First Love

A poem by John Frederick Freeman


"No, no! Leave me not in this dark hour,"
She cried. And I,
"Thou foolish dear, but call not dark this hour;
What night doth lour?"
And nought did she reply,
But in her eye
The clamorous trouble spoke, and then was still.

O that I heard her once more speak,
Or even with troubled eye
Teach me her fear, that I might seek
Poppies for misery.
The hour was dark, although I knew it not,
But when the livid dawn broke then I knew,
How while I slept the dense night through
Treachery's worm her fainting fealty slew.

O that I heard her once more speak
As then--so weak--
"No, no! Leave me not in this dark hour."
That I might answer her,
"Love, be at rest, for nothing now shall stir
Thy heart, but my heart beating there."


Come back, come back--ah, never more to leave me!
Come back, even though your constant longing grieve me,
Longing for other looks and hands than mine.
By all that's most divine
In your frank human beauty, come and cover
With that deceiving smile the love your lover
Has taught you, and the light that in your eyes
Tells of the painful joys that make your ruinous Paradise.

Come back, that so, upon the shining meadow
When the sun draws the magic of your shadow,
Or when the red fire's gradual sinking light
Yields up the room to night;
Seeing you thus or thus I may recapture
The very sharpness of remembered rapture:--
So it may seem, by exquisite deceit,
You are yet mine, I yours, and life yet rare and sweet.

Come back--no, come not back now, come back never;
That day you went I knew it was for ever.
I know you, how the spectre of cold shame
Would chill you if you came.
Lo, here first love's first memory abideth;
Here in my heart the image of you yet hideth.
But though you should come back and hope thrilled me anew,
First love would yet be dead--oh, it would not be you!


O but what grace if I could but forget you!
You have made league with all familiar things--
The thrush that still, evening and morning, sings,
The aspen leaves that sigh
"My dear!" with your true voice when I pass by....
O, and that too-long-dying flush of tender sky
That minds me, and with sense too grave for tears,
Of those forever dead too-blissful years.

Yet 'twere a miracle could I forget you,
Since even dead things, once sensible of you,
Yield up your ghost; as all the garden through
Murmurs the rose, "'Twas she
Shook in her palm the dew that shone in me;"
And on the stairs your recent footstep echoingly
Sounds yet again, and each dark doorway speaks
Of you toward whom my sharpened longing seeks.

O that I could forget or not regret you!
Could I but see you as I have seen a fair
Child under apple-burdened boughs that bear
Morn's autumn beauty, and
Seeing her saw all heaven at my hand,
And all day long that happy child before me stand....
Not thus I see you, but as one drowning sees
Home, friends--and loves his very enemies!

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