Mrs. Effingham’s Swan Song by Muriel Stuart
I am growing old: I have kept youth too long,
But I dare not let them know it now.
I have done the heart of youth a grievous wrong,
Danced it to dust, and drugged it with the rose,
Forced its reluctant lips to one more vow.
I have denied the lawful grey,
So kind, so wise, to settle in my hair;
I belong no more to April, but September has not taught me her repose.
I wish I had let myself grow old in the quiet way
That is so gracious . . . I wish I did not care.
My faded mouth will never flower again,
Under the paint, the wrinkles fret my eyes,
My hair is dull beneath its henna stain,
I have come to the last ramparts of disguise.
And now the day draws on of my defeat.
I shall not meet
The swift, male glance across the crowded room,
Where the chance contact of limbs in passing has
Its answer in some future fierce embrace.
I shall sit here in the corners looking on
With the older women, withered and overblown,
Who have grown old more graciously than I,
In a sort of safe and comfortable tomb
Knitting myself into Eternity.
And men will talk to me because they are kind,
Or as cunning or a courtesy demands;
There will be no hidden question in their eyes
And no subtle implication in their hands.
And I shall be so grateful who have been
So gracious, and so tyrannous, moving between
Denial and surrender. To-morrow I shall find
How women live who have no lovers and no answer for life’s grey monotonies.
Upon my table will be no more flowers,
They will bring me no more flowers until I am dead;
There will be no violent, sweet, exciting hours,
No wild things done or said.
Yet sometimes I’m so tired of it all-
This everlasting battle with the flesh,
This pitiful slavery to the body’s thrall-
And then I do not want to lure or charm,
I want to wear
Soft, easy things, be comfortable and warm;
I want to drowse at leisure in my chair.
I do not want to wear a veil with heavy mesh,
Or sit in shaded rooms afraid to face the light;
I do not want to go out every night,
And be bright and vivid and intense,
Nor be on the alert and the defense
With other women, fierce and afraid as I,
Drawing a knife unseen as each goes by.
I am so tired of men and making love,
For every one’s the same.
There’s nothing new in love under the sun;
All love can say or do has long been said and done:
I have eaten the fruit of knowledge long enough,
Been over-kissed, over-praised and over-won.
Why should I try to play still the old, foolish game?
Because I have played the rose’s part too long.
Who plays the rose must pay the rose’s price,
And be a rose or nothing till it dies.
And even then sometimes the blood will answer fierce and strong
To the old hunger, to the old dance, old tune;
I shall feel cruel and passionate and mad
Though I have lost the look of June.
The fever of the past will burn my hands
A men who live long in intemperate lands
Feel the old ague wring them, far removed
From the old dreadful glitter of seas and sands.
The rose dies hard in women who have had
Lovers all their lives, and have been much loved.
I am afraid to grow old now even if I would.
I have fought too well, too long, and what was once
A foolish trick to make the rose more strangely gay
Is now a close-locked, mortal conflict of brain and blood-
A feud too old to settle or renounce.
I shall grow too tired to struggle, and the fight will end,
And they will enter in at last-
Nature and Time, long thwarted of their prey,
Those old grey two, more cruel for the lips that said them ‘Nay,’
For the bitterest foe is he who in the past
Has been repulsed when he fain would be friend.
I am sorry for women who are growing old,
I do not blame them for holding youth with shameful hold,
Or doing desperate things to lips and eyes.
They have so pitifully short a flowering time,
So suddenly sweet a story so soon told.
They only strive to keep what men have taught them most to prize-
Men who have longer, fuller lives to live,
Who are not stopped and broken in their prime,
With their faces still to summer, men do not know
What Age says to a woman. They would not wait
To feel slip from their hands without a throe,
Without a struggle, futile and desperate,
All that has given them wealth and love and power
Doomed, without hope or rumour of reprieve.
They would not smile into the eyes of that advancing hour
Who had bent all summer to their bow, and had flung
The widest rose, and kissed the keenest mouth
And slept in the lordliest bed when they were young.
That bitter twilight which sun-worshipping Youth
Flies headlong keeps Age loitering on the hill,
Uneager to fold such greyness to his breast,
Knowing that none will thwart him of his will,
None be before him on that quest.
I am growing old.
I was not always kind when I was young
To women who were old, for Youth is blind-
A small, green, bitter thing beneath its fragrant rind,
And fanged against the old with boisterous tongue-
Those whose poor morning heads are touched with rime,
Walking before their misery like kings.
I did not feel that I should feel such stings,
Nor flinch beneath such arrows. But now I know.
One day I shall be stupid, and rather slow,
And easily cowed and troubled in my mind,
And tremulous, vaguely frightened, feeble and cold.
I am growing old. . . My God! how old! how old!. . .
I dare not tell them, but one day they will know. . .
I hope they will be kind.