A Niello, by Madison Cawein

I

  It is not early spring and yet
  Of bloodroot blooms along the stream,
  And blotted banks of violet,
      My heart will dream.

  Is it because the windflower apes
  The beauty that was once her brow,
  That the white memory of it shapes
      The April now?

  Because the wild-rose wears the blush
  That once made sweet her maidenhood,
  Its thought makes June of barren bush
      And empty wood?

  And then I think how young she died—
  Straight, barren Death stalks down the trees,
  The hard-eyed Hours by his side,
      That kill and freeze.

II

  When orchards are in bloom again
  My heart will bound, my blood will beat,
  To hear the redbird so repeat,
      On boughs of rosy stain,
  His blithe, loud song,—like some far strain
  From out the past,—among the bloom,—
  (Where bee and wasp and hornet boom)—
      Fresh, redolent of rain.

  When orchards are in bloom once more,
  Invasions of lost dreams will draw
  My feet, like some insistent law,
      Through blossoms to her door:
  In dreams I'll ask her, as before,
  To let me help her at the well;
  And fill her pail; and long to tell
      My love as once of yore.

  I shall not speak until we quit
  The farm-gate, leading to the lane
  And orchard, all in bloom again,
      Mid which the bluebirds sit
  And sing; and through whose blossoms flit
  The catbirds crying while they fly:
  Then tenderly I'll speak, and try
      To tell her all of it.

  And in my dream again she'll place
  Her hand in mine, as oft before,—
  When orchards are in bloom once more,—
      With all her young-girl grace:
  And we shall tarry till a trace
  Of sunset dyes the heav'ns; and then—
  We'll part; and, parting, I again
      Shall bend and kiss her face.

  And homeward, singing, I shall go
  Along the cricket-chirring ways,
  While sunset, one long crimson blaze
      Of orchards, lingers low:
  And my dead youth again I'll know,
  And all her love, when spring is here—
  Whose memory holds me many a year,
      Whose love still haunts me so!

III

  I would not die when Springtime lifts
      The white world to her maiden mouth,
  And heaps its cradle with gay gifts,
      Breeze-blown from out the singing South:
  Too full of life and loves that cling;
      Too heedless of all mortal woe,
  The young, unsympathetic Spring,
      That Death should never know.

  I would not die when Summer shakes
      Her daisied locks below her hips,
  And naked as a star that takes
      A cloud, into the silence slips:
  Too rich is Summer; poor in needs;
      In egotism of loveliness
  Her pomp goes by, and never heeds
      One life the more or less.

  But I would die when Autumn goes,
      The dark rain dripping from her hair,
  Through forests where the wild wind blows
      Death and the red wreck everywhere:
  Sweet as love's last farewells and tears
      To fall asleep when skies are gray,
  In the old autumn of my years,
      Like a dead leaf borne far away.