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.
 
Songs in Minor Keys (1884)
I. Absolution
By Christina Catherine Fraser-Tytler (Mrs. Edward Liddell) (1848– )
 
TWO loved a few years since, and read anew
The mysteries of God; and earth and sky
Were but reflections of a great I AM,
Whose name was Love: for Love is God, they said,
And thought it were the same as God is Love.        5
 
So they smiled on in a large land of smiles,
Where, as of old, the blind man with half-sight
Saw men as trees before him: and their feet
Went airily along on untouched earth,
And birds were angels, and to love was life.        10
And with the eyes of children that first see,
And know it, so they saw and wondered much
How they had ever lived so blind before.
 
And then the real awakening came—the day
When, children still, they learned to see beyond        15
The mazy borders of the land of Love;
Saw more than men as trees, and learnt to know
The harder after-lesson of “I feel.”
 
All life not fair—all men not true; some hard,
And some as pitiless as hail from heaven.        20
And a gaunt figure called the World strode up,
And came between them, and the gods of earth
Lift up themselves and asked for human hearts,
And theirs were offered on the golden shrine.
 
They parted, as the old tales run; and none        25
But God and such as part can tell the woe
Of the long days that moaned themselves away
Like billows beating on a sandy shore,
Whose song is ever of long Death and Time—
For ever breaking their full hearts, and still        30
Upgathering all the weight of woe again
To break for ever. But billows that are tired
Sink down at last into a patient calm,
Seeing their breaking fruitless. And so she,
Wed to another, with the child she bore        35
Rocked her old sorrow into fitful sleep,
And prayed the Holy Mother bless the child
And keep him safe, heart-whole from love and grief.
 
So many years rolled by: when on a day
The sun of warmer countries beating strong        40
Upon the Roman’s city, filled the dome
Of Peter as with fire from God. And there
Within, alone in that great solitude,
Keeping his watch for any lambs might seek
There to be shriven of their sins and set        45
Anew upon the highway of their God,
A priest, unseen, with his long wand outstretched.
Silence reigned speaking. And to his heart and God
The Father spake. When, lo, there swayed far off
The outer curtain, and there came the tread        50
Of swift light feet along the marble way.
 
A woman, fair with beauty of full life;
Girlish in all her movements, yet with pain
Of Holy Mother by the Holy Rood
On the sweet face from which she cast the veil        55
And looked about her. But the beckoning wand
Called to her mutely—and she paused and knelt.
 
“Father, canst understand my English tongue?
Yea! then I thank my God, for I am sad,
And burthened so with sin, I cannot walk        60
With head erect among my fellow-men,
And I am stranger here, and would confess.
 
“Father, it was no sin; it seemed not so
When it was near me, in that time long past;
But good thoughts, held beyond their time, are sin,        65
And good thoughts asked of us by God may turn
To foul corruption if we hold them here.
Listen to me. A long, long time gone by
I loved. Start not. My love was free; no chain
Bound me to suffer. All the world was mine,        70
And over it there flushed the rosy light
Of a first love—God knows how true and pure
Father, a love that holy men like you
Need never shrink from. Such a love, as but
To taste the blessedness of loving so        75
Were heaven on earth. But then to hear and see
He loved me was a tale too great, too dear,
For mortal heart to bear alone, and beat.
And so God thought to make us one—for I
Had died, but that his heart could share with me        80
In part the joyfulness, the too-much bliss.
 
“Father, when just my weaker soul had grown
To lean its fulness on him—when the times
And seasons passed unseen, because that I
Felt only constant summer by my side—        85
Then—they came between us. Had he died
He still was mine hereafter. Christ Himself
Has His own bride, the Church. But I was wed,
And he passed from me to I know not where.
 
“Father, the years have passed. I thought that I        90
Had learnt so well the lesson—to forget.
But Memory listens, as a wakeful child,
And all the more the watcher bids him sleep,
He opens wide his eyes, and makes reply,
And will not sleep for bidding. It is so,        95
Father, with me. And in my children’s eyes
I see reproaches; and their baby-hands
That wreathe me seem to say, ‘You are not true,
Not a true mother, for your life is past:
You only love us somewhere in a dream.’        100
 
“Father, he lives—my husband. And his love
Speaks too reproaches. For when he can smile,
I cannot, as good wives should do, smile back,
And lie myself to gladness. I turn there,
My God! to those long days have burnt their brand        105
Into my heart. When I could live: before,—
O Father! that ‘before!’—that great, great gulf
That yawns between us! Ah, I hear you start!
Did you speak, Father? I am vile, but now
Shrive me—I dare not take my load away!        110
 
“Stay! there is one stain more. If I should see
His face again—on this side of the grave,
My God! and if he called me, ‘Will you come?’
I sometimes think I could not choose but go!
Pray for me, Father—I have told you all.        115
But God is gracious—do not you be hard—
But answer, Father, and then shrive me so!”
 
There was a long, long silence as she knelt.
And then, at length, a voice as of the wind
Moaning a little in a wooded place,        120
Came to her softly.

                “Daughter, be thou still
And patient. It is the great God’s will.
I, too, have suffered: had a love like thine,
But long, long since have laid its fetters by.
Daughter, go home. It were not well to stay        125
Longer in this blest place—we two—alone.
I shrive thee so—from sin! Pray thou for me,
As I for thee. In heaven—hereafter—
Who knows?—I yet may speak with thee again!”
 
She moved, she rose, and passed forth from the place,        130
With heart made gladder. And the curtain fell,
As the soft footsteps on the marble died.
 
It was the silence only and his God
That heard a moan beyond the outstretched wand:
A long, long sigh, as of a spirit fled.        135
And then, in broken whispers, came at length:
 
“Into Thy hands, my God! the gate is past—
Death hath no longer sting, and Life hath nought
For me to fear or shrink from any more.
My God, I thank Thee! Thine the power, the might,        140
That held my breath, and made me more than man!
If I have suffered my full meed of pain,
Let me go hence! And on the other side
Show me Thy Bride! that I may fill my soul
And have no aching there—nor any part        145
In looking earthwards—back to earthly things!”
 
That night in Rome a heavy bell tolled slow
In convent walls. And cowlèd brothers prayed
For Brother Francis, entered into rest.
 
 
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