Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. III. Sorrow and Consolation
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume III. Sorrow and Consolation.  1904.
 
I. Disappointment in Love
The Portrait
E. Robert Bulwer, Lord Lytton (Owen Meredith) (1831–1891)
 
MIDNIGHT past! Not a sound of aught
  Through the silent house, but the wind at his prayers.
I sat by the dying fire, and thought
  Of the dear dead woman upstairs.
 
A night of tears! for the gusty rain        5
  Had ceased, but the eaves were dripping yet;
And the moon looked forth, as though in pain,
  With her face all white and wet:
 
Nobody with me, my watch to keep,
  But the friend of my bosom, the man I love:        10
And grief had sent him fast to sleep
  In the chamber up above.
 
Nobody else, in the country place
  All round, that knew of my loss beside,
But the good young Priest with the Raphael-face,        15
  Who confessed her when she died.
 
That good young Priest is of gentle nerve,
  And my grief had moved him beyond control;
For his lips grew white, as I could observe,
  When he speeded her parting soul.        20
 
I sat by the dreary hearth alone:
  I thought of the pleasant days of yore:
I said, “The staff of my life is gone:
  The woman I loved is no more.
 
“On her cold dead bosom my portrait lies,        25
  Which next to her heart she used to wear—
Haunting it o’er with her tender eyes
  When my own face was not there.
 
“It is set all round with rubies red,
  And pearls which a Peri might have kept.        30
For each ruby there my heart hath bled:
  For each pearl my eyes have wept.”
 
And I said—“The thing is precious to me:
  They will bury her soon in the churchyard clay;
It lies on her heart, and lost must be        35
  If I do not take it away.”
 
I lighted my lamp at the dying flame,
  And crept up the stairs that creaked for fright,
Till into the chamber of death I came,
  Where she lay all in white.        40
 
The moon shone over her winding-sheet,
  There stark she lay on her carven bed:
Seven burning tapers about her feet,
  And seven about her head.
 
As I stretched my hand, I held my breath;        45
  I turned as I drew the curtains apart:
I dared not look on the face of death:
  I knew where to find her heart.
 
I thought at first, as my touch fell there,
  It had warmed that heart to life, with love;        50
For the thing I touched was warm, I swear,
  And I could feel it move.
 
’T was the hand of a man, that was moving slow
  O’er the heart of the dead,—from the other side:
And at once the sweat broke over my brow.        55
  “Who is robbing the corpse?” I cried.
 
Opposite me by the tapers’ light,
  The friend of my bosom, the man I loved,
Stood over the corpse, and all as white,
  And neither of us moved.        60
 
“What do you here, my friend?”… The man
  Looked first at me, and then at the dead.
“There is a portrait here,” he began;
  “There is. It is mine,” I said.
 
Said the friend of my bosom, “Yours, no doubt,        65
  The portrait was, till a month ago,
When this suffering angel took that out,
  And placed mine there, I know.”
 
“This woman, she loved me well,” said I.
  “A month ago,” said my friend to me:        70
“And in your throat,” I groaned, “you lie!”
  He answered,… “Let us see.”
 
“Enough!” I returned, “let the dead decide:
  And whosesoever the portrait prove,
His shall it be, when the cause is tried,        75
  Where Death is arraigned by Love.”
 
We found the portrait there, in its place:
  We opened it by the tapers’ shine:
The gems were all unchanged: the face
  Was—neither his nor mine.        80
 
“One nail drives out another, at least!
  The face of the portrait there,” I cried,
“Is our friend’s, the Raphael-faced young Priest,
  Who confessed her when she died.”
 
The setting is all of rubies red,        85
  And pearls which a Peri might have kept.
For each ruby there my heart hath bled:
  For each pearl my eyes have wept.
 
 
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