A Promise

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1Should'st thou, in grip of dread disease,
2       Foresee the day when thou must die,
3With no more hope of life or ease,
4       But only, lingering, to lie
5       While torturing hours go slowly by;
6Thy brain awake, thy nerves alive
7       To thine extremest agony,
8And all in vain to rave or strive: --
9       O my beloved, if this should be,
10       Call me -- and I will set thee free.
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11Murder! And thou to judgment hurled --
12       Cut off from some few days of grace --
13Thus will it be to that hard world
14       Which fits one law to every case,
15       And dooms all rebels to disgrace.
16But to us twain, who stand above
17       Conventioned rules, unbound, unclassed,
18A solemn sacrament of love,
19       More true than kisses in the past --
20       Love's costliest tribute, and the last.
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21Thy grateful hand, unclenched, shall seek
22       The hand that gave thee thy release;
23Thy darkening eyes shall dumbly speak
24       Of scorching pangs that sink and cease --
25       Of anguish drowned in rest and peace.
26And I that terrible farewell,
27       Despairing but content, shall take,
28Knowing that I have served thee well --
29       I, that would dare the rack and stake,
30       The flames of hell, for thy dear sake.
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31The law may hang me for my crime,
32       Just or unjust, I'll not complain.
33'Twere better than to live my time
34       Bereaved and broken, and to wane,
35       Slow inch by inch, in useless pain;
36Alone, unhelped, uncomforted,
37       In mine own last extremity;
38No faithful lover by my bed
39       To do what thou would'st do for me.
40       And I shall want to die with thee.
Publication Notes: 
Unspoken Thoughts (New South Wales: English Department, University College, 1988): 114-16.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire