The Sun-Dial

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'Tis an old dial, dark with many a stain;
  In summer crowned with drifting orchard bloom,
Tricked in the autumn with the yellow rain,
  And white in winter like a marble tomb.

And round about its gray, time-eaten brow
  Lean letters speak,--a worn and shattered row:
=I am a Shade; a Shadowe too art thou:
  I marke the Time: saye, Gossip, dost thou soe?=

Here would the ring-doves linger, head to head;
  And here the snail a silver course would run,
Beating old Time; and here the peacock spread
  His gold-green glory, shutting out the sun.

The tardy shade moved forward to the noon;
  Betwixt the paths a dainty Beauty stept,
That swung a flower, and, smiling hummed a tune,--
  Before whose feet a barking spaniel leapt.

O'er her blue dress an endless blossom strayed;
  About her tendril-curls the sunlight shone;
And round her train the tiger-lilies swayed,
  Like courtiers bowing till the queen be gone.

She leaned upon the slab a little while,
  Then drew a jewelled pencil from her zone,
Scribbled a something with a frolic smile,
  Folded, inscribed, and niched it in the stone.

The shade slipped on, no swifter than the snail;
  There came a second lady to the place,
Dove-eyed, dove-robed, and something wan and pale,--
  An inner beauty shining from her face.

She, as if listless with a lonely love,
  Straying among the alleys with a book,--
Herrick or Herbert,--watched the circling dove,
  And spied the tiny letter in the nook.

Then, like to one who confirmation found
  Of some dread secret half-accounted true,--
Who knew what hearts and hands the letter bound,
  And argued loving commerce 'twixt the two,--

She bent her fair young forehead on the stone;
  The dark shade gloomed an instant on her head;
And 'twixt her taper fingers pearled and shone
  The single tear that tear-worn eyes will shed.

The shade slipped onward to the falling gloom;
  Then came a soldier gallant in her stead,
Swinging a beaver with a swaling plume,
  A ribboned love-lock rippling from his head.

Blue-eyed, frank-faced, with clear and open brow,
  Scar-seamed a little, as the women love;
So kindly fronted that you marvelled how
  The frequent sword-hilt had so frayed his glove;

Who switched at Psyche plunging in the sun;
  Uncrowned three lilies with a backward swinge;
And standing somewhat widely, like to one
  More used to "Boot and Saddle" than to cringe

As courtiers do, but gentleman withal,
  Took out the note;--held it as one who feared
The fragile thing he held would slip and fall;
  Read and re-read, pulling his tawny beard;

Kissed it, I think, and hid it in his breast;
  Laughed softly in a flattered, happy way,
Arranged the broidered baldrick on his crest,
  And sauntered past, singing a roundelay.

  *  *  *  *  *

The shade crept forward through the dying glow;
  There came no more nor dame nor cavalier;
But for a little time the brass will show
  A small gray spot,--the record of a tear.

© Henry Austin Dobson