THE CURTAIN rose—the play began—
The limelight on the gay garbs shone;
Yet carelessly I gazed upon
The painted players, maid and man,
As one with idle eyes who sees
The marble figures on a frieze.
Long lark-notes clear the first act close,
So the soprano: then a hush—
The tenor, tender as a thrush;
Then loud and high the chorus rose,
Till, with a sudden rush and strong,
It ended in a storm of song.
The curtain fell—the music died—
The lights grew bright, revealing there
The flash of jewelled fingers fair,
And wreaths of pearls on brows of pride;
Then, with a quick-flushed cheek, I turned,
And into mine her dark eyes burned.
Such eyes but once a man may see,
And, seeing once, his fancy dies
To thought of any other eyes:
So shadow-soft, they seemed to be
Twin haunted lakes, lit by the gleams
Of a mysterious moon of dreams.
Silk lashes veiled their liquid light
With such a shade as tall reeds fling
From the lake-marge at sunsetting:
Their darkness might have hid the night—
Yet whoso saw their glance would say
Night dreamt therein, and saw the day.
Long looked I at them, wondering
What tender memories were hid
Beneath each blue-veined lily-lid;
What hopes of joys the years would bring;
What griefs? In vain: I might not guess
The secret of their silentness.
What of her face? Her face, meseems,
Was such as painters see who muse
By moonlight in dim avenues,
Yet cannot paint; or as in dreams,
Young poets see, but, when they try
To limn in verse are dumb—so I.
Yet well I know that I have seen
That sweet face in the long ago
In a rose-bower—well I know—
Laughing the singing leaves between,
In that strange land of rose and rhyme—
The land of Once upon a Time.
O unknown sweet, so sweetly known,
I know not what your name may be—
Madonna is your name for me—
Nor where your lines in life are thrown;
But soul sees soul—what is the rest?
A passing phantom at the best.
Did your young bosom never glow
To love? or burns your heart beneath
As burns the rosebud in its sheath?
I neither know nor wish to know:
I smell the rose upon the tree;
Who will may pluck and wear, for me—
May wear the rose, and watch it die,
And, leaf by red leaf, fade and fall,
Till there be nothing left at all
Of its sweet loveliness; but I
Love it so well, I leave it free—
The scent alone I take with me!
As one who visits sacred spots
Brings tokens back, so I from you
A glance, a smile, a rapture new!
And these are my forget-me-nots!
I take from you but only these—
Give all the rest to whom you please.
Sweet eyes, your glance a light shall cast
On me, when dreaded ghosts arise
Of dead regrets with shrouded eyes,
And phantoms of the perished past,
Old thoughts, old hopes, and old desire
Gather around my lonely fire!
Farewell! In rhyme, I kiss your hand—
Kiss not unsweet, although unheard!—
This is our secret—say no word—
That I have been in Fairyland,
And seen for one brief moment’s space
The Queen Titania face to face.