By ELLA WHEELER WILCOX

[Sonnets of Sorrow I]

PRAYING for light, and praying all in vain,
Since not one lamp was shining in God’s tower ;
Praying for strength to bear consuming pain,
Yet growing weaker with each passing hour ;
Praying for hope the while relentless Fate
Marked out hope’s grave, and dug it dark and deep,
My trembling lips at last could formulate
Only a prayer for sleep—forgetting sleep.

That plea was answered.  From her silent place
Sleep came and touched me with oblivion :
Yet was that touch robbed of all healing grace :
For when she rose up in the awful dawn
She left but this in answer to my prayer—
New strength to suffer with renewed despair.

[Sonnets of Sorrow V]

You understood the woman side of me ;
My vanities you met with smiling lip ;
The fabrics that I wore you first see,
And pass upon them with wise censorship.
You loved things not too sombre or too bright,
But tender toned with colours softly blent ;
Yet, when I leaned above you, draped like night,
You were unmindful and indifferent.

One sigh of mine, one tear upon my face,
Wrenched your dear heart with sympathetic grief.
Yet, when I held you in that last embrace,
Torn with a torture which found no relief,
You lay and smiled with such a knowing air
Of mighty peace as if you did not care.

[Sonnets of Sorrow VIII]

At last a dream—at last a dream of you !
Against the black black curtain of the night
I saw you stand. ’Twas but a dream, I knew,
And yet my hungry eyes fed on the sight,
My aching arms embraced you, and I cried,
“How good, how good God is to let you come
And bridge the chasm that has seemed so wide!”
You listened smiling, but you lips were dumb.

And then you vanished. All alone I stood
(as evermore I stand, alone, apart)
Repeating softly, “God was good, so good,
To let me dream of you,” Oh, ravenous heart,
How pitiful, how pitiful it seems
To feed such hunger with but husks of dreams !

[Sonnets of Sorrow IX]

From land to land, from coast to bloody coast,
Our planet trembles with loud sounds of strife.
The seas are ravaged by a warring host,
The air is filled with menaces to life.
Men talk of nothing but the news of war ;
And with the coming of each crimson dawn
Come new calamities and horrors, for
Events are shaped by what minds feed upon.

As in a nightmare, we unheeding hear
That which awake would fill us with affright.
The woes of earth fall dully on mine ear,
Nor am I moved by its appalling plight.
For all these things seem trivial beside
This monstrous fact—one night in May you died.

[Sonnets of Sorrow XVI]

Oh, to wake once again with that old joy,
That consciousness of angels hovering near !
Oh, for a shaft of light that would destroy
This dark despondency, this nameless fear !
My radiant thought had never given form
Or substance to those two unbidden things ;
Yet in that night of devastating storm,
Bat-like they came on black and brooding wings.

My mind has lost its optimistic course
And sunk in quicksands of despair and gloom,
Nor have my wildest prayers the drawing force
To lift me back to sunlight and to bloom.
Oh, Everlasting Arms, reach out, reach out,
Before I sink in madness, or in doubt!

“From ‘Sonnets of Sorrow.’” in "Voices of the Living Poets",
Current Opinion 64 (Apr. 1918): 281.

Courtesy of John M. Freiermuth.

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