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My Cicely

(17-)

"Alive?"--And I leapt in my wonder, Was faint of my joyance, And grasses and grove shone in garments Of glory to me.

"She lives, in a plenteous well-being, To-day as aforehand; The dead bore the name--though a rare one - The name that bore she."

She lived . . . I, afar in the city Of frenzy-led factions, Had squandered green years and maturer In bowing the knee

To Baals illusive and specious, Till chance had there voiced me That one I loved vainly in nonage Had ceased her to be.

The passion the planets had scowled on, And change had let dwindle, Her death-rumour smartly relifted To full apogee.

I mounted a steed in the dawning With acheful remembrance, And made for the ancient West Highway To far Exonb'ry.

Passing heaths, and the House of Long Sieging, I neared the thin steeple That tops the fair fane of Poore's olden Episcopal see;

And, changing anew my onbearer, I traversed the downland Whereon the bleak hill-graves of Chieftains Bulge barren of tree;

And still sadly onward I followed That Highway the Icen, Which trails its pale riband down Wessex O'er lynchet and lea.

Along through the Stour-bordered Forum, Where Legions had wayfared, And where the slow river upglasses Its green canopy,

And by Weatherbury Castle, and thencefrom Through Casterbridge held I Still on, to entomb her my vision Saw stretched pallidly.

No highwayman's trot blew the night-wind To me so life-weary, But only the creak of the gibbets Or waggoners' jee.

Triple-ramparted Maidon gloomed grayly Above me from southward, And north the hill-fortress of Eggar, And square Pummerie.

The Nine-Pillared Cromlech, the Bride-streams, The Axe, and the Otter I passed, to the gate of the city Where Exe scents the sea;

Till, spent, in the graveacre pausing, I learnt 'twas not my Love To whom Mother Church had just murmured A last lullaby.

- "Then, where dwells the Canon's kinswoman, My friend of aforetime?"-- ('Twas hard to repress my heart-heavings And new ecstasy.)

"She wedded."--"Ah!"--"Wedded beneath her - She keeps the stage-hostel Ten miles hence, beside the great Highway - The famed Lions-Three.

"Her spouse was her lackey--no option 'Twixt wedlock and worse things; A lapse over-sad for a lady Of her pedigree!"

I shuddered, said nothing, and wandered To shades of green laurel: Too ghastly had grown those first tidings So brightsome of blee!

For, on my ride hither, I'd halted Awhile at the Lions, And her--her whose name had once opened My heart as a key--

I'd looked on, unknowing, and witnessed Her jests with the tapsters, Her liquor-fired face, her thick accents In naming her fee.

"O God, why this seeming derision!" I cried in my anguish: "O once Loved, O fair Unforgotten - That Thing--meant it thee!

"Inurned and at peace, lost but sainted, Were grief I could compass; Depraved--'tis for Christ's poor dependent A cruel decree!"

I backed on the Highway; but passed not The hostel. Within there Too mocking to Love's re-expression Was Time's repartee!

Uptracking where Legions had wayfared, By cromlechs unstoried, And lynchets, and sepultured Chieftains, In self-colloquy,

A feeling stirred in me and strengthened That SHE was not my Love, But she of the garth, who lay rapt in Her long reverie.

And thence till to-day I persuade me That this was the true one; That Death stole intact her young dearness And innocency.

Frail-witted, illuded they call me; I may be. 'Tis better To dream than to own the debasement Of sweet Cicely.

Moreover I rate it unseemly To hold that kind Heaven Could work such device--to her ruin And my misery.

So, lest I disturb my choice vision, I shun the West Highway, Even now, when the knaps ring with rhythms From blackbird and bee;

And feel that with slumber half-conscious She rests in the church-hay, Her spirit unsoiled as in youth-time When lovers were we.

Thomas Hardy