PHILIP AND MILDRED POEM by Adelaide Anne Procter
Poetry from Legends and Lyrics Second Series.
ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER VERSE: PHILIP AND MILDRED POEM
Lingering fade the rays of daylight, and the listening air is chilly;
Voice of bird and forest murmur, insect hum and quivering spray
Stir not in that quiet hour: through the valley, calm and stilly,
All in hushed and loving silence watch the slow departing Day.
Till the last faint western cloudlet, faint and rosy, ceases blushing,
And the blue grows deep and deeper where one trembling planet shines,
And the day has gone for ever—then, like some great ocean rushing,
The sad night wind wails lamenting, sobbing through the moaning pines.
Such, of all day’s changing hours, is the fittest and the meetest
For a farewell hour—and parting looks less bitter and more blest;
Earth seems like a shrine for sorrow, Nature’s mother voice is sweetest,
And her hand seems laid in chiding on the unquiet throbbing breast.
Words are lower, for the twilight seems rebuking sad repining,
And wild murmur and rebellion, as all childish and in vain;
Breaking through dark future hours clustering starry hopes seem shining,
Then the calm and tender midnight folds her shadow round the pain.
So they paced the shady lime-walk in that twilight dim and holy,
Still the last farewell deferring, she could hear or he should say;
Every word, weighed down by sorrow, fell more tenderly and slowly—
This, which now beheld their parting, should have been their wedding-day.
Should have been: her dreams of childhood, never straying, never faltering,
Still had needed Philip’s image to make future life complete;
Philip’s young hopes of ambition, ever changing, ever altering,
Needed Mildred’s gentle presence even to make successes sweet.
This day should have seen their marriage; the calm crowning and assurance
Of two hearts, fulfilling rather, and not changing, either life:
Now they must be rent asunder, and her heart must learn endurance,
For he leaves their home, and enters on a world of work and strife.
But her gentle spirit long had learnt, unquestioning, submitting,
To revere his youthful longings, and to marvel at the fate
That gave such a humble office, all unworthy and unfitting,
To the genius of the village, who was born for something great.
When the learnèd Traveller came there who had gained renown at college,
Whose abstruse research had won him even European fame,
Questioned Philip, praised his genius, marvelled at his self-taught knowledge,
Could she murmur if he called him up to London and to fame?
Could she waver when he bade her take the burden of decision,
Since his troth to her was plighted, and his life was now her own?
Could she doom him to inaction? could she, when a newborn vision
Rose in glory for his future, check it for her sake alone?
So her little trembling fingers, that had toiled with such fond pleasure,
Paused, and laid aside, and folded the unfinished wedding gown;
Faltering earnestly assurance, that she too could, in her measure,
Prize for him the present honour, and the future’s sure renown.
Now they pace the shady lime-walk, now the last words must be spoken,
Words of trust, for neither dreaded more than waiting and delay;
Was not love still called eternal—could a plighted vow be broken?—
See the crimson light of sunset fades in purple mist away.
“Yes, my Mildred,” Philip told her, “one calm thought of joy and blessing,
Like a guardian spirit by me, through the world’s tumultuous stir,
Still will spread its wings above me, and now urging, now repressing,
With my Mildred’s voice will murmur thoughts of home, and love, and her.
“It will charm my peaceful leisure, sanctify my daily toiling,
With a right none else possesses, touching my heart’s inmost string;
And to keep its pure wings spotless I shall fly the world’s touch, soiling
Even in thought this Angel Guardian of my Mildred’s Wedding Ring.
“Take it, dear; this little circlet is the first link, strong and holy,
Of a life-long chain, and holds me from all other love apart;
Till the day when you may wear it as my wife—my own—mine wholly—
Let me know it rests for ever near the beating of your heart.”
Dawn of day saw Philip speeding on his road to the Great City,
Thinking how the stars gazed downward just with Mildred’s patient eyes;
Dreams of work, and fame, and honour struggling with a tender pity,
Till the loving Past receding saw the conquering Future rise.
Daybreak still found Mildred watching, with the wonder of first sorrow,
How the outward world unaltered shone the same this very day;
How unpitying and relentless busy life met this new morrow,
Earth, and sky, and man unheeding that her joy had passed away.
Then the round of weary duties, cold and formal, came to meet her,
With the life within departed that had given them each a soul;
And her sick heart even slighted gentle words that came to greet her;
For Grief spread its shadowy pinions, like a blight, upon the whole.
Jar one chord, the harp is silent; move one stone, the arch is shattered;
One small clarion-cry of sorrow bids an armèd host awake;
One dark cloud can hide the sunlight; loose one string, the pearls are scattered;
Think one thought, a soul may perish; say one word, a heart may break!
Life went on, the two lives running side by side; the outward seeming,
And the truer and diviner hidden in the heart and brain;
Dreams grow holy, put in action; work grows fair through starry dreaming;
But where each flows on unmingling, both are fruitless and in vain.
Such was Mildred’s life; her dreaming lay in some far-distant region,
All the fairer, all the brighter, that its glories were but guessed;
And the daily round of duties seemed an unreal, airy legion—
Nothing true save Philip’s letters and the ring upon her breast.
Letters telling how he struggled, for some plan or vision aiming,
And at last how he just grasped it as a fresh one spread its wings;
How the honour or the learning, once the climax, now were claiming,
Only more and more, becoming merely steps to higher things.
Telling her of foreign countries: little store had she of learning,
So her earnest, simple spirit answered as he touched the string;
Day by day, to these bright fancies all her silent thoughts were turning,
Seeing every radiant picture framed within her golden Ring.
Oh, poor heart—love, if thou willest; but, thine own soul still possessing,
Live thy life: not a reflection or a shadow of his own:
Lean as fondly, as completely, as thou willest—but confessing
That thy strength is God’s, and therefore can, if need be, stand alone.
Little means were there around her to make farther, wider ranges,
Where her loving gentle spirit could try any stronger flight;
And she turned aside, half fearing that fresh thoughts were fickle changes—
That she must stay as he left her on that farewell summer night.
Love should still be guide and leader, like a herald should have risen,
Lighting up the long dark vistas, conquering all opposing fates;
But new claims, new thoughts, new duties found her heart a silent prison,
And found Love, with folded pinions, like a jailer by the gates.
Yet why blame her? it had needed greater strength than she was given
To have gone against the current that so calmly flowed along;
Nothing fresh came near the village save the rain and dew of heaven,
And her nature was too passive, and her love perhaps too strong.
The great world of thought, that rushes down the years, and onward sweeping
Bears upon its mighty billows in its progress each and all,
Flowed so far away, its murmur did not rouse them from their sleeping;
Life and Time and Truth were speaking, but they did not hear their call.
Years flowed on; and every morning heard her prayer grow lower, deeper,
As she called all blessings on him, and bade every ill depart,
And each night when the cold moonlight shone upon that quiet sleeper,
It would show her ring that glittered with each throbbing of her heart.
Years passed on. Fame came for Philip in a full, o’erflowing measure;
He was spoken of and honoured through the breadth of many lands,
And he wrote it all to Mildred, as if praise were only pleasure,
As if fame were only honour, when he laid them in her hands.
Mildred heard it without wonder, as a sure result expected,
For how could it fail, since merit and renown go side by side:
And the neighbours who first fancied genius ought to be suspected,
Might at last give up their caution, and could own him now with pride.
Years flowed on. These empty honours led to others they called better,
He had saved some slender fortune, and might claim his bride at last:
Mildred, grown so used to waiting, felt half startled by the letter
That now made her future certain, and would consecrate her past.
And he came: grown sterner, older—changed indeed: a grave reliance
Had replaced his eager manner, and the quick short speech of old:
He had gone forth with a spirit half of hope and half defiance;
He returned with proud assurance half disdainful and half cold.
Yet his old self seemed returning while he stood sometimes, and listened
To her calm soft voice, relating all the thoughts of these long years;
And if Mildred’s heart was heavy, and at times her blue eyes glistened,
Still in thought she would not whisper aught of sorrow or of fears.
Autumn with its golden corn-fields, autumn with its storms and showers,
Had been there to greet his coming with its forests gold and brown;
And the last leaves still were falling, fading still the year’s last flowers,
When he left the quiet village, and took back his bride to town.
Home—the home that she had pictured many a time in twilight, dwelling
On that tender gentle fancy, folded round with loving care;
Here was home—the end, the haven; and what spirit voice seemed telling,
That she only held the casket, with the gem no longer there?
Sad it may be to be longing, with a patience faint and weary,
For a hope deferred—and sadder still to see it fade and fall;
Yet to grasp the thing we long for, and, with sorrow sick and dreary,
Then to find how it can fail us, is the saddest pain of all.
What was wanting? He was gentle, kind, and generous still, deferring
To her wishes always; nothing seemed to mar their tranquil life:
There are skies so calm and leaden that we long for storm-winds stirring,
There is peace so cold and bitter, that we almost welcome strife.
Darker grew the clouds above her, and the slow conviction clearer,
That he gave her home and pity, but that heart, and soul, and mind
Were beyond her now; he loved her, and in youth he had been near her,
But he now had gone far onward, and had left her there behind.
Yes, beyond her: yes, quick-hearted, her Love helped her in revealing
It was worthless, while so mighty; was too weak, although so strong;
There were courts she could not enter; depths she could not sound; yet feeling
It was vain to strive or struggle, vainer still to mourn or long.
He would give her words of kindness, he would talk of home, but seeming
With an absent look, forgetting if he held or dropped her hand;
And then turn with eager pleasure to his writing, reading, dreaming,
Or to speak of things with others that she could not understand.
He had paid, and paid most nobly, all he owed; no need of blaming;
It had cost him something, may be, that no future could restore:
In her heart of hearts she knew it; Love and Sorrow, not complaining,
Only suffered all the deeper, only loved him all the more.
Sometimes then a stronger anguish, and more cruel, weighed upon her,
That through all those years of waiting, he had slowly learnt the truth;
He had known himself mistaken, but that, bound to her in honour,
He renounced his life, to pay her for the patience of her youth.
But a star was slowly rising from that mist of grief, and brighter
Grew her eyes, for each slow hour surer comfort seemed to bring;
And she watched with strange sad smiling, how her trembling hands grew slighter,
And how thin her slender finger, and how large her wedding-ring.
And the tears dropped slowly on it, as she kissed that golden token
With a deeper love, it may be, than was in the far-off past;
And remembering Philip’s fancy, that so long ago was spoken,
Thought her Ring’s bright angel guardian had stayed near her to the last.
Grieving sorely, grieving truly, with a tender care and sorrow,
Philip watched the slow, sure fading of his gentle, patient wife;
Could he guess with what a yearning she was longing for the morrow,
Could he guess the bitter knowledge that had wearied her of life?
Now with violets strewn upon her, Mildred lies in peaceful sleeping;
All unbound her long, bright tresses, and her throbbing heart at rest,
And the cold, blue rays of moonlight, through the open casement creeping,
Show the ring upon her finger, and her hands crossed on her breast.
Peace at last. Of peace eternal is her calm sweet smile a token.
Has some angel lingering near her let a radiant promise fall?
Has he told her Heaven unites again the links that Earth has broken?
For on Earth so much is needed, but in Heaven Love is all!