Alice Duer Miller

(28 July 1874 - 22 August 1942 / New York City, New York)

The Woman at the Cross-roads


(Her lover speaks.)

AN equal love between a man and woman,
This is the only charm to set us free,
And this the only omen
Of immortality.
Only for us the long, long war is over
Between our aspiring spirits,
And all the flesh inherits,
Because, dear saint, your soul no less
Has got a lover,
Than has your body's long slim loveliness.
Ah, my beloved, think not renunciation
Of such a love as ours
Will bring you any strengthening of your powers,
Or calm, or dignity, or peace of mind
To be compared with that which you will find
In love's full consummation.
Talk not to me of other, older ties,
Of duty, and of narrower destinies,
Nor bid me see that we have met too late,
While we have lips and eyes
To kiss and call;
But rather thank our fate,
For this mad gift - that we have met at all.
Come to me then. Ah, must I bid you come?
Your heart is mine. Is then your will so loath?
Leave him from whom your spirit long since fled,
Whose house is not your home; your only home,
Although the same roof never cover both,
Is where I am, until we both are dead.

(Her child speaks.)

Why do you look at me with such a shade
Upon your eyes, so still and steadily?
I am not naughty, but I am afraid;
I know not why.
The world is huge and puzzling and perverse -
Even my nurse,
When most my heart is stirred,
Will put me by, with some complacent word;
Or, if she listens, in a little while
Babbles my deepest secret with a smile,
My mother, oh my mother, only you
Are kind and just and honorable and true.
Others are fond, others will play and sing,
Will kiss me, or will let me kiss and cling;
But only you, my mother, comprehend
How little children feel and love the truth;
Only you cherish like an equal friend
The shy and tragic dignity of youth.

(the woman answers her lover.)

All my life long, I think I dreamed of this.
Even as a girl, my visions were of you.
Alas, I grew incredulous of bliss;
And now too late, too late, the dream comes true.
Sweet are the charms you offer me, my lover,
To read the riddle of the universe,
And in your arms I should not soon discover
Our old, old mortal curse.
And yet I put them by, because I trust
In other magic, far beyond the ken,
Even of you, the tenderest of men,
In spells more permanent than any sorrow,
Which bind me to the past, and make to-morrow
My own, although I sleep it through in dust,­
The revelation which to every woman
Her children bring,
Making her one not only with things human, -
With every living thing,
For only mothers raise no passionate cry
Against mortality;
For only they have learned the reason why
It is worth while to live; and presently,
Seeing nature's meaning, are content to die.

Submitted: Thursday, March 15, 2012

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