Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WAYSIDE INN, by ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER



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THE WAYSIDE INN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A little past the village
Last Line: Plucked from a judas-tree.
Alternate Author Name(s): Berwick, Mary
Subject(s): Sudbury, Massachusetts


A LITTLE past the village
The Inn stood, low and white;
Green shady trees behind it,
And an orchard on the right;
Where over the green paling
The red-cheeked apples hung,
As if to watch how wearily
The sign-board creaked and swung.

The heavy-laden branches,
Over the road hung low,
Deflected fruit or blossom
From the wayside well below;
Where children, drawing water,
Looked up and paused to see,
Amid the apple-branches,
A purple Judas-Tree.

The road stretched winding onward
For many a weary mile, --
So dusty, foot-sore wanderers
Would pause and rest awhile;
And panting horses halted,
And travellers loved to tell
The quiet of the wayside inn,
The orchard, and the well.

Here Maurice dwelt; and often
The sunburnt boy would stand
Gazing upon the distance,
And shading with his hand
His eyes, while watching vainly
For travellers, who might need
His aid to loose the bridle,
And tend the weary steed.

And once (the boy remembered
That morning many a day, --
The dew lay on the hawthorn,
The bird sang on the spray)
A train of horsemen, nobler
Than he had seen before,
Up from the distance galloped,
And halted at the door.

Upon a milk-white pony,
Fit for a fairy queen,
Was the loveliest little damsel
His eyes had ever seen:
A serving-man was holding
The leading rein, to guide
The pony and its mistress,
Who cantered by his side.

Her sunny ringlets round her
A golden cloud had made,
While her large hat was keeping
Her calm blue eyes in shade;
One hand held fast the silken reins
To keep her steed in check,
The other pulled his tangled mane,
Or stroked his glossy neck.

And as the boy brought water,
And loosed the rein, he heard
The sweetest voice that thanked him
In one low gentle word;
She turned her blue eyes from him,
Looked up, and smiled to see
The hanging purple blossoms
Upon the Judas-Tree;

And showed it with a gesture,
Half pleading, half command,
Till he broke the fairest blossom,
And laid it in her hand;
And she tied it to her saddle
With a ribbon from her hair,
While her happy laugh rang gayly,
Like silver on the air.

But the champing steeds were rested, --
The horsemen now spurred on,
And down the dusty highway
They vanished and were gone.
Years passed, and many a traveller
Paused at the old inn-door,
But the little milk-white pony
And the child returned no more.

Years passed, the apple-branches
A deeper shadow shed;
And many a time the Judas-Tree,
Blossom and leaf, lay dead;
When on the loitering western breeze
Came the bells' merry sound,
And flowery arches rose, and flags
And banners waved around.

Maurice stood there expectant:
The bridal train would stay
Some moments at the inn-door,
The eager watchers say;
They come, -- the cloud of dust draws near, --
'Mid all the state and pride,
He only sees the golden hair
And blue eyes of the bride.

The same, yet, ah, still fairer;
He knew the face once more
That bent above the pony's neck
Years past at that inn-door:
Her shy and smiling eyes looked round,
Unconscious of the place,
Unconscious of the eager gaze
He fixed upon her face.

He plucked a blossom from the tree, --
The Judas-Tree, -- and cast
Its purple fragrance towards the Bride,
A message from the Past.
The signal came, the horses plunged, --
Once more she smiled around:
The purple blossom in the dust
Lay trampled on the ground.

Again the slow years fleeted,
Their passage only known
By the height the Passion-flower
Around the porch had grown;
And many a passing traveller
Paused at the old inn-door,
But the bride, so fair and blooming,
The bride returned no more.

One winter morning, Maurice,
Watching the branches bare,
Rustling and waving dimly
In the gray and misty air,
Saw blazoned on a carriage
Once more the well-known shield,
The stars and azure fleurs-de-lis
Upon a silver field.

He looked -- was that pale woman,
So grave, so worn, so sad,
The child, once young and smiling,
The bride, once fair and glad?
What grief had dimmed that glory,
And brought that dark eclipse
Upon her blue eyes' radiance,
And paled those trembling lips?

What memory of past sorrow,
What stab of present pain,
Brought that deep look of anguish,
That watched the dismal rain,
That watched (with the absent spirit
That looks, yet does not see)
The dead and leafless branches
Upon the Judas-Tree?

The slow dark months crept onward
Upon their icy way,
Till April broke in showers,
And Spring smiled forth in May;
Upon the apple-blossoms
The sun shone bright again,
When slowly up the high way
Came a long funeral train.

The bells tolled slowly, sadly,
For a noble spirit fled;
Slowly, in pomp and honor,
They bore the quiet dead.
Upon a black-plumed charger
One rode, who held a shield,
Where stars and azure fleurs-de-lis
Shone on a silver field.

'Mid all that homage given
To a fluttering heart at rest,
Perhaps an honest sorrow
Dwelt only in one breast.
One by the inn-door standing
Watched with fast-dropping tears
The long procession passing,
And thought of bygone years.

The boyish, silent homage
To child and bride unknown,
The pitying, tender sorrow
Kept in his heart alone,
Now laid upon the coffin
With a purple flower, might be
Told to the cold, dead sleeper; --
The rest could only see
A fragrant purple blossom,
Plucked from a Judas-Tree.





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