The Poetry Corner

The Welcome Home. (From Gilbert)

By Charlotte Bronte

Above the city hangs the moon, Some clouds are boding rain; Gilbert, erewhile on journey gone, To-night comes home again. Ten years have passed above his head, Each year has brought him gain; His prosperous life has smoothly sped, Without or tear or stain. 'Tis somewhat late, the city clocks Twelve deep vibrations toll, As Gilbert at the portal knocks, Which is his journey's goal. The street is still and desolate, The moon hid by a cloud; Gilbert, impatient, will not wait, His second knock peals loud. The clocks are hushed, there's not a light In any window nigh, And not a single planet bright Looks from the clouded sky; The air is raw, the rain descends, A bitter north-wind blows; His cloak the traveller scarce defends, Will not the door unclose? He knocks the third time, and the last His summons now they hear, Within, a footstep, hurrying fast, Is heard approaching near. The bolt is drawn, the clanking chain Falls to the floor of stone; And Gilbert to his heart will strain His wife and children soon. The hand that lifts the latchet, holds A candle to his sight, And Gilbert, on the step, beholds A woman, clad in white. Lo! water from her dripping dress Runs on the streaming floor; From every dark and clinging tress The drops incessant pour. There's none but her to welcome him; She holds the candle high, And, motionless in form and limb, Stands cold and silent nigh; There's sand and sea-weed on her robe, Her hollow eyes are blind; No pulse in such a frame can throb, No life is there defined. Gilbert turned ashy-white, but still His lips vouchsafed no cry; He spurred his strength and master-will To pass the figure by, But, moving slow, it faced him straight, It would not flinch nor quail: Then first did Gilbert's strength abate, His stony firmness quail. He sank upon his knees and prayed The shape stood rigid there; He called aloud for human aid, No human aid was near. An accent strange did thus repeat Heaven's stern but just decree: "The measure thou to her didst mete, To thee shall measured be!" Gilbert sprang from his bended knees, By the pale spectre pushed, And, wild as one whom demons seize, Up the hall-staircase rushed; Entered his chamber, near the bed Sheathed steel and fire-arms hung, Impelled by maniac purpose dread He chose those stores among. Across his throat a keen-edged knife With vigorous hand he drew; The wound was wide, his outraged life Rushed rash and redly through. And thus died, by a shameful death, A wise and worldly man, Who never drew but selfish breath Since first his life began.