The Exquisite Pain refers to the heart-wrenching, gut-churning, violent sickness from love for someone one cannot have, but even this is an over-simplistic definition. It's not unrequited love, it's more like Romeo and Juliet, just worse.
There's a poem by Alfred Noyes titled The Highwayman that embodies this for me. It's one of the few poems that I would say I love. The imagery is haunting and the plot is expertly woven with danger and suspense. It has inspired a couple of films, a few music orchestrations, and even sparked a few novels.
I wanted to take a minor character from the poem and write a scene from his perspective. I also took the liberty of setting the story in Colonial America. Call it...a history nerd's fan-fiction.
I offer the following in response: The Landlord's Daughter
Timothy watched Elizabeth plait her hair from the sycamore shadows of the moon-soaked yard; his vigil that of tireless nightly devotion. Her sloe-black eyes would search for him in the dark from her second-story window, and find him not. “Soon, my love,” his dreams whispered. “Soon we shall wed, then your father shall grow old and infirm, and I shall run the inn, and find another to ostler.”
He slipped deeper into the shadows as a rider approached, the hooves of his steed clattering over the cobbles at an urgent gait. Timothy had seen that popinjay several times before her window, pledging oaths and stealing promises. Fury flamed his cheeks as he was forced to witness yet another pointless exchange. “A kiss for luck, my sweetheart, I’ve another prize tonight,” the rider spoke, standing in his stirrups to reach her fingertips with an outstretched arm.
Timothy, still cloaked in darkness, leaned closer to better hear their conversation. The melodic voice of his sweet, sweet Elizabeth sang like a nightingale, but there was so much concern in her tone. What did she fear? Surely not for the life of the brigand. Surely ‘twas naught but Christian compassion that colored her words so. “The Redcoats have been by," she whispered. "I overheard an officer mention a spy working in these parts. I beg you, do not go this night.”
“That gold is desperately needed. The Continental Army will not survive the winter months without that supply.”
“Return to me,” she replied. Why does she say such things? Does she know it makes me angry? Does she know I shall have to punish her? Ah, but no, she is an innocent in this. I shall forgive her.
“I shall be back before the light of dawn. If they should press me, I'll take to the moor until I can shake them. I'll then be back by midnight. Hell cannot keep me from you.”
She loosed her braid and her black hair tumbled long and free about him. The rider nuzzled the cascade. It was all Timothy could do to keep from charging the popinjay. The blade in his boot would make quick work of the man’s neck, but her eyes did not deserve to see such terrible things.
The steed turned west with its rider, the darkness of the moor swallowing any trace of them. The brigand was gone and Elizabeth concealed once again behind protective shutters. Timothy turned to the stables and chose a patron’s mare and tack to carry him to the British outpost. You shall see, my sweet Elizabeth. He cinched the saddle tight about the mare and reached for the bridle. Once he is captured, you shall see that you have been quite the foolish, foolish girl. And there will be nothing left to keep us apart. Not the popinjay, not the inn nor your father, not even that treacherous moon.