Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton

Here you will find the Long Poem I Cannot Love Thee! of poet Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton

I Cannot Love Thee!

I CANNOT love thee, tho' thy soul 
Be one which all good thoughts control; 
Altho' thy eyes be starry bright, 
And the gleams of golden light 
Fall upon thy silken hair, 
And thy forehead, broad and fair; 
Something of a cold disgust, 
(Wonderful, and most unjust,) 
Something of a sullen fear 
Weighs my heart when thou art near; 
And my soul, which cannot twine 
Thought or sympathy with thine, 
With a coward instinct tries 
To hide from thy enamour'd eyes, 
Wishing for a sudden blindness 
To escape those looks of kindness; 

Sad she folds her shivering wings 
From the love thy spirit brings, 
Like a chainéd thing, caress'd 
By the hand it knows the best, 
By the hand which, day by day, 
Visits its imprison'd stay, 
Bringing gifts of fruit and blossom 
From the green earth's plenteous bosom; 
All but that for which it pines 
In those narrow close confines, 
With a sad and ceaseless sigh-- 
Wild and wingéd Liberty! 

Can it be, no instinct dwells 
In th' immortal soul, which tells 
That thy love, oh! human brother, 
Is unwelcome to another? 
Can the changeful wavering eye, 
Raised to thine in forced reply,-- 
Can the cold constrainéd smile, 
Shrinking from thee all the while,-- 
Satisfy thy heart, or prove 
Such a likeness of true love? 

Seems to me, that I should guess 
By what a world of bitterness, 
By what a gulf of hopeless care, 
Our two hearts divided were: 
Seems to me that I should know 
All the dread that lurk'd below, 
By want of answer found 
In the voice's trembling sound; 
By the unresponsive gaze; 
By the smile which vainly plays, 
In whose cold imperfect birth 
Glows no fondness, lives no mirth; 
By the sigh, whose different tone 
Hath no echo of thine own; 
By the hand's cold clasp, which still 
Held as not of its free will, 
Shrinks, as it for freedom yearn'd;-- 
That my love was unreturn'd. 

When thy tongue (ah! woe is me!) 
Whispers love-vows tenderly, 
Mine is shaping, all unheard, 
Fragments of some withering word, 

Which, by its complete farewell, 
Shall divide us like a spell! 
And my heart beats loud and fast, 
Wishing that confession past; 
And the tide of anguish rises, 
Till its strength my soul surprises, 
And the reckless words, unspoken, 
Nearly have the silence broken, 
With a gush like some wild river,-- 
'Oh! depart, depart for ever!' 

But my faltering courage fails, 
And my drooping spirit quails; 
So sweet-earnest looks thy smile 
Full of tenderness the while, 
And with such strange pow'r are gifted 
The eyes to which my own are lifted; 
So my faint heart dies away, 
And my lip can nothing say, 
And I long to be alone,-- 
For I weep when thou are gone! 

Yes, I weep, but then my soul 
Free to ponder o'er the whole, 
Free from fears which check'd its thought, 
And the pain thy presence brought, 
Whispers me the useless lie,-- 
'For thy love he will not die, 
Such pity is but vanity.' 
And I bend my weary head 
O'er the tablets open spread, 
Whose fair pages me invite 
All I dared not say to write; 
And my fingers take the pen, 
And my heart feels braced again 
With a resolute intent;-- 
But, ere yet that page be sent, 
Once I view the written words 
Which must break thy true heart's chords; 
And a vision, piercing bright, 
Rises on my coward sight, 
Of thy fond hand, gladly taking 
What must set thy bosom aching; 
While too soon the brittle seal 
Bids the page the worst reveal, 
Blending in thy eager gaze-- 
Scorn, and anguish, and amaze. 

Powerless, then, my hand reposes 
On the tablet which it closes, 
With a cold and shivering sense 
Born of Truth's omnipotence: 
And my weeping blots the leaves, 
And my sinking spirit grieves, 
Humbled in that bitter hour 
By the very consciousness of power! 
What am I, that I should be 
Such a source of woe to thee? 
What am I, that I should dare 
Thus to play with thy despair, 
And persuade myself that thou 
Wilt not bend beneath the blow? 

Rather should my conscience move 
Me to think of this vain love, 
Which my life of peace beguiles, 
As a tax on foolish smiles, 
Which--like light not meant for one 
Who, wandering in the dark alone, 
Hath yet been tempted by its ray 
To turn aside and lose his way-- 
Binds me, by their careless sin, 
To take the misled wanderer in. 

And I praise thee, as I go, 
Wandering, weary, full of woe, 
To my own unwilling heart; 
Cheating it to take thy part 
By rehearsing each rare merit 
Which thy nature doth inherit. 
To myself their list I give, 
Most prosaic, positive:-- 
How thy heart is good and true, 
And thy face most fair to view; 
How the powers of thy