Alice Cary

April 26, 1820 - 1871


The Convent

by Alice Cary

Come, thou of the drooping eyelid,
And cheek that is meekly pale,
Give over thy pensive musing
And list to a lonesome tale;
For hearts that are torn and bleeding,
Or heavy as thine, and lone,
May find in another's sorrow
Forgetfulness of their own.
So heap on the blazing fagots
And trim the lamp anew,
And I'll tell you a mournful story --
I would that it were not true!

The bright red clouds of the sunset
On the tops of the mountains lay
And many and goodly vessels
Were anchored below in the bay;
We saw the walls of the city,
And could hear its vexing din,
As our mules, with their nostrils smoking,
Drew up at a wayside inn:
The hearth was ample and blazing,
For the night was something chill,
But my heart, though I knew not wherefore,
Sunk down with a sense of ill.

That night I stood on the terrace
O'erlooking a blossomy vale,
And the gray old walls of a convent
That loomed in the moonlight pale --
Till the lamp of the sweet Madonna
Grew faint as if burning low,
And the midnight bell in the turret
Swung heavily to and fro
When, just as its last sweet music
Came back from the echoing hill,
And the hymn of the ghostly friars
In the fretted aisle grew still,
On a rude bench, hid among olives,
I noted a maiden fair,
Alone, with the night wind playing
In the locks of her raven hair.
Thrice came the sound of her sighing,
And thrice were her red lips pressed
With wild and passionate fervor
To the cross that hung on her breast;
But her bearing was not the bearing
That to saintly soul belongs,
Albeit she chanted the fragments
Of holy and beautiful songs.

'T was the half hour after the midnight,
And, so like that it might be now,
The full moon was meekly climbing
Over the mountain's brow,
When the step of the singing maiden
In the corridor lightly trod,
And I presently saw her kneeling
In prayer to the mother of God!
On the leaves of her golden missal
Darkly her loose locks lay,
And she cried, Forgive me, sweet Virgin,
And mother of Jesus, I pray!

When the music was softly melting
From the eloquent lips of Morn;
Within the walls of the convent
Those beautiful locks were shorn:
And wherefore the veil was taken
Was never revealed by time,
But Charity sweetly hopeth
For sorrow, and not for crime.


Copyright 1855
Boston: Ticknor And Fields