James Whitcomb Riley
You think it is a sorry thing
That I am blind. Your pitying
Is welcome to me; yet indeed,
I think I have but little need
Of it. Though you may marvel much
That _we_, who see by sense of touch
And taste and hearing, see things _you_
May never look upon; and true
Is it that even in the scent
Of blossoms _we_ find something meant
No eyes have in their faces read,
Or wept to see interpreted.
And you might think it strange if now
I told you you were smiling. How
Do I know that? I hold your hand--
_Its_ language I can understand--
Give both to me, and I will show
You many other things I know.
Listen: We never met before
Till now?--Well, you are something lower
Than five-feet-eight in height; and you
Are slender; and your eyes are blue--
Your mother's eyes--your mother's hair--
Your mother's likeness everywhere
Save in your walk--and that is quite
Your father's; nervous.--Am I right?
I thought so. And you used to sing,
But have neglected everything
Of vocalism--though you may
Still thrum on the guitar, and play
A little on the violin,--
I know that by the callous in
The finger-tips of your left hand--
And, by-the-bye, though nature planned
You as most men, you are, I see,
'_Left_-handed,' too,--the mystery
Is clear, though,--your right arm has been
Broken, to 'break' the left one in.
And so, you see, though blind of sight,
I still have ways of seeing quite
Too well for you to sympathize
Excessively, with your good eyes.--
Though _once_, perhaps, to be sincere,
Within the whole asylum here,
From cupola to basement hall,
I was the blindest of them all!
Let us move further down the walk--
The man here waiting hears my talk,
And is disturbed; besides, he may
Not be quite friendly anyway.
In fact--(this will be far enough;
Sit down)--the man just spoken of
Was once a friend of mine. He came
For treatment here from Burlingame--
A rich though brilliant student there,
Who read his eyes out of repair,
And groped his way up here, where we
Became acquainted, and where he
Met one of our girl-teachers, and,
If you 'll believe me, asked her hand
In marriage, though the girl was blind
As I am--and the girl _declined_.
Odd, wasn't it? Look, you can see
Him waiting there. Fine, isn't he?
And handsome, eloquently wide
And high of brow, and dignified
With every outward grace, his sight
Restored to him, clear and bright
As day-dawn; waiting, waiting still
For the blind girl that never will
Be wife of his. How do I know?
You will recall a while ago
I told you he and I were friends.
In all that friendship comprehends,
I was his friend, I swear! why now,
Remembering his love, and how
His confidence was all my own,
I hear, in fancy, the low tone
Of his deep voice, so full of pride
And passion, yet so pacified
With his affliction, that it seems
An utterance sent out of dreams
Of saddest melody, withal
So sorrowfully musical
It was, and is, must ever be--
But I'm digressing, pardon me.
_I_ knew not anything of love
In those days, but of that above
All worldly passion,--for my art--
Music,--and that, with all my heart
And soul, blent in a love too great
For words of mine to estimate.
And though among my pupils she
Whose love my friend sought came to me
I only knew her fingers' touch
Because they loitered overmuch
In simple scales, and needs must be
Untangled almost constantly.
But she was bright in other ways,
And quick of thought, with ready plays
Of wit, and with a voice as sweet
To listen to as one might meet
In any oratorio--
And once I gravely told her so,--
And, at my words, her limpid tone
Of laughter faltered to a moan,
And fell from that into a sigh
That quavered all so wearily,
That I, without the tear that crept
Between the keys, had known she wept;
And yet the hand I reached for then
She caught away, and laughed again.
And when that evening I strolled
With my old friend, I, smiling, told
Him I believed the girl and he
Were matched and mated perfectly:
He was so noble; she, so fair
Of speech, and womanly of air;
He, strong, ambitious; she, as mild
And artless even as a child;
And with a nature, I was sure,
As worshipful as it was pure
And sweet, and brimmed with tender things
Beyond his rarest fancyings.
He stopped me solemnly. He knew,
He said, how good, and just, and true
Was all I said of her; but as
For his own virtues, let them pass,
Since they were nothing to the one
That he had set his heart upon;
For but that morning she had turned
Forever from him. Then I learned
That for a month he had delayed
His going from us, with no aid
Of hope to hold him,--meeting still
Her ever firm denial, till
Not even in his new-found sight
He found one comfort or delight.
And as his voice broke there, I felt
The brother-heart within me melt
In warm compassion for his own
That throbbed so utterly alone.
And then a sudden fancy hit
Along my brain; and coupling it
With a belief that I, indeed,
Might help my friend in his great need,
I warmly said that I would go
Myself, if he decided so,
And see her for him--that I knew
My pleadings would be listened to
Most seriously, and that she
Should love him, listening to me.
Go; bless me! And that was the last--
The last time his warm hand shut fast
Within my own--so empty since,
That the remembered finger-prints
I 've kissed a thousand times, and wet
Them with the tears of all regret!
I know not how to rightly tell
How fared my quest, and what befell
Me, coming in the presence of
That blind girl, and her blinder love.
I know but little else than that
Above the chair in which she sat
I leant--reached for, and found her hand,
And held it for a moment, and
Took up the other--held them both--
As might a friend, I will take oath:
Spoke leisurely, as might a man
Praying for no thing other than
He thinks Heaven's justice;--She was blind,
I said, and yet a noble mind
Most truly loved her; one whose fond
Clear-sighted vision looked beyond
The bounds of her infirmity,
And saw the woman, perfectly
Modeled, and wrought out pure and true
And lovable. She quailed, and drew
Her hands away, but closer still
I caught them. 'Rack me as you will!'
She cried out sharply--'Call me 'blind'--
Love ever is--I am resigned!
Blind is your friend; as blind as he
Am I--but blindest of the three--
Yea, blind as death--you will not see
My love for you is killing me!'
There is a memory that may
Not ever wholly fade away
From out my heart, so bright and fair
The light of it still glimmers there.
Why, it did seem as though my sight
Flamed back upon me, dazzling white
And godlike. Not one other word
Of hers I listened for or heard,
But I _saw_ songs sung in her eyes
Till they did swoon up drowning-wise,
As my mad lips did strike her own
And we flashed one and one alone!
Ah! was it treachery for me
To kneel there, drinking eagerly
That torrent-flow of words that swept
Out laughingly the tears she wept?--
Sweet words! O sweeter far, maybe,
Than light of day to those that see,--
God knows, who did the rapture send
To me, and hold it from my friend.
And we were married half a year
Ago,--and he is--waiting here,
Heedless of that--or anything,
But just that he is lingering
To say good-bye to her, and bow--
As you may see him doing now,--
For there's her footstep in the hall;
God bless her!--help him!--save us all!
James Whitcomb Riley's Other Poems
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