Friday, October 21, 2016

THE HOSPITAL, a poem

I

IN THE MATERNITY WARD
IS this the place? So still!—as with the hush
     That follows storm.
Each on her narrow bed, they quiet lie—
They who, so young, have been so near to die—
     Seeming of life but effigy and form.

How fair these girlish faces with closed eyes!
     Passion and strife
Seem far from them. Are these beyond their reach?
Nay, see!—high-cradled at the foot of each,
     A tender, new-born miracle of life!

On slippered feet the nurses to and fro
     Move noiselessly.
A feeble cry!—a sigh half breathed in sleep!
But who is this that vigil here doth keep—
     What presence of august benignity?

O strangely moving vision! I behold
     The Mighty Mother!—
She who, wandering friendless and forlorn,
Sought far and near the child herself had borne,
     Finding nor help nor comfort in another.

Over the weakness here so proven strength,
     She, heavenly,
Bends down; and, lo! the room becomes a shrine
And hallowed altar for a love divine,
     Pure as her love for lost Persephone!
II

IN THE SURGICAL WARD
"He that loveth his life shall lose it"
     Last night a shape of fear
     Came in the silence drear—
          Unlooked-for and unsought—
With stealthy, ghost-like motion drawing near.

     I could not see its face
     In the unlighted place;
          No sound of it I caught;
But, shuddering, I felt its creeping pace.

     A thing too dread to bear,
     I knew that it was there.
          And, my warm blood grown cold,
An icy breathing horror stirred my hair.

     With pain-shut eyes I lay,
     Wishing yet dreading day
          That with strange pangs untold
Should come, my frame to rack in a new way,

     And powerless to free
     Myself, despairingly,
          "From the body of this death,"
I moaned, "Who shall deliver me?"

     Then, all my pulses stirred,
     Awed and amazed, I heard—
          Uttered with calming breath
Distinct and clear, apart from me—a word,

     In far Judæa taught,
     That instant freedom brought,—
          Winging my soul's escape
Through the blest miracle of heavenly thought.

     And in the dreaming dawn,
     Waiting, all fear withdrawn,
          I knew the coward Shape
From out my life forevermore was gone.
"The Hospital" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in part as "In the Maternity Ward" in The Forum (October 1913), and subsequently in both parts in The Unconquered Air (1912) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

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