The Weight of Love
Ere day had dawned, the man would rise,
Before sun’s rays had reached the skies;
His lantern lit, he left for work,
Each weekly morning without quirk,
His daily industry to fill:
Shoe horses’ hooves with expert skill,
Cast grates for hearths and gates for paths,
Mold marble into tubs for baths,
Make columns, tombs, and cornerstones,
(And once the bell for a trombone;)
Thus many tasks both great and small
The dext’rous wright accomplished all.
His frame was broad, though tall and lean;
His sinews strong, his reason keen,
He little spoke, though much he heard;
He learned when young to spare the word.
None knew from whom, or whence, he came,
None thought to ask his second name,
But family he had eight years
‘Til fire took them, and all his tears
That home of love could not restore,
And no one saw the scars he bore.
The father, mother, baby girl,
Their forms all charred by smoky swirl,
Were laid to rest beneath a cross—
Which plain and nameless marked his loss.
No relatives were near to aid,
Thus in an orphanage he stayed.
For months at night in dreams returned
The horror of the bodies burned;
And mute in class, he wondered why
With them God had not let him die,
Why he alone the world must face,
Hard knocks, cold shoulders, in this place?
In those rough years, he learned a trade:
A blacksmith taught him what he made.
He labored long with forge and flame
The deadly servant fire to tame.
And many frequented the shop,
From dawn to dusk, work did not stop.
Then came the sweetest year as yet:
Love flowered for a girl he met,
Who nursed to health an injured horse,
That raced, and won, upon the course.
He forged a silver chain for her;
She blushed, but she did not demur.
Hope budded fresh within his heart:
Her tender strength could fill the part
Of loving, understanding wife,
And bear him children full of life.
Then he would have a family,
And loneliness bygone would be!
One afternoon, with pounding vein,
He went to ask her father plain:
The beads of sweat upon his face,
He humbly made his earnest case.
The father laughed, and shook his head;
With voice amused and smug he said,
“My daughter yours? Why, you’re too poor!
The banker’s son has much in store.
Good day, my lad, I’m sure you’ll find
A match that suits your class and kind.”
The laughter froze the bud of hope;
For poor he was, in credit’s scope
(Though richer far than banker’s son
In deeper sense than mammon won).
His heart had shattered once before,
And these words plunged into the core.
What meant a heart to men like this?
Ah, nothing, when the bank meant bliss!
What meant his clever mind to them?
Ah, nothing next to gold or gem;
What meant his patience or his grit?
Ah, naught to values counterfeit.
The future would be like his past;
Alone and bleak—the die was cast.
The treasured vision of her smile,
Her glossy hair, her lack of guile,
Her eyes and voice, both soft and kind,
He tried to banish from his mind.
But when he heard she was the bride,
The banker’s son the knot had tied;
He stole away in darkest night,
And wished to die before the light.
How could he bear this crushing weight?
Such loneliness, too hard a fate!
He knelt and begged God him to take:
I’ve hurt enough, for pity’s sake!
You must go on, he seemed to hear,
Your time will come, but ‘tisn’t near.
Since busy-ness could dull the pain,
He worked long days new skills to gain;
He occupied his mind each day,
To wall his aching heart away.
His customers he multiplied;
And each one he well satisfied,
But not a soul would he befriend,
Nor take to bank one dividend.
They sought his expertise afar,
No other smith surpassed his par;
Such high demand in any niche
Could make a fellow very rich;
But still he wore his clothes threadbare,
And simply dwelt, on plainest fare.
For poor folk he would set no price,
Whate’er they offered would suffice.
“Why, you’re too poor” was seared inside,
And with them he identified.
Weeks turned to months, then months to years;
Sad tidings one day reached his ears,
News of the one he loved and lost,
Whose happiness the bank had cost:
“Her husband cares for lucre more,
Their wayward son doth vex her sore;
For this her spirits low had sunk,
And in plain sight, I saw her drunk.”
The gossip did not see his face,
Where pangs of grief appeared a trace:
The clenchèd lip, the reddened eye,
The breath caught in a heaving sigh;
And none but God knew how he prayed
For succor for the one who strayed.
He heard no more of her that year,
Until the fall again drew near,
When winds blew hard and bit the air,
And winter’s cold would soon be there;
’Twas then to him the banker came,
Requesting he engrave the name
Upon a tombstone for his wife,
Whose drinking forfeited her life.
He would be paid a lavish sum,
Enough to lift him from this slum!
The banker paused, so glib and sleek,
And waiting for the smith to speak,
Thought ne’er had face seemed more like stone,
Like granite cold, that hard cheekbone;
When finally the man replied
Each word he spoke was cut and dried:
“Not one red cent will I accept,
Your filthy wealth I disrespect;
But I will carve the grave for her,
To honor whom they shall inter.”
At this, the knave could find no word,
And to the stronger man deferred.
At night, rest did not come for him,
As by the lantern’s flicker dim
He chiseled marbled for her grave,
No weariness this task could stave;
In stone her name and likeness cast,
And dates of thirty-odd years passed.
How life was like a road to trudge,
The length of which God was the judge;
Her road had stopped, while his stretched on;
All whom he’d ever loved were gone.
How marching time blurred reveries,
And faded their dear memories!
And when he watched her hearse pass by,
His face was still, his eye was dry;
The sobs were dammed up deep within,
The heart-ache throbbed beneath thick skin;
Yet was her death reprieve of strain,
The last dregs in his cup of pain?
The cemetery’s corner plot
Was just the spot the banker bought
On credit for her burial;
A quiet place to rest a soul,
There, sloping hill met grassy dell,
And echoed faint the churchyard bell.
On Sundays, ere the friar came
—When none would see his rugged frame—
He visited her resting place
To clear moss from the sculpted face;
To lay a flower by the tomb,
Where no one else e’er laid a bloom.
From time to time news of the son
Would scandalize most everyone;
The banker’s pampering bore fruit:
The rotten offspring was a brute;
Not one day’s work in all his life,
And drinks and whores meant debts were rife.
* * *
He welcomed all the signs of age,
For time to write his closing page:
The creaking knee, the dimming eye,
The swelling joint, meant rest drew nigh.
Whereas the other men in town
Observed his pace was slowing down,
Some fathers sent their sons by turn
His methods and machines to learn;
The pupils best with forge and fire
Were those he chose to keep for hire.
One afternoon, the pains were strong;
His stiffened hands made tasks go wrong,
So leaving his apprentices
Entrusted with all notices,
He started off to his small shack
With halting gait and stooping back.
The pathway by the river wound,
Which, as he neared, there came the sound
Of children playing, quite carefree:
Two little lads, with girls three.
Yet suddenly he stood stock-still,
With jolting heart and tingling chill:
As on the third lass his eye fell,
The past revived a wistful spell.
Such glossy, wavy locks of hair,
Such sweet brown eyes, and face so fair,
Exactly like the girl of yore:
The rose that bloomed so long before.
Was this the rogue son’s daughter here?
Then from his eye there rolled a tear:
Around her neck she wore his chain—
He had not loved so long in vain!
But all at once, the lively play
A dreadful twist did take that day;
While romping past her playmate’s side,
She slipped in mud left by the tide,
And tumbled o’er the riverbank
Down to the water where she sank.
He dove below the child to save,
And swimming through the frigid wave,
He grasped with an outstretched arm,
And drew her up, away from harm.
She coughed and spluttered, soaked but well,
And clambered up past where she fell.
But ere he could himself emerge,
The current eddied with a surge
That sent a fallen log downstream;
He, watching her, saw not the beam
So thus it whacked him in the head,
Which splitting stained the water red;
And losing consciousness, he went
Face-down, submerged, his effort spent.
To town the children ran, dismayed,
But ’twas too far for timely aid:
When men arrived to gather round,
A limp and floating corpse they found
The only movement anywhere
The rippling of his snowy hair.
His family had died by fire,
And he by flood went to the pyre.
The shell they took was stiff and white,
The soul had soared above in flight:
Eye hath not seen, nor hath ear heard
The glory present with the Lord,
Such peace and rest before His throne,
There never more to walk alone!
O what reunion, without end,
Eternity of joy to spend:
He saw again his father’s face,
And knew his mother’s warm embrace;
His sister, neither young nor old,
For time and age there have no hold!