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Forlorn

 I.


  Red roses, in the slender vases burning,
    Breathed all upon the air,--
  The passion and the tenderness and yearning,
    The waiting and the doubting and despair.


  II.


  Still with the music of her voice was haunted,
    Through all its charm├ęd rhymes,
  The open book of such a one as chanted
    The things he dreamed in old, old summer-times.


  III.


  The silvern chords of the piano trembled
    Still with the music wrung
  From them; the silence of the room dissembled
    The closes of the songs that she had sung.


  IV.


  The languor of the crimson shawl's abasement,--
    Lying without a stir
  Upon the floor,--the absence at the casement,
    The solitude and hush were full of her.


  V.


  Without, and going from the room, and never
    Departing, did depart
  Her steps; and one that came too late forever
    Felt them go heavy o'er his broken heart.


  VI.


  And, sitting in the house's desolation,
    He could not bear the gloom,
  The vanishing encounter and evasion
    Of things that were and were not in the room.


  VII.


  Through midnight streets he followed fleeting visions
    Of faces and of forms;
  He heard old tendernesses and derisions
    Amid the sobs and cries of midnight storms.


  VIII.


  By midnight lamps, and from the darkness under
    That lamps made at their feet,
  He saw sweet eyes peer out in innocent wonder,
    And sadly follow after him down the street.


  IX.


  The noonday crowds their restlessness obtruded
    Between him and his quest;
  At unseen corners jostled and eluded,
    Against his hand her silken robes were pressed.


  X.


  Doors closed upon her; out of garret casements
    He knew she looked at him;
  In splendid mansions and in squalid basements,
    Upon the walls he saw her shadow swim.


  XI.


  From rapid carriages she gleamed upon him,
    Whirling away from sight;
  From all the hopelessness of search she won him
    Back to the dull and lonesome house at night.


  XII.


  Full early into dark the twilights saddened
    Within its clos├ęd doors;
  The echoes, with the clock's monotony maddened,
    Leaped loud in welcome from the hollow floors;


  XIII.


  But gusts that blew all day with solemn laughter
    From wide-mouthed chimney-places,
  And the strange noises between roof and rafter,
    The wainscot clamor, and the scampering races


  XIV.


  Of mice that chased each other through the chambers,
    And up and down the stair,
  And rioted among the ashen embers,
    And left their frolic footprints everywhere,--


  XV.


  Were hushed to hear his heavy tread ascending
    The broad steps, one by one,
  And toward the solitary chamber tending,
    Where the dim phantom of his hope alone


  XVI.


  Rose up to meet him, with his growing nearer,
    Eager for his embrace,
  And moved, and melted into the white mirror,
    And stared at him with his own haggard face.


  XVII.


  But, turning, he was 'ware _her_ looks beheld him
    Out of the mirror white;
  And at the window yearning arms she held him,
    Out of the vague and sombre fold of night.


  XVIII.


  Sometimes she stood behind him, looking over
    His shoulder as he read;
  Sometimes he felt her shadowy presence hover
    Above his dreamful sleep, beside his bed;


  XIX.


  And rising from his sleep, her shadowy presence
    Followed his light descent
  Of the long stair; her shadowy evanescence
    Through all the whispering rooms before him went.


  XX.


  Upon the earthy draught of cellars blowing
    His shivering lamp-flame blue,
  Amid the damp and chill, he felt her flowing
    Around him from the doors he entered through.


  XXI.


  The spiders wove their webs upon the ceiling;
    The bat clung to the wall;
  The dry leaves through the open transom stealing,
    Skated and danced adown the empty hall.


  XXII.


  About him closed the utter desolation,
    About him closed the gloom;
  The vanishing encounter and evasion
    Of things that were and were not in the room


  XXIII.


  Vexed him forever; and his life forever
    Immured and desolate,
  Beating itself, with desperate endeavor,
    But bruised itself, against the round of fate.


  XXIV.


  The roses, in their slender vases burning,
    Were quench├ęd long before;
  A dust was on the rhymes of love and yearning;
    The shawl was like a shroud upon the floor.


  XXV.


  Her music from the thrilling chords had perished;
    The stillness was not moved
  With memories of cadences long cherished,
    The closes of the songs that she had loved.


  XXVI.


  But not the less he felt her presence never
    Out of the room depart;
  Over the threshold, not the less, forever
    He felt her going on his broken heart.


 

William Dean Howells