Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JEHANE, by AMELIA JOSEPHINE BURR



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JEHANE, by            
First Line: In garments gray of sleety rain
Last Line: Where they had parted, long ago.
Subject(s): Children; Love - Loss Of; Murder; Childhood


"And had she come so far for this --
"To part at last without a kiss,
"Beside the haystack in the floods!"
Morris.

IN garments gray of sleety rain
The wind across the sodden plain
Went visibly, and through it went
Gray as a gust, her slender form
Swathed in wet robes, and forward bent
Against the pushing of the storm.
Stumbling she ran, as one far spent,
But the pale splendour of her face
Was set as toward a trysting place,
And there was need of glances twain
Ere one could see the lines of pain
Round lips grown patient ere their day,
And mark the early white that lay
Like Lenten ashes in her hair.
She went with eyes that never swerved
Until at last she halted where
The glazing pools had wellnigh drowned
A heap of timbers that had served
To prop a haystack, in years past.
She stretched her on the icy ground
Sighing for sheer content, as one
Who wearied leans when day is done
Upon love's breast, and said --

At last --
At last I come to you, to tell
Of all these years. If ill or well
I did, judge you; and yet, somehow,
I think you will not judge me, now,
But only stoop from God's right hand
And whisper, "Dear, I understand."
Can they have wiped in Paradise
So well the sorrow from your eyes
That from your heart is cleansed away
Even the shadow of that day
When you and I, in just this place,
Met death and Godmar face to face
Beside the haystack in the floods?
You by the sword to perish, I
Later by bitter ways to die
In Paris as a sorceress
Unless . . . but there was no "unless"
For me, who loved you so, I knew
At such a price, each breath you drew
Would strangle you. I answered No.
I never have forgot to miss
Through all these years, the single kiss
Denied our parting, long ago.
But then I saw the end so near
I thought, "Not long the waiting, Dear,
"Until we meet!" . . . I did not know. . . .

WHEN you were dead, he freed from stain
His blade, and sheathed it. Through the rain
We rode toward Paris. Wet and gray
Closed in the curtains of the day,
And as we rode, I thought, -- "To night!
"Death is a bridal flower of white,
"Mine for the plucking!" And I swore
That you and I should meet before
The mockery of another dawn.
Rapt from the flesh I rode, and ere
I woke to know that we had drawn
Rein at an inn, Godmar was there
Beside my stirrup. Down I slid
Ere he could touch me.
"What I did,
"You bade me do!" I heard his breath
Catch like a sob. "You still choose death,
"Jehane? It is not yet too late --"
It seemed I was too tired to hate,
For I felt nothing. Pale and grim
I saw the tortured face of him
An evil star against the night,
And then -- it faded. . . .
When the sight
Came back to me, I lay in bed,
An old bent woman o'er my head
Crooning in mother-wise, her face
Kind in the firelight. "Mary's grace
"Be praised," she cried, "you live at length!
"Drink this, dear lady, mend your strength!"
I turned away, but -- "Think!" she said;
"A double hunger must be fed.
"Not yours alone the need."
My heart
Stopped. Then it strove to beat apart
My breast. With lips grown stiff and cold
I stammered, "He must not be told --
"Godmar -- as you may hope for Heaven!"
"No whisper, by the Sorrows Seven!"
She vowed, and then -- "You had not known?
"Poor child. . . ."
I might have been her own.
I cannot pray for her by name --
God knows her, though.
The morning came,
But now I could not bear to die.
The trees against a perfect sky
Prickled with twigs. It seemed that I
Was part of the awakening earth
And that to bring your child to birth
Was all for which myself was made.
I would have trodden unafraid
Hell's deepest, with that end in sight.
Robert -- the gates of hell that night
Again stood open. I went in. . . .

I CARED as little for the sin
As for the anguish and the shame.
It seemed my secret swept like flame
Body and soul, and burned them clean.
About his castle, gold and green
The thickets kindled, and I said
Within my heart, "When they grow red. . . ."
God pitied me; ere spring was spent
War called to Godmar, and he went.
Watched like a prisoner was I
But strangely sweet the days went by
Until I smiled to see at last
The crimson leaves come whirling past.
Robert -- the rapture of that pain!

WHEN with the snows he came again,
I had resolved what must be done.
Silent I met him, with my son
Held in my arms. He stopped astound.
In all the room there was no sound
But his hoarse breathing. Then --
"Jehane . . . .
"I had not thought of -- this . . ." he said.

WITH solemn masses we were wed.
What mattered it that Godmar gave
The boy his name? There were your brave
Clear eyes -- your brow --
I feared to bear
Godmar a child, lest he compare
The twain, when he must needs have known. . . .
But years went by, with yours alone
The pivot of our household pride.
He seemed the gallant heart that died
In me, with you. And Godmar -- strange
That simple happiness can change
A man so much! Thwarted desire
Made him a fiend -- but when the fire
Was left unchecked, it swiftly burned
Its violence away, and turned
To comfortable embers, fit
To warm a hearth where musing sit
Good placid folk whose youth is done.
While he would talk of what "our son"
Should do, sometime -- far far away
As through the rain, I saw that day
When murdered at his feet you lay,
And thought, could it be I and he
Who sat at meat so quietly,
Your boy between us!
Years that seem,
Now they are over, like a dream
I am too weary to recall. . . .
The night he died, I told him all.
One heavy tear slid down his cheek.
He fought for breath awhile, then, weak
But clear, he spoke -- "My heir . . . the same. . . ."
No more. And so to Godmar came
His touch of greatness at the end.
I prayed for him as for a friend.

ROBERT, it seems to me to-day
No life is wholly thrown away.
We are the seedcorn, you and I,
Dead in the dark, that youth may pry
The clods asunder toward the sky.
My part is played, my task is done.
Life opens nobly to our son.
The King has made him knight, and he
Has now no longer need of me --
Man as he is, and true, and strong. . . .
The kiss that I have kept so long, --
It seems that all my life has passed
Into that kiss . . . and now . . . at last,
Beloved . . . now. . . .

A sigh, and then
No other sound. So still she lay
The hailstones on her mantle gray
Deepened to little drifts like snow.
This was the way they met again
Where they had parted, long ago.





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