Two Lovers

A poem by James Thomson (BV)

Their eyes met; flashed an instant like swift swords
That leapt unparring to each other's heart,
Jarring convulsion through the inmost chords;
Then fell, for they had fully done their part.

She, in the manner of her folk unveiled,
Might have been veiled for all he saw of her;
Those sudden eyes, from which he reeled and quailed;
The old life dead, no new life yet astir.

His good steed bore him onward slow and proud:
And through the open lattice still she leant;
Pale, still, though whirled in a black rushing cloud,
As if on her fair flowers and dreams intent.

Days passed, and he passed timid, furtive, slow:
Nights came, and he came motionless and mute,
A steadfast sentinel till morning-glow,
Though blank her window, dumb her voice and lute.

She loved: the Cross stretched rigid arms to scare
Her soul from the perdition of that love;
She saw Christ's wounds bleed when she knelt in prayer,
And frown abhorrent all the saints above.

He loved: the Crescent hung with sharp cold gleam,
A scimitar to cleave such love in twain;
The Prophet menaced in his waking dream,
Livid and swoln with wrath that great brow-vein.

Each sternly true to the immortal soul,
Crushed down the passion of the mortal heart;
Which bled away beneath the iron control,
But inwardly: they die; none sees the smart.

Thus long months went, until his time came round
To leave that city terrible and dear;
To go afar on soulless business bound,
Perchance for absence of a whole dead year.

No word: but as she knelt to pray one night,
What was that silk thing pendant from the Cross?
Half of a talisman of chrysolite:
Farewell! Full triumph stunned like fatal loss.

A sacred jewel-charm of sovereign power
'Gainst demons haunting soul and sense and brain,
'Gainst madness: had it not until that hour
Despite love's impious frenzy kept him sane?

Now let her look forth boldly day by day;
He will not come to wound her with his eyes;
Now at the open lattice darkling stay,
Only the stars are watching from the skies;

Now with clear spirit let her sing and pray;
No human presence clouds her Lord's full light:
Now let her weep and moan and waste away,
With broken heart a-bleeding day and night.

Thin as a spectre, haggard, taciturn,
He reached his native city; there did all
He had to do: indifferent yet stern,
As one whose task must end ere evening-fall.

Then sank, and knew that Azrael was near:
The hard dull rage of impotent remorse
Burned into passion that consumed old fear:
He loathed his unlived life, his unspent force.

'Must we be sundered, then, beyond the grave,
By that which here has sundered us? Not so!
I can be lost with her I cannot save,
And with these Christian dogs to deep Hell go.'

A priest baptized the sinking renegade,
A priest assured him of the Heaven he spurned;
His wealth for many a mass thereafter paid;
And many a Moslem his example turned.

A friend had sworn to do his last behest;
To be his swift and faithful messenger:
His own half talisman from his true breast
Would seal the truth of all things told to her.

The funeral over, while the stars yet shone
Though pale in the new dawn, this friend forth-spurred:
Brief rests, long stages, hurried fiercely on;
Hating the errand, loyal to his word.

Twenty days' travel done in thrice three days,
He reached her city, found her mansion there;
A crowd before it busy with amaze,
Cries from within it wounding the sweet air.

She was no more since that day's sun had set;
But wonder outran grief; for ere she died
Infinite yearning, fathomless regret,
Flooded her soul and drowned its faith and pride.

'Shall I be happy with the saints above,
While he is burning in the paynim Hell?
Here I have cheated him of all my love,
But there with him I can for ever dwell.'

So she renounced the Cross and threefold God,
And died in Islam; whence the bruit was great.
Silent the friend his backward journey trod,
Silent, and shrouded with the sense of Fate.

Thus in the very hour supreme of death
These two great hearts first dared live perfect life; go
Drew inspiration with their failing breath,
Snatched victory as they sank down slain in strife.

And thus Fate mocked them, who when life was sweet
Had kept apart, both famished to the core;
Let them draw near and in the death-point meet,
But to diverge for ever, evermore.

Yet both died happy in self-sacrifice;
A dolorous happiness, yet true and deep:
And Gods and Fate and Hell and Paradise
Perchance are one to their eternal sleep.

Poor human hearts, that yearn beyond the tomb,
Wherein you all must moulder into dust!
What has the blank immitigable gloom
Of light or fervour to reward your trust?

Live out your whole free life while yet on earth;
Seize the quick Present, prize your one sure boon;
Though brief, each day a golden sun has birth;
Though dim, the night is gemmed with stars and moon.

Love out your cordial love, hate out your hate;
Be strong to grasp a foe, to clasp a friend:
Your wants true laws are; thirst and hunger sate:
Feel you have been yourselves when comes the end.

Let the great gods, if they indeed exist,
Fight out their fight themselves; for they are strong:
How can we puny mortals e'er assist?
How judge the supra-mortal right and wrong?

But if we made these gods, with all their strife,
And not they us: what frenzy equals this;
To starve, maim, poison, strangle our poor He,
For empty shadows of death's dark abyss?

This man and maiden claim a brother's tear,
Martyrs of sweet love, killed by bitter faith;
Defrauded by the Gods of glad life here,
And mocked by Doom in their heroic death.

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