“Alive?”–And I leapt in my wonder,
Was faint of my joyance,
And grasses and grove shone in garments
Of glory to me.
“She lives, in a plenteous well-being,
To-day as aforehand;
The dead bore the name–though a rare one –
The name that bore she.”
She lived . . . I, afar in the city
Of frenzy-led factions,
Had squandered green years and maturer
In bowing the knee
To Baals illusive and specious,
Till chance had there voiced me
That one I loved vainly in nonage
Had ceased her to be.
The passion the planets had scowled on,
And change had let dwindle,
Her death-rumour smartly relifted
To full apogee.
I mounted a steed in the dawning
With acheful remembrance,
And made for the ancient West Highway
To far Exonb’ry.
Passing heaths, and the House of Long Sieging,
I neared the thin steeple
That tops the fair fane of Poore’s olden
And, changing anew my onbearer,
I traversed the downland
Whereon the bleak hill-graves of Chieftains
Bulge barren of tree;
And still sadly onward I followed
That Highway the Icen,
Which trails its pale riband down Wessex
O’er lynchet and lea.
Along through the Stour-bordered Forum,
Where Legions had wayfared,
And where the slow river upglasses
Its green canopy,
And by Weatherbury Castle, and thencefrom
Through Casterbridge held I
Still on, to entomb her my vision
Saw stretched pallidly.
No highwayman’s trot blew the night-wind
To me so life-weary,
But only the creak of the gibbets
Or waggoners’ jee.
Triple-ramparted Maidon gloomed grayly
Above me from southward,
And north the hill-fortress of Eggar,
And square Pummerie.
The Nine-Pillared Cromlech, the Bride-streams,
The Axe, and the Otter
I passed, to the gate of the city
Where Exe scents the sea;
Till, spent, in the graveacre pausing,
I learnt ’twas not my Love
To whom Mother Church had just murmured
A last lullaby.
– “Then, where dwells the Canon’s kinswoman,
My friend of aforetime?”–
(‘Twas hard to repress my heart-heavings
And new ecstasy.)
“She wedded.”–“Ah!”–“Wedded beneath her –
She keeps the stage-hostel
Ten miles hence, beside the great Highway –
The famed Lions-Three.
“Her spouse was her lackey–no option
‘Twixt wedlock and worse things;
A lapse over-sad for a lady
Of her pedigree!”
I shuddered, said nothing, and wandered
To shades of green laurel:
Too ghastly had grown those first tidings
So brightsome of blee!
For, on my ride hither, I’d halted
Awhile at the Lions,
And her–her whose name had once opened
My heart as a key–
I’d looked on, unknowing, and witnessed
Her jests with the tapsters,
Her liquor-fired face, her thick accents
In naming her fee.
“O God, why this seeming derision!”
I cried in my anguish:
“O once Loved, O fair Unforgotten –
That Thing–meant it thee!
“Inurned and at peace, lost but sainted,
Were grief I could compass;
Depraved–’tis for Christ’s poor dependent
A cruel decree!”
I backed on the Highway; but passed not
The hostel. Within there
Too mocking to Love’s re-expression
Was Time’s repartee!
Uptracking where Legions had wayfared,
By cromlechs unstoried,
And lynchets, and sepultured Chieftains,
A feeling stirred in me and strengthened
That SHE was not my Love,
But she of the garth, who lay rapt in
Her long reverie.
And thence till to-day I persuade me
That this was the true one;
That Death stole intact her young dearness
Frail-witted, illuded they call me;
I may be. ‘Tis better
To dream than to own the debasement
Of sweet Cicely.
Moreover I rate it unseemly
To hold that kind Heaven
Could work such device–to her ruin
And my misery.
So, lest I disturb my choice vision,
I shun the West Highway,
Even now, when the knaps ring with rhythms
From blackbird and bee;
And feel that with slumber half-conscious
She rests in the church-hay,
Her spirit unsoiled as in youth-time
When lovers were we.