By Thomas Hardy
The flame crept up the portrait line by line
As it lay on the coals in the silence of night’s profound,
And over the arm’s incline,
And along the marge of the silkwork superfine,
And gnawed at the delicate bosom’s defenceless round.
Then I vented a cry of hurt, and averted my eyes;
The spectacle was one that I could not bear,
To my deep and sad surprise;
But, compelled to heed, I again looked furtive-wise
Till the flame had eaten her breasts, and mouth, and hair.
“Thank God, she is out of it now!” I said at last,
In a great relief of heart when the thing was done
That had set my soul aghast,
And nothing was left of the picture unsheathed from the past
But the ashen ghost of the card it had figured on.
She was a woman long hid amid packs of years,
She might have been living or dead; she was lost to my sight,
And the deed that had nigh drawn tears
Was done in a casual clearance of life’s arrears;
But I felt as if I had put her to death that night! . . .
* * *
– Well; she knew nothing thereof did she survive,
And suffered nothing if numbered among the dead;
Yet – yet – if on earth alive
Did she feel a smart, and with vague strange anguish strive?
If in heaven, did she smile at me sadly and shake her head?