Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
A Book of Rhyme (1881)
I. Pourlain the Prisoner
By Augusta Webster (1840–1894)
 
I.
BEYOND his silent vault green springs went by,
  The river flashed along its open way,
  Blithe swallows flitted in their billowy play,
And the sweet lark went quivering up the sky.
With him was stillness and his heart’s dumb cry        5
  And darkness of the tomb through hopeless day,
  Save that along the wall one single ray
Shifted, through jealous loop-holes, westerly.
 
One single ray: and where its light could fall
  His rusty nail carved saints and angels there,        10
  And warriors, and slim girls with braided hair,
  And blossomy boughs, and birds athwart the air.
Rude work, but yet a world. And light for all
  Was one slant ray upon a prison wall.
 
II.
One ray, and in its track he lived and wrought,
        15
  And in free wideness of the world, I know,
  One said, “Fair sunshine, yet it serves not so,
It needs a tenderer when I shape my thought;”
And, “’Tis too brown and molten in the drought,”
  And, “’Tis too wan a greyness in this snow,”        20
  And would have toiled, but wearied and was woe,
While days stole past and had bequeathed him nought.
 
Maybe in Gisors, round the fortress mead—
  Gisors where now, when fair-time brings its press,
  They seek the prisoner’s tower to gaze and guess        25
  And love the work he made in loneliness—
One cursed the gloom, and died without a deed,
The while he carved where his one ray could lead.
 
III.
“Oh loneliness! oh darkness!” so we wail,
  Crying to life to give we know not what,        30
  The hope not come, the ecstasy forgot,
The things we should have had and, needing, fail,
Nor know what thing it was for which we ail,
  And, like tired travellers to an unknown spot,
  Pass listless, noting only “Yet ’tis not,”        35
And count the ended day an empty tale.
 
Ah me! to linger on in dim repose
  And feel the numbness over hand and thought,
And feel the silence in the heart, that grows.
  Ah me! to have forgot the hope we sought.        40
  One ray of light, and a soul lived and wrought,
And on the prison walls a message rose.
 
 
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