Blanche by Henry Abbey

AN EXHALATION FROM WITHERED VIOLETS.

I.

THE VENDER OF VIOLETS.

"Violets! Violets! Violets!"
This was the cry I heard
As I passed through the street of a city;
And quickly my heart was stirred
To an incomprehensible pity,
At the undertone of the cry;
For it seemed like the voice of one
Who was stricken, and all undone,
Who was only longing to die.
"Violets! Violets! Violets!"
The voice came nearer still.
"Surely," I said, "it is May,
And out on valley and hill,
The violets blooming to-day,
Send this invitation to me
To come and be with them once more;
I know they are dear as can be,
And I hate the town with its roar."
"Violets! Violets! Violets!"
Children of sun and of dew,
Flakes of the blue of the sky,
There is somebody calling to you
Who seems to be longing to die;
Yet violets are so sweet
They can scarcely have dealings with death.
Can it be, that the dying breath,
That comes from the one last beat
Of a true heart, turns to the flowers?
"Violets! Violets! Violets!"
The crier is near me at last.
With my eyes I am holding her fast.
She is a lovely seller of flowers.
She is one whom the town devours
In its jaws of bustle and strife.
How poverty grinds down a life;
For, lost in the slime of a city,
What is a beautiful face?
Few are they who have pity
For loveliness in disgrace.
Yet she that I hold with my eyes,
Who seems so modest and wise,
Has not yet fallen, I am sure.
She has nobly learned to endure.
Large, and mournful, and meek,
Her eyes seem to drink from my own.
Her curls are carelessly thrown
Back from white shoulder and cheek;
And her lips seem strawberries, lost
In some Arctic country of frost.
The slightest curve on a face,
May give an expression unmeet;
Yet hers is so perfect and sweet,
And shaped with such delicate grace,
Its loveliness is complete.
"Violets! Violets! Violets!"
I hear the cry once more;
But not as I heard it before.
It whispers no more of death;
But only of odorous breath,
And modest flowers, and life.
I purchased a cluster, so rife
With the touch of her tapering hand,
I seem to hold it in mine.
I would I could understand,
Why a touch seems so divine.

II.

A FLOWER FOUND IN THE STREET.

To-day in passing down the street,
I found a flower upon the walk,
A dear syringa, white and sweet,
Wrung idly from the missing stalk.
 
And something in its odor speaks
Of dark brown eyes, and arms of snow,
And rainbow smiles on sunset cheeks—
The maid I saw a month ago.
I waited for her many a day,
On the dear ground where first we met;
I sought her up and down the way,
And all in vain I seek her yet.
Syringa, naught your odor tells,
Or whispers so I cannot hear;
Speak out, and tell me where she dwells,
In perfume accents, loud and clear.
Shake out the music of your speech,
In quavers of delicious breath;
The conscious melody may teach
A lover where love wandereth.
If so you speak, with smile and look,
You will not wither, but endure;
And in my heart's still open book,
Keep your white petals ever pure.
If so you speak, upon her breast
You yet may rest, nor sigh afar;
But in the moonlight's silver dressed,
Seem 'gainst your heaven the evening star.

 III.

ODYLE.

We know that they are often near
Of whom we think, of whom we talk,
Though we have missed them many a year,
And lost them from our daily walk.
Some strange clairvoyance dwells in all,
And webs the souls of human kind.
I would that I could learn its thrall,
And know the power of mind on mind.
I then might quickly use the sense,
To find where one I worship dwells,
If in the city, or if thence
Among the breeze-rung lily bells.

IV.

WHAT ONE FINDS IN THE COUNTRY.

I went out in the country
To spend an idle day—
To see the flowers in blossom,
And scent the fragrant hay.
The dawn's spears smote the mountains
Upon their shields of blue,
And space, in her black valleys,
Joined in the conflict too.
 
The clouds were jellied amber;
The crickets in the grass
Blew pipe and hammered tabor,
And laughed to see me pass.
The cows down in the pasture,
The mowers in the field,
The birds that sang in heaven,
Their happiness revealed.
My heart was light and joyful,
I could not answer why;
And I thought that it was better
Always to smile than sigh.
How could I hope to meet her
Whom most I wished to meet?
If always I had lost her,
Then life were incomplete.
The road ran o'er a brooklet;
Upon the bridge she stood,
With wild flowers in her ringlets,
And in her hand her hood.
The morn laid on her features
An envious golden kiss;
She might have fancied truly,
I longed to share its bliss.
 
I said, "O, lovely maiden,
I have sought you many a day.
That I love you, love you, love you,
Is all that I can say."
Her mournful eyes grew brighter,
And archly glanced, though meek.
A bacchanalian dimple
Dipt a wine-cup in her cheek.
"If you love me, love me, love me,
If you love me as you say,
You must prove it, prove it, prove it!"
And she lightly turned away.

V.

AN AUNT AND AN UNCLE.

I have but an aunt and an uncle
For kinsfolk on the earth,
And one has passed me unnoticed
And hated me from my birth;
But the first has reared me and taught me,
Whatever I have of worth.
This is my uncle by marriage,
For his wife my aunt had died,
And left him all her possessions,
With much that was mine beside—
'Tis said that he hated her brother,
As much as he loved the bride.
That brother, my father, forgave him,
As his last hour ran its sand,
And begged in return his forgiveness,
As he placed in his sister's hand
The bonds, that when I was twenty,
Should be at my command.
For my mother was dead, God rest her,
And I would be left alone.
The bride to her trust was unfaithful—
Her heart was harder than stone.
And her widowed sister, left childless,
Adopted me as her own.
So we dwelt in opposite houses—
We in a dwelling low,
And he in a brown stone mansion.
I toiled and my gain was slow.
My uncle rode in a carriage
As fine as there was in the row.
Once, in a useless anger,
With courage not mine before,
I bearded the crafty lion,
Demanding my own, no more.
He said the law gave me nothing,
And showed me out of his door.

 VI.

MY AUNT INVITES HER IN TO DINE.

This is the place, this is the hour,
And through the shine, or through the shower,
She promised she would come.
O, darling day, she is so sweet
I could kneel down and kiss her feet.
Her presence makes me dumb.
A thousand things that I would say,
And ponder when she is away,
Desert me when she's near—
When she is near—twice we have met!
Though but a month has passed as yet,
It seems almost a year.
O, now she comes, and here she stands,
And gives me hers in both my hands,
And blushes to her brow.
She eyes askance her simple gown,
And folds a Judas tatter down
She has not seen till now.
I said, "My love you made me wait,
I grew almost disconsolate
Thinking you would not come.
Ah, tell me what you have to do,
That makes your duty, sweet, for you
My rival in your home."
 
"My home!" she answered, "I have none.
For me, 'tis years since there was one,
And that was scarcely mine.
Father and mother both are dead;
I sell sweet flowers to earn my bread—
Their fragrance is my wine.
"Sometimes the house upon the farm,
Sometimes the city's friendly arm,
Shields me from rain and dew.
I did not know that it was late;
The minutes you have had to wait,
Are truly but a few."
A smile shone through her large dark eyes,
As sometimes, in the stormy skies,
The light puts through an arm,
Which, spreading glory far and wide,
Draws the broad curtain cloud aside,
Making the whole earth warm.
She took my arm; we walked away;
We saw, in parks, the fountains play;
My heart was all elate.
I scarcely noticed when I stood,
With my dear waif of womanhood,
Beside our lowly gate.
"You have no home," I gently said,
"But, till the day that we are wed,
And after if you will,
This home, my love, is mine and thine."
My aunt came out and bade us dine—
I see her smiling still.
My Blanche, reluctant, gave consent;
Then 'neath the humble roof we went,
And sat about the board.
I saw how sweet the whole surprise;
I saw her fond uplifted eyes,
Give thanks unto the Lord.

VII.

THE PROPHECY.

There is a prophecy of our line,
Told by some great grand-dame of mine
I once attempted to divine.
'Tis that two children, then unborn,
Would know a wealthy wedding morn,
Or die in poverty forlorn.
These children would be of her name.
If to the bridal bans they came,
The house would gather strength and fame.
But if they came not, woe is me,
The line would ever cease to be,
The wealth would take its wings and flee.
 
If all the signs are coming true,
I am the child she pictured, who
The name should keep or hide from view.
In our domain of liberty,
Our heed is light of pedigree,
I care not for the prophecy.
For what to me our wealth or line?
I only wish to make her mine—
The maid my aunt asked in to dine.

VIII.

HOW A POOR GIRL WAS MADE RICH.

All the day my toil was easy, for I knew that in the evening,
I could go home from my labor, and find Blanche at the door;
How could I dream the sunlight in my sky was so deceiving?
And I ceased in my believing 'twould be cloudy ever more.
When at last the twilight deepened, I entered our low dwelling,
And my darling rose to meet me, with the love-light in her eyes;
On that day her simple story to my aunt she had been telling,
And I saw her words were welling, fraught with ominous surprise.
For it seems my hated uncle, once had given him a daughter,
Who on a saddened morning had been stolen from the door,
And through the panting city the criers cried and sought her,
But in vain; they never brought her to his threshold any more.
Blanche was she, my uncle's daughter; no unwelcome truth was plainer;
For a small peculiar birth-mark was apparent on her arm.
Had I lost her? Was it possible ever more now to regain her?
Would he spurn me, and restrain her with his wily golden charm?
All that night my heart was bitter with unutterable anguish,
And I cried out in my slumber till with my words I woke:
"How long, O Lord, must poverty bow down its head and languish,
While wrong, with wealth to garnish it, makes strong the heavy yoke?"

 IX.

THE MISER.

'Tis said, that when he saw his child,
And saw the proof that she was his,
The first in many a year he smiled,
And pressed upon her brow a kiss.
In both his hands her hand he bound,
And led her gayly through his place.
He said the dead years circled round,
Hers was so like her mother's face.
He scarcely moves him from her side—
Her every hour with joy beguiles.
To make the gulf between us wide,
He acts the miser of her smiles.
He brings her presents rich and rare—
Wrought gold by cunning hands impearled,
Round opals that with scarlet glare,
The lightning of each mimic world.

X.

SHE PASSED ME BY.

She bowed, and smiled, and passed me by,
She passed me by!
O love, O lava breath that burns,
'Tis hard indeed to think she spurns
Such worshippers as you and I.
She smiled, and bowed, with stately pride;
The bow the frosty smile belied.
She passed me by.
She bowed, and smiled, and passed me by,
She passed me by.
What more could any maiden do?
It did not prove she was untrue.
My heart is tired, I know not why.
I only know I weep and pray.
Love has its night as well as day.
She passed me by.

XI.

MIND WITHOUT SOUL.

Some strange story I have read
Of a man without a soul.
Mind he had, though soul had fled;
Magic gave him gifts instead,
And the form of youth he stole.
Grows a rose-azalea white,
In my garden, near the way.
I who see it with delight,
Dream its soul of odor might,
In the past, have fled away.
Blanche (O, sweet, you are so fair,
So sweet, so fair, whate'er you do),
Twine no azalea in your hair,
Lest I think in my despair,
Heart and soul have left you too.

XII.

A BROKEN SWORD.

Deep in the night I saw the sea,
And overhead, the round moon white;
Its steel cold gleam lay on the lea,
And seemed my sword of life and light,
Broke in that war death waged with me.
I heard the dip of golden oars;
Twelve angels stranded in a boat;
We sailed away for other shores;
Though but an hour we were afloat,
We harbored under heavenly doors.
O, Blanche, if I had run my race,
And if I wore my winding sheet,
And mourners went about the place,
Would you so much as cross the street,
To kiss in death my white, cold face?

XIII.

A CHANCE FOR GAIN.

I met him in the busy mart;
His eyes are large, his lips are firm,
And on his temples, care or sin
Has left its claw prints hardened in;
His step is nervous and infirm;
I wondered if he had a heart.
He blandly smiled and took my hand.
He owed me such a debt, he thought,
He felt he never could repay;
Yet should I call on him that day,
He'd hand me what the papers brought,
For which I once had made demand.
Then added, turning grave from gay;
"But you must promise, if I give,
Your lover's office to resign,
And stand no more 'twixt me and mine."
His words were water in a sieve.
I turned my back and strode away.

XIV.

THE LIGHT-HOUSE.

At twilight, past the fountain,
I wandered in the park,
And saw a closed white lily
Sway on the liquid dark;
And a fire-fly, perched upon it,
Shone out its fitful spark.
I fancied it a light-house
Mooned on a sky-like sea,
To warn the fearless sailors
Of lurking treachery—
Of unseen reefs and shallows
That starved for wrecks to be.
O Blanche, O love that spurns me,
'Tis but a cheat thou art.
I would some friendly light-house
Had warned me to depart
From the secret reefs and shallows
That hide about your heart.

XV.

DARKNESS.

My hopes and my ambition all were down,
Like grass the mower turneth from its place;
The night's thick darkness was an angry frown,
And earth a tear upon the cheek of space.
The mighty fiend of storm in wild unrest,
By lightning stabbed, dragged slowly up the plain;
Great clots of light, like blood, dripped down his breast,
And from his open jaws fell foam in rain.

XVI.

IN THE CHURCH-YARD.

Where the sun shineth,
Through the willow trees,
And the church standeth,
'Mid the tomb-stones white,
Planting anemones
I saw my delight.
Her mother sleepeth
Beneath the green mound;
A white cross standeth
To show man the place.
Now close to the ground
Blanche bendeth her face.
She quickly riseth
As she hears my walk,
And sadly smileth
Through mists of tears;
We mournfully talk
Of departed years.
She downward droopeth
Her beautiful head,
And a blue-bell seemeth
That blossometh down;
Trembling with dread,
Lest the sky should frown.
She dearer seemeth
Than ever before.
She gently chideth
My more distant way.
At her heart's one door
I entered to-day.
No palace standeth
As happy as this.
Love ever ruleth
Its precincts alone—
His sceptre a kiss,
And a smile his throne.
There is one Blanche feareth—
She loves not deceit—
She only wisheth
To dazzle his heart.
We promise to meet.
And separate depart.

XVII.

COMPARISONS.

The moon is like a shepherd with a flock of starry lambkins,
The wind is like a whisper to the mountains from the sea,
The sun a gold moth browsing on a flower's pearl-dusted pollen;
But my words can scarcely utter what my love is like to me.
 
She is the sun in light's magnificence across my heart's day shining,
She's the moon when through the heavens of my heart flash meteor dreams;
Her voice is fragrant south wind a silvery sentence blowing;
She is sweeter than the sweetest, she is better than she seems.

XVIII.

AN INQUIRY OF THE SEXTON.

"Sexton, was she here to-day
Who has met me oft before?
Did she come and go away,
Tired of waiting any more?
For I fancy some mistake
Has occurred about the time;
Yet, the hour has not yet passed;
Hark! the bells begin to chime.
"In her hair two roses woo,
One a white, and one a red.
Azure silk her dress might be,
Though she oft wears white instead.
Here, beside this marble cross,
Oft she kneels in silent prayer;
Tell me, has she been to-day,
In the church-yard anywhere?"
 
"No, the lady that you seek
Has not passed the gate to-day:
I've been digging at a grave,
And if she had come this way
I'd have seen her from my work.
She may come to meet you yet.
I remember well her looks.
Names, not faces, I forget."

XIX.

A RIVAL.

It seems I have a rival
Domiciled over the way;
But Blanche, dear heart, dislikes him,
Whatever her father may say—
This gorgeously broadclothed fellow,
Good enough in his way.
To-day as I left the church-yard,
I met them taking a ride,
And my heart was pierced like a buckler
With a javelin of pride;
I only saw in my anger
They were sitting side by side.
To-night, in the purple twilight,
Blanche waited upon the walk,
And beckoned her white hand to me—
A lily swayed on its stalk.
Soon my jealous pride was foundered
In the maelstrom of talk.
'Twas useless to go to the church-yard,
For some one had played the spy;
She fancied it was the sexton—
We would let it all go by;
We now would have bolder meetings,
'Neath her father's very eye.
She took my arm as we idled,
And talked of our love once more,
And how, with her basket of flowers,
She had passed the street before;
We tarried long in the moonlight,
And kissed good-night at her door.

XX.

KISSES AND A RING.

I never behold the sea
Rush up to the hand of the shore,
And with its vehement lips
Kiss its down-dropt whiteness o'er,
But I think of that magic night,
When my lips, like waves on a coast,
Broke over the moonlit hand
Of her that I love the most.
 
I never behold the surf
Lit by the sun into gold,
Curl and glitter and gleam,
In a ring-like billow rolled,
But I think of another ring,
A simple, delicate band,
That in the night of our troth
I placed on a darling hand.

XXI.

AN ENEMY MAY BE SERVED, EVEN THROUGH MISTAKE, WITH PROFIT.

I was walking down the sidewalk,
When up, with flying mane,
Two iron-black steeds came spurning
The ground in wild disdain;
I caught them in an instant,
And held them by the rein.
It seems the man had fainted
In his elegant coupé;
I saw his face a moment,
And then I turned away,
Wishing my steps had led me
Through other streets that day.
Some one who saw the rescue
Afterward told him my name.
For the first in many a season,
Beneath our roof he came.
I said I was deserving
Little of praise or blame.
It was my uncle's face in the carriage;
He made regret of the past;
No more of my love or wishes
Would he be the iconoclast;
On a gala night at his mansion
We should learn to be friends at last.

XXII.

HELIOTROPE.

Let my soul and thine commune,
Heliotrope.
O'er the way I hear the swoon
Of the music; and the moon,
Like a moth above a bloom,
Shines upon the world below.
In God's hand the world we know,
Is but as a flower in mine.
Let me see thy heart divine
Heliotrope.
Thy rare odor is thy soul,
Heliotrope.
Could I save the golden bowl,
And yet change my soul to yours,
I would do so for a day,
Just to hear my neighbors say:
"Lo! the spirit he immures
Is as fragrant as a flower;
It will wither in an hour;
Surely he has stol'n the bliss,
For we know the odor is
Heliotrope."
Have you love and have you fear,
Heliotrope?
Has a dew-drop been thy tear?
Has the south-wind been thy sigh?
Let thy soul make mine reply,
By some sense, on brain or hand,
Let me know and understand,
Heliotrope.
In thy native land, Peru,
Heliotrope,
There are worshippers of light—
They might better worship you;
But they worship not as I.
You must tell her what I say,
When I take you 'cross the way,
For to-night your petals prove
The Devotion of my love,
Heliotrope.
'Tis time we go, breath o' bee,
Heliotrope.
All the house is lit for me;
Here's the room where we may dwell,
Filled with guests delectable.
Hark! I hear the silver bell
Ever tinkling at her throat.
I have thought it was a boat,
By the Graces put afloat,
On the billows of her heart.
I have thought it was a boat
With a bird in it, whose part
Was a solitary note.
Now I know 'tis Heliotrope
That the moonlight, bursting ope,
Changed to silver on her throat.
Let us watch the dancers go;
She is dancing in the row.
Sweetest flower that ever was,
I shall give you as I pass,
Heliotrope.