My Cicely

    “Alive?”—And I leapt in my wonder,
      Was faint of my joyance,
    And grasses and grove shone in garments
      Of glory to me.

    “She lives, in a plenteous well-being,
      To-day as aforehand;
    The dead bore the name—though a rare one—
      The name that bore she.”

    She lived… I, afar in the city
      Of frenzy-led factions,
    Had squandered green years and maturer
      In bowing the knee

    To Baals illusive and specious,
      Till chance had there voiced me
    That one I loved vainly in nonage
      Had ceased her to be.

    The passion the planets had scowled on,
      And change had let dwindle,
    Her death-rumor smartly relifted
      To full apogee.

    I mounted a steed in the dawning
      With acheful remembrance,
    And made for the ancient West Highway
      To far Exonb’ry.

    Passing heaths, and the House of Long Sieging,
      I neared the thin steeple
    That tops the fair fane of Poore’s olden
      Episcopal see;

    And, changing anew my onbearer,
      I traversed the downland
    Whereon the bleak hill-graves of Chieftains
      Bulge barren of tree;

    And still sadly onward I followed
      That Highway the Icen,
    Which trails its pale ribbon down Wessex
      O’er lynchet and lea.

    Along through the Stour-bordered Forum,
      Where Legions had wayfared,
    And where the slow river upglasses
      Its green canopy,

    And by Weatherbury Castle, and therence
      Through Casterbridge, bore I,
    To tomb her whose light, in my deeming,
      Extinguished had He.

    No highwayman’s trot blew the night-wind
      To me so life-weary,
    But only the creak of the gibbets
      Or wagoners’ jee.

    Triple-ramparted Maidon gloomed grayly
      Above me from southward,
    And north the hill-fortress of Eggar,
      And square Pummerie.

    The Nine-Pillared Cromlech, the Bride-streams,
      The Axe, and the Otter
    I passed, to the gate of the city
      Where Exe scents the sea;

    Till, spent, in the graveacre pausing,
      I learnt ’twas not my Love
    To whom Mother Church had just murmured
      A last lullaby.

    —”Then, where dwells the Canon’s kinswoman,
      My friend of aforetime?”—
    (‘Twas hard to repress my heart-heavings
      And new ecstasy.)

    “She wedded.”—”Ah!”—”Wedded beneath her—
      She keeps the stage-hostel
    Ten miles hence, beside the great Highway—
      The famed Lions-Three.

    “Her spouse was her lackey—no option
      ‘Twixt wedlock and worse things;
    A lapse over-sad for a lady
      Of her pedigree!”

    I shuddered, said nothing, and wandered
      To shades of green laurel:
    Too ghastly had grown those first tidings
      So brightsome of blee!

    For, on my ride hither, I’d halted
      Awhile at the Lions,
    And her—her whose name had once opened
      My heart as a key—

    I’d looked on, unknowing, and witnessed
      Her jests with the tapsters,
    Her liquor-fired face, her thick accents
      In naming her fee.

    “O God, why this hocus satiric!”
      I cried in my anguish:
    “O once Loved, of fair Unforgotten—
      That Thing—meant it thee!

    “Inurned and at peace, lost but sainted,
      Where grief I could compass;
    Depraved—’tis for Christ’s poor dependent
      A cruel decree!”

    I backed on the Highway; but passed not
      The hostel. Within there
    Too mocking to Love’s re-expression
      Was Time’s repartee!

    Uptracking where Legions had wayfared,
      By cromlechs unstoried,
    And lynchets, and sepultured Chieftains,
      In self-colloquy,

    A feeling stirred in me and strengthened
      That she was not my Love,
    But she of the garth, who lay rapt in
      Her long reverie.

    And thence till to-day I persuade me
      That this was the true one;
    That Death stole intact her young dearness
      And innocency.

    Frail-witted, illuded they call me;
      I may be. ‘Tis better
    To dream than to own the debasement
      Of sweet Cicely.

    Moreover I rate it unseemly
      To hold that kind Heaven
    Could work such device—to her ruin
      And my misery.

    So, lest I disturb my choice vision,
      I shun the West Highway,
    Even now, when the knaps ring with rhythms
      From blackbird and bee;

    And feel that with slumber half-conscious
      She rests in the church-hay,
    Her spirit unsoiled as in youth-time
      When lovers were we.

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