BLACK CAT POEMS
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The Ring and the Castle
"BENJAMIN BAILEY, Benjamin Bailey, why do you wake at the stroke of three?"
"I heard the hoot of an owl in the forest, and the creak of the wind in the alder-tree."
"Benjamin Bailey, Benjamin Bailey, why do you stare so into the dark?"
"I saw white circles twining, floating, and in the centre a molten spark."
"Why are you restless, Benjamin Bailey? Why do you fling your arms so wide?"
"To keep the bat's wings from coming closer and push the grey rat from my side."
"What are you muttering, Benjamin Bailey? The room is quiet, the
" The trees of the forest are curling, swaying, writhing over the heart of my Dear."
"Lie down and cover you, Benjamin Bailey, you're raving, for never a wife or child
Has blessed your hearthstone; it is the fever, which startles your brain with dreams so wild."
"No wife indeed," said Benjamin Bailey, and his blue nails picked at the bed-quilt's edge.
"I gathered a rose in another man's garden and hid it from sight in a hawthorn hedge.
I made her a chamber where green boughs rustled, and plaited river-grass for the floor,
And three times ten moonlight nights I loved her, with my old hound stretching before the door.
Then out of the North a knight came riding, with crested helm and pointed sword.
* Where is my wife? ' said the knight to the people. 'My wife ! My wife ! ' was his only word.
He tied his horse to the alder yonder, and stooped his crest to enter my door.
'My wife,' said the knight, and a steel-grey glitter flashed from his armour across the floor.
Then I lied to that white-faced knight, and told him the lady had never been seen by me;
And when he had loosed his horse from the alder, I bore him a mile of company.
I turned him over the bridge to the valley, and waved him Godspeed in the twilight grey.
And I laughed all
as I toyed with his lady, clipping and kissing the hours away.
The sun was kind and the wind was gentle, and the green boughs over our chamber sang,
But on the Eastern breeze came a tinkle whenever the bells in the Abbey rang.
Dang! went the bell, and the lady hearkened once, twice, thrice and her tears sprang forth.
''T was three of the clock when I was wedded,' quoth she, ' hi the castle to the North.
They praised us for a comely couple, in
my Lord was a
I gave him my troth for a golden dowry, and he gave me this ring on the stroke of three.
Three years I lived with him fair and stately, and then we quarrelled, as
He swore I wed for his golden dowry, and I that he loved another still.
I knew right well that never another had crossed the heart of my dearest Lord,
But still my rage waxed hot within me until, one morning, I fled abroad.
All down the flickering isles of the forest I rode till at twilight I sat me down,
And there a-weeping you found and took me, as one lifts a leaf which the wind has blown.
But to-night my ring burns hot on my finger, and my Lord's face shines through the curtained door.
And the bells beat heavy against my temples, two long strokes, and one stroke more.
Loose me now, for your touch is terror, my heart is a hollow, my arms are wind;
I must go out once more and wander, seeking the forest for what I shall find.'
Then I fell upon her and stifled her speaking till the bells died away in the rustling breeze,
And so I held her dumb until
with smothered lips, but I knew no ease.
And every night that the bells came clearly striking three strokes, like a heavy stone
I would seal her lips, but even as I kissed her, behind her clenched teeth I could hear her moan.
The nights grew longer, I had the lady, her pale blue veins and her skin of milk,
But I might have been clasping a white wax image straightly stretched on a quilt of silk.
Then curdled anger foamed within me, and I tore at her finger to take the ring,
The red gold ring which burned her spirit like some bewitched, unhallowed thing.
High in the boughs of our leafy chamber, the lady's sorrowing died away.
All night I fought for the red gold circle, all
, till the oak-trees reddened to day.
For two nights more I strove to take it, the red gold circlet, the ring of
But on the third in a blood-red vision I drew my sword and cut it clear.
Severed the ring and severed the finger, and slew my Dear on the stroke of three;
Then I dug a grave beneath the oak-trees, and buried her there where none could see.
I took the ring and the bleeding finger, and sent a mes senger swiftly forth,
An amazing gift to my Lord I sent them, in his lonely castle to the North.
He died, they say, at sight of my present. I laughed when I heard it 'Hee! Hee! Hee!'
But every night my veins run water and my pores sweat blood at the stroke of three."
"Benjamin Bailey, Benjamin Bailey, seek repentance, your time is past."
"My Dearest Dear lies under the oak-trees, pity indeed that the ring held fast."
"Benjamin Bailey, Benjamin Bailey, sinners repent when they come to die."
"Toll the bell in the Abbey tower, and under the oak trees let me lie."
poems by Amy Lowell