The Parson's Courtship
by Theodore Tilton
The story, as I heard it told,
I fashion into idle rhyme,
To show that, though the heart grows old,
Yet love abides in golden prime.
An aged parson, on his mare,
Was riding where his heart inclined,
Yet wore a sober look and air,
As one who had a troubled mind.
For, when he passed the graveyard gate,
His eyes grew dim with sudden tears
In looking at a slab of slate,
Where lay his wife of other years.
She, dying, said it wronged the dead
To make a wedding on a grave:
The words kept ringing in his head,
And great bewilderment they gave.
He longed to make a second choice,
For every Sunday in the choir
He heard the Widow Churchill's voice,
Until she grew his heart's desire.
The parson's passion, unconfessed,
Like smouldered heat within him burned,
Which never once the widow guessed,
Or haply it had been returned.
With hazel branch the mare was switched,
And cantered down the winding road,
And underneath a tree was hitched,
At Captain Churchill's old abode.
The dame was busy sifting flour,
Nor heard the corner till he said,
Be praise to that Almighty Power
Who giveth man his daily bread!
The widow -- caught by such a guest
In just her linsey-woolsey gown,
Instead of in her Sunday best --
Dropped bashfully her eyelids down.
Then spake her suitor to her face --
I have a solemn word to say,
Whereto is need of heavenly grace;
So, Widow Churchill, let us pray!
Devoutly did the couple kneel --
The parson at. the rocking-chair,
The widow at the spinning-wheel --
And this the burden of the prayer: --
He mourned for uncommitted sin,
Implored a grace on all mankind,
And asked that love might enter in
And sweetly move the widow's mind.
Uprising from his prayerful knees,
I seek a wife, the parson said,
And, finding thee, if God shall please,
Nor thou deny, then let us wed!
The widow started with surprise
(For women old are women still),
And answered, lifting not her eyes,
I seek to do the heavenly will.
The heavenly will was plain indeed,
And pointed to the flowery yoke,
For love is not the human need
Of young alone, but aged folk.
One day, when asters were in bloom,
There came a throng from far and near,
To wish the joy of bride and groom,
And eat and drink the wedding-cheer.
That night, beside the bridal bed,
Up spoke the bride in tender tone,
I hold a message from the dead,
And time has come to make it known:
The years are twelve, this very day,
Since she whose title now is mine,
The night before she passed away,
Bequeathed to me this written line:
'To thee, O friend of all my life,
I vow before my strength be spent,
That should he wed another wife,
If thou art she, I rest content.'
He gazed upon the well-known hand,
Thought backward of the bygone years,
Thought forward of the heavenly land,
And answered not a word for tears.
A hallowed honeymoon they passed,
And both grew young in growing old,
Till, sweetly fading out at last,
They left the tale that I have told.
Source:The Sexton's Tale, And Other Poems.
Sheldon And Company, New York.