Two Faces

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward

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"Would I could see!" I heard one say but now,
"The strongest woman and the tenderest man
That ever God had dared put in the world!"
And I, who did not speak, because one can
Tell out one's sweetest secret to the sky
Sometimes with greater ease than one can speak
It at some others to a friend's close ear,
Went up into the gallery of my soul
Silent and smiling and assured, to see
Some pictures that are hung there on the wall,
Whereat my soul and I on leisure days
Sit gazing and sit thirsting by ourselves.
And one there is that looketh down to me
Less like a face than like a star, for when
With closed eyes I would think what it is like
I only can remember that it shines.
But when I turn again to con and learn
Its lineaments like a lesson in my thought,
The forehead has the look that marble has
When it has drawn the sunlight to its heart.
And if St. John had fought the Dragon, then
He might have had perhaps such eyes as that
(But still I do not tell you what the eyes
Are like, nor can I, and I am not sure,
Indeed, that I should tell you if I could).
O, straight they look the world into the face!
And never have they dropped before its gaze,
And never sunk they down abashed, to hide
A glance of which their own light was ashamed.
And if an unclean thing had chanced to step
Into the presence of such eyes, pierced, scorched,
It would have shrunk before their stabs, but ere
It could have risen to flee, it would have dropped,
And cowered moaning in the dust, because
It felt itself a thing they pitied so!
And then the mouth!--I never saw a mouth,
Another one, that seemed to think and feel
At once like this. If haply lips like these
Had found a word for which the whole round earth
Were waiting, while they spoke the word, I think
They 'd quiver most because upon that day
The woman that they loved had touched them,--said,
"Go speak, my lips, and make me proud!"--the most
For that than for the worth of either work or world.

And one there is (across the gallery's width
This picture hangs), a graver face, and touched
A little with a sadness such as that
Which might have fallen on the countenance
Of Esther in the story, when she left
Her throne to perish for her people's sake;
The sadness of a soul bound fast to bear--
Whether by fate or choice it knoweth not--
Within itself the sorrows of a race,
A kind, to which it has no gladder tie
Than the blind old mystery of kin; urged on
By something in its nature like a cry
That will be heard, come life, come death! to lay
Aside the crown, the robe of royalty,
And mediate, a suppliant, for its own.
If she perish, she must perish!--but must go.
Though she perish, let her perish!--let her go.
Soft falls the hair about this other face,
Leaving a shadow like a shadow thrown
By leafless trees upon a snow-drift's brow,
A slender shelter for the dazzling white.
And out from it look steady eyes that hide
Their perfect meaning from the casual gaze,
And out from it there leans a flying smile,
As one smiles turning slowly from the page
In which his heart is left to hear
The sweetest interruption in the world
More languidly than lovingly. I think
You 'd never pause to speculate or guess
Which interruption were the dearer fret
To her, but only what the lesson was
O'er which she bent, and only wonder on
If Esther had a smile like that; and if
Her people, when they saw it, understood
The half of it; and if the King will hold,
As did Ahasuerus in the time
Of old, his sceptre out, and ever call
This unqueened Queen in triumph to her throne.

And if there were on earth a tenderer strength?
Or if there were a stronger tenderness?
What matters it to me? for now behold!
That gallery in my longing soul is full,
And God himself came up and shut the door.

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