Christina Rossetti: Poems

The Ghost's Petition

'There's a footstep coming: look out and see,'

'The leaves are falling, the wind is calling;

No one cometh across the lea.'--

'There's a footstep coming; O sister, look.'--

'The ripple flashes, the white foam dashes;

No one cometh across the brook.'--

'But he promised that he would come:

To-night, to-morrow, in joy or sorrow,

He must keep his word, and must come home.

'For he promised that he would come: 10

His word was given; from earth or heaven,

He must keep his word, and must come home.

'Go to sleep, my sweet sister Jane;

You can slumber, who need not number

Hour after hour, in doubt and pain.

'I shall sit here awhile, and watch;

Listening, hoping, for one hand groping

In deep shadow to find the latch.'

After the dark, and before the light,

One lay sleeping; and one sat weeping, 20

Who had watched and wept the weary night.

After the night, and before the day,

One lay sleeping; and one sat weeping--

Watching, weeping for one away.

There came a footstep climbing the stair;

Some one standing out on the landing

Shook the door like a puff of air--

Shook the door, and in he passed.

Did he enter? In the room centre

Stood her husband: the door shut fast. 30

'O Robin, but you are cold--

Chilled with the night-dew: so lily-white you

Look like a stray lamb from our fold.

'O Robin, but you are late:

Come and sit near me--sit here and cheer me.'--

(Blue the flame burnt in the grate.)

'Lay not down your head on my breast:

I cannot hold you, kind wife, nor fold you

In the shelter that you love best.

'Feel not after my clasping hand: 40

I am but a shadow, come from the meadow

Where many lie, but no tree can stand.

'We are trees which have shed their leaves:

Our heads lie low there, but no tears flow there;

Only I grieve for my wife who grieves.

'I could rest if you would not moan

Hour after hour; I have no power

To shut my ears where I lie alone.

'I could rest if you would not cry;

But there's no sleeping while you sit weeping-- 50

Watching, weeping so bitterly.'--

'Woe's me! woe's me! for this I have heard.

Oh night of sorrow!--oh black to-morrow!

Is it thus that you keep your word?

'O you who used so to shelter me

Warm from the least wind--why, now the east wind

Is warmer than you, whom I quake to see.

'O my husband of flesh and blood,

For whom my mother I left, and brother,

And all I had, accounting it good, 60

'What do you do there, underground,

In the dark hollow? I'm fain to follow.

What do you do there?--what have you found?'--

'What I do there I must not tell:

But I have plenty: kind wife, content ye:

It is well with us--it is well.

'Tender hand hath made our nest;

Our fear is ended, our hope is blended

With present pleasure, and we have rest.'--

'Oh, but Robin, I'm fain to come, 70

If your present days are so pleasant;

For my days are so wearisome.

'Yet I'll dry my tears for your sake:

Why should I tease you, who cannot please you

Any more with the pains I take?'