Suddenly stirring from her chair,
my daughter to the window flew,
streaming her treasure of flaxen hair,
hearing the call once I heard too,
and I knew, yes I knew, O God, what she would see.
And yes, she, pointing at the willow tree,
looking back at me, said
“O mother, mother come and see,
there is a horseman calling me,
calling softly by the tree.
His horse is pale as the moonlight
and he wears a hooded cloak,
but he has no flesh, O mother,
quickly, come and see.
He smiles with bone, O mother,
and he’s calling me.”
“Do not go to him,” I cried,
“Answer not his call.
You are too young to be his bride,
he at the last shall be denied,
I instead shall with him ride.”
“But he calls to me so sweetly,
I cannot resist.
His voice compels me so completely,
who is he?
Why does he so persist?”
“He is an angel of the dead, my child,
and once, when I was young and wild,
this covenant he made with me
while I was dying and you aborning.
To take me now, and let you be,
Or leave us both to live that morning,
but return in fifteen years and three
to marry you by the willow tree,
and I accepted, child, fearfully!
For with the foresight of his kind,
he saw you fair of form and face,
to his mind, fairest of the human race.
One to wed as his great prize,
till the world is ended and the dead arise.
He intends you to forever dwell
where the first of his kind fell
beside the lake of frozen fire,
in Lucifer’s eternal hell.”
Yes, he thinks my child to take,
leave me sleep, and then awake
as from a dream, but for your sweet sake
I will enact a desperate deceit.
Robe in your dress, pray he does not guess
till it’s too late, and my long due fate complete.
Damned I’ll be, but you I’ll hide
from he who rode by Satan’s side
in the war of heaven.
And perhaps, at the last,
even I may be forgiven.
Thus she took her own child’s dress
and a hat with heavy veil
to hide her elder, tear-streaked face,
kissed once her daughter, her joy, her pride,
then threw the door open wide
and to the willow tree did race,
leaped on his horse, became his bride
as her daughter softly cried.
He, never glancing to the side,
merely gestured and the mist departed,
not knowing his voice,
which was his power and his pride,
failed him by a mother’s love
on this particular moonlight ride.
- Irving Karchmar © 1986