Verse > Thomas Hardy > Wessex Poems and Other Verses
Thomas Hardy (1840–1928).  Wessex Poems and Other Verses.  1898.
30. My Cicely
“ALIVE?”—And I leapt in my wonder,
  Was faint of my joyance,
And grasses and grove shone in garments
  Of glory to me.
“She lives, in a plenteous well-being,        5
  To-day as aforehand;
The dead bore the name—though a rare one—
  The name that bore she.”
She lived … I, afar in the city
  Of frenzy-led factions,        10
Had squandered green years and maturer
  In bowing the knee
To Baals illusive and specious,
  Till chance had there voiced me
That one I loved vainly in nonage        15
  Had ceased her to be.
The passion the planets had scowled on,
  And change had let dwindle,
Her death-rumor smartly relifted
  To full apogee.        20
I mounted a steed in the dawning
  With acheful remembrance,
And made for the ancient West Highway
  To far Exonb’ry.
Passing heaths, and the House of Long Sieging,        25
  I neared the thin steeple
That tops the fair fane of Poore’s olden
  Episcopal see;
And, changing anew my onbearer,
  I traversed the downland        30
Whereon the bleak hill-graves of Chieftains
  Bulge barren of tree;
And still sadly onward I followed
  That Highway the Icen,
Which trails its pale ribbon down Wessex        35
  O’er lynchet and lea.
Along through the Stour-bordered Forum,
  Where Legions had wayfared,
And where the slow river upglasses
  Its green canopy,        40
And by Weatherbury Castle, and therence
  Through Casterbridge, bore I,
To tomb her whose light, in my deeming,
  Extinguished had He.
No highwayman’s trot blew the night-wind        45
  To me so life-weary,
But only the creak of the gibbets
  Or wagoners’ jee.
Triple-ramparted Maidon gloomed grayly
  Above me from southward,        50
And north the hill-fortress of Eggar,
  And square Pummerie.
The Nine-Pillared Cromlech, the Bride-streams,
  The Axe, and the Otter
I passed, to the gate of the city        55
  Where Exe scents the sea;
Till, spent, in the graveacre pausing,
  I learnt ’twas not my Love
To whom Mother Church had just murmured
  A last lullaby.        60
—“Then, where dwells the Canon’s kinswoman,
  My friend of aforetime?”—
(‘Twas hard to repress my heart-heavings
  And new ecstasy.)
“She wedded.”—“Ah!”—“Wedded beneath her—        65
  She keeps the stage-hostel
Ten miles hence, beside the great Highway—
  The famed Lions-Three.
“Her spouse was her lackey—no option
  ’Twixt wedlock and worse things;        70
A lapse over-sad for a lady
  Of her pedigree!”
I shuddered, said nothing, and wandered
  To shades of green laurel:
Too ghastly had grown those first tidings        75
  So brightsome of blee!
For, on my ride hither, I’d halted
  Awhile at the Lions,
And her—her whose name had once opened
  My heart as a key—        80
I’d looked on, unknowing, and witnessed
  Her jests with the tapsters,
Her liquor-fired face, her thick accents
  In naming her fee.
“O God, why this hocus satiric!”        85
  I cried in my anguish:
“O once Loved, of fair Unforgotten—
  That Thing—meant it thee!
“Inurned and at peace, lost but sainted,
  Where grief I could compass;        90
Depraved—’tis for Christ’s poor dependent
  A cruel decree!”
I backed on the Highway; but passed not
  The hostel. Within there
Too mocking to Love’s re-expression        95
  Was Time’s repartee!
Uptracking where Legions had wayfared,
  By cromlechs unstoried,
And lynchets, and sepultured Chieftains,
  In self-colloquy,        100
A feeling stirred in me and strengthened
  That she was not my Love,
But she of the garth, who lay rapt in
  Her long reverie.
And thence till to-day I persuade me        105
  That this was the true one;
That Death stole intact her young dearness
  And innocency.
Frail-witted, illuded they call me;
  I may be. ’Tis better        110
To dream than to own the debasement
  Of sweet Cicely.
Moreover I rate it unseemly
  To hold that kind Heaven
Could work such device—to her ruin        115
  And my misery.
So, lest I disturb my choice vision,
  I shun the West Highway,
Even now, when the knaps ring with rhythms
  From blackbird and bee;        120
And feel that with slumber half-conscious
  She rests in the church-hay,
Her spirit unsoiled as in youth-time
  When lovers were we.


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