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Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford

Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story - Part 5

Said the high hill, in the morning: “Look on me—
“Behold, sweet earth, sweet sister sky, behold
“The red flames on my peaks, and how my pines
“Are cressets of pure gold; my quarried scars
“Of black crevasse and shadow-fill’d canon, 
“Are trac’d in silver mist. Now on my breast
“Hang the soft purple fringes of the night;
“Close to my shoulder droops the weary moon,
“Dove-pale, into the crimson surf the sun
“Drives up before his prow; and blackly stands 
“On my slim, loftiest peak, an eagle with
“His angry eyes set sunward, while his cry
“Falls fiercely back from all my ruddy heights;
“And his bald eaglets, in their bare, broad nest,
“Shrill pipe their angry echoes: ‘Sun, arise, 
“‘And show me that pale dove, beside her nest,
“‘Which I shall strike with piercing beak and tear
“‘With iron talons for my hungry young.’“
And that mild dove, secure for yet a space,
Half waken’d, turns her ring’d and glossy neck 
To watch dawn’s ruby pulsing on her breast,
And see the first bright golden motes slip down
The gnarl’d trunks about her leaf-deep nest,
Nor sees nor fears the eagle on the peak. 

•      •      •
“Aye, lassie, sing—I’ll smoke my pipe the while,
“And let it be a simple, bonnie song,
“Such as an old, plain man can gather in
“His dulling ear, and feel it slipping thro’
“The cold, dark, stony places of his heart.” 
“Yes, sing, sweet Kate,” said Alfred in her ear;
“I often heard you singing in my dreams
“When I was far away the winter past.”
So Katie on the moonlit window lean’d,
And in the airy silver of her voice 
Sang of the tender, blue “Forget-me-not.” 

•      •      •
“Could every blossom find a voice,
   And sing a strain to me,
I know where I would place my choice,
   Which my delight should be.
I would not choose the lily tall, 
   The rose from musky grot;
But I would still my minstrel call
   The blue ‘Forget-me-not!’ 

•      •      •
“And I on mossy bank would lie
   Of brooklet, ripp’ling clear; 
And she of the sweet azure eye,
   Close at my list’ning ear,
Should sing into my soul a strain
   Might never be forgot—
So rich with joy, so rich with pain, 
   The blue ‘Forget-me-not!’ 

•      •      •
“Ah, ev’ry blossom hath a tale
   With silent grace to tell,
From rose that reddens to the gale
   To modest heather bell;
But O, the flow’r in ev’ry heart
   That finds a sacred spot
To bloom, with azure leaves apart,
   Is the ‘Forget-me-not!’ 

•      •      •
“Love plucks it from the mosses green
   When parting hours are nigh,
And places it Love’s palms between,
   With many an ardent sigh;
And bluely up from grassy graves 
   In some lov’d churchyard spot,
It glances tenderly and waves,
   The dear ‘Forget-me-not!’“

•      •      •
And with the faint, last cadence, stole a glance
At Malcolm’s soften’d face—a bird-soft touch
Let flutter on the rugged, silver snarls 
Of his thick locks, and laid her tender lips
A second on the iron of his hand.
“And did you ever meet,” he sudden ask’d
Of Alfred, sitting pallid in the shade,
“Out by yon unco place, a lad—a lad 
“Nam’d Maxwell Gordon; tall, and straight, and strong;
“About my size, I take it, when a lad?”
And Katie at the sound of Max’s name,
First spoken for such a space by Malcolm’s lips,
Trembl’d and started, and let down her brow, 
Hiding its sudden rose on Malcolm’s arm.
“Max Gordon? Yes. Was he a friend of yours?”
“No friend of mine, but of the lassie’s here—
“How comes he on? I wager he’s a drone,
“And never will put honey in the hive.” 
“No drone,” said Alfred, laughing; “when I left,
“He and his axe were quarr’ling with the woods
“And making forests reel—love steels a lover’s arm.”
O, blush that stole from Katie’s swelling heart,
And with its hot rose brought the happy dew 
Into her hidden eyes. “Aye, aye! is that the way?”
Said Malcolm, smiling. “Who may be his love?”
“In that he is a somewhat simple soul,
“Why, I suppose he loves—“ he paused, and Kate
Look’d up with two “Forget-me-nots“ for eyes, 
With eager jewels in their centres set
Of happy, happy tears, and Alfred’s heart
Became a closer marble than before.
“—Why I suppose he loves—his lawful wife.”
“His wife! his wife!” said Malcolm, in amaze, 
And laid his heavy hand on Katie’s head;
“Did you two play me false, my little lass?
“Speak and I’ll pardon! Katie, lassie, what?”
“He has a wife,” said Alfred, “lithe and bronz’d,
“An Indian woman, comelier than her kind; 
“And on her knee a child with yellow locks,
“And lake-like eyes of mystic Indian brown.
“And so you knew him? He is doing well.”
“False, false!” said Katie, lifting up her head.
“O, you know not the Max my father means!” 
“He came from yonder farm-house on the slope.”
“Some other Max—we speak not of the same.”
“He has a red mark on his temple set.”
“It matters not—’tis not the Max we know.”
“He wears a turquoise ring slung round his neck.” 
“And many wear them—they are common stones.”
“His mother’s ring—her name was Helen Wynde.”
“And there be many Helens who have sons.”
“O Katie, credit me—it is the man.”
“O not the man! Why, you have never told 
“Us of the true soul that the true Max has;
“The Max we know has such a soul, I know.”
“How know you that, my foolish little lass?”
Said Malcolm, a storm of anger bound
Within his heart, like Samson with green withs— 
“Belike it is the false young cur we know!”
“No, no,” said Katie, simply, and low-voic’d;
“If he were traitor I must needs be false,
“For long ago love melted our two hearts,
“And time has moulded those two hearts in one, 
“And he is true since I am faithful still.”
She rose and parted, trembling as she went,
Feeling the following steel of Alfred’s eyes,
And with the icy hand of scorn’d mistrust
Searching about the pulses of her heart— 
Feeling for Max’s image in her breast.
“To-night she conquers Doubt; to-morrow’s noon
“His following soldiers sap the golden wall,
“And I shall enter and possess the fort,”
Said Alfred, in his mind. “O Katie, child, 
“Wilt thou be Nemesis, with yellow hair,
“To rend my breast? for I do feel a pulse
“Stir when I look into thy pure-barb’d eyes—
“O, am I breeding that false thing, a heart,
“Making my breast all tender for the fangs 
“Of sharp Remorse to plunge their hot fire in?
“I am a certain dullard! Let me feel
“But one faint goad, fine as a needle’s point,
“And it shall be the spur in my soul’s side
“To urge the madd’ning thing across the jags 
“And cliffs of life, into the soft embrace
“Of that cold mistress, who is constant too,
“And never flings her lovers from her arms—
“Not Death, for she is still a fruitful wife,
“Her spouse the Dead, and their cold marriage yields 
“A million children, born of mould’ring flesh—
“So Death and Flesh live on—immortal they!
“I mean the blank-ey’d queen whose wassail bowl
“Is brimm’d from Lethe, and whose porch is red
“With poppies, as it waits the panting soul— 
“She, she alone is great! No scepter’d slave
“Bowing to blind, creative giants, she;
“No forces seize her in their strong, mad hands,
“Nor say, ‘Do this—be that!’ Were there a God,
“His only mocker, she, great Nothingness! 
“And to her, close of kin, yet lover too,
“Flies this large nothing that we call the soul.” 

•      •      •
Doth true Love lonely grow?
                    Ah, no! ah, no!
Ah, were it only so—
That it alone might show
Its ruddy rose upon its sapful tree,
   Then, then in dewy morn,
   Joy might his brow adorn
With Love’s young rose as fair and glad as he. 

•      •      •
But with Love’s rose doth blow,
                    Ah, woe! ah, woe!
Truth with its leaves of snow,
And Pain and Pity grow
   With Love’s sweet roses on its sapful tree!
   Love’s rose buds not alone,
   But still, but still doth own
A thousand blossoms cypress-hued to see! 

Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford's other poems:
  1. Bouche-Mignonne
  2. An Interregnum
  3. Said the Wind
  4. His Sweetheart
  5. Late Loved - Well Loved

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