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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Blue Closet
By William Morris (1834–1896)
 
THE DAMOZELS
LADY ALICE, Lady Louise,
Between the wash of the tumbling seas
We are ready to sing, if so ye please;
So lay your long hands on the keys:
                Sing, “Laudate pueri.”        5
 
  And ever the great bell overhead
  Boomed in the wind a knell for the dead,
  Though no one tolled it, a knell for the dead.
 
LADY LOUISE
Sister, let the measure swell
Not too loud; for you sing not well        10
If you drown the faint boom of the bell:
                He is weary, so am I.
 
  And ever the chevron overhead
  Flapped on the banner of the dead.
  (Was he asleep, or was he dead?)        15
 
LADY ALICE
Alice the Queen, and Louise the Queen,
Two damozels wearing purple and green,
Four lone ladies dwelling here
From day to day and year to year;
And there is none to let us go,—        20
To break the locks of the doors below,
Or shovel away the heaped-up snow;
And when we die, no man will know
That we are dead: but they give us leave,
Once every year on Christmas Eve,        25
To sing in the Closet Blue one song;
And we should be so long, so long,
If we dared, in singing: for dream on dream,
They float on in a happy stream;
Float from the gold strings, float from the keys,        30
Float from the opened lips of Louise:
But alas! the sea-salt oozes through
The chinks of the tiles of the Closet Blue;
 
  And ever the great bell overhead
  Booms in the wind a knell for the dead,        35
  The wind plays on it a knell for the dead.
 
[They sing all together.]
How long ago was it, how long ago,
He came to this tower with hands full of snow?
“Kneel down, O love Louise, kneel down,” he said,
And sprinkled the dusty snow over my head.        40
 
He watched the snow melting,—it ran through my hair,
Ran over my shoulders, white shoulders and bare.
 
“I cannot weep for thee, poor love Louise,
For my tears are all hidden deep under the seas:
 
“In a gold and blue casket she keeps all my tears,        45
But my eyes are no longer blue as in old years;
 
“Yea, they grow gray with time, grow small and dry:
I am so feeble now, would I might die.”
 
  And in truth the great bell overhead
  Left off his pealing for the dead,        50
  Perchance because the wind was dead.
 
Will he come back again, or is he dead?
Oh, is he sleeping, my scarf round his head?
 
Or did they strangle him as he lay there,
With the long scarlet scarf I used to wear?        55
 
Only I pray thee, Lord, let him come here!
Both his soul and his body to me are most dear.
 
Dear Lord, that loves me, I wait to receive
Either body or spirit this wild Christmas Eve.
 
  Through the floor shot up a lily red,        60
  With a patch of earth from the land of the dead,
  For he was strong in the land of the dead.
 
What matter that his cheeks were pale,
      His kind kissed lips all gray?
“O love Louise, have you waited long?”        65
      “O my lord Arthur, yea.”
 
What if his hair that brushed her cheek
      Was stiff with frozen rime?
His eyes were grown quite blue again,
      As in the happy time.        70
 
    “O love Louise, this is the key
      Of the happy golden land!”
    “O sisters, cross the bridge with me,—
      My eyes are full of sand.
    What matter that I cannot see,        75
      If he take me by the hand?”
 
  And ever the great bell overhead
  And the tumbling seas mourned for the dead;
  For their song ceased, and they were dead.
 
 
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