Thomas Hardy

The Supplanter

  A Tale


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.


‘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?’ –


‘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.’ –


‘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!’ –


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!’


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.


‘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!’ –


‘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!’ –


‘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.’


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!’


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.


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.


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.


‘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!


‘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!’


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.

English Poetry - E-mail