Thomas Hardy

(2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928 / Dorchester / England)

The Supplanter: A Tale


I

He bends his travel-tarnished feet
   To where she wastes in clay:
From day-dawn until eve he fares
   Along the wintry way;
From day-dawn until eve repairs
   Unto her mound to pray.

II

"Are these the gravestone shapes that meet
   My forward-straining view?
Or forms that cross a window-blind
   In circle, knot, and queue:
Gay forms, that cross and whirl and wind
   To music throbbing through?" -

III

"The Keeper of the Field of Tombs
   Dwells by its gateway-pier;
He celebrates with feast and dance
   His daughter's twentieth year:
He celebrates with wine of France
   The birthday of his dear." -

IV

"The gates are shut when evening glooms:
   Lay down your wreath, sad wight;
To-morrow is a time more fit
   For placing flowers aright:
The morning is the time for it;
   Come, wake with us to-night!" -

V

He grounds his wreath, and enters in,
   And sits, and shares their cheer. -
"I fain would foot with you, young man,
   Before all others here;
I fain would foot it for a span
   With such a cavalier!"

VI

She coaxes, clasps, nor fails to win
   His first-unwilling hand:
The merry music strikes its staves,
   The dancers quickly band;
And with the damsel of the graves
   He duly takes his stand.

VII

"You dance divinely, stranger swain,
   Such grace I've never known.
O longer stay! Breathe not adieu
   And leave me here alone!
O longer stay: to her be true
   Whose heart is all your own!" -

VIII

"I mark a phantom through the pane,
   That beckons in despair,
Its mouth all drawn with heavy moan -
   Her to whom once I sware!" -
"Nay; 'tis the lately carven stone
   Of some strange girl laid there!" -

IX

"I see white flowers upon the floor
   Betrodden to a clot;
My wreath were they?"--"Nay; love me much,
   Swear you'll forget me not!
'Twas but a wreath! Full many such
   Are brought here and forgot."

* * *

X

The watches of the night grow hoar,
   He rises ere the sun;
"Now could I kill thee here!" he says,
   "For winning me from one
Who ever in her living days
   Was pure as cloistered nun!"

XI

She cowers, and he takes his track
   Afar for many a mile,
For evermore to be apart
   From her who could beguile
His senses by her burning heart,
   And win his love awhile.

XII

A year: and he is travelling back
   To her who wastes in clay;
From day-dawn until eve he fares
   Along the wintry way,
From day-dawn until eve repairs
   Unto her mound to pray.

XIII

And there he sets him to fulfil
   His frustrate first intent:
And lay upon her bed, at last,
   The offering earlier meant:
When, on his stooping figure, ghast
   And haggard eyes are bent.

XIV

"O surely for a little while
   You can be kind to me!
For do you love her, do you hate,
   She knows not--cares not she:
Only the living feel the weight
   Of loveless misery!

XV

"I own my sin; I've paid its cost,
   Being outcast, shamed, and bare:
I give you daily my whole heart,
   Your babe my tender care,
I pour you prayers; and aye to part
   Is more than I can bear!"

XVI

He turns--unpitying, passion-tossed;
   "I know you not!" he cries,
"Nor know your child. I knew this maid,
   But she's in Paradise!"
And swiftly in the winter shade
   He breaks from her and flies.

Submitted: Saturday, January 04, 2003

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