Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
II. The Confession
By Constance C. W. Naden (1858–1889)
OH, listen, for my soul can bear no more;
  I crave not pardon; that I cannot win:
Yet hear me, Father, for I must outpour
            My tale of deadly sin.
This night I passed through dim and loathsome lairs,        5
  Where dwell foul wretches, that I feared to see:
Yet would to God my lot were such as theirs!
            They have not sinned like me.
And then I saw that lovely girl who stood
  Here, where I stand, some venial fault to show:        10
I was as fair, as innocently good,
            One long, long year ago.
High thoughts were mine, and yearnings to endure
  Some noble grief, and conquer heaven by pain:
Alas, I was a child; my prayers were pure,        15
            Yet were they all in vain.
Love came and stirred my breast; nor fierce or vile,
  But springing stainless, like some mountain stream;
And I was happy for a little while,
            And lived as in a dream.        20
Thou art a priest, and dwellest far apart;
  In vain I speak of joys thou hast not known:
Even to him I scarce could show my heart,
            Although it was his own.
Nay, look not in my face! One night he came,        25
  And I sprang forward, giddy with delight:
Father! His blood-stained hands! His eyes aflame!
            His features deadly white!
Ah, wherefore ask me more? Some hated foe—
  But ’tis a common tale—thou knowest all:        30
A word, a gesture; then a sudden blow;
            And then—a dead man’s fall.
Dumbly I heard, and could not weep or sigh;
  Gone was all power of motion, e’en of breath;
But from my heart rose up one silent cry,        35
            My first wild prayer for death.
“Farewell,” he said, “farewell! Yet bury deep
  My bloody secret, that it shall not rise;
Or it will track and slay me, though I sleep
            Nameless, ’neath foreign skies.”        40
Such boon he craved of me, his promised wife:
  Earth’s hope, heaven’s joy, for him I lost the whole:
Some give but love, and some have given life,
            But I gave up my soul.
“Embrace me not,” I said. But ere he went        45
  One long impassioned kiss he gave me yet:
Still, still we loved—oh, Father, I repent—
            Would God I could forget!
Ah, not to fiery love would Christ deny
  The gift of mercy that I cannot seek:        50
Father, a guiltless man was doomed to die,
            And yet I did not speak.
Mine was the sin; for me it was he died,
  Slain for the murder that my Love had wrought:
How blest was he, when Death’s gate opened wide,        55
            And heaven appeared unsought!
But I, who dared not seek the Virgin’s shrine,
  Whose very faith was madness and despair,
Lived lonely, exiled far from Love Divine,
            From peace, from hope, from prayer.        60
None dreamt that I consumed with secret fire,
  Nor knew the sin that withered up my youth:
I wasted with a passionate desire
            Only to tell the truth.
But now they say that he I love is dead;        65
  Calmly I listen; see, my cheeks are dry;
My heart is palsied, all my tears are shed;
            And yet I would not die.
Let me do penances to save his soul,
  And pray thy God to lay the guilt on me;        70
Strong is my spirit; I can bear the whole,
            If that will set him free.
For could my expiating woe and shame
  Raise him to Paradise, with Christ to dwell,
Then were there joy in purgatorial flame—        75
            Nay, there were Heaven in Hell.
And then, perchance, when countless years are past,
  Ages of torment in some fiery sea,
The grace of God may reach to me at last;
            Yes, even unto me.        80

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