written by John Masefield
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This is the place, this house beside the sea;
This was the setting where they played their parts.
Two men, who knew them all, have talked to me:
Beauty she had, and all had passionate hearts.
I write this in the window where she sat.
Two fields, all green with summer, lie below;
Then the grey sea, at thought, cloud-coloured, flat,
Wind-dappled from the glen, the tide at flow.
Her portrait and her husband's hang together
One on each side the fire; it is close;
The tree-tops toss, it is a change of weather.
They were most lovely and unhappy, those,
That married pair and he who loved too well;
This was the door by which they entered hell.
This is a drawing of her as a child,
This is she wed; the faces are the same,
Only the beauty of the babe is wild,
The woman's beauty has been broken tame.
Witty, bright, gentle, earnest, with great eyes,
Dark hair in heaps, pure colour, lips that smile;
Beauty that is more wisdom than the wise
Lived in this woman for a little while.
Dressed in that beauty that our mothers wore
(So touching now), she looks out of the frame
With stag-like eyes, that wept till they were sore
Many's the time, till she was broken tame.
Witty, bright, gentle, earnest, even so,
Destiny calls and spirits come and go.
This is her husband in his youth; and this
Is he in manhood; this is he in age.
There is a devil in those eyes of his,
A glittering devil, restless in his cage.
A grand man, with a beauty and a pride,
A manner and a power and a fire,
With beaks of vultures eating at his side,
The great brain mad with unfulfilled desire.
"With grand ideas," they say; tall, wicked, proud.
Cold, cruel, bitter, clever, dainty, skilled;
Splendid to see, a head above the crowd;
Splendid with every strength, yet unfulfilled.
Cutting himself (and all those near) with hate
From that sharp mind which should have shaped a state.
And many years ago I saw the third
Bowed in old age and mad with misery;
Mad with the bright eyes of the eagle-bird,
Burning his heart at fires of memory.
He stood behind a chair, and bent and muttered;
Grand still, grey, sunburnt, bright with mad eyes brown,
Burning, though dying, like a torch that guttered
That once had lit Queen Helen through the town.
I only saw him once: I saw him go
Leaning uphill his body to the rain,
Too good a man for life to punish so,
Theirs were the pride and passion, his the pain.
His old coat flapped; the little children turned
To see him pass, that passionate age that burned.
"I knew them well, all three," the old man said;
"He was an unused force, and she a child.
She caught him with her beauty, being a maid.
The thought that she had trapped him drove him wild.
He would not work with others, could not rest,
And nothing here could use him or engage him;
Yet here he stayed, with devils in his breast,
To blast the woman who had dared to cage him.
Then, when the scholar came, it made the three:
She turned to him, and he, he turned to her.
They both were saints: elopement could not be;
So here they stayed, and passion plied the spur.
Then the men fought, and later she was found
In that green pool beyond the headland, drowned.
"They carried her drowned body up the grass
Here to the house; they laid it on the bed
(This very bed, where I have slept, it was).
The scholar begged to see her, being dead.
"The husband walked downstairs, to see him there
Begging to see her as one asks an alms.
He spat at him and cut his cheek-bone bare.
'There's pay,' he said, ' my poet, for your psalms.'
"And then they fought together at the door,
Biting each other, like two dogs, while she
Lay dead, poor woman, dripping on the floor
Out of her hair the death-drops of the sea.
"Later, they fought whenever they might meet,
In church, or in the fields, or in the street."
Up on the hill another aged man
Remembered them. He said: "They were afraid;
They feared to end the passions they began.
They held the cards, and yet they never played.
He should have broken from her at all cost;
She should have loved her lover and gone free.
They all held winning cards, and yet they lost;
So two were wrecked and one drowned in the sea.
Some harshness or some law, or else some fear
Stifled their souls; God help us! when we know
Certainly, certain things, the way is clear.
And yet they paid, and one respects them so.
Perhaps they were too fine. I know not, I.
Men must have mercy, being ripe to die."
So this old house of mourning was the stage
(This house and those green fields) for all that woe.
There are her books, her writing on the page;
In those choked beds she made the flowers grow.
Most desolate it is, the rain is pouring,
The trees all toss and drip and scatter evil,
The floods are out, the waterfall is roaring.
The bar is mad with many a leaping devil.
And in this house the wind goes whining wild,
The door blows open, till I think to see
That delicate sweet woman, like a child,
Standing with great dark stag's eyes watching me;
Watching as though her sorrow might make plain
(Had I but wit) the meaning of such pain.
I wonder if she sang in this old room.
Ah, never! No; they tell me that she stood
For hours together staring into gloom
Out of the prison bars of flesh and blood.
So, when the ninth wave drowned her, haply she
Wakened, with merging senses, till she blent
Into the joy and colour of the sea,
One with the purpose of the element.
And there, perhaps, she cannot feel the woe
Passed in this rotting house, but runs like light
Over the billows where the clippers go,
One with the blue sea's pureness of delight;
Laughing, perhaps, at that old woe of hers
Chained in the cage with fellow-prisoners.
He died in that lone cottage near the sea.
In the grey morning when the tide was turning,
The wards of life slipt back and set him free
From cares of meat and dress, from joys and yearning.
Then like an old man gathering strength, he strayed
Over the beach, and strength came into him,
Beauty that never threatened nor betrayed
Made bright the eyes that sorrow had made dim;
So that upon that stretch of barren sand
He knew his dreams; he saw her beauty run
With Sorrowful Beauty, laughing, hand in hand;
He heard the trumpets blow in Avalon.
He saw the golden statue stretching down
The wreath, for him, of roses, in a crown.
They say that as her husband lay a-dying
He clamoured for a chain to beat the hound.
They say that all the garden rang with crying
That came out of the air, out of the ground.
Out of the waste that was his soul, may be,
Out of the running wolf-hound of his soul.
That had been kennelled in and now broke free
Out to the moors where stags go, past control.
All through his life his will had kennelled him;
Now he was free, and with a hackling fell
He snarled out of the body to the dim,
To run the spirits with the hounds of hell;
To run forever at the quarry gone,
The uncaught thing a little further on.
So, one by one. Time took them to his keeping,
Those broken lanterns that had held his fire;
Dust went to dust, and flesh had time for sleeping,
And soul the stag escaped the hound desire.
And now, perhaps, the memory of their hate
Has passed from them, and they are friends again,
Laughing at all the trouble of this state
Where men and women work each other pain.
And in the wind that runs along the glen
Beating at cottage doors, they may go by,
Exulting now, and helping sorrowing men
To do some little good before they die.
For from these ploughed-up souls the spirit brings
Harvest at last, and sweet from bitter things.
|Works by this author are in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 51 years or less.|