Adah Isaacs Menken

(1835-1868 / the United States)

A Fragment - Poem by Adah Isaacs Menken

'Oh! I am sick of what I am. Of all
Which I in life can ever hope to be.
Angels of light be pitiful to me.'
The cold chain of life presseth heavily on me tonight.
The thundering pace of thought is curbed, and, like a fiery steed, dasheth against the gloomy walls of my prisoned soul.
Oh! how long will my poor thoughts lament their narrow faculty? When will the rein be loosed from my impatient soul?
Ah! then I will climb the blue clouds and dash down to dust those jeweled stars, whose silent light wafts a mocking laugh to the poor musician who sitteth before the muffled organ of my great hopes. With a hand of fire he toucheth the golden keys. All breathless and rapt I list for an answer to his sweet meaning, but the glittering keys give back only a faint hollow sound-the echo of a sigh!
Cruel stars to mock me with your laughing light!
Oh! see ye not the purple life-blood ebbing from my side?
But ye heed it not-and I scorn ye all.
Foolish stars! Ye forget that this strong soul will one day be loosed.
I will have ye in my power yet, I'll meet ye on the grand door of old eternity.
Ah! then ye will not laugh, but shrink before me like very beggars of light that ye are, and I will grasp from your gleaming brows the jeweled crown, rend away your glistening garments, and hold ye up blackened skeletons for the laugh and scorn of all angels, and then drive ye out to fill this horrid space of darkness that I now grovel in.
But, alas! I am weary, sick, and faint.
The chains do bind the shrinking flesh too close.
'Angels of light, be pitiful to me.'
Oh! this life, after all, is but a promise-a poor promise, that is too heavy to bear-heavy with blood, reeking human blood. The atmosphere is laden with it. When I shut my eyes it presses so close to their lids that I must gasp and struggle to open them.
I know that the sins of untrue hearts are clogging up the air-passages of the world, and that we, who love and suffer, will soon be smothered, and in this terrible darkness too.
For me-my poor lone, deserted body-I care not. I am not in favor of men's eyes.
'Nor am I skilled immortal stuff to weave.
No rose of honor wear I on my sleeve.'
But the soft silver hand of death will unbind the galling bands that clasp the fretting soul in her narrow prisonhouse, and she may then escape the iron hands that would crush the delicate fibres to dust.
O soul, where are thy wings? Have they with their rude hands torn them from thy mutilated form? We must creep slowly and silently away through the midnight darkness. But we are strong yet, and can battle with the fiends who seek to drive us back to the river of blood.
But, alas! it is so late, and I am alone-alone listening to the gasps and sighs of a weary soul beating her broken wing against the darkened walls of her lonely cell.
'My labor is a vain and empty strife,
A useless tugging at the wheels of life.'
Shall I still live-filling no heart, working no good, and the cries of my holy down-trodden race haunting me? Beseeching me-me, with these frail arms and this poor chained soul, to lift them back to their birthright of glory.
'Angels of light, be pitiful to me.'
I have wearied Heaven with my tears and prayers till I have grown pale and old, but a shadow of my former self, and all for power, blessed power! Not for myself-but for those dearer and worthier than I-those from out whose hearts my memory has died for ever.
But, alas! it is vain.
Prayers and tears will not bring back sweet hope and love.
I may still sigh and weep for these soft winged nestling angels of my lost dreams till I am free to seek them in the grand homes where I have housed them with the golden-haired son of the sky.
It is midnight, and the world is still battling-the weak are falling, the strong and the wrong are exulting.
And I, like the dying stag, am hunted down to the ocean border, still asking for peace and rest of the great gleaming eyes that pierce the atmosphere of blood and haunt me with their pleading looks. Whispers are there -low, wailing whispers from white-browed children as though I could bear their chained souls o'er Charon's mystic river of their purple blood.
Alas! star after star has gone down till not one is in sight. How dark and cold it is growing!
Oh, light! why have you fled to a fairer land and left 'An unrigged hulk, to rot upon life's ford- The crew of mutinous senses overboard?'
It is too late. I faint with fear of these atom-fiends that do cling to my garments in this darkness.
Oh! rest for thee, my weary soul,
The coil is round thee all too fast.
Too close to earth thy pinions clasp:
A trance-like death hath o'er thee past.
Oh, soul! oh, broken soul, arise,
And plume thee for a prouder flight.
In vain, in vain-'tis sinking now
And dying in eternal night.
'Suffer and be still.'
Death will bind up thy powerful wings, and to the organ music of my great hopes thou shalt beat sublimer airs.
Wait until eternity.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, September 16, 2010



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