by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
La Dame aux Camélias, —
I think that was the play;
The house was packed from pit to dome
With the gallant and the gay,
Who had come to see the Tragedy,
And while the hours away.
There was the ruined Spendthrift,
And Beauty in her prime;
There was the grave Historian,
And there the man of Rhyme,
And the surly Critic, front to front,
To see the play of crime.
And there was pompous Ignorance,
And Vice in flowers and lace;
Sir Crœsus and Sir Pandarus, —
And the music played apace.
But of all that crowd I only saw
A single, single face!
That of a girl whom I had known
In the summers long ago,
When her breath was like the new-mown hay,
Or the sweetest flowers that grow;
When her heart was light, and her soul was white
As the winter’s driven snow.
And there she sat with her great brown eyes,
They wore a troubled look;
And I read the history of her life
As it were an open book;
And saw her Soul, like a slimy thing
In the bottom of a brook.
There she sat in her rustling silk,
With diamonds on her wrist,
And on her brow a gleaming thread
Of pearl and amethyst.
“A cheat, a gilded grief!” I said,
And my eyes were filled with mist.
I could not see the players play:
I heard the music moan;
It moaned like a dismal autumn wind,
That dies in the woods alone;
And when it stopped I heard it still, —
The mournful monotone!
What if the Count were true or false?
I did not care, not I;
What if Camille for Armand died?
I did not see her die.
There sat a woman opposite
With piteous lip and eye!
The great green curtain fell on all,
On laugh, and wine, and woe,
Just as death some day will fall
’Twixt us and life, I know!
The play was done, the bitter play,
And the people turned to go.
And did they see the Tragedy?
They saw the painted scene;
They saw Armand, the jealous fool,
And the sick Parisian queen:
But they did not see the Tragedy, —
The one I saw, I mean!
They did not see that cold-cut face,
That furtive look of care;
Or, seeing her jewels, only said,
“The lady’s rich and fair.”
But I tell you, ’t was the Play of Life,
and that woman played Despair!