The Two Rosalinds

A poem by Thomas Hardy

I

The dubious daylight ended,
And I walked the Town alone, unminding whither bound and why,
As from each gaunt street and gaping square a mist of light ascended
And dispersed upon the sky.

II

Files of evanescent faces
Passed each other without heeding, in their travail, teen, or joy,
Some in void unvisioned listlessness inwrought with pallid traces
Of keen penury's annoy.

III

Nebulous flames in crystal cages
Leered as if with discontent at city movement, murk, and grime,
And as waiting some procession of great ghosts from bygone ages
To exalt the ignoble time.

IV

In a colonnade high-lighted,
By a thoroughfare where stern utilitarian traffic dinned,
On a red and white emblazonment of players and parts, I sighted
The name of "Rosalind,"

V

And her famous mates of "Arden,"
Who observed no stricter customs than "the seasons' difference" bade,
Who lived with running brooks for books in Nature's wildwood garden,
And called idleness their trade . . .

VI

Now the poster stirred an ember
Still remaining from my ardours of some forty years before,
When the selfsame portal on an eve it thrilled me to remember
A like announcement bore;

VII

And expectantly I had entered,
And had first beheld in human mould a Rosalind woo and plead,
On whose transcendent figuring my speedy soul had centred
As it had been she indeed . . .

VIII

So; all other plans discarding,
I resolved on entrance, bent on seeing what I once had seen,
And approached the gangway of my earlier knowledge, disregarding
The tract of time between.

IX

"The words, sir?" cried a creature
Hovering mid the shine and shade as 'twixt the live world and the tomb;
But the well-known numbers needed not for me a text or teacher
To revive and re-illume.

X

Then the play . . . But how unfitted
Was THIS Rosalind! - a mammet quite to me, in memories nurst,
And with chilling disappointment soon I sought the street I had quitted,
To re-ponder on the first.

XI

The hag still hawked, - I met her
Just without the colonnade. "So you don't like her, sir?" said she.
"Ah - I was once that Rosalind! - I acted her - none better -
Yes - in eighteen sixty-three.

XII

"Thus I won Orlando to me
In my then triumphant days when I had charm and maidenhood,
Now some forty years ago. - I used to say, COME WOO ME, WOO ME!"
And she struck the attitude.

XIII

It was when I had gone there nightly;
And the voice - though raucous now - was yet the old one. - Clear as noon
My Rosalind was here . . . Thereon the band withinside lightly
Beat up a merry tune.

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