The Scarlet Lilies

By Violet Jacob

    I see her as though she were standing yet
        In her tower at the end of the town,
    When the hot sun mounts and when dusk comes down,
        With her two hands laid on the parapet;
    The curve of her throat as she turns this way,
        The bend of her body – I see it all;
    And the watching eyes that look day by day
        O’er the flood that runs by the city wall.

    The winds by the river would come and go
        On the flame-red gown she was wont to wear,
    And the scarlet lilies that crowned her hair,
        And the scarlet lilies that grew below.
    I used to lie like a wolf in his lair,
        With a burning heart and a soul in thrall,
    Gazing across in a fume of despair
        O’er the flood that runs by the river wall.

    I saw when he came with his tiger’s eyes,
        That held you still in the grip of their glance,
    And the cat-smooth air he had learned in France,
        The light on his sword from the evening skies;
    When the heron stood at the water’s edge,
        And the sun went down in a crimson ball,
    I crouched in a thicket of rush and sedge
        By the flood that runs by the river wall.

    He knew where the stone lay loose in its place,
        And a foot might hold in the chink between,
    The carven niche where the arms had been,
        And the iron rings in the tower’s face;
    For the scarlet lilies lay broken round,
        Snapped through at the place where his tread would fall,
    As he slipped at dawn to the yielding ground,
        Near the flood that runs by the river wall.

    I gave the warning – I ambushed the band
        In the alder-clump – he was one to ten –
    Shall I fight for my soul as he fought then,
        Lord God, in the grasp of the devil’s hand?
    As the cock crew up in the morning chill,
        And the city waked to the watchman’s call,
    There were four left lying to sleep their fill
        At the flood that runs by the city wall.

    Had I owned this world to its farthest part,
        I had bartered all to have had his share;
    Yet he died that night in the city square,
        With a scarlet lily above his heart.
    And she? Where the torrent goes by the slope,
        There rose in the river a stifled call,
    And two white hands strove with a knotted rope
        In the flood that runs by the river wall.

    Christ! I had thought I should die like a man,
        And that death, grim death, might himself be sweet,
    When the red sod rocked to the horses’ feet,
        And the knights went down as they led the van; –
    But the end that waits like a trap for me,
        Will come when I fight for my latest breath,
    With a white face drowned between God and me
        In the flood that runs by the banks of death.

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