Two Wives


Into the shadow-white chamber silts the white
Flux of another dawn. The wind that all night
Long has waited restless, suddenly wafts
A whirl like snow from the plum-trees and the pear,
Till petals heaped between the window-shafts
In a drift die there.

A nurse in white, at the dawning, flower-foamed pane
Draws down the blinds, whose shadows scarcely stain
The white rugs on the floor, nor the silent bed
That rides the room like a frozen berg, its crest
Finally ridged with the austere line of the dead
Stretched out at rest.

Less than a year the fourfold feet had pressed
The peaceful floor, when fell the sword on their rest.
Yet soon, too soon, she had him home again
With wounds between them, and suffering like a guest
That will not go. Now suddenly going, the pain
Leaves an empty breast.


A tall woman, with her long white gown aflow
As she strode her limbs amongst it, once more
She hastened towards the room. Did she know
As she listened in silence outside the silent door?
Entering, she saw him in outline, raised on a pyre
Awaiting the fire.

Upraised on the bed, with feet erect as a bow,
Like the prow of a boat, his head laid back like the stern
Of a ship that stands in a shadowy sea of snow
With frozen rigging, she saw him; she drooped like a fern
Refolding, she slipped to the floor as a ghost-white peony slips
When the thread clips.

Soft she lay as a shed flower fallen, nor heard
The ominous entry, nor saw the other love,
The dark, the grave-eyed mistress who thus dared
At such an hour to lay her claim, above
A stricken wife, so sunk in oblivion, bowed
With misery, no more proud.


The stranger's hair was shorn like a lad's dark poll
And pale her ivory face: her eyes would fail
In silence when she looked: for all the whole
Darkness of failure was in them, without avail.
Dark in indomitable failure, she who had lost
Now claimed the host.

She softly passed the sorrowful flower shed
In blonde and white on the floor, nor even turned
Her head aside, but straight towards the bed
Moved with slow feet, and her eyes' flame steadily burned.
She looked at him as he lay with banded cheek,
And she started to speak

Softly: “I knew it would come to this,” she said,
“I knew that some day, soon, I should find you thus.
So I did not fight you. You went your way instead
Of coming mine—and of the two of us
I died the first, I, in the after-life
Am now your wife.”


“'Twas I whose fingers did draw up the young
Plant of your body: to me you looked ere sprung
The secret of the moon within your eyes!
My mouth you met before your fine red mouth
Was set to song—and never your song denies
My love, till you went south.”

“'Twas I who placed the bloom of manhood on
Your youthful smoothness: I fleeced where fleece was none
Your fervent limbs with flickers and tendrils of new
Knowledge; I set your heart to its stronger beat;
I put my strength upon you, and I threw
My life at your feet.”

“But I whom the years had reared to be your bride,
Who for years was sun for your shivering, shade for your sweat,
Who for one strange year was as a bride to you—you set me aside
With the old, sweet things of our youth;—and never yet
Have I ceased to grieve that I was not great enough
To defeat your baser stuff.”


“But you are given back again to me
Who have kept intact for you your virginity.
Who for the rest of life walk out of care,
Indifferent here of myself, since I am gone
Where you are gone, and you and I out there
Walk now as one.”

“Your widow am I, and only I I dream
God bows His head and grants me this supreme
Pure look of your last dead face, whence now is gone
The mobility, the panther's gambolling,
And all your being is given to me, so none
Can mock my struggling.”

“And now at last I kiss your perfect face,
Perfecting now our unfinished, first embrace.
Your young hushed look that then saw God ablaze
In every bush, is given you back, and we
Are met at length to finish our rest of days
In a unity.”


The other woman rose, and swiftly said:
“So! you have come to get him now he's dead!
Now you can triumph, now he is no more
Than a dream of yours! 'twas all you ever could
See in him, your self's dream in his sore
Heart's blood.”

“How did you love him, you who only roused
His mind until it burnt his heart away!
'Twas you who killed him, when you both caroused
In words and things well said. But the other way
He never loved you, never with desire
Touched you to fire.”

“Take what you've got, your memory of words
Between you, but his touch you never knew
Caresses never flew to you like birds.
You never bore his children, never drew
His body down in weight to rest in you
The night through”


“Take then eternity, for what is that
But another word, conceit and vanity!
But do not touch this man who never yet
Took pleasure in touching you Mortality
Is not for you, and he is mortal still
Against his will.”

“Even dead, he still is mortal, and his hair
Is soft though it is cold. Do not dare
To touch him while he still is lying there!
Stand a way off, and if you like commune
With his wan spirit somewhere in the air
Like a lost tune.”

“But do not touch him, for he hated you
To touch him, and he said so, and you knew
Why are you here? What is his corpse to you?
Stand you far off and triumph like a Jew
That he is dead and you are not. But stand
Back, you understand!”
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