The Three Friends

A poem by Adam Lindsay Gordon

The sword slew one in deadly strife;
One perish’d by the bowl;
The third lies self-slain by the knife;
For three the bells may toll,
I loved her better than my life,
And better than my soul.

Aye, father! hast thou come at last?
’Tis somewhat late to pray;
Life’s crimson tides are ebbing fast,
They drain my soul away;
Mine eyes with film are overcast,
The lights are waning grey.

This curl from her bright head I shore,
And this her hands gave mine;
See, one is stained with purple gore,
And one with poison’d wine;
Give these to her when all is o’er,
How serpent-like they twine!

We three were brethren in arms,
And sworn companions we;
We held this motto, “Whoso harms
The one shall harm the three!”
Till, matchless for her subtle charms,
Beloved of each was she.

(These two were slain that I might kiss
Her sweet mouth. I did well;
I said, “There is no greater bliss
For those in heaven that dwell;”
I lost her; then I said, “There is
No fiercer pang in hell!”)

We have upheld each other’s rights,
Shared purse, and borrow’d blade;
Have stricken side by side in fights;
And side by side have prayed
In churches. We were Christian knights,
And she a Christian maid.

We met at sunrise, he and I,
My comrade, ’Twas agreed
The steel our quarrel first should try,
The poison should succeed;
For two of three were doom’d to die,
And one was doom’d to bleed.

We buckled to the doubtful fray,
At first with some remorse;
But he who must be slain, or slay,
Soon strikes with vengeful force.
He fell; I left him where he lay,
Among the trampled gorse.

Did passion warp my heart and head
To madness? And, if so,
Can madness palliate bloodshed?
It may be, I shall know
When God shall gather up the dead
From where the four winds blow.

We met at sunset, he and I,
My second comrade true;
Two cups with wine were brimming high,
And one was drugg’d, we knew
Not which, nor sought we to descry;
Our choice by lot we drew.

And there I sat with him to sup;
I heard him blithely speak
Of by-gone days, the fatal cup
Forgotten seem’d, his cheek
Was ruddy: father, raise me up,
My voice is waxing weak.

We drank; his lips turned livid white,
His cheeks grew leaden ash;
He reel’d, I heard his temples smite
The threshold with a crash!
And from his hand, in shivers bright,
I saw the goblet flash.

The morrow dawn’d with fragrance rare,
The May breeze, from the west,
Just fann’d the sleepy olives, where
She heard and I confess’d;
My hair entangled with her hair,
Her breast strained to my breast.

On the dread verge of endless gloom
My soul recalls that hour;
Skies languishing with balm of bloom,
And fields aflame with flower;
And slow caresses that consume,
And kisses that devour.

Ah! now with storm the day seems rife,
My dull ears catch the roll
Of thunder, and the far sea strife,
On beach and bar and shoal,
I loved her better than my life,
And better than my soul.

She fled! I cannot prove her guilt,
Nor would I an I could;
See, life for life is fairly spilt!
And blood is shed for blood;
Her white hands neither touched the hilt,
Nor yet the potion brew’d.

Aye! turn me from the sickly south,
Towards the gusty north;
The fruits of sin are dust and drouth,
The end of crime is wrath,
The lips that pressed her rose-like mouth
Are choked with blood-red froth.

Then dig the grave-pit deep and wide,
Three graves thrown into one,
And lay three corpses side by side,
And tell their tale to none;
But bring her back in all her pride
To see what she hath done.

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