OH many a duel the world has seen
That was bitter with hate, that was red with gore,
But I sing of a duel by far more cruel
Than ever by poet was sung before.
It was waged by night, yea by day and by night,
With never a pause or halt or rest,
And the curious spot where this battle was fought
Was the throbbing heart in a woman's breast.
There met two rivals in deadly strife,
And they fought for this woman so pale and proud.
One was a man in the prime of life,
And one was a corpse in a moldy shroud;
One wrapped in a sheet from his head to his feet,
The other one clothed in worldly fashion;
But a rival to dread is a man who is dead,
If he has been loved in life with passion.
The living lover he battled with sighs,
He strove for the woman with words that burned,
While stiff and stark lay the corpse in the dark,
And silently yearned and yearned and yearned.
One spoke of the rapture that life still held
For hearts that yielded to love's desire,
And one through the cold grave's earthy mold
Sent thoughts of a past that were fraught with fire
The living lover seized hold of her hands--
"You are mine," he cried, "and we will not part!"
But she felt the clutch of the dead man's touch
On the tense-drawn strings of her aching heart.
Yet the touch was of ice, and she shrank with fear--
Oh! the hands of the dead are cold, so cold--
And warm were the arms that waited near
To gather her close in their clinging fold.
And warm was the light in the living eyes,
But the eyes of the dead, how they stare and stare!
With sudden surrender she turned to the tender
And passionate lover who wooed her there.
Farewell to sorrow, hail, sweet to-morrow!
The battle was over, the duel was done.
They swooned in the blisses of love's fond kisses,
And the dead man stared on in the dark alone.
Custer and other poems
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
W. B. Conkey Company Chicago, Ill. (1896)
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