The Third Voice

Not long this transport held its place:

Within a little moment’s space

Quick tears were raining down his face

His heart stood still, aghast with fear;

A wordless voice, nor far nor near,

He seemed to hear and not to hear.

“Tears kindle not the doubtful spark.

If so, why not?  Of this remark

The bearings are profoundly dark.”

“Her speech,” he said, “hath caused this pain.

Easier I count it to explain

The jargon of the howling main,

“Or, stretched beside some babbling brook,

To con, with inexpressive look,

An unintelligible book.”

Low spake the voice within his head,

In words imagined more than said,

Soundless as ghost’s intended tread:

“If thou art duller than before,

Why quittedst thou the voice of lore?

Why not endure, expecting more?”

“Rather than that,” he groaned aghast,

“I’d writhe in depths of cavern vast,

Some loathly vampire’s rich repast.”

“’Twere hard,” it answered, “themes immense

To coop within the narrow fence

That rings thy scant intelligence.”

“Not so,” he urged, “nor once alone:

But there was something in her tone

That chilled me to the very bone.

“Her style was anything but clear,

And most unpleasantly severe;

Her epithets were very queer.

“And yet, so grand were her replies,

I could not choose but deem her wise;

I did not dare to criticise;

“Nor did I leave her, till she went

So deep in tangled argument

That all my powers of thought were spent.”

A little whisper inly slid,

“Yet truth is truth: you know you did.”

A little wink beneath the lid.

And, sickened with excess of dread,

Prone to the dust he bent his head,

And lay like one three-quarters dead

The whisper left him—like a breeze

Lost in the depths of leafy trees—

Left him by no means at his ease.

Once more he weltered in despair,

With hands, through denser-matted hair,

More tightly clenched than then they were.

When, bathed in Dawn of living red,

Majestic frowned the mountain head,

“Tell me my fault,” was all he said.

When, at high Noon, the blazing sky

Scorched in his head each haggard eye,

Then keenest rose his weary cry.

And when at Eve the unpitying sun

Smiled grimly on the solemn fun,

“Alack,” he sighed, “what have I done?”

But saddest, darkest was the sight,

When the cold grasp of leaden Night

Dashed him to earth, and held him tight.

Tortured, unaided, and alone,

Thunders were silence to his groan,

Bagpipes sweet music to its tone:

“What?  Ever thus, in dismal round,

Shall Pain and Mystery profound

Pursue me like a sleepless hound,

“With crimson-dashed and eager jaws,

Me, still in ignorance of the cause,

Unknowing what I broke of laws?”

The whisper to his ear did seem

Like echoed flow of silent stream,

Or shadow of forgotten dream,

The whisper trembling in the wind:

“Her fate with thine was intertwined,”

So spake it in his inner mind:

“Each orbed on each a baleful star:

Each proved the other’s blight and bar:

Each unto each were best, most far:

“Yea, each to each was worse than foe:

Thou, a scared dullard, gibbering low,

And she, an avalanche of woe!”

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