Portrait of Henry Timrod

Henry Timrod

Dec 8, 1828 - Oct 6, 1867

 

Madeline

by Henry Timrod

O lady! if, until this hour,
I've gazed in those bewildering eyes,
Yet never owned their touching power,
But when thou could'st not hear my sighs;
It has not been that love has slept
One single moment in my soul,
Or that on lip or look I kept
A stern and stoical control;
But that I saw, but that I felt,
In every tone and glance of thine,
Whate'er they spoke, where'er they dwelt,
How small, how poor a part was mine;
And that I deeply, dearly knew,
That hidden, hopeless love confessed,
The fatal words would lose me, too,
Even the weak friendship I possessed.

And so, I masked my secret well;
The very love within my breast,
Became the strange, but potent spell
By which I forced it into rest.
Yet there were times, I scarce know how,
These eager lips refrained to speak, --
Some kindly smile would light thy brow,
And I grew passionate and weak;
The secret sparkled at my eyes,
And love but half repressed its sighs, --
Then had I gazed an instant more,
Or dwelt one moment on that brow,
I might have changed the smile it wore,
To what perhaps it weareth now;
And spite of all I feared to meet,
Confessed that passion at thy feet.
To save my heart, to spare thine own,
There was one remedy alone.
I fled, I shunned thy very touch, --
It cost me much, O God! how much
But, if some burning tears were shed,
Lady! I let them freely flow;
At least, they left unbreathed, unsaid,
A worse and wilder woe.

But now, -- now that we part indeed,
And that I may not think as then
That as I wish, or as I need,
I may return again, --
Now that for months, perhaps for years --
I see no limit in my fears --
My home shall be some distant spot,
Where thou -- where even thy name is not, --
And since I shall not see the frown,
Such wild, mad language must bring down, --
Could I -- albeit I may not sue
In hope to bend thy steadfast will --
Could I have breathed this word, adieu,
And kept my secret still?

Doubtless thou know'st the Hebrew story --
The tale's with me a favorite one --
How Raphael left the Courts of Glory,
And walked with Judah's honored Son;
And how the twain together dwelt,
And how they talked upon the road,
How often too they must have knelt
As equals to the same kind God;
And still the mortal never guessed,
How much and deeply he was blessed,
Till when -- the Angel's mission done --
The spell which drew him earthwards, riven --
The lover saved -- the maiden won --
He plumed again his wings for Heaven;
O Madeline! as unaware
Thou hast been followed everywhere,
And girt and guarded by a love,
As warm, as tender in its care,
As pure, ay, powerful in prayer,
As any saint above!
Like the bright inmate of the skies,
It only looked with friendly eyes,
And still had worn the illusive guise,
And thus at least been half concealed;
But at this parting, painful hour,
It spreads its wings, unfolds its power,
And stands, like Raphael, revealed.

More, Lady! I would wish to speak, --
But it were vain, and words are weak,
And now that I have bared my breast,
Perchance thou wilt infer the rest.
So, so, farewell! I need not say
I look, I ask for no reply,
The cold and scarcely pitying nay
I read in that unmelted eye;
Yet one dear favor, let me pray!
Days, months, however slow to me,
Must drag at last their length away,
And I return --if not to thee --
At least to breathe the same sweet air
That woos thy lips and waves thy hair.
Oh, then! -- these daring lines forgot --
Look, speak as thou hadst read them not.

So, Lady, may I still retain
A right I would not lose again,
For all that gold or guilt can buy,
Or all that Heaven itself deny,
A right such love may justly claim,
Of seeing thee in friendship's name.
Give me but this, and still at whiles,
A portion of thy faintest smiles,
It were enough to bless;
I may not, dare not ask for more
Than boon so rich, and yet so poor,
But I should die with less.

Source:

Poems
Copyright 1860
Ticknor And Fields, Boston
 

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