Forsaking All Others Part 5

Poem By Alice Duer Miller

I

TRAINED nurses, trained nurses everywhere­
Trained nurses by night, trained nurses by day -
In the corridors, on the stair,
Looking for towels, carrying a tray;
Saying, 'you mustn't,' 'you must,' 'you may.'
Smooth as to hair, stiff as to skirt,
Kind in a cool, impersonal way,­
Angels of mercy, bright-eyed, alert,
Hard young angels, sent to avert
That older angel of dark despair ­
Stiff starched angels, a trifle curt ­
Trained nurses, trained nurses everywhere.

II

A WHITE figure spoke from the doorway
In a tone deliberately bright:
'Would you like to see the patient
For a moment, and say goodnight?'

Shepherded in like a stranger
He stood beside her bed,
Gazed at those pale, blank eyelids
In that carven ivory head.

Took her hand and heard her
Murmur: 'Is that you, Jim?'
But he knew she was very tired ­
Tired even of him.

Too much spent with the struggle
Of drawing breath to afford
A brief smile - utterly weary,
And more than utterly bored.

III

NEVER before had Ruth been out of reach:
Barriers had been - but only of his making.
Now she had passed beyond the power of speech,
Quite, quite indifferent that his heart was breaking.

Here in the bedroom that he used to share
She lived day after day, averse to living,
Indifferent, unforgiving, unaware
That he had any need of her forgiving.

IV

AT first Lee wrote to him every day
Tactful letters, that let him see
She knew very well he would rather be
With her - but it wasn't the thing to say.

Tactful letters at first, and then
Letters less tactful and more sincere,
Ending: 'Why don't you write to me, dear?'
Write to me . . . over and over again.

But he could not answer her piteous call;
Not exactly that he forgot
Their love, but only that she had not
Any reality for him at all.

She seemed like a pleasant book he had read -
Read and enjoyed; but the printed page
Cannot compete with the heritage
Of Nature. . . the living, and Oh, the dead!

At last he sent her a brief reply:
'I cannot write - or eat or sleep
Just now. I am going through the deep
Waters. Forgive me, dear Lee. Good-bye.'

V


THEN a night came
When in sleep broken
He heard his name
Suddenly spoken.
Into his dream
Horrors flocked thickly­
Was that a scream?
'Better come quicklyl'

Cold was his room
And his hands shaking;
Out of the gloom
Dawn was just breaking­
Dawn cool and green
Over the ocean,
Never more seen
Without emotion
Of death - agony ­
Somebody crying ­
All dawns that dawn, when he
Knew Ruth was dying.

VI


WHAT can you do with a woman's things
After a woman is dead?
Not the bracelets and rings and strings
Of pearls, but the small unvalued things ­
What can I do, Wayne said.

What can you do with a woman's dresses,
After a woman is dead?
Hanging limp in the cedar presses,
They are part of herself, her pretty dresses ­
What can I do, Wayne said.

What can you do with a woman's shoes,
After a woman is dead?
Shoes that perhaps you helped her choose,
Poor little empty half-worn shoes­
What can I do, Wayne said.

What can you do with her brush and comb,
After a woman is dead?
What in God's name can you do with her home
And her loss and her love and her brush and comb ­
What can I do, Wayne said.

VII

UP a little river
Where salmon used to play,
Not twenty miles distant
A little village lay -­
Ruth's native village,
Where Wayne used to go
To see his mother's mother
Many years ago.
Here in a churchyard
With pines along the wall
And a wooden church steeple
Almost too tall,
Here in September,
On a bright clear day
Among the graves of sailors,
They laid Ruth away.

In this same churchyard,
Sitting on the stones,
He had first said he loved her
In young shaken tones.
That had been September,
But not this bright light.
Between the pine-needles
The stars shone white,­
Such a little maiden,
Such a young man­
'I love you.' - And she answered:
'I don't see how you can.'
They had been so happy
They had not cared at all
That the place was a churchyard
With pines along the wall.

VIII

WAYNE stood bareheaded on the churchyard sward
By the open grave under the open sky:
'I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord,
He who believeth in Me shall never die.'

Beautiful, terrible service! He heard a word
Here and there, and then he would drift away
To other memories and things not heard­
Ruth's laugh when she used to laugh, so little and gay.

'When thou with rebukes dost chasten a man from sin..'
Was it sin that had parted him from Ruth?
Was sin the secret corrosion that entered in
Likea moth fretting the garment of love in youth?

Too late, too late! He heard the parson say:
'Before I go hence and be no more seen. . .
A thousand years in thy sight is but as yesterday. . .
Too late, too late! 'As grass in the morning green...'

'Was it Ruth he was leaving here in the churchyard plot­
Could it be Ruth who had gone, not saying good-bye?
'What advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?
Let us eat and drink for to-morrow we die.'

How can a man help eating and drinking?
Die to-morrow! To-day, if he had his will.
How many years must he spend in thinking, thinking
Of the thing which someone has said that all men kill?

Well, he could bear what he must bear - even the sound
Of earth on a coffin falling. What must be must.
'We therefore commit her body to the ground,
Ashes to ashes, earth to earth, dust to dust.'

Prayers! Would they never be done, these killing
Rites for the dead! Ah, there was the organ's roll
From the little church, and children's.voices shrilling,
Piping Ruth's favourite hymn, 'Hark, hark, my soul...'

'Hark, hark, my soul! Angelic songs are swelling
O'er earth's green fields and ocean's wave-beat shore;
How sweet the truth those blessed strains are telling
Of that new life where sin shall be no morel

Angels of Jesus,
Angels of light,
Singing to welcome
The pilgrims of the night.'

IX

'Dear Lee:­
I've tried so many times to write,
And now I must write, for I sail next week
For Italy - Sardinia - I might
Go on to Egypt later, and the Greek Islands.
I may be several years away.

'I loved you, Lee. I wonder if I can
Explain at all what's happened? From your wealth
You gave me freely - more than any man
Has ever had - beauty, wit, youth and health­
I loved you passionately; and now my wife
Is dead. One might expect a mild distress,
A briefly pensive mood. . . Instead, my life
Is shattered. . . is dissolved. . . is meaningless. . .
She whom of late I thought so little of
And saw so little, was, I find, the spring
Of all I did and felt - even of my love
Of you. . . What an insane, incredible thingl
But there it is.

'Dear Lee, this is the truth:
That any marriage founded on devotion
Though that devotion die, as mine for Ruth,
Is not a state, but a unique emotion,
Potent, unalterable - not romantic
Love, though romantic love is where it starts
Marriage begins only when those hot, frantic
Fires have finished welding human hearts.
It is not love, friendship, or partnership,
But this emotion-marriage, of a force
That when it once has held you in its grip
Nothing will free you wholly - not divorce,
Or death, for these destroy not it, but you,
As I am now destroyed.

'Beware, dear Lee,
Of a true marriage, if you are not true
Yourself - or you will be destroyed - like me.'

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