Rake-Hell Muses

A poem by Thomas Hardy

Yes; since she knows not need,
Nor walks in blindness,
I may without unkindness
A true thing tell:

Which would be truth, indeed,
Though worse in speaking,
Were her poor footsteps seeking
A pauper's cell.

I judge, then, better far
She now have sorrow,
Than gladness that to-morrow
Might know its knell. -

It may be men there are
Could make of union
A lifelong sweet communion -
A passioned spell;

But I, to save her name
And bring salvation
By altar-affirmation
And bridal bell;

I, by whose rash unshame
These tears come to her:-
My faith would more undo her
Than my farewell!

Chained to me, year by year
My moody madness
Would wither her old gladness
Like famine fell.

She'll take the ill that's near,
And bear the blaming.
'Twill pass. Full soon her shaming
They'll cease to yell.

Our unborn, first her moan,
Will grow her guerdon,
Until from blot and burden
A joyance swell;

In that therein she'll own
My good part wholly,
My evil staining solely
My own vile vell.

Of the disgrace, may be
"He shunned to share it,
Being false," they'll say. I'll bear it;
Time will dispel

The calumny, and prove
This much about me,
That she lives best without me
Who would live well.

That, this once, not self-love
But good intention
Pleads that against convention
We two rebel.

For, is one moonlight dance,
One midnight passion,
A rock whereon to fashion
Life's citadel?

Prove they their power to prance
Life's miles together
From upper slope to nether
Who trip an ell?

- Years hence, or now apace,
May tongues be calling
News of my further falling
Sinward pell-mell:

Then this great good will grace
Our lives' division,
She's saved from more misprision
Though I plumb hell.

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