The Ribbon

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

Those were the days of doubt. How clear
It all comes back! This ribbon, see?
Brings that far past so very near
I lose my own identity,
And seem two beings: one that's here,
And one back in that century
Of cowardice and fear,
Wherein I met with love and her,
When I was but a wanderer.
Those were the days of doubt, I said:
I doubted all things; even God.
Within my heart there was no dread
Of Hell or Heaven. Never a rod
Was there to smite; no mercy led:
And man's reward was death: a clod
He was, alive or dead.
Those were the days of doubt; and so
I scoffed at all things, high and low.
And then I met her. Fair and frail,
A girl whose soul was as a flame
That burns within the Holy Grael;
And through her eyes shone clear the same
Fanatic fire, pure and pale,
That once put Sisera to shame
In the dark eyes of Jael,
When, leading him into her tent,
She used the nail as argument.
There was no argument of grace
She did not use; no dogma, wrought
Of sophistry, she did not place
Before me, leading up my thought
To Heaven from the fearful maze
Of Hell, wherein God's angels fought
With fiends, on darkling ways.
I listened but in her young look
Was more for me than in God's Book.
She seemed a priestess. Heaven to be
Was in her face. A ribbon bound
Her hair like a phylactery.
This is the band. I took it; wound
And laid it on my heart. Ah me!
No other argument I found
As good as that. Convincingly
It held me sane and sound.
And I have kept it here alway
Since first she gave it me that day.
"Where is she now"? I do not know.
She is the wife of one whose hand,
Stretched forth to aid me long-ago,
Took from me more than all this land
In her own self, and gave me woe
To take her place. As here I stand
I stood and took the blow,
While in my heart I looked and saw
The love that fiiled my soul with awe.
And did she love me? Am I sure?
Ah, while I heard angelic hosts
Of Heaven singing love, there were
Black wings about me: all the ghosts
Of all my doubts. I heard them stir,
And so drew back from those bright coasts
Of happiness with her.
Despite the love within my heart
Doubt entered, and began its part.
Make no mistake. I loved her; ay!
And she loved me as women love
The thing they save. I spoke my lie,
That by my lie I so might prove
Her love, and with the proof defy
The doubt, whose shadow hung above,
Watching with jealous eye.
So I denied love. Played a part
And, playing it, broke my own heart.
The better part of me then died;
I killed her love, not mine. You see
I keep this ribbon here, she tied
My heart to hers with. Silkenly
It says, "She is another's bride.
Through me now keep in memory
Your doubt was justified.
She did not love you. She could change."
I keep the ribbon. Is it strange?

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