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Before the Gate


  They gave the whole long day to idle laughter,
    To fitful song and jest,
  To moods of soberness as idle, after,
    And silences, as idle too as the rest.

  But when at last upon their way returning,
    Taciturn, late, and loath,
  Through the broad meadow in the sunset burning,
    They reached the gate, one fine spell hindered them both.

  Her heart was troubled with a subtile anguish
    Such as but women know
  That wait, and lest love speak or speak not languish,
    And what they would, would rather they would not so;

  Till he said,--man-like nothing comprehending
    Of all the wondrous guile
  That women won win themselves with, and bending
    Eyes of relentless asking on her the while,--

  "Ah, if beyond this gate the path united
    Our steps as far as death,
  And I might open it!--" His voice, affrighted
    At its own daring, faltered under his breath.

  Then she--whom both his faith and fear enchanted
    Far beyond words to tell,
  Feeling her woman's finest wit had wanted
    The art he had that knew to blunder so well--

  Shyly drew near, a little step, and mocking,
    "Shall we not be too late
  For tea?" she said. "I'm quite worn out with walking:
    Yes, thanks, your arm. And will you--open the gate?"


William Dean Howells