Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Extracts from The Wanderer: The Portrait
By E. Robert Bulwer, Lord Lytton (Owen Meredith) (1831–1891)
MIDNIGHT past! Not a sound of aught
  Thro’ the silent house, but the wind at his prayers.
I sat by the dying fire, and thought
  Of the dear dead woman upstairs.
A night of tears! for the gusty rain
  Had ceased, but the eaves dripping yet;
And the moon look’d forth, as tho’ in pain,
  With her face all white and wet:
Nobody with me, my watch to keep,
  But the friend of my bosom, the man I love:        10
And grief had sent him fast to sleep
  In the chamber up above.
Nobody else, in the country place
  All round, that knew of my loss beside,
But the good young Priest with the Raphael-face        15
  Who confess’d her when she died.
That good young Priest is of gentle nerve,
  And my grief had moved him beyond control;
For his lip grew white, as I could observe,
  When he speeded her parting soul.        20
I sat by the dreary hearth alone:
  I thought of the pleasant days of yore:
I said “the staff of my life is gone:
  The woman I love is no more.
“Gem-clasped on her bosom my portrait lies,
  Which next to her heart she used to wear—
It is steeped in the light of her loving eyes,
  And the sweets of her bosom and hair.”
And I said—“the thing is precious to me:
  They will bury her soon in the churchyard clay:        30
It lies on her heart, and lost must be,
  If I do not take it away.”
I lighted my lamp at the dying flame,
  And crept up the stairs that creak’d for fright,
Till into the chamber of death I came,        35
  Where she lay all in white.
The moon shone over her winding sheet.
  There, stark she lay on her carven bed:
Seven burning tapers about her feet,
  And seven about her head.        40
As I stretch’d my hand, I held my breath;
  I turn’d, as I drew the curtains apart:
I dared not look on the face of death:
  I knew where to find her heart.
I thought, at first, as my touch fell there,
  It had warm’d that heart to life, with love;
For the thing I touch’d was warm, I swear,
  And I could feel it move.
’Twas the hand of a man, that was moving slow
  O’er the heart of the dead,—from the other side;        50
And at once the sweat broke over my brow,
  “Who is robbing the corpse?” I cried.
Opposite me, by the tapers’ light,
  The friend of my bosom, the man I loved,
Stood over the corpse, and all as white,        55
  And neither of us moved.
“What do you here, my friend?”… The man
  Look’d first at me, and then at the dead.
“There is a portrait here …” he began;
  “There is. It is mine,” I said.        60
Said the friend of my bosom, “Yours, no doubt,
  The portrait was, till a month ago,
When this suffering angel took that out,
  And placed mine there, I know.”
“This woman, she loved me well,” said I.
  “A month ago,” said my friend to me:
“And in your throat,” I groan’d, “you lie!”
  He answer’d … “Let us see.”
“Enough!” I return’d, “let the dead decide:
  And whose-soever the portrait prove,        70
His shall it be, when the cause is tried,
  Where Death is arraign’d by Love.”
We found the portrait, there in its place:
  We open’d it by the tapers’ shine:
The gems were all unchanged: the face        75
  Was—neither his nor mine.
“One nail drives out another, at least!
  The portrait is not ours,” I cried,
“But our friend’s, the Raphael-faced young Priest,
  Who confess’d her when she died.”        80

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