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The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, [1870], at

Refna hears Women talking.

SO the days wore with nothing new to tell,
Till spring-tide once more on the country fell,
Then on a night as Kiartan to his bed
Would go, still Refna sat with bowed-down head
And stirred not, nor a while would speak, when he
Spake to her in kind words and lovingly;
At last she lifted up a face, wherein
Somewhat did trouble upon sorrow win,
And said: p. 473
             "Indeed of all thy grief I knew,
But deemed if still thou saw’st me kind and true,
Not asking too much, yet not failing aught
To show that not far off need love be sought,
If thou shouldst need love—if thou sawest all this,
Thou wouldst not grudge to show me what a bliss
Thy whole love was, by giving unto me
As unto one who loved thee silently,
Now and again the broken crumbs thereof:
Alas! I, having then no part in love,
Knew not how nought, nought can allay the soul
Of that sad thirst, but love untouched and whole!
Kinder than e’er I durst have hoped thou art,
Forgive me then, that yet my craving heart
Is so unsatisfied; I know that thou
Art fain to dream that I am happy now,
And for that seeming ever do I strive;
Thy half-love, dearest, keeps me still alive
To love thee; and I bless it—but at whiles—"

   So far she spake till her weak quivering smiles
Faded before the bitterness of love.
Her face changed, and her passion ’gan to move
Within her breast until the sobs came fast,
And down upon her hands her face she cast,
And by the pain of tears her heart did gain
A little respite; nor might she refrain
From weeping yet, when Kiartan's arms she felt
About her, and for long her fair lips dwelt p. 474
With hungry longing on his lips, and he
Spake to her:
                 "O poor lover, long may we
Live upon earth, till lover and beloved
Each is to each, by one desire moved;
And whereas thou dost say to me, Forgive,
Forgive me rather! A short while to live
Once seemed the longest life of man to me,
Wherein my love of the old years to see;
But could I die now, and be born again
To give my whole heart up to ease thy pain,
A short while would I choose to live indeed.
But is it not so, sweet, that thou hast need
To tell me of a thing late seen or heard?
Surely by some hap thy dear heart is stirred
From out its wonted quiet; ease thine heart
And ’twixt us twain thy fear and grief depart!"

   She looked up: "Yea, kind love, I thought to tell
Of no great thing that yesterday befell.
Why should I vex thee with it? Yet thy fame,
If I must say the word, in question came
Therein. Yet prithee, mark it not too much!"

   He smiled and said: "Nay, be the tidings such
As mean my death, speak out and hide not aught!"

   She sat a little while, as though she thought
How best to speak, then said: "The day being good, p. 475
About noon yesterday in peaceful mood
I wandered by the brook-side, and at last
Behind a great grey stone myself I cast,
And slept, as fate would have it; when I woke
At first I did but note the murmuring brook,
But as my hearing and my sight did clear
The sound of women's voices did I hear,
And in the stream two maidens did I see,
Our housefolk, and belike they saw not me,
Since I lay low adown, and up the stream
Their faces turned; I from a half-sweet dream,
I know not what, awaked, no sooner heard
Their first word, than sick-hearted and afeard
I grew, the cold and evil world to feel
So hard it seemed, love, my life to deal:
Bitterly clear I saw; as if alone
And dead, I saw the world; by a grey stone
Within the shallows, washing linen gear
They stood; their voices sounded sharp and clear;
Half smiles of pleasure and of goodlihead,
Shone on their faces, as their rough work sped;
O God, how bright the world was!"
                                    A flush came
Across her face; as stricken by some shame
She stammered, when she went on: "Thus their speech,
Broken amid their work mine ear did reach
As I woke up to care, for the one said,
'Yea, certes, now has Kiartan good end made
Of all his troubles, things go well enow.' p. 476
'Over well,' said the other, 'didst thou know?'
'Know what?' the first one said, 'What knowst thou then?'
'Nay, nought except the certain talk of men.'
'Well, hear I not men too, what wilt thou say?'
She said, 'Men talk that this is latter May,
And Kiartan sitteth still and nought is done
For the two thefts of Bathstead to atone.'
'Fool!' saith the first one, 'shall all fall to strife
For what in no wise maketh worse their life?'
'Well, well, and what will Refna say thereto?
Things had been otherwise a while ago;
Scarce Kiartan's brother had stripped Gudrun's head
Of what she loved, and yet ’scaped lying dead
By this time. Ospak, sure, is safe enow.'
'Ah!' said the other, 'great things sayest thou!'
'True words I speak, when this I say to thee,
That glad would Gudrun and our Kiartan be
If Bodli Thorleikson and Refna lay
Dead on the earth upon the selfsame day;
And this from all men's daily talk I draw;
Old friends are last to sever, saith the saw.'

   "This was the last word that I heard, O love,
For from the place softly I ’gan to move
Ere they might see me, and my feet, well taught
To know the homeward way, my body brought
Unto my bower; yet scarce I saw the way,
Rather some place beneath the sod, where lay p. 477
A few white bones, unnamed, unheeded, while
Hard by within this bower ’twixt word and smile
Was breast strained unto breast of twain I knew—
—And needs must part awhile, that I might rue
My life, my death, my bitter useless birth.
O Kiartan, over-weary seemed the earth
Yesterday and to-day; too hard to bear
Within thine home to be, and see thee. near,
And think that but for very kindness thou
Must wish me dead—thou didst not note me, how
My face was worn with woe throughout that tide,
Though most men looked on me—for thou must bide
A weary waiting, and thy woe untold
Must make thy face at whiles seem hard and cold.
—Ah me! forgive me that I talk of this!
Think how my heart ached!"
                               For now kiss on kiss
Did Kiartan shower upon her quivering face,
Yet, even as their arms did interlace,
Despite his love and pity, of past years
He needs must think, of wasted sighs and tears
And hopes all fallen to nought, and vows undone,
And many a pleasure from his life seemed gone;
And sorely his heart smote him for her faith
So pure and changeless; her love strong as death,
As kind as God, that nought should satisfy
Till all the shows of earth had passed her by.

Next: Kiartan fetches the price of the Coif from Bathstead