"Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more! Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore! And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me, I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly That I might eat again, and met thy sneers With deprecations, and thy blows with tears,— Aye, from thy glutted lash, glad, crawled away, As if spent passion were a holiday! And now I go. Nor threat, nor easy vow Of tardy kindness can avail thee now With me, whence fear and faith alike are flown; Lonely I came, and I depart alone, And know not where nor unto whom I go; But that thou canst not follow me I know."
Thus I to Life, and ceased; but through my brain My thought ran still, until I spake again:
"Ah, but I go not as I came,—no trace Is mine to bear away of that old grace I brought! I have been heated in thy fires, Bent by thy hands, fashioned to thy desires, Thy mark is on me! I am not the same Nor ever more shall be, as when I came. Ashes am I of all that once I seemed. In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed Is wakeful for alarm,—oh, shame to thee, For the ill change that thou hast wrought in me, Who laugh no more nor lift my throat to sing Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing To have about the house when I was grown If thou hadst left my little joys alone! I asked of thee no favor save this one: That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun! And this thou didst deny, calling my name Insistently, until I rose and came. I saw the sun no more.—It were not well So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell, Need I arise to-morrow and renew Again my hated tasks, but I am through With all things save my thoughts and this one night, So that in truth I seem already quite Free,and remote from thee,—I feel no haste And no reluctance to depart; I taste Merely, with thoughtful mien, an unknown draught, That in a little while I shall have quaffed."
Thus I to Life, and ceased, and slightly smiled, Looking at nothing; and my thin dreams filed Before me one by one till once again I set new words unto an old refrain:
"Treasures thou hast that never have been mine! Warm lights in many a secret chamber shine Of thy gaunt house, and gusts of song have blown Like blossoms out to me that sat alone! And I have waited well for thee to show If any share were mine,—and now I go Nothing I leave, and if I naught attain I shall but come into mine own again!"
Thus I to Life, and ceased, and spake no more, But turning, straightway, sought a certain door In the rear wall. Heavy it was, and low And dark,—a way by which none e'er would go That other exit had, and never knock Was heard thereat,—bearing a curious lock Some chance had shown me fashioned faultily, Whereof Life held content the useless key, And great coarse hinges, thick and rough with rust, Whose sudden voice across a silence must, I knew, be harsh and horrible to hear,— A strange door, ugly like a dwarf.—So near I came I felt upon my feet the chill Of acid wind creeping across the sill. So stood longtime, till over me at last Came weariness, and all things other passed To make it room; the still night drifted deep Like snow about me, and I longed for sleep.
But, suddenly, marking the morning hour, Bayed the deep-throated bell within the tower! Startled, I raised my head,—and with a shout Laid hold upon the latch,—and was without.
* * * *
Ah, long-forgotten, well-remembered road, Leading me back unto my old abode, My father's house! There in the night I came, And found them feasting, and all things the same As they had been before. A splendour hung Upon the walls, and such sweet songs were sung As, echoing out of very long ago, Had called me from the house of Life, I know. So fair their raiment shone I looked in shame On the unlovely garb in which I came; Then straightway at my hesitancy mocked: "It is my father's house!" I said and knocked; And the door opened. To the shining crowd Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud, Seeing no face but his; to him I crept, And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept.
* * * *
Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone I wandered through the house. My own, my own, My own to touch, my own to taste and smell, All I had lacked so long and loved so well! None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song, Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long.
I know not when the wonder came to me Of what my father's business might be, And whither fared and on what errands bent The tall and gracious messengers he sent. Yet one day with no song from dawn till night Wondering, I sat, and watched them out of sight. And the next day I called; and on the third Asked them if I might go,—but no one heard. Then, sick with longing, I arose at last And went unto my father,—in that vast Chamber wherein he for so many years Has sat, surrounded by his charts and spheres. "Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play The harp that thou didst give me, and all day I sit in idleness, while to and fro About me thy serene, grave servants go; And I am weary of my lonely ease. Better a perilous journey overseas Away from thee, than this, the life I lead, To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed That grows to naught,—I love thee more than they Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way. Father, I beg of thee a little task To dignify my days,—'tis all I ask Forever, but forever, this denied, I perish." "Child," my father's voice replied, "All things thy fancy hath desired of me Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee Within my house a spacious chamber, where Are delicate things to handle and to wear, And all these things are thine. Dost thou love song? My minstrels shall attend thee all day long. Or sigh for flowers? My fairest gardens stand Open as fields to thee on every hand. And all thy days this word shall hold the same: No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name. But as for tasks—" he smiled, and shook his head; "Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by," he said.