Christina Rossetti: Poems

Jessie Cameron

'Jessie, Jessie Cameron,

Hear me but this once,' quoth he.

'Good luck go with you, neighbor's son,

But I'm no mate for you,' quoth she.

Day was verging toward the night

There beside the moaning sea,

Dimness overtook the light

There where the breakers be.

'O Jessie, Jessie Cameron,

I have loved you long and true.'-- 10

'Good luck go with you, neighbor's son,

But I'm no mate for you.'

She was a careless, fearless girl,

And made her answer plain,

Outspoken she to earl or churl,

Kindhearted in the main,

But somewhat heedless with her tongue,

And apt at causing pain;

A mirthful maiden she and young,

Most fair for bliss or bane. 20

'Oh, long ago I told you so,

I tell you so to-day:

Go you your way, and let me go

Just my own free way.'

The sea swept in with moan and foam,

Quickening the stretch of sand;

They stood almost in sight of home;

He strove to take her hand.

'Oh, can't you take your answer then,

And won't you understand? 30

For me you're not the man of men,

I've other plans are planned.

You're good for Madge, or good for Cis,

Or good for Kate, may be:

But what's to me the good of this

While you're not good for me?'

They stood together on the beach,

They two alone,

And louder waxed his urgent speech,

His patience almost gone: 40

'Oh, say but one kind word to me,

Jessie, Jessie Cameron.'--

'I'd be too proud to beg,' quoth she,

And pride was in her tone.

And pride was in her lifted head,

And in her angry eye

And in her foot, which might have fled,

But would not fly.

Some say that he had gipsy blood;

That in his heart was guile: 50

Yet he had gone through fire and flood

Only to win her smile.

Some say his grandam was a witch,

A black witch from beyond the Nile,

Who kept an image in a niche

And talked with it the while.

And by her hut far down the lane

Some say they would not pass at night,

Lest they should hear an unked strain

Or see an unked sight. 60

Alas, for Jessie Cameron!--

The sea crept moaning, moaning nigher:

She should have hastened to begone,--

The sea swept higher, breaking by her:

She should have hastened to her home

While yet the west was flushed with fire,

But now her feet are in the foam,

The sea-foam, sweeping higher.

O mother, linger at your door,

And light your lamp to make it plain, 70

But Jessie she comes home no more,

No more again.

They stood together on the strand,

They only, each by each;

Home, her home, was close at hand,

Utterly out of reach.

Her mother in the chimney nook

Heard a startled sea-gull screech,

But never turned her head to look

Towards the darkening beach: 80

Neighbours here and neighbours there

Heard one scream, as if a bird

Shrilly screaming cleft the air:--

That was all they heard.

Jessie she comes home no more,

Comes home never;

Her lover's step sounds at his door

No more forever.

And boats may search upon the sea

And search along the river, 90

But none know where the bodies be:

Sea-winds that shiver,

Sea-birds that breast the blast,

Sea-waves swelling,

Keep the secret first and last

Of their dwelling.

Whether the tide so hemmed them round

With its pitiless flow,

That when they would have gone they found

No way to go; 100

Whether she scorned him to the last

With words flung to and fro,

Or clung to him when hope was past,

None will ever know:

Whether he helped or hindered her,

Threw up his life or lost it well,

The troubled sea, for all its stir

Finds no voice to tell.

Only watchers by the dying

Have thought they heard one pray 110

Wordless, urgent; and replying

One seem to say him nay:

And watchers by the dead have heard

A windy swell from miles away,

With sobs and screams, but not a word

Distinct for them to say:

And watchers out at sea have caught

Glimpse of a pale gleam here or there,

Come and gone as quick as thought,

Which might be hand or hair. 120