a woman might love you!)

Then--strange that our eyes for a moment should meet
And hold each other a breathless space,
That a light as of dawn should leap into your face,
That the lips that were stern should an instant grow sweet--
Ere you turned, at a word, with a courtier's grace.
(And I knew that tho' many a woman had loved you,
Till that moment, the glance of no woman had moved you!)

Then you stood at my side and one murmured your name,
The proud old name that you worthily wore,
And I drank the soul-chalice Fate's mandate upbore
To my lips, as the fire of your glance leapt to flame;
What need were of words? heart speaks heart evermore--
(And I knew that were mine but the rapture to prove you,
How deeply, how dearly one woman might love you!)


II.

Do I idly dream, as the village maid,
Who thinks, as she spins, of a princekin gay
On a prancing steed, who shall come her way
To woo her and win her and bear her away
Thro' the vasty depths of the forest shade
To a palace set in a sylvan glade,--
To love her for aye and a day?

Is it like that he with his princely pride--
The son of a proud old race,
Shall stoop with Cophetua's kingly grace
To lift me up to the vacant place,
To reign like a queen at his side?
Can the world afford him no worthier bride--
No bride with a queenlier grace?

Aye, a foolish dream for a sordid day
When men seek power--and women, gold--
Gone is the chivalrous age of old
When maids were loving and men were bold,
And good King Arthur held knightly sway!
Ah, love and knighthood were laid away
With the cuirass and helm of old.

       *       *       *       *       *

But a horseman rides to the wicket gate--
All my pulses proclaim it he,
My knight who has parted the waves of the sea,
Who has cleft the wide world in his searching for me....
Fond, foolish, dreaming!--for surely Fate
Decrees him the winning a worthier mate
Than a simple girl like me!


III.

Why does he come to me,
With his deep, impassioned eyes,
Stealing my soul from me?
Surely a high emprise
For such an one as he
To smile an hour on me--
To win a worthless prize,
Would he might let me be!
Proud am I--proud as he
For my name as his is old--
What should he say to me?
I have neither lands nor gold.
Ah, a merry jest 'twill be
To win my heart from me--
(The tale will be soon told!)
Would he might let me be!


IV.

Swept, swept away is my vaunted pride
On a flood-tide of tenderness;
I envy the dog that bounds to his side,
And the chestnut mare he is wont to ride
'Cross moor and mead when the day is fine,
As she lays her head in a mute caress
'Gainst the arm of _her_ lord--and _mine!_


V.

Ah, silver and gold of the glad June morning--
Gold of the sunshine and silver of dew,
Dew drop gems all the meads adorning--
Are love and the rose-time a theme for scorning?
Roses, roses,--dream not of rue!
    Am I not loved by you?

Antiphonal to sweet sylvan singers,
The brook with its maddening, gladdening rune!
And my lover's kiss still thrills and lingers,
Lingers and burns on my tremulous fingers!
Ah, birds in a very riot of tune
Pour out my joy to the heart of June!

He loves me--loves me! My heart is singing.--
(Heart, oh heart of my heart is it true?)
Song on my lips from my soul upringing,
A passion of bliss to the breezes flinging,
Roses, roses--nor dream of rue!
    I am beloved by you.


VI.

To be his wife! Calm all my soul is filling,
A calm too deep for smiles--or even tears;
A perfect trust to slumber subtly stilling
    My whilom doubts and fears.

Each little common thing to me seems rarer,
My life each day becomes more dear to me;
Love, am I fair? Ah, fain would I be fairer--
    And yet more fair for thee.

Like to a priestess some loved shrine adorning,
I deck the charms but poorly prized, till late,
The beauty once I held too slight for scorning--
    To thee, now consecrate!

As if some god of old had stooped to love me--
Some star had pierced my darkness with its ray--
I worship thee--an idol throned above me--
    Forgetting thou art clay.

Rejoicing in the gift that God has given,
I may forget the Giver. Love, I fear
Lest I shall e'en forget to sigh for Heaven--
    When heaven for me is here!


VII.

Strange that a love supreme
Should be swayed by a petty pride,
As a straw might turn aside
The swift onflowing tide
Of a mighty seaward stream!

I know that the fault was mine,
But I cannot, will not speak;
How should I, suppliant, meek,
His gracious pardon seek--
Tho' the fault were mine--all mine?

Aye, tho' my heart should break,
Something--or pride or shame--
Forbids me that I should claim
As mine the fault, the blame--
Aye, tho' my heart should break!


VIII.

Last night he came to me,
His dark eyes grave and sweet--
(Eyes that I could not meet!)
To crave my pardon--_mine!_
With that kingly courtesy
Which makes his least deed fine.

What fiend took hold on me?
I would nor speak nor heed,
Tho' he bent his pride to plead--
(He, all unused to sue!)
Though he sought full tenderly
For a pardon not _his_ due.

Fool! to have played with fire--
Had I not full often heard
How when his wrath was stirred
It burst all bounds and leapt
Higher and ever higher
Like flames by the storm-wind swept?

Yet--tho' his face was white
With a passion that shook his soul--
Not once did he waive control,
Tho' his heart to its depths was stirred--
He leashed his wrath that night
Nor uttered one bitter word.

Pride held me stubbornly dumb,
Stilling what words I would say,
While I flung my heart's treasure away,
While I tampered with fire--to my cost;
Till I knew the ultimate end had come--
I had matched pride with love--and lost!


IX.

  What poisoned pen has written
    The words that bar my breath;
  What hard, harsh hand has smitten
    My soul with death?

"_Love, my love_"--these the words I read--
"_The vision and dream of a life have died.
Hurt to the heart by the words you said,_
Angered, stung by a wounded pride,
Mad with the thought that your love was dead--
I have wedded a loveless, unloved bride--
    Would I had died instead!_"

    My heart refuses to understand
    The words that burn my brain;
    Palsied, stunned by a felling blow
    Struck by a cherished hand,
    I am all too numb for pain;
    Dead to a deathless woe,
    Helpless to understand,
        Shall I ever feel again?


X.

Awake, alive to pain! The first steel gleam of morn
Stabs deep the heart I thought had shrunk to dust,
The love I prayed might die to loveless scorn
Awakes and cries ... Ah, God, how is it just
A fault so slight such meed of pain should pay,
That one mad word in pride and anger spoken
Should leave two lives forever crushed and broken,
Should plait a scourge to lash my soul for aye?

How can a just God see men suffer thus?--
Unheedful of the cosmic cry of pain,
Unmoved by all the pangs that torture us,
Knowing our prayers and tears alike are vain--
Like to a wanton boy who feels no thrill
Of pity for the weak his strength holds thrall,
Who pins a helpless butterfly against a wall,
Watching the bright wings flutter and grow still.

We are the sport of some malignant Power
Who nails us to our crosses, hard and fast,
Who sees us flutter for a little hour,
Struggle and suffer ... and grow still at last;
Who hears untouched the ceaseless, cosmic groan
Wrung from his creatures' tortured lips alway;
He will not hear or heed! What need to pray?
There is no hand to help. We stand alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Father, forgive! I know not what I say,
Frenzied, tortured, torn on the rack of pain;
Teach these pain-writhen lips once more to pray--
    Help me to trust again!


XI.

    A year! How slight a space
    When winged with ecstasy!
    (An æon dark to me.)
He has brought her home--God lend me grace!
To-night in the throng I shall see his face--
    He has long forgotten me.
    A year! I have learned to smile,
    I have taught my eyes to lie,
I have lived and laughed and sung--the while
    I have only longed to die.


XII.

I have seen him once again,
There in the throng with his wife
(An eagle matched with a pitiful wren!)
Bitter in sooth has his portion been--
Chained to a clog for life!
Strange that our eyes as of yore should meet
And hold each other a breathless space,
That the dawn-light of old should illumine his face,
That the lips that were stern should an instant grow sweet,
Touched with the old-time tender grace.
But his eyes were haggard and old with pain
(Traitors to thwart his resolute will!)
They told me the struggle was vain--all vain!
    He loves me--loves me still.


XIII.

Cruel! that I should be glad
  That he loves and suffers still,
Yet how should my soul be sad
That his passionate, resolute will
Cannot crush the love that is stronger than he,
  The love that is all for me!

The year has left its trace
  (Cover it how he will!)
On the proud, impassive face
And I know how he suffers still--
Thrall to a love that is stronger than he,
  A love that is all for me.

Surely, ah surely, I know
  I who have known his love,
I who have loved him so,
What such a bond must prove,
Linked to a loveless, unloved wife,
  Chained to a clog for life!


XIV.

    She loves him not, they say,
    Save for his lands and gold;
    She is narrow, selfish, cold,
    Stabbing and wounding his soul each day,
    Growing further and further away
    From the heart it was hers to hold.

    Yet not all blameless he,
    A woman is quick to feel
    What man would fain conceal;
    Surely she can but see
    That naught to his life is she,
    Nay--nor can ever be!

I am happier--happier far--than he;
He is meshed in a galling silken hold,
Bound with a jewelled band of gold;
While I, at least, am free.
And I know what his daily life must be.
Linked with a nature paltry, slight,
He with his generous, kingly soul,
Stung and goaded past all control
By a thousand petty barbs of venom and spite.

Once, but once have we met,
And we spoke of trivial things,
Of the changes a twelvemonth brings,
Of late Summer, lingering yet...
(Ah, how should a heart that has loved forget?)
Traitors ever to thwart his will
His eyes confirm what I half divine.
A bitter, bootless victory mine,
He cannot choose but to love me still!


XV.

Whose was the fault, the blame?
She has fled and left him free,
Free! but a stain of shame
Rests on the proud old name.
At a bitter cost she has set him free--
Free! with a blemished fame.

And he with the pride of his race,
With a resolute, calm control,
Locks in his heart the heart's disgrace,
Shows of his shame no subtlest trace,
Hiding the hurt of a stricken soul
'Neath the calm of a passionless face.

He had deemed it a cowardly thing to fly
While the village prated anent his shame,
And an added blot on his noble name
    By his own hand to die.

But oft in the deep of night I hear
Borne on the wild night wind,
The beat of the mare's hoofs thundering past,
And my heart is clutched by an icy fear
Of a direful thing that may chance at last;
For ride he never so far, so fast--
Black Care rides hard behind.


XVI.

Last night as I stood in the gloaming's gray,
Ere the moon came into the sky,
He came to me for a last good-bye--
    At last he is going away.

His face in the dusk showed stern and set,
Old and haggard and worn with pain;
"Dear, I may never see you again--
    Mine but the meed regret!
How can I ask you to share my shame,
How can I give you my blemished name,
    Yet how shall the heart forget?

Naught in my life save a dream have I,
A dream--a vision, too fair to be,
A rose that blooms 'mid the rue for me--
    Naught but a dream ... Good-bye."

And then, ere he lifted his bridle rein
To ride away down the dark'ning land,
He bent and touched with his lips the hand
I had laid on the chestnut's mane.


XVII.

Something ... my senses will scarce recall ...
The horror they came in the night to tell ...
The mare had galloped riderless home,
Blown and bleeding and flecked with foam,
And they found him there by the sunken wall,
Hurt to the death by the desperate fall.
How it had chanced, he could only tell,
Ere the merciful numbness stole his brain;
How the chestnut rose to the leap and fell....
Then his senses closed on the shocks of pain.
He spoke, they told me, but once again--
To whisper my name with his struggling breath--
(Thank God, he suffered so brief a while)
Then peacefully sank on the breast of Death,
    Dead, with his lips asmile.

How can I wish him alive again,
Lying so peacefully, placidly still,
With that carven smile on his marble face.
How can I pray that his heart should thrill
To waking and waking's pain?
Lying so peacefully, placidly still.
With the old, sweet smile on his quiet face,
Dead to the sting of a heart's disgrace....
How should I wish him a lesser grace,
How should I strive with a wiser Will?
Yet how can the heart that is reft divine
Death's mystical, measureless charity?
The cry of the stricken king is mine:
    "Would I had died for thee!"



Leigh Gordon Giltner


Leigh Gordon Giltner's other poems:
  1. To One Who Sleeps
  2. Shylock
  3. Afterbloom
  4. Euthumism
  5. Under the Leaves


Poems of the other poets with the same name:

  • Oscar Wilde Roses and Rue ("Could we dig up this long-buried treasure")

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