He faints with hope and fear. It is the hour. Distant, across the thundering organ-swell, In sweet discord from the cathedral-tower, Fall the faint chimes and the thrice-sequent bell. Over the crowd his eye uneasy roves. He sees a plume, a fur; his heart dilates -- Soars . . . and then sinks again. It is not hers he loves. She will not come, the woman that he waits.
Braided with streams of silver incense rise The antique prayers and ponderous antiphones. `Gloria Patri' echoes to the skies; `Nunc et in saecula' the choir intones. He marks not the monotonous refrain, The priest that serves nor him that celebrates, But ever scans the aisle for his blonde head. . . . In vain! She will not come, the woman that he waits.
How like a flower seemed the perfumed place Where the sweet flesh lay loveliest to kiss; And her white hands in what delicious ways, With what unfeigned caresses, answered his! Each tender charm intolerable to lose, Each happy scene his fancy recreates. And he calls out her name and spreads his arms . . . No use! She will not come, the woman that he waits.
But the long vespers close. The priest on high Raises the thing that Christ's own flesh enforms; And down the Gothic nave the crowd flows by And through the portal's carven entry swarms. Maddened he peers upon each passing face Till the long drab procession terminates. No princess passes out with proud majestic pace. She has not come, the woman that he waits.
Back in the empty silent church alone He walks with aching heart. A white-robed boy Puts out the altar-candles one by one, Even as by inches darkens all his joy. He dreams of the sweet night their lips first met, And groans -- and turns to leave -- and hesitates . . . Poor stricken heart, he will, he can not fancy yet She will not come, the woman that he waits.
But in an arch where deepest shadows fall He sits and studies the old, storied panes, And the calm crucifix that from the wall Looks on a world that quavers and complains. Hopeless, abandoned, desolate, aghast, On modes of violent death he meditates. And the tower-clock tolls five, and he admits at last, She will not come, the woman that he waits.
Through the stained rose the winter daylight dies, And all the tide of anguish unrepressed Swells in his throat and gathers in his eyes; He kneels and bows his head upon his breast, And feigns a prayer to hide his burning tears, While the satanic voice reiterates `Tonight, tomorrow, nay, nor all the impending years, She will not come,' the woman that he waits.
Fond, fervent heart of life's enamored spring, So true, so confident, so passing fair, That thought of Love as some sweet, tender thing, And not as war, red tooth and nail laid bare, How in that hour its innocence was slain, How from that hour our disillusion dates, When first we learned thy sense, ironical refrain, She will not come, the woman that he waits.