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Robert Service: The Harpy


The Harpy

Robert Service

There was a woman, and she was wise; woefully wise was she;

She was old, so old, yet her years all told

were but a score and three;

And she knew by heart, from finish to start, the Book of Iniquity.

There is no hope for such as I on earth, nor yet in Heaven;

Unloved I live, unloved I die, unpitied, unforgiven;

A loathed jade, I ply my trade, unhallowed and unshriven.

I paint my cheeks, for they are white, and cheeks of chalk men hate;

Mine eyes with wine I make them shine, that man may seek and sate;

With overhead a lamp of red I sit me down and wait

Until they come, the nightly scum, with drunken eyes aflame;

Your sweethearts, sons, ye scornful ones --

'tis I who know their shame.

The gods, ye see, are brutes to me -- and so I play my game.

For life is not the thing we thought, and not the thing we plan;

And Woman in a bitter world must do the best she can --

Must yield the stroke, and bear the yoke, and serve the will of man;

Must serve his need and ever feed the flame of his desire,

Though be she loved for love alone, or be she loved for hire;

For every man since life began is tainted with the mire.

And though you know he love you so and set you on love's throne;

Yet let your eyes but mock his sighs, and let your heart be stone,

Lest you be left (as I was left) attainted and alone.

From love's close kiss to hell's abyss is one sheer flight, I trow,

And wedding ring and bridal bell are will-o'-wisps of woe,

And 'tis not wise to love too well, and this all women know.

Wherefore, the wolf-pack having gorged upon the lamb, their prey,

With siren smile and serpent guile I make the wolf-pack pay --

With velvet paws and flensing claws, a tigress roused to slay.

One who in youth sought truest truth and found a devil's lies;

A symbol of the sin of man, a human sacrifice.

Yet shall I blame on man the shame? Could it be otherwise?

Was I not born to walk in scorn where others walk in pride?

The Maker marred, and, evil-starred, I drift upon His tide;

And He alone shall judge His own, so I His judgment bide.

Fate has written a tragedy; its name is "The Human Heart".

The Theatre is the House of Life, Woman the mummer's part;

The Devil enters the prompter's box and the play is ready to start.