African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Countee Cullen, "An Old Story" (1927)

An Old Story

“I must be ready when he comes,” she said,
“Besieger of the heart, the long adored;
And I shall know him by his regal tread,
And by the grace peculiar to my lord.
Upon my mouth his lips shall be a sword;
Splendid is he by whom this breast shall fall,
This hive of honey burst, this fruit be cored.”
So beauty that would be a willing thrall
Kept vigil, eyes aglow, ear tuned to hear his call.

Had she not had her dream, she might have seen
For what he was the stranger at her gate,
And known his rugged hands, strong mouth, and lean
Hawk-face spelled out for her a star-spun fate.
But captive to a dream she let him wait
In vain for any word she might have said
Whereat he might declare himself her mate.
She looked him through as one unknown or dead;
He passed, an unseen halo blazing round his head.

The grave will be her only lover now,
Though still she watches for the shining one,
Her prince in purple robes, with flaming brow,
Astride a wild steed lineaged from the sun.
Season to season shades, the long days run
To longer years; she still is waiting there,
Not knowing long ago her siege was done,
Not dreaming it has been her bitter share
To entertain her heart’s high guest all unaware.

Published in Carolina Magazine, May 1927

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