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Poem by Thomas Hardy
A Tale I He bends his travel-tarnished feet To where she wastes in clay: From day-dawn until eve he fares Along the wintry way; From day-dawn until eve he bears A wreath of blooms and bay. II ‘Are these the gravestone shapes that meet My forward-straining view? Or forms that cross a window-blind In circle, knot, and queue: Gay forms, that cross and whirl and wind To music throbbing through?’ – III ‘The Keeper of the Field of Tombs Dwells by its gateway-pier; He celebrates with feast and dance His daughter’s twentieth year: He celebrates with wine of France The birthday of his dear.’ – IV ‘The gates are shut when evening glooms: Lay down your wreath, sad wight; To-morrow is a time more fit For placing flowers aright: The morning is the time for it; Come, wake with us to-night!’ – V He drops his wreath, and enters in, And sits, and shares their cheer. – ‘I fain would foot with you, young man, Before all others here; I fain would foot it for a span With such a cavalier!’ VI She coaxes, clasps, nor fails to win His first-unwilling hand: The merry music strikes its staves, The dancers quickly band; And with the Damsel of the Graves He duly takes his stand. VII ‘You dance divinely, stranger swain, Such grace I’ve never known. O longer stay! Breathe not adieu And leave me here alone! O longer stay: to her be true Whose heart is all your own!’ – VIII ‘I mark a phantom through the pane, That beckons in despair, Its mouth all drawn with heavy moan – Her to whom once I sware!’ – ‘Nay; ’tis the lately carven stone Of some strange girl laid there!’ – IX ‘I see white flowers upon the floor Betrodden to a clot; My wreath were they?’ – ‘Nay; love me much, Swear you’ll forget me not! ’Twas but a wreath! Full many such Are brought here and forgot.’ X The watches of the night grow hoar, He wakens with the sun; ‘Now could I kill thee here!’ he says, ‘For winning me from one Who ever in her living days Was pure as cloistered nun!’ XI She cowers; and, rising, roves he then Afar for many a mile, For evermore to be apart From her who could beguile His senses by her burning heart, And win his love awhile. XII A year beholds him wend again To her who wastes in clay; From day-dawn until eve he fares Along the wintry way, From day-dawn until eve repairs Towards her mound to pray. XIII And there he sets him to fulfil His frustrate first intent: And lay upon her bed, at last, The offering earlier meant: When, on his stooping figure, ghast And haggard eyes are bent. XIV ‘O surely for a little while You can be kind to me. For do you love her, do you hate, She knows not – cares not she: Only the living feel the weight Of loveless misery! XV ‘I own my sin; I’ve paid its cost, Being outcast, shamed, and bare: I give you daily my whole heart, Your child my tender care, I pour you prayers; this life apart Is more than I can bear!’ XVI He turns – unpitying, passion-tossed; ‘I know you not!’ he cries, ‘Nor know your child. I knew this maid, But she’s in Paradise!’ And he has vanished in the shade From her beseeching eyes.
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