The Coward

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

He found the road so long and lone
That he was fain to turn again.
The bird's faint note, the bee's low drone
Seemed to his heart to monotone
The unavailing and the vain,
And dirge the dreams that life had slain.
And for a while he sat him there
Beside the way, and bared his head:
He felt the hot sun on his hair;
And weed-warm odors everywhere
Waked memories, forgot or dead,
Of days when love this way had led
To that old house beside the road
With white board-fence and picket gate,
And garden plot that gleamed and glowed
With color, and that overflowed
With fragrance; where, both soon and late,
She 'mid the flowers used to wait.
Was it the same? or had it changed,
As he and she, with months and years?
How long now had they been estranged?
How far away their lives had ranged,
Since that last meeting, filled with tears,
And boyish hopes and maiden fears!
He closed his eyes, and seemed to see
That parting now: The moon above
The old house and its locust tree;
The moths that glimmered drowsily
From flower to flower, the scent whereof
Seemed portion of that oldtime love.
Her face was lifted, pale and wet;
Her body tense as if with pain:
He stooped, yes, he could see it yet
A moment and their young lips met,
And then. . . There in the lonely lane
He seemed to live it o'er again.
Why had.he gone? 'Twas for her sake.
But what had come of all his toil?
The City, like some monster snake,
Had dragged him down down, half awake,
Crushing him in its grimy coil,
Whence none escapes without a soil.
He was not clean yet. She would read
Failure, vice-written, in his face.
But, haply, now she had no need
Of him, whose life, like some wild weed
Full grown, with evil would replace
The love in her heart's garden-space.
He could not bear to look and see
The question in those virgin eyes.
What answer for that look had he?
He thought it out. It could not be.
He could not live a life of lies.
Better to break all oldtime ties.
And then he rose. The house was near
There where the road turned from the wood.
Whose voice was that he seemed to hear?
Then heart and soul were seized with fear,
And, turning, as if death-pursued,
He fled into the solitude.

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