The Grove

Shake , shake thy shadows down, thy dark leaves down,
Thy gentle leaves upon the parched dull grass,
And let thy silver leaves between the black,
And silver pools outspread between dark islands,
Mirror the steady tranquil light that lies
Round thy lone station in the skies.

I

Lightly along the lime-tree avenue
A wind tiptoed, careless of the tired arms
Stretched wide for any breath, and lifting only
In his irregular motion thin boughs here,
Large branches there and, passing, leaving but
A few faint-stirred and many unrefreshed.
There was a bay of younger trees about
A frail old bench, and these the wind ran through
Ruffling every bough until they breathed out peace,
All wakeful and all waiting his return.

" She is not here to-night, "
A slim lime said. " Again she is not here, "
Another said: " A third night now has fallen
And she comes not. " At the crescent's shadowy tip
An older dense tree spoke: " Three nights she came,
Three nights she's absent: she will not come again —
Not again, again. " The sound shook from his leaves
Like heavy dew falling on leaves below.

A young tree whispered, " When she waited here
She came and touched me with her foot, tap-tapping
Impatient, maybe angry. "
" No, no, " breathed
The dust in quiet syllables. " No, not angry,
Her footstep quivered on me, not in anger,
And when he came the lightest shaking ceased. "
" Even so quiet, " mused another lime,
" For when she leaned her hand here and uplifted
Her face, looking along the path, her breath
Stirred not the greedy spider's web above her.
She was so quiet then. "
" Ah, but the owl,
That large loud foolish owl tumbling about
Half the night through, that harsh owl startled her
With his near note and quick and soundless wings;
And when a moth struck smartly on her cheek,
I felt her — like a dizzy moth herself. "
The tufted grass between the fissured footstone —
" Quiet at first, but yet not quiet for long.
Sitting here last time she thrust her foot on me,
Grinding me with her heel as she stood up. "
" 'Twas then she scorched me as she motioned on, "
The dust said softly and then sank in silence.

Now the bench muttered, " And still no one knows,
None knows why she is absent or if she'll come. "
One answered then, " You must have heard, you heard
More than our senses told us. Tell us now. "

And all the listeners in a sudden breath said,
" Tell us ,
Tell us. "
" Words are not all. Women are like trees,
That speak in wordless rustle. But I will tell
Of all her lips and hand and bosom said, the pulse
That shook me when she could not speak aloud.
Words are not all. "

" Not all, not all , " they murmured ,
Their leaves like the sound of a hushing crowd
Doing its reverence to death and sorrow.

" When last she came and waited, and when he came,
Here sat they; and she but sighed, " At last,
At last." And he, " I could not come — forgive."
She smiled then, saying, " However soon you came,
I still should breathe, At last ."
" My dear," he cried —
No more; but yet I know his thought went on,
" I dare not tell her I had nigh forgotten.
Good Lord, there's no forgetting in a woman."
" Awhile she sat contented with his touch
Until a thought spread over her, and then:
" These many months we've met, now here, now there,
And time flows on with habit; but now, my dear,
Thinking of all I've thought, I cannot still
Meet you, and ever so — thus in the dark,
In secret."
He started, and cried, " Why?" "

" I heard that " Why?" " the listeners breathed,
" I heard . "

" She paused, and then " I hate to meet in the dark ..."
But he broke in, " The kindly, friendly dark,
That shuts the world out, every other eye
And every other ear." "

" Not ours, not ours! "
Breathed all together.

And the bench went on,
" " The friendly dark? Ah, no. It is too still,
Too secret, silent — all ear and no tongue.
O there's a time when the world awakes, all tongue,
No ear. I do not fear the light,
I fear the thief-like secrecy of the dark.
O listen!
I would go naked through the gabbling town —
As she did once — mindless of eyes and tongues,
Rather than wear this falseness — like a shroud
For honour that is dying, already dead,
Feigning all that my heart can never feel,
And feeling ... shame. O I'd rather be
Open, and despised, than — "
There was no more to hear. "

" She didn't mean that, a woman, " murmured the lime,
That saturnine dense tree the farthest off.
" She did, she did! " declared the grass.
" Her foot
Pressed sharp against me, as if she had a hurt
To hide and could not hide it or endure. "

" Hush, hush, " cried others. " What then, what then? "

" He paused,
Then whispered low, " We may be lovers still,"
And leaned his shape to hers, a dark fond cloud.
But she, " Deceivers still?" cried quick and clear. "

" I heard her, " every ruffling listener breathed.

" " Ah, let us not deceive ourselves." His voice
Was smooth and gentle but did not speak his thought,
His thought that curled coldly within and watched.
" Let us think of the future and not trust — "
" " Trust nothing, do you mean, not even love?"
She cried; " is nothing, nothing left to trust?"
She quivered as she lifted then her head,
And though the words came not, her bosom was saying,
" Trust nothing — what are you teaching me?
Trust nothing,
What have you done to me, what are you doing,
You that I love? — Deceive, deceive ourselves,
Deceive?"
Then his voice with its old and cool
Caress (and hand that slid upon her bosom
And stayed to calm her), cried, " O hush, be still,
Be not so wildly foolish; rock not, but rest
Here." And he drew her. "
" She was crying then, "
Muttered the hollowed footstone; " her tears fell
Heavily. " None else spoke, all listened.
Then
The voice went on: " At last she breathed,
" Ah, true.
You are right: I will not deceive myself again.
I will lock my heart away and be all fear
And care ... But no, no, I cannot
Learn cowardice and cunning now, for love
Cries out against me. All these weeks and months
Too sweet are, and too bitter — and must end,
Must end — have ended. I will come to you
When you say come — but not to part again,
But not to shun the light and hug the dark —
The friendly, false, unfaithful dark. I will come
Freely and openly, annulling so
These present bonds ... that other bonds be fast.
For love, I know, needs bonds, as moon and tides
Need laws to bound their wide and homeless ways.
Chain me, my dear, but chain me in the eye
Of common day. Shame gnaws these bonds of night,
And sorrow gnaws deceit." "

Mused the listeners , " We ,
We too are chained, we too,
And our fall'n leaves return, and bud anew;
And all we know the gnawing of the worm
That writhes within. "

Their hushed voice faded away,
And the grave tone took up the tale again.
" A while he crouched, cold as a winter'd snake,
No longer whispering subtly at her ear;
And feeling him so chill she shook, and I
Shook with her motion; then, " Forgive!" she cried,
And in a lower note, " Forget!" she cried;
" Let all be now forgotten between us."
Again
She trembled head to foot. "
" I felt her trembling, "
Said the stone and tufted grass.
" He spoke at last,
" Say not again, Forget. My dear, you are right;
We must end this, and now begin anew.
But a little while, a few short days, and then
We will meet — "
" To part no more?" she echoed clear. "

And all they round re-echoed, " To part no more! "
For all they heard that clear, " To part no more. "
" " To part no more," he answered, bending his head.
Then silence: but his mind went rattling on
Purposeless and perplexed with Why , What , How!
Repeated in the twitching of his hand.
At last, " Then three nights hence, and here," he said.
" Three nights hence," she repeated; and she rose
And drew him to her and they moved away,
Two figures and one shadow, and her head
Uplifted as her eyes would face the stars. "

" They passed beneath us and her step was light,
Her head was steady as she faced the stars, "
The trees said swaying, mingling shade in shade.

II

The owl was hooting wildly now; his shrill
And thrilling shriek had stilled all cries beside —
Then silence, and " Scream away now, old owl, "
The dense lime said: " lift up your luckless tune,
Your loveless burden. Hoot on now, if ever. "

" Hush, hush thy evil leaves, thine owlish lips, "
Murmured the grove.
" It is to-night they come, to-night they meet
To part no more. "

" No more, no more , " all whispered .

Said one, " How many scores of restless lovers
Have met and kissed and parted in our shade? "
Said one, " How many generations rose
Before ours grew here. " " There were forests once, "
Said one, " before men journeyed east to west:
Forests — and now our thin trim ranks are all
Of forest left. "
" How many restless scores, "
Began the young tree again; but the dense lime in
His deep tone said, " Not always lovers parting,
None's faithful ever — none. "
" Save these, save these! "
The large lime shook his dark and heavy locks,
Stirring the clinging moths. " Wait, wait, " he answered;
" From eager meetings angry partings. " And
His swaying boughs made echo, " Eager — angry. "
And then he wrapped his leaves around and ceased
Like some sad moody dreamer dreaming ill.
Shivered the prisoned grass, " I wish her happy. "
And, " Wishes — wishes! " murmured a mellow throat.

Many steps had approached the watching crescent,
Lingered and passed; no one sat on the bench.
The place was empty when her foot was heard
Slow on the dust, and when she saw she passed
And moved behind the bench and leaned her there,
Hands silent, but their throbbing filled the timbers.
All the trees listened as with a myriad filmy
Threads that must shake if but her longings stirred.

Sometimes an idle shape thickened upon
The shadow-checkered dark, or satyr face
Peered greedily at her woman's shape withdrawing,
Till the wind drew a sudden sinister hiss
From quickly rocking boughs; and when the bad face
Had passed, she moved again and stood tap-tapping,
Tap-tapping rapidly, incessantly repeating.
At last her head drooped and her body sank
Heavily on the bench and there was stiff;
Only she raised her hands, covering her eyes —
Her body rigid as an iron cage
And spirit flapping to and fro within
Till the wings were bruised or broken.

And all they heard
The beating of the wings and the dull murmur
Of the smitten cage and tumult of her heart.
And like the suspiration of a prayer
Echoed to stony lips from human lips
At midnight mass, those green Cathedral arches
Redoubled and reiterated, Come!
Yes, every dusky hollow echoed Come ,
Come, come!

Soundless a shadow deepened:
She felt its chill and looked and breathed,
" Here, here,
At last? " And then, past doubtful, " Look
I am here.
Have I drawn you, so you could not choose but come?
Speak ... O, it wears your very guise,
It is your shadow — the shadow of a shadow,
The shadow of your love that rose and faded.
Go! Since I called you I will bid you go.
I would not keep you though your substance now
Clasped me — O fickle, feigning, faithless clasp. "
And at her whispered Go! he thinned and passed.

Again a soundless movement caught her sense.
" Torment me not, " she cried, her look dismayed,
Seeing the satyr face and restless form
Drawn on the dark. " Whisper not, I am love .
'Tis from without you come, not from my heart.
Corrupting image, go, torment me not —
Go, and steal no more unawares within
My bosom that lies unbarred to all distress.
Torment me not. "
The writhing shade disparted,
And the limes washed the darkness as he went
With a pure air; until another shape
Silently called. She lifted up no more
Her eyes to whisper, " O, lost happiness,
O lost contentment and lost innocence,
Forgive me, and cleanse me now of thoughts of love.
The woman that I might have been I see. ...
Torment me not, except tormenting saves. "
— Too low her syllables for hearing now,
But all they, listening, knew her mind went on,
" How much of folly is in evil, only
Eternal God knows — look with pity then
On me who ask for pity now, not love.
How lightly once I shook you off from me,
Child from the girl and the girl from the woman,
And now would sink back to your harmless breast
As though all since were but a sick sore dream.
Torment me not, except you save me now. "

And " Save me now! " was murmured through the grove,
And " Save me now! " rose dew-like from the earth.

Her figure stirred, with thoughts reverted to
Days yet remembered as she stood up and breathed
Familiar words, forgotten many years —
" I will arise " — then silently turned back.
A voice from a young lime-tree cried, " For ever. "
And that tall moody tree breathed " Never, never. "
And another whispered, " Ever, ever, ever. "
" I wish her happy, " sang another; but he,
That saturnine, discordant dark-cloaked tree,
Rustled again, " Ah, wishes, wishes! "

" Hush! "
Murmured the rest.

And folded in their thought
Slept, with the wind close to their bosom caught.
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