Alice Cary

(1820-1871 / USA)

A Legend Of St. Mary's


One night, when bitterer winds than ours,
On hill-sides and in valleys low,
Built sepulchers for the dead flowers,
And buried them in sheets of snow -
When over ledges dark and cold
The sweet moon rising high and higher,
Tipped with a dimly burning gold
St. Mary's old cathedral spire -
The lamp of the confessional,
(God grant it did not burn in vain,)
After the solemn midnight bell
Streamed redly through the lattice-pane.

And kneeling at the father's feet,
Whose long and venerable hairs,
Now whiter than the mountain sleet,
Could not have numbered half his prayers,
Was one - I cannot picture true
The cherub beauty of his guise;
Lilies, and waves of deepest blue,
Were something like his hands and eyes!

Like yellow mosses on the rocks,
Dashed with the ocean's milk-white spray,
The softness of his golden locks
About his cheek and forehead lay.
Father! thy tresses, silver-sleet,
Ne'er swept above a form so fair;
Surely the flowers beneath his feet
Have been a rosary of prayer!
We know not, and we cannot know,
Why swam those meek blue eyes with tears;
But surely guilt, or guiltless woe,
Had bowed him earthward more than years.

All the long summer that was gone,
A cottage maid, the village pride,
Fainter and fainter smiles had worn,
And on that very night she died!
As soft the yellow moonbeams streamed
Across her bosom, snowy fair,
She said, (the watchers thought she dreamed,)
''Tis like the shadow of his hair!'
And they could hear, who nearest came,
The cross to sign and hope to lend,
The murmur of another name
Than that of mother, brother, friend.

An hour - and St. Mary's spires,
Like spikes of flame, no longer glow -
No longer the confessional fires
Shine redly on the drifted snow.

An hour - and the saints had claimed
That cottage maid, the village pride;
And he, whose name in death she named,
Was darkly weeping by her side.
White as a spray-wreath lay her brow
Beneath the midnight of her hair,
But all those passionate kisses now
Wake not the faintest crimson there!
Pride, honor, manhood, cannot check
The vehemence of love's despair -
No soft hand steals about his neck,
Or bathes its beauty in his hair!

Almost upon the cabin walls
Wherein the sweet young maiden died,
The shadow of a castle falls,
Where for her young lord waits a bride!
With clear blue eyes and flaxen hair,
In her high turret still she sits;
But ah! what scorn her ripe lips wear -
What shadow to her bosom flits!

From that low cabin tapers flash,
And, by the shimmering light they spread,
She sees beneath its mountain ash,
Leafless, but all with berries red,
Impatient of the unclasped rein,
A courser that should not be there -
The silver whiteness of his mane
Streaming like moonlight on the air!

Oh, Love! thou art avenged too well -
The young heart, broken and betrayed,
Where thou didst meekly, sweetly dwell,
For all its sufferings is repaid.

Not the proud beauty, nor the frown
Of her who shares the living years,
From her the winding-sheet wraps down,
Can ever buy away the tears!

Submitted: Friday, April 11, 2014

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