Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Appendix U

From Mark Twain’s Last Poem


(See Chapter ccxxiii)

(A bereft and demented mother speaks)

. . . O, I can see my darling yet: the little form In slip of flimsy stuff all creamy white, Pink-belted waist with ample bows, Blue shoes scarce bigger than the house-cat’s ears — Capering in delight and choked with glee.

It was a summer afternoon; the hill Rose green above me and about, and in the vale below The distant village slept, and all the world Was steeped in dreams. Upon me lay this peace, And I forgot my sorrow in its spell. And now My little maid passed by, and she Was deep in thought upon a solemn thing: A disobedience, and my reproof. Upon my face She must not look until the day was done; For she was doing penance . . . She? O, it was I! What mother knows not that? And so she passed, I worshiping and longing . . . It was not wrong? You do not think me wrong? I did it for the best. Indeed I meant it so.

She flits before me now: The peach-bloom of her gauzy crepe, The plaited tails of hair, The ribbons floating from the summer hat, The grieving face, dropp’d head absorbed with care. O, dainty little form! I see it move, receding slow along the path, By hovering butterflies besieged; I see it reach The breezy top clear-cut against the sky, . . . Then pass beyond and sink from sight-forever!

Within, was light and cheer; without, A blustering winter’s right. There was a play; It was her own; for she had wrought it out Unhelped, from her own head-and she But turned sixteen! A pretty play, All graced with cunning fantasies, And happy songs, and peopled all with fays, And sylvan gods and goddesses, And shepherds, too, that piped and danced, And wore the guileless hours away In care-free romps and games.

Her girlhood mates played in the piece, And she as well: a goddess, she — And looked it, as it seemed to me.

’Twas fairyland restored-so beautiful it was And innocent. It made us cry, we elder ones, To live our lost youth o’er again With these its happy heirs.

Slowly, at last, the curtain fell. Before us, there, she stood, all wreathed and draped In roses pearled with dew-so sweet, so glad, So radiant! — and flung us kisses through the storm Of praise that crowned her triumph . . . . O, Across the mists of time I see her yet, My Goddess of the Flowers!

. . . The curtain hid her . . . . Do you comprehend? Till time shall end! Out of my life she vanished while I looked!

. . . Ten years are flown. O, I have watched so long, So long. But she will come no more. No, she will come no more.

It seems so strange . . . so strange . . . Struck down unwarned! In the unbought grace, of youth laid low — In the glory of her fresh young bloom laid low — In the morning of her life cut down! And I not by! Not by When the shadows fell, the night of death closed down The sun that lit my life went out. Not by to answer When the latest whisper passed the lips That were so dear to me — my name! Far from my post! the world’s whole breadth away. O, sinking in the waves of death she cried to me For mother-help, and got for answer Silence!

We that are old — we comprehend; even we That are not mad: whose grown-up scions still abide; Their tale complete: Their earlier selves we glimpse at intervals Far in the dimming past; We see the little forms as once they were, And whilst we ache to take them to our hearts, The vision fades. We know them lost to us — Forever lost; we cannot have them back; We miss them as we miss the dead, We mourn them as we mourn the dead.

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