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The Creole Girl

Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton

Elle était de ce monde,
Où les plus belles choses
Ont le pire destin;
Et Rose, elle a vécu
Ce que vivent les Roses,
L'espace d'un matin!

She came to England from the island clime
Which lies beyond the far Atlantic wave;
She died in early youth, before her time,
"Peace to her broken heart, and virgin grave!"

She was the child of Passion, and of Shame,
English her father, and of noble birth;
Though too obscure for good or evil fame,
Her unknown mother faded from the earth.

And what that fair West Indian did betide,
None knew but he, who least of all might tell,
But that she lived, and loved, and lonely died,
And sent this orphan child with him to dwell.

Oh! that a fair and innocent young face
Should have a poison in its looks alone,
To raise up thoughts of sorrow and disgrace
And shame most bitter, although not its own!

Cruel were they who flung that heavy shade
Across the life whose days did but begin;
Cruel were they who crush'd her heart, and made
Her youth pay penance for his youth's wild sin;

Yet so it was; among her father's friends
A cold compassion made contempt seem light,
But, in "the world," no justice e'er defends
The victims of their tortuous wrong and right:

And "moral England," striking down the weak,
And smiling at the vices of the strong,
On her, poor child! her parent's guilt would wreak,
And that which was her grievance, made her wrong.

The world she understood not; nor did they
Who made that world, her, either, understand;
The very glory of her features' play
Seem'd like the language of a foreign land;

The shadowy feelings, rich and wild and warm,
That glow'd and mantled in her lovely face,
The slight full beauty of her youthful form,
Its gentle majesty, its pliant grace,

The languid lustre of her speaking eye,
The indolent smile of that bewitching mouth,
(Which more than all betray'd her natal sky,
And left us dreaming of the sunny South,)

The passionate variation of her blood,
Which rose and sank, as rise and sink the waves,
With every change of her most changeful mood,
Shock'd sickly Fashion's pale and guarded slaves.

And so in this fair world she stood alone,
An alien 'mid the ever-moving crowd,
A wandering stranger, nameless and unknown,
Her claim to human kindness disallow'd.

But oft would Passion's bold and burning gaze,
And Curiosity's set frozen stare,
Fix on her beauty in those early days,
And coarsely thus her loveliness declare;

Which she would shrink from, as the gentle plant,
Fern-leaved Mimosa folds itself away;
Suffering and sad; for easy 'twas to daunt
One who on earth had no protecting stay.

And often to her eye's transparent lid
The unshed tears would rise with sudden start,
And sink again, as though by Reason chid,
Back to their gentle home, her wounded heart;

Even as some gushing fountain idly wells
Up to the prison of its marble side,
Whose power the mounting wave for ever quells,
So rose her tears, so stemm'd by virgin pride.

And so more lonely each succeeding day,
As she her lot did better understand,
She lived a life which had in it decay,
A flower transplanted to too cold a land,

Which for a while gives out a hope of bloom,
Then fades and pines, because it may not feel
The freedom and the warmth which gave it room
The beauty of its nature to reveal.

For vainly would the heart accept its lot
And rouse its strength to bear avow'd contempt;
Scorn will be felt as scorn, deserved or not,
And from its bitter spell none stand exempt.

There is a basilisk power in human eyes
When they would look a fellow-creature down,
'Neath which the faint soul fascinated lies,
Struck by the cold sneer, or the with'ring frown.

But one there was, among that cruel crowd,
Whose nature half rebell'd against the chain
Which fashion flung around him; though too proud
To own that slavery's weariness and pain.

Too proud; perhaps too weak; for Custom still
Curbs with an iron bit the souls born free;
They start and chafe, yet bend them to the will
Of this most nameless ruler, so did he.

And even unto him the worldly brand
Which rested on her, half her charm effaced;
Vainly all pure and radiant did she stand,
Even unto him she was a thing disgraced.

Had she been early doom'd a cloister'd nun,
To Heaven devoted by a holy vow,
His union with that poor deserted one
Had seem'd not more impossible than now.

He could have loved her, fervently and well;
But still the cold world, with its false allure,
Bound his free liking in an icy spell,
And made its whole foundation insecure.

But not like meaner souls, would he, to prove
A vulgar admiration, her pursue;
For though his glances after her would rove,
As something beautiful, and strange, and new,

They were withdrawn if but her eye met his,
Or, for an instant if their light remain'd,
They soften'd into gentlest tenderness,
As asking pardon that his look had pain'd.

And she was nothing unto him, nor he
Aught unto her; but each of each did dream
In the still hours of thought, when we are free
To quit the real world for the things which seem.

When in his heart Love's folded wings would stir,
And bid his youth choose out a fitting mate,
Against his will his thoughts roam'd back to her,
And all around seem'd blank and desolate.

When, in his worldly haunts, a smother'd sigh
Told he had won some lady of the land,
The dreaming glances of his earnest eye
Beheld far off the Creole orphan stand;

And to the beauty by his side he froze,
As though she were not fair, nor he so young,
And turn'd on her such looks of cold repose
As check'd the trembling accents of her tongue,

And bid her heart's dim passion seek to hide
Its gathering strength, although the task be pain,
Lest she become that mock to woman's pride,
A wretch that loves unwoo'd, and loves in vain.

So in his heart she dwelt, as one may dwell
Upon the verge of a forbidden ground;
And oft he struggled hard to break the spell
And banish her, but vain the effort found;

For still along the winding way which led
Into his inmost soul, unbidden came
Her haunting form, and he was visited
By echoes soft of her unspoken name,

Through the long night, when those we love seem near,
However cold, however far away,
Borne on the wings of floating dreams, which cheer
And give us strength to meet the struggling day.

And when in twilight hours she roved apart,
Feeding her love-sick soul with visions fair,
The shadow of his eyes was on her heart,
And the smooth masses of his shining hair

Rose in the glory of the evening light,
And, where she wander'd, glided evermore,
A star which beam'd upon her world's lone night,
Where nothing glad had ever shone before.

But vague and girlish was that love, no hope,
Even of familiar greeting, ever cross'd
Its innocent, but, oh! most boundless scope;
She loved him, and she knew her love was lost.

She gazed on him, as one from out a bark,
Bound onward to a cold and distant strand,
Some lovely bay, some haven fair may mark,
Stretching far inward to a sunnier land;

Who, knowing he must still sail on, turns back
To watch with dreaming and most mournful eyes
The ruffling foam which follows in his track,
Or the deep starlight of the shoreless skies.

Oh! many a hopeless love like this may be,
For love will live that never looks to win;
Gems rashly lost in Passion's stormy sea,
Not to be lifted forth when once cast in!

* * * * *

So time roll'd on, till suddenly that child
Of southern clime and feelings, droop'd and pined
Her cheek wax'd paler, and her eye grew wild,
And from her youthful form all strength declined.

'Twas then I knew her; late and vainly call'd,
To "minister unto a mind diseased,"
When on her heart's faint sickness all things pall'd,
And the deep inward pain was never eased:

Her step was always gentle, but at last
It fell as lightly as a wither'd leaf
In autumn hours; and wheresoe'er she pass'd
Smiles died away, she look'd so full of grief.

And more than ever from that world, where still
Her father hoped to place her, she would shrink;
Loving to be alone, her thirst to fill
From the sweet fountains where the dreamers drink.

One eve, beneath the acacia's waving bough,
Wrapt in these lonely thoughts she sate and read;
Her dark hair parted from her sunny brow,
Her graceful arm beneath her languid head;

And droopingly and sad she hung above
The open page, whereon her eyes were bent,
With looks of fond regret and pining love;
Nor heard my step, so deep was she intent.

And when she me perceived, she did not start,
But lifted up those soft dark eyes to mine,
And smiled, (that mournful smile which breaks the heart!)
Then glanced again upon the printed line.

"What readest thou?" I ask'd. With fervent gaze,
As though she would have scann'd my inmost soul,
She turn'd to me, and, as a child obeys
The accustom'd question of revered control,

She pointed to the title of that book,
(Which, bending down, I saw was "Coralie,")
Then gave me one imploring piteous look,
And tears, too long restrain'd, gush'd fast and free.

It was a tale of one, whose fate had been
Too like her own to make that weeping strange;
Like her, transplanted from a sunnier scene;
Like her, all dull'd and blighted by the change.

No further word was breathed between us two;
No confidence was made to keep or break;
But since that day, which pierced my soul quite thro',
My hand the dying girl would faintly take,

And murmur, as its grasp (ah! piteous end!)
Return'd the feeble pressure of her own,
"Be with me to the last, for thou, dear friend,
Hast all my struggles, all my sorrow known!"

She died! The pulse of that untrammell'd heart
Fainted to stilness. Those most glorious eyes
Closed on the world where she had dwelt apart,
And her cold bosom heaved no further sighs.

She died! and no one mourn'd, except her sire,
Who for a while look'd out with eyes more dim;
Lone was her place beside his household fire,
Vanish'd the face that ever smiled on him.

And no one said to him: "Why mournest thou?"
Because she was the unknown child of shame;
(Albeit her mother better kept the vow
Of faithful love, than some who keep their fame.)

Poor mother, and poor child! unvalued lives!
Wan leaves that perish'd in obscurest shade!
While round me still the proud world stirs and strives,
Say, shall I weep that ye are lowly laid?

Shall I mourn for ye? No! and least for thee,
Young dreamer, whose pure heart gave way before
Thy bark was launch'd upon Love's stormy sea,
Or treachery wreck'd it on the farther shore.

Least, least of all for thee! Thou art gone hence!
Thee never more shall scornful looks oppress,
Thee the world wrings not with some vain pretence,
Nor chills thy tears, nor mocks at thy distress.

From man's injustice, from the cold award
Of the unfeeling, thou hast pass'd away;
Thou'rt at the gates of light, where angels guard
Thy path to realms of bright eternal day.

There shall thy soul its chains of slavery burst,
There, meekly standing before God's high throne,
Thou'lt find the judgments of our earth reversed,
And answer for no errors but thine own.

Alternative Title: The Physician's Story.

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