The Ring

A poem by Alfred Tennyson

Miriam (singing).
Mellow moon of heaven.
Bright in blue,
Moon of married hearts,
Hear me, you!

Twelve times in the year
Bring me bliss,
Globing Honey Moons
Bright as this.

Moon, you fade at times
From the night.
Young again you grow
Out of sight.

Silver crescent-curve,
Coining soon,
Globe again, and make
Honey Moon.

Shall not my love last,
Moon, with you,
For ten thousand years
Old and new?

Father. And who was he with such love-drunken eyes
They made a thousand honey moons of one?

Miriam. The prophet of his own, my Hubert—his
The words, and mine the setting. ‘Air and Words,’
Said Hubert, when I sang the song, ‘are bride
And bridegroom.’ Does it please you?

Father. Mainly, child,
Because I hear your Mother’s voice in yours.
She——, why, you shiver tho’ the wind is west
With all the warmth of summer.

Miriam. Well, I felt
On a sudden I know not what, a breath that past
With all the cold of winter.

Father (muttering to himself). Even so.
The Ghost in Man, the Ghost that once was Man,
But cannot wholly free itself from Man,
Are calling to each other thro’ a dawn
Stranger than earth has ever seen; the veil
Is rending, and the Voices of the day
Are heard across the Voices of the dark.
No sudden heaven, nor sudden hell, for man,
But thro’ the Will of One who knows and rules—
And utter knowledge is but utter love—,
Æonian Evolution, swift or slow,
Thro’ all the Spheres—an ever opening height,
An ever lessening earth—and she perhaps,
My Miriam, breaks her latest earthly link
With me to-day.

Miriam. You speak so low, what is it?
Your ‘Miriam breaks’—is making a new link
Breaking an old one?

Father. No, for we, my child,
Have been till now each other’s all-in-all.

Miriam. And you the lifelong guardian of the child.

Father. I, and one other whom you have not known.

Miriam. And who? what other?

Father. Whither are you bound?
For Naples which we only left in May?

Miriam. No! father, Spain, but Hubert brings me home
With April and the swallow. Wish me joy!

Father. What need to wish when Hubert weds in you
The heart of Love, and you the soul of Truth
In Hubert?

Miriam. Tho’ you used to call me once
The lonely maiden-Princess of the wool,
Who meant to sleep her hundred summers out
Before a kiss should wake her.

Father. Ay, but now
Your fairy Prince has found you, take this ring.

Miriam. ‘Io t’amo’—and these diamonds—beautiful!
‘From Walter,’ and for me from you then?

Father. Well,
One Way for Miriam.

Miriam. Miriam am I not?

Father. This ring bequeath’d you by your mother, child,
Was to be given you—such her dying wish—
Given on the morning when you came of age
Or on the day you married. Both the days
Now close in one. The ring is doubly yours.
Why do you look so gravely at the tower?

Miriam. I never saw it yet so all ablaze
With creepers crimsoning to the pinnacles,
As if perpetual sunset linger’d there,
And all ablaze too in the lake below!
And how the birds that circle round the tower
Are cheeping to each other of their flight
To summer lands!

Father. And that has made you grave?
Fly—care not. Birds and brides must leave the nest.
Child, I am happier in your happiness
Than in mine own.

Miriam. It is not that!

Father. What else?

Miriam. That chamber in the tower.

Father. What chamber, child?
Your nurse is here?

Miriam. My Mother’s nurse and mine.
She comes to dress me in my bridal veil.

Father. What did she say?

Miriam. She said, that you and I
Had been abroad for my poor health so long
She fear’d I had forgotten her, and I ask’d
About my Mother, and she said, ‘Thy hair
Is golden like thy Mother’s, not so fine.’

Father. What then? what more?

Miriam. She said—perhaps indeed
She wander’d, having wander’d now so far
Beyond the common date of death—that you,
When I was smaller than the statuette
Of my dear Mother on your bracket here—
You took me to that chamber in the tower,
The topmost—a chest there, by which you knelt—
And there were books and dresses—left to me,
A ring too which you kiss’d, and I, she said,
I babbled, Mother, Mother—as I used
To prattle to her picture—stretcht’d my hands
As if I saw her; then a woman came
And caught me from my nurse. I hear her yet—
A sound of anger like a distant storm.

Father. Garrulous old crone.

Miriam. Poor nurse!

Father. I bad her keep,
Like a seal’d book, all mention of the ring,
For I myself would tell you all to-day.

Miriam. ‘She too might speak to-day,’ she mumbled. Still,
I scarce have learnt the title of your book,
But you will turn the pages.

Father. Ay, to-day!
I brought you to that chamber on your third
September birthday with your nurse, and felt
An icy breath play on me, while I stoopt
To take and kiss the ring.

Miriam. This very ring
Io t’amo?

Father. Yes, for some wild hope was mine
That, in the misery of my married life,
Miriam your Mother might appear to me.
She came to you, not me. The storm, you hear
Far-off, is Muriel—your stepmother’s voice.

Miriam. Vext, that you thought my Mother came to me?
Or at my crying ‘Mother?’ or to find
My Mother’s diamonds hidden from her there,
Like worldly beauties in the Cell, not shown
To dazzle all that see them?

Father. Wait a while.
Your Mother and step-mother—Miriam Erne
And Muriel Erne—the two were cousins—lived
With Muriel’s mother on the down, that sees
A thousand squares of corn and meadow, far
As the gray deep, a landscape which your eyes
Have many a time ranged over when a babe.

Miriam. I climb’d the hill with Hubert yesterday,
And from the thousand squares, one silent voice
Came on the wind, and seem’d to say ‘Again.’
We saw far off an old forsaken house,
Then home, and past the ruin’d mill.

Father. And there
I found these cousins often by the brook,
For Miriam sketch’d and Muriel threw the fly;
The girls of equal age, but one was fair,
And one was dark, and both were beautiful.
No voice for either spoke within my heart
Then, for the surface eye, that only doats
On outward beauty, glancing from the one
To the other, knew not that which pleased it most,
The raven ringlet or the gold; but both
Were dowerless, and myself, I used to walk
This Terrace—morbid, melancholy; mine
And yet not mine the hall, the farm, the field;
For all that ample woodland whisper’d ‘debt,’
The brook that feeds this lakelet murmur’d ‘debt,’
And in yon arching avenue of old elms,
Tho’ mine, not mine, I heard the sober rook
And carrion crow cry ‘ Mortgage.’

Miriam. Father’s fault
Visited on the children!

Father. Ay, but then
A kinsman, dying, stummon’d me to Rome—
He left me wealth—and while I journey’d hence,
And saw the world fly by me like a dream,
And while I communed with my truest self,
I woke to all of truest in myself,
Till, in the gleam of those mid-summer dawns,
The form of Muriel faded, and the face
Of Miriam grew upon me, till I knew;
And past and future mix’d in Heaven and made
The rosy twilight of a perfect day.

Miriam. So glad? no tear for him, who left you wealth,
Your kinsman?

Father. I had seen the man but once;
He loved my name not me; and then I pass’d
Home, and thro’ Venice, where a jeweller,
So far gone down, or so far up in life,
That he was nearing his own hundred, sold
This ring to me, then laugh’d ‘the ring is weird.’
And weird and worn and wizard-like was he.
‘Why weird?’ I ask’d him; and he said ‘The souls
Of two repentant Lovers guard the ring;’
Then with a ribald twinkle in his bleak eyes—
‘And if you give the ring to any maid,
They still remember what it cost them here,
And bind the maid to love you by the ring;
And if the ring were stolen from the maid,
The theft were death or madness to the thief,
So sacred those Ghost Lovers hold the gift.’
And then he told their legend:
‘Long ago
Two lovers parted by a scurrilous tale
Had quarrell’d, till the man repenting sent
This ring “Io t’amo” to his best beloved,
And sent it on her birthday. She in wrath
Return’d it on her birthday, and that day
His death-day, when, half-frenzied by the ring,
He wildly fought a rival suitor, him
The causer of that scandal, fought and fell;
And she that came to part them all too late,
And found a corpse and silence, drew the ring
From his dead finger, wore it till her death,
Shrined him within the temple of her heart,
Made every moment of her after life
A virgin victim to his memory,
And dying rose, and rear’d her arms, and cried
“I see him, Io t’amo, Io t’amo.”’

Miriam. Legend or true? So tender should be true!
Did he believe it? did you ask him?

Father. Ay!
But that half skeleton, like a barren ghost
From out the fleshless world of spirits, laugh’d:
A hollow laughter!

Miriam. Vile, so near the ghost
Himself, to laugh at love in death! But you?

Father. Well, as the bygone lover thro’ this ring
Had sent his cry for her forgiveness, I
Would call thro’ this ‘Io t’amo’ to the heart
Of Miriam; then I bad the man en grave
‘From Walter’ on the ring, and send it—wrote
name, surname, all as clear as noon, but he—
Some younger hand must have engraven the ring—
His fingers were so stiffen’d by the frost
Of seven and ninety winters, that he scrawI’d
A ‘Miriam’ that might seem a ‘ Muriel’;
And Muriel claim’d and open’d what I meant
For Miriam, took the ring, and flaunted it
Before that other whom I loved and love.
A mountain stay’d me here, a minster there,
A galleried palace, or a battlefield,
Where stood the sheaf of Peace: but—coming home—
And on your Mother’s birthday—all but yours——
A week betwixt—and when the tower as now
Was all ablaze with crimson to the roof,
And all ablaze too plunging in the lake
Head-foremost—who were those that stood between
The tower and that rich phantom of the tower?
Muriel and Miriam, each in white, and like
May-blossoms in mid autumn—was it they?
A light shot upward on them from the lake.
What sparkled there? whose hand was that? they stood
So close together. I am not keen of sight,
But coming nearer—Muriel had the ring—
‘O Miriam! have you given your ring to her?
O Miriam!’ Miriam redden’d, Muriel clench’d
The hand that wore it, till I cried again:
‘O Miriam, if you love me take the ring!’
She glanced at me, at Muriel, and was mute.
‘Nay, if you cannot love me, let it be.
Then—Muriel standing ever statue-like—
She turn’d, and in her soft imperial way
And saying gently: ‘Muriel, by your leave,’
Unclosed the hand, and from it drew the ring,
And gave it me, who pass’d it down her own,
‘Io t’amo, all is well then.’ Muriel fled.

Miriam. Poor Muriel!

Father. Ay, poor Muriel when you hear
What follows! Miriam loved me from the first,
Not thro’ the ring; but on her marriage morn
This birthday, death-day, and betrothal ring,
Laid on her table overnight, was gone;
And after hours of search and doubt and threats,
And hubbub, Muriel enter’d with it, ‘See!—
Found in a chink of that old moulder’d floor!’
My Miriam nodded with a pitying smile,
As who should say ‘that those who lose can find.’
Then I and she were married for a year,
One year without a storm, or even a cloud;
And you my Miriam born within the year;
And she my Miriam dead within the year.
I sat beside her dying, and she gaspt:
‘The books, the miniature, the lace are hers,
My ring too when she comes of age, or when
She marries; you—you loved me, kept your word.
You love me still “Io t’amo.”—Muriel—no—
She cannot love; she loves her own hard self,
Her firm will, her fix’d purpose. Promise me,
Miriam not Muriel—she shall have the ring.’
And there the light of other life, which lives
Beyond our burial and our buried eyes,
Gleam’d for a moment in her own on earth.
I swore the vow, then with my latest kiss
Upon them, closed her eyes, which would not close,
But kept their watch upon the ring and you.
Your birthday was her death-day.

Miriam. O poor Mother!
And you, poor desolate Father, and poor me,
The little senseless, worthless, wordless babe,
Saved when your life was wreck’d!

Father. Desolate? yes!
Desolate as that sailor, whom the storm
Had parted from his comrade in the boat,
And dash’d half dead on barren sands, was I.
Nay, you were my one solace; only—you
Were always ailing. Muriel’s mother sent,
And sure am I, by Muriel, one day came
And saw you, shook her head, and patted yours,
And smiled, and making with a kindly pinch
Each poor pale cheek a momentary rose—
‘That should be fix’d,’ she said; ‘your pretty bud,
So blighted here, would flower into full health
Among our heath and bracken. Let her come!
And we will feed her with our mountain air.
And send her home to you rejoicing.’ No—
We could not part. And once, when you my girl
Rode on my shoulder home—the tiny fist
Had graspt a daisy from your Mother’s grave—
By the lych-gate was Muriel. ‘Ay,’ she said,
‘Among the tombs in this damp vale of yours!
You scorn my Mother’s warning, but the child
Is paler than before. We often walk
In open sun, and see beneath our feet
The mist of autumn gather from your lake,
And shroud the tower; and once we only saw
Your gilded vane, a light above the mist’—
(Our old bright bird that still is veering there
Above his four gold letters) ‘and the light,’
She said, ‘was like that light’—and there she paused,
And long; till I believing that the girl’s
Lean fancy, groping for it, could not find
One likeness, laugh’d a little and found her two—
‘A warrior’s crest above the cloud of war’—
‘A fiery phoenix rising from the smoke,
The pyre he burnt in.’—‘Nay,’ she said, ‘the light
That glimmers on the marsh and on the grave.’
And spoke no more, but turn’d and pass’d away.
Miriam, I am not surely one of those
Caught by the flower that closes on the fly,
But after ten slow weeks her fix’d intent,
In aiming at an all but hopeless mark
To strike it, struck; I took, I left you there;
I came, I went, was happier day by day;
For Muriel nursed you with a mother’s care;
Till on that clear and heather-scented height
The rounder cheek had brighten’d into bloom.
She always came to meet me carrying you,
And all her talk was of the babe she loved;
So, following her old pastime of the brook,
She threw the fly for me; but oftener left
That angling to the mother. ‘Muriel’s health
Had weaken’d, nursing little Miriam. Strange!
She used to shun the wailing babe, and doats
On this of yours.’ But when the matron saw
That hinted love was only wasted bait,
Not risen to, she was bolder. ‘Ever since
You sent the fatal ring’—I told her ‘sent
To Miriam,’ ‘Doubtless—ay, but ever since
In all the world my dear one sees but you—
In your sweet babe she finds but you—she makes
Her heart a mirror that reflects but you.’
And then the tear fell, the voice broke. Her heart!
I gazed into the mirror, as a man
Who sees his face in water, and a stone,
That glances from the bottom of the pool,
Strike upward thro’ the shadow; yet at last,
Gratitude—loneliness—desire to keep
So skilled a nurse about you always—nay!
Some half remorseful kind of pity too—
‘Well! well, you know I married Muriel Erne.
‘I take thee Muriel for my wedded wife’—
I had forgotten it was your birthday, child—
When all at once with some electric thrill
A cold air pass’d between us, and the hands
Fell from each other, and were join’d again.
No second cloudless honeymoon was mine.
For by and by she sicken’d of the farce,
She dropt the gracious mask of mother-hood,
She came no more to meet me, carrying you,
Nor ever cared to set you on her knee,
Nor ever let you gambol in her sight,
Nor ever cheer’d you with a kindly smile,
Nor ever ceased to clamour for the ring;
Why had I sent the ring at first to her?
Why had I made her love me thro’ the ring,
And then had changed? so fickle are men—the best!
Not she—but now my love was hers again,
The ring by right, she said, was hers again.
At times too shrilling in her angrier moods,
‘That weak and watery nature love you? No!
“Io t’amo, Io t’amo”!’ flung herself
Against my heart, but often while her lips
Were warm upon my check, an icy breath,
As from the grating of a sepulchre,
Past over both. I told her of my vow,
No pliable idiot I to break my vow;
But still she made her outcry for the ring;
For one monotonous fancy madden’d her,
Till I myself was madden’d with her cry,
And even that ‘Io t’amo,’ those three sweet
Italian words, became a weariness.
My people too were scared with eerie sounds,
A footstep, a low throbbing in the walls,
A noise of falling weights that never fell,
Weird whispers, bells that rang without a hand,
Door-handles turn’d when none was at the door,
And bolted doors that open’d of themselves:
And one betwixt the dark and light had seen
Her, bending by the cradle of her babe.

Miriam. And I remember once that being waked
By noises in the house—and no one near—
I cried for nurse, and felt a gentle hand
Fall on my forehead, and a sudden face
Look’d in upon me like a gleam and pass’d,
And I was quieted, and slept again.
Or is it some half memory of a dream?

Father. Your fifth September birth day.

Miriam. And the face,
The hand,—my Mother.

Father. Miriam, on that day
Two lovers parted by no scurrilous tale—
Mere want of gold—and still for twenty years
Bound by the golden cord of their first love—
Had ask’d us to their marriage, and to share
Their marriage-banquet. Muriel, paler then
Than ever you were in your cradle, moan’d,
‘I am fitter for my bed, or for my grave,
I cannot go, go you.’ And then she rose,
She clung to me with such a hard embrace,
So lingeringly long, that half-amazed
I parted from her, and I went alone.
And when the bridegroom murmur’d, ‘With this ring,’
I felt for what I could not find, the key,
The guardian of her relics, of her ring.
I kept it as a sacred amulet
About me,—gone! and gone in that embrace!
Then, hurrying home, I found her not in house
Or garden—up the tower—an icy air
Fled by me.—There, the chest was open—all
The sacred relics tost about the floor—
Among them Muriel lying on her face—
I raised her, call’d her ‘Muriel. Muriel wake!’
The fatal ring lay near her; the glazed eye
Glared at me as in horror. Dead! I took
And chafed the freezing hand. A red mark ran
All round one finger pointed straight, the rest
Were crumpled inwards. Dead!—and maybe stung
With some remorse, had stolen, worn the ring—
Then torn it from her finger, or as if—
For never had I seen her show remorse—
As if—

Miriam. those two Ghost lovers—

Father. Lovers yet—

Miriam. Yes, yes!

Father. but dead so long, gone up so far,
That now their ever-rising life has dwarf’d
Or lost the moment of their past on earth,
As we forget our wail at being born.
As if—

Miriam. a dearer ghost had

Father. wrench’d it away.

Miriam. Had floated in with sad reproachful eyes,
Till from her own hand she had torn the ring
In fright, and fallen dead. And I myself
Am half afraid to wear it.

Father. Well, no more!
No bridal music this! but fear not you!
You have the ring she guarded; that poor link
With earth is broken, and has left her free,
Except that, still drawn downward for an hour,
Her spirit hovering by the church, where she
Was married too, may linger, till she sees
Her maiden coming like a Queen, who leaves
Some colder province in the North to gain
Her capital city, where the loyal bells
Clash welcome—linger, till her own, the babe
She lean’d to from her Spiritual sphere,
Her lonely maiden-Princess, crown’d with flowers,
Has enter’d on the larger woman-world
Of wives and mothers.

But the bridal veil—
Your nurse is waiting. Kiss me child and go.

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