Adah Isaacs Menken

(1835-1868 / the United States)

Hemlock In The Furrows - Poem by Adah Isaacs Menken

I

O crownless soul of Ishmael!
Uplifting and unfolding the white tent of dreams against the sunless base of eternity!
Looking up through thy dumb desolation for white hands to reach out over the shadows, downward, from the golden bastions of God's eternal Citadel!
Praying for Love to unloose the blushing bindings of his nimble shaft and take thee up to his fullest fruition!
Poor Soul! hast thou no prophecy to gauge the distance betwixt thee and thy crown?
Thy crown?
Alas! there is none.
Only a golden-rimmed shadow that went before thee, marking in its tide barren shoals and dust.
At last resting its bright length down in the valley of tears.
Foolish soul! let slip the dusty leash.
Cease listening along the borders of a wilderness for the lost echoes of life.
Drift back through the scarlet light of Memory into the darkness once more.
A corpse hath not power to feel the tying of its hands.


II

To-night, O Soul! shut off thy little rimmings of Hope, and let us go back to our hemlock that sprang up in the furrows.
Let us go back with bleeding feet and try to break up the harvestless ridges where we starved.
Let us go down to the black sunset whose wings of fire burnt out thy flowery thickets of Day, and left a Night to swoop down the lonesome clouds to thee.
Go back to the desolate time when the dim stars looked out from Heaven, filmy and blank, like eyes in the wide front of some dead beast.
Go, press thy nakedness to the burnt, bare rocks, under whose hot, bloodless ribs the River of Death runs black with human sorrow.
To-night, O Soul! fly back through all the grave-yards of thy Past.
Fly back to them this night with thy fretful wings, even though their bloody breadth must wrestle long against Hell's hollow bosom!


III

Jealous Soul!
The stars that are trembling forth their silent messages to the hills have none for thee!
The mother-moon that so lovingly reacheth down her arms of light heedeth not thy Love!
See, the pale pinions that thou hast pleaded for gather themselves up into rings and then slant out to the dust!
The passion-flowers lift up their loving faces and open their velvet lips to the baptism of Love, but heed not thy warm kisses!
Shut out all this brightness that hath God's Beauty and liveth back the silence of His Rest.
Cease knocking at the starry gate of the wondrous realm of Song.
Hush away this pleading and this praying.
Go back to thy wail of fetter and chain!
Go back to thy night of loving in vain!


IV

O weak Soul! let us follow the heavy hearse that bore our old Dream out past the white-horned Daylight of Love.
Let thy pale Dead come up from their furrows of winding-sheets to mock thy prayers with what thy days might have been.
Let the Living come back and point out the shadows they swept o'er the disk of thy morning star.
Have thou speech with them for the story of its swimming down in tremulous nakedness to the Red Sea of the Past.
Go back and grapple with thy lost Angels that stand in terrible judgment against thee.
Seek thou the bloodless skeleton once hugged to thy depths.
Hath it grown warmer under thy passionate kissings?
Or, hath it closed its seeming wings and shrunk its white body down to a glistening coil?
Didst thou wait the growth of fangs to front the arrows of Love's latest peril?
Didst thou not see a black, hungry vulture wheeling down low to the white-bellied coil where thy Heaven had once based itself?
O blind Soul of mine!


V

Blind, blind with tears!
Not for thee shall Love climb the Heaven of thy columned Hopes to Eternity!
Under the silver shadow of the cloud waits no blushing star the tyrst.
Didst thou not see the pale, widowed West loose her warm arms and slide the cold burial earth down upon the bare face of thy sun?
Gazing upon a shoal of ashes, thou hast lost the way that struck upon the heavy, obstructive valves of the grave to thy Heaven.
Mateless thou needs must vaguely feel along the dark, cold steeps of Night.
Hath not suffering made thee wise?
When, oh when?


VI

Go down to the black brink of Death and let its cool waters press up to thy weary feet.
See if its trembling waves will shatter the grand repeating of thy earth-star.
See if the eyes that said to thee their speechless Love so close will reach thee from this sorrowful continent of Life.
See if the red hands that seamed thy shroud will come around thy grave.
Then, O Soul! thou mayst drag them to the very edges of the Death-pit, and shake off their red shadows!
Thy strong vengeance may then bind the black-winged crew down level with their beds of fire!


VII

But wait, wait!
Take up the ruined cup of Life that struck like a planet through the dark, and shone clear and full as we starved for the feast within.
Go down to the black offings of the Noiseless Sea, and wait, poor Soul!
Measure down the depth of thy bitterness and wait!
Bandage down with the grave-clothes the pulses of thy dying life and wait!
Wail up thy wild, desolate echoes to the pitying arms of God and wait!
Wait, wait!


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, September 16, 2010



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