The Inscription (A Tale)

A poem by Thomas Hardy

Sir John was entombed, and the crypt was closed, and she,
Like a soul that could meet no more the sight of the sun,
Inclined her in weepings and prayings continually,
As his widowed one.

And to pleasure her in her sorrow, and fix his name
As a memory Time's fierce frost should never kill,
She caused to be richly chased a brass to his fame,
Which should link them still;

For she bonded her name with his own on the brazen page,
As if dead and interred there with him, and cold, and numb,
(Omitting the day of her dying and year of her age
Till her end should come;)

And implored good people to pray "Of their Charytie
For these twaine Soules," yea, she who did last remain
Forgoing Heaven's bliss if ever with spouse should she
Again have lain.

Even there, as it first was set, you may see it now,
Writ in quaint Church text, with the date of her death left bare,
In the aged Estminster aisle, where the folk yet bow
Themselves in prayer.

Thereafter some years slid, till there came a day
When it slowly began to be marked of the standers-by
That she would regard the brass, and would bend away
With a drooping sigh.

Now the lady was fair as any the eye might scan
Through a summer day of roving a type at whose lip
Despite her maturing seasons, no meet man
Would be loth to sip.

And her heart was stirred with a lightning love to its pith
For a newcomer who, while less in years, was one
Full eager and able to make her his own forthwith,
Restrained of none.

But she answered Nay, death-white; and still as he urged
She adversely spake, overmuch as she loved the while,
Till he pressed for why, and she led with the face of one scourged
To the neighbouring aisle,

And showed him the words, ever gleaming upon her pew,
Memorizing her there as the knight's eternal wife,
Or falsing such, debarred inheritance due
Of celestial life.

He blenched, and reproached her that one yet undeceased
Should bury her future that future which none can spell;
And she wept, and purposed anon to inquire of the priest
If the price were hell

Of her wedding in face of the record. Her lover agreed,
And they parted before the brass with a shudderful kiss,
For it seemed to flash out on their impulse of passionate need,
"Mock ye not this!"

Well, the priest, whom more perceptions moved than one,
Said she erred at the first to have written as if she were dead
Her name and adjuration; but since it was done
Nought could be said

Save that she must abide by the pledge, for the peace of her soul,
And so, by her life, maintain the apostrophe good,
If she wished anon to reach the coveted goal
Of beatitude.

To erase from the consecrate text her prayer as there prayed
Would aver that, since earth's joys most drew her, past doubt,
Friends' prayers for her joy above by Jesu's aid
Could be done without.

Moreover she thought of the laughter, the shrug, the jibe
That would rise at her back in the nave when she should pass
As another's avowed by the words she had chosen to inscribe
On the changeless brass.

And so for months she replied to her Love: "No, no";
While sorrow was gnawing her beauties ever and more,
Till he, long-suffering and weary, grew to show
Less warmth than before.

And, after an absence, wrote words absolute:
That he gave her till Midsummer morn to make her mind clear;
And that if, by then, she had not said Yea to his suit,
He should wed elsewhere.

Thence on, at unwonted times through the lengthening days
She was seen in the church at dawn, or when the sun dipt
And the moon rose, standing with hands joined, blank of gaze,
Before the script.

She thinned as he came not; shrank like a creature that cowers
As summer drew nearer; but still had not promised to wed,
When, just at the zenith of June, in the still night hours,
She was missed from her bed.

"The church!" they whispered with qualms; "where often she sits."
They found her: facing the brass there, else seeing none,
But feeling the words with her finger, gibbering in fits;
And she knew them not one.

And so she remained, in her handmaids' charge; late, soon,
Tracing words in the air with her finger, as seen that night -
Those incised on the brass till at length unwatched one noon,
She vanished from sight.

And, as talebearers tell, thence on to her last-taken breath
Was unseen, save as wraith that in front of the brass made moan;
So that ever the way of her life and the time of her death
Remained unknown.

And hence, as indited above, you may read even now
The quaint church-text, with the date of her death left bare,
In the aged Estminster aisle, where folk yet bow
Themselves in prayer.

October 30, 1907.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Inscription (A Tale)' by Thomas Hardy

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy