Lewis Carroll

Stolen Waters

The light was faint, and soft the air
   That breathed around the place;
And she was lithe and tall and fair,
   And with a wayward grace 
   Her queenly head she bare -

With glowing cheek, with gleaming eye,
   She met me on the way;
My spirit owned the witchery
   Within her smile that lay;
I followed her, I know not why.

The trees were thick with many a fruit,
   The grass with many a flower;
My soul was dead, my tongue was mute
   In that accursed hour.

And in my dream, with silvery voice
   She said or seemed to say
'Youth is the season to rejoice'-
   I could not choose but stay:
   I could not say her nay.

She plucked a branch above her head
   With rarest fruitage laden.
'Drink of the juice sir Knight', she said,
   'Tis good for knight and maiden.'

Oh blind my eyes that would not trace:
   Oh deaf my ear that would not heed -
The mocking smile upon her face,
   The mocking voice of greed!

I drank the juice and straightway felt
   A fire within my brain:
My soul within me seemed to melt
   In sweet delirious pain.

'Sweet is the stolen draught' she said:
   'Hath sweetness stint or measure?
Pleasant the secret hoard of bread:
   What bars us from our pleasure?'

'Yea, take we pleasure while we may,'
   I heard myself replying.
In the red sunset far away 
   My happier life was dying:
My heart was sad, my voice was gay.

And unawares, I know not how,
   I kissed her dainty finger tips,
I kissed her on the lily brow,
   I kissed her on the false, false lips-
That burning kiss, I feel it now!

'True love gives true love of the best:
   Then take', I cried, 'my heart to thee!'
The very heart from out my breast
   I plucked, I gave it willingly.
   Her very heart she gave to me -
Then died the glory from the west.

In the gray light I saw her face, 
   And it was withered old and gray:
The flowers were fading in their place
   Were fading with the fading day.

Forth from her, like a hunted deer,
   Through all that ghastly night I fled,
And still behind me seemed to hear
   Her fierce unflagging tread,
And scarce drew breath for fear.

Yet marked I well how strangely seemed
   The heart within my breast to sleep:
Silent it lay, or so I dreamed,
   With never a throb or leap

For hers was now my heart, she said,
   The heart that once had been my own,
And in my breast I bore instead 
   A cold cold heart of stone;
So grew the morning overhead.

The sun shone downward through the trees
   His old familiar flame.
All ancient sounds upon the breeze
   From copse and meadow came-
   But I was not the same

They call me mad: I smile, I weep
   Uncaring how or why
Yea, when one's heart is laid asleep,
   What better than to die?
So that the grave be dark and deep.

To die! To die? And yet,
   I drink of Life today
Deep as the thirsty traveller drinks 
   Of fountain by the way.
My voice is sad, my heart is gay.

When yestereve was on the wane
   I heard a clear voice singing
So sweetly that, like summer rain,
   My happy tears came springing:
My human heart returned again.

                         A rosy child,
Sitting and singing in a garden fair,
        The joy of hearing, seeing,
        The simple joy of being— 
  Or twining roses in the golden hair
        That ripples free and wild

                        A sweet pale child—
Wearily looking to the purple west— 
        Waiting the great For-ever
        That suddenly shall sever
The cruel chains that hold her from her rest— 
         By earth joys unbeguiled.

                      An angel-child— 
Gazing with living eyes on a dead face:
        The mortal form forsaken, 
        That none may now awaken, 
That lieth painless, moveless in her place,
         As though in death she smiled!

                         Be as a child— 
So shalt thou sing for very joy of breath— 
         So shalt thou wait thy dying
         In holy transport lying—
So pass rejoicing through the gate of Death,
         In garment undefiled.

Then call me what they will, I know
   That now my soul is glad:
If this be madness, better so:
   Far better to be mad,
Weeping or smiling as I go.

For if I weep, it is that now
   I see how deep a loss is mine,
And feel how brightly round my brow
   The coronal might shine,
Had I but kept my early vow:

And if I smile, it is that now
   I see the promise of the years -
The garland waiting for my brow,
   That must be won with tears -
With pain—with death—I care not how.

spoken = Jean Wilcox