Madison Julius Cawein Poems >>
Not far from here, it lies beyond
That low-hilled belt of woods. We'll take
This unused lane where brambles make
A wall of twilight, and the blond
Brier-roses pelt the path and flake
The margin waters of a pond.
This is its fence--or that which was
Its fence once--now, rock rolled from rock,
One tangle of the vine and dock,
Where bloom the wild petunias;
And this its gate, the iron-weeds block,
Hot with the insects' dusty buzz.
Two wooden posts, wherefrom has peeled
The weather-crumbled paint, still rise;
Gaunt things--that groan when someone tries
The gate whose hinges, rust-congealed,
Snarl open:--on each post still lies
Its carven lion with a shield.
We enter; and between great rows
Of locusts winds a grass-grown road;
And at its glimmering end,--o'erflowed
With quiet light,--the white front shows
Of an old mansion, grand and broad,
With grave Colonial porticoes.
Grown thick around it, dark and deep,
The locust trees make one vast hush;
Their brawny branches crowd and crush
Its very casements, and o'ersweep
Its rotting roofs; their tranquil rush
Haunts all its spacious rooms with sleep.
Still is it called The Locusts; though
None lives here now. A tale's to tell
Of some dark thing that here befell;
A crime that happened years ago,
When by its walls, with shot and shell,
The war swept on and left it so.
For one black night, within it, shame
Made revel, while, all here about,
With prayer or curse or battle-shout,
Men died and homesteads leapt in flame:
Then passed the conquering Northern rout,
And left it silent and the same.
Why should I speak of what has been?
Or what dark part I played in all?
Why ruin sits in porch and hall
Where pride and gladness once were seen;
And why beneath this lichened wall
The grave of Margaret is green.
Heart-broken Margaret! whose fate
Was sadder yet than his who won
Her hand--my brother Hamilton--
Or mine, who learned to know too late;
Who learned to know, when all was done,
And nothing could exonerate.
To expiate is still my lot,--
And, like the Ancient Mariner,
To show to others how things are
And what I am, still helps me blot
A little from that crime's red scar,
That on my soul is branded hot.
He was my only brother. She
A sister of my brother's friend.
They met, and married in the end.
And I remember well when he
Brought her rejoicing home, the trend
Of war moved towards us sullenly.
And scarce a year of wedlock when
Its red arms took him from his bride.
With lips by hers thrice sanctified
He left to ride with Morgan's men.
And I--I never could decide--
Remained at home. It happened then.
For days went by. And, oft delayed,
A letter came of loving word
Scrawled by some camp-fire, sabre-stirred,
Or by a pine-knot's fitful aid,
When in the saddle, armed and spurred
And booted for some hurried raid.
Then weeks went by. I do not know
How long it was before there came,
Blown from the North, the clarion fame
Of Morgan, who, with blow on blow,
Had drawn a line of blood and flame
From Tennessee to Ohio.
Then letters ceased; and days went on.
No word from him. The war rolled back,
And in its turgid crimson track
A rumor grew, like some wild dawn,
All ominous and red and black,
With news of our lost Hamilton,
That hinted death or capture. Yet
No thing was sure; till one day,--fed
By us,--some men rode up who said
They'd been with Morgan and had met
Disaster, and that he was dead,
My brother.--I and Margaret
Believed them. Grief was ours too:
But mine was more for her than him;
Grief, that her eyes with tears were dim;
Grief, that became the avenue
For love, who crowned the sombre brim
Of death's dark cup with rose-red hue.
Though it be given--I hold, doth dwell
The germ of love that time shall swell
To blossom. Sooner then in me--
When close relations so befell--
That love should spring from sympathy.
Our similar tastes and mutual bents
Combined to make us intimates
From our first meeting. Different states
Of interest then our temperaments
Begot. Then friendship, that abates
No love, whose self it represents.
These led to talks and dreams: how oft
We sat at some wide window while
The sun sank o'er the hills' far file,
Serene; and of the cloud aloft
Made one vast rose; and mile on mile
Of firmament grew sad and soft.
And all in harmony with these
Dim clemencies of dusk, afar
Our talks and dreams went; while the star
Of evening brightened o'er the trees:
We spoke of home; the end of war:
We dreamed of life and love and peace.
How on our walks in listening lanes
Or confidences of the wood,
We paused to hear the dove that cooed;
Or gathered wild-flowers, taking pains
To find the fairest; or her hood
Filled with wild fruit that left deep stains.
No echo of the drum or fife,
No hint of conflict entered in
Our thoughts then. Will you call it sin--
Indifference to a nation's strife?
What side might lose, what side might win,
Both immaterial to our life.
Into the past we did not look;
Beyond what was we did not dream;
While onward rushed the thunderous stream
Of war, that, in its torrent, took
One of our own. No crimson gleam
Of its wild course around us shook.
At last we knew. And when we learned
How he had fallen, Margaret
Wept; and, albeit my eyes were wet,
Within my soul I half discerned
A joy that mingled with regret,
A grief that to relief was turned.
As time went on and confidence
Drew us more strongly each to each,
Why did no intimation reach
Its warning hand into the dense
Soul-silence, and confuse the speech
Of love's unbroken eloquence!
But, no! no hint to turn the poise,
Or check the impulse of our youth;
To chill it with the living truth
As with the awe of God's own voice;
No hint, to make our hope uncouth;
No word, to warn us from our choice.
To me a wall seemed overthrown
That social law had raised between;
And o'er its ruin, broad and green
A path went, I possessed alone;
The sky above seemed all serene;
The land around seemed all my own.
What shall I say of Margaret
To justify her part in this?
That her young heart was never his?
But had been mine since first we met?
So would you say!--Enough it is
That when he left she loved him yet.
So passed the Spring, and Summer sped;
And early Autumn brought the day
When she her hand in mine should lay,
And I should take her hand and wed.
And still no hint that might gainsay,
No warning word of quick or dead.
The day arrived; and, with it born,
A battle, sullying the East
With boom of cannon, that increased,
And throb of musket and of horn:
Until at last, towards dusk, it ceased;
And men with faces wild and worn,
In fierce retreat swept past; now groups;
Now one by one; now sternly white,
Or blood-stained; now with looks whose fright
Said all was lost. Then sullen troops
That, beaten, still kept up the fight.
Then came the victors; shadowy loops
Of men and horse, that left a crowd
Of officers in hall and porch....
While through the land around the torch
Circled, and many a fiery cloud
Marked out the army's iron march
In furrows red, that pillage plowed,
Here we were wedded.--Ask the years
How such could be, while over us
A sword of wrath swung ominous,
And on our cheeks its breath was fierce!
All I remember is--'twas thus,
And Margaret's eyes were wet with tears.
No other cause my memory sees
Save this, _that night was set_; and when
I found my home filled with armed men
With whom were all my sympathies
Of Union--why postpone it then?
So argued conscience into peace.
And then it was, when night had passed
There came to me an orderly
With word of a confederate spy
Late taken, who, with head downcast,
Had asked one favor, this: "That I
Would see him ere he breathed his last."
I stand alone here. Heavily
My thoughts go back. Had I not gone,
The dead had still been dead!--for none
Had yet believed his story--he,
My dead-deemed brother, Hamilton,
Who in the spy confronted me.
O you who never have been tried,
How can you judge me!--in my place
I saw him standing--who can trace
My heart thoughts then!--I turned aside,
A thing of some unnatural race,
And did not speak; and so he died.
In hospital or prison, when
It was he lay; what had forbid
His home return so long: amid
What hardships he had suffered, then
I dared not ask; and when I did,
Long afterwards, inquire of men,
No thing I learned. But this I feel--
He who had so returned to life
Was not a spy. Through stress and strife,--
This makes my conscience hard to heal!--
He had escaped; he sought his wife;
He sought his home that should conceal.
And Margaret! Oh, pity her!
A criminal I sought her side,
Still thinking love was justified
In all for her--whatever were
The price, a brother thrice denied,
Or thrice a brother's murderer.
Since then long years have passed away.
And through those years, perhaps, you'll ask
How to the world I wore my mask
Of honesty?--I can but say
Beyond my powers it was a task;
Before my time it turned me gray.
And when at last the ceaseless hiss
Of conscience drove, and I betrayed
All to her, she knelt down and prayed,
Then rose; and 'twixt us an abyss
Was opened; and she seemed to fade
Out of my life: I came to miss
The sweet attentions of a bride:
For each appealing heart's caress
In me, her heart assumed a dress
Of dull indifference; till denied
To me was all responsiveness;
And then I knew her love had died.
Ah, had she loaded me, perchance,
With wild reproach or even hate,
Such would have helped a hope to wait
Forgiveness and returned romance;
But 'twixt our souls, instead, a gate
She closed of silent tolerance.
Yet, 't was for love of her I lent
My soul to crime ... I question me
Often, if less entirely
I'd loved her, then, in that event,
She had been justified to see
The deed alone stand prominent.
The deed alone! But love records
In his own heart, I will aver,
No depth I did not feel for her
Beyond the plummet-reach of words:
And though there may be worthier,
No truer love this world affords
Than mine was, though it could not rise
Above itself. And so 't was best,
Perhaps, that she saw manifest
Its crime, that I, as saw her eyes,
Might see; and so, in soul confessed,
Some life atonement might devise.
Sadly my heart one comfort keeps,
That, towards the end, she took my hands
And said, as one who understands,
"Had I but seen! But love that weeps,
Sees only as its loss commands,"
And sighed. Beneath this stone she sleeps.
Yes; I have suffered for that sin;
Yet in no instance would I shun
What I should suffer. Many a one,
Who heard my tale, has tried to win
Me to believe that Hamilton
It was not; and, though proven kin,
This had not saved him. Still the stain
Of the intention--had I erred
And 't was not he--had writ the word
Red on my soul that branded Cain;
For still my error had incurred
The fact of guilt that would remain.
Ah, love at best is insecure,
And lives with doubt and vain regret;
And hope and faith, with faces set
Upon the past, are never sure;
And through their fever, grief, and fret
The heart may fail that should endure.
For in ourselves, however blend
The passions that make heaven and hell,
Is evil not accountable
For most the good we comprehend?
And through these two, or ill, or well,
Man must evolve his spiritual end.
It is with deeds that we must ask
Forgiveness; for upon this earth,
Life walks alone from very birth
With death, hope tells us is a mask
For life beyond of vaster worth,
Where sin no more sets love a task.
More Poetry from Madison Julius Cawein:
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Based on Topics: Love Poems, Man Poems, God Poems, Life Poems, World Poems, Night Poems, Sadness Poems, Time Poems, Death & Dying Poems, Soul Poems, Nature Poems
Based on Keywords: represents, prominent, abates, postpone, evolve, porticoes, sullying, accountable, intimation, incurred, petunias