Between the folding sea-downs,
In the gloom
Of a wailful wintry nightfall,
When the boom
Of the ocean, like a hammering in a hollow tomb,
Throbbed up the copse-clothed valley
From the shore
To the chamber where I darkled,
Sunk and sore
With gray ponderings why my Loved one had not come before
To salute me in the dwelling
That of late
I had hired to waste a while in –
Vague of date,
Quaint, and remote–wherein I now expectant sate;
On the solitude, unsignalled,
Broke a man
Who, in air as if at home there,
Seemed to scan
Every fire-flecked nook of the apartment span by span.
A stranger’s and no lover’s
Eyes were these,
Eyes of a man who measures
What he sees
But vaguely, as if wrapt in filmy phantasies.
Yea, his bearing was so absent
As he stood,
It bespoke a chord so plaintive
In his mood,
That soon I judged he would not wrong my quietude.
“Ah–the supper is just ready,”
Then he said,
“And the years’-long binned Madeira
(There was no wine, no food, no supper-table spread.)
“You will forgive my coming,
I see you as at that time
The self-same curious querying in your eyes and air.
“Yet no. How so? You wear not
The same gown,
Your locks show woful difference,
Are not brown:
What, is it not as when I hither came from town?
“And the place . . . But you seem other –
Can it be?
What’s this that Time is doing
YOU dwell here, unknown woman? . . . Whereabouts, then, is she?
“And the house–things are much shifted. –
Put them where
They stood on this night’s fellow;
Shift her chair:
Here was the couch: and the piano should be there.”
I indulged him, verily nerve-strained
And I moved the things as bidden,
One by one,
And feigned to push the old piano where he had shown.
“Aha–now I can see her!
Don’t thrust her from the table
She makes attempt with matron-manners to preside.
“She serves me: now she rises,
Goes to play . . .
But you obstruct her, fill her
And embarrassed, scared, she vanishes away!”
And, as ’twere useless longer
He sighed, and sought the entry
Ere I wist,
And retreated, disappearing soundless in the mist.
That here some mighty passion
Once had burned,
Which still the walls enghosted,
And that by its strong spell mine might be overturned.
I sat depressed; till, later,
My Love came;
But something in the chamber
Dimmed our flame, –
An emanation, making our due words fall tame,
As if the intenser drama
Shown me there
Of what the walls had witnessed
Filled the air,
And left no room for later passion anywhere.
So came it that our fervours
Did quite fail
Of future consummation –
Being made quail
By the weird witchery of the parlour’s hidden tale,
Which I, as years passed, faintly
Learnt to trace, –
One of sad love, born full-winged
In that place
Where the predestined sorrowers first stood face to face.
And as that month of winter
And the evening of the date-day
I am conscious of those presences, and sit spellbound.
There, often–lone, forsaken –
Within me; whether a phantom
Had my heed
On that strange night, or was it some wrecked heart indeed?