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ADWERTISEMENT To RosalinD AND HELEN, AND LINEs writteN AMONG The EUGANEAN hill.S.
The story of Rosalind and Helen is, undoubtedly, not an attempt in the highest style of poetry. It is in no degree calculated to excite profound meditation; and if, by interesting the affections and amusing the imagination, it awaken a certain ideal melancholy favourable to the reception of more important impressions, it will produce in the reader all that the writer experienced in the composition. I resigned myself, as I wrote, to the impulse of the feelings which moulded the conception of the story; and this impulse determined the pauses of a measure, which only pretends to be regular, inasmuch as it corresponds with, and expresses, the irregularity of the imaginations which inspired it.
I do not know which of the few scattered poems I left in England will be selected by my bookseller to add to this collection. One, which I sent from Italy, was written after a day's excursion among those lovely mountains which surround what was once the retreat, and where is now the sepulchre, of Petrarch. If any one is inclined to condemn the insertion of the introductory lines, which image forth the sudden relief of a state of deep despondency by the radiant visions disclosed by the sudden burst of an Italian sunrise in autumn, on the highest peak of those delightful mountains, I can only offer as my excuse, that they were not erased at the request of a dear friend, with whom added years of intercourse only add to my apprehension of its value, and who would have had more right than any one to complain, that she has not been able to extinguish in me the very power of delineating sadness.
SCENE-The Shore of the Lake of Como. Rosalind, HELEN, and her Child.
HeLEN. CoME hither, my sweet Rosalind. 'Tis long since thou and I have met: And yet methinks it were unkind Those moments to forget. Come, sit by me. I see thee stand #. this lone lake, in this far land, Thy loose hair in the light wind flying, Thy sweet voice to each tone of even United, and thine eyes replying To the hues of yon fair heaven. Come, gentle friend wilt sit by me ! And be as thou wert wont to be Ere we were disunited : None doth behold us now : the power That led us forth at this lone hour Will be but ill requited If thou depart in scorn: oh come, And talk of our abandoned home. Remember, this is Italy, And we are exiles. Talk with me Of that our land, whose wilds and floods, Barren and dark although they be, Were dearer than these chesnut woods;
Those heathy paths, that inland stream,
And the blue mountains, shapes which seem
Like wrecks of childhood's sunny dream :
Which that we have abandoned now,
Weighs on the heart like that remorse
Which altered friendship leaves. I seek
No more our youthful intercourse.
That cannot be Rosalind, speak,
Speak to me. Leave me not.—When morn did
When evening fell upon our common home,
When for one hour we parted,—do not frown;
I would not chide thee, though thy faith is broken;
But turn to me. Oh by this cherished token
Of woven hair, which thou wilt not disown,
Turn, as 'twere but the memory of me,
And not my scorned self who prayed to thee.
ROSA LiND. Is it a dream, or do I see And hear frail Helen I would flee Thy tainting touch ; but former years Arise, and bring forbidden tears; And my o'erburthened memory Seeks yet its lost repose in thee. I share thy crime. I cannot choose But weep for thee: mine own strange grief But seldom stoops to such relief;
And the grey shades of evening
O'er that green wilderness did fling
Still deeper solitude.
Pursuing still the path that wound
The vast and knotted trees around,
Through which slow shades were wandering,
To a deep lawny dell they came,
To a stone seat beside a spring,
O'er which the columned wood did frame
A roofless temple, like the fane
Where, ere new creeds could faith obtain,
Man's early race once knelt beneath
The overhanging deity.
O'er this fair fountain hung the sky,
Now spangled with rare stars. The snake,
The pale snake, that with eager breath
Creeps here his noontide thirst to slake,
Is beaming with many a mingled hue,
Shed from yon dome's eternal blue,
When he floats on that dark and lucid flood
In the light of his own loveliness ;
And the birds that in the fountain dip
Their plumes with fearless fellowship
Above and round him wheel and hover.
The fitful wind is heard to stir
One solitary leaf on high ;
The chirping of the grasshopper
Fills every pause. There is emotion
In all that dwells at noontide here :
Then, through the intricate wild wood,
A maze of life and light and motion
Is woven. But there is stillness now ;
Gloom, and the trance of Nature now :
The snake is in his cave asleep ;
The birds are on the branches dreaming ;
Only the shadows creep ;
Only the glow-worm is gleaming ;
Only the owls and the nightingales
Wake in this dell when day-light fails,
And grey shades gather in the woods;
And the owls have all fled far away
In a merrier glen to hoot and play,
For the moon is veiled and sleeping now.
The accustomed nightingale still broods
On her accustomed bough,
But she is mute; for her false mate
Has fled and left her desolate.
This silent spot tradition old
Had peopled with the spectral dead.
For the roots of the speaker's hair felt cold
And stiff, as with tremulous lips he told
That a hellish shape at midnight led
The ghost of a youth with hoary hair,
And sate on the seat beside him there,
Till a naked child came wandering by,
When the fiend would change to a lady fair :
A fearful tale ! The truth was worse:
For here a sister and a brother
Had solemnised a monstrous curse,
Meeting in this fair solitude:
For beneath yon very sky,
Had they resigned to one another
Body and soul. The multitude,
Tracking them to the secret wood,
Tore limb from limb their innocent child,
And stabbed and trampled on its mother;
But the youth, for God's most holy grace,
A priest saved to burn in the market-place.
Duly at evening Helen came To this lone silent spot, From the wrecks of a tale of wilder sorrow So much of sympathy to borrow As soothed her own dark lot. Duly each evening from her home, With her fair child would Helen come To sit upon that antique seat, While the hues of day were pale; And the bright boy beside her feet Now lay, lifting at intervals His broad blue eyes on her; Now, where some sudden impulse calls Following. He was a gentle boy And in all gentle sports took joy; Oft in a dry leaf for a boat, With a small feather for a sail, His fancy on that spring would float, If some invisible breeze might stir Its marble calm : and Helen smiled Through tears of awe on the gay child, To think that a boy as fair as he, In years which never more may be, By that same fount, in that same wood, The like sweet fancies had pursued; And that a mother, lost like her, Had mournfully sate watching him. Then all the scene was wont to swim Through the mist of a burning tear.
For many months had Helen known This scene; and now she thither turned Her footsteps, not alone. The friend whose falsehood she had mourned, Sate with her on that seat of stone. Silent they sate ; for evening, And the power its glimpses bring Had, with one awful shadow, quelled The passion of their grief. They sate With linked hands, for unrepelled - Had Helen taken Rosalind's. Like the autumn wind, when it unbinds The tangled locks of the nightshade's hair, Which is twined in the sultry summer air Round the walls of an outworn sepulchre, Did the voice of Helen, sad and sweet, And the sound of her heart that ever beat, As with sighs and words she breathed on her, Unbind the knots of her friend's despair, Till her thoughts were free to fioat and flow; And from her labouring bosom now, Like the bursting of a prisoned flame, The voice of a long-pent sorrow came.
ROSA Lind. I saw the dark earth fall upon The coffin ; and I saw the stone Laid over him whom this cold breast Had pillowed to his nightly rest! Thou knowest not, thou canst not know My agony. Oh I could not weep : The sources whence such blessings flow Were not to be approached by me ! But I could smile, and I could sleep, Though with a self-accusing heart, In morning's light, in evening's gloom, [...watched, and would not thence depart, My husband's unlamented tomb. My children knew their sire was gone But when I told them, “he is dead,”
They laughed aloud in frantic glee,
They clapped their hands and leaped about,
Answering each other's ecstacy
With many a prank and merry shout,
But I sat silent and alone,
Wrapped in the mock of mourning weed.
They laughed, for he was dead; but I
Sate with a hard and tearless eye,
And with a heart which would deny
The secret joy it could not quell,
Low muttering o'er his loathed name;
Till from that self-contention came
Remorse where sin was none ; a hell
Which in pure spirits should not dwell.
I'll tell thee truth. He was a man
Hard, selfish, loving only gold,
Yet full of guile: his pale eyes ran
With tears, which each some falsehood told,
And oft his smooth and bridled tongue
Would give the lie to his flushing cheek:
He was a coward to the strong ;
He was a tyrant to the weak,
On whom his vengeance he would wreak :
For scorn, whose arrows search the heart,
From many a stranger's eye would dart,
And on his memory cling, and follow
His soul to its home so cold and hollow.
He was a tyrant to the weak,
And we were such, alas the day !
Oft, when my little ones at play,
Were in youth's natural lightness gay,
Or if they listened to some tale
Of travellers, or of fairy land,-
When the light from the wood-fire's dying brand
Flashed on their faces, if they heard
Or thought they heard upon the stair
His footstep, the suspended word
Died on my lips: we all grew pale;
The babe at my bosom was hushed with fear
If it thought it heard its father near ;
And my two wild boys would near my knee
Cling, cowed and cowering fearfully.
I’ll tell the truth : I loved another.
His name in my ear was ever ringing,
His form to my brain was ever clinging ;
Yet if some stranger breathed that name,
My lips turned white, and my heart beat fast:
My nights were once haunted by dreams of flame,
My days were dim in the shadow cast,
By the memory of the same !
Day and night, day and night,
He was my breath and life and light,
For three short years, which soon were paş.
On the fourth, my gentle mother
Led me to the shrine, to be
His sworn bride eternally.
And now we stood on the altar stair,
When my father came from a distant land,
And with a loud and fearful cry,
Rushed between us suddenly.
I saw the stream of his thin grey hair,
I saw his lean and lifted hand,
And heard his words,-and live O God |
Wherefore do I live?—“Hold, hold "
He cried, “I tell thee 'tis her brother
Thy mother, boy, beneath the sod
I am now weak, and pale, and old:
We were once dear to one another,
I and that corpse ! Thou art our child !”
Then with a laugh both long and wild
The youth upon the pavement fell :
They found him dead All looked on me,
The spasms of my despair to see ;
But I was calm. I went away;
I was clammy-cold like clay !
I did not weep—I did not speak;
But day by day, week after week,
I walked about like a corpse alive :
Alas! sweet friend, you must believe
This heart is stone—it did not break.
Upon my mother's grave, that mother Whom to outlive, and cheer, and make My wan eyes glitter for her sake, Was my vowed task, the single care Which once gave life to my despair, When she was a thing that did not stir, And the crawling worms were cradling her | To a sleep more deep and so more sweet Than a baby's rocked on its nurse's knee, lived ; a living pulse then beat Beneath my heart that awakened me. What was this pulse so warm and free ? Alas! I knew it could not be My own dull blood : 'twas like a thought of liquid love, that spread and wrought Under my bosom and in my brain,
And hour by hour, day after day,
The wonder could not charm away,
But laid in sleep my wakeful pain,
Until I knew it was a child,
And then I wept. For long, long years
These frozen eyes had shed no tears :
But now—'twas the season fair and mild
When April has wept itself to May :
sate through the sweet sunny day
By my window bowered round with leaves,
And down my cheeks the quick tears ran
Of yon church-yard rests in her shroud so cold.
When flowers were dead, and grass was green
And crept with the blood through every vein;
Like twinkling rain-drops from the eaves,
When warm spring showers are passing o'er :
O Helen, none can ever tell
The joy it was to weep once more
I wept to think how hard it were
To kill my babe, and take from it
The sense of light, and the warm air,
And my own fond and tender care,
And love and smiles; ere I knew yet
That these for it might, as for me,
Be the masks of a grinning mockery.
And haply, I would dream, 'twere sweet
To feed it from my faded breast,
Or mark my own heart's restless beat
Rock it to its untroubled rest;
And watch the growing soul beneath
Dawn in faint smiles; and hear its breath,
Half interrupted by calm sighs;
And search the depth of its fair eyes |
For long departed memories :
And so I lived till that sweet load
Was lightened. Darkly forward flowed
The stream of years, and on it bore
Two shapes of gladness to my sight;
Two other babes, delightful more
In my lost soul's abandoned night,
Than their own country ships may be
Sailing towards wrecked mariners, -
Who cling to the rock of a wintry sea.
For each, as it came, brought soothing tears,
And a loosening warmth, as each one lay
Sucking the sullen milk away,
About my frozen heart did play,
And weaned it, oh how painfully —
As they themselves were weaned each one
From that sweet food, even from the thirst
Of death, and nothingness, and rest,
Strange inmate of a living breast !
Which all that I had undergone
Of grief and shame, since she, who first
The gates of that dark refuge closed,
Came to my sight, and almost burst
The seal of that Lethean spring ;
But these fair shadows interposed :
For all delights are shadows now !
And from my brain to my dull brow
The heavy tears gather and flow :
I cannot speak—Oh let me weep !
The tears which fell from her wan eyes Glimmered among the moonlight dew Her deep hard sobs and heavy sighs Their echoes in the darkness threw. When she grew calm, she thus did keep The tenor of her tale:–
He died, I know not how. He was not old, If age be numbered by its years; But he was bowed and bent with fears, Pale with the quenchless thirst of gold, Which, like fierce fever, left him weak ; And his strait lip and bloated cheek Were warped in spasms by hollow sneers; And selfish cares with barren plough, Not age, had lined his narrow brow, And foul and cruel thoughts, which feed Upon the withering life within,
Like vipers on some poisonous weed.
Whether his ill were death or sin
None knew, until he died indeed,
And then men owned they were the same.
Seven days within my chamber lay
That corse, and my babes made holiday :
At last, I told them what is death :
The eldest, with a kind of shame,
Came to my knees with silent breath,
And sate awe-stricken at my feet ;
And soon the others left their play,
And sate there too. It is unmeet
To shed on the brief flower of youth
The withering knowledge of the grave;
From me remorse then wrung that truth.
I could not bear the joy which gave
Too just a response to mine own.
In vain. I dared not feign a groan ;
And in their artless looks I saw,
Between the mists, of fear and awe,
That my own thought was theirs; and they
Expressed it not in words, but said,
Each in its heart, How every day
Will pass in happy work and play,
Now he is dead and gone away !
After the funeral all our kin
Assembled, and the will was read.
My friend, I tell thee, even the dead
Have strength, their putrid shrouds within,
To blast and torture. Those who live
Still fear the living, but a corse
Is merciless, and power doth give
To such pale tyrants half the spoil
He rends from those who groan and toil,
Because they blush not with remorse
Among their crawling worms. Behold,
I have no child ! my tale grows old
With grief, and staggers: let it reach
The limits of my feeble speech,
And languidly at length recline
On the brink of its own grave and mine.
Thou knowest what a thing is Poverty
Among the fallen on evil days:
'Tis Crime, and Fear, and Infamy,
And houseless Want in frozen ways
Wandering ungarmented, and Pain,
And, worse than all, that inward stain,
Foul Self-contempt, which drowns in sneers
Youth's star-light smile, and makes its tears
First like hot gall, then dry for ever !
And well thou knowest a mother never
Could doom her children to this ill,
And well he knew the same. The will
Imported, that if e'er again
I sought my children to behold,
Or in my birth-place did remain
Beyond three days, whose hours were told,
They should inherit nought: and he,
To whom next came their patrimony,
A sallow lawyer, cruel and cold,
Aye watched me, as the will was read,
With eyes askance, which sought to see
The secrets of my agony;
And with close lips and anxious brow
Stood canvassing still to and fro
The chance of my resolve, and all
The dead man's caution just did call;
For in that killing lie ’twas said—
“She is adulterous, and doth hold
In secret that the Christian creed
Is false, and therefore is much need
That I should have a care to save
My children from eternal fire.”
Friend, he was sheltered by the grave,
And therefore dared to be a liar !
In truth, the Indian on the pyre
Of her dead husband, half-consumed,
As well might there be false, as I
To those abhorred embraces doomed,
Far worse than fire's brief agony. .
As to the Christian creed, if true
Or false, I never questioned it:
I took it as the vulgar do:
Nor my vext soul had leisure yet
To doubt the things men say, or deem
That they are other than they seem.
All present who those crimes did hear,
In feigned or actual scorn and fear,
Men, women, children, slunk away,
Whispering with self-contented pride,
Which half suspects its own base lie.
I spoke to none, nor did abide,
But silently I went my way.
Nor noticed I where joyously
Sate my two younger babes at play,
In the court-yard through which I past;
But went with footsteps firm and fast
Till I came to the brink of the ocean green,
And there, a woman with grey hairs,
Who had my mother's servant been,
Kneeling, with many tears and prayers,
Made me accept a purse of gold,
Half of the earnings she had kept
To refuge her when weak and old.
With woe, which never sleeps or slept,
I wander now. 'Tis a vain thought—
But on yon alp, whose snowy head
"Mid the azure air is islanded
We see it o'er the flood of cloud,
hich sunrise from its eastern caves
Drives, wrinkling into golden waves,
Hung with its precipices proud,
From that grey stone where first we met),
There, now who knows the dead feel nought?
Should be my grave; for he who yet
Is my soul's soul, once said: “'Twere sweet
"Mid stars and lightnings to abide,
And winds and lulling snows, that beat
With their soft flakes the mountain wide,
When weary meteor lamps repose,
And languid storms their pinions close :
And all things strong and bright and pure,
And ever-during, aye endure:
Who knows, if one were buried there,
But these things might our spirits make,
Amid the all-surrounding air,
Their own eternity partake "
Then 'twas a wild and playful saying
At which I laughed or seemed to laugh:
They were his words: now heed my praying,
And let them be my epitaph.
Thy memory for a term may be
My monument. Wilt remember me !
I know thou wilt, and canst forgive
Whilst in this erring world to live