Henry Kendall

(18 April 1839 – 1 August 1882 / Ulladulla, New South Wales)

At Her Window


To-night a strong south wind in thunder sings
Across the city. Now by salt wet flats,
And ridges perished with the breath of drought,
Comes up a deep, sonorous, gulf-like voice —
Far-travelled herald of some distant storm —
That strikes with harsh gigantic wings the cliff,
Where twofold Otway meets his straitened surf,
And makes a white wrath of a league of sea.
To-night the fretted Yarra chafes its banks,
And dusks and glistens; while the city shows
A ring of windy light. From street to street
The noise of labour, linked to hurrying wheels,
Rolls off, as rolls the stately sound of wave,
When he that hears it hastens from the shore.

To-night beside a moody window sits
A wife who watches for her absent love;
Her home is in a dim suburban street,
In which the winds, like one with straitened breath,
Now fleet with whispers dry and short half-sobs,
Or pause and beat against the showery panes
Like homeless mem’ries seeking for a home.

There, where the plopping of the guttered rain
Sounds like a heavy footstep in the dark,
Where every shadow thrown by flickering light
Seems like her husband halting at the door,
I say a woman sits, and waits, and sits,
Then trims her fire, and comes to wait again.

The chapel clock strikes twelve! He has not come.
The night grows wilder, and the wind dies off
The roads, now turned to thoroughfares of storm,
Save when a solitary, stumbling foot
Breaks through the clamour. Then the watcher starts,
And trembles, with her hand upon the key,
And flutters, with the love upon her lips;
Then sighs, returns, and takes her seat once more.

Is this the old, old tale? Ah! do not ask,
My gentle reader, but across your doubts
Throw shining reasons on the happier side;
Or, if you cannot choose but doubt the man —
If you do count him in your thoughts as one
Who leaves a good wife by a lonely hearth
For more than half the night, for scenes (we’ll say)
Of revelry — I pray you think of how
That wretch must suffer in his waking times
(If he be human), when he recollects
That through the long, long hours of evil feasts
With painted sin, and under glaring gas,
His brightest friend was at a window-sill
A watcher, seated in a joyless room,
And haply left without a loaf of bread.

I, having learnt from sources pure and high,
From springs of love that make the perfect wife,
Can say how much a woman will endure
For one to whom her tender heart has passed.
When fortune fails, and friends drop off, and time
Has shadows waiting in predestined ways —
When shame that grows from want of money comes,
And sets its brand upon a husband’s brow,
And makes him walk an alien in the streets:
One faithful face, on which a light divine
Becomes a glory when vicissitude
Is in its darkest mood — one face, I say,
Marks not the fallings-off that others see,
Seeks not to know the thoughts that others think,
Cares not to hear the words that others say:
But, through her deep and self-sufficing love,
She only sees the bright-eyed youth that won
Her maiden heart in other, happier days,
And not the silent, gloomy-featured man
That frets and shivers by a sullen fire.

And, therefore, knowing this from you, who’ve shared
With me the ordeal of most trying times,
I sometimes feel a hot shame flushing up,
To think that there are those among my sex
Who are so cursed with small-souled selfishness
That they do give to noble wives like you,
For love — that first and final flower of life —
The dreadful portion of a drunkard’s home.

Submitted: Wednesday, April 07, 2010

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