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Poem by Edith Nesbit


Two Christmas Eves


I

THE white snow veils the earth's brown face,
Strong frost has bound the veil in place--
Under the wide, clear, dark-blue sky
All choked with snow the hollows lie,
Dead-white the fields--once summer sweet--
And woodlands where we used to meet:
We don't meet now, we never part.
Ever together, heart to heart,
We've worked, lost often, seldom won,
Seen pleasures ended, pains begun,
Have done our best, and faced, we two,
Almost the worst that Fate could do--
Yet not Fate's uttermost of ill,
Since here we are--together still!

For me you left, my dearest, best,
Your girlhood's safe warm sheltered nest;
For me gave up all else that could
Have made your woman-life seem good.
You thought a man's whole heart was worth
Just all the other wealth of earth;
I thought my painter's brush would be
A magic wand for you and me.
What dreams we had of fame and gold,
Of Art-that never could withhold
From me, who loved her so, full powers
To make my love for her serve ours,
To shape and build a palace fair
Of radiant hours, and place you there!
Art turned away her face from us,
And all the dreaming's ended--thus!
Our garret's cold; the wind is keen,
And cuts these rotten boards between.
There is no lock upon the door,
No carpet on the uneven floor,
No curtain to the window where
Through frost-blanched panes the moon's cold stare
Fronts us. She's careless--used to see
This world of ours, and misery!
Why, how you shiver! Oh, my sweet,
How cold your hands are, and your feet!

How hot this face of yours I kiss!
How could our love have led to this?
What devil is there over all
That lets such things as this befall?
It was not want of striving. Love,
Bear witness for me how I strove,
Worked till I grew quite sick and faint,
Worked till I could not see to paint
Because my eyes were sore and wet,
Yet never sold one picture yet.
We would have worked--yes, there's the sting--
We would have worked at anything!
Our hands asked work. There's work somewhere,
That makes it all more hard to bear;
Yet we could never understand
Where is the work that asks our hand!

There's no more firing, and the cold
Is biting through your shawl's thin fold,
And both the blankets have been sold.
Nestle beside me, in my arm,
And let me try to keep you warm.
We pawned the table and the bed,
To get our last week's fire and bread,

And now the last crust's eaten. Well,
There's nothing left to pawn or sell!
Our rent is due on Monday too,
How can we pay it--I and you?
What shall we do? What shall we do?
And we are--what was that you said?
You are so tired ? Your dearest head
Is burning hot, and aching so?
Ah, yes! I know it is--I know!
You're tired and weak and faint and ill,
And fevers burn and shiverings chill
This world of mine I'm holding here.
If I could suffer only, dear--
But all the burdens on you fall,
And I sit here, and bear it all!
And other men and other wives,
Who never worked in all their lives--
No, nor yet loved as we have, sweet--
Are wrapped in furs, warm hands and feet,
And feast to-night in homes made bright
With blazing logs and candle-light;
Not dark like this, where we two sit,
Who chose to work, and starve for it!

Don't go to sleep; you mustn't sleep
Here on the frozen floor! Yes, creep
Closer to me. Oh, if I knew
What is this something left to do!

Listen to me! It's Christmas Eve,
When hearts grow warmer, I believe,
And friends forget and friends forgive.
What if we stifled down my pride,
And put your bitter thoughts aside,
And asked your father's help once more?
True, when we asked for it before,
He turned and cursed us both, and swore
That he disowned you. You and I
Had made our bed, and there must lie;
That he would help us not one whit,
Though we should die for want of it.
Now I shall ask his help again.
It's colder now than it was then;
The cold creeps closer to life's core--
Death's nearer to us than before;
And when your father sees how near,
He may relent, and save you, dear.

For my sake, love! I am too weak
To bear your tears upon my cheek,
Your sobs against my heart, to bear
Those eyes of yours, and their despair!
Not faltering, my own pain I bore--
I cannot bear yours any more!
Stand up. You're stiff? That will not last!
The stairs are dark? They'll soon be passed!
You're tired? My sweet, I know you are;
But try to walk--it isn't far.
Oh, that the Christ they say was born
On that dream-distant Christmas morn
May hear and help us now! Be strong!
Yes, lean on me. Perhaps ere long,
All this, gone by, will only seem
A half-remembered evil dream.
Come; I will help you walk. We'll try
Just this last venture, you and I!

II

Failed! Back again in the ice-gloom
Of our bare, bleak, rat-haunted room!
The moon still looks--what does she care
To see my moon-flower lying there?
My rose, once red and white and fair,
Now white and wan, and pinched and thin,
Cold, through the coat I've wrapped her in,
And shivering, even in her sleep,
To hear how wakeful rats can keep.

We dragged our weary faltering feet
Through the bright noisy crowded street,
And reached the square where, stern in stone,
Her father's town-house sulks alone.
Sick, stupid, helpless, wretched, poor,
We waited at her father's door.
They let us in. Then let us tread
Through the warm hall with soft furs spread.
Next, 'Name and business.' Oh, exact
Were the man's orders how to act,
If e'er his master's child should come
To cross the threshold of her home!
I told our name. The man 'would see
If any message was' for me.
We waited there without a word.
How warm the whole house was! We heard

Soft music with soft voices blent,
And smelt sweet flowers with mingled scent,
And heard the wine poured out--that chink
That glass makes as the diners drink--
The china clatter. We, at least,
Appreciated that night's feast.

Then some one gave a note to me
With insolent smile. I read: 'When she
Is tired of love and poverty,
And chooses to return to what
She left, the duties she forgot,
And never see again this man,
And be here as before--she can.'

We came away: that much is clear;
I don't know how we got back here--
I must have carried her somehow,
And have been strong enough. And now
She lies asleep--and I, awake,
Must do this something for her sake--
The only possible thing to do,
Oh, love! to cut our soul in two,
And take 'this man' away from you!

If now I let your father know
My choice is made, and that I go
And you are here--oh, love! oh, wife!
I break my heart and save your life.
Doubt what to do? All doubt's about
The deeds that are not worth a doubt!
This deed takes me, and I obey,
And there is nothing left to say.

Good-bye, dear eyes I cannot see--
Weep only gently, eyes, for me;
Dear lips, I've kissed and kissed again,
Lose those encircling lines of pain;
Dear face, so thin and faded now,
Win back youth's grace, and light, and glow;
Oh, hands I hold in mine--oh, heart
That holds mine in it--we must part!
When you wake up, and find me fled,
And find your father here instead,
Will you not wonder how my feet
Ever could turn from you, my sweet?
Ah, no! your heart and mine are one;
Our heart will tell you how 'twas done.

No more we meet until I've won
Enough to dare be happy on;
And if I fail--I have known bliss,
And bliss has bred an hour like this.
I am past Fate's harming--all her power
Could mix nought bitterer than this hour.
Good-bye--our room--our marriage life!--
Oh, kiss me through your dreams, my wife!

III

I have grown rich! I have found out
The thing men break their hearts about!
I have dug gold, and gold, and sold
My diggings, and reaped in more gold--
Sowed that, and reaped again, and played
For stakes, and always won, and made
More money than we'll ever spend,
And have forborne one word to send.
It has been easier for her so:
To wait one year, and then to know
How all is well, and how we two
Shall part no more our whole lives through.
It had been harder to have heard
Some incomplete, imperfect word

Of how I prospered, how despaired,
How well I strove, how ill I fared,
Or strove well and fared well, nor know
Each day which way the scale would go;
Rejoice, and grieve, and hope, and fear,
As I have done throughout the year.
The year is over now--the prize
Is--all our lives of Paradise!
Through all the year her lips and hands
Have drawn me on with passion-bands,
Her soul has held my soul, and taught
The way of storming Fortune's fort.
My little love, those days of ours,
Our dear delight, our sacred hours
Have wrapped me round in all the year;
And brought the gold and brought me here,
And brought this hour than all more fair--
Our triumph hour! What shall we care
For all the past's most maddening pain
When you are in my arms again?

The yellow dust I loved to hold
Was like your hair's less heavy gold;
The clear, deep sea, that bore me hence,
Was like your eyes' grey innocence;

And not one fair thing could I see
But somehow seemed yourself to me.
The very work I had to do
Easier than rest was, done for you.
And through my dreams you walked all night
And filled sleep's byways with delight!
How I have wondered every day
How you would look, and what would say
On that same day! 'Perhaps she paints,
Thinks of our lessons--prays to saints
With my name in her prayers--or goes
Through gardens, heaping rose on rose.
How I love roses! Or mayhap
Sits with some work dropped in her lap,
And dreams and dreams--what could there be
For her to dream about but me?'

This London--how I hated it
A year ago! It now seems fit
Even to be our meeting-place.
It holds the glory of her face,
The wonder of her eyes, the grace
Of lovely lines and curves--in fine,
The soul of sweetness that is mine!

I'll seek her at her father's; say,
'I claim my wife. I will repay
A hundredfold all you have spent
On keeping me in banishment,
On keeping her in affluence,
At her heart's dearest coin's expense!
That is past now, and I have come
To take my wife and sweetheart home,
To show her all my golden store,
My heart, hers to the very core,
And never leave her any more!'

But just before that hour supreme,
Close here our old house is, that dream
And daylight have been showing me
The year through. I would like to see
That room I found so hard to leave,
So hard to keep, last Christmas Eve.

Faith's easy now! There is a God
Who trod the earth we two have trod;
He pays me for our pain last year,
For all these months of longing, fear,

Doubt and uncertainty--outright,
By letting me come here to-night
And just contrast that dead despair
With the Earth-Heaven we two shall share!

Just one look at the old room's door,
If I can get no chance of more;
Yet gold will buy most things--may buy
The leave to see that room. We'll try!

May I go up? Just once to see
The room that sheltered her and me?--
My God! the rapture of to-day
Has sent me mad;--you did not say
She died the night I went away! 



Edith Nesbit


Edith Nesbit's other poems:
  1. This Desirable Mansion
  2. The Spider Queen
  3. Spring in War-Time
  4. The Monk
  5. The Offering


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