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Poem by Edwin Arnold


Alley


I do remember well at Kilcrea
The castle, and the friary, and bridge;
And I remember better how I sat
Half a long summer morning, and flung shells
Into the ripples, thinking all the while
Of her I love more than I love my life,
And of the buried crocks of yellow gold
Under the castle; and how grand it were
To steal the treasure from its goblin guard,
And fly with her, and one great sack of money
To merry Florence, or the Southern seas,
And there to build a palace-white and gold-
With terraces and marble porticoes,
Leagues of blue water at the garden-gate
And miles of purple vineyards at the door;
And so to live on music and true love
And wise old books-just then, a step beneath
Started a pebble, and my dream together.


-An aged woman leaning on a staff
Toiled slowly up the slope-her linen cap
Fastened beneath by one broad band of black,
Kept the white hair close down upon a face
That once I thought might have been beautiful;
But there were marks of many weary winters
Written upon it now:-so reverently
Thinking some day my mother might be such,
I rose to help her to the resting-place.
''Tis weary work,' I said, 'for one so old
To climb these hills; you came the rugged road
By the Priest's leap from Kenmare.'-'Ay,' she said,
'But willing hearts make the feet willing too;
And when I climb and climb, it makes it easy
To think I'm wending nearer God-they say
He lives there in the blue.'-


'If I may ask,'
I answered, 'wherefore do you journey now?
You should be sitting under a warm roof
With children's children waiting at your knees
To bring your knitting, do your messages,
And fight for the first kiss:-the calmest hour
Of all calm hours in the summer day
Is the day's ending; so should life's end be.'


I thought her eyes had held no tears, but tears
Came as I spake, and trickled heavily
Down on her rosary of ebon beads.
The linnet swinging in the water-rush
Ended one song, and launched his little heart
Into another, ere the words would come.
Then she spake out calmly and solemnly,
As one whose sorrow is a memory;
For sorrow grows not weaker with the years;
The years make the heart stronger for the sorrow.
'The storm came in the middle of my life;
My husband died (O may his soul rest well)
And all my boys went with him, you may guess
I'd little of my poor heart left behind,
But all that was not gone to God with them
Was little Alley's-my last little daughter's
Dear, darling Alley-oh! I loved her so,
And she loved me:-and though she was my child,
I know no handsomer or better girl
Ever made sunshine in a widow's hut.
By night I listened, and she prayed for me;
By day I sat, and she beamed blessings on me;
Such a fine scholar too-the quickest girl
That ever stood at the schoolmaster's knee,
And oh! so good-but every silver crown
Must have its cross; and out of all her lovers
She chose the worst,-a handsome, heartless man
That no one loved; so I said, 'Alley darling,
And if you marry him, you'll break my heart!'
'Mother,' she said, and her white arms went round me


Like a snow-wreath, 'dear mother, dearest mother,
I'll never see him, then; I'll not do that.'
I knew she'd keep her word; it made my heart
Light as a linnet's feather: but, alas!
I saw her wasting, wasting-dying, dying
Like blossom off the boughs of summer trees;
All her fine beauty fading, and to see it
Took the life from me; so I said at last,
'Take him, dear Alley, take him, avourneen,
I'll never speak against him.' In a month
She was as beautiful as a June rose,
And in another she was wife of his.'
Oh! how her fingers hid her faded face,
And how she wept!-I asked her presently
If there came sorrow of it.-


'Heavy sorrow;
Sorrow enough to crush a devil down,
Sent on an angel's head; I think he loved her
In his wild way, for he was milder to her
Than to aught else; once when her trouble came
He struck her, but my Alice made me swear
Not to mind that; and when I think of her
I've no room in my heart for other thoughts.
Well! there was murder in the land, and men
Said Laurence Daly's hand was murder-marked!
And so they took him. Alice all the spring
Begging upon her knees to pass a word
Between the cruel bars where he was jailed,
Or get a sight of him. Oh! it was strange,
She was as innocent as God's white light,
And knew that he was guilty, but her love
Grew with her sorrow; she was ever praying,
And waking up from sleep, blinded with tears
That came of bitter dreams. She'd not deny
(She was so utter true) that he had struck
The life from a lone man, and the black thought
Eat half her heart away. At last it came,
The trial-time. I asked her earnestly
For God's dear love, and for the love of me,
To stay away, but she was bent to go,
And so she went. I felt it in the crowd,
I felt her heart beating against my arm,
And held her close until the cause came on,
Then she took strength again and stood upright
As straight as a young tree, but oh! so pale!'
'And he, the husband, what of him?'


'He swore
With many oaths he was not there at all
When the great harm was done, and so said more.
But Alley's soul was at its prayers the while
For pardon on their lying; presently
The Counsel of the Crown turned sharply round,
Pointing with his paid finger at my girl,
And said,-'Well, if ye doubt, there's Daly's wife,
Ask where her husband was that night, of her.'
And some cried shame, and one good gentleman
Spake up against it, but poor Alley fell
Sobbing upon my neck, and muttered, 'Mother,
Take me away, I cannot, cannot tell.'
And long before I knew what was to come,
Out of the crowd there stepped a neighbour's son,
A fine brave boy he was; I knew him well,
And knew that he had loved my little girl
All a life long, and knew what caùse he had
To wish him well.-'Hear me,' said he, his eyes
Alight with sparkles, and his honest cheek
More scarlet than the judge's scarlet robe:
'I know where Daly was the murder-night,
And swear it for the truth; there's none knows me
Will think I've much love left for Larry Daly.''-
'What was his tale?'


'A lie, a most kind lie,
To save the life of his worst enemy
And bring the happy laughter back to her,
To her, poor Alley, whom he loved so long.
Well! it was ended soon, and he came down
With no light in his eyes, and a corpse-cheek,
To where we stood, and leaning over her,
He whispered, 'Alice! Alice, avourneen,
Live and be happy; for to keep you happy
I've sinned my soul away; may God forgive me,
And bless you well.'


She never saw him more;
He was away upon the open sea
Before she found the words to thank him with,
Almost before she knew what he had done. 



Edwin Arnold


Edwin Arnold's other poems:
  1. The Division of Poland
  2. The Rhine and The Moselle
  3. With a Bracelet in the Form of a Snake
  4. The Alchemist
  5. Hagar in the Wilderness


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