Page images
PDF
EPUB

""Tis hers the manly sports to love
That southern maidens fear,
To bend the bow by stream and grove,
And lift the hunter's spear.
She can her chosen champion's fight
With eye undazzled see,
Clasp him victorious from the strife,
Or on his corpse yield up her life,-
A Danish maid for me!"

Then smiled the Dane-thou canst so well
The virtues of our maidens tell,
Half could I wish my choice had been
Blue eyes, and hair of golden sheen,
And lofty soul,--yet what of ill
Hast thou to charge on Metelill?”
"On herself nought," young Gunnar said,
"But her base sire's ignoble trade.
Her mother, too-the general fame
Hath given to Jutta evil name,
And in her gray eye is a flame
Art cannot hide, nor fear can tame.
That sordid woodman's peasant cot
Twice have thine honour'd footsteps sought,
And twice return'd with such ill rede
As sent thee on some desperate deed."
XI.

"Thou errest; Jutta wisely said, He that comes suitor to a maid, Ere link'd in marriage, should provide Lands and a dwelling for his brideMy father's by the Tyne and Wear I have reclaim'd."" O, all too dear, And all too dangerous the prize, E'en were it won,"-young Gunnar cries. "And then this Jutta's fresh device, That thou shouldst seek, a heathen Dane, From Durham's priests a boon to gain, When thou hast left their vassals slain In their own halls!"-Flash'd Harold's eyeThunder'd his voice,-" False page, you lie! The castle, hall, and tower, is mine, Built by old Witikind on Tyne. The wild-cat will defend his den, Fights for her nest the timid wren; And think'st thou I'll forego my right For dread of monk or monkish knight?Up and away, that deepening bell Doth of the bishop's conclave tell. Thither will I, in manner due, As Jutta bade, my claim to sue; And, if to right me they are loth, Then wo to church and chapter both!" Now shift the scene and let the curtain fall, And our next entry be saint Cuthbert's hall.

[blocks in formation]

II.

But now to earlier and to ruder times,
As subject meet, I tune my rugged rhymes,
Telling how fairly the chapter was met,
And rood and books in seemly order set;
Huge brass-clasp'd volumes, which the hand
Of studious priest but rarely scann'd,
Now on fair carved desk display'd,
'Twas theirs the solemn scene to aid.
O'erhead with many a scutcheon graced,
And quaint devices interlaced,
A labyrinth of crossing rows,
The roof in lessening arches shows;
Beneath its shade, placed proud and high,
With footstool and with canopy,
Sate Aldingar, and prelate ne'er
More haughty graced saint Cuthbert's chair.
Canons and deacons were placed below,
In due degree and lengthen'd row.
Unmoved and silent each sate there,
Like image, in his oaken chair;
Nor head, nor hand, nor foot, they stirr'd,
Nor lock of hair, nor tress of beard,
And of their eyes severe alone
The twinkle show'd they were not stone.

CANTO IV.
I.

FULL many a bard hath sung the solemn gloom,
Of the long Gothic aisle and stone-ribb'd roof,
O'er canopying shrine, and gorgeous tomb,

Carved screen, and altar glimmering far aloof, And bending with the shade-a matchless proof

Of high devotion, which hath now wax'd cold; Yet legends say, that luxury's brute hoof

Intruded oft within such sacred fold, Like step of Bel's false priest, track'd in his fane of old. Well pleas'd am I, howe'er, that when the route Of our rude neighbours whilome deign'd to come,

III.

The prelate was to speech address'd,
Each head sunk reverend on each breast:
But ere his voice was heard-without
Arose a wild tumultuous shout,
Offspring of wonder mix'd with fear,
Such as in crowded streets we hear,
Hailing the flames, that, bursting out,
Attract yet scarce the rabble rout.
Ere it had ceas'd a giant hand
Shook oaken door and iron band,
Till oak and iron both gave way,
Clash'd the long bolts, the hinges bray,
And ere upon angel or saint they can call,
Stands Harold the Dauntless in midst of the hall.

IV.

"Now save ye, my masters, both rocket and rood, From bishop with mitre to deacon with hood! For here stands count Harold, old Witikind's son, Come to sue for the lands which his ancestors won." The prelate look'd round him with sore troubled eye, Unwilling to grant, yet afraid to deny, While each canon and deacon who heard the Dane speak,

To be safely at home would have fasted a week..

[blocks in formation]

V.

Loud laughed the stern pagan-"They're free from the care

Of fief and of service, both Conyers and Vere,
Six feet of your chancel is all they will need,
A buckler of stone and a corselet of lead.
Ho, Gunnar!-the tokens!"-and, sever'd anew,
A head and a hand on the altar he threw.

Then shudder'd with terror both canon and monk, They knew the glazed eye and the countenance shrunk,

And of Anthony Conyers the half-grizzled hair, And the scar on the hand of sir Alberic Vere. There was not a churchman or priest that was

there,

But grew pale at the sight, and betook him to

prayer.

VI.

Count Harold laugh'd at their looks of fear:
"Was this the hand should your banner bear?
Was that the head should wear the casque
In battle at the church's task?
Was it to such you gave the place
Of Harold with the heavy mace?
Find me between the Wear and Tyne
A knight will wield this club of mine.
Give him my fiefs, and I will say
There's wit beneath the cowl of gray."
He raised it, rough with many a stain,
Caught from crush'd scull and spouting brain;
He wheel'd it that it shrilly sung,
And the aisles echoed as it swung,
Then dash'd it down with sheer descent,
And split king Osric's monument.
"How like ye this music? How trow ye the hand
That can wield such a mace may be reft of its land?
No answer?-I spare ye a space to agree,
And saint Cuthbert inspire you, a saint if he be.
Ten strides through your chancel, ten strokes on
your bell,
And again I am with you-grave fathers, farewell."
VII.

door,

He turn'd from their presence, he clash'd the oak And the clang of his stride died away on the floor; And his head from his bosom the prelate uprears With a ghost-seer's look when the ghost disap

pears.

"Ye priests of saint Cuthbert, now give me your rede, For never of counsel had bishop more need!

[blocks in formation]

On ven'son and malmsie that morning had fed
The cellarer Vinsauf, 'twas thus that he said:
Delay till to-morrow the chapter's reply;
Let the feast be spread fair, and the wine be pour'd
high:

If he's mortal he drinks,—if he drinks, he is ours-
His bracelets of iron,- his bed in our towers."
This man had a laughing eye,

Trust not, friends, when such you spy;
A beaker's depth he well could drain,
Revel, sport, and jest amain-

The haunch of the deer and the grape's bright dye

Never bard loved them better than I;
But sooner than Vinsauf filled me my wine,
Pass'd me his jest, and laughed at mine,
Though the buck were of Bearpark, of Bordeaux
the wine,

With the dullest hermit I'd rather dine

On an oaten cake and a draught of the Tyne.

IX.

Walwayn the leech spoke next-he knew
Each plant that loves the sun and dew,
Dominion o'er the blood and brain;
But special those whose juice can gain

Gathering such herbs by bank and stream,
The peasant who saw him by pale moonbeam

Deem'd his thin form and soundless tread
Were those of wanderer from the dead.
"Vinsauf, thy wine," he said, "hath power,
Our gyves are heavy, strong our tower;
Yet three drops from this flask of mine,
More strong than dungeons, gyves, or wine,
Shall give him prison under ground
More dark, more narrow, more profound.
Short rede, good rede, let Harold have-
A dog's death and a heathen's grave."
I have lain on a sick man's bed,
Watching for hours for the leech's tread,
As if I deem'd that his presence alone
Were of power to bid my pain begone;
I have listed his words of comfort given,
As if to oracles from heaven;

I have counted his steps from my chamber door, And bless'd them when they were heard no more, But sooner than Walwayn my sick couch should

nigh,

My choice were by leech-craft unaided to die.

X. "Such service done in fervent zeal The church may pardon and conceal," The doubtful prelate said, "but ne'er The counsel ere the act should hear. The stamp of wisdom is on thy brow; Anselm of Jarrow, advise us now, Thy days, thy nights in cloister pent, Anslem of Jarrow, in thee is my hope, Are still to mystic learning lent; Thou well canst give counsel to prelate or pope.'

XI.

Answer'd the prior-" "Tis wisdom's use Still to delay what we dare not refuse;

[blocks in formation]

Say what shall he do? From the shrine shall he tear
The lead bier of thy patron and heave it in air,
And through the long chancel make Cuthbert take
wing,

For husband king Adolph, the gallant and brave,
And envy bred hate, and hate urged them to blows,
When the firm earth was cleft, and the arch-fiend
arose!

With the speed of a bullet dismiss'd from the sling?"
"Nay, spare such probation," the cellarer said,
"From the mouth of our minstrels thy task shall
be read,
While the wine sparkles high in the goblet of gold,
And the revel is loudest, thy task shall be told;
And thyself, gallant Harold, shall, hearing it, tell
That the bishop, his cowls, and his shavelings
meant well."

He swore to the maidens their wish to fulfil-
They swore to the foe they would work by his will.
A spindle and distaff to each has he given,
"Now hearken my spell," said the outcast of
heaven.

«Ye shall ply these spindles at midnight hour,
And for every spindle shall rise a tower,
Where the right shall be feeble, the wrong shall
have power,

And there shall ye dwell with your paramour.'
Beneath the pale moon-light they sate on the wold,
And the rhymes which they chanted must never

be told;

XIII.
Loud revell'd the guests, and the goblets loud rang,
But louder the minstrel, Hugh Meneville, sang;
And Harold, the hurry and pride of whose soul,
E'en when verging to fury, own'd music's control,
Still bent on the harper his broad sable eye,
And often untasted the goblet pass'd by;
Than wine, or than wassail, to him was more dear
The minstrel's high tale of enchantment to hear;
And the bishop that day might of Vinsauf complain
That his art had but wasted his wine-casks in vain.

And as the black wool from the distaff they sped,
With blood from their bosom they moisten'd the

thread.

[ocr errors]

As light danc'd the spindles beneath the cold
gleam,

The castle arose like the birth of a dream-
The seven towers ascended like mist from the
ground,

Seven portals defend them, seven ditches surround,
Within that dread castle seven monarchs were wed,
But six of the seven ere the morning lay dead;
With their eyes all on fire, and their daggers all
red,

XIV.

THE CASTLE OF THE SEVEN SHIELDS.-A BALLAD.

The druid Urien had daughters seven,
Their skill could call the moon from heaven;
So fair their forms, and so high their fame,
That seven proud kings for their suitors came.
King Mador and Rhys came from Powis and
Wales,
Unshorn was their hair, and unpruned were their
nails;
From Strath Clwyde came Ewain, and Ewain was
lame,

Seven damsels surround the Northumbrian's bed.
"Six kingly bridegrooms to death we have done,
Six gallant kingdoms king Adolf hath won,
Six lovely brides all his pleasure to do,
Or the bed of the seventh shall be husbandless too.”
Well chanced it that Adolf, the night when he wed,
Had confess'd and had sain'd him ere boune to his

bed;

He sprung from the couch, and his broadsword he
drew,

And there the seven daughters of Urien he slew.
The gate of the castle he bolted and seal'd,
And hung o'er each arch-stone a crown and a
shield;

To the cells of saint Dunstan then wended his way,
And died in his cloister an anchorite gray.
Seven monarchs' wealth in that castle lies stow'd,
The foul fiends brood o'er them like raven and toad.
Whoever shall guesten these chambers within,
From curfew till matins, that treasure shall win.
But manhood grows faint as the world waxes old!
There lives not in Britain a champion so bold,
So dauntless of heart, and so prudent of brain,
As to dare the adventure that treasure to gain.
The waste ridge of Cheviot shall wave with the rye,
Before the rude Scots shall Northumberland fly,
And the flint clifts of Bambro' shall melt in the
sun,

Before that adventure be peril'd and won.

And the red-bearded Donald from Galloway came.
Lot, king of Lodon, was hunch-back'd from youth;
Dunmail of Cumbria had never a tooth;
But Adolph of Bambrough, Northumberland's heir,
Was gay and was gallant, was young and was fair.

XV.

"And is this my probation?" wild Harold he said,
"Within a lone castle to press a lone bed?-
Good even, my lord bishop-saint Cuthbert to
borrow,
The Castle of Seven Shields receives me to-mor-

row."

CANTO V. I.

DENMARK's sage courtier to her princely youth, Granting his cloud an ouzel or a whale, Spoke, though unwittingly, a partial truth;

For phantasy embroiders nature's veil. The tints of ruddy eve, or dawning pale,

Of the swart thunder-cloud, or silver haze, Are but the ground-work of the rich detail

Which phantasy with pencil wild portrays, Blending what seems and is, in the rapt muser's

gaze.

Nor are the stubborn forms of earth and stone
Less to the sorceress's empire given:
For not with unsubstantial hues alone,

Caught from the varying surge, or vacant heaven, From bursting sunbeam, or from flashing levin,

She limns her pictures-on the earth, as air, Arise her castles, and her car is driven;

And never gazed the eye on scene so fair, But of its boasted charms fancy gave half the share. II.

Up a wild pass went Harold, bent to prove,

Hugh Meneville, the adventure of thy lay; Gunnar pursued his steps in faith and love,

Ever companion of his master's way. Midward their path, a rock of granite gray

From the adjoining cliff had made descent,A barren mass-yet with her drooping spray,

Had a young birch-tree crowned its battlement, Twisting her fibrous roots through cranny, flaw, and rent.

This rock and tree could Gunnar's thought engage, Till fancy brought the tear-drop to his eye, And at his master asked the timid page,

"What is the emblem that a bard should spy In that rude rock and its green canopy?

And Harold said, "Like to the helmet brave Of warrior slain in fight it seems to lie,

And these same drooping boughs do o'er it wave Not all unlike the plume his lady's favour gave." "Ah, no!" replied the page; "the ill-starr'd love Of some poor maid is in the emblem shown, Whose fates are with some hero's interwove,

And rooted on a heart to love unknown: And as the gentle dews of heaven alone

Nourish those drooping boughs, and as the scathe Of the red lightning rends both tree and stone, So fares it with her unrequited faith

Her sole relief is tears-her only refuge death."
III.
"Thou art a fond fantastic boy,"
Harold replied, "to females coy,
Yet prating still of love:
Even so amid the clash of war
I know thou lovest to keep afar,
Though destined by thy evil star
With one like me to rove,
Whose business and whose joys are found
Upon the bloody battle-ground.
Yet, foolish trembler as thou art,
Thou hast a nook of my rude heart,
And thou and I will never part;
Harold would wrap the world in flame
Ere injury on Gunnar came.

""

[ocr errors]

IV. The grateful page made no reply, But turn'd to heaven his gentle eye, And clasp'd his hands, as one who said, "My toils-my wanderings are o'erpaid!"

Then in a gayer, lighter strain,
Compell'd himself to speech again;
And, as they flow'd along,

His words took cadence soft and slow,
And liquid, like dissolving snow,
They melted into song.

V.

"What though through fields of carnage wide
I may not follow Harold's stride,
Yet who with faithful Gunnar's pride
Lord Harold's feats can see?
And dearer than the couch of pride
He loves the bed of gray wolf's hide,
When slumbering by lord Harold's side,
In forest, field, or lea."
VI.

"Break off!" said Harold, in a tone
Where hurry and surprise were shown,

With some slight touch of fear,
"Break off, we are not here alone;
A palmer form comes slowly on!
By cowl, and staff, and mantle known,
My monitor is near.

Now mark him, Gunnar, heedfully;
He pauses by the blighted tree-

Dost see him, youth-Thou couli'st not see
When in the vale of Galilee

I first beheld his form,

Nor when we met that other while

In Cephalonia's rocky isle, Before the fearful storm

Dost see him now?"--The page, distraught
With terror, answer'd, "I see nought,
And there is nought to see,

Save that the oak's scathed boughs fling down
Upon the path a shadow brown,
That, like a pilgrim's dusky gown,
Waves with the waving tree."

VII.
Count Harold gazed upon the oak
As if his eye-strings would have broke,
And then resolvedly said,
"Be what it will, yon phantom gray,
Nor heaven, nor hell, shall ever say
That for their shadows from his way

Count Harold turn'd dismay'd:
I'll speak him, though his accents fill
My heart with that unwonted thrill
Which vulgar minds call fear.

I will subdue it!"--Forth he strode,
Paused where the blighted oak-tree show'd
Its sable shadow on the road,
And, folding on his bosom broad

His arms, said, "Speak-I hear.”
VIII.

The deep voice said, “O wild of will,
Furious thy purpose to fulfil-
Heart-sear'd and unrepentant still,
How long, O Harold, shall thy tread
Disturb the slumbers of the dead?
Each step in thy wild way thou makest
The ashes of the dead thou wakest;
And shout in triumph o'er thy path
The fiends of bloodshed and of wrath.
In this thine hour, yet turn and hear!
For life is brief and judgment near.

29

IX. Then ceased the voice. -The Dane replied In tones where awe and inborn pride For mastery strove,—“In vain ve chide

The wolf for ravaging the flock,
Or with its hardness taunt the rock,-
I am as they--my Danish strain
Sends streams of fire through every vein.
Amid thy realms of goule and ghost,
Say, is the fame of Erick lost?
Or Witikind's the Waster, known
Where fame or spoil was to be won;
Whose galleys ne'er bore off a shore

They left not black with flame?
He was my sire,--and sprung of um,
That rover merciless, and grim,
Can I be soft and tame?

Part hence, and with my crimes no more upbraid

me,

I am that Waster's son, and am but what he made me."

X.

The phantom groan'd; the mountain shook around,
The fawn and wild-doe started at the sound,
The gorse and fern did wildly round them wave,
As if some sudden storm the impulse gave.
"All thou hast said is truth-Yet on the head
Of that bad sire let not the charge be laid,
That he, like thee, with unrelenting pace,
From grave to cradle ran the evil race:
Relentless in his avarice and ire,
Churches and towns he gave to sword and fire;
Shed blood like water, wasted every land,
Like the destroying angel's burning brand;
Fulfill'd whate'er of ill might be invented:
Yes-all these things he did-he did, but he RE-
PENTED!

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

Joy shook his torch above the band,
By many a various passion fann'd;
As elemental sparks can feed
On essence pure and coarsest weed,
Gentle, or stormy, or refined,
Joy takes the colours of the mind.
Lightsome and pure, but unrepress'd,
He fired the bridegroom's gallant breast;
More feebly strove with maiden fear,
Yet still joy glimmer'd through the tear
On the bride's blushing cheek, that shows
Like dew-drop on the budding rose;
While Wulfstane's gloomy smile declared
The joy that selfish avarice shared,
And pleased revenge and malice high
Its semblance took in Jutta's eye.
On dangerous adventure sped,

The witch deem'd Harold with the dead,
For thus that morn her demon said:-
"If, ere the set of sun, be tied

The knot 'twixt bridegroom and his bride,
The Dane shall have no power of ill
O'er William and o'er Metelill."
And the pleased witch made answer, "Then
Must Harold have pass'd from the paths of men!
Evil repose may his spirit have-

May hemlock and mandrake find root in his grave, May his death-sleep be dogg'd by dreams of dismay, And his waking be worse at the answering day!"

XIV.

Such was their various mode of glee
Blent in one shout of ecstasy.
But still when joy is brimming highest,
Of sorrow and misfortune nighest,
Of terror with her ague cheek,
And lurking danger, sages speak:-
These haunt each path, but chief they lay
Their snares beside the primrose way.-
Thus found that bridal band their path
Beset by Harold in his wrath.
Trembling beneath his maddening mood,
High on a rock the giant stood;
His shout was like the doom of death
Spoke o'er their heads that pass'd beneath.
His destined victims might not spy
The reddening terrors of his eye-
The frown of rage that writhed his face-
The lip that foam'd like boar's in chase;-
But all could see-and, seeing, all
Bore back to shun the threatened fall-
The fragment which their giant foe
Rent from the cliff and heaved to throw.
XV.
Backward they bore;-yet are there twe
For battle who prepare:

No pause of dread lord William knew
Ere his good blade was bare;

« PreviousContinue »