Jane Wilde

27 December 1821 – 3 February 1896

Shadows From Life

Vain the love that looketh upward; we may worship, may adore;
From the heart's o'erflowing chalice all the tide of feeling pour;
Dash our souls against the barriers that divide us from the shrine;
Fling the incense; pour libations—aye, of life's own ruddy wine;
But, the angel we gaze up to, calm as form of pictured saint,
From its golden mist of glory bendeth never to our plaint plant;
Heedeth not if crushed the temple where the altar fires burned,
For the doom runs through the ages—Love was never yet returned.
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II.
Thus it was he loved a lady: never priest in Ispahàn
So adored when mount and ocean morning's flashing glories span.
Never sun‐god in its glory, marching stately from the east,
Crimson‐robed and cloud‐attended, heeded less the praying priest,
Than the lady that pale lover, while her lonely path she took
O'er the spirit's glittering summits, with her proud and queenly look;
Like that Roman Sybil bearing in her hands the mystic scroll,
And her large eyes looking onward where the future ages roll.

So, in lone and lofty beauty, she stood high above the world,
Never heeding, dashing neathward, how life's stormy billows curled;
As a pine upon the mountain, warring tempests raging round,
As an island peak of ocean, with the starry midnight crowned.
How could she who trod the pathway of the spirit's starry zones
Stoop to listen, bending earthward, to a lover's murmuring tones? —
While her ear was gathering music from Creation's golden chords,
List the human tears low falling, with the pleading human words?

And could he, who tracked the eagle borne on through cloud and light,
With her glorious regnant beauty filling soul and sense and sight,

Stoop to gaze on me, half‐blasted by fierce Passion's fiery skies,
Only Love, the love of woman, burning strangely in my eyes?
Oh! I've watched his glance dilating, as it rested where afar
Rose her lofty brow, as riseth the pale glory of a star;
Heard the world's praise hymning round her, saw his cheek of flushing pride,
Whilst I, writhing in heart‐agony, all calmly sat beside.

No rays of genius crowning, such as brows like hers enrol,
With no flashing thoughts, like North‐lights, rushing up my darkened darkned soul;
Waking but his earnest feelings with, perchance, my graver words,
While her spirit, like a tempest, swept the range of Passion's chords.
Oh, Woman! calmest sufferer! what deep agony oft lies
In thy low, false‐hearted laughter, glancing bright through tearless eyes!
And how little deemed he truly that the calmest eyes he met
Were but Joy's funereal torches, on Life's ruined altar set.

How could I light up his nature, with no glory in my own?
Soul like his, that throbbed and glittered in the radiance of her throne.
Bitter came the words of plaining:—Why should fate to me deny
All the beauty of the mortal, all the soul to deify?
What had she done, then, for Heaven, so that Heaven should confer
Every gift, to make man prostrate at her feet as worshipper?

Raised her high enough to scorn him—aye, to trample in disdain
On the heart flung down before her—heart that I had died to gain!

Trod his love down calmly, queenly, like a mantle 'neath her feet,
While with lordly spirit‐monarchs she moved proudly to her seat,
Grand as eagle in the zenith, with the noonday radiance crowned
Lone and icy as an Alp‐peak, with the circling glaciers round.
But an echo of all beauty through her fine‐toned spirit rang,
As a golden harp re‐echoes to each passing music clang,
Till in thrilling, clear vibrations rang her poet‐words in air,
Summoning souls to lofty duties, as an Angelus to prayer.

Oh! she flung abroad her fancies, free as waves dash off the foam
As the palm‐tree flings its branches on the blue of Heaven's dome,
With a genius‐shadow dark'ning in the stillness of her eyes
With her rainbow‐spirit arching half the circle of the skies,
Like a dark‐browed Miriam chanting songs of triumph on the foe,
As the rushing waters bore them to the Hades halls below,
Till up through the startled ether, down the far horizon's rim,
Clashed the swords of men in music to her lofty prophet‐hymn.

But no beauty thrill'd my nature, noon, or night or sunset skies;
For the only heaven I gazed on was the heaven of his eyes—

I'd have bartered Freedom, Justice, People's rights, or native Land,
All the island homes of Ocean, for one pressure of his hand;
Trembling, weak, a coward spirit, only wishing low to lie,
As a flower beneath his footstep, breathe my life out, and so die.
Yet he liked me—aye, he liked me—'twas the phrase—O saints above!
Cold and cruel sounds this liking from the lips of one we love.

They said that he was dying; could I longer silence keeping,
Only pour forth my deep passion in my chamber lonely weeping?
I reck'd not if 'twere womanly, cold convention little heeding,
But in mine his hand enfolding, said, with tearful raised eyes pleading
"She hath left you, left you lonely—sorrow's harvest death may reap;
I say not—love me; let me only watch here by you and weep! "
Then he said, his pale brow raising, with a faint, unquiet smile,
And with saddest eyes upgazing upon mine for all the while

"Sweetest friend, this sorrow‐blighted, faded form, and searéd heart,
To pale death, I fear, are plighted, yet 'twere bitter now to part;
For the chords of life are shaken by a sympathy so true,
And they tremble, in vibration, with a pleasure strange and new.

Still, no love‐dream may be cherished—ah! the time of love is o'er
Youthful heart, by passion blighted, can be kindled never more;
But if sympathy thou darest with a heart so wrecked as mine,
I will give thee back the rarest kindred souls can inter twine."

And so bending coldly, gently, on my brow he placed his lips;
While, I trembling in the shadow of that faint and brief eclipse,
Murmur'd:—"Tell me, tell me truly, do you love her then so well? "
And the hot tears, all unruly, through my twinèd fingers fell,
And I sank down there unheeding so of maidenhood or wrong,
While I told him, weeping, pleading, how I'd loved him, loved him long;
Seen my hopes all faded, perished, spread around in pale dismay,
Wept their pallid corses over—I alone, like Niobe!

Thank God, that no cruel scorning dimm'd his starry eyes divine,
Softly, tender, earnest gazing down the tearful depths of mine—
But with warmest splendours resting on the paleness of his cheek,
As the roseate tinted sunset on a snowy Alpine peak,
Bent he down upon my shoulder, murmuring loverlike and low,
While his breathing softly trembled on my pale lips lying so:

"Ah! such deep and tender loving hath recall'd me from the grave
And this heart with soft approving bids you keep the life you gave;

"Woman's soothing grief to lighten hath a mystic healing power,
And their sympathy can brighten man's most dark and destined hour.
Let the holy words be spoken that bind soul to soul for life;
Let me place the symbol token on this hand—my wedded wife! "
Oh! never yet did an angel breathe diviner words of bliss,
Never mortal heard evangel of a joy like unto this;
In my gladness, smiling, weeping, knelt I down before him there,
Blessing God with wild words leaping from my full heart's inward prayer;

And a glory, ruddy, golden‐hued, streamed down on me from high,
As with lifted hands enfolden gazed I up into the sky
Ever brighter, flashing downward, till my pained eyes ached with light,
And I turned from gazing sunward back to earth's more calm delight.
But—was it spell, or was it charm? —when I turned me to the room,
Fading seem'd the loved one's form, half in light and half in gloom
Throbb'd my brain in wild confusion, slowly died his words in air,
All around me seemed illusion, save that streaming golden glare.
On my fevered eyelids aching, madly press'd my hands I keep
Then arose like one awaking from a strange and magic sleep;
Round I gazed in wild amazement for the glorious light that shone,
Was morn streaming through my casement, but it shone on me alone!
The last cold words he had written still lay there beside my bed;
The last flowers he had given lay beside them, faded, dead;
Life's lonely bitter desolation was true, for aye, I deem,
But, joy's blessed revelations, that—oh, that—was but a dream!
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