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Love’s Ordeal
by [?]

A couch just raised above the rocky floor,
Of withered oak and beech-leaves, that the wind
Had tossed about till weary, covered o’er
With skins of bears which feathery mosses lined,
And last of lambs, with wool long, soft, and hoar,
Received the old man’s bended limbs reclined.
Gently the maiden did herself unclothe,
And lay beside him, trusting, and not loath.

Again the storm among the trees o’erhead;
The hounds pricked up their ears, their eyes flashed fire;
Seemed to the trembling maiden that a tread
Light, and yet clear, amid the wind’s loud ire,
As dripping feet o’er smooth slabs hither sped,
Came often up, as with a fierce desire,
To enter, but as oft made quick retreat;
And looking forth the hounds stood on their feet.

Then came, half querulous, a whisper old,
Feeble and hollow as from out a chest:
“Take my face on your bosom, I am cold.”
Straightway she bared her bosom’s white soft nest;
And then his head, her gentle hands, love-bold,
With its grey withered face against her pressed.
Ah, maiden! it was very old and chill,
But thy warm heart beneath it grew not still.

Again the wind falls, and the rain-clouds pour,
Rushing to earth; and soon she heard the sound
Of a fierce torrent through the thick night roar;
The lamp went out as by the darkness drowned;
No more the morn will dawn, oh, never more!
Like centuries the feeble hours went round;
Dead night lay o’er her, clasping, as she lay,
Within her holy place, unburied clay.

The hours stood still; her life sunk down so low,
That, but for wretchedness, no life she knew.
A charnel wind sung on a moaning–No;
Earth’s centre was the grave from which it blew;
Earth’s loves and beauties all passed sighing slow,
Roses and lilies, children, friends, the few;
But so transparent blanched in every part,
She saw the pale worm lying in each heart.

And worst of all, O death of gladsome life!
A voice within awoke and cried: In sooth,
There is no need of sorrow, care, and strife;
For all that women beauty call, and truth,
Is but a glow from hearts with fancy rife,
Passing away with slowly fading youth.
Gaze on them narrowly, they waver, blot;
Look at them fixedly, and they are not.

And all the answer the poor child could make
Lay in the tightened grasp of her two hands;
She felt as if she lay mouldering awake
Within the sepulchre’s fast stony bands,
And cared not though she died, but for his sake.
And the dark horror grew like drifting sands,
Till nought seemed beautiful, not God, nor light;
And yet she braved the false, denying night.

But after hope was dead, a faint, light streak
Crept through a crevice in the rocky wall;
It fell upon her bosom and his cheek.
From God’s own eye that light-glance seemed to fall.
Backward he drew his head, and did not speak,
But gazed with large deep eyes angelical
Upon her face. Old age had fled away–
Youth everlasting in her bosom lay.

With a low cry of joy closer she crept,
And on his bosom hid a face that glowed,
Seeking amends for terror while he slept.
She had been faithful: the beloved owed
Love, youth, and gladness unto her who wept
Gushingly on his heart. Her warm tears flowed
A baptism for the life that would not cease;
And when the sun arose, they slept in peace.