A Woman and Her Dead Husband

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1614)

Ah stern cold man,
How can you lie so relentless hard
While I wash you with weeping water!
Ah face, carved hard and cold,
You have been like this, on your guard
Against me, since death began.

You masquerader!
How can you shame to act this part
Of unswerving indifference to me?
It is not you; why disguise yourself
Against me, to break my heart,
You evader?

You’ve a warm mouth,
A good warm mouth always sooner to soften
Even than your sudden eyes.
Ah cruel, to keep your mouth
Relentless, however often
I kiss it in drouth.

You are not he.
Who are you, lying in his place on the bed
And rigid and indifferent to me?
His mouth, though he laughed or sulked,
Was always warm and red
And good to me.

And his eyes could see
The white moon hang like a breast revealed
By the slipping shawl of stars,
Could see the small stars tremble
As the heart beneath did wield
Systole, diastole.

And he showed it me
So, when he made his love to me;
And his brows like rocks on the sea jut out,
And his eyes were deep like the sea
With shadow, and he looked at me,
Till I sank in him like the sea,

Oh, he was multiform—
Which then was he among the manifold?
The gay, the sorrowful, the seer?
I have loved a rich race of men in one—
But not this, this never-warm

Ah masquerader!
With your steel face white-enamelled,
Were you he, after all, and I never
Saw you or felt you in kissing?
—Yet sometimes my heart was trammelled
With fear, evader!

Then was it you
After all, this cold, hard man?
—Ah no, look up at me,
Tell me it isn’t true,
That you’re only frightening me!

You will not stir,
Nor hear me, not a sound.
—Then it was you—
And all this time you were
Like this when I lived with you.

It is not true,
I am frightened, I am frightened of you
And of everything.
O God!—God too
Has deceived me in everything,
In everything.