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And what is life?—a pleasure and a pain,
A vision of the sun—a day of rain.
And what is love?—a dream, a chain of gold
That turns to iron bands when love is cold.
What matters they?—the visions of our youth,
Through years of sorrow we must pass to truth.
A woman's life is full of longing days,
Her heart is not content to live on praise;
She must have more; a woman measures life
By length of love, a man by deeds and strife.
Arline! once more we greet thy sunny face.
Once more behold thy noble, earnest grace;
But ah, how changed! the hopes of youth are dead;
Life's dark unrest has bowed thy proud young head,
And fame the mocking vision of thy youth,
Has led thee from the paths of peace and truth.
With longing eyes Arline is standing now,
Her arms are folded with a weary air;
The same deep pride is written on her brow,
As once was there of old; her gold-brown hair
Is gathered back in careless waves of light
That hide a scar—the memory of one night.
Her eyes look down, her dark robes sweep the floor—
She starts, for some one passes through the door;
She glances up—recoils with haughty pride,
Which all her self-possession cannot hide;
Then with a look of pity on her face
She meets Lorraine with kind, forgiving grace.
"Arline, I would that I had died indeed
Before I gave thee pain, my heart has need
Of thy forgiveness, else I cannot live,
I crave the boon that only thou canst give."
"Lorraine, the highest graces of a woman's heart
Are purity and truth, no cunning art
Can e'er replace these gifts; 'gainst sin and wrong
They are her surest safe-guards, and her guide
In life. With these she conquers man's dark pride
And wins the tributes that to Heaven belong.
To womanhood belongs forgiveness too,
And therefore is my pardon given you."
With humbled pride he bowed his proud young head,
Then looking in her face he gently said:
"'Tis nobly given; if women were all like thee,
Arline, how many truer men would be
Within this world; for man will ever go
Where woman leads. And on this earth below
The grandest masterpiece of Nature's art
Must ever be a woman's sinless heart.
For thee, Arline, the passion of my life is dead;
The feverish dream is o'er, and in its stead,
There comes a reverence for all thy kind,
And thou, the noblest ideal of my mind.
And now I could not offer thee my love,
For like some pure and upward-soaring dove,
I see thee fly beyond my own weak soul,
To reach a nobler and far higher goal.
Yet, fair Arline, oh, with thy lovely grace,
Uplift my soul unto the realm of thine;
And with thy tender eyes and pitying face,
Oh lead to worthier deeds this heart of mine!"
"Lorraine, each one must know the price of sin,
Each erring heart must know what lies within;
If we would live aright we must be true
Unto ourselves; I cannot govern you;
For ah! we may not read another's mind,
God puts there thoughts that we may never find.
"We should not judge, for hearts indeed are weak,
And vain and selfish, are the ends we seek;
But each temptation, if we do not fall,
Will tend to make us stronger, all in all.
Think not thy way is right nor full of power,
For every heart must have its wayward hour;
And though men grieve thee with their outward sin,
Remember nobler thoughts may dwell within.
"And now I thank you for your refeverent love,
And yet I feel you place me far above
My own right sphere. I am a woman weak,
As all proud women are, and soon, too soon,
I feel the world another queen will seek
To wear its crown of fame, and then my noon
Of life will pass as others pass away,
Unto the shadows of the dying day,
And like the foam upon the waves' bright crest,
My life will glide unheeded to its rest;
Like other hearts forgotten and unknown,
My own will wear itself away alone.
And yet"—and here the dark eyes flashed again—
"The world shall never know its hidden pain,
For late, too late, I feel the world is cold,
It wounds the brow that wears its crown of gold.
Ah! many in the gay and passing crowd
Have thought me cold and even deemed me proud,
When, had they known the truth of that cold pride,
They'd known 'twas but my better thoughts to hide,
When 'mid the bitterness of worldly strife,
I felt for what I'd given my longing life—
To wear upon my head a senseless crown,
On which in scorn my own true self looked down.
Oh, Fame! I chose thee with a girl's weak hand,
And now on life's dark shores alone I stand;
Too late I see the sad mistake I made
When at a worldly shrine my life I laid.
I thought to purify the world by song,
But ah! the world's too full of heedless wrong
For one weak hand to lead it back to truth;
It mocked to scorn my innocence and youth;
To nobler work had I my life but lent,
My restless heart e'en now might be content,
Oh, woman's life was never made for fame,
Her soul is burnt to ashes in its flame."
"You wrong yourself!" he cries at last, "untrue
Your words, for worldly hearts look up to you
And bless your song,—I know, for I am one
Of these, and know the good that you have done.
'Tis true, Arline, an earnest womanhood
Can always do unto the world some good.
One heart in truth has felt your better power,
And that is mine, in this last happy hour;
and have you nobler made even one weak heart,
You've done within this world a worthy part.
And many hearts, Arline, have heard your song
And turned away ashamed from sin and wrong.
No man, however dark his heart, could gaze
Upon a face like yours, where all is pure,
And not regret, oh! bitterly, his days
Of sin. If every woman would allure
By graces true as thine, there would be less
Of sorrow and of pain, and man would bless
The day that God gave woman to him."
                                      Her eyes
Are turned to him with eager, glad surprise;
"I thank you for these words," she says, "for true
I feel they are, and in my heart anew
I welcome hope. And we are friends again,
The past indeed is dead."
                           A look of pain
Came in his eyes, yet with a new-born pride
He turned away, that look from her to hide.
"To-night I go, Arline, we meet no more,
Yet in my heart thy image will be there,
To soothe each wayward hour, to lighten care;
Thy simple teachings have unlocked the door
Of life's best thoughts to me, and if I grow
to better manhood, you have made me so."
Upon her bending head and gentle face
A sunbeam fell and lit with mystic grace
Her dark, uplifted eyes, then quickly fled
To mingle with the sunset's dying red.
A sunny face—a noble womanhood,
A heart's wild passion dead, a new-born pride;
One moment looking on her face he stood,
Then turned and went forever from her side.
The twilight comes, the first-born child of night,
A warning monitor of time's quick flight;
A dear, enchanted hour, when all are near
We love on earth, and yet an hour of fear
When shadows of the past around us fall
And joy and hope have fled beyond recall.
Within the twilight of the present day,
And shadows of the years now past away,
Arline is standing with a sad, sad air,
Her heart cries out with longing pride and pain,
"Oh, God! what mystery is this of care
And endless doubts; will faith ne'er come again?"
Oh, striving heart, no mind the problem yet
Has solved of life—'tis happier to forget;
When once the mind is roused to questioning thought
With endless misery it may be wrought;
The happiest minds are those that question not—
To live in faith is mankind's fairest lot.
And darker grow the shadows of the night,
She looks upon the sea, the distant height;
Upon the waves the ships go gliding by,
The lonesome clouds throughout the sky
Are wandering with brooding wings, and grim
And shadowy the far-off mountains seem;
Oh! Fame, where is thy joy? oh! love's bright dream,
Where is thy spell? life, like the night, is dim
And sorrowful.
                Low droops her young head fair,
Her whispered words steal on the silent air:
"Oh, what is life, my soul, when love has fled?—
And every one that I have loved is dead,
Save one, and he—oh, must I say it now,—
He loves me not, I dare not claim his vow.
Adrian, too late I prize thee—what is fame
When 'tis not shared with thee! No other name
Can touch me like thine own; but now, indeed,
Where is the love that answers to my need?
I had a dream amid the storm that night,
A vision strange—'mid flashes of the light
Methought I saw your face, your well-known form;
You held me close and safe from rain and storm,
Within the shelter of your arms I lay
And breathed no, lest the dream should pass away;
Oh, Adrian, it seemed as though a tear
Fell from your eyes upon my face, and dear
That mark of pitying love was unto me.
My hair seemed wet with blood—with dreadful pain
My temples throbbed, yet there with love and thee
I felt it not, nor heeded I the rain.
Too soon, howe'er, the vision passed away,
And I was left alone.
                       "Oh! waves at play,
Mock not my hollow heart with songs of eve,
For olden days I evermore must grieve,
My own sad song forever must be still,
Of empty fame my life has had its fill.
Oh! heart be still, keep back your hungry cry,
Our griefs we all can conquer if we try;
Oh! soul shrink back into thy smallest space,
For thee the heedless world will give no place.
Oh! what is life when only shadows fall!
Oh! what is love, when love is past recall!
My laurel wreath unto the winds I fling,
For worldly praise I never more will sing.
Oh! tears, what do you here—keep back, I say,
Each human life must know a sunless day."
Unto her breast her hands are tightly pressed,
She bravely struggles with the old unrest;
Yet lower droops her form, the lashes sweep
Across her cheeks. Dark memories seem to creep
Upon her heavy heart and weigh it down.
As shadows fall at night o'er vale and town;
And still and white as some pale form of death
She stands, with folded hands and faint drawn breath.
But suddenly through the silence of the room
The one word "Hilda" pierces through the gloom;
A whispered word, yet see! it makes her start,
And sends the life-blood throbbing to her heart.
she turns—her face is stained with crimson o'er,
It dies and leaves her paler than before.
Oh, life is dark, and hearts are weak and wild!
With one faint cry she sees his longing eyes,
His outstretched arms, and as a tired child,
Unto that last, safe refuge quickly flies.
Then presently her head droops low again,
She draws away—there comes a bitter pain.
"Oh, Adrian, my life has all been wrong;
I am not worthy now your love to claim,
My erring heart is selfish, and to blame,
To sorrow and to grief it should belong.
I left thee with a willful, proud design,
And cared not that a hopeless life was thine.
To give unto thy care, what have I now?
A worn and wasted life—a broken vow."
"No, no! look up, Arline, bend not your head;
You wrong yourself—your life is good and true,
And pure the motive that your actions fed;
Life's highest meed of praise belongs to you;
Few hearts possess your true and earnest thought,
Else would the world with nobler deeds be fraught.
No man could look into your earnest eyes,
And claim that truth in woman never lies,
Nor could he gaze upon that lovely face,
And scorn again a woman's pleading grace.
I wonder not the world has worshipped thee,
For well thy beauty's spell is known to me.
A strain of music can awake the soul,
A kindly grace may touch the hardest heart.
Then weep no more, Arline—you've reached the goal—
The world is better for your sweet-voiced art.
And, Hilda, had thy power not been good,
My love these years could never have withstood."
Her face is turned to his with eager gaze
She drinks in all his words with ecstasy.
"Oh, Adrian, far dearer than the praise
Of all the world those words come now to me;
Yet tell me, Adrian, is woman's life
Naught but a shadowy dream—a pain—a strife?"
A grave, sweet smile stole o'er his face, his eyes
Met hers with earnest look, yet half surprise:
"God knows the longings of each human heart,
And each assigns some noble, worthy part,
And they who seek will find; the battle's won
When thought is true, and duty is well done.
From world to world the deeds of man may fly,
Yet in each heart a woman's grace may lie.
Few men may comprehend her longing need—
She lives in thought, he lives in strife and deed.
His boasted deeds may live but for a day
Her purity and truth will live for aye.
The man who claims a woman's hand and heart,
Knows not what boon he craves, what precious thing;
She gives her all—he only gives a part—
She gives her freedom up and crowns him king.
'Tis true she murmurs not,—when love is there
No duty is too great, she feels no care;
'Tis only when that love is cold and dead
She feels the galling chains—the hand of lead.
And therefore do I say to you, Arline,
Of love, and not of fame, she should be queen.
'Tis love that wakes a man to woman's grace;
He first finds heaven when looking in her face,
He sees the trusting soul, the wealth untold
Of noble thoughts that God has written there.
Love binds his heart to hers with chains of gold,
And makes him comprehend the beauty rare
Of womanhood; 'tis this unlocks the door
And shows him truths he ne'er has known before.
Grieve not, Arline; your song has done some good,
An emblem of the true your life has stood.
Your aims were high; your art was truly grand,
Hearts nobler grew, Arline, at your command.
Then do not weep,—Oh, save those precious tears!
The light of heaven shines on the past few years.
And see! the shadows all have fled—the night
Is clear, the stars shine out, the moon's pale light
Is falling on your face; look up and know
The fading of the shadows 'neath the glow
Of night, is but the emblem of the rays
Of happiness that now shall gild your days."
He takes her hand in his—and love's sweet thrill
Runs through her veins, vague dreams her sense fill.
Her face grows childlike in its faith again,
He heart yields up its wealth of doubt and pain,
Her soft, dark eyes reveal their depths of fire.
"For fame my heart has never more desire,
Were all our planets moons, night could not know
The glory of the day, nor evening show
The splendor of the sun—his light is best.
So, were each heart to worship at my shrine,
All filled with love, it could not equal thine,
For thine is more to me than all the rest.
Then, like the purple pansies, bending low,
That yield unto the sun their royal glow,
Unto the sun-god of my life and years
I'll yield my love, and know no idle fears.
The meteor has flashed across the skies,
Yet in its place a star of beauty lies;
Adrift into the azure seas above
That star shall sail on wings of hope and love,
While fame, the meteor that mocks the sight,
Shall die upon the earth—a faded light.
And now, for thee alone, my heart shall sing,
Far from my sight my crown of fame I'll fling,
And in its stead, the diadem I'll wear
Of love and womanhood—earth's crown most fair."
Out on the terrace, where the moonlight falls
In silver radiance o'er the time-stained walls,
A man and woman stand—he, strong and fair,
She, lovelier than the flowers that scent the air.
Her eyes are velvety and soft and brown,
Her hair—a shimmering splendor falls low down,
Her dark robes sweep the marble floor; one hand
Is clasped in his; in silence now they stand,
No need of words when silence speaketh more
Than all the wealth of speech, or written lore.
Her eyes are turned to his; no more they grieve;
Oh, who can tell the spell that love doth weave?
The music of the stars, a faint, sweet strain,
Floats down—an echo of their heart's refrain.
Two lives that glow as bright as heaven's own—
Two stars, that in the night have closer grown,
God sets the music in each soul; no hand
But that of LOVE the music can command.
The song of life is done—the tale is told,
God grant the chain may count some links of gold.
A woman's life—a man's true love—a song—
What dreams of life may not to these belong!
The weaving of a story, old yet new,
Life's strange, sad mingling of the false and true.
A woman's heart is like a harp of gold,
It yields no music to the touch most bold,
But to the hand that o'er the chords may sweep
And gently wake the music from its sleep.
An idle dream a woman's life may be,
Yet do not dreams belong to thee and me?
To every life some visions must belong;
Are we to blame that they are sometimes wrong?
True women make true men,—'tis always so;
Yet careless touch may soil the purest snow,
The shadows of the night may hide the sky,
Yet still beyond them all the stars still lie.

Poem by Fannie Isabelle Sherrick
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