Phantasmagoria and Other Poems/Only a Woman's Hair


[After the death of Dean Swift, there was found among his papers a small packet containing a single lock of hair and inscribed with the above words.]

'Only a woman's hair'! Fling it aside!
A bubble on Life's mighty stream:
Heed it not, man, but watch the broadening tide
Bright with the western beam.

Nay! In those words there rings from other years
The echo of a long low cry,
Where a proud spirit wrestles with his tears
In loneliest agony.

And as I touch that lock, strange visions rise
Before me in a shadowy throng—
Of woman's hair, the joy of lovers' eyes,
The theme of poet's song.

A child's bright tresses, by the breezes kissed
To sweet disorder as she flies,
Veiling beneath a cloud of golden mist
Flushed cheek and laughing eyes—

Or fringing like a shadow, raven-black,
The glory of a queen-like face—
Or from a gipsy's sunny brow tossed back
In wild and wanton grace—

Or crown-like on the hoary head of Age,
Whose tale of life is well-nigh told—
Or, last, in dreams I make my pilgrimage
To Bethany of old.

I see the feast—the purple and the gold—
The gathering crowd of Pharisees,
Whose scornful eyes are centred to behold
Yon woman on her knees.

The stifled sob rings strangely on mine ears,
Wrung from the depth of sin's despair:
And still she bathes the sacred feet with tears,
And wipes them with her hair.

He scorned not then the simple loving deed
Of her, the lowest and the last;
Then scorn not thou, but use with earnest heed
This relic of the past.

The eyes that loved it once no longer wake:
So lay it by with reverent care—
So touch it tenderly for sorrow's sake—
It is a woman's hair.