From the Wings

We are actors at the side-scenes ere the play of life begins, 
With the curtain rising on us and the tally of our sins:
You may pace the boards before me while amazed the boxes sit,
I, with all my rant and thunder, may but hardly stir the pit.
You may be a prima donna, winning monarchs with your smile; 
What wonder I, your equal, should adore you all the while?
When you stand before the footlights will you do your best to shine
In that part the Fates have cast you? Will you join your part to mine?
Will you mouth your words, or murmur? Will you take me for a friend, 
From the shifting of the first scene till the curtain brings the end?
When the act-drop falls upon us, when we've heard the audience cheer,
When the people that have watched us leave the stalls and gallery clear,
When the lights are near extinguished, when the ghostlike cloths are thrown
O'er the purple of the velvet, and the actors stand alone—
Old and wrinkled, grey and toothless, fighting at the other door, 
Who shall face the darkness first, and who of them shall go before 
To the great unknown that stretches out away there where the lights 
Flare and flicker in the darkness of an awful night of nights—
Where French rouge won't cheat the Devil, where pearl-powder never lies,
And the belladonna's useless for wide, terror-stricken eyes?
When they're howling in the pit, here, may I claim you for my own? 
Face the journey both together—two are better far than one.
We'll rehearse the farce together for a little, little time, 
Turn the prose that is our being to a comedy in rhyme.
You be lord, and I'll be lady, and in sufferance take my hand, 
Talk of passion never dying (for the woman, understand).
So, we'll play it at the wings here, mind! I've never sworn to be 
Constant in the real acting, only in the mimicry!
To your place! Your eyes are wandering! Oh—a girl there in the wings.
(Odd that in rehearsing 'tis my jealousy that stings!)
I've been thinking it were better just for once to play it through,
Much in earnest; shall we try it? As the heaven I am true
(Made of blue with tinsel planets!). Well! your oath is real enough; 
I believe you—only kiss me! This forced passion's dreary stuff !

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