At Dawn and Dusk

The Old Wife and the New

Victor James Daley

HE sat beneath the curling vines
    That round the gay verandah twined,
His forehead seamed with sorrow’s lines,
    An old man with a weary mind.

His young wife, with a rosy face
    And brown arms ambered by the sun,
Went flitting all about the place—
    Master and mistress both in one.

What caused that old man’s look of care?
    Was she not blithe and fair to see?
What blacker than her raven hair,
    What darker than her eyes might be?

The old man bent his weary head;
    The sunlight on his gray hair shone;
His thoughts were with a woman dead
    And buried, years and years agone:

The good old wife who took her stand
    Beside him at the altar-side,
And walked with him, hand clasped in hand,
    Through joy and sorrow till she died.

Ah, she was fair as heart’s desire,
    And gay, and supple-limbed, in truth,
And in his veins there leapt like fire
    The hot red blood of lusty youth.

She stood by him in shine and shade,
    And, when hard-beaten at his best,
She took him like a child and laid
    His aching head upon her breast.

She helped him make a little home
    Where once were gum-trees gaunt and stark,
And bloodwoods waved green-feathered foam—
    Working from dawn of day to dark,

Till that dark forest formed a frame
    For vineyards that the gods might bless,
And what was savage once became
    An Eden in the wilderness.

And how at their first vintage-time
    She laughed and sang—you see such shapes
On vases of the Grecian prime—
    And danced a reel upon the grapes!

And ever, as the years went on,
    All things she kept with thrifty hand,
Till never shone the sun upon
    A fairer homestead in the land.

Then children came—ah, me! ah, me!
    Sad blessings that a mother craves!
That old man from his seat could see
    The shadows playing o’er their graves.

And then she closed her eyes at last,
    Her gentle, useful, peaceful life
Was over—garnered with the past;
    God rest thee gently, Good Old Wife!

.     .     .     .     .

His young wife has a rosy face,
        And laughs, with reddest lips apart,
But cannot fill the empty place
    Within that old man’s lonely heart.

His young wife has a rosy face,
    And brown arms ambered by the sun,
Goes flitting all about the place,
    Master and mistress both in one;

But though she sings, or though she sighs,
    He sees her not—he sees instead
A gray-haired Shade with gentle eyes—
    The good old wife, long dead, long dead.

He sits beneath the curling vines,
    Through which the merry sunrays dart,
His forehead seamed with sorrow’s lines—
    An old man with a broken heart.

At Dawn and Dusk - Contents

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