by Laurence Hope
They lay the slender body down
With all its wealth of wetted hair,
Only a daughter of the town,
But very young and slight and fair.
The eyes, whose light one cannot see,
Are sombre doubtless, like the tresses,
The mouth's soft curvings seem to be
A roseate series of caresses.
And where the skin has all but dried
(The air is sultry in the room)
Upon her breast and either side,
It shows a soft and amber bloom.
By women here, who knew her life,
A leper husband, I am told,
Took all this loveliness to wife
When it was barely ten years old.
And when the child in shocked dismay
Fled from the hated husband's care
He caught and tied her, so they say,
Down to his bedside by her hair.
To some low quarter of the town,
Escaped a second time, she flew;
Her beauty brought her great renown
And many lovers here she knew,
When, as the mystic Eastern night
With purple shadow filled the air,
Behind her window framed in light,
She sat with jasmin in her hair.
At last she loved a youth, who chose
To keep this wild flower for his own,
He in his garden set his rose
Where it might bloom for him alone.
Cholera came; her lover died,
Want drove her to the streets again,
And women found her there, who tried
To turn her beauty into gain.
But she who in those garden ways
Had learnt of Love, would now no more
Be bartered in the market place
For silver, as in days before.
That former life she strove to change;
She sold the silver off her arms,
While all the world grew cold and strange
To broken health and fading charms.
Till, finding lovers, but no friend,
Nor any place to rest or hide,
She grew despairing at the end,
Slipped softly down a well and died.
And yet, how short, when all is said,
This little life of love and tears!
Her age, they say, beside her bed,
To-day is only fifteen years.
Last updated January 14, 2019