Two Pictures

A poem by John Charles McNeill

One sits in soft light, where the hearth is warm,
A halo, like an angel's, on her hair.
She clasps a sleeping infant in her arm.
A holy presence hovers round her there,
And she, for all her mother-pains more fair,
Is happy, seeing that all sweet thoughts that stir
The hearts of men bear worship unto her.

Another wanders where the cold wind blows,
Wet-haired, with eyes that sting one like a knife.
Homeless forever, at her bosom close
She holds the purchase of her love and life,
Of motherhood, unglorified as wife;
And bitterer than the world's relentless scorn
The knowing her child were happier never born.

Whence are the halo and the fiery shame
That fashion thus a crown and curse of love?
Have roted words such power to bless and blame?
Ay, men have stained a raven from many a dove,
And all the grace and all the grief hereof
Are the two words which bore one's lips apart
And which the other hoarded in her heart.

He who stooped down and wrote upon the sand,
The God-heart in him touched to tenderness,
Saw deep, saw what we cannot understand,--
We, who draw near the shrine of one to bless
The while we scourge another's sore distress,
And judge like gods between the ill and good,
The glory and the guilt of womanhood.

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