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The Homeless Ghost


Still flowed the music, flowed the wine.
The youth in silence went;
Through naked streets, in cold moonshine,
His homeward way he bent,
Where, on the city's seaward line,
His lattice seaward leant.

He knew not why he left the throng,
But that he could not rest;
That something pained him in the song,
And mocked him in the jest;
And a cold moon-glitter lay along
One lovely lady's breast.

He sat him down with solemn book
His sadness to beguile;
A skull from off its bracket-nook
Threw him a lipless smile;
But its awful, laughter-mocking look,
Was a passing moonbeam's wile.

An hour he sat, and read in vain,
Nought but mirrors were his eyes;
For to and fro through his helpless brain,
Went the dance's mysteries;
Till a gust of wind against the pane,
Mixed with a sea-bird's cries,
And the sudden spatter of drifting rain
Bade him mark the altered skies.

The moon was gone, intombed in cloud;
The wind began to rave;
The ocean heaved within its shroud,
For the dark had built its grave;
But like ghosts brake forth, and cried aloud,
The white crests of the wave.

Big rain. The wind howled out, aware
Of the tread of the watery west;
The windows shivered, back waved his hair,
The fireside seemed the best;
But lo! a lady sat in his chair,
With the moonlight across her breast.

The moonbeam passed. The lady sat on.
Her beauty was sad and white.
All but her hair with whiteness shone,
And her hair was black as night;
And her eyes, where darkness was never gone,
Although they were full of light.

But her hair was wet, and wept like weeds
On her pearly shoulders bare;
And the clear pale drops ran down like beads,
Down her arms, to her fingers fair;
And her limbs shine through, like thin-filmed seeds,
Her dank white robe's despair.

She moved not, but looked in his wondering face,
Till his blushes began to rise;
But she gazed, like one on the veiling lace,
To something within his eyes;
A gaze that had not to do with place,
But thought and spirit tries.

Then the voice came forth, all sweet and clear,
Though jarred by inward pain;
She spoke like one that speaks in fear
Of the judgment she will gain,
When the soul is full as a mountain-mere,
And the speech, but a flowing vein.

"Thine eyes are like mine, and thou art bold;
Nay, heap not the dying fire;
It warms not me, I am too cold,
Cold as the churchyard spire;
If thou cover me up with fold on fold,
Thou kill'st not the coldness dire."

Her voice and her beauty, like molten gold,
Thrilled through him in burning rain.
He was on fire, and she was cold,
Cold as the waveless main;
But his heart-well filled with woe, till it rolled
A torrent that calmed him again.

"Save me, Oh, save me!" she cried; and flung
Her splendour before his feet;--
"I am weary of wandering storms among,
And I hate the mouldy sheet;
I can dare the dark, wind-vexed and wrung,
Not the dark where the dead things meet.

"Ah! though a ghost, I'm a lady still--"
The youth recoiled aghast.
With a passion of sorrow her great eyes fill;
Not a word her white lips passed.
He caught her hand; 'twas a cold to kill,
But he held it warm and fast.

"What can I do to save thee, dear?"
At the word she sprang upright.
To her ice-lips she drew his burning ear,
And whispered--he shivered--she whispered light.
She withdrew; she gazed with an asking fear;
He stood with a face ghost-white.

"I wait--ah, would I might wait!" she said;
"But the moon sinks in the tide;
Thou seest it not; I see it fade,
Like one that may not bide.
Alas! I go out in the moonless shade;
Ah, kind! let me stay and hide."

He shivered, he shook, he felt like clay;
And the fear went through his blood;
His face was an awful ashy grey,
And his veins were channels of mud.
The lady stood in a white dismay,
Like a half-blown frozen bud.

"Ah, speak! am I so frightful then?
I live; though they call it death;
I am only cold--say dear again"--
But scarce could he heave a breath;
The air felt dank, like a frozen fen,
And he a half-conscious wraith.

"Ah, save me!" once more, with a hopeless cry,
That entered his heart, and lay;
But sunshine and warmth and rosiness vie
With coldness and moonlight and grey.
He spoke not. She moved not; yet to his eye,
She stood three paces away.

She spoke no more. Grief on her face
Beauty had almost slain.
With a feverous vision's unseen pace
She had flitted away again;
And stood, with a last dumb prayer for grace,
By the window that clanged with rain.

He stood; he stared. She had vanished quite.
The loud wind sank to a sigh;
Grey faces without paled the face of night,
As they swept the window by;
And each, as it passed, pressed a cheek of fright
To the glass, with a staring eye.

And over, afar from over the deep,
Came a long and cadenced wail;
It rose, and it sank, and it rose on the steep
Of the billows that build the gale.
It ceased; but on in his bosom creep
Low echoes that tell the tale.

He opened his lattice, and saw afar,
Over the western sea,
Across the spears of a sparkling star,
A moony vapour flee;
And he thought, with a pang that he could not bar,
The lady it might be.

He turned and looked into the room;
And lo! it was cheerless and bare;
Empty and drear as a hopeless tomb,--
And the lady was not there;
Yet the fire and the lamp drove out the gloom,
As he had driven the fair.

And up in the manhood of his breast,
Sprang a storm of passion and shame;
It tore the pride of his fancied best
In a thousand shreds of blame;
It threw to the ground his ancient crest,
And puffed at his ancient name.

He had turned a lady, and lightly clad,
Out in the stormy cold.
Was she a ghost?--Divinely sad
Are the guests of Hades old.
A wandering ghost? Oh! terror bad,
That refused an earthly fold!

And sorrow for her his shame's regret
Into humility wept;
He knelt and he kissed the footprints wet,
And the track by her thin robe swept;
He sat in her chair, all ice-cold yet,
And moaned until he slept.

He woke at dawn. The flaming sun
Laughed at the bye-gone dark.
"I am glad," he said, "that the night is done,
And the dream slain by the lark."
And the eye was all, until the gun
That boomed at the sun-set--hark!

And then, with a sudden invading blast,
He knew that it was no dream.
And all the night belief held fast,
Till thinned by the morning beam.
Thus radiant mornings and pale nights passed
On the backward-flowing stream.

He loved a lady with heaving breath,
Red lips, and a smile alway;
And her sighs an odour inhabiteth,
All of the rose-hued may;
But the warm bright lady was false as death,
And the ghost is true as day.

And the spirit-face, with its woe divine,
Came back in the hour of sighs;
As to men who have lost their aim, and pine,
Old faces of childhood rise:
He wept for her pleading voice, and the shine
Of her solitary eyes.

And now he believed in the ghost all night,
And believed in the day as well;
And he vowed, with a sorrowing tearful might,
All she asked, whate'er befel,
If she came to his room, in her garment white,
Once more at the midnight knell.

She came not. He sought her in churchyards old
That lay along the sea;
And in many a church, when the midnight tolled,
And the moon shone wondrously;
And down to the crypts he crept, grown bold;
But he waited in vain: ah me!

And he pined and sighed for love so sore,
That he looked as he were lost;
And he prayed her pardon more and more,
As one who had sinned the most;
Till, fading at length, away he wore,
And he was himself a ghost.

But if he found the lady then,
The lady sadly lost,
Or she had found 'mongst living men
A love that was a host,
I know not, till I drop my pen,
And am myself a ghost.


(1864)


George MacDonald