For whom these dripping votives burn,
Their flames of blue that bow and quiver?
For whom this bed and silent form
That holds my gaze as though forever?
I know not where I be nor why
With falt’ring heart I draw close nigh.
Yet as I reach the cold bedside,
A hand doth move beneath the sheets;
A face, wax-pale, turns brief to me;
The eyes burn bright, the figure speaks:
“List, if thou art angel fair
Or daemon sent my soul to bear.
“For I stand breathless ‘twixt two worlds
But darkness shall prevail and then
I would that dark should final be—
I dare not hope to look on Heav’n:
Ah, better that he ne’er be born,
The curséd wretch whom Heaven scorns—
For such a one am I.”
To hear Hell’s voice from human lips
Is more than any soul can bear;
My tears fall helpless as I clasp
That hand of dying, deep despair;
“Yes, pray to One I can but dread,
And weep those tears I cannot shed.”
So speaking, he then turns his eyes,
So dry, so bright, more full on me;
There is no trace of hope within
Their damnéd, fatal symmetry:
They burn as stars that herald woe
And, brightening, curse us here below.
Too late forewarned! The candles flare
Their trembling flames, so thin and mere;
The curtains rise like phantom heads
Within the gale, then disappear!
And through the casement, from the storm,
Stalks forth a figure, dark in form.
No man it is, nor beast it seems
But like to both, for crouched and thin
It hastens, ravening, towards the bed
As though to rend the one within:
“Avaunt, O spirit,” then I cry,
“You shall not slay while I stand by!”
The gleaming eyes of fiend and man
Fly towards my face as one swift glance;
The one is full of hellish fire
The other of burning remonstrance:
“Fly, thou fool,” the fiend then spake,
“For on this soul Hell’s thirst shall slake:
‘Tis meet and lawful – by God’s grace—
He ravished be in Hell’s embrace!”
These mocking words were spoken—yet,
As wide those talons stretching spanned
I flew, though anxious of my fate,
Betwixt the fiend and dying man:
“Aback, dark angel, in Christ’s name,
For on this soul thou’lt have no claim—
By all the pow’rs thou canst not face
He’ll languish not in Hell’s embrace!”
Raging, yet the fiend did pause
Before the sign that I did make;
Unable thus the cross to pass
He thus, recoiling, furious spake:
“Fly I shall, but when he dies,
“Think not that Hell has lost her prize:
“Nay, Hell shall on thyself be forced,
“Thyself be damned, thyself be cursed.”
Thus, mouthing hideously, away
The fiend then sped on wings spread vast:
I sought to close the window—but
A grasp upon my wrist held fast:
“Attend, brave soul, if thou dost crave
To know the soul thou chose to save:
“For didst thou think that paltry sin
Did summon Hell itself to bear
My soul away – or, guiltless, I
Be forfeit to the Prince of Air?
Or that I blameless did by choice
Renounce the Name the good rejoice?
“Think’st thou that innocence
Sate once within these eyes that rake
Across thy face with looks that burn
And chill the soul that for my sake
Didst dare to seek Hell’s lord to spurn?
“Where shall I go, by Heaven, Hell,
And Earth itself I fear ere long
Rejected, spurned, a landless soul
With nothing save my weight of wrongs?
I long – but never shall I grope
Towards Heaven’s bourne and Heaven’s hope:
The light that flames forth from my gaze
Would set the realms of Heav’n ablaze.
“But let me, dying, seek thy face
To be the burning brand that I
Shall, long-corrupted in the grave,
Still seek and towards its light still fly:
Thou held’st me from eternal pain—
With thee, then, shall my hopes remain.”
‘Twas ten years since he spoke those words,
Yet scarce a night has ere long passed
That I have not beheld that gaze
Of lingering sorrow fixed aghast—
For every night beside my bed
He stands, a silent vigil waits;
I know he longeth for my death,
To fly with me to Heaven’s gates.
Such torment lies within his gaze
As, wordless, he doth gaze on me:
I long to pray – no prayer exists –
To ease the heart of such as he.
Beneath his soul’s despair unblest
I must until I die find rest:
Nor shall he close those eyes, nor dim at last
Their bright, appalling light fix’d everlast.
© 2015 by Colin Harker. All rights reserved.