« AnteriorContinuar »
Paining with eloquence her balmy side :
As though a tongueless nightingale should swell Her throat in vain, and die heart-stified in her dell.
A casement high and triple-arch'd there was,
All garlanded with carven imageries
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes.
As are the tiger-moth's deep damask'd wings ;
And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings.10
Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline's fair breast,
As down she knelt for heaven's grace and boon:
Rose-bloom fell on her hands together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory like a saint ;
She seem'd a splendid angel, newly drest,
Save wings for heaven :-Porphyro grew faint--11
She knelt so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.
Anon his heart revives : her vespers done,
Of all its wreathèd pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmèd jewels one by one ;12
Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees :
Half hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees
In fancy fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is filed.
Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex'd she lay,
Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress’d
Her smoothèd limbs, and soul, fatigued away,
Flown, Tike a thought, until the morrow day;
Blissfully haven'd both from joy and pain ;
Clasp'd like a missal, where swart Paynims pray;
Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.13
Stol'n to this paradise and so entranc’d,
Porphyro gaz'd upon her empty dress,
And listen’d to her breathing if it chanc'd
To wake unto a slumb’rous tenderness :
Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
And breath'd himself; then from the closet crept,
Noiseless as fear in a wild wilderness,
And over the hush'd carpet silent stept,
And 'tween the curtains peep'd, where lo! how fast she slept.
Then, by the bedside, where the faded moon
Made a dim silver twilight,-soft he set
A table, and, half-anguish'd, threw thereon
A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet :-
O, for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
The boist'rous, midnight, festive clarion,
The kettle-drum and far-heard clarionet,
Affray his ears, though but in dying tone: -
The hall-door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.
And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep
In blanched linen, smooth and lavender'd,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd,
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrups tinct with cinnamon :14
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr'd
From Fez; and spiced dainties every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedard Lebanon.
These delicates he heap'd with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathéd silver; sumptuously they stand
In the retired quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light.
“ And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite.
Open thine eyes for meek St. Agnes' sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.”
Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm
Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dream
By the dusk curtains ;—'twas a midnight charm
Impossible to melt as icèd stream :
The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;
Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies ;
It seem'd he never, never could redeem
From such a steadfast spell his lady's eyes;
So mus'd awhile, entoil'd in woofèd fantasies
Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,-
Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be,
He play'd an ancient ditty, long since mute,
In Provence call'd, “ La belle dame sans mercy :"
Close to her ear touching the melody ;-
Wherewith disturb'd she utter'd a soft moan:
He ceas’d—she panted quick—and suddenly
Her blue affrayèd eyes wide open shone:
Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth sculptured stone
Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep;
There was a painful change that nigh expell’d
The blisses of her dream, so pure and deep,
At which fair Madeline began to weep,
And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
Fearing to move or speak, she look'd so dreamingly
“ Ah Porphyro !” said she, “but even now
Thy voice was a sweet tremble in mine ear,
Made tunable with every sweetest vow;
And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear;
How chang'd thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear ! -
Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
Those looks immortal, those complainings dear;
Oh ! leave me not in this eternal wo,
For if thou diest, my love, I know not where to go'
Beyond a mortal man impassion'd farl5
At these voluptuous accents he arose,
Ethereal, flush'd, and like a throbbing star
Seen 'mid the sapphire heaven's deep repose ;
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odors with the violet,--
Solution sweet. Meantime the frost wind blows
Like love's alarum, pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window panes: St. Agnes' moon hath set.
'T is dark; quick pattereth the flaw-blown sleet:
“ This is no dream ; my bride, my Madeline !"
'Tis dark: the icèd gusts still rave and beat.
“No dream, alas ! alas ! and wo is mine;
Porphyro will leave me here to rave and pine ;
Cruel! what traitor could thee hither bring!
I curse not, for my heart is lost in thine,
Though thou forsakest a deceived thing ;-
A dove, forlorn and lost, with sick unprunèd wing.”
“My Madeline, sweet dreamer I lovely bride!
Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?
Thy beauty's shield, heart-shap'd, and vermeil-dyed ? 16
Ah! silver shrine, here will I take my rest,
After so many hours of toil and quest-
A famish'd pilgrim, saved by miracle :
Though I have found, I will not rob thy nest,
Saving of thy sweet self; if thou think'st well
To trust, fair Madeline, to no rude infidel.
“ Hark! 't is an elfin storm from faery land,
Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed.
Arise,-arise !—the morning is at hand;
The bloated wassailers will never heed;
Let us away, my love, with happy speed;
There are no ears to hear, nor eyes to see,-
Drown'd all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead :
Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be;
For o'er the southern moors I have a home for thee.”
She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
For there were sleeping dragons all around
At glaring watch, perhaps with ready spears.
Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found,
In all the house was heard no human sound
A chain-droop'd lamp was Aickering by each door;
The arras, rife with horseman, hawk and hound,
Flutter'd in the besieging winds’ uproar;
And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor. 17
They glide like phantoms into the wide hall;
Like phantoms to the inner porch they glide,
Where lay the porter, in uneasy sprawl,
With a huge empty flagon by his side ;
The watchful blood-hound rose, and shook his hide,
But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:
By one, and one, the bolts full easy slide :
The chains lie silent on the foot-worn stones :
The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.
And they are gone ; ay, ages long ago,
These lovers fled away into the storm.
That night the Baron dreamt of many a wo,
And all his warrior guests, with shade and form
Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
Were long benightmared. Angela the old
Died palsy-twitch’d, with meagre face deform:
The beadsman, after thousand aves told,
For aye unsought-for slept among his ashes cold.
1 “ The Eve of St. Agnes.”_St. Agnes was a Roman virgin, who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Dioclesian. Her parents, a few days after her decease, are said to have had a vision of her, surrounded by angels and attended by a white lamb, which afterwards became sacred to her. In the Catholic Church, formerly, the nuns used to bring a couple of lambs to her altar during mass. The superstition is (for I believe it is still to be found), that, by taking certain measures of divination, damsels may get a sight of their future husbands in a dream. The ordinary process seems to have been by fasting. Aubrey (as quoted in “Brand's Popular Antiquities") mentions another, which is, to take a row of pins, and pull them out one by one, saying a Paternoster; after which, upon going to bed, the dream is sure to ensue. Brand quotes Ben Jonson :