The Old Love and the New
Once more on the fallow hillside, as of old, I lie at rest For an hour, while the sunshine trembles through the walnut-tree to the west,— Shakes on the rocks and fragrant ferns, and the berry-bushes around; And I watch, as of old, the cattle graze in the lower pasture-ground. Of the Saxon months of blossom, when the merle and mavis sing, And a dust of gold falls everywhere from the soft midsummer's wing, I only know from my poets, or from pictures that hither come, Sweet with the smile of the hawthorn-hedge and the scent of the harvest-home. But July in our own New England—I bask myself in its prime, As one in the light of a face he loves, and has not seen for a time! Again the perfect blue of the sky; the fresh green woods; the call Of the crested jay; the tangled vines that cover the frost-thrown wall: Sounds and shadows remembered well! the ground-bee's droning hum; The distant musical tree-tops; the locust beating his drum; And the ripened July warmth, that seems akin to a fire which stole, Long summers since, through the thews of youth, to soften and harden my soul. Here it was that I loved her—as only a stripling can, Who dotes on a girl that others know no mate for the future man; It was well, perhaps, that at last my pride and honor outgrew her art, That there came an hour, when from broken chains I fled—with a broken heart. 'T was well: but the fire would still flash up in sharp, heat-lightning gleams, And ever at night the false, fair face shone into passionate dreams; The false, fair form, through many a year, was somewhere close at my side, And crept, as by right, to my very arms and the place of my patient bride. Bride and vision have passed away, and I am again alone; Changed by years; not wiser, I think, but only different grown: Not so much nearer wisdom is a man than a boy, forsooth, Though, in scorn of what has come and gone, he hates the ways of his youth. In seven years, I have heard it said, a soul shall change its frame; Atom for atom, the man shall be the same, yet not the same; The last of the ancient ichor shall pass away from his veins, And a new-born light shall fill the eyes whose earlier lustre wanes. In seven years, it is written, a man shall shift his mood; Good shall seem what was evil, and evil the thing that was good: Ye that welcome the coming and speed the parting guest, Tell me, O winds of summer! am I not half-confest? For along the tide of this mellow month new fancies guide my helm, Another form has entered my heart as rightful queen of the realm; From under their long black lashes new eyes—half-blue, half-gray— Pierce through my soul, to drive the ghost of the old love quite away. Shadow of years! at last it sinks in the sepulchre of the past,— A gentle image and fair to see; but was my passion so vast? "For you," I said, "be you false or true, are ever life of my life!" Was it myself or another who spoke, and asked her to be his wife? For here, on the dear old hillside, I lie at rest again, And think with a quiet self-content of all the passion and pain, Of the strong resolve and the after-strife; but the vistas round me seem So little changed that I hardly know if the past is not a dream. Can I have sailed, for seven years, far out in the open world; Have tacked and drifted here and there, by eddying currents whirled; Have gained and lost, and found again; and now, for a respite, come Once more to the happy scenes of old, and the haven I voyaged from? Blended, infinite murmurs of True Love's earliest song, Where are you slumbering out of the heart that gave you echoes so long? But chords that have ceased to vibrate the swell of an ancient strain May thrill with a soulful music when rightly touched again. Rock and forest and meadow,—landscape perfect and true! O, if ourselves were tender and all unchangeful as you, I should not now be dreaming of seven years that have been, Nor bidding old love good-by forever, and letting the new love in!
Edmund Clarence Stedman’s other poems:
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