Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Three Graves. A Fragment Of A Sexton's Tale - Poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The grapes upon the Vicar's wall
Were ripe as ripe could be;
And yellow leaves in sun and wind
Were falling from the tree.
On the hedge-elms in the narrow lane
Still swung the spikes of corn:
Dear Lord! it seems but yesterday--
Young Edward's marriage-morn.
Up through that wood behind the church,
There leads from Edward's door
A mossy track, all over boughed,
For half a mile or more.
And from their house-door by that track
The bride and bridegroom went;
Sweet Mary, though she was not gay,
Seemed cheerful and content.
But when they to the church-yard came,
I've heard poor Mary say,
As soon as she stepped into the sun,
Her heart it died away.
And when the Vicar join'd their hands,
Her limbs did creep and freeze;
But when they prayed, she thought she saw
Her mother on her knees.
And o'er the church-path they returned--
I saw poor Mary's back,
Just as she stepped beneath the boughs
Into the mossy track.
Her feet upon the mossy track
The married maiden set:
That moment--I have heard her say--
She wished she could forget.
The shade o'er-flushed her limbs with heat--
Then came a chill like death:
And when the merry bells rang out,
They seemed to stop her breath.
Beneath the foulest mother's curse
No child could ever thrive:
A mother is a mother still,
The holiest thing alive.
So five months passed: the mother still
Would never heal the strife;
But Edward was a loving man,
And Mary a fond wife.
'My sister may not visit us,
My mother says her nay:
O Edward! you are all to me,
I wish for your sake I could be
More lifesome and more gay.
'I'm dull and sad! indeed, indeed
I know I have no reason!
Perhaps I am not well in health,
And 'tis a gloomy season.'
'Twas a drizzly time--no ice, no snow!
And on the few fine days
She stirred not out, lest she might meet
Her mother in the ways.
But Ellen, spite of miry ways
And weather dark and dreary,
Trudged every day to Edward's house,
And made them all more cheery.
Oh! Ellen was a faithful friend,
More dear than any sister!
As cheerful too as singing lark;
And she ne'er left them till 'twas dark,
And then they always missed her.
And now Ash-Wednesday came-that day
But few to church repair:
For on that day you know we read
The Commination prayer.
Our late old Vicar, a kind man,
Once, Sir, he said to me,
He wished that service was clean out
Of our good Liturgy.
The mother walked into the church--
To Ellen's seat she went:
Though Ellen always kept her church
All church-days during Lent.
And gentle Ellen welcomed her
With courteous looks and mild:
Thought she, 'What if her heart should melt,
And all be reconciled!'
The day was scarcely like a day--
The clouds were black outright:
And many a night, with half a moon,
I've seen the church more light.
The wind was wild; against the glass
The rain did beat and bicker;
The church-tower swinging over head,
You scarce could hear the Vicar!
And then and there the mother knelt,
And audibly she cried-
'Oh! may a clinging curse consume
This woman by my side!
'O hear me, hear me, Lord in Heaven,
Although you take my life--
O curse this woman, at whose house
Young Edward woo'd his wife.
'By night and day, in bed and bower,
O let her cursed be!!! '
So having prayed, steady and slow,
She rose up from her knee!
And left the church, nor e'er again
The church-door entered she.
I saw poor Ellen kneeling still,
So pale! I guessed not why:
When she stood up, there plainly was
A trouble in her eye.
And when the prayers were done, we all
Came round and asked her why:
Giddy she seemed, and sure, there was
A trouble in her eye.
But ere she from the church-door stepped
She smiled and told us why:
'It was a wicked woman's curse,'
Quoth she, 'and what care I?'
She smiled, and smiled, and passed it off
Ere from the door she stept--
But all agree it would have been
Much better had she wept.
And if her heart was not at ease,
This was her constant cry--
'It was a wicked woman's curse--
God's good, and what care I?'
There was a hurry in her looks,
Her struggles she redoubled:
'It was a wicked woman's curse,
And why should I be troubled?'
These tears will come--I dandled her
When 'twas the merest fairy--
Good creature! and she hid it all:
She told it not to Mary.
But Mary heard the tale: her arms
Round Ellen's neck she threw;
'O Ellen, Ellen, she cursed me,
And now she hath cursed you!'
I saw young Edward by himself
Stalk fast adown the lee,
He snatched a stick from every fence,
A twig from every tree.
He snapped them still with hand or knee,
And then away they flew!
As if with his uneasy limbs
He knew not what to do!
You see, good Sir! that single hill?
His farm lies underneath:
He heard it there, he heard it all,
And only gnashed his teeth.
Now Ellen was a darling love
In all his joys and cares:
And Ellen's name and Mary's name
Fast-linked they both together came,
Whene'er he said his prayers.
And in the moment of his prayers
He loved them both alike:
Yea, both sweet names with one sweet joy
Upon his heart did strike!
He reach'd his home, and by his looks
They saw his inward strife:
And they clung round him with their arms,
Both Ellen and his wife.
And Mary could not check her tears,
So on his breast she bowed;
Then frenzy melted into grief,
And Edward wept aloud.
Dear Ellen did not weep at all,
But closelier did she cling,
And turned her face and looked as if
She saw some frightful thing.
To see a man tread over graves
I hold it no good mark;
'Tis wicked in the sun and moon,
And bad luck in the dark!
You see that grave? The Lord he gives,
The Lord, he takes away:
O Sir! the child of my old age
Lies there as cold as clay.
Except that grave, you scarce see one
That was not dug by me;
I'd rather dance upon 'em all
Than tread upon these three!
'Aye, Sexton!'tis a touching tale.'
You, Sir! are but a lad;
This month I'm in my seventieth year,
And still it makes me sad.
And Mary's sister told it me,
For three good hours and more;
Though I had heard it, in the main,
From Edward's self, before.
Well! it passed off! the gentle Ellen
Did well nigh dote on Mary;
And she went oftener than before,
And Mary loved her more and more:
She managed all the dairy.
To market she on market-days,
To church on Sundays came;
All seemed the same: all seemed so, Sir!
But all was not the same!
Had Ellen lost her mirth? Oh! no!
But she was seldom cheerful;
And Edward look'd as if he thought
That Ellen's mirth was fearful.
When by herself, she to herself
Must sing some merry rhyme;
She could not now be glad for hours,
Yet silent all the time.
And when she soothed her friend, through all
Her soothing words 'twas plain
She had a sore grief of her own,
A haunting in her brain.
And oft she said, I'm not grown thin!
And then her wrist she spanned;
And once when Mary was down-cast,
She took her by the hand,
And gazed upon her, and at first
She gently pressed her hand;
Then harder, till her grasp at length
Did gripe like a convulsion!
'Alas!' said she, 'we ne'er can be
Made happy by compulsion!'
And once her both arms suddenly
Round Mary's neck she flung,
And her heart panted, and she felt
The words upon her tongue.
She felt them coming, but no power
Had she the words to smother;
And with a kind of shriek she cried,
'Oh Christ! you're like your mother!'
So gentle Ellen now no more
Could make this sad house cheery;
And Mary's melancholy ways
Drove Edward wild and weary.
Lingering he raised his latch at eve,
Though tired in heart and limb:
He loved no other place, and yet
Home was no home to him.
One evening he took up a book,
And nothing in it read;
Then flung it down, and groaning cried,
'O! Heaven! that I were dead.'
Mary looked up into his face,
And nothing to him said;
She tried to smile, and on his arm
Mournfully leaned her head.
And he burst into tears, and fell
Upon his knees in prayer:
'Her heart is broke! O God! my grief,
It is too great to bear!'
'Twas such a foggy time as makes
Old sextons, Sir! like me,
Rest on their spades to cough; the spring
Was late uncommonly.
And then the hot days, all at once,
They came, we knew not how:
You looked about for shade, when scarce
A leaf was on a bough.
It happened then ('twas in the bower,
A furlong up the wood:
Perhaps you know the place, and yet
I scarce know how you should,)
No path leads thither, 'tis not nigh
To any pasture-plot;
But clustered near the chattering brook,
Lone hollies marked the spot.
Those hollies of themselves a shape
As of an arbour took,
A close, round arbour; and it stands
Not three strides from a brook.
Within this arbour, which was still
With scarlet berries hung,
Were these three friends, one Sunday morn,
Just as the first bell rung.
'Tis sweet to hear a brook, 'tis sweet
To hear the Sabbath-bell,
'Tis sweet to hear them both at once,
Deep in a woody dell.
His limbs along the moss, his head
Upon a mossy heap,
With shut-up senses, Edward lay:
That brook e'en on a working day
Might chatter one to sleep.
And he had passed a restless night,
And was not well in health;
The women sat down by his side,
And talked as 'twere by stealth.
'The Sun peeps through the close thick leaves,
See, dearest Ellen! see!
'Tis in the leaves, a little sun,
No bigger than your ee;
'A tiny sun, and it has got
A perfect glory too;
Ten thousand threads and hairs of light,
Make up a glory gay and bright
Round that small orb, so blue.'
And then they argued of those rays,
What colour they might be;
Says this, 'They're mostly green'; says that,
'They're amber-like to me.'
So they sat chatting, while bad thoughts
Were troubling Edward's rest;
But soon they heard his hard quick pants,
And the thumping in his breast.
'A mother too!' these self-same words
Did Edward mutter plain;
His face was drawn back on itself,
With horror and huge pain.
Both groan'd at once, for both knew well
What thoughts were in his mind;
When he waked up, and stared like one
That hath been just struck blind.
He sat upright; and ere the dream
Had had time to depart,
'O God, forgive me!' (he exclaimed)
'I have torn out her heart.'
Then Ellen shrieked, and forthwith burst
Into ungentle laughter;
And Mary shivered, where she sat,
And never she smiled after.
Carmen reliquum in futurum tempus relegatum. To-morrow! and To-morrow! and To-morrow!----
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