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Poem by John Townsend Trowbridge

The Tragedy Queen

HER triumphs are over, the crown
Has passed from her brow;
And she smiles, "To whom now does the town
My poor laurels allow?"
It has wept for her, dying, a hundred times,
With mimic passion, in mimic crimes:
Who cares for her lying discrowned and dying
In earnest now?

Only those who have known her strange story,
And watched her through all,
So serene in the day of her glory,
So grand in her fall,
In the sphere beyond all tragic art
Playing her own deep woman's part,
A few faithful, befriend her, still cherish, attend her,
And come at her call.

And so, when to-night the old fire
Flamed up in her eye,
And she said, "'T is a childish desire,
I cannot deny,
To see the old boards and the footlights again,
To feel the wild storm of the plaudits of men!
But grant me this pastime, you know 't is the last time,"
What could we reply?

Her form to the carriage we bore
In dark mantle and veil;
On my arm, at the gloomy side-door,
She hung, lily-like, frail;
But, treading the old, familiar scene,
She moved majestic, she walked a queen
The rouged ballet-girls staring to see her high bearing,
So proud and so pale!

At the wing, her swift glance as we waited
Swept royally round:
I could feel how she thrilled and dilated,
And how at the sound,
The brief commotion that intervenes
In the busy moment of shifting scenes,
The creaking of pulleys, the shrill shriekingcoulisse,
Her heart gave a bound.

The manager hastes and unlocks
The small door from the wing;
To the deep-curtained, crimson-lined box
Our dear lady we bring.
All a-flutter with life, all a-glitter with light,
The vast half-circle burst on the sight;
The fairy stage showing amidst, like a glowing
Great gem in its ring.

The strong soul in the weak woman's face
Flashes forth to behold
The gay world that assembled to grace
Her own triumphs of old.
The vision brings back her bright young days
For her the loud tumult, the showered bouquets;
And her fancy is ravished with joy amid lavished
Glory and gold.

In that moment of dream disappear
Sorrow, sickness, and pain:
Airy hopes, a romantic career,
Beam and beckon again.
Alas! but the life itself could last
No more than the dream: and the dream is past
'T is gone with the quickness of breath, while the sickness
And sorrow remain.

We saw her, pain-stricken and white,
Sink back in her place:
Could a pang of sharp envy so smite
The brief joy from her face?
Lo, the queen of the ballet! she wavers and glides;
Upon floods of strong music triumphant she rides,
And laughingly pillows each movement on billows
Of beauty and grace.

And there, in his orchestra stall,
The stage-vampire is seen,
Foremost once, most devoted of all,
In the train of our queen.
Still seeking a fresh young heart to devour,
Still following ever the queen of the hour,
Enrapt by so rare a sight, sits the gray parasite,
Ogling the scene.

Not envyher heart is too great.
But for her, for all these,
Whose fortunes, like flatterers, wait
On their powers to please,
Whose unsubstantial happiness draws
Its air-plant life from the breath of applause,
The powers soon jaded, the flowers all faded
And withered she sees;

The unworthy contentions, the strife;
Feet lured from the goals,
Hands stayed in the contest of life,
By the hour that cajoles
With its wayside-scattered apples of joy;
The sunshine that pampers, the storms that destroy,
And all the besetting temptations benetting
These butterfly souls.

And naught, as we know, can assuage
Her keen anguish of heart,
Seeing thus from her dearly loved stage
The true grandeur depart.
Now the people prefer these wonder-shows,
Scant costume, antics and flushed tableaux;
For tinsel and magic, forgetting her tragic
Magnificent art.

"Let us go!" she entreats; " I am ill!"
And unnoticed withdraws
From the theatre, thundering still
With the surge of applause.
As slowly she turns behind the scene
For a parting glance, comes the gay new queen,
By fairies attended, all glowing and splendid
In spangles and gauze.

From the footlights, arms filled with bouquets,
One is hurrying back;
One gazes with cold marble face
From the veil's tragic black:
And there at the manager's beck they meet;
The new queen stoops at the old queen's feet,
With all her soft graces, and sweet commonplaces
Of greeting no lack.

Before her the great lady stood,
So gracious, so grand!
"You are lovelyI think you are good:
O child, understand!
Be prudent, yet generous; false to none;
Keep the pearl of the heart; be true to one;
Be wise, oh, be gentle!" and from the dark mantle
She reached forth her hand.

And they parted. All freshness and fire,
One passed in her bloom,
Feet swift with delight and desire,
Arms shedding perfume!
From the cold dim coach one looks her last
As the theatre lights and the joyous past,
As away in the lurid wet night we are hurried,
Through rain-gust and gloom.

John Townsend Trowbridge

John Townsend Trowbridge's other poems:
  1. The Boy I Love
  2. Dorothy in the Garret
  3. An Idyl of Harvest Time
  4. The Old Burying-Ground
  5. A Home Idyl

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