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Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford


Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story - Part 6


Who curseth Sorrow knows her not at all.
Dark matrix she, from which the human soul
Has its last birth; whence, with its misty thews,
Close-knitted in her blackness, issues out,
Strong for immortal toil up such great heights, 
As crown o’er crown rise through Eternity.
Without the loud, deep clamour of her wail,
The iron of her hands, the biting brine
Of her black tears, the Soul but lightly built
Of indeterminate spirit, like a mist 
Would lapse to Chaos in soft, gilded dreams,
As mists fade in the gazing of the sun.
Sorrow, dark mother of the soul, arise!
Be crown’d with spheres where thy bless’d children dwell,
Who, but for thee, were not. No lesser seat 
Be thine, thou Helper of the Universe,
Than planet on planet pil’d!—thou instrument
Close-clasp’d within the great Creative Hand!

•      •      •
  	
The Land had put his ruddy gauntlet on,
Of harvest gold, to dash in Famine’s face. 
And like a vintage wain, deep dy’d with juice,
The great moon falter’d up the ripe, blue sky,
Drawn by silver stars—like oxen white
And horn’d with rays of light. Down the rich land
Malcolm’s small valleys, fill’d with grain, lip-high, 
Lay round a lonely hill that fac’d the moon,
And caught the wine-kiss of its ruddy light.
A cusp’d, dark wood caught in its black embrace
The valleys and the hill, and from its wilds,
Spic’d with dark cedars, cried the Whip-poor-will.
A crane, belated, sail’d across the moon.
On the bright, small, close-link’d lakes green islets lay,
Dusk knots of tangl’d vines, or maple boughs,
Or tuft’d cedars, boss’d upon the waves.
The gay, enamell’d children of the swamp 
Roll’d a low bass to treble, tinkling notes
Of little streamlets leaping from the woods.
Close to old Malcolm’s mills, two wooden jaws
Bit up the water on a sloping floor;
And here, in season, rush’d the great logs down, 
To seek the river winding on its way.
In a green sheen, smooth as a Naiad’s locks,
The water roll’d between the shudd’ring jaws—
Then on the river-level roar’d and reel’d—
In ivory-arm’d conflict with itself.
“Look down,” said Alfred, “Katie, look and see
“How that but pictures my mad heart to you.
“It tears itself in fighting that mad love
“You swear is hopeless—hopeless—is it so?”
“Ah, yes!” said Katie, “ask me not again.”
“But Katie, Max is false; no word has come,
“Nor any sign from him for many months,
“And—he is happy with his Indian wife.”
She lifted eyes fair as the fresh, grey dawn
With all its dews and promises of sun.
“O, Alfred!—saver of my little life—
“Look in my eyes and read them honestly.”
He laugh’d till all the isles and forests laugh’d.
“O simple child! what may the forest flames
“See in the woodland ponds but their own fires?
“And have you, Katie, neither fears nor doubts?”
She, with the flow’r-soft pinkness of her palm
Cover’d her sudden tears, then quickly said:
“Fears—never doubts, for true love never doubts.”
Then Alfred paus’d a space, as one who holds
A white doe by the throat and searches for
The blade to slay her. “This your answer still—
“You doubt not—doubt not this far love of yours,
“Tho’ sworn a false young recreant, Kate, by me?”
“He is as true as I am,” Katie said;
“And did I seek for stronger simile,
“I could not find such in the universe!”
“And were he dead? What, Katie, were he dead—
“A handful of brown dust, a flame blown out—
“What then would love be strongly true to—Naught?” 
“Still true to Love my love would be,” she said,
And, faintly smiling, pointed to the stars.
“O fool!” said Alfred, stirr’d—as craters rock
To their own throes—and over his pale lips
Roll’d flaming stone, his molten heart. “Then, fool— 
“Be true to what thou wilt—for he is dead.
“And there have grown this gilded summer past
“Grasses and buds from his unburied flesh.
“I saw him dead. I heard his last, loud cry,
“‘O Kate!’ ring thro’ the woods; in truth I did.” 
She half raised up a piteous, pleading hand,
Then fell along the mosses at his feet.
“Now will I show I love you, Kate,” he said,
“And give you gift of love; you shall not wake
“To feel the arrow, feather-deep, within 
“Your constant heart. For me, I never meant
“To crawl an hour beyond what time I felt
“The strange, fang’d monster that they call Remorse
“Fold round my waken’d heart. The hour has come;
“And as Love grew, the welded folds of steel
“Slipp’d round in horrid zones. In Love’s flaming eyes
“Stared its fell eyeballs, and with Hydra head
“It sank hot fangs in breast, and brow and thigh.
“Come, Kate! O Anguish is a simple knave
“Whom hucksters could outwit with small trade lies, 
“When thus so easily his smarting thralls
“May flee his knout! Come, come, my little Kate;
“The black porch with its fringe of poppies waits—
“A propylaeum hospitably wide,—
“No lictors with their fasces at its jaws, 
“Its floor as kindly to my fire-vein’d feet
“As to thy silver, lilied, sinless ones.
“O you shall slumber soundly, tho’ the white,
“Wild waters pluck the crocus of your hair,
“And scaly spies stare with round, lightless eyes 
“At your small face laid on my stony breast.
“Come, Kate! I must not have you wake, dear heart,
“To hear you cry, perchance, on your dead Max.”
He turn’d her still face close upon his breast,
And with his lips upon her soft, ring’d hair, 
Leap’d from the bank, low shelving o’er the knot
Of frantic waters at the long slide’s foot.
And as the sever’d waters crash’d and smote
Together once again,—within the wave-
Stunn’d chamber of his ear there peal’d a cry: 
“O Kate! stay, madman; traitor, stay! O Kate!” 	

•      •      •
  	
Max, gaunt as prairie wolves in famine time,
With long-drawn sickness, reel’d upon the bank—
Katie, new-rescu’d, waking in his arms.
On the white riot of the waters gleam’d, 
The face of Alfred, calm, with close-seal’d eyes,
And blood red on his temple where it smote
The mossy timbers of the groaning slide.
“O God!” said Max, as Katie’s opening eyes
Looked up to his, slow budding to a smile 
Of wonder and of bliss, “My Kate, my Kate!”
She saw within his eyes a larger soul
Than that light spirit that before she knew,
And read the meaning of his glance and words.
“Do as you will, my Max. I would not keep 
“You back with one light-falling finger-tip!”
And cast herself from his large arms upon
The mosses at his feet, and hid her face
That she might not behold what he would do;
Or lest the terror in her shining eyes 
Might bind him to her, and prevent his soul
Work out its greatness; and her long, wet hair
Drew, mass’d, about her ears, to shut the sound
Of the vex’d waters from her anguish’d brain.
Max look’d upon her, turning as he look’d. 
A moment came a voice in Katie’s soul:
“Arise, be not dismay’d, arise and look;
“If he should perish, ’twill be as a God,
“For he would die to save his enemy.”
But answer’d her torn heart: “I cannot look— 
“I cannot look and see him sob and die
“In those pale, angry arms. O, let me rest
“Blind, blind and deaf until the swift-pac’d end.
“My Max! O God—was that his Katie’s name?”
Like a pale dove, hawk-hunted, Katie ran, 
Her fear’s beak in her shoulder; and below,
Where the coil’d waters straighten’d to a stream,
Found Max all bruis’d and bleeding on the bank,
But smiling with man’s triumph in his eyes,
When he has on fierce Danger’s lion neck 
Plac’d his right hand and pluck’d the prey away.
And at his feet lay Alfred, still and white,
A willow’s shadow tremb’ling on his face.
“There lies the false, fair devil, O my Kate,
“Who would have parted us, but could not, Kate!” 
“But could not, Max,” said Katie. “Is he dead?”
But, swift perusing Max’s strange, dear face,
Close clasp’d against his breast—forgot him straight
And ev’ry other evil thing upon
The broad green earth.



Isabella Valancy Crawford


Isabella Valancy Crawford's other poems:
  1. A Perfect Strain
  2. An Interregnum
  3. A Battle
  4. Said the Wind
  5. His Sweetheart

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