Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
Poems, Lyrics, and Sonnets (1882)
II. The Valley of Remorse
By Louisa S. Guggenberger (1845–1895)
THERE goes a wandering soul in desert places;
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
About its way, lie dumb, with livid faces,
Slain virtues and slain hopes in locked embraces;
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)        5
And drear black crags tower from unholy ground
Sheer upward in thick air,
Where breathes no prayer;
No wind is there,
No sound;        10
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
And there is no way out, and round and round,
With haggard eye and dragged and staggering paces,
Through years that soul a ghastly circuit traces.
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)        15
The sun, all shorn of rays, with lurid fire
Blasts where it strikes: Doom’s own red eye of ire:
And all night long is seen unhallowed shimmer,—
Half life, half mire,—
Of things made manifest that should be hid;        20
Yet Will is numb that should their play forbid;
And so they crowd and crawl in gloom and glimmer,
Loathed and unchid;
And lo! that soul among them, moving dimmer.
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)        25
At the soul’s back behold a burden yonder,
A monstrous thing of slime;
Two paces forth,—no more,—that Doomed may wander
For all its time;—
Two wretched paces from the accursed weight        30
Bound on by linkèd fate
In glittering cynic chain two steps behind it;
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
Such steely bond between
Forbids it breath, save only to remind it        35
The Past has been,
The Past of sin.
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
Ay! just where life is holiest—at the source
Of the soft, ruffled wings,—is chained the curse.        40
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
Those pinions, once all light and wide of feather
That soared right loftily, see, clamped together;
And quivering life is gallèd at the spot,
Sore hurt and hot:        45
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
Yet, chafes that soul rebellious at the tether?
Or, in vain swiftness seeks to flee the load?
Then heavier fall the blood-drops on the road:—
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)        50
The loathèd burden of unburied death
Flies fast as flies that Doomed, or drags as slow;
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
Two paces forward ever may it go;
No more; the burden grimly followeth.        55
There is no freedom here,
Nor any cheer!
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
Not lightened yet to skeleton, nor dried,
The load yields horror, horror yet beside;        60
Fell fumes, halt poison and half sustenance,
That hinder life, and hinder deathly trance.
Is there a chance?
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
*        *        *        *        *
Three virgin forms came passing by but lately,        65
Treading the desert boldly and sedately,
Calling it ‘beauteous earth,’
Who met this Doomed, and gazed upon it straightly;
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
These saw no burden, so they praised the chain;        70
Its treacherous glitter seemed some bauble worn
About the wingèd shoulders to adorn.
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
They noted on the path no shocking stain,
So, as the soul made moan,        75
Knowing no whit of conflict nor of pain,
Deemed it most vain,
And answered in gay tone—
                    “Now Heaven deliver thee,
Spirit alone!—        80
Why grievest thou when every bird is singing,
And glad white cloudlets high in ether winging
Brighten e’en sunshine? Hear the steeples ringing
With marriage mirth!
Behold life blest with love and holiday        85
While thou art stricken, bent, and wan to see;
                    Good Lord, deliver thee!”
All mutely points that soul beyond the chain
Two paces backward; points in vain, in vain;—
Who sees not, cannot aid.        90
Oh, kind, unkindly virgin sympathy!
Oh, blind, hell-deepening, heavenly mockery!
What though each maid
Had pitied had she seen; not one could see,
Not one of three.        95
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
They passed, and music with them. Then there came
Three little children, joying e’en the same,
Yet sweetlier still. They called the desert “May.”
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)        100
“Come play with us at play;
Blue skies and meadows green are friends to-day;
Spread thy good wings, that we may mount thereon
And seek of all the clouds the whitest one
To tiptoe on its top toward the sun;        105
And prove whose sight is strongest!
And who can gaze the longest!
Our little eyes are clear,—
Young, but so clear!
In each of thine there trembles half a tear!        110
Ah! fun!—
We see where thou canst see not; in the eye
Of the great golden sun that crowns the sky!”
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
A mother and a father wandered by:        115
Hand locked in hand.—“This way the children went,”
Quoth he, “on some enchanting mischief bent;
Behold, their little footprints thickly lie.”
“Bless them!” quoth she: then closer to his side
Drew shudderingly: “An influence is here,        120
Here in the air; the sunlight seemeth drear;
Oh, lead me hence!” and he:
“’Tis so; I see a form unmeet to see
Advancing painfully.
Oh, fear!        125
Lest the sweet babies lingered near the spot,
For something foul doth surely somewhere rot;
It boots not to know what.
Hence! spirit dear.”
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
*        *        *        *        *
Maiden and babe and mother have passed by
Scatheless, yet left the doom-glare red and high
Above the blackened valley of all dole,
Nor freed the laden soul.
Crawl, ye foul formless ills! about your prey;        135
Sink, O thrice lost! forsaken on the way;
Perish from day!
Since thrice hath passed in vain the innocent,
And hope is long, long spent,
And will is rent.        140
    (Good Lord! Great God! deliver! deliver!)
Lo! Love comes wandering on the desert way.
Oh, watch! oh, pray!
Love with the rose-wreath red?
Ay, love rose-bound!        145
Ay, love thorn-crowned!
Crowned—bound—with cruel rose-thorns round his head!
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
Love! love is here! that knoweth of all pain,
And of the linkèd chain,        150
And of the stain,
And of the whirling madness, dumb and dread;
Love! love is here that knoweth nought in vain!
Dead hope, dead will, oh! cry
Aloud! Love passeth by;        155
Love, that can love dead life to live again!
                        (Good Lord, deliver!)
New radiance hallows all the sickened air;
For love is here.
And right and left spring lilies at his nod,        160
Blessing the blighted sod,
For love is here.
And round the gaunt crags echo of deep prayer
Is sighing everywhere,—
Is sighing everywhere!        165
For love is here.
                        (Deliver! Lord, deliver!)
Kneels that worn soul, for all the place is holy;
Breaks that sore heart, in utterance lost and lowly;
“For Love’s dear sake, great Powers, deliver me!        170
O Love, deliver me!”
*        *        *        *        *
A little bird sweet twitters in a tree;
A little breeze comes coolly from the sea;
And broad the dawn-light widens o’er the lea.

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