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Thomas Hardy (1840–1928). Wessex Poems and Other Verses. 1898.

30. My Cicely

“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-rumor 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 ribbon 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 therence

Through Casterbridge, bore I,

To tomb her whose light, in my deeming,

Extinguished had He.

No highwayman’s trot blew the night-wind

To me so life-weary,

But only the creak of the gibbets

Or wagoners’ 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 hocus satiric!”

I cried in my anguish:

“O once Loved, of fair Unforgotten—

That Thing—meant it thee!

“Inurned and at peace, lost but sainted,

Where 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.