A Contrast by Adelaide Anne Procter

Can you open that ebony Casket?
Look, this is the key: but stay,
Those are only a few old letters
Which I keep,–to burn some day.

Yes, that Locket is quaint and ancient;
But leave it, dear, with the ring,
And give me the little Portrait
Which hangs by a crimson string.

I have never opened that Casket
Since, many long years ago,
It was sent me back in anger
By one whom I used to know.

But I want you to see the Portrait:
I wonder if you can trace
A look of that smiling creature
Left now in my faded face.

It was like me once; but remember
The weary relentless years,
And Life, with its fierce, brief Tempests,
And its long, long rain of tears.

Is it strange to call it my Portrait?
Nay, smile, dear, for well you may,
To think of that radiant Vision
And of what I am to-day.

With restless, yet confident longing
How those blue eyes seem to gaze
Into deep and exhaustless Treasures,
All hid in the coming days.

With that trust which leans on the Future,
And counts on her promised store,
Until she has taught us to tremble
And hope,–but to trust no more.

How that young, light heart would have pitied
Me now–if her dreams had shown
A quiet and weary woman
With all her illusions flown.

Yet I–who shall soon be resting,
And have passed the hardest part,
Can look back with a deeper pity
On that young unconscious heart.

It is strange; but Life’s currents drift us
So surely and swiftly on,
That we scarcely notice the changes,
And how many things are gone:

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And forget, while to-day absorbs us,
How old mysteries are unsealed;
How the old, old ties are loosened,
And the old, old wounds are healed.

And we say that our Life is fleeting
Like a story that Time has told;
But we fancy that we–we only
Are just what we were of old.

So now and then it is wisdom
To gaze, as I do to-day,
At a half-forgotten relic
Of a Time that is passed away.

The very look of that Portrait,
The Perfume that seems to cling
To those fragile and faded letters,
And the Locket, and the Ring,

If they only stirred in my spirit
Forgotten pleasure and pain,–
Why, memory is often bitter,
And almost always in vain;

But the contrast of bygone hours
Comes to rend a veil away,–
And I marvel to see the stranger
Who is living in me to-day.

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