Into the mellow light of the cloudless autumn day,
Somehow, the vision slips, of a landscape, far away,
Wherever I turn my eyes, it hovers before them still,
The little, vine-wreathed cot, on the southerly slope of the hill,
The pasture at the left, the ducks a-swim in the pond,
And the straight, green rows of corn, with the wheat fields just beyond,
The sloping lawn on the right, that is always seeming to say
To the lake that lies below, "I will meet you just half way."
And over and over the cot, from th' ground to th' mossy eaves,
Cling, and twine. and clamber the vines, with their dark, green leaves;
The little mimic garden, with its simple flowers a-blow,
Larkspur, bleeding hearts, and the clumps of phlox, like snow;
Petunias, red and white, like drooping and fragile maids,
Rose trees hanging down, with roses of many shades,
Marigolds, batchelor-buttons, with clusters of evergreen,
On the two trim rows of beds, with the narrow path between,
And the setting rays of the sun, lending it all a flush,
That is given to sunset scenes, by the heavenly Artist's brush.
It is thus it rises to-day, and hovers before my eyes;
I have seen it softly lit, with the mornings' sweet surprise--
I have seen it when the dew glistened upon the grass--
In the hush of the summer noon, when the calm lake lay like glass--
In the ghostly rays o' the moon---in the quiet of the night--
But never half so fair as under that sunset light.
Ah! foolish, and weak old heart, must you live it over again?
Why reopen the book, whose final page was Pain!
But the picture rises before me, rises, and hovers there,
And the glory of the sunset falls on the maiden's hair;
The maid, who stood in that garden ten long summers ago,
Stood by the "bleeding hearts," and the clusters of phlox, like snow.
Ah! musty and dusty old heart, you were younger and lighter then!
Yet not young, for now you have beat, two score years and ten;
But that one summer holds the essence of all my life,
The forty years before were records of toil and strife,
And I opened the book again, when my holiday was o'er,
And began at the page I left, and plodded on as before.
Weary of law, of work, of the dust, and heat of th' town,
Ill, in body and mind, my heart went longing down
To the cool, green country meadows; and I followed it one day,
And there in the vine-wreathed cot, let the summer slip away;
Ay! and I let the heart I had guarded forty years--
The heart that had never been stirred by love's wild hopes and fears--
I let it slip away to the maid with amber eyes,
With tresses dusky brown, and cheeks like th' sunset skies
Ah! secret I tried to keep, ah! love I strove to hide!
But in the July twilight, I lingered at her side,
And, leaning by the rose tree, her tresses swept my cheek!
"Ah! sweet," I cried in a tremor, "I love you--let me speak!"
And then, somehow the love I had thought to guard untold
Broke loose from the fetters of silence, and gathered strength, and rolled
Forth in a torrent of words; and I knelt at the maiden's feet,
Crying, "Grant me a token, as yea or nay, my sweet."
And then, with a shy, sweet smile, she gave me her finger-tips,
And, bolder grown, I said, as I raised them to my lips,
"'Twere a lesser love than mine, that were wholly satisfied,
With a touch of your finger tips, and farther than that denied."
The curtains of her eyes dropped low, and I drew her close,
And over and over again kissed the sweet face like a rose.
I said, "I have pleaded a case, and won it; do you see?
And now I take my pay! for a lawyer must have his fee."
Ah! summer over and gone, into the echoless past!
Oh! August afternoons, that drifted by too fast!
Oh! rows on the quiet lake, in the blissful moonlit eves,
When the harvesters sang their song, carrying home the sheaves.
I can hear it even now, the voices, strong ond sweet,
Over the noise, and rattle, and roar of the busy street,
I can see the face of Mable, full lipped, ripe, and fair,
With the amber tints in her eyes, and the dusky shades on her hair.
Into my life's September, came the beauty I missed in June,
The glory lost in the morning, came in the afternoon.
The dream that belongs to youth, golden--complete--sublime,
I dreamed not, in the spring, but in the autumn time.
Ah! and the young heart wakes from the dream of love, and then,
Suffers a little while, and dreams it over again.
But never a second draught of the wine of love for me,
I drank it all at the first, and shattered the cup, you see.
I woke from the golden dream when I saw her on the breast
Of a fair-faced, beardless youth--when I saw his red lips pressed
Over and over again to the mouth, like a rose half blown,
And I heard her whispered words--"My only love, my own."
Hush! censure them not! His heart she toyed with even as mine.
He suffered keenly, I think, then knelt at another's shrine.
And she--speak softly of her--she died: she is only dust;
Died repentant--forgiven--and entered Heaven--I trust.
And I--well my years drift on, as my two-score drifted away,
Only at times, this memory comes, as it came to-day,
Thrilling me through and through--and I live it all once more,
Though I shut the past away, and have striven to lock the door.
Have I lost all faith in woman? Nay, surely not: should we
Say that every heart is false because one proves to be!
Because I find a worm in the petals of a rose,
Shall I say that worms are coiled in every flower that blows?
Nay, there are constant woman, and women as sweet and fair
As she with the amber eyes, and the shadows on her hair.
But I found the wine of love so late, that when I quaffed
I held none in reserve, but drank it all at a draught.
The future? I do not dread: it is neither dark nor bright.
I have had my day of joy--I have had my sorrow's night.
God helped me through the last--I do not know just how,
But He answered when I called Him, and why should I doubt him now?
Nor mortal eye can see, nor mortal heart conceive,
What He holdeth in His kingdom for the faithful that believe.
But I sometimes think the dream that was broken here for me,
I shall finish and complete by the shining Jasper sea.
Shells by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Milwaukee: Hauser & Storey, 1873.
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