Once, in a multitude, I met a woman tall and proud,
So fair my heart bowed down to her in homage 'mid the crowd.
I asked her name--she was a "queen of fashion," "a great belle,"
For both our sakes, that name, perhaps, 'tis better not to tell.
Her beauty was a thing so rare words fail to paint its power
As sullen lead to picture forth a gorgeous passion-flower;
I followed those alluring eyes, and thought not of the goal
To which they led, or if their light flashed from a noble soul.
The wit and eloquence let fall from her red lips to me
Was like the dew of nightshade flowers unto a dizzy bee,
While every thought, or wish, or hope, that grew beneath her smiles,
Blushed into being, till love's deep was rich with coral isles!
In the lobby of the opera-house a fragile, sad-eyed child
Sold violets, who, as we passed, cried, "Buy them, sir," and smiled,
"For your wife--she is so beautiful." My blood was all aglow,
She laughed and throned the violets upon her breast of snow;
Then whispered soft, "They are so sweet." The gift appeared but mean,
Bought from a beggar girl, to deck the bosom of my queen;
I watched them droop within an hour: when all the tale is told,
You'll wonder that they lived so long above a heart so cold.
And sometimes at the opera, and often in the street,
I bought that poor child's flowers, because my lady called them "sweet,"
No Christian charity, alas! its blessed dew distilled
On the rank passion growth with which my very soul was filled.
I marked not then the stately head was never once beguiled
Out of its faultless pose, to bend above that fragile child
With word, or look of sympathy; for blindly, madly blest,
I only saw a woman with blue violets on her breast!
I caught and kissed them, if by chance from that fair shrine they fell,
Drifted to me--blue waifs of bliss--from her white bosom's swell;
Or from the rippling waves of hair that crowned her low white brow;
The scent of summer violets is sickening to me now.
One evening from a grand bazaar my lady swept, all dressed
In shimmering silk of purplish hue, like to a wild dove's breast,
And, as into her couch she stepped, I heard the flower-girl say,
"Oh, buy these violets, lady sweet, this basketfull, I pray!"
The dewy clusters were upraised to catch the beauty's eye.
"My mother is so very ill, they tell me she will die."
The outcast's flowers were pushed aside--that haughty one exclaimed,--
"You'll spoil my dress, you dirty girl; you ought to be ashamed!
"So many beggars! one can't stand to be forever bored."
Was she the empress of my heart, the woman I adored?
"Drive on!" The child clung to the door: "Oh, lady, do not go."
The horses moved, the little girl fell on the stones below.
Among those scattered violets, dashed earthward like my dream,
I raised her, wondering if all women are not what they seem;
That stately coach rolled on, and left a cloud upon my life,
But silver-lined, for I rejoiced that she was not my wife.
From the shadow of a doorway this scene before me whirled,
Out of Love's consecrated niche I saw my idol hurled,
Of every noble attribute so utterly bereft
I wondered why I had so loved the beauty that was left.
A moment since her presence brought my soul that subtle spell,
That nameless ecstasy, whose bliss earth's poets fail to tell,
And now I whispered to the child, in accents hard and cold,
"There is nothing you can envy that lady save her gold."
Just then a pretty phaeton drove near the glittering store,
Within it was a fair young girl I'd often seen before;
But then in contrast with my star no other one could shine:
By that same contrast now she wore a loveliness divine!
For stepping lightly from the chaise with quick and ready grace,
While charity's most holy light transfigured her young face,
She ministered unto the child, who told her name and home,
Was lifted in the phaeton: the girl said, "Will you come?"
I followed her, as in a dream, unto that lowly place:
The mother and the child were saved--I found a holy trace
Of noble deeds where'er she moved; her mission was to bless.
Such women light the path to heaven, and make the distance less.
Again Love came to me--disguised--until by chance one day
I found his rosy wings beneath a domino of gray,--
Sometimes called friendship; then he shook away the soft disguise,
And smiled at me--unmasked--from out a pair of saintly eyes.
When through such holy windows the rays from loving souls
Shine out on men, they are not often wrecked among life's shoals;
Lured from the harbor-lights of home, yet, while those loadstars burn,
To love, and truth, and purity, they must at last return.