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The Two Peacocks Of Bedfont
by [?]


I.

Alas! That breathing Vanity should go
Where Pride is buried,–like its very ghost,
Uprisen from the naked bones below,
In novel flesh, clad in the silent boast
Of gaudy silk that flutters to and fro,
Shedding its chilling superstition most
On young and ignorant natures–as it wont
To haunt the peaceful churchyard of Bedfont!

II.

Each Sabbath morning, at the hour of prayer,
Behold two maidens, up the quiet green
Shining, far distant, in the summer air
That flaunts their dewy robes and breathes between
Their downy plumes,–sailing as if they were
Two far-off ships,–until they brush between
The churchyard’s humble walls, and watch and wait
On either side of the wide open’d gate,

III.

And there they stand–with haughty necks before
God’s holy house, that points towards the skies–
Frowning reluctant duty from the poor,
And tempting homage from unthoughtful eyes:
And Youth looks lingering from the temple door,
Breathing its wishes in unfruitful sighs,
With pouting lips,–forgetful of the grace,
Of health, and smiles, on the heart-conscious face;–

IV.

Because that Wealth, which has no bliss beside,
May wear the happiness of rich attire;
And those two sisters, in their silly pride,
May change the soul’s warm glances for the fire
Of lifeless diamonds;–and for health denied,–
With art, that blushes at itself, inspire
Their languid cheeks–and flourish in a glory
That has no life in life, nor after-story.

V.

The aged priest goes shaking his gray hair
In meekest censuring, and turns his eye
Earthward in grief, and heavenward in pray’r,
And sighs, and clasps his hands, and passes by,
Good-hearted man! what sullen soul would wear
Thy sorrow for a garb, and constantly
Put on thy censure, that might win the praise
Of one so gray in goodness and in days?

VI.

Also the solemn clerk partakes the shame
Of this ungodly shine of human pride,
And sadly blends his reverence and blame
In one grave bow, and passes with a stride
Impatient:–many a red-hooded dame
Turns her pain’d head, but not her glance, aside
From wanton dress, and marvels o’er again,
That heaven hath no wet judgments for the vain.

VII.

“I have a lily in the bloom at home,”
Quoth one, “and by the blessed Sabbath day
I’ll pluck my lily in its pride, and come
And read a lesson upon vain array;–
And when stiff silks are rustling up, and some
Give place, I’ll shake it in proud eyes and say–
Making my reverence,–‘Ladies, an you please,
King Solomon’s not half so fine as these,'”

VIII.

Then her meek partner, who has nearly run
His earthly course,–“Nay, Goody, let your text
Grow in the garden.–We have only one–
Who knows that these dim eyes may see the next?
Summer will come again, and summer sun,
And lilies too,–but I were sorely vext
To mar my garden, and cut short the blow
Of the last lily I may live to grow,”

IX.

“The last!” quoth she, “and though the last it were–
Lo! those two wantons, where they stand so proud
With waving plumes, and jewels in their hair,
And painted cheeks, like Dagons to be bow’d
And curtsey’d to!–last Sabbath after pray’r,
I heard the little Tomkins ask aloud
If they were angels–but I made him know
God’s bright ones better, with a bitter blow!”

X.

So speaking, they pursue the pebbly walk
That leads to the white porch the Sunday throng,
Hand-coupled urchins in restrained talk,
And anxious pedagogue that chastens wrong,
And posied churchwarden with solemn stalk,
And gold-bedizen’d beadle flames along,
And gentle peasant clad in buff and green,
Like a meek cowslip in the spring serene;