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They little thought that day of pain, When launch'd, as on the lightning's flash, They bade me to destruction dash,
That one day I should come again, With twice five thousand horse, to thank The Count for his uncourteous ride. They play'd me then a bitter prank,
When, with the wild horse for my guide, They bound me to his foaming flank. At length I play'd them one as frankFor time at last sets all things even
And if we do but watch the hour, There never yet was human power Which could evade, if unforgiven, The patient search and vigil long Of him who treasures up a wrong.
'Away, away, my steed and I,
Upon the pinions of the wind, All human dwellings left behind; We sped like meteors through the sky, When with its crackling sound the night Is chequer'd with the northern light. Town village - none were on our track, But a wild plain of far extent, And bounded by a forest black;
And, save the scarce seen battlement
On distant heights of some strong hold,
Against the Tartars built of old,
No trace of man: the year before
A Turkish army had march'd o'er;
And where the Spahi's hoof hath trod,
The verdure flies the bloody sod.
The sky was dull, and dim, and gray,
And a low breeze crept moaning by
I could have answer'd with a sigh;
But fast we fled, away, away
And I could neither sigh nor pray;
And my cold sweat-drops fell like rain
Upon the courser's bristling mane.
But, snorting still with rage and fear,
He flew upon his far career:
At times I almost thought, indeed,
He must have slacken'd in his speed;
But no- my bound and slender frame 450
Was nothing to his angry might, And merely like a spur became. Each motion which I made to free My swoln limbs from their agony
Increased his fury and affright: I tried my voice, 't was faint and low, But yet he swerved as from a blow; And, starting to each accent, sprang As from a udden trumpet's clang.
Meantime my cords were wet with gore,
Which, oozing through my limbs, ran o'er;
And in my tongue the thirst became
A something fierier far than flame.
'We near'd the wild wood: 't was so wide,
saw no bounds on either side; 'T was studded with old sturdy trees, That bent not to the roughest breeze Which howls down from Siberia's waste And strips the forest in its haste; But these were few and far between, Set thick with shrubs more young and green,
Luxuriant with their annual leaves,
Ere strown by those autumnal eves
That nip the forest's foliage dead,
Discolour'd with a lifeless red,
Which stands thereon like stiffen'd gore
Upon the slain when battle 's o'er,
And some long winter's night hath shed
Its frost o'er every tombless head,
So cold and stark the raven's beak
May peck unpierced each frozen cheek.
I was a wild waste of underwood,
And here and there a chestnut stood,
The strong oak, and the hardy pine;
But far apart and well it were,
Or else a different lot were mine:
But now I doubted strength and speed.
Vain doubt! his swift and savage breed
Had nerved him like the mountain-roe;
Nor faster falls the blinding snow
Which whelms the peasant near the door
Whose threshold he shall cross no more,
Bewilder'd with the dazzling blast,
Than through the forest-paths he past
Untired, untamed, and worse than wild;
All furious as a favour'd child
Balk'd of its wish; or fiercer still,
A woman piqued who has her will.
'The wood was past; 't was more than
But chill the air although in June;
Or it might be my veins ran cold-
Prolong'd endurance tames the bold;
And I was then not what I seem,
But headlong as a wintry stream,
And wore my feelings out before
I well could count their causes o'er.
And what with fury, fear, and wrath,
The tortures which beset my path,
Cold, hunger, sorrow, shame, distress,
Thus bound in nature's nakedness
(Sprung from a race whose rising blood
When stirr'd beyond its calmer mood,
And trodden hard upon, is like
The rattle-snake's in act to strike),
What marvel if this worn-out trunk
Beneath its woes a moment sunk?
The earth gave way, the skies roll'd round,
I seem'd to sink upon the ground;
But err'd, for I was fastly bound.
My heart turn'd sick, my brain grew sore,
And throbb'd awhile, then beat no more:
The skies spun like a mighty wheel;
I saw the trees like drunkards reel,
And a slight flash sprang o'er my eyes,
Which saw no farther: he who dies
Can die no more than then I died.
O'ertortured by that ghastly ride,
I felt the blackness come and go,
And strove to wake; but could not make
My senses climb up from below.
I felt as on a plank at sea,
When all the waves that dash o'er thee,
At the same time upheave and whelm,
And hurl thee towards a desert realm.
My undulating life was as
The fancied lights that flitting pass
Our shut eyes in deep midnight, when
Fever begins upon the brain;
'My thoughts came back; where was I? Cold,
And numb, and giddy: pulse by pulse
Life reassumed its lingering hold,
And throb by throb: till grown a pang
Which for a moment would convulse,
My blood reflow'd though thick and chill;
My ear with uncouth noises rang,
My heart began once more to thrill;
My sight return'd, though dim, alas!
And thicken'd, as it were, with glass.
Methought the dash of waves was nigh:
There was a gleam too of the sky,
Studded with stars; it is no dream;
The wild horse swims the wilder stream!
The bright broad river's gushing tide
Sweeps, winding onward, far and wide,
And we are half-way, struggling o'er
To yon unknown and silent shore.
The waters broke my hollow trance,
And with a temporary strength
My stiffen'd limbs were rebaptized.
My courser's broad breast proudly braves
And dashes off the ascending waves,
And onward we advance !
We reach the slippery shore at length,
A haven I but little prized,
For all behind was dark and drear,
And all before was night and fear.
How many hours of night or day
In those suspended pangs I lay,
I could not tell; I scarcely knew
If this were human breath I drew.
To stretch beyond the sight;
And here and there a speck of white,
With glossy skin, and dripping mane,
And reeling limbs, and reeking flank,
The wild steed's sinewy nerves still strain
Up the repelling bank.
We gain the top: a boundless plain
Spreads through the shadow of the night,
And onward, onward, onward, seems,
Like precipices in our dreams,
And not an insect's shrill small horn,
Nor matin bird's new voice was borne
From herb nor thicket. Many a werst,
Panting as if his heart would burst,
The weary brute still stagger'd on;
And still we were or seem'd - alone.
At length, while reeling on our way,
Methought I heard a courser neigh
From out yon tuft of blackening firs.
Is it the wind those branches stirs ?
No, no! from out the forest prance
A trampling troop; I see them come!
In one vast squadron they advance !
I strove to cry - my lips were dumb.
The steeds rush on in plunging pride;
But where are they the reins to guide?
A thousand horse - and none to ride!
With flowing tail, and flying mane,
Wide nostrils never stretch'd by pain, 680
Mouths bloodless to the bit or rein,
And feet that iron never shod,
And flanks unscarr'd by spur or rod,
A thousand horse, the wild, the free,
Like waves that follow o'er the sea,
Came thickly thundering on,
As if our faint approach to meet.
The sight re-nerved my courser's feet,
A moment staggering, feebly fleet,
A moment, with a faint low neigh,
He answer'd, and then fell;
With gasps and glazing eyes he lay,
And reeking limbs immoveable
His first and last career is done!
On came the troop they saw him stoop,
They saw me strangely bound along
His back with many a bloody thong.
They stop they start they snuff the air,
Gallop a moment here and there,
Approach, retire, wheel round and round,
Then plunging back with sudden bound,
Headed by one black mighty steed
Who seem'd the patriarch of his breed,
Without a single speck or hair
Of white upon his shaggy hide.
They snort- they foam-neigh— swerve
And backward to the forest fly,
By instinct, from a human eye.
They left me there to my despair,
Link'd to the dead and stiffening wretch,
Whose lifeless limbs beneath me stretch,
Relieved from that unwonted weight,
From whence I could not extricate
Nor him nor me- - and there we lay
The dying on the dead!
I little deem'd another day
Would see my houseless, helpless head.
And there from morn till twilight bound,
I felt the heavy hours toil round,
With just enough of life to see
My last of suns go down on me,
In hopeless certainty of mind,
That makes us feel at length resign'd
To that which our foreboding years
Presents the worst and last of fears
Inevitable- even a boon,
Nor more unkind for coming soon;
Yet shunn'd and dreaded with such care,
As if it only were a snare
That prudence might escape:
At times both wish'd for and implored,
At times sought with self-pointed sword,
Yet still a dark and hideous close
To even intolerable woes,
And welcome in no shape.
And, strange to say, the sons of pleasure,
They who have revell'd beyond measure
In beauty, wassail, wine, and treasure,
Die calm, or calmer oft than he
Whose heritage was misery:
For he who hath in turn run through
All that was beautiful and new,
Hath nought to hope, and nought to leave; And, save the future (which is view'd Not quite as men are base or good, But as their nerves may be endued),
With nought perhaps to grieve:
The wretch still hopes his woes must end,
And Death, whom he should deem his friend,
Appears, to his distemper'd eyes,
Arrived to rob him of his prize,
The tree of his new Paradise.
To-morrow would have given him all,
Repaid his pangs, repair'd his fall;
To-morrow would have been the first
Of days no more deplored or curst,
But bright, and long, and beckoning years,
Seen dazzling through the mist of tears,
Guerdon of many a painful hour;
To-morrow would have given him power
To rule, to shine, to smite, to save
And must it dawn upon his grave?
'The sun was sinking - still I lay
Chain'd to the chill and stiffening steed;
I thought to mingle there our clay;
And my dim eyes of death had need,
No hope arose of being freed.
I saw his wing through twilight flit,
And once so near me he alit
I could have smote, but lack'd the strength;
But the slight motion of my hand,
And feeble scratching of the sand,
The exerted throat's faint struggling noise,
Which scarcely could be call'd a voice, 781
Together scared him off at length.
I know no more
my latest dream Is something of a lovely star
Which fix'd my dull eyes from afar,
And went and came with wandering beam,
And of the cold, dull, swimming, dense
Sensation of recurring sense,
And then subsiding back to death,
And then again a little breath,
A little thrill, a short suspense,
An icy sickness curdling o'er
My heart, and sparks that cross'd my brain
and I essay'd to speak, and she approach'd, and
She smiled But fail'd made
With lip and finger signs that said, I must not strive as yet to break The silence, till my strength should be Enough to leave my accents free. And then her hand on mine she laid, And smooth'd the pillow for my head, And stole along on tiptoe tread,
And gently oped the door, and spake In whispers - ne'er was voice so sweet! Even music follow'd her light feet.
But those she call'd were not awake, And she went forth; but, ere she pass'd, Another look on me she cast,
Another sign she made, to say, That I had nought to fear, that all Were near at my command or call, And she would not delay Her due return: while she was gone, Methought I felt too much alone.
'She came with mother and with sire
What need of more?—I will not tire
With long recital of the rest,
Since I became the Cossack's guest.
They found me senseless on the plain,
They bore me to the nearest hut,
They brought me into life again,
Me - one day o'er their realm to reign!
Thus the vain fool who strove to glut
His rage, refining on my pain,
Sent me forth to the wilderness,
Bound, naked, bleeding, and alone,
To pass the desert to a throne, -
What mortal his own doom may guess? Let none despond, let none despair! To-morrow the Borysthenes
May see our coursers graze at ease Upon his Turkish bank, and never Had I such welcome for a river