Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  First or Last?

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Margaret Veley 1843–87

First or Last?

MY life ebbs from me—I must die.

Must die—it has a ghostly sound,

A far-off thunder drawing nigh,

An echo as from underground.

Yes, I must die who fain would live;

You cannot give me life—alas!

Dear Love of mine, you can but give

One latest kiss before I pass.

Dear, we have had our summer bliss,

Kisses on cheek, and lip, and brow,

But soul to soul, as now we kiss,

I think we never kiss’d till now.

Give both your hands, and let the earth

Roll onward—let what will befall.

This is an hour of wondrous birth,

And can it be the end of all?

Ah, your sad face! I know you think

(Clasp me, O love, your faith is mine,

Only my weakness made me shrink)

That I am standing on the brink

Of night where never dawn will shine,

Of slumber whence I shall not wake,

Of darkness where no life will grope;

I know your hopeless creed, and take

My part therein for your dear sake,—

We stand asunder if I hope.

And yet I dream’d of a fair land

Where you and I were met at last,

And face to face, and hand in hand,

Smil’d at the sorrow overpast.

The eastern sky was touch’d with fire,

In the dim woodlands cooed the dove,

Earth waited, tense with strong desire,

For day—your coming, O my love!

The breeze awoke to breathe your name,

And through the leafy maze I came

With feet that could not turn aside,

With eyes that would not be denied—

My lips, my heart a rosy flame,

Because you kiss’d me ere I died.

Death could but part us for a while;

Beyond the boundary of years

We met again—oh, do not smile

That tender smile, more sad than tears!

Forget my vision sweet and vain,

Your faith is mine—your faith is best;

Let others count the joys they gain,

I am a thousand times more blest.

They can but give a scanty dole

Out of a life made safe in heaven,

While I am sovereign o’er the whole,

I can give all—and all is given!

Faith such as ours defies the grave,

Nor needs a dream of bliss above—

Shall not this moment make me brave?

O aloe flower of perfect love!

What though the end of all be come,

The latest hour, the latest breath,

This is life’s triumph, and its sum,

The aloe-flower of love and death!

And yet your kisses wake a life

That throbs in anguish through my heart,

Leads up to wage despairing strife,

And shudders, loathing to depart.

Can such desire be born in vain,

Crush’d by inevitable doom?

While you let live can Love be slain?

Can Love lie dead within my tomb?

And when you die—that hopeless day

When darkness comes and utmost need,

And I am dead and cold, you say,

Will Death have power to hold his prey?

Shall I not know? Shall I not heed?

When your last sun, with waning light,

Below the sad horizon dips,

Shall I not rush from out the night

To die once more upon your lips?

Ah, the black moment comes! Draw nigh,

Stoop down, O Love, and hold me fast.

O empty earth! O empty sky!

There is no answer, though I die

Breathing my soul out in the cry,

Is it the first kiss—or the last?