Isabella Valancy Crawford

(25 December 1850 – 12 February 1887 / Dublin, Ireland)

Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story - Part I. - Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford

Max plac'd a ring on little Katie's hand,
A silver ring that he had beaten out
From that same sacred coin--first well-priz'd wage
For boyish labour, kept thro' many years.
'See, Kate,' he said, 'I had no skill to shape
Two hearts fast bound together, so I grav'd
Just K. and M., for Katie and for Max.'
'But, look; you've run the lines in such a way,
That M. is part of K., and K. of M.,'
Said Katie, smiling. 'Did you mean it thus?
I like it better than the double hearts.'
'Well, well,' he said, 'but womankind is wise!
Yet tell me, dear, will such a prophecy
Not hurt you sometimes, when I am away?
Will you not seek, keen ey'd, for some small break
In those deep lines, to part the K. and M.
For you? Nay, Kate, look down amid the globes
Of those large lilies that our light canoe
Divides, and see within the polish'd pool
That small, rose face of yours,--so dear, so fair,--
A seed of love to cleave into a rock,
And bourgeon thence until the granite splits
Before its subtle strength. I being gone--
Poor soldier of the axe--to bloodless fields,
(Inglorious battles, whether lost or won).
That sixteen summer'd heart of yours may say:
''I but was budding, and I did not know
My core was crimson and my perfume sweet;
I did not know how choice a thing I am;
I had not seen the sun, and blind I sway'd
To a strong wind, and thought because I sway'd,
'Twas to the wooer of the perfect rose--
That strong, wild wind has swept beyond my ken--
The breeze I love sighs thro' my ruddy leaves.'
'O, words!' said Katie, blushing, 'only words!
You build them up that I may push them down;
If hearts are flow'rs, I know that flow'rs can root--
'Bud, blossom, die--all in the same lov'd soil;
They do so in my garden. I have made
Your heart my garden. If I am a bud
And only feel unfoldment--feebly stir
Within my leaves: wait patiently; some June,
I'll blush a full-blown rose, and queen it, dear,
In your lov'd garden. Tho' I be a bud,
My roots strike deep, and torn from that dear soil
Would shriek like mandrakes--those witch things I read
Of in your quaint old books. Are you content?'
'Yes--crescent-wise--but not to round, full moon.
Look at yon hill that rounds so gently up
From the wide lake; a lover king it looks,
In cloth of gold, gone from his bride and queen;
And yet delayed, because her silver locks
Catch in his gilded fringes; his shoulders sweep
Into blue distance, and his gracious crest,
Not held too high, is plum'd with maple groves;--
One of your father's farms. A mighty man,
Self-hewn from rock, remaining rock through all.'
'He loves me, Max,' said Katie: 'Yes, I know--
A rock is cup to many a crystal spring.
Well, he is rich; those misty, peak-roof'd barns--
Leviathans rising from red seas of grain--
Are full of ingots, shaped like grains of wheat.
His flocks have golden fleeces, and his herds
Have monarchs worshipful, as was the calf
Aaron call'd from the furnace; and his ploughs,
Like Genii chained, snort o'er his mighty fields.
He has a voice in Council and in Church--'
'He work'd for all,' said Katie, somewhat pain'd.
'Aye, so, dear love, he did; I heard him tell
How the first field upon his farm was ploughed.
He and his brother Reuben, stalwart lads,
Yok'd themselves, side by side, to the new plough;
Their weaker father, in the grey of life
(But rather the wan age of poverty
Than many winters), in large, gnarl'd hands
The plunging handles held; with mighty strains
They drew the ripping beak through knotted sod,
Thro' tortuous lanes of blacken'd, smoking stumps;
And past great flaming brush heaps, sending out
Fierce summers, beating on their swollen brows.
O, such a battle! had we heard of serfs
Driven to like hot conflict with the soil,
Armies had march'd and navies swiftly sail'd
To burst their gyves. But here's the little point--
The polish'd di'mond pivot on which spins
The wheel of Difference--they OWN'D the rugged soil,
And fought for love--dear love of wealth and pow'r,
And honest ease and fair esteem of men;
One's blood heats at it!' 'Yet you said such fields
Were all inglorious,' Katie, wondering, said.
'Inglorious? yes; they make no promises
Of Star or Garter, or the thundering guns
That tell the earth her warriors are dead.
Inglorious! aye, the battle done and won
Means not--a throne propp'd up with bleaching bones;
A country sav'd with smoking seas of blood;
A flag torn from the foe with wounds and death;
Or Commerce, with her housewife foot upon
Colossal bridge of slaughter'd savages,
The Cross laid on her brawny shoulder, and
In one sly, mighty hand her reeking sword;
And in the other all the woven cheats
From her dishonest looms. Nay, none of these.
It means--four walls, perhaps a lowly roof;
Kine in a peaceful posture; modest fields;
A man and woman standing hand in hand
In hale old age, who, looking o'er the land,
Say: 'Thank the Lord, it all is mine and thine!'
It means, to such thew'd warriors of the Axe
As your own father;--well, it means, sweet Kate,
Outspreading circles of increasing gold,
A name of weight; one little daughter heir.
Who must not wed the owner of an axe,
Who owns naught else but some dim, dusky woods
In a far land; two arms indifferent strong--'
'And Katie's heart,' said Katie, with a smile;
For yet she stood on that smooth, violet plain,
Where nothing shades the sun; nor quite believed
Those blue peaks closing in were aught but mist
Which the gay sun could scatter with a glance.
For Max, he late had touch'd their stones, but yet
He saw them seam'd with gold and precious ores,
Rich with hill flow'rs and musical with rills.
'Or that same bud that will be Katie's heart,
Against the time your deep, dim woods are clear'd,
And I have wrought my father to relent.'
'How will you move him, sweet? why, he will rage
And fume and anger, striding o'er his fields,
Until the last bought king of herds lets down
His lordly front, and rumbling thunder from
His polish'd chest, returns his chiding tones.
How will you move him, Katie, tell me how?'
'I'll kiss him and keep still--that way is sure,'
Said Katie, smiling. 'I have often tried.'
'God speed the kiss,' said Max, and Katie sigh'd,
With pray'rful palms close seal'd, 'God speed the axe!'

* * * * *

O, light canoe, where dost thou glide?
Below thee gleams no silver'd tide,
But concave heaven's chiefest pride.

* * * * *

Above thee burns Eve's rosy bar;
Below thee throbs her darling star;
Deep 'neath thy keel her round worlds are!

* * * * *

Above, below, O sweet surprise,
To gladden happy lover's eyes;
No earth, no wave--all jewell'd sides!

* * * * *

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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Poem Edited: Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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