Perpetual Light : a memorial
TERESA FRANCES THOMPSON, who also bore my name by marriage, died on January 26, 1919. This verse is published to her memory, because I wish to keep together the poetry she occasioned and enable those who loved her—and they were a great many-to know definitely what she was to me.
I think that is the truth. This is the only means I have at present of acknowledging publicly the vast debt I owe to her.
As I turn these poems over—if they are even to be called poems—I realize that they can never begin to express what her personality was. The earliest ones were written by a boy who was in love, and the latest by a man who has suddenly stepped into the dark. Those between are fragments from the days when we were struggling along together at the everyday tasks and outside interests and dreams that possessed us. The war entered our lives to change them in September, 1917. The poem, "Man Possessed," was written within sound of her actual voice, the others all in absence from her at various times and in moods made strange by absence.
And yet this is all I have at present to give in her memory. But I hold by these because—though they are poor, freakish fragments as far as any real expression of her is concerned—they were made for her.
It is even harder to express in bald prose a personality that had so many sides, so many varying strengths, such inner sight and yet such a forthright splendid intelligence. I have tried once to round it into periods—and have destroyed the attempt. It is my hope that the sister to whom she was devoted with an attachment altogether unusual to most of us will write of her.
If I merely recount the outlines of her life, it loses her. To say that her girlhood was given up to an intense and whole-souled devotion to the life of Christ as taught by the Roman Catholic Church will not even trace the outlines of that great spiritual adventure. But there, in the word "adventure," is a dim ideograph of what she found in life. Every day was an adventure to her with the hope of accomplishing something over and above mere routine and the pursuit of pleasure. And she used to say to me that her life had simply been a series of experiments into which she had put her whole heart, and in which she had always failed. But, of course, she never failed.
She wrote me while I was stationed at Washington:
"I am so very glad of your Sunday experience. I wish that I might have shared it with you, but I almost did, since we were at Mass there and walked across that green together…. No one else might be impressed by it, but you know. When I first thought of a convent I was about sixteen, and I did not go until I was twenty-one. During that time I had the habit of pretending when I went to sleep that I was lying full-length in a convent chapel before a dark altar, with its tiny light. When I went to the Little Sisters, with all its strangeness and homesickness and wrench away from everything, I was sustained by the knowledge that our bedroom on the third floor was across a wide hall from a rose window that looked right down into the Chapel. The dormitory had windows out into the hall, French fashion, so that when I opened the one at the head of my bed I was doing just what I had so often planned. You cannot imagine how personal it seemed to me....