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It is over. What is over?
 Nay, now much is over truly!—
Harvest days we toiled to sow for;
 Now the sheaves are gathered newly,
 Now the wheat is garnered duly.

It is finished. What is finished?
 Much is finished known or unknown:
Lives are finished; time diminished;
 Was the fallow field left unsown?
 Will these buds be always unblown?

It suffices. What suffices?
 All suffices reckoned rightly:
Spring shall bloom where now the ice is,
 Roses make the bramble sightly,
 And the quickening sun shine brightly,
 And the latter wind blow lightly,
And my garden teem with spices.

Long ago and long ago,
 And long ago still,
There dwelt three merry maidens
 Upon a distant hill.
One was tall Meggan,
 And one was dainty May,
But one was fair Margaret,
 More fair than I can say,
Long ago and long ago.

When Meggan plucked the thorny rose,
 And when May pulled the brier,
Half the birds would swoop to see,
 Half the beasts draw nigher;
Half the fishes of the streams
 Would dart up to admire:
But when Margaret plucked a flag-flower,
 Or poppy hot aflame,
All the beasts and all the birds
 And all the fishes came
To her hand more soft than snow.

Strawberry leaves and May-dew
 In brisk morning air,
Strawberry leaves and May-dew
 Make maidens fair.
'I go for strawberry leaves,'
 Meggan said one day:
'Fair Margaret can bide at home,
 But you come with me, May;
Up the hill and down the hill,
 Along the winding way
You and I are used to go.'

So these two fair sisters
 Went with innocent will
Up the hill and down again,
 And round the homestead hill:
While the fairest sat at home,
 Margaret like a queen,
Like a blush-rose, like the moon
 In her heavenly sheen,
Fragrant-breathed as milky cow
 Or field of blossoming bean,
Graceful as an ivy bough
 Born to cling and lean;
Thus she sat to sing and sew.

When she raised her lustrous eyes
 A beast peeped at the door;
When she downward cast her eyes
 A fish gasped on the floor;
When she turned away her eyes
 A bird perched on the sill,
Warbling out its heart of love,
 Warbling warbling still,
With pathetic pleadings low.

Light-foot May with Meggan
 Sought the choicest spot,
Clothed with thyme-alternate grass:
 Then, while day waxed hot,
Sat at ease to play and rest,
 A gracious rest and play;
The loveliest maidens near or far,
 When Margaret was away,
Who sat at home to sing and sew.

Sun-glow flushed their comely cheeks,
 Wind-play tossed their hair,
Creeping things among the grass
 Stroked them here and there;
Meggan piped a merry note,
 A fitful wayward lay,
While shrill as bird on topmost twig
 Piped merry May;
Honey-smooth the double flow.

Sped a herdsman from the vale,
 Mounting like a flame,
All on fire to hear and see,
 With floating locks he came.
Looked neither north nor south,
 Neither east nor west,
But sat him down at Meggan's feet
 As love-bird on his nest,
And wooed her with a silent awe,
 With trouble not expressed;
She sang the tears into his eyes,
 The heart out of his breast:
So he loved her, listening so.

She sang the heart out of his breast,
 The words out of his tongue;
Hand and foot and pulse he paused
 Till her song was sung.
Then he spoke up from his place
 Simple words and true:
'Scanty goods have I to give,
 Scanty skill to woo;
But I have a will to work,
 And a heart for you:
Bid me stay or bid me go.'

Then Meggan mused within herself:
 'Better be first with him,
Than dwell where fairer Margaret sits,
 Who shines my brightness dim,
For ever second where she sits,
 However fair I be:
I will be lady of his love,
 And he shall worship me;
I will be lady of his herds
 And stoop to his degree,
At home where kids and fatlings grow.'

Sped a shepherd from the height
 Headlong down to look,
(White lambs followed, lured by love
 Of their shepherd's crook):
He turned neither east nor west,
 Neither north nor south,
But knelt right down to May, for love
 Of her sweet-singing mouth;
Forgot his flocks, his panting flocks
 In parching hill-side drouth;
Forgot himself for weal or woe.

Trilled her song and swelled her song
 With maiden coy caprice
In a labyrinth of throbs,
 Pauses, cadences;
Clear-noted as a dropping brook,
 Soft-noted like the bees,
Wild-noted as the shivering wind
 Forlorn through forest trees:
Love-noted like the wood-pigeon
 Who hides herself for love,
Yet cannot keep her secret safe,
 But coos and coos thereof:
Thus the notes rang loud or low.

He hung breathless on her breath;
 Speechless, who listened well;
Could not speak or think or wish
 Till silence broke the spell.
Then he spoke, and spread his hands,
 Pointing here and there:
'See my sheep and see the lambs,
 Twin lambs which they bare.
All myself I offer you,
 All my flocks and care,
Your sweet song hath moved me so.'

In her fluttered heart young May
 Mused a dubious while:
'If he loves me as he says'—
 Her lips curved with a smile:
'Where Margaret shines like the sun
 I shine but like a moon;
If sister Meggan makes her choice
 I can make mine as soon;
At cockcrow we were sister-maids,
 We may be brides at noon.'
Said Meggan, 'Yes;' May said not 'No.'

Fair Margaret stayed alone at home,
 Awhile she sang her song,
Awhile sat silent, then she thought:
 'My sisters loiter long.'
That sultry noon had waned away,
 Shadows had waxen great:
'Surely,' she thought within herself,
 'My sisters loiter late.'
She rose, and peered out at the door,
 With patient heart to wait,
And heard a distant nightingale
 Complaining of its mate;
Then down the garden slope she walked,
 Down to the garden gate,
Leaned on the rail and waited so.

The slope was lightened by her eyes
 Like summer lightning fair,
Like rising of the haloed moon
 Lightened her glimmering hair,
While her face lightened like the sun
 Whose dawn is rosy white.
Thus crowned with maiden majesty
 She peered into the night,
Looked up the hill and down the hill,
 To left hand and to right,
Flashing like fire-flies to and fro.

Waiting thus in weariness
 She marked the nightingale
Telling, if any one would heed,
 Its old complaining tale.
Then lifted she her voice and sang,
 Answering the bird:
Then lifted she her voice and sang,
 Such notes were never heard
From any bird when Spring's in blow.

The king of all that country
 Coursing far, coursing near,
Curbed his amber-bitted steed,
 Coursed amain to hear;
All his princes in his train,
 Squire, and knight, and peer,
With his crown upon his head,
 His sceptre in his hand,
Down he fell at Margaret's knees
 Lord king of all that land,
To her highness bending low.

Every beast and bird and fish
 Came mustering to the sound,
Every man and every maid
 From miles of country round:
Meggan on her herdsman's arm,
 With her shepherd May,
Flocks and herds trooped at their heels
 Along the hill-side way;
No foot too feeble for the ascent,
 Not any head too grey;
Some were swift and none were slow.

So Margaret sang her sisters home
 In their marriage mirth;
Sang free birds out of the sky,
 Beasts along the earth,
Sang up fishes of the deep—
 All breathing things that move
Sang from far and sang from near
 To her lovely love;
Sang together friend and foe;

Sang a golden-bearded king
 Straightway to her feet,
Sang him silent where he knelt
 In eager anguish sweet.
But when the clear voice died away,
 When longest echoes died,
He stood up like a royal man
 And claimed her for his bride.
So three maids were wooed and won
 In a brief May-tide,
Long ago and long ago.

'Jessie, Jessie Cameron,
 Hear me but this once,' quoth he.
'Good luck go with you, neighbor's son,
 But I'm no mate for you,' quoth she.
Day was verging toward the night
 There beside the moaning sea,
Dimness overtook the light
 There where the breakers be.
'O Jessie, Jessie Cameron,
 I have loved you long and true.'—
'Good luck go with you, neighbor's son,
 But I'm no mate for you.'

She was a careless, fearless girl,
 And made her answer plain,
Outspoken she to earl or churl,
 Kindhearted in the main,
But somewhat heedless with her tongue,
 And apt at causing pain;
A mirthful maiden she and young,
 Most fair for bliss or bane.
'Oh, long ago I told you so,
 I tell you so to-day:
Go you your way, and let me go
 Just my own free way.'

The sea swept in with moan and foam,
 Quickening the stretch of sand;
They stood almost in sight of home;
 He strove to take her hand.
'Oh, can't you take your answer then,
 And won't you understand?
For me you're not the man of men,
 I've other plans are planned.
You're good for Madge, or good for Cis,
 Or good for Kate, may be:
But what's to me the good of this
 While you're not good for me?'

They stood together on the beach,
 They two alone,
And louder waxed his urgent speech,
 His patience almost gone:
'Oh, say but one kind word to me,
 Jessie, Jessie Cameron.'—
'I'd be too proud to beg,' quoth she,
 And pride was in her tone.
And pride was in her lifted head,
 And in her angry eye
And in her foot, which might have fled,
 But would not fly.

Some say that he had gipsy blood;
 That in his heart was guile:
Yet he had gone through fire and flood
 Only to win her smile.
Some say his grandam was a witch,
 A black witch from beyond the Nile,
Who kept an image in a niche
 And talked with it the while.
And by her hut far down the lane
 Some say they would not pass at night,
Lest they should hear an unked strain
 Or see an unked sight.

Alas, for Jessie Cameron!—
 The sea crept moaning, moaning nigher:
She should have hastened to begone,—
 The sea swept higher, breaking by her:
She should have hastened to her home
 While yet the west was flushed with fire,
But now her feet are in the foam,
 The sea-foam, sweeping higher.
O mother, linger at your door,
 And light your lamp to make it plain,
But Jessie she comes home no more,
 No more again.

They stood together on the strand,
 They only, each by each;
Home, her home, was close at hand,
 Utterly out of reach.
Her mother in the chimney nook
 Heard a startled sea-gull screech,
But never turned her head to look
 Towards the darkening beach:
Neighbours here and neighbours there
 Heard one scream, as if a bird
Shrilly screaming cleft the air:—
 That was all they heard.

Jessie she comes home no more,
 Comes home never;
Her lover's step sounds at his door
 No more forever.
And boats may search upon the sea
 And search along the river,
But none know where the bodies be:
 Sea-winds that shiver,
Sea-birds that breast the blast,
 Sea-waves swelling,
Keep the secret first and last
 Of their dwelling.

Whether the tide so hemmed them round
 With its pitiless flow,
That when they would have gone they found
 No way to go;
Whether she scorned him to the last
 With words flung to and fro,
Or clung to him when hope was past,
 None will ever know:
Whether he helped or hindered her,
 Threw up his life or lost it well,
The troubled sea, for all its stir
 Finds no voice to tell.

Only watchers by the dying
 Have thought they heard one pray
Wordless, urgent; and replying
 One seem to say him nay:
And watchers by the dead have heard
 A windy swell from miles away,
With sobs and screams, but not a word
 Distinct for them to say:
And watchers out at sea have caught
 Glimpse of a pale gleam here or there,
Come and gone as quick as thought,
 Which might be hand or hair.

© Christina Georgina Rossetti