THE FAIRY'S FUNERAL.
was a summer's eventide,
Soft, sweet, and silent, warm and bright,
And all the glorious landscape wide,—
The lowly thorn, the tree of pride,
The grass-blades marshalled side by side,—
Wore, thicker than the cope of Night,
Innumerable drops of light,
Shed from a cloud's dissolving breast,
That journeyed towards the golden west,
And blushed, a fair transfigured thing,
In the bright presence of its king.
That brilliant baptism, cool and brief,
Flung from the font of summer skies,
Came with a fresh and full relief
To all the countless shapes and dyes
That spring from Earth's prolific veins,
And banquet on the genial rains;
For all the languid leaves and flowers,
In tangled brakes and cultured bowers,
In level fields and hollow dells,
By woodside walks and mossy wells;
The limber bine and blooming brier,
The wallflower's mass of cloudy fire,
The fair and many-folded rose,
Reclining in a proud repose,—
The clover filled with honey-dew,
Things of familiar form and hue,—
Sent such a gush of incense up,
From bell and boss, from crown and cup,
As seemed to burden all the air
With Nature's breath of silent prayer,
And give that joyous draught of rain,
Sublimed in fragrance, back again.
The twinkling rain-drops were exhaled,
The sun went down, the welkin paled,
Taking that tender twilight hue
Of silver mingling with the blue,
What time I took my pleasant way
To an old sylvan nook, that lay
A league apart from street and town,
In a deep dingle, hushed and brown,
Through which a streamlet, fed by rills
That babbled of the pleasant hills,
With a low music hurried on
Into far shadow, and was gone.
It was a spot for calmest thought,
All wildly, intricately wrought
Into a dim and fairy bower,
By Nature's unassisted power.
The plume-like fern grew thick and green,
The foxglove stood with stately mien
On grassy slopes, and in the breeze
Shook all its crimson chalices;
The playful leveret limped about
Its sandy burrow, in and out;
From shadowy brake and bough was heard
The "cheep" of some unsettled bird;
The honeysuckle seemed to sigh
To the white wild-rose lovingly,
And both sent through the verdant gloom
The mingled breath of their perfume.
I sat beneath an old oak tree,
Whose branches murmured harmony,
While hill and vale, and copse and glade,
Were gathering into deeper shade,
As night stole on; but sweetly soon
Clomb up the sky the quiet Moon,
Gently diffusing, as she rose,
A softer aspect of repose,—
A light that came to soothe and bless
With beauty and with holiness.
As the blest beams came streaming round,
And made upon the flowery ground
Mosaic spots of shade and sheen,
Worthy the foot of Fairy Queen—
I dropt into a reverie,
My loose thoughts roaming fancy-free,
In realms fantastic, evermore
Bequeathed to us in poet-lore.
Strange visions were they and not few,
That slid athwart my mental view:
Genii, of good and evil might,—
The hideous Ghoule and afreet Sprite;
Dwarf Gnomes, that dwell in mountain caves;
Kelpies, that lure to treacherous waves;
Brownies and Banshees, quaint and wild,
And Pixy, the unbaptised child;
The nine-pin players on Hudson's side,
And Peter Wilkins' wingèd Bride.
I then bethought me (dainty theme!)
Of the great Seer's Midsummer Dream,
And of that little Imp of power
Who pranked it with the purple flower;
Then I beheld the enchanted strand
Where Prosporo waved wizard-wand,
And heard around the voiceful spell
Of dear and delicate Ariel.
Here, with a sudden thrill and quake,
I woke from dream,—or seemed to wake;
For a strange music, low and sweet,
Seemed to be winding round my feet,
Scarce louder than the hum of bee,
Or gnat's complaining minstrelsy;
But sweeter far, as if the flowers
Sang of the loss of sun and showers;—
A solemn, yet melodious strain,
A dirge of grief, a wail of pain.
Casting around a searching gaze,
With anxious feelings of amaze,
In a broad patch of open light,
A wondrous vision met my sight,—
A train of tiny beings, dressed
In snowy plume and sombre vest,
Moving along in order slow,
As if on business of woe.
Came in the van a little band,
With tuneful instruments in hand,
Playing a wild and mournful spell,
On trumpets of the sweet bluebell;
Then came a rush-made coffin small,
Covered with drooping plantain-pall,
Bedecked with many a violet,
With silvery night-dews freshly wet;
And then a crowd, in sad array,
Followed along the moonlit way.
Six paces from me, where the light
Shone full upon them, softly bright,
They stopped, and with a tender care
Parted the fern-plumes growing there,
Disclosing to my watchful eyes
A little grave of bird-like size,
Wherein they lowered the fairy dead,
And with a reverential tread
Clustered around, while all the throng
Joined in this simple parting song:—
Oh! loveliest of the Fairy race,
We mourn thy fading, elfin flower
No more shall we behold thy face
Give beauty to the banquet-bower;
No more wilt thou, 'neath forest bough,
Share in the mystic sport and spell,
No more enhance our midnight dance,
Loveliest sister, Floribel!
And yet, 'tis well that thou art gone,
For we must find departing wings,
Since Man hath set his soul upon
The worth of more material things;
But Poets' songs, and Poets' tongues,
Shall praise and vindicate us well;
Oh! blest be they whose living lay
Hath shrined us, sister Floribel!
Both Lights of Heaven shall gild thy grave,
And sweet flowers blow upon thy bed;
And many a wild-bird chant a stave
Above thy now unconscious head;
And while we may about thee stay,
On mountain side, in bosky dell,
We'll guard and grace thy resting-place,
Loved, lost sister, Floribel!
The descant done, they shook in showers
From a wild rose-bush all its flowers,
Which fell and veiled the grave below,
Like coverlet of fragrant snow;
But scarcely had they settled there,
Than all the crew in earth or air
Evanished, like the meteor-light
That flits across the face of Night;
Like breath on sunlit mirror's face,
Or vapour in the womb of space.
I listened—there was not a sound
Save a faint breeze that whispered round;
I looked—but nothing could I see
But quivering grass and quiet tree;
And as I did not dare to brave
The secret of that little grave,
I sauntered homeward, all intent
Upon my strange bewilderment;
Concluding that the Moon had shed
Lunatic influence on my head,—
Had set my thoughts too wildly free,
And filled my brain with Fantasy!
A SONG OF THE WOODLANDS.
fern and the foxglove for me, yes, for me!"
Was a saying of bold Robin Hood,
When he thought of his life in the forest so free,—
The charms of the merry greenwood.
To him 'twas a pleasure, which others might scorn,
To dwell 'mid their growth and their bloom;
The flower had the shape of his own bugle-horn,
And the fern had the wave of his plume.
"The fern and the foxglove for me!" echo I,—
There is poetry e'en in the sound,
When I think of the deer fleeting fearlessly by,
And the birds singing gladsomely round;
Of the twilight that hangs in the stalwart old trees,—
Of the sun-spots and shadows that fall,—
Of the low, mellow boom of the wandering bees,
And a blue, boundless heaven o'er all.
"The fern and the foxglove for us!" echo they
Whose souls have a summertide glow,
When they vow to make merry one "red-letter" day,
Where sweet winds and sweeter flowers blow;
Imagine the meal on the sward in the shade,
The laughter that startleth the noon,
The song that reëchoes through dingle and
And the happy hearts throbbing in tune.
"The fern and the foxglove for us!" echo all
For Freedom and Nature who yearn;
How gladly would thousands escape from their thrall,
To look on the foxglove and fern!
Town-workers, who faint in the world's daily fight,
Oh! waste not the leisure that's given,
But away to the woodlands for health and delight,
For the beauty of earth and of heaven!
A MAY-DAY WALK.
BLEST be this bright and breezy May,
Which smiles away my sorrow!
I'll snatch a harmless joy to-day,
Though troubles come to-morrow.
Who would not breathe this generous air,
Which meaner things delight in?—
Who would not Nature's banquet share,
Her own sweet self inviting?
Come forth, my Friend, of kindred mind,
My friend in every weather,—
Leave Mammon's ledger-lore behind,
And let us stray together;
Come forth in quest of liberty,
Nor think of looms and spindles;
There's Health, Peace, Beauty, Poësy,
'Mong mountain-streams and rindles.
"Man liveth not by bread alone!"
Truth from a Source transcendent;—
His soul asks something of its own,
Less gross, and less dependent;
It claims the privilege of Thought
Beyond the dusty Real,
Its hopeful visions, called and caught
From realms of the Ideal.
And genial Nature's humblest things,
In wintry garb or vernal,
Can lend Man's longing spirit wings
To reach some sphere supernal;—
A rose-bush shivering 'gainst the sky,—
A weed of beauteous seeming,—
A dew-drop in a cowslip's eye,
With trembling lustre beaming.
Many the motives and the means
Wherewith God deigns to gift us,
That unto higher, holier scenes,
In thoughtful hours uplift us;
And it is good to break away
From the cold world's harsh laughter,
And soar into a purer day,—
The shadow of Hereafter!
Joy! my dear Friend! at length we're out,
Away from crowds and clamours,
From all the rumbling and the rout
Of engines, looms, and hammers;
The mountains rise upon our sight,
Breathing of pleasant places;
We'll feel, ere day drops into night,
Their grandeurs and their graces.
Here daisies greet us as we pass,
In constellated grouping;
And the sweet face of country lass
Flits by, with eyelids drooping;
And wild-wood odours come and go,
As the swart hills draw nearer;
And in a warmer current flow
Our fancies quick and clearer.
And here's the pathway rent and rude.
The threshold of the mountains,—
And now we're in the solitude
Of mosses, rocks, and fountains;
There's Haridge, towering up to meet
The sunlit clouds above him ;
And here's the streamlet at his feet,
Whose waters seem to love him.
How like a strong and sportive child
This hill-born runnel rushes,—
Now foaming, frolicsome, and wild,
With frantic leaps and gushes;
Now in a sort of murmuring dream
Through reed and grass it whimples,—
Anon in Day's unclouded beam
Laughs with a thousand dimples.
Stream, thou art nameless, or thy name
But ill becomes thy beauty;
I fain would make thee known to fame,
As is thy Poet's duty;
I'll christen thee with tongue and pen,
Henceforth let none defame thee;
The Brushes is thy native glen,*
And Brushlin Brook I name thee.
And now, my Friend, we'll track the wave
Far upward to its fountain,
And when we've sung a greenwood stave
We'll dare that haughty mountain;
The lark that thrills you snowy cloud,—
The thrush that sings before us,—
The cuckoo calling sweet and loud,
Will join us in the chorus.
'Tis done! now upward with strong will,—
No yielding,—no surrender,—
Up to the top, that we may fill
Our souls with May-day splendour.
'Tis toilsome! Yes! but let us try
With sturdy stride together;—
The thing's achieved! albeit we lie
Panting among the heather.
Dear Heaven! what glory swathes the land!
What harmony of feature!
Scattered abroad from God's own hand,
O'er the great face of Nature!
What amplitude of cloudless space!
What mingled hues and gleamings!
What grandeur, softened down with grace,
And in one's soul what dreamings!
Oh! for a page of Wordsworth now,—
Him the great Master-Preacher!
Would we could look upon his face,
And hear the Poet-Teacher!
Hear him relate his wondrous lays,
Sprung from his heart's deep fountains,
Of wisdom, 'mid untrodden ways
Among the solemn mountains.
But since we may not see the Bard,
Let's think upon his glory,—
His high, calm genius, whose reward
Is life in future story;
Oh! when he joins a nobler quire,
To sing still more divinely,
Who shall assume his earthly lyre,
And make it speak so finely?
Alas! our chiefest Bards are old!
Hushed are their tuneful voices;
But at the tales which they have told
Each kindred heart rejoices.
When the five stars we love are gone,†
How will their going grieve us!
Canst thou, large-gifted Tennyson,
Console us when they leave us?
Canst thou, soul-soaring "Festus," sing,
To soothe our great bereavement?
Canst thou, quaint Browning, solace bring
By any new achievement?
Can ye, with power that knows no fear,
Re-wake one harp that slumbers?—
We hope, and wait, and long to hear
Your yet unuttered numbers.
A truce to this old theme, my Friend,
Our spirits grow regretful;
To talk of what we cannot mend
But makes us sad and fretful;
Though Song is something half divine,
With which 'tis sweet to dally,
'Tis bright May-Day, and we must dine,—
Descend we to the valley.
Ah! here's a table for our meal!
Its cover green and golden;
To Him who made it let us feel
How much we are beholden!
The shadows of these waving boughs
Across our faces flitter,
And there a tinkling fountain flows,
Falling with silvery glitter.
This lovely scene and mountain air
Are better, there's no question,
Than costly room and dainty fare,
With spleen and indigestion;
And we have music far more sweet
Than Jullien ever found us,—
The brook that babbles at our feet,
The birds that carol round us.
Commence the banquet, and partake
With gusto keen and hearty;
Now pass the beaker:—don't we make
A most congenial party?
Thanks to the Giver! We have done;
But ere we cross the meadows,
Let us escape the noontide sun,
Within these sylvan shadows.
Sing me some old and simple lay,
Such as I've heard ye humming,
Or chant me of that doubtful day,—
The very "good time coming;"
But since your pipe is out of tune,
I'll e'en for once take pity,
And break the drowsy hush of Noon
With my own foolish ditty:—
When golden-haired Sol to the Seasons gave birth,
And saw that his plan was complete,
He told them to govern and gladden the Earth
With interchange needful and sweet;
He marshalled before him the Months and the Hours,
But ere he dismissed them away,
He called unto Flora, the Goddess of Flowers,
And beckoned his favourite May.
"Dear Flora, I pray thee, bestow on my child
"Some beautiful gifts of thine own;
"I have lent to her countenance light undefiled,
"To her voice a most musical tone;
"Besprinkle her garments with dews and perfumes,
"That shall follow her footsteps alway,
"And give her a girdle of exquisite blooms,
"Becoming my favourite May."
She alighted on Earth, and the valley and plain
Were flushed with her glorious hues;
The bees clung about her; the breezes were fain
Her magical sweets to diffuse;
When the Poet beheld her, at once she became
The theme of his loveliest lay;
Since then she is linked with his heart and his fame,
For the month of the Poet is May.
She awoke in the souls of susceptible Youth
New fires, which all others surpass;
Touched the lips of the Wooer with tenderest truth,
With blushes the cheek of the Lass;
In her presence their glances grew bashful, but bright,
Their faces unwontedly gay,
Or grave with a deep and unuttered delight,
For the month of the Lover is May.
Then hail to this Child of Apollo! her smile
Makes Nature laugh out and rejoice;
And the proud heart of Man, growing gentler the while,
Leaps up at the sound of her voice;
She comes like a breath from those gardens above,
Which know neither cloud nor decay,
She bringeth us Poësy, Beauty, and Love,—
What a season of joyance is May!
So ends my descant. Now we'll pass
Through yon romantic wild-wood,
And pull some flowers from out the grass,
To grace the brows of Childhood.
How silent is this bowery way!
The air how sweet and cooling!
Here Jaques might love to shun the day,
And Touchstone act his fooling.
Now we emerge upon the leas,
With floral splendour glowing;
The meadows swell like golden seas,
The breeze is richly blowing;
Alternate glooms, alternate gleams,
O'er hill and vale flit lightly,—
Now a full burst of sunny beams
Blends the whole landscape brightly.
Here's the old bridge, and here's the Tame,
Which seems to glide at leisure;
And here's the way this morn we came,
In search of health and pleasure.
Fresh from the hills, yon murky town
Seems to oppress and blind us,
While the dear woods and moorlands brown
Lie calm and fair behind us.
A puff of steam,—three minutes' space,—
Some clangour, and a scramble,
And we are in our dwelling-place,
Pleased with our Mountain Ramble;
The plant of "old Cathay" shall make
A draught both safe and cheery,
And we will talk as we partake,
Forgetting we are weary.
Rising on Thought's aspiring wing,
We'll talk of Bards and Sages,
Of every pure and precious thing
We've found among their pages;
Of past misdeeds, of present needs,
Of future generations,
And what the age we live in breeds
For the great good of nations.
Science, Philosophy, and Song,
We'll touch, without pretension;
Of what seems right, of what seems wrong,
Converse without dissension;
Thought should be wide and free as air,
Impatient of restriction,—
Free be the words, if they are fair,
And pregnant with conviction.
Thus will we wing the evening hours,
Knowledge with Pleasure blending,—
A May-Day passed 'mid flelds and flowers
Should have no foolish ending.
Then to our pillows we will creep,
Mindful of morrow's duties,
And find the visions of our sleep
Clothed with a thousand beauties.
* Brushes, the name of the locality.
† Wordsworth, Moore, Montgomery, Rogers,
THE SILVER CHAMBER.
HAD a dream, one sad and restless night,
And the strange vision haunts my memory still:
'Twas of a Silver Chamber, wanly bright,
Shut from the world, and desolate, and chill;
Whilst on my face fell icy drops of light,
Like to the wintry waters of a rill.
Methought, upon a silver-covered bed,
Bowed down with sorrow and with pain, I lay,
And silver curtains, drooping o'er my head,
Smote my hot eye-balls with a sickly ray;
I waited thus, in vague and silent dread,
For the blest dawning of another day.
At length I saw, right through the silver door,
A little Human Form come gently in,
From whose mild eyes a lambent light did pour,
As from a lamp that calmly burned within;
But as the Shape approached me, more and more
I felt the weight and shadow of my sin.
It came, and, looking in the Spirit-face,
I knew its lineaments; She had been one
Of my heart's hopes, as full of love and grace
As e'er an earthly sunlight shone upon;
But Death had taken her to a holier place,
And my chief joy of home and hearth was gone.
"Father,"—thus spake her silver-sounding tongue—
"I saw thy state, I heard thy weary sigh,
"And I have come to thee, but not for long,
"Commissioned from my happy home on high,
"To warn and soothe thee, ere the angel-throng
"Recall me to my duties in the sky.
"Alas! I find thee feeble, and forlorn,
"Wasted and sick, and sore oppressed with woe!
"Is it not time that thou shouldst learn to scorn
"All worthless things that tempt thee here below,—
"Seek inward peace, and hail Heaven's matchless
"When thou art called to gird thy loins and go?
"What are to thee, and to thy inner mind,
"The low pursuits and pleasures of the earth;—
The Circean charms which strike thy reason blind,
"The passionate frenzy, and the foolish mirth,
"When thou hast other gifts, which God designed
"To do good work, and win a higher birth!
"Strive upward, with an ever upward gaze,
"As all good men—all patient men—have striven;
"Strive to evangelize thy later days,
"Outlive the past, and feel thyself forgiven;
"That I may hear thy hopeful voice of praise
"Resounding in the radiant halls of Heaven!"
Thus spake, in syllables that left perfume,
My lost Delight, my Angel-Child to me!
My soul at once cast off its pall of gloom;
Up from my heart my tears flowed fast and free:
Oh! may that vision of the Silver Room
Prove Mercy's beacon-light of love to me!
PLEURS; OR, THE TOWN OF TEARS.
sunny South! oh! bright Italian land!
Sweet shore of Story, Melody, and Song!
Ne'er has it been my privilege to stand
Amid the charms which to thy clime belong;
Ne'er to behold thy olive-shadowed plains,—
Thy mountain slopes, all redolent of wine,—
Thy matchless palaces,—thy ancient fanes,
Yet once, whilst gazing from Alsatian hills,
I caught a sunset vision of the wall
(Bristling with countless snow-crowned pinnacles)
Which towers between thee and thy sister, Gaul;
The glimpse was grand and gorgeous; white and gold
Gleamed for a space on every mountain crest;
I longed to leap that Alpine barrier bold,
upon thy breast.
And still I yearn to sun me in the clime
Where Dante, Tasso, Ariosto sung;
Where graceful Raphael, Angelo sublime,
Divine creations on the canvas hung;
Where Petrarch loved, where Boccace told his tale,
Where great Canova made the marble fair;
Where Time, Tradition, Genius, clothe and veil
all that's there.
Alas! that when our aspirations tend,
With pure desire, towards good and glorious things,
Some ruthless circumstance should come to bend
Sternly to earth even Hope's impatient wing!
No more! Let Fancy aid me to relate
An old, stray story of forgotten woe;—
Of Pleurs, her awful and o'erwhelming fate,
There is a broad and beauteous vale,
(So says the pilgrim, wandering)
O'er whose sweet face the temperate gale
Sweeps with a soft, salubrious wing;
And gentlest charms are there, I ween:
Meadows arrayed in loveliest sheen,—
Woods from the glare of noontide shut,—
Châlet, and farm, and herdsman's hut,
And many a herd-besprinkled lea;
And Maira, winding towards the sea
In shining curves, like silvery thread,
Through an embroidered garment led;
And glow of vines, and gleam of rills,
On the great insteps of the hills;
And the proud Conto looking o'er
The spot which he o'erwhelmed of yore,
Seeming as steadfast and serene
As though such havoc ne'er had been.
But round this valley's ample breast
A hundred hills sublimely rise,
Piercing with many a splintered crest
The tranquil azure of the skies.
And farther on, enclosing all,
As with a vast eternal wall,
Loom up, with foreheads grey and grand,
The frontier Alps of Switzerland;
Clothed, like the clouds, in shadowy white,
Beneath the full day's downward light;
But, when the sun declines to rest,
In gorgeous chambers of the west,
Wearing upon their scalps of snow
A soft, ethereal, rosy glow;
As if a troop of angels fair
Paused for a space, and rested there,
Diffusing from their wings sublime
The colours of a holier clime.
Once from that lovely vale looked up,
Like pearl-drop in an emerald cup,
The Town of Tears,—a name she bore
From some disaster long before;
Yet she belied that name of woe,
So gaily did she glance and glow
In her own pure Italian air,
With temples, theatres, and towers,
White dwellings gleaming through their
And other graceful things and fair.
She was a refuge of delight,
To those who from the world's rude fight
Could gladly steal themselves away;—
A place of calm and stirring joy,
Where many a pleasure's sweet employ
Beguiled the hours of every day,
The Merchant left his books and care,
To find some rest and solace there;
The Painter put his pencil down,
To seek that laughter-loving town;
The Sculptor came for newer themes,—
The Poet to refresh his dreams;
For song, and dance, and feast, and wine,
And forms of beauty, half divine,
And pleasant smiles, and loving eyes,
Made it a social Paradise.
From morn till noon, from noon till night,
A constant carnival was kept,
That one might say, and say aright,
That Pleurs had laughed until she
For such the solemn truth appears,
Knowing thy doom, poor Town of Tears!
One eventide in vintage time,
When joyance rang throughout the clime,
Alone within the woodland shade
A Youth and Maiden talked and strayed;
Earnest they seemed, without disguise,
With looks that sought each other's eyes,
Save that the Maiden, now and then,
Would turn her glances towards the
Only to bring them back again
To him, with pleasure more profound;
Till in a bower's umbrageous maze,
Which baffled the obtrusive gaze,
They paused to rest; and being there,
Let Fancy draw the loving pair:—
The Youth possessed a manly mien,
Yet pale was he, and slight of limb;
His eyes, far-seeing yet serene,
Pensive sometimes, were never dim;
And on his high and marble brow
The light of genius seemed to glow;
Nay, none could misconstrue the air
Of mental beauty reigning there;
And yet the whole seemed overwrought
With deep intensity of thought,
As if the soul had strained her wings
In flying towards ideal things.
The Maiden had a healthier charm,
Buoyant, luxuriant, soft, and warm;
Her whole bright being seeming rife
With keenest sense of love and life.
Her eyes, which changed with every feeling,
Had dew and depth beyond revealing;
Love, laughter, anger, and disdain,
Outward delight, or inward pain,
By turns o'erawed, or pleased, or blest,
Those who beheld and knew her best.
But, Oh! her soft and gracious smile
On the enchanted gazer fell
Like sunburst lingering awhile
On meads of golden asphodel;
And her sweet laughter gushed away
Like rain-drops on a summer's noon;
Or dimpling brook in sparkling play,
Or instrument in rapid tune;
And when her smile and laughter fled,
Beauty and music both seemed dead.
She was, in sooth, a loving child
Of Nature, warm and undefiled,—
A perfect woman, chaste as snow,
Formed to be blest and bless below,
Increase man's joy, and share his woe.
"Thou must not leave me, Florio,"
Said the young Maiden, tenderly;
"I cannot yet behold thee go,
"My love must plead,—it cannot be!
"Thou know'st that long and heavy rains
"Have swept these mountain heights and plains,
"And that the herdsmen from the hills,
"With presage of a thousand ills,
"Have brought us tales of gloom and dread;
"Of changes on old Conto's head,
"Of rent, and chasm, and awful sound,
"Tremblings and cleavings of the ground,
"As if the holds of Nature shook,
"And quivered loosely as a brook.
"Didst thou not see, but t'other day,
"A noble vineyard swept away
"By avalanche of earth and stone,
"Like reeds o'er which the fire has blown?
"Oh! quit me not, if I am dear;
"I have a sad foreboding here!
"Stay to sustain me, I implore,
"Lest I should ne'er behold thee more!"
"Francesca," Florio said, and smiled—
"Be not by foolish fears beguiled;
"Dost think the hills, old as the world,
"Will from their steadfast seats be hurled,
"Because some superstitious minds
"Some simple and unlettered hinds,—
"Prognosticate the thing? Ah! no,
"'Twere impious to believe it so.
"Behold! there are no signs of rain,
"The great, glad Sun shines out again;
"And all is joyous, all is clear,
"Why should thy gentle bosom fear?
"Did danger threaten thee, my Pride,
"Nothing should take me from thy side;
"I would not quit thy faithful breast,
"And leave thee unto sad unrest,
"For all the gold,—for all the lands
"The world could pour into my hands;
"But since no dreadful thing portends,
"And thou art circled round by friends,—
"And since I feel thou art to-day
"By a quick fancy led astray,
"I dare to go, secure that thou
"Wilt be as safe next year as now.
"Believe me, when I soon return
"I shall behold thy blushes burn,—
"Thy smile break out, thy tears o'erflow,
"As I have seen them long ago.
"No more. Thou know'st how I have yearned,
"Tried, failed, and yet unconquered, burned,
"To gather light around my name,
"To carve my fearless way to fame,
"And so by Toil or Genius stand
"A PAINTER in my native land.
"The thing's achieved;—Hope whispers so,—
"May be in vain, but this I know,
"My hand, heart, soul have done their best,—
"I leave to Fortune all the rest.
"My Picture, which has stolen my nights,
"And weaned me from the world's delights,
"Has made my forehead throb with pain,—
"Made sick, and then has healed again,
"Which has o'erwhelmed me in despair,
"And then uplifted me in air;—
"My Picture stands in finished state,
"And I with hopeful trembling wait
"The judgment of experienced eyes,
"To sink to earth, or seek the skies.
"Ah! droop not, Dearest, I beseech,—
"'Tis but the metaphor of speech.
"No, never can I shrink; my Art
"Is of myself another part;
"She is my second Mistress,—Thou
"The foremost, evermore as now;
"Thou hast inspired my soul, and she
"Must pay some tribute unto thee;
"And shall, if in my hand remain
"The skill to woo her charms again.
"Oh! glorious Art! divinest dower
"That ever came to human mind!
"Grace, colour, sentiment, and power
"Of witching Poësy combined!
"Art that receives its chiefest grace
"From Woman's dear, angelic face,
"Draws its best spirit, soft and warm,
"From the chaste contour of her form,—
"I cannot leave, for your sweet sakes,
"Nor that which gives, nor that which takes!
"Beloved Francesca! let us part,
"But first, come cling thee to my heart,
"Which beats with faithful pulse for thee,
"And will while life remains with me;
"Ere morrow's sunlight cometh down
"On giant Conto's hoary crown,
"I must begone; but when the Spring
"Calls back the swallow's vagrant wing,
"I'll come, perchance all flushed with fame,—
"Ask for thy hand, and urge my claim;
"Then, fame or none, I'll stay to bless
"My sight with thy dear loveliness;
"Guard, cheer, and love, through every scene,
"Till death shall step our joys between.
"One kiss from these sweet lips of thine,
"Adored and Worshipped! ever mine!"
Then spake the Maiden, trembling, meek,
Whilst the quick tears coursed down her cheek:—
"Thus thou beguile'st me, Florio,
"And thou must leave me! Be it so;
"For I would have thee to be free
"To do whate'er may pleasure thee;
"But I will shut thee in my heart,
"And nurse that joy, where'er thou art.
"Oh! should'st thou find the world's applause
"Pall on thy ear, or should its laws
"Reject thee, seek my faithful breast,
"Where thou shalt find a welcome nest,
"And lay thy weary forehead down
"Where none shall harm thee, none shall frown.
"To part with thee my heart is loth;
"Our Holy Mother guard us both,
"And ever bend benignant eyes
"Upon us from the upper skies!
"This kiss for thee, my Florio—
"This for thy mother;—let her know
"How much I long to clasp her hand,
"And listen to her mild command.
"Adieu!" A brief half hour had flown,
And both sad lovers were alone.
Morn came, and like a bridegroom shone
The Sun on his ethereal throne;
Morn with her many voices, sent
From countless sources, sweetly blent;
Hill, vale, town, village, all were bright,
The Maira laughing in the light;
And kindled in the sunny ray
The snow-crowned summits far away.
Then came the hush of Noon, serene,
And, bathed in universal sheen,
The light clouds in the upper air,
Heavy with molten silver there.
Day sped, and as the Night drew nigh
One blaze of beauty lit the sky;
'Twas Sunset; and, O Heaven! the dower
Of glory shed upon that hour!
Just as the Sun-god paused to rest
On the bright borders of the West,
The Clouds came trooping towards their king,
As if they would about him cling,
And as they hung before his face,
They clustered, coloured, changed apace,
Assuming many a giant-shape
Of rocky cleft, and mountain cape,
Teeming, like Etna in his ire,
With floods and flames of gloomy fire.
Incessant change comes o'er them now—
They cleave, and with fierce grandeur glow,
Streaming like blazing banners out,—
Strewn like prismatic dust about,
Sailing like golden ships, and turning
Into a thousand cities burning;
But as the Sun withdraws to cheer
Souls of another hemisphere,
They float far off, all loose and free,
Like rose-beds on a silent sea.
Who could behold with careless eyes
Such grand "morgana" of the skies,
Nor lift high homage unto Him
Whose breath inspires the Seraphim,—
Who gives such beauteous signs of power
For us, who ill deserve the dower!
Francesca sat beside her door,
Absorbed in some poetic lore;
It seemed some sad and passionate tale,—
By turns her cheek was flushed and pale;
Perchance 'twas Dante's woful story
Of her own namesake, sad and lorn,
Whom he hath shrined in gloomy glory,
But such as makes one inly mourn;
Perchance 'twas that—more woful still—
Of Cenci's daughter, crushed and lost
Beneath the weight of horrible ill,—
Revenged, but at a fearful cost.
Whate'er it was, it did engage
Her fixed attention; on the page
Fell her unbidden tears like rain,—
Proof that it moved, perchance with pain.
But now the world was all abroad;
The people, late so overawed
By sweeping showers and savage gales,
By dullness, doubts, and dreadful tales,
Threw off the chill of their affright,
To take full measure of delight.
Again the depths of joy were stirred,—
Again the laugh and song were heard,—
Dance, music, feast, and wine, once more
Governed the people as before ;
The Puppet played in comic state,
The Improvvisitore was great;
Brave was the banquet, high the cheer,
Crowded the gorgeous theatre.
Woman dispensed her sweetest smiles;
Man tried his most seducing wiles;
Whilst children, in more harmless way,
Pleased their dear hearts with boisterous play.
Young, old, rich, poor, with common will
Combined to banish sense of ill;
It seemed to be their chief employ,
That Saturnalia of Joy.
Francesca, ill at ease, walked out
'Mid laughter, music, song, and shout,—
Not with the wish to feel and share
The general pleasure reigning there,
But in the hope she might beguile
Her dumb, deep sorrow for a while.
She paused where, under olive trees,
In proud and merry-hearted ease,
Sat many friends, a pleasant throng,
Who listened to the voice of Song,
And, urged by gentle lips to stay,
She heard this light and simple lay:—
Oh! give to me Beauty, and Music, and Wine,
The only dear things that are ever divine;
The hour is propitious for pleasures like these,
While our hopes are awake, and our cares are at ease;
Let us seize and enjoy them to-day, friends, to-day,
To-morrow, believe me, is far, far away!
'Tis Beauty that kindles and gladdens the soul;
'Tis Music makes time more harmoniously roll;
'Tis Wine that uplifts us above the dull earth,
And to Wit, Love, and Rapture gives lustre and birth;
Let us seize and enjoy them to-day, friends, to-day,
For to-morrow, believe me, is far, far away!
This song's light-hearted levity
Did little please, did ill agree
With the young Maiden's weight of heart;
So she prepared her to depart
Homeward, to soothe her harassed mind,
And leave the noisy crowd behind.
From her quaint casement, vine-embowered,
She looked upon the tranquil night,
Towards where old Conto grandly towered,
Less stern beneath the moon's sweet light.
The stars were out, too, grouping round—
And yet apart—their placid queen;
And where they were not, Heaven profound
Seemed boundless, fathomless, serene:
And then she thought on Florio,
And he renewed that hidden woe
For which she seemed to have no cause,—
So deep, so dim are Nature's laws;
She mused, she mourned, complained, and wept,
And overcome by sorrow—slept.
On went the revels, loud and high,
Till midnight stole upon the sky,
And passed along her starry way,
To meet the not far distant day.
Then did the boisterous sounds subside,
Like murmur of receding tide,
And all the crowd prepared to creep
To home, and hearth, and needful sleep.
From shining casements, here and there,
Gleaming athwart the moonlit air,
Out went the lights, and all was still,
Save herdsman's dog upon the hill,
Or Maira's stream, that in its flow
Muttered a soft complaint and low;
Or nightingale, that charmed the hour
With sweetest descant from her bower;—
The sleep-world, late so loud and bright,
Was left to Nature and to Night.
Oh, Night and Nature! fair ye are,
With meteor, cloud, and moon, and star;
But ye are solemn, and oppress
The soul with your great loveliness;
The soul that often strains her wing
To reach and roam your heights sublime,
But falls back, faint and wondering,
Too strong to rest, too weak to climb!
Well, all was still; but towards the morn,
An hour before the day was born,
An awful sound,—a mighty boom,
As if it were the "crack of doom,"—
Loud as the stormy ocean's roar,
When battling gainst a rocky shore,—
As the appalling thunder loud,
When raging through the realms of cloud—
Resounded far beyond the vale,
And made the boldest cheek turn pale.
At the first dubious dawn of day,
Filled with a vague and dread dismay,
With quivering nerves, and hearts all cold,
Men came;—and what did they behold?
One half of Conto fallen sheer down
On Pleurs, the death-devoted town,
A ponderous avalanche of rock!
And Maira, startled by the shock,
Hurled from her course, to make a path
Away from ruin and from wrath.
Above the fated city hung
A canopy of dust, that flung
Horror upon the gazer's eye,
And blotted out the rosy sky.
The foxes, frightened from their lair,—
The birds all screaming in the air,—
The river riotous and strong,
Tumbling her turbid waves along,—
The lamentations long and loud
Of the still-increasing crowd,—
The strife,—the questioning, the sound
Of countless voices mingling round;
Made up a scene so sad and dread,
That Reason shook, and Judgment fled,—
A scene that lay all undefined,
Like a great nightmare on the mind!
Oh, awful truth! stupendous fate!
Which even moves me to relate—
The mountain, like a giant lid,
Fell sudden down, and crushed and hid
Three thousand souls, which yesternight
Were full of life and high delight!
And not one soul remained to say
How glad they were but yesterday!
Not all man's energy and skill,—
Not thousands with one common will,—
Not Hate, that keeps his cunning course,—
Not Vengeance, with Herculean force,—
Not Avarice, with his heart of steel,—
Not Love, with his unselfish zeal,—
Not all combined by solemn vow,
Could ever see or save them now!
None could behold them,—none could save;
There they reposed in one great grave,
O'er which the cloven Conto looks
With constant warnings and rebukes;
A mighty headstone, left to show
Where died the multitude below,
Whose bones have mingled with the clod,
Whose better parts are with their God!
Quick as the prairie's rolling fire,—
Quick as the whirlwind in its ire,
The terrible tidings swept and spread
With awe, uncertainty, and dread.
Amid the Eternal City's towers,
Where he was straining all his powers,
It smote the ears of Florio,
With sense of overwhelming woe.
Fame, Wealth, and Honour,—What were they
That he should linger and delay?
He went while yet his fears were new,—
On wings of love and terror flew,
And reached that horror-shadowed vale
Dishevelled, travel-soiled, and pale;
Heard, saw the appalling truth, and how
His joys were shattered at a blow.
He neither talked, nor wailed, nor wept,
But in a neighbouring cottage slept,—
Ay, slept as he would wake no more;
But when that blessèd sleep was o'er,
He woke with wandering words and pain,—
Delirium seized upon his brain,
And long, long weeks he lay, like one
Who with the things of earth had done.
Kind hearts and gentle hands were there,
To tend him with unselfish care,
And tend they did, with constant zeal,
For they had learned to love and feel.
At length, when he had lain one day,
As if all pain had passed away,
He started from his couch, and smiled,—
An idiot! harmless as a child.
That noble mind, where genius burned,—
That heart, for gentlest love that yearned,
Were crushed and blinded, ne'er again
To know nor hope, nor love, nor pain,—
A holy shrine, a temple chaste,
By sorrow shattered and defaced.
And from that hour he would not go
From that dear spot, the Vale of Woe;
Albeit his mother came, and tried
By all maternal arts to guide
His footsteps homeward; bootless all,
His ears were deaf to Nature's call;
And so she came to sojourn there,
And watched him with unceasing care.
It was his custom, shade or shine—
(Thus far he seemed to have design)—
Among the scattered rocks to roam,
And then at nightfall saunter home;
But on the rocks he would pourtray
Her who was lost to him for aye;
Repeating, with sad words and low,
This constant burden of his woe;
"Francesca, love! where dost thou stay?
"Thou hast forgot our wedding day!"
And when the maidens of the vale
Heard him repeat this piteous wail,
With sympathising hearts and eyes,
Which watched him that he stumbled not,
They gave the tribute of their sighs,
And wept at his unhappy lot.
At length the elements combined
To give the Wanderer peace and rest:
The frost, the snow, the rain, the wind,
That beat against his gentle breast,
Shook his frail frame, and laid him down,
No more to roam, no more to rise;
He died beside the Buried Town,
And sought Francesca in the skies!
Where once was seen the Town of Tears
A strange and rugged scene appears;
But Nature, ever prone to fling
Some beauty round the rudest thing,
Has clothed the avalanche of stone
With moss and lichens, all her own;
And high above that giant grave
A thousand trees all proudly wave;
The chesnut lifts its goodly boughs,—
The calm herds ruminate and browse,—
The herdsman carols o'er the lea,
In concert with the bird and bee.
Sweet Maira tells her wonted tale,
Old Conto frowns upon the vale;
And all is lovely and serene,
As though such ruin ne'er had been.
Such is the tale of doom and woe,
Of Pleurs, two hundred years ago.
GILBERT was a brave and gentle knight,—
Gilbert the Saxon, of old London town;
And to the struggle of the first Crusade
He lent his prowess, joyful to behold
The snowy standard of the Christian Powers
First float o'er ancient Salem; glad to see
The haughty Crescent quail before the Cross,
And pale its specious beams. But, sad mischance!
One luckless day, in foray or in fight,
He fell into the foeman's toils, and soon
Was hurried o'er the desert far away,
To where Damascus, with her hundred streams,
And bowery gardens, smiles upon the waste.
Here he was captive, manacled and watched;
But he was calm as brave, and he restrained,
In proof of patience, look, and word, and thought.
At length his mild demeanour won its way
With those who watched him, and his chains were
And he, the same when free as bound, was put
To easy toils within the garden grounds.
This lasted for a time, a year or more,
When in the presence of the Syrian Chief
One day they led him, silent and amazed.
The chief sat gravely on the low divan,
And by his side a still and graceful form,
Close veiled, and jewelled like an Eastern bride.
The Chieftain gazed upon the noble Knight,
And yet he opened not his lips; meanwhile
Gilbert surveyed, with keen and hurried glance,
The rich, cool luxury of that inner place,
Wherein a fountain, dancing in the midst,
Fell down like shattered silver, with a sound
Like tinkling of a lute, making the air—
Pervaded, too, with daintiest perfumes—
Delicious to the sense. The Chieftain spake:—
"Christian, I have beheld thy noble mien,
"Thy patience and reserve; thy valour, too,
"I know from loud report; and I would fain
"Do thee some favour. Couldst thou not forego
"Thy country and religion, and embrace
"The only Faith—our own? Consent to this,
"And honour waits thee: I will then bestow,
"To be thy handmaid, this my only child,
"And place thee 'mong the illustrious of the East.
"Pause for a moment, so that thy reply
"Accord with the indulgence I have shown."
The Saxon raised his bold and ample front
Erect, while in his full and candid eye
Shone the clear beams of truth, and thus replied:—
"Chieftain, there needs no pause; can I renounce
"The Faith for which my veins have often bled,—
"The Faith whose holiness I learned to know
"From my own mother's lips, and later still,
"From that great Oracle Divine whose source
"Is only God? 'Twere what thou wouldst not do,
"Then how shall I? I can not—will not change,
"Even if thraldom waste my life away."
The fair veiled Being at her father's side
Moved with a restless gesture, as the Chief
Waved with a frown the Captive from his sight.
Gilbert withdrew, but still remained unchained,
To his old labour in the garden grounds:
Then thronging visions of his native land,
Her greenness and her beauty, made him pine
And pant for freedom, which seemed more remote
From his attainment than before.
Flew o'er his weary head, but with such wings
As seemed to make no speed, when one bright day
A slave, with gesture but with silent tongue,
Led him away into a little bower,
A very nest of beauty and delight,
And there he stood, with wonder and mistrust,
Before the Emeer's Daughter, who reclined
Luxuriantly along her cushioned couch,
Wove in the richest looms. But she was veiled,
And hid the loveliness belonged to see;
Save that a scarlet-slippered foot,
Which just betrayed the golden anklet there,
Peeped on his gaze. "Christian," she softly said—
And at the murmur of that plaintive voice
He who had borne the deafening bruit of war
Shook like a reed—"Christian, wilt thou relate
"Some of the wonders of thy native land,
"And of that Faith which makes thee bold amid
"Captivity and danger? I would hear.
"My Sire is fighting 'gainst thy people, but
"With me thou art in safety. Tell thy tale."
Gilbert all reverently bowed
Before the princely Beauty, and began:
With warm and rapid eloquence—inspired
By his own feelings, and the pitying tone
Of his exalted Auditor—he drew
A glowing picture, redolent of truth:
Of his own land he told of the renown
In War and Commerce;—of its temperate air,
Its verdurous hills and fields, and constant streams;—
That there no sun o'erpowered, no desert scorched,
But all was mild and genial, as became
The sea-girt Monarch Island of the world.
Of his own Faith he gave the full account,
From its first sunrise: how the Nazarene,
The Man-God, Teacher, Saviour of mankind,
Was Virgin-born within her own bright clime;—
That there He taught, wept, agonized, and died,
And consummated what His love began.
And furthermore, he told her that good men,
Despite contumely, scorn, hunger, death,
Threatening on every side, had gone abroad
To spread the light and warmth of Gospel Truth:
And not in vain, for that the Christian world
Was numerous as the leaves on Lebanon.
Much more he told her, which the Syrian Maid
Devoured with greedy ear; and when his tongue
At length grew silent, she exclaimed—"Thy tale,
"O Christian! moves me! wonderful it is,
"By Allah, wonderful! Come sit thee here,
"And thou shalt talk again." And then she smote
Her hands, and slaves obsequious came in
With many-coloured fruits, and cooling drinks,
And cakes of dainty taste; and they partook
Of the light banquet. But ere they began
The Maid unveiled, and to the Saxon's sight
Disclosed a glorious vision, such as ne'er
Haunted the Anchorite in secret cell,
Or the drugged Dreamer in his happiest hour.
It was a perfect countenance, as fair
As that of Rachael in the days of old,
Or Ruth's, when blushing 'mid the "alien corn,"
But haughtier, perchance, than either,—proof
Of princely blood. Her eyes were deeply dark,
But tender, too, and full of fire, that shot
Into the gazer's soul the shafts of love.
Gilbert was overpowered, and captive now
In other bonds, which he might never break.
And thus they sat and talked, or mutely looked
Into each other's face most tenderly.
The roses seemed to listen,—bubbling fount
To echo all they uttered; whilst pet doves
Of glorious plumage flitted to and fro,
And filled the bower with sounds of happy life.
"Christian," Zoana said—for such her name—
"If thou canst love a stranger to thy land,
"I will be Christian too. If thou canst love,
"Give me some token that shall bind our souls,
"Some token that may cheer me in the hour
"When, haply, freedom takes thee from my sight,
"And with thee all my joy." With glowing pride
The Saxon hung about her graceful neck
A jewelled Crucifix, and with a kiss
They sealed the holy compact. "Tell me now
"Thy country's name and thine, that I may know
"Their sounds, and so repeat them as a spell
"To charm me when alone, and link my soul
"In memory to thee." "My country's name
"Is England; London the transcendent town
"Where I was born; and I am Gilbert named."
With many a laugh and pleasant look the Maid
Repeated the dear sounds, as does a child
The sweet words of its mother: what is more,
She mastered them, and they were words whereby
She mastered greater things; as I shall tell.
At length they parted, but to meet again
When chance and opportunity allowed.
But the Emeer returned, and weary months
Kept them asunder, whilst their hidden love
Fed on their hearts, and turned their faces pale.
Again the Chieftain went, with all his tribe,
To venture open battle, or annoy
The skirts of the Crusaders. Then the pair
Met as before, and strengthened every hour
The spell that bound them; but they never fell
Into the meshes of a low desire,
Nor soiled the hallowed bloom of chastest thoughts.
One day Zoana, with sad looks and sighs,
Precursors of her tears, said—"Gilbert, hear!
"I see thee pining for thy native land,—
"Thy bones are wasted, and thy eyes' mild light
"Darkened with inward sorrow; gold were vain
"To ransom thee from thrall; 'tis love alone
"Must pay the price of thy delivery,
"And I will pay it. Ere to-morrow's sun
"Leaps on his way rejoicing, thou art free,
"And I alone am captive! Were it not
"That age is falling on my father's head,
"And were it not that I am chiefest Rose
"In all his garden, Light of all his house,
"In his paternal eyes,—I would partake
"Of liberty and love with thee; but that
"Is hopeless yet. Cast slumber from thy eyes
"This night, and I will visit thee,—no more
"Perchance to see thee upon earth." The Maid
Wept, wept on Gilbert's sorrow-heaving breast,
Who also wept in concert,—soothed, and prayed,—
Implored that she would share with him the gift
She offered; all in vain, she only felt
The joy of grief, and in the indulgence she
With him wore all the afternoon away.
That night—a glorious night!—when troops of stars
Burned in the depths of heaven, and when the moon,
Of bright and ample disk, o'ertopped the arch
Of solemn midnight, stood beside his conch
The Angel of Delivery. "Oh! haste,
"Be silent, fly!" she said, with bated breath;
"My favourite barb is champing at the gate;
"Take her, and keep her tenderly for me!
"Fleet and sure-footed, she will bear thee soon
"Beyond the reach of danger; fly at once!"
"And wilt thou not go with me, Maiden?" "No!
"It cannot be! but thou shalt have my love,
"None other ever!" With her gentle hand
She led him forth, by many a sinuous path,
To where the steed stood snorting by the wall,
Impatiently. Zoana on her neck
Shed bitter tears, and with endearing hands
Caressed her. Unto Gilbert then she turned
With loving eyes; one long and ardent gaze,—
One close embrace, one burning kiss, wherein
Two lives seemed centred, and the Saxon Knight
Leaped in the saddle, spurned the dangerous ground,
And sped for life along the rugged road,
Peril before, a breaking heart behind!
Poor Maid! She had a double trial now
To brave and bear, well as her nature might,—
Her Sire's displeasure, and her hopeless love!
Long days and weary weeks she mused and mourned,
Forsook all solace, left her doves to fret,
Her roses to decay, her heart to break,
"Yet brokenly live on." Not dance, nor song,
Nor charm of tuneful instrument, nor word
Of loving slave, nor bulbul's voice among
The acacia boughs, nor free and genial air,
Nor shape of beauty anywhere beguiled
Her sorrow now. She nursed it as a mother
Nurses an ailing child, the more because
It pained and troubled her. She pored long hours
On the dear jewelled Crucifix; she breathed
His name incessantly; she conjured up
His noble image to her inward sight;
She felt his influence in her inmost heart,
And nought could bring her joy. At length her Sire,
By Western soldiers baffled and sent back,
Stepped o'er his threshold. Who can paint the rage
Which shook him like a whirlwind, when he saw
His Captive gone, and from his Daughter's tongue
Learned all her disobedience and her love!
But that she kept strong hold on his affections,
And with her mother's fair transmitted face
Confronted him with gentleness, his hand
Had slain her on the spot. He only dared
To chafe, and fret, and gloom, and grow morose,
Which to Zoana was a constant rack
On which her heart was laid. It might not last.
Twelve moons had travelled through the halls of
Since Gilbert went, and with him, too, a part
Of her existence. Greatly daring, she,
Beneath the friendly shadow of the night,
Quitted her father's palace; taking nought
But every-day adornments, and the garb
Of Eastern beauty she was wont to wear.
Her path she knew not, nor the country round,
For in a gilded cage she had been kept,
Unwitting of the world; but Providence,
Or instinct, or some hidden power which love
Created for her guidance, led her right,
And Westward kept her face.
For many a day,
For many a weary day, o'er burning sands,
O'er scarcely trodden paths, through tangled brakes,
Where danger lurked, she nobly kept her way;
Eating of fruits that on uncultured trees
By chance she found, and drinking at the rills,
Scanty and few, that tinkled as she passed.
The wild was dangerous, but the haunts of men
More dangerous still. She came at last upon
The tracks of Warfare and of Violence,—
'Mong restless Arabs roaming o'er the waste
For blood or plunder, as the chance might be;
But these she passed, albeit their greedy eyes
Fell on her golden anklets, and the shower
Of costly ornaments that crowned her head.
But she gave look for look, and daring too;
Or, when unnoticed, sped in sudden flight,
Not daring to look back.
At length she came
Among the Western hordes, Crusading bands,—
The blue-eyed Saxon, and the fiery Gaul,
The dark-eyed Norman, warlike brothers all.
Zoana here recalled the darling words
Which were to be her talisman, and now
She "England, England! London, London!" cried,
With earnest voice, appealing with fair face
To all she met. Some jeered her as she passed,
And others with rude hands assailed her charms;
But others—gentle Knights—with courteous care
(Interpreting her well-known words aright)
Gave her safe escort for a little way,
And pointed out her course.
On, on she went,
But listless, weary, hungry, and oppressed
For needful sleep,—a blessing she had caught
Only at intervals, beneath a tree,
A friendly rock, or thicket-covered dell,
Safe by God's Providence from savage claw
Or man's insulting hand. What is't she sees,
That with arrested step, dilated nostril,
And breast upheaving, she with wondering gaze
Looks on before her? Can it be the Sea?
It is, it is the Ocean! blue and bright,
A mighty desert greater than her own,
And fresher, lovelier far. She now beheld
Strange giant things, unknown to her before,—
Great ships with bellying sales, that strained to go
Out on the briny element of waves.
She was at Ptolemais, the ancient port,
Then famous and thick-peopled. Pilgrims there
In crowds were gathering to embark for home,
And she propitiated with her looks
Their pious natures, crying out alway—
"Oh! England, England!" plucking from her hair
Some gem wherewith to satisfy their claims,
And pay her voyage thither. All amazed,
Yet pitying the while, they took her in;
Gave food, and gentle words, and place of rest,
Where she lay down in happiness, and slept.
When sleep forsook her eyelids it was Eve,
Sweet Eve, with sunset on her brow, and far
They were at sea, no strip of land to break
The level grandeur of the great expanse,
Zoana stood upon the heaving deck,
Musing on many things; her hope and love,
Her home and father, and her loneliness;
Which loneliness, meanwhile, expanded all
Her thoughts, and made her feel on equal terms
With any fate. But soon she felt a novel qualm,
The penalty which Neptune takes from all
New comers, lassitude of frame,
Sick fancies and sick feelings, and a scorn
Of life. But there were those at hand who knew
Her state, and came with ready help and kind.
When night had gathered deeply in, about
The middle watch, she was erect and well;
Walked on the deck, and stood upon the prow,
Big with her new emotions. Countless Stars—
Moon there was none on that her first sea night—
Clustered in constellations o'er her head:
Boötes and Arcturus,—Charles's Wain,—
Dazzling Orion, and the Golden Lyre,
Which looking down on that night-shadowed deep,
Seemed diamond points thick set in sombre steel.
And then the waves in tortuous play and wild,
Lifted their fringed edges to the night,
And moved like blazing snakes, ahead—behind,
As if the sea were filled with lustrous life.
Bewildered, yet uplifted in her soul,
She stole to rest, and dreamed of him for whom
She perilled life and honour, all she had.
Morn rose upon that Mid-Terraneau sea
In calm, clear glory, and the Syrian Maid
Was up as soon, filling her soul with grandeur.
Where'er she stepped, a silent homage glowed
In rudest hearts; the sailors were subdued
To gentle gestures and respectful looks,—
Proof of the power of Beauty, when 'tis linked
With chaste demeanour, redolent of Heaven.
On sped the bark, past Cyprus, dedicate
To her the ocean-born, the Queen of Love;
Past Crete to old Melita, where St. Paul
Dropt manna from his lips; and on again
Towards Sicily, the Arcady of Song;
Touching, meanwhile, those many-clustered Isles,
Lipari, where the fires of Stromboli
Flame on incessant, a gigantic plume
Of gloom and glory, swaling towards the sky;
An old and constant beacon-fire to those
Who sail the surface of that lovely sea.
Still on the vessel made her gallant way,
The breeze propitious and the welkin clear,
Until she stayed her helm, and furled her sails,
At Honfleur, superannuated port
Of ancient Normandy.
The voyage was done;
Zoana stepped upon the shore with joy
And gratitude, an utter stranger there;
And yet she thought 'twas England. Maid forlorn!
Thy trials were not ended! Flushed with hope
She trod the stranger streets, and unto all
Said with inquiring gesture—"England?" "No!"
And then they shook their heads, and with stretched
Pointed to distant shores. Zoana drooped,
And with despair unutterable fell
Prone on the ground. But generous hearts were there
Among the Poor—the Poor are ever kind
When Suffering to their feelings makes appeal—
Who took her in and tended her with care.
But on the morrow, restless as before,
The one great object of her hope and love
Unconsummated, she resolved to go.
They led her forth, and on the great highway
Directed her towards England, but with mute
And kind farewells.
Then on she boldly sped
With resolute endeavour, while the birds
Sang in the wayside trees, and the mild light
Of the Autumnal Sun shone sweetly down,
And gilded all her path. Still on she went,
O'er wide and bare champaigns, through forest glooms
Of dreary length, small towns, and villages
Of rudest structure, rudely peopled; for
The children gathered round her, crying out—
"A Dancing Girl, a Dancing Girl!" and plucked
Her showy robe, and dashed with daring hand
At her bright ornaments, and boldly laughed
In her pale, pensive countenance; but she
Eluded them, and sped with quicker steps
Along her way. Seeing her ornaments
Awoke cupidity, she took them off,
And hid them in her bosom, lest they should
Work her yet greater harm. Within the towns
She met with better treatment, finding food,
And water for ablution, paying ever
With some small jewel from her store.
As yet She did not dare to lodge there, but preferred
To make her couch upon the grassy sward,
Beneath the shelter of a tree or thicket,
Albeit her delicate frame was numbed and chilled,—
Her garments and her tresses wet with dews,—
Her strength diminished and her health decayed.
Days had she travelled, weary and forlorn,
Hungry and faint, with lacerated feet,
And heart that fluttered and grew sick,—
Sick with its own emotions; worn and spent,
Enfeebled and o'erpowered, and racked with pain,
Prone on a bank she lay despairing down,
What time the night was closing in, dark clouds
Heavy with rain o'erhanging in the sky,
And gusty winds whirling the faded leaves
Around her head. And there she lay and wept,
Calling on Gilbert with a passionate voice,
Till soul and sense in blank unconsciousness
Were blotted out, and moveless there she lay.
By happy chance a stalwart Monk drew nigh,
With hasty steps out-hurrying the storm
That gathered fast; with startled step he paused,
And marvelled much to see a female form,
Lovely and delicate, dressed in foreign garb,
Extended lifeless there. In his strong arms
He bore her gently as a little child,
And took her to his Monastery, where
They chafed her tender limbs, and used
Exciting cordials, haply to restore
The functions of her frame. As they unbound
Her snowy breast, they wondered to behold
The jewelled Crucifix, and pearls which she
Had lately worn. She woke to consciousness,
And found kind faces round her; then she fell
Into a deep and blessed sleep, for long,
Long hours. When slumber left her eyes
The noontide sun shone on the gothic walls,
And she arose, and donned her robes, and tried
To go straightway, but they with gentle force
Withheld her, pointing to her tender feet.
Three days against her eager will she staid,
Brooding upon her love. When these elapsed
She sought the Monk, and with inquiring eyes
Said—"England! London!" stretching forth her hand
Towards where she knew not. He with kindly looks
And fatherly solicitude went out,
And put her on her track; but first he drew
Upon a tablet many a branching line
Whereby she might be governed, and not stray
Far from her proper path. And then he laid
His hand upon her head with reverent touch,
And blessed her, watching her receding form
Till it was gone from sight.
And she went on,
Refreshed in frame, renewed in hope, and came
Late in the afternoon upon a town
That looked upon the sea. The sea again!
And her heart sickened at the glorious sight,
Because it seemed interminable, and
A barrier which her courage must surmount.
Among the crowd she mingled, crying ever
"Oh! England! London!" with most piteous voice.
She took a sparkling jewel from her breast,
And to a rough-faced Master of the Waves
Gave it beseechingly, and with a look
Of earnest pleading, "England!" on her lips.
And she embarked, and in some few brief hours
Saw the white cliffs of Albion looming up
On her enchanted gaze. "England!" they said,
And she set lightsome foot upon the soil,
Bowed down upon the ground, and kissed the stones,
Speeding along with foot as light and fleet,
With eyes as wildly bright, as the gazelle
In the wide plains of Araby the Blest.
Then "London! Gilbert!" she began to cry,
Deeming, poor Maid! that he was known to all.
The people, wondering, pointed out the way,
And gave her bread, and blessed her as she passed,
Because of her strange beauty, which unlocked
All hearts, and rivetted all eyes
In loving gaze.
On, on she went again,
Through Kent, delightful province! fair and green,
With gentle hills, and pastoral vales, and streams
For ever bright and musical. These charms
To young Zoana had a nameless spell
Which knit her to the land, or haply she
Loved it because of Gilbert, for whose love
She had left home and country. Soon she saw
The ancient towers of Canterbury, high
In the clear evening air. Couldst thou have seen
Into the womb of Time, Zoana, thou
Hadst felt a shudder through thy gentle frame,
A strange, dread shadow on thy gentle soul,
Passing this city; for thy haughty Son,
The Churchman Beckett, fell beneath the hands
Of violent assassins, who performed
The wish but not the word of Kingly hate.
Within the walls of that Cathedral fane
Thy offspring died, staining with martyr-blood
The altar of the Lord; so History tells.
The lovely Pilgrim,—Pilgrim of pure love,
Passed through the city, and for many miles
Pierced the unpeopled country, lying down
Beneath the boundless canopy of stars,
The moon her chamber-light, perchance to sleep.
Slumber was stealing o'er her purple lids,
And weariness relaxing all her limbs,
When sounds of heavy feet and boisterous laughter
Roused her to anxious consciousness. A form
Of ruffian aspect and gigantic build
Was drawing near her, with a noisy band
Behind him. Those were rough, unsettled times,
And these marauders, living upon chance
And crime. "What, ho! what have we here?" exclaimed
The stalwart leader, as with rudest hands
He seized Zoana. "Dainty, by my soul!
"A fitting mistress for an outlawed lord;—
"Come thou with me!" Zoana, quick as light,
Drew from beneath her robe a trusty friend
She had not used,—a short Damascus sword.
With this she pierced the ruffian's heart, and fled,—
Fled for her life a league along the way,
And breathless, hopeless, terrified, and faint,
Entered a village, and with all her weight
Fell 'gainst a cottage door. The inmates came,
Amazed,—beheld the lovely Creature there,
And took her in, astonished at the sight.
The Mother of that house—a gentle dame—
Was a pure Saxon, flaxen-haired and mild;
And she had daughters of her own, which were
Her household treasures; therefore did she feel
For this strayed Lamb, and in her motherly lap
Took her and nursed her like a petted child.
The sad, pale, patient Syrian Maid relapsed
Into a dangerous illness, which had been
Gathering within her in her pilgrimage.
Fever, delirium, and deep-seated ills
They wot not of, just held her o'er the grave,
But nothing more. For forty days she lay
In that poor cottage in the Wolds of Kent,
And then she rallied, for her very love
Sustained her, for her time was not yet come.
When partial strength returned, she would arise
And go upon her way ; reproof was vain.
She poured into the lap of her who saved
An ample recompense, and hurried out
To consummate her task. But now the ways
Were white with Winter's earliest snows; the trees
Naked and mournful, and the cheerless sun
Feeble in warmth and light; but ne'ertheless
She kept undaunted on, and in three days,
Quivering and aching all her fragile frame,
She trod the skirts of London. Maid forlorn!
A greater desert tasks thy efforts now
Than thine, or Ocean's; may the all-seeing God
Guide thee through all its labyrinths, and lead
Thy faltering footsteps safely to the goal!
Into the very thick and stir of that
Stupendous town she plunged; through countless
Reiterated with untiring lips
The darling music;—"Gilbert! Gilbert!" still
She rung in every ear and every place,
Until the sun went down, and she
Shivered through all the night despairingly;
Without a shelter, and without a roof
Save Heaven's. With the late dawning of the sun
She rose again, benumbed, and trembling 'tween
Two lives, of Earth or Heaven; and what were Earth's,
Without the precious link that bound her to't?
From dawn till noon, from noon till dusk of eve
She wandered on, the mocking-bird within
Her lonely heart exclaiming—"Gilbert!" Ne'er
For five brief minutes did the mournful word
Remain unuttered. Round about her came
A motley throng, which followed her about
And clogged her footsteps, which were getting faint
From inward agony.
At length, when Night
Was stealing on with dim and dreary face,
And snow was whirling in the leaden air,
She fell exhausted on the stony step
Of a great house that stood in ancient "Chepe;"
And though her limbs were motionless, her tongue
Cried "Gilbert! Gilbert!" with despairing strength,
The crowd about her roaring like the sea.
In that great mansion casements were unclosed,
And curious eyes looked out, as if to see
The cause of the commotion. Soon there came,
Rushing from out the door, a noble form,
Who gazed upon the wanderer. "God of Heaven!
"Oh! can it be! It is!" and looking down,
He saw the jewelled Crucifix, that hung
Glittering upon her breast, and the dear name
Of "Gilbert!" coming faintly from her lips.
He spurned the crowd aside, and in his arms
Took the most precious Burden, and within
Bore her triumphantly, and closed the door.
"Oh! my Zoana! Treasure of my soul!
"Bird that hath come from thy far Eastern nest,
"For an unworthy mate, come to my heart,
"And let me cherish thee unceasingly,
" Nurse thee, and love thee, and devote my life
"To make and magnify thy happiness!"
And so he wed her, and for many years
They dwelt in Christian harmony and peace,
The Dove expiring in the nest it sought!