INTRODUCTION TO CANTO SECOND.
TO THE REV. JOHN MARRIOTT, A.M.
Ashestiel, Ettrick Forest.
The scenes are desert now, and bare, Where flourished once a forest fair When these waste glens with copse were lined, And peopled with the hart and hind. Yon thorn--perchance whose prickly spears Have fenced him for three hundred years, While fell around his green compeers - Yon lonely thorn, would he could tell The changes of his parent dell, Since he, so grey and stubborn now, Waved in each breeze a sapling bough: Would he could tell how deep the shade A thousand mingled branches made; How broad the shadows of the oak, How clung the rowan to the rock, And through the foliage showed his head, With narrow leaves and berries red; What pines on every mountain sprung, O'er every dell what birches hung, In every breeze what aspens shook, What alders shaded every brook!
"Here, in my shade," methinks he'd say, "The mighty stag at noontide lay: The wolf I've seen, a fiercer game (The neighbouring dingle bears his name), With lurching step around me prowl, And stop, against the moon to howl; The mountain-boar, on battle set, His tusks upon my stem would whet; While doe, and roe, and red-deer good, Have bounded by, through gay greenwood. Then oft, from Newark's riven tower, Sallied a Scottish monarch's power: A thousand vassals mustered round, With horse, and hawk, and horn, and hound; And I might see the youth intent, Guard every pass with crossbow bent; And through the brake the rangers stalk, And falc'ners hold the ready hawk; And foresters in greenwood trim, Lead in the leash the gazehounds grim, Attentive as the bratchet's bay From the dark covert drove the prey, To slip them as he broke away. The startled quarry bounds amain, As fast the gallant greyhounds strain; Whistles the arrow from the bow, Answers the arquebuss below; While all the rocking hills reply, To hoof-clang, hound, and hunter's cry, And bugles ringing lightsomely."
Of such proud huntings many tales Yet linger in our lonely dales, Up pathless Ettrick and on Yarrow, Where erst the outlaw drew his arrow. But not more blithe that silvan court, Than we have been at humbler sport; Though small our pomp, and mean our game Our mirth, dear Mariott, was the same. Remember'st thou my greyhounds true? O'er holt or hill there never flew, From slip or leash there never sprang, More fleet of foot, or sure of fang. Nor dull, between each merry chase, Passed by the intermitted space; For we had fair resource in store, In Classic and in Gothic lore: We marked each memorable scene, And held poetic talk between; Nor hill nor brook we paced along But had its legend or its song. All silent now--for now are still Thy bowers, untenanted Bowhill! No longer, from thy mountains dun, The yeoman hears the well-known gun, And while his honest heart glows Warm, At thought of his paternal farm, Round to his mates a brimmer fills, And drinks, "The Chieftain of the Hills!" No fairy forms, in Yarrow's bowers, Trip o'er the walks, or tend the flowers, Fair as the elves whom Janet saw By moonlight dance on Carterhaugh; No youthful baron's left to grace The forest-sheriff's lonely chase, And ape, in manly step and tone, The majesty of Oberon: And she is gone, whose lovely face Is but her least and lowest grace; Though if to sylphid queen 'twere given To show our earth the charms of Heaven, She could not glide along the air, With form more light, or face more fair. No more the widow's deafened ear Grows quick that lady's step to hear: At noontide she expects her not, Nor busies her to trim the cot: Pensive she turns her humming wheel, Or pensive cooks her orphans' meal; Yet blesses, ere she deals their bread, The gentle hand by which they're fed.
From Yair,--which hills so closely bind, Scarce can the Tweed his passage find, Though much he fret, and chafe, and toil, Till all his eddying currents boil, - Her long descended lord is gone, And left us by the stream alone. And much I miss those sportive boys, Companions of my mountain joys, Just at the age 'twixt boy and youth, When thought is speech, and speech is truth. Close to my side, with what delight They pressed to hear of Wallace wight, When, pointing to his airy mound, I called his ramparts holy ground! Kindled their brows to hear me speak; And I have smiled, to feel my cheek, Despite the difference of our years, Return again the glow of theirs. Ah, happy boys! such feelings pure, They will not, cannot, long endure; Condemned to stem the world's rude tide, You may not linger by the side; For Fate shall thrust you from the shore, And Passion ply the sail and oar. Yet cherish the remembrance still, Of the lone mountain and the rill; For trust, dear boys, the time will come When fiercer transport shall be dumb, And you will think right frequently, But, well I hope, without a sigh, On the free hours that we have spent Together, on the brown hill's bent.
When, musing on companions gone, We doubly feel ourselves alone, Something, my friend, we yet may gain; There is a pleasure in this pain: It soothes the love of lonely rest, Deep in each gentler heart impressed. 'Tis silent amid worldly toils, And stifled soon by mental broils; But, in a bosom thus prepared, Its still small voice is often heard, Whispering a mingled sentiment, 'Twixt resignation and content. Oft in my mind such thoughts awake, By lone Saint Mary's silent lake; Thou know'st it well,--nor fen, nor sedge, Pollute the pure lake's crystal edge; Abrupt and sheer, the mountains sink At once upon the level brink; And just a trace of silver sand Marks where the water meets the land. Far in the mirror, bright and blue, Each hill's huge outline you may view; Shaggy with heath, but lonely bare, Nor tree, nor bush, nor brake, is there, Save where of land yon slender line Bears thwart the lake the scattered pine. Yet even this nakedness has power, And aids the feeling of the hour: Nor thicket, dell, nor copse you spy, Where living thing concealed might lie; Nor point, retiring, hides a dell, Where swain, or woodman lone, might dwell; There's nothing left to fancy's guess, You see that all is loneliness: And silence aids--though the steep hills Send to the lake a thousand rills; In summer tide, so soft they weep, The sound but lulls the ear asleep; Your horse's hoof-tread sounds too rude, So stilly is the solitude.
Nought living meets the eye or ear, But well I ween the dead are near; For though, in feudal strife, a foe Hath lain our Lady's chapel low, Yet still beneath the hallowed soil, The peasant rests him from his toil, And, dying, bids his bones be laid, Where erst his simple fathers prayed.
If age had tamed the passion's strife, And fate had cut my ties to life, Here, have I thought, 'twere sweet to dwell And rear again the chaplain's cell, Like that same peaceful hermitage Where Milton longed to spend his age. 'Twere sweet to mark the setting day On Bourhope's lonely top decay; And, as it faint and feeble died On the broad lake and mountain's side, To say, "Thus pleasures fade away; Youth, talents, beauty, thus decay, And leave us dark, forlorn, and grey;" Then gaze on Dryhope's ruined tower, And think on Yarrow's faded Flower: And when that mountain-sound I heard, Which bids us be for storm prepared, The distant rustling of his wings, As up his force the tempest brings, 'Twere sweet, ere yet his terrors rave, To sit upon the wizard's grave - That wizard-priest's, whose bones are thrust From company of holy dust; On which no sunbeam ever shines - So superstition's creed divines - Thence view the lake, with sullen roar, Heave her broad billows to the shore; And mark the wild swans mount the gale, Spread wide through mist their snowy sail, And ever stoop again, to lave Their bosoms on the surging wave: Then, when against the driving hail No longer might my plaid avail, Back to my lonely home retire, And light my lamp, and trim my fire; There ponder o'er some mystic lay, Till the wild tale had all its sway, And, in the bittern's distant shriek, I heard unearthly voices speak, And thought the wizard-priest was come To claim again his ancient home! And bade my busy fancy range, To frame him fitting shape and strange, Till from the task my brow I cleared, And smiled to think that I had feared.
But chief 'twere sweet to think such life (Though but escape from fortune's strife), Something most matchless good and wise, A great and grateful sacrifice; And deem each hour to musing given A step upon the road to heaven.
Yet him whose heart is ill at ease Such peaceful solitudes displease; He loves to drown his bosom's jar Amid the elemental war: And my black Palmer's choice had been Some ruder and more savage scene, Like that which frowns round dark Lochskene. There eagles scream from isle to shore; Down all the rocks the torrents roar; O'er the black waves incessant driven, Dark mists infect the summer heaven; Through the rude barriers of the lake Away its hurrying waters break, Faster and whiter dash and curl, Till down yon dark abyss they hurl. Rises the fog-smoke white as snow, Thunders the viewless stream below. Diving, as if condemned to lave Some demon's subterranean cave, Who, prisoned by enchanter's spell, Shakes the dark rock with groan and yell. And well that Palmer's form and mien Had suited with the stormy scene, Just on the edge, straining his ken To view the bottom of the den, Where, deep deep down, and far within, Toils with the rocks the roaring linn; Then, issuing forth one foamy wave, And wheeling round the giant's grave, White as the snowy charger's tail Drives down the pass of Moffatdale.
Marriott, thy harp, on Isis strung, To many a Border theme has rung; Then list to me, and thou shalt know Of this mysterious man of woe.
The breeze, which swept away the smoke, Round Norham Castle rolled, When all the loud artillery spoke, With lightning-flash, and thunder-stroke, As Marmion left the hold. It curled not Tweed alone, that breeze, For, far upon Northumbrian seas, It freshly blew, and strong, Where, from high Whitby's cloistered pile, Bound to St. Cuthbert's holy isle, It bore a barque along. Upon the gale she stooped her side, And bounded o'er the swelling tide, As she were dancing home; The merry seamen laughed to see Their gallant ship so lustily Furrow the green sea-foam. Much joyed they in their honoured freight; For, on the deck, in chair of state, The Abbess of Saint Hilda placed, With five fair nuns, the galley graced.
'Twas sweet to see these holy maids, Like birds escaped to greenwood shades, Their first flight from the cage, How timid, and how curious too, For all to them was strange and new, And all the common sights they view, Their wonderment engage. One eyed the shrouds and swelling sail, With many a benedicite; One at the rippling surge grew pale, And would for terror pray; Then shrieked, because the sea-dog, nigh, His round black head, and sparkling eye, Reared o'er the foaming spray; And one would still adjust her veil, Disordered by the summer gale, Perchance lest some more worldly eye Her dedicated charms might spy; Perchance, because such action graced Her fair-turned arm and slender waist. Light was each simple bosom there, Save two, who ill might pleasure share - The Abbess and the novice Clare.
The Abbess was of noble blood, But early took the veil and hood, Ere upon life she cast a look, Or knew the world that she forsook. Fair too she was, and kind had been As she was fair, but ne'er had seen For her a timid lover sigh, Nor knew the influence of her eye. Love, to her ear, was but a name, Combined with vanity and shame; Her hopes, her fears, her joys, were all Bounded within the cloister wall: The deadliest sin her mind could reach Was of monastic rule the breach; And her ambition's highest aim To emulate Saint Hilda's fame. For this she gave her ample dower, To raise the convent's eastern tower; For this, with carving rare and quaint, She decked the chapel of the saint, And gave the relic-shrine of cost, With ivory and gems embossed. The poor her convent's bounty blest, The pilgrim in its halls found rest.
Black was her garb, her rigid rule Reformed on Benedictine school; Her cheek was pale, her form was spare; Vigils, and penitence austere, Had early quenched the light of youth, But gentle was the dame, in sooth: Though, vain of her religious sway, She loved to see her maids obey; Yet nothing stern was she in cell, And the nuns loved their Abbess well. Sad was this voyage to the dame; Summoned to Lindisfarne, she came, There, with Saint Cuthbert's Abbot old, And Tynemouth's Prioress, to hold A chapter of Saint Benedict, For inquisition stern and strict, On two apostates from the faith, And, if need were, to doom to death.
Nought say I here of Sister Clare, Save this, that she was young and fair; As yet a novice unprofessed, Lovely and gentle, but distressed. She was betrothed to one now dead, Or worse, who had dishonoured fled. Her kinsmen bade her give her hand To one who loved her for her land; Herself, almost heart-broken now, Was bent to take the vestal vow, And shroud, within Saint Hilda's gloom, Her blasted hopes and withered bloom.
She sate upon the galley's prow, And seemed to mark the waves below; Nay, seemed, so fixed her look and eye, To count them as they glided by. She saw them not--'twas seeming all - Far other scene her thoughts recall - A sun-scorched desert, waste and bare, Nor waves nor breezes murmured there; There saw she, where some careless hand O'er a dead corpse had heaped the sand, To hide it till the jackals come, To tear it from the scanty tomb. See what a woful look was given, As she raised up her eyes to heaven!
Lovely, and gentle, and distressed - These charms might tame the fiercest breast; Harpers have sung, and poets told, That he, in fury uncontrolled, The shaggy monarch of the wood, Before a virgin, fair and good, Hath pacified his savage mood. But passions in the human frame Oft put the lion's rage to shame: And jealousy, by dark intrigue, With sordid avarice in league, Had practised with their bowl and knife Against the mourner's harmless life. This crime was charged 'gainst those who lay Prisoned in Cuthbert's islet grey.
And now the vessel skirts the strand Of mountainous Northumberland; Towns, towers, and halls successive rise, And catch the nuns' delighted eyes. Monkwearmouth soon behind them lay, And Tynemouth's priory and bay; They marked, amid her trees, the hall Of lofty Seaton-Delaval; They saw the Blythe and Wansbeck floods Rush to the sea through sounding woods; They passed the tower of Widderington, Mother of many a valiant son; At Coquet Isle their beads they tell To the good saint who owned the cell; Then did the Alne attention claim, And Warkworth, proud of Percy's name; And next, they crossed themselves, to hear The whitening breakers sound so near, Where, boiling through the rocks, they roar On Dunstanborough's caverned shore; Thy tower, proud Bamborough, marked they there, King Ida's castle, huge and square, From its tall rock look grimly down, And on the swelling ocean frown; Then from the coast they bore away, And reached the Holy Island's bay.
The tide did now its floodmark gain, And girdled in the saint's domain: For, with the flow and ebb, its style Varies from continent to isle; Dry-shod, o'er sands, twice every day, The pilgrims to the shrine find way; Twice every day, the waves efface Of staves and sandalled feet the trace. As to the port the galley flew, Higher and higher rose to view The castle with its battled walls, The ancient monastery's halls, A solemn, huge, and dark-red pile, Placed on the margin of the isle.
In Saxon strength that abbey frowned, With massive arches broad and round, That rose alternate, row and row, On ponderous columns, short and low, Built ere the art was known, By pointed aisle, and shafted stalk, The arcades of an alleyed walk To emulate in stone. On the deep walls the heathen Dane Had poured his impious rage in vain; And needful was such strength to these, Exposed to the tempestuous seas, Scourged by the winds' eternal sway, Open to rovers fierce as they, Which could twelve hundred years withstand Winds, waves, and northern pirates' hand. Not but that portions of the pile, Rebuilded in a later style, Showed where the spoiler's hand had been; Not hut the wasting sea-breeze keen Had worn the pillar's carving quaint, And mouldered in his niche the saint, And rounded, with consuming power, The pointed angles of each tower; Yet still entire the abbey stood, Like veteran, worn, but unsubdued.
Soon as they neared his turrets strong, The maidens raised Saint Hilda's song, And with the sea-wave and the wind, Their voices, sweetly shrill, combined And made harmonious close; Then, answering from the sandy shore, Half-drowned amid the breakers' roar, According chorus rose: Down to the haven of the isle The monks and nuns in order file, From Cuthbert's cloisters grim; Banner, and cross, and relics there, To meet Saint Hilda's maids, they bare; And, as they caught the sounds on air, They echoed back the hymn. The islanders, in joyous mood, Rushed emulously through the flood, To hale the barque to land; Conspicuous by her veil and hood, Signing the cross, the Abbess stood, And blessed them with her hand.
Suppose we now the welcome said, Suppose the convent banquet made: All through the holy dome, Through cloister, aisle, and gallery, Wherever vestal maid might pry, Nor risk to meet unhallowed eye, The stranger sisters roam; Till fell the evening damp with dew, And the sharp sea-breeze coldly blew, For there e'en summer night is chill. Then, having strayed and gazed their fill, They closed around the fire; And all, in turn, essayed to paint The rival merits of their saint, A theme that ne'er can tire A holy maid; for, be it known, That their saint's honour is their own.
Then Whitby's nuns exulting told, How to their house three barons bold Must menial service do; While horns blow out a note of shame, And monks cry, "Fye upon your name! In wrath, for loss of silvan game, Saint Hilda's priest ye slew." "This, on Ascension Day, each year, While labouring on our harbour-pier, Must Herbert, Bruce, and Percy hear." They told, how in their convent cell A Saxon princess once did dwell, The lovely Edelfled. And how, of thousand snakes, each one Was changed into a coil of stone When holy Hilda prayed; Themselves, within their holy bound, Their stony folds had often found. They told, how sea-fowls' pinions fail, As over Whitby's towers they sail, And, sinking down, with flutterings faint, They do their homage to the saint.
Nor did Saint Cuthbert's daughters fail To vie with these in holy tale; His body's resting-place of old, How oft their patron changed, they told; How, when the rude Dane burned their pile, The monks fled forth from Holy Isle; O'er northern mountain, marsh, and moor, From sea to sea, from shore to shore, Seven years Saint Cuthbert's corpse they bore. They rested them in fair Melrose; But though alive he loved it well, Not there his relics might repose; For, wondrous tale to tell! In his stone coffin forth he rides, A ponderous barque for river tides, Yet light as gossamer it glides, Downward to Tilmouth cell. Nor long was his abiding there, For southward did the saint repair; Chester-le-Street, and Rippon, saw His holy corpse, ere Wardilaw Hailed him with joy and fear; And, after many wanderings past, He chose his lordly seat at last, Where his cathedral, huge and vast, Looks down upon the Wear: There, deep in Durham's Gothic shade, His relics are in secret laid; But none may know the place, Save of his holiest servants three, Deep sworn to solemn secrecy, Who share that wondrous grace.
Who may his miracles declare! Even Scotland's dauntless king and heir, Although with them they led Galwegians, wild as ocean's gale, And Lodon's knights, all sheathed in mail, And the bold men of Teviotdale, Before his standard fled. 'Twas he, to vindicate his reign, Edged Alfred's falchion on the Dane, And turned the Conqueror back again, When, with his Norman bowyer band, He came to waste Northumberland.
But fain Saint Hilda's nuns would learn If, on a rock, by Lindisfarne, Saint Cuthbert sits, and toils to frame The sea-born beads that bear his name: Such tales had Whitby's fishers told, And said they might his shape behold, And hear his anvil sound: A deadened clang--a huge dim form, Seen but, and heard, when gathering storm And night were closing round. But this, as tale of idle fame, The nuns of Lindisfarne disclaim.
While round the fire such legends go, Far different was the scene of woe, Where, in a secret aisle beneath, Council was held of life and death. It was more dark and lone, that vault, Than the worse dungeon cell: Old Colwulf built it, for his fault, In penitence to dwell, When he, for cowl and beads, laid down The Saxon battle-axe and crown. This den, which, chilling every sense Of feeling, hearing, sight, Was called the Vault of Penitence, Excluding air and light, Was, by the prelate Sexhelm, made A place of burial for such dead As, having died in mortal sin, Might not be laid the church within. 'Twas now a place of punishment; Whence if so loud a shriek were sent, As reached the upper air, The hearers blessed themselves, and said, The spirits of the sinful dead Bemoaned their torments there.
But though, in the monastic pile, Did of this penitential aisle Some vague tradition go, Few only, save the Abbot, knew Where the place lay; and still more few Were those, who had from him the clue To that dread vault to go. Victim and executioner Were blindfold when transported there. In low dark rounds the arches hung, From the rude rock the side-walls sprung; The grave-stones, rudely sculptured o'er, Half sunk in earth, by time half wore, Were all the pavement of the floor; The mildew-drops fell one by one, With tinkling plash upon the stone. A cresset, in an iron chain, Which served to light this drear domain, With damp and darkness seemed to strive, As if it scarce might keep alive; And yet it dimly served to show The awful conclave met below.
There, met to doom in secrecy, Were placed the heads of convents three; All servants of Saint Benedict, The statutes of whose order strict On iron table lay; In long black dress, on seats of stone, Behind were these three judges shown By the pale cresset's ray, The Abbess of Saint Hilda's, there, Sat for a space with visage bare, Until, to hide her bosom's swell, And tear-drops that for pity fell, She closely drew her veil: Yon shrouded figure, as I guess, By her proud mien and flowing dress, Is Tynemouth's haughty Prioress, And she with awe looks pale: And he, that ancient man, whose sight Has long been quenched by age's night, Upon whose wrinkled brow alone Nor ruth nor mercy's trace is shown, Whose look is hard and stern - Saint Cuthbert's Abbot is his style For sanctity called, through the isle, The saint of Lindisfarne.
Before them stood a guilty pair; But, though an equal fate they share, Yet one alone deserves our care. Her sex a page's dress belied; The cloak and doublet, loosely tied, Obscured her charms, but could not hide. Her cap down o'er her face she drew; And, on her doublet breast, She tried to hide the badge of blue, Lord Marmion's falcon crest. But, at the Prioress' command, A monk undid the silken band, That tied her tresses fair, And raised the bonnet from her head, And down her slender form they spread, In ringlets rich and rare. Constance de Beverley they know, Sister professed of Fontevraud, Whom the church numbered with the dead For broken vows, and convent fled.
When thus her face was given to view - Although so pallid was her hue, It did a ghastly contrast bear To those bright ringlets glistering fair - Her look composed, and steady eye, Bespoke a matchless constancy; And there she stood so calm and pale, That, but her breathing did not fail, And motion slight of eye and head, And of her bosom, warranted That neither sense nor pulse she lacks, You might have thought a form of wax, Wrought to the very life, was there; So still she was, so pale, so fair.
Her comrade was a sordid soul, Such as does murder for a meed; Who, but of fear, knows no control, Because his conscience, seared and foul, Feels not the import of his deed; One, whose brute-feeling ne'er aspires Beyond his own more brute desires. Such tools the Tempter ever needs, To do the savagest of deeds; For them no visioned terrors daunt, Their nights no fancied spectres haunt, One fear with them, of all most base, The fear of death--alone finds place. This wretch was clad in frock and cowl, And shamed not loud to moan and howl, His body on the floor to dash, And crouch, like hound beneath the lash; While his mute partner, standing near, Waited her doom without a tear.
Yet well the luckless wretch might shriek, Well might her paleness terror speak! For there were seen, in that dark wall, Two niches, narrow, deep, and tall; Who enters at such grisly door Shall ne'er, I ween, find exit more. In each a slender meal was laid, Of roots, of water, and of bread: By each, in Benedictine dress, Two haggard monks stood motionless; Who, holding high a blazing torch, Showed the grim entrance of the porch: Reflecting back the smoky beam, The dark-red walls and arches gleam. Hewn stones and cement were displayed, And building tools in order laid.
These executioners were chose, As men who were with mankind foes, And with despite and envy fired, Into the cloister had retired; Or who, in desperate doubt of grace, Strove, by deep penance, to efface Of some foul crime the stain; For, as the vassals of her will, Such men the Church selected still, As either joyed in doing ill, Or thought more grace to gain, If, in her cause, they wrestled down Feelings their nature strove to own. By strange device were they brought there, They knew not how, nor knew not where.
And now that blind old Abbot rose, To speak the Chapter's doom On those the wall was to enclose, Alive, within the tomb: But stopped, because that woful maid, Gathering her powers, to speak essayed. Twice she essayed, and twice in vain; Her accents might no utterance gain; Nought but imperfect murmurs slip From her convulsed and quivering lip; 'Twixt each attempt all was so still, You seemed to hear a distant rill - 'Twas ocean's swells and falls; For though this vault of sin and fear Was to the sounding surge so near, A tempest there you scarce could hear, So massive were the walls.
At length, an effort sent apart The blood that curdled to her heart, And light came to her eye, And colour dawned upon her cheek, A hectic and a fluttered streak, Like that left on the Cheviot peak, By autumn's stormy sky; And when her silence broke at length, Still as she spoke she gathered strength, And armed herself to bear. It was a fearful sight to see Such high resolve and constancy, In form so soft and fair.
"I speak not to implore your grace, Well know I, for one minute's space Successless might I sue: Nor do I speak your prayers to gain - For if a death of lingering pain, To cleanse my sins, be penance vain, Vain are your masses too. I listened to a traitor's tale, I left the convent and the veil; For three long years I bowed my pride, A horse-boy in his train to ride; And well my folly's meed he gave, Who forfeited, to be his slave, All here, and all beyond the grave. He saw young Clara's face more fair, He knew her of broad lands the heir, Forgot his vows, his faith forswore, And Constance was beloved no more. 'Tis an old tale, and often told; But did my fate and wish agree, Ne'er had been read, in story old, Of maiden true betrayed for gold, That loved, or was avenged, like me.
"The king approved his favourite's aim; In vain a rival barred his claim, Whose fate with Clare's was plight, For he attaints that rival's fame With treason's charge--and on they came, In mortal lists to fight. Their oaths are said, Their prayers are prayed, Their lances in the rest are laid, They meet in mortal shock; And, hark! the throng, with thundering cry, Shout 'Marmion! Marmion!' to the sky, 'De Wilton to the block!' Say ye, who preach Heaven shall decide When in the lists two champions ride, Say, was Heaven's justice here? When, loyal in his love and faith, Wilton found overthrow or death, Beneath a traitor's spear? How false the charge, how true he fell, This guilty packet best can tell." Then drew a packet from her breast, Paused, gathered voice, and spoke the rest.
"Still was false Marmion's bridal stayed: To Whitby's convent fled the maid, The hated match to shun. 'Ho! shifts she thus?' King Henry cried; 'Sir Marmion, she shall be thy bride, If she were sworn a nun.' One way remained--the King's command Sent Marmion to the Scottish land: I lingered here, and rescue planned For Clara and for me: This caitiff monk, for gold, did swear, He would to Whitby's shrine repair, And, by his drugs, my rival fair A saint in heaven should be. But ill the dastard kept his oath, Whose cowardice has undone us both.
"And now my tongue the secret tells, Not that remorse my bosom swells, But to assure my soul that none Shall ever wed with Marmion. Had fortune my last hope betrayed, This packet, to the King conveyed, Had given him to the headsman's stroke, Although my heart that instant broke. Now, men of death, work forth your will, For I can suffer, and be still; And come he slow, or come he fast, It is but Death who comes at last.
"Yet dread me, from my living tomb, Ye vassal slaves of bloody Rome! If Marmion's late remorse should wake, Full soon such vengeance will he take, That you shall wish the fiery Dane Had rather been your guest again. Behind, a darker hour ascends! The altars quake, the crosier bends, The ire of a despotic king Rides forth upon destruction's wing; Then shall these vaults, so strong and deep, Burst open to the sea-winds' sweep; Some traveller then shall find my bones Whitening amid disjointed stones, And, ignorant of priests' cruelty, Marvel such relics here should be."
Fixed was her look, and stern her air: Back from her shoulders streamed her hair; The locks, that wont her brow to shade, Stared up erectly from her head; Her figure seemed to rise more high; Her voice, despair's wild energy Had given a tone of prophecy. Appalled the astonished conclave sate: With stupid eyes, the men of fate Gazed on the light inspired form, And listened for the avenging storm; The judges felt the victim's dread; No hand was moved, no word was said, Till thus the Abbot's doom was given, Raising his sightless balls to heaven:- "Sister, let thy sorrows cease; Sinful brother, part in peace!" From that dire dungeon, place of doom, Of execution too, and tomb, Paced forth the judges three, Sorrow it were, and shame, to tell The butcher-work that there befell, When they had glided from the cell Of sin and misery.
A hundred winding steps convey That conclave to the upper day; But, ere they breathed the fresher air, They heard the shriekings of despair, And many a stifled groan: With speed their upward way they take, Such speed as age and fear can make, And crossed themselves for terror's sake, As hurrying, tottering on: Even in the vesper's heavenly tone, They seemed to hear a dying groan, And bade the passing knell to toll For welfare of a parting soul. Slow o'er the midnight wave it swung, Northumbrian rocks in answer rung; To Warkworth cell the echoes rolled, His beads the wakeful hermit told, The Bamborough peasant raised his head, But slept ere half a prayer he said; So far was heard the mighty knell, The stag sprung up on Cheviot Fell, Spread his broad nostril to the wind, Listed before, aside, behind, Then couched him down beside the hind, And quaked among the mountain fern, To hear that sound so dull and stern.
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