The Departure

THE Departure .

B UT the lady treads the forest dark,
 Where the twisted path is rough and red,
 The huge tree trunks, with their knotted bark,
In and out, stand up on either side;
Down below, their boughs are thin and wide,
 But they mingle darkly overhead;
Only sometimes where the jealous screen,
Broken, shows a glimpse of Heaven between,
 And the light falls in a silver flood,
Grows a little patch of purest green,
Where, when in the Spring the flowers unfold,
Lieth a long gleam of blue and gold
 Hidden in the heart of the old wood.
And a wider space shows on the verge
 Of the forest by a bright stream bound,
 That keeps fresh a plot of open ground,
Whence the blind old woodman hears the surge
Of the sea of leaves that toss their foam
Of white blossoms round his lowly home,
Whose poor thatch, amid that living mass
 Of rich verdure, lieth dark and brown,
Like a lark's nest, russet in the grass
 Of a bare field on a breezy down.

In an inner chamber lay the girl,
 Dying, as the Autumn day died out,
 The low wind, that bore the leaves about,
Every now and then, with sudden whirl,
 Through her casement made the curtain flap
With a weary sound upon the wall;
 Moved the linen lying on her lap;
But she lay and heeded not at all,
With the brown hands folded close together,
And the cheek, all stain'd with toil and weather,
 Fading underneath the squalid cap.
Turn, poor sufferer, give one dying look
To the forest over the clear brook,
For the sunset dim in thy low chamber
Touches it with emerald and amber,
Clasps its jewels in a golden setting—
 Ah! she doth not heed, she will not turn,
She but asks the rapture of forgetting,
 Life has left her few delights to mourn.
 Painful childhood without sport or laughter,
Cheerless growing up in toil and care,
Wanting sympathy to make life fair;
Outward dulness, and an inward blight—
Doom of many that we read aright,
 Only in the light of the hereafter.

Now her life ebbs to a new beginning,
Not alone the end of toil and sinning,
Not alone the perfect loss of pain,
But the bursting of a life-long chain,
And a dark film passing from the eyes,
 The soul breaking into that full blaze
That in gleams, and thoughts, and fantasies
 Broke but rarely on her earthly days;
For the shadow of the forest lay
 On the crush'd heart of the forest maid;
Glorious sunshine, and the light of day,
 And the blue air of long summers play'd
Ever in the green tops of the trees:—
Down below were depths and mysteries,
 Dim perspectives, and a humid smell
Of decaying leaves and rotted cones;
 While, far up, the wild bee rung her bell,
And the blossoms nodded on their thrones,
 She, poor foundling at another's hearth,
She, the blind man's helper and his slave,
To whose thought the quiet of the grave
 Hardly paid the drudgery of earth.

Till the lady found the forlorn creature,
 And she told her all the marvellous story,
 Divine love, and suffering, and glory,
That to her abused, neglected nature,
 Slowly did a gleam of hope impart—
Gleam that never rose to light her feature,
 But it burn'd into her blighted heart:
Gave a meaning to each sound that haunted
 Arch on arch, the forest's depth of aisle,
Set to music every wind that chanted,
 Made it all a consecrated pile.
For the lady to the chapel stately,
 Though the pages whisper'd in her train,
Though the Lady Bertha marvell'd greatly,
 Led her once, and oft she came again.
'Neath the crimson window's blazonry,
 There she saw the priest and people kneeling,
 Trembled at the loud Laudates pealing,
Wept along the solemn Litany;
 Mark'd the Psalter's long majestic flow,
With brief pause of sudden Glorias riven,
Heard it warbling at the gates of Heaven,
 Heard it wailing from the depths below.
But most won the Gospel strain her soul
 When its one clear solitary tone,
After music, on the hush'd church stole.
 Like a sweet bird that sings on alone
 When the storm of harmony is done,
Or that voice the Prophet heard of old
When the tempest died upon the wold.
 And a form divine, great, gentle, wise,
Slowly out of that grand picture grew,
 Look'd into her soul with human eyes,
To His heart the desolate creature drew—
Tender heart that beat so kind and true
 To her wants, and cares, and sympathies.
Never more His presence fair forsakes her,
 To her weary solitude He follows,
 Meets her in the forest depths and hollows.
By her rough and toil-worn hand He takes her,
 Smiles upon her with His heavenly face,
 Till the wood is an enchanted place.
When a beam in summer stray'd, perchance,
 Through the boughs that darkly intertwine,
Comes to break a slender silver lance
 On the brown trunk of some aged pine,
Falls in shivers on the dappled moss
That doth all its hoary roots emboss;
 She, uplooking to that glorious ray,
Saith: “It cometh from the throne of Christ,
Some good saint hath won the holy tryste,
 And Heaven's gate is open wide to-day.”
Or when o'er the April sky there pass'd
 Clouds that made the forest darkness denser,
And the shadows, by the bare trunks cast,
 Weirder, and the distant gloom intenser;
When, as she sat listening, overhead
 Came short silence, and a sound of drops,
 And a tossing in the great tree tops,
And she saw across the broken arch
Fall the green tufts of the tassell'd larch,
And the white chestnut flowers, row on row,
And the pine-plumes dashing to and fro.
 As the thunder cloud pass'd o'er, she said:
“Sure the saints are round about the King,
And I see the waving palms they bring.”
 Fair Beata kneeleth at her side,
To her shrunken lip the cordial gives,
Tells her gently that her Saviour lives,
 Gently tells her that her Saviour died.
“Read, O Lady, read those words of sorrow,
 Part of rapture, and of anguish part,
Which in presence of that awful morrow
Jesus spake—the dying to the dying,
When the dear one on His bosom lying,
 Caught them breathing from His breaking heart.”
And the lady from her gospel olden
 Read, while ebb'd the worn-out life away;
Paused awhile the parting spirit, holden
 By the exquisite beauty of the lay.
Ah, did ever poem tell so sweetly
 To the saint the rapture of his rest?
Ah, did requiem ever lull so meetly
 Weary sinner on a Saviour's breast?

But there comes a strange short quiver now
Creeping darkly up from chin to brow—
Sweet Beata never look'd on death,
And she reads on with unbated breath.
 But the blind man, sitting at the door,
Crieth: “Silence, for I hear a shout
 In Heaven, and a rustling on the floor,
And the sound of something passing out,
 And my hair is lifted with a rush
 Of angels' wings. They have pass'd by me. Hush!”
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