Have you sent her all her letters? have you given her back herring?
Have you tried to forget the haunting songs that you loved to hear her sing?
Have you cursed the day you met her first? thanked God that you were free,
And said in your inmost heart, as you thought, “She never was dear to me
You have cast her off; your pride is touched; you fancy that all is done;
That for you the world is bright again, and bravely shines the sun:
You have washed your hands of passion; you have whistled her down the wind—
Oh, Tom, old friend, this goes before, the sharpest comes behind!
Yes; the sharpest is yet to come, for Love is a plant that never dies;
Its roots are deep as the earth itself, its branches wide as the skies;
And wherever once it has taken hold, it flourishes evermore,
Blossoming still, and bearing its beautiful fruit with the bitter core.
You will learn this, Tom, hereafter, when anger has cooled, and you
Have time for introspection; you will find my words are true;
You will sit and gaze in your fire alone, and fancy that you can see
Her face with its classic oval, her ringlets fluttering free,
Her soft blue eyes, wide opened, her sweet red lips apart,
As she used to look in the golden days when you dreamed she had a heart:
Whatever you do, wherever you turn, you will see that glorious face
Coming with shadowy beauty, to haunt all time and space:
Those songs you wrote for her singing will sing themselves into your brain
Till your life seems set to their rhythm, and your thoughts to their refrain—
Their old, old burden of love and grief—the passion you have foresworn—
I tell you, Tom, it is not thrown off so well as you think, this morn!
But the worst, perhaps the worst of all, will be when the day has flown,
When darkness favors reflection, and your comrades leave you alone:
You will try to sleep, but the memories of unforgotten years
Will come with a storm of wild regret—mayhap with a storm of tears—
Each look, each word, each playful tone, each timid little caress,
The golden gleam of her ringlets, the rustling of her dress,
The delicate touch of her ungloved hand, that woke such an exquisite thrill,
The flowers she gave you, the night of the ball—I think you treasure them still—
All these will come, till you slumber, worn out by sheer despair,
And then you will hear vague echoes of song on the darkened air—
Vague echoes, rising and falling, of the voice you know so well,
Like the songs that were sung by the Lurlel-maids, sweet with a deadly spell!
In dreams, her heart will ever again be yours, and you will see
Fair glimpses of what might have been—what now can never be;
And as she comes to meet you, with a sudden wild unrest
You stretch your arms forth lovingly, to fold her to your breast:
But the Lurlei-song xviii faint and die, and with its fading tone
You wake to find you clasp the thin and empty air alone,
While the fire-bell’s clanging dissonance, on the gusty night-wind borne
Will seem an iron-tongued demon’s voice, laughing, your grief to scorn.
Oh, Tom, you say it is over—you talk of letters, and rings—
Do you think that Love’s mighty spirit, then, is held by such trifling things?
No; if you once have truly loved, you will still love on, I know,
Till the church-yard myrtles blossom above, and you lie mute below!
How is it, I wonder, hereafter? Faith teaches us little, here,
Of the ones we have loved and lost on earth—do you think they will still be dear?
Shall we live the lives we might have led?—shall those who are severed now
Remember the pledge of a lower sphere, and renew the broken vow?
It almost drives me wild when I think of the gifts we throw away
Unthinking whether or no we lose Life’s honey and wine for aye!
But then, again, ‘tis a mighty joy—greater than I can tell—
To trust that the parted may sometime meet—that all may again be well:
However it be, I hold that all the evil we know on earth
Finds in this violence done to Love its true and legitimate birth,
And the agonies we suffer, when the heart is left alone,
For every sin of Humanity should fully and well atone!
I see that you marvel greatly, Tom, to hear such words from me,
But if you knew my innermost heart, ‘twould he no mystery;
Experience is bitter, but its teachings we retain,
It has taught me this, Who once has loved, loves never on earth again!
And I, too, have my closet, with a ghastly form inside—
The skeleton of a perished love, killed by a cruel pride:
I sit by the fire at evening, as you will sometime sit,
And watch, in the roseate half-light, the ghosts of happiness flit:
I, too, awaken at midnight, and stretch my arms to enfold
A vague and shadowy image, with tresses of brown and gold:
Experience is bitter indeed—I have learned at a heavy cost
The secret of Love’s persistency—I, too, have loved and lost!
© George Arnold