Thomas Aird

Monkwood: Part First

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“I've done my work: o'er belts and breadths of earth,
Regions, and parallels, and wide degrees,
I've hunted him: I've done him down to death:
And his bones whiten in the wilderness.
Come, Grip.”

He said, and rose, that lean dark man,
In umbered light, within his rocky cave,
And fed his brindled hound with gobbets raw.
The cloyed dog stretched and licked his bloody jaws,
And couched anew, his muzzle to the hearth.
Fresh logs the Master flung upon the fire,
Sputtering with sap; down then he sate, and eyed
The gulfy eddyings of the woolly smoke.

Far in the depths, rose on his shaping soul
A beauteous girl, and she came dancing on
Through the spring flowers before an antique hall,
Shaking her cloud of curls: not lightlier,
Translucent in the sunny dews of morn,
Dances the leaflet on the topmost twig.
And aye she smiled and nodded, coming near,
Nodding to him and smiling. Forward far,
As if to meet her, keen yet pleased of look,
Bending he sate.

Sudden he rose, he paced
The lurid cave; his eyes were balls of light;
But, ever as he turned him in his range,
Moister they gleamed:—“My sister, young and dear!
Gold, name it not; nor gems, seed of the sun!
All lustrous capable stones of mystery,
All rarest things of unconceived cost,
Take them all, all; give me my sister back,
As once she was, clear in her virgin dew!
What is she now?” He shuddered, down he sate,
And sitting brooded on the troubled Past.

What finds he there? His ancient house decayed,
His parents dead, his sister and himself
Grew up together, and were knit in one.
But proud from poverty, and all untrained
To equal duties, regular, mild, and safe,
Stern waxed young Monkwood: silently he spent
His hot impatience in the hunted woods.
To war he went. Betrayed, his sister fell;
But hid her shame among the Magdalens.

Monkwood has learnt it on the eve of fight.
Stern, still, wound up, he waited for that morn.
The morning came: the battle broke: outflew
His heart, uncoiling like a spring of steel:
Far leapt he dashing down that bloody gulf,
In terrible self-relief: a thousand deaths,
Ten thousand deaths were there; with open breast
He more than braved them all, he wooed them all,
That dreadful doer; but they passed him by,
And all unscathed with victory he stood.
Now then for honours on his noted head!
Away, away! farewell the pomp of war!
Hope, joy, farewell! His jealous soul has ta'en
His sister's blot, his family honour's blight,
Full on himself. Her he will see once more,
Once, and no more; vengeance he'll do her then
On her destroyer; then to home farewell—
His father's home! the wolfish solitudes
Of worlds afar, these be his fitting place,
To die at once, or eat his heart away.

In penitential depths, self-punishing,
His sister would not see him. In the Church
Of Magdalens he waited: from behind
The curtain of their sacred modesty,
Where all unseen they worshipped, there arose
The thankful song of the redeemed ones,
Swelling and thrilling: oh how Monkwood's soul
Yearned to untwist the symphony, and catch
His sister's separate voice! If in the low
And wailing fall of the relapsing hymn
Some heart-drawn lingering voice was left behind,
How he did drink it in!—“ 'Tis she, 'tis she!
My lost, my found! I go, for I have heard,
More far to me than all the songs of time,
The uttered sorrow of thy contrite heart.”

Now then for vengeance! for his natural man
Was unsubdued: Sheer down on him who slew
His sister's peace he bore: the villain fled,
But he pursued: o'er belts and breadths of earth,
Regions, and parallels, and wide degrees,
He hunted him; he did him down to death;
And his bones whiten in the wilderness.

His work of vengeance o'er, all moral hope
Of life exhausted, from the ways of men
Far vanished Monkwood in the Western world,
A salvage hunter of the homeless woods,
Lord of his cave, his rifle, and his dog.

Thus brooding sits he by his midnight fire,
His spirit ranging through that troubled Past.
Balm, is there none? The poppy, flower of fate,
Turning its milky eye to the ebon Land
Of Morpheus and of Dreams, grows round his cave,
Sown by him there; oft has it eased his heart,
But aye the wo returns with added wo.
What sunken lands forlorn, what sunless depths
Of rifted rocks, and blocked obstruction jammed,
Would he not search, if haply he might find
The Waters of Forgetfulness, and drink,
And wash his soul clean white of all the Past?

Lo! now he slumbers, red with ember gleams,
Couched on a spotted skin: The dreams come on:
The hollow roaring of Eternity
Is in his soul. What end of this despair?
Hope for him yet! the Angel of the Cross,
Who circles earth, on shores and desert isles,
Along the tracks of solitary men,
To sow the seed of light, has found him out,
Has tried his stubborn heart with fear and hope:
Waking, it yields not yet; in dreams by night
'Tis giving way. So let him dream! from out
That grisly struggle of his light and dark
May grow the gladness of the perfect day.

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Thomas Aird