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THE TRYST

I SAID to the woman: Whence do you come,
With your bundle in your hand?
She said: In the North I made my home,
Where slow streams fatten the fruitful loam,
And the endless wheat-fields run like foam
To the edge of the endless sand.


I said : What look have your houses there,
And the rivers that glass your sky?
Do the steeples that call your people to prayer
Lift fretted fronts to the silver air,
And the stones of your streets, are they washed and fair
When the Sunday folk go by?


My house is ill to find, she said,
For it has no roof but the sky;
The tongue is torn from the steeple-head,
The streets are foul with the slime of the dead.
And all the rivers run poison-red
With the bodies drifting by.


I said: Is there none to come at your call
In all this throng astray?
They shot my husband against a wall.
And my child (she said), too little to crawl,
Held up its hands to catch the ball
When the gun-muzzle turned its way.


I said: There are countries far from here
Where the friendly church-bells call,
And fields where the rivers run cool and clear,
And streets where the weary may walk without fear,
And a quiet bed, with a green tree near,
To sleep at the end of it all.


She answered: Your land is too remote,
And what if I chanced to roam
When the bells fly back to the steeples' throat,
And the sky with banners is all afloat.
And the streets of my city rock like a boat
With the tramp of her men come home?


I shall crouch by the door till the bolt is down,
And then go in to my dead.
Where my husband fell I will put a stone,
And mother a child instead of my own.
And stand and laugh on my bare hearth-stone
When the King rides by, she said.

Edith Wharton

Paris, August 27th, 1915