the denial…

we have met late—it is too late to meet,
   o friend, not more than friend!
death’s forecome shroud is tangled round my feet,
and if i step or stir, i touch the end.
   in this last jeopardy
can i approach thee, i, who cannot move?
how shall i answer thy request for love?
   look in my face and see.

i love thee not, i dare not love thee! go
   in silence; drop my hand.
if thou seek roses, seek them where they blow
in garden-alleys, not in desert-sand.
   can life and death agree,
that thou shouldst stoop thy song to my complaint?
i cannot love thee. if the word is faint,
   look in my face and see.

i might have loved thee in some former days.
   oh, then, my spirits had leapt
as now they sink, at hearing thy love-praise!
before these faded cheeks were overwept,
   had this been asked of me,
to love thee with my whole strong heart and head,—
i should have said still . . . yes, but smiled and said,
   “look in my face and see!”

but now . . . god sees me, god, who took my heart
   and drowned it in life’s surge.
in all your wide warm earth i have no part—
a light song overcomes me like a dirge.
   could Love’s great harmony
the saints keep step to when their bonds are loose,
nmot weigh me down? am i a wife to choose?
   look in my face and see—

while i behold, as plain as one who dreams,
   some woman of full worth,
whose voice, as cadenced as a silver stream’s,
shall prove the fountain-soul which sends it forth;
   one younger, more thought-free
and fair and gay, than i, thou must forget,
with brighter eyes than these . . . which are not wet . . .
   look in my face and see!

so farewell thou, whom i have known too late
   to let thee come so near.
be counted happy while men call thee great,
and one beloved woman feels thee dear!—
   not i!—that cannot be.
i am lost, i am changed,—i must go farther, where
the change shall take me worse, and no one dare
   look in my face and see.

Meantime i bless thee. by these thoughts of mine
   i bless thee from all such!
i bless thy lamp to oil, thy cup to wine,
thy hearth to joy, thy hand to an equal touch
   of loyal troth. for me,
i love thee not, i love thee not!—away!
here’s no more courage in my soul to say
   “look in my face and see.”

(Elizabeth Barret Browning)


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