Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, GENEVIEVE AND ALEXANDRA (2), by EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON



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GENEVIEVE AND ALEXANDRA (2), by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Don't look at me so much as if to-day
Last Line: Oh, stop that!
Subject(s): Jealousy; Love; Relationships; Sisters


GENEVIEVE

Don't look at me so much as if to-day
Were the last day on earth for both of us!

ALEXANDRA

Now for the love of heaven, dear Genevieve,
And for your love of me, and I'm your sister,
Say why it is that since I found this house
That all-mysterious little tongue of yours,
Which God gave you to talk with and so tell
Bewildered sisters and impatient friends
Whatever 'tis that ails you, tells me nothing.
You sent for me as if the world were dying
All round you, quite as mice do that are poisoned,
And here I am; and I'll be dying soon,
Of common ordinary desperation,
Unless you tell me more now in an hour
Than you have had me guessing in a fortnight.

GENEVIEVE

Dear child, have you no eyes?

ALEXANDRA

Two, Genevieve;
But they were never sharp enough to find
A way to make the man who married you
See more in me than in six hundred others.
I would have given half my fingers then
To make him look at me as if he saw me;
But it was you he saw, and you seemed frightened.
I wish the creature might have cared enough
To frighten me! But I was just a thing
With skirts and arms and legs and ears and hair,
Like all of us he saw — till he saw you.
You know it, and I say it. That's all over.

GENEVIEVE

My God, there's no beginning to some things,
Or I could speak. For two weeks I have waited
For you to make it easy to be hard;
And yet you tell me now that you have eyes!
Did you have eyes last night?

ALEXANDRA

I thought so.

GENEVIEVE

Yes?

ALEXANDRA

You are coming then to something after all;
And that's a boon. But all you say, my dear,
Is not quite all you mean. You don't mean Her?

GENEVIEVE

I counted on you to find words where I
Find silence. Was that too ridiculous?

ALEXANDRA

You counted on my old unpleasant way
Of saying out what you find odious?
I understand, and I'll be generous.
I'm old enough, the good Lord knows, who gave me
A feature less than what I might have used
Of beauty, and you more than you can use;
Or so it seems. The good Lord's ways are past
Our delving, and we've each a book to read —
A book that has a leaf we'll not lay open
Till Time's old skinny finger does it for us.
It's all a game, and one Time plays with women
Who cannot meet the Lord half way. That's you,
My angel. There'll be something done about it;
Or there'll be waiting till Time wins again,
And then 'twill all be groaning, and too late.
For Time has had an eye on even you,
These years together. Don't forget old sayings,
For they are true and they have not much mercy.

GENEVIEVE

And what's this you are saying of old sayings?
It's not the old that I want now, but the new.
I've had enough that's old. I've had enough —
Day after day of it. Do I look old?

ALEXANDRA

Not yet; you needn't fret. But even at that
There's time enough to tear the calendar
When days are dead.

GENEVIEVE

She's older than I am.

ALEXANDRA

She knows, my dear.

GENEVIEVE

She knows it, and he knows it!

ALEXANDRA

But that's not all she knows, nor all he knows.

GENEVIEVE

What are you saying now? What do you mean?

ALEXANDRA

I'm saying something new. Lord save us all;
I'm saying something new. You cried aloud
For me to do it, and you only ask,
"What are you saying now!" I'm saying this:
I'm saying there are men to take your gift
Of pride and ice and fear of being human,
And, having it, be happy all their days;
I'm saying also that the man you married
Is not a cave-man, or a cannibal
Who means to eat you pretty soon,—although
An alabaster shrine with now and then
A taper burning low, or going out,
Is not what he calls home or good religion.
He calls it something else, and something worse.
I'm sorry, but he does.

GENEVIEVE

And you defend him.

ALEXANDRA

Defence and understanding, as I know them,
Are not of a necessity the same.

GENEVIEVE

How do you know so much?

ALEXANDRA

I don't know much;
I know a little. I wish you knew a little.

GENEVIEVE

I wish you knew a little more.

ALEXANDRA

You're crying!

GENEVIEVE

Well, if I am, what of it? I am not
The only woman who has ever cried.
I'm not the only woman, I dare say,
Who's in a cage, beating on iron bars
That even other women cannot see.

ALEXANDRA

Surely I see them — with a difference.

GENEVIEVE

How good of you to see them!

ALEXANDRA

Say no more,
My dear, until you are yourself again.
You tell of cages and of iron bars,
And there are bars, I grant you: bars enough,
But they are not of iron. Do you think
Because a man — a rather furry man
Who likes a woman with a dash of Eve
To liven her insensible perfection —
Looks now and then the other way, that you
Are cribbed in iron for the blessed length
Of all your silly days? Why don't you like
To see, with your magnificent sad eyes,
How much, and yet how little, you may do
To send that other one to Jericho,
Or some place else? I wish I had your face!
If so, you might be free now, as I am;
Free as a bird, and one without a cage.
O Lord, so free, so free! Some day or other,
When I'm at home, I'm going to throw a brick
At that superb tall monstrous Ching-Chang vase
In the front room which every one admires.
There'll be a noise, and that will make a change,
If nothing else. You made a change; and all
You get of it's a reason to be jealous.
Lord love us, you'll be jealous next of me,
Because your condescending spouse made out
Somehow to scratch my cheek with his hard whiskers,
To honour my arrival. He might as well
Have done it with a broom, and I've a guess
Would rather.

GENEVIEVE

I can only say again,
I wish you knew a little more.

ALEXANDRA

I wish
You fancied not so much.

GENEVIEVE

Oh, is it fancy?

ALEXANDRA

Whatever it is, you've made it what it is.
I know the man; he wants his house to live in.
He's not the kind who makes another man's
Romance a nightmare for the humour of it;
He's not one to go leering everywhere
As if he were a spider with an income;
He's what he is; and you that have him so,
I see, are in the best of ways to lose him.
But who am I, to talk of him? You made me,
And you'll remember that. Now that's all over.

GENEVIEVE

You pat me as you would a little dog.

ALEXANDRA

Bow-wow!

GENEVIEVE

I wish you knew a little more.

ALEXANDRA

My darling, you have honoured me three times
By wishing that identical sweet wish;
And if in all agreement with your text
I say as much myself and say it louder,
You'll treasure to my credit, when I'm dead,
One faint remembrance of humility.
Although I don't think you are listening,
I'm saying I'm an insect. Do you hear me?
Lord, what a sigh!

GENEVIEVE

I hear you. Yes, I hear you.
And what you seem to say so easily
May be the end of wisdom, possibly.
And I may change. I don't believe it much,
But I may change a little. I don't know.
It may be now that I don't care enough
To change. It may be that the few lights left
Around the shrine, as you say, may go out
Without my tending them or seeing them.
It seems a jealous love is not enough
To bring at once to light, as I have seen it,
The farthest hidden of all mockeries
That home can hold and hide — until it comes.
Well, it has come. Oh, never mind me now!
Our tears are cheap, and men see few of them.
He doesn't know that I know.

ALEXANDRA

Genevieve!
Say something, if you only say you hate me.
What have I done? Have I done anything?
It isn't what I said? I knew it wasn't.
Poor child, I cannot ask if you are right,
Or say that you are wrong, until I know
The growing of all this. Whatever word
You tell me now, although you find it hard —
And life has nothing harder than small words
That may not say themselves and be forgotten —
May prove at last, or soon, or even to-day,
The one beginning of deliverance.
No more then. I'll not sting you for an answer.
Indeed, I may be wrong; and it may be
That you are not my sister any more.

GENEVIEVE

The farthest hidden things are still, my dear.
They make no noise; and we, in our poor turn,
Say less of them than of the common spite
We nourish for the friend who loves too much.
They come from where they live, like slender snakes,
And strike us in the dark; and then we suffer.
And you, my sister, of all women living,
Have made me know the truth of what I'm saying;
And you, as I'm a fool, know nothing more
Than what I've hardly said. Thank God for that.

ALEXANDRA

Why mock yourself with more unhappy names
Than sorrow shares with reason? Why defeat
The one safe impulse and the one sure need
That now are on their way to lay for ever
The last of all the bogeys you have seen
Somewhere in awful corners that are dark
Because you make them so and keep them so?
You like the dark, maybe. I don't. I hate it.
Now tell me what it is you've hardly said;
For I assure you that you've hardly said it.

GENEVIEVE

You make a jest of love and all it means.
I can bear that. The world has always done it,
The world has always borne it. Many men
And women have made laughter out of those
Who might as well have been in hell as here,
Alive and listening. When love can hold
Its own with change, no more, 'twere better then
For love to die. Indeed, there might be then,
If that were all, an easy death for love;
If not, then for the woman.

ALEXANDRA

If that were all?
You speak now as if that were not enough.

GENEVIEVE

It seems it isn't. There's another corner;
And in that corner there's another ghost.

ALEXANDRA

What have I done? Have I done anything?

GENEVIEVE

Yes, you have made me see how poor I am;
How futile, and how far away I am
From what his hungry love and hungry mind
Thought I was giving when I gave myself.

ALEXANDRA

But when his eyes are on you, I can swear
That I see only kindness in his face.

GENEVIEVE

I'll send you home if you say that again.

ALEXANDRA

Be tranquil; I shall not say that again.
But tell me more about his hungry mind —
I understand the rest of it. Good Lord!
I never knew he had a hungry mind.

GENEVIEVE

He hasn't one when you are with him.

ALEXANDRA

What!

GENEVIEVE

I say he hasn't one when you are with him.
You feed him. You can talk of what he knows
And cares about. Six months have been enough
To make what little mind I ever had
A weariness too blank for his endurance.
He knows how little I shall ever know,—
He knows that in his measure I'm a fool;
And there is only — kindness in his face,
You tell me now. I'd rather be his dog.

ALEXANDRA

What in the name of ruin, dear Genevieve,
Do you think you are doing now with words?

GENEVIEVE

I'd rather be a byword in the city,
And let him have his harem and be happy;
I'd rather live in hovels and eat scraps,
And feed the pigs and all the wretched babies;
I'd rather steal my food or starve to death;
I'd rather cut my feet off and take poison;
I'd rather sit and skin myself alive
Than be a fool! I'd rather be a toad
Than live to see that — kindness in his face!

ALEXANDRA

Poor Genevieve, that wasn't you! Your nerves
Are talking, and they don't know what they're saying.
Don't think that you alone of womankind
Have had these little fancies.

GENEVIEVE

Oh, stop that!





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