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Augusta (Davies) Webster (1837-1894)

If?


              1If I should die this night, (as well might be,
              2   So pain has on my weakness worked its will),
              3And they should come at morn and look on me

              4Lying more white than I am wont, and still
              5   In the strong silence of unchanging sleep,
              6And feel upon my brow the deepening chill,

              7And know me gathered to His time-long keep,
              8   The quiet watcher over all men's rest,
              9And weep as those around a death-bed weep  --

            10There would no anguish throb my vacant breast,
            11   No tear-drop trickle down my stony cheek,
            12No smile of long farewell say "Calm is best."

            13I should not answer aught that they should speak,
            14   Nor look my meaning out of earnest eyes,
            15Nor press the reverent hands that mine should seek;

            16But, lying there in such an awful guise,
            17   Like some strange presence from a world unknown
            18Unmoved by any human sympathies,

            19Seem strange to them, and dreadfully alone,
            20   Vacant to love of theirs or agony,
            21Having no pulse in union with their own.

            22Gazing henceforth upon infinity
            23   With a calm consciousness devoid of change,
            24Watching the current of the years pass by,

            25And watching the long cycles onward range,
            26   With stronger vision of their perfect whole,
            27As one whom time and space from them estrange.

            28And they might mourn and say "The parted soul
            29   "Is gone out of our love; we spend in vain
            30"A tenderness that cannot reach its goal."

            31Yet I might still perchance with them remain
            32   In spirit, being free from laws of mould,
            33Still comprehending human joy and pain.

            34Ah me! but if I knew them as of old,
            35   Clasping them in vain arms, they unaware,
            36And mourned to find my kisses leave them cold,

            37And sought still some part of their life to share
            38   Still standing by them, hoping they might see,
            39And seemed to them but as the viewless air!

            40For so once came it in a dream to me,
            41   And in my heart it seemed a pang too deep,
            42A shadow having human life to be.

            43For it at least would be long perfect sleep
            44   Unknowing Being and all Past to lie,
            45Void of the growing Future, in God's keep:

            46But such a knowledge would be misery
            47   Too great to be believed. Yet if the dead
            48In a diviner mood might still be nigh,

            49Their former life unto their death so wed
            50   That they could watch their loved with heavenly eye,
            51That were a thing to joy in, not to dread.

Notes

1] Cf. Arabella Eugenia Smith's much more popular "If I should Die To-night" (1873), a poem inspired by Webster's.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Augusta Webster, A Woman Sold and Other Poems (London and Cambridge: Macmillan, 1867): 91-93. British Library 11647.dd.35
First publication date: 1867
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/28

Form: triplets
Rhyme: aba bcb cdc ...


Other poems by Augusta (Davies) Webster