FRAGMENT OF A POEM.
1 GLOOMY and still was the broad solemn deep,
2 Whose rolling tides for twice a hundred years,
3 Had lashed the rugged walls of Tora's Towers,
4 The strong abode of Curdmore's haughty kings.
5 Its frowning battlements o'erhung the sea,
6 Where in the fair serene of summer days,
7 Each answering Tower a nether heaven did meet,
8 And cast its pictured shadow on the waves.
9 But now, no mild blue sky in gentle grandeur,
10 Did lend its azure covering to the main,
11 Softening the most majestic work of nature,
12 Nor even a sunbeam through the rifted cloud,
13 Glanced on the distant wave. [Page 103]
14 Dull heavy clouds hung in the lower air,
15 Misty and shapeless, like the humid chaos,
16 Ere God divided it and called it water.
17 The creatures of the deep forgot their prey,
18 Leaving the upper waves to seek the bottom;
19 The flocking sea-fowl homeward bent their flight,
20 In dusky bands to caverned rock or cliff.
21 A deadly calm reigned in the stately woods,
22 That hung aloft upon the hardy shore;
23 The mingled music of the forest ceased
24 Before the day had run its wonted term,
25 Yet birds of night forgot their twilight song,
26 And every creature, whether fierce or tame,
27 Skulked in its hole, seized with unwonted fear.
28 Nor was that creature styled the lord of earth
29 Without his fear: that secret worst of fears,
30 The mind unknowing what it has to dread.
31 Fenced in the seeming safety of his home,
32 Man's sometime-haughty spirit sank within him,
33 And dark uncertainty of ill unseen
34 Encreased the sombre gloom of Tora's Halls. [Page 104]
35 The sullen watch did lean upon their arms,
36 With quickened breath half-check'd and listening ear,
37 In expectation of some unknown thing.
38 Each smothered in his breast his untold fears,
39 And wished within himself the hours might speed,
40 But that the night with tenfold horror came,
41 To close the frightful day.
42 No cheerful converse graced the evening board,
43 Slow went the goblet round, each face was grave;
44 And ere the first dark watch fulfilled its term,
45 All were retired to rest in Tora's Halls.
46 Sleep came, and closed full many a weary eye,
47 But not that gentle kindly visitor,
48 That oft-times bringeth to the poor man's cot,
49 More wealth than e'er enjoyed his haughty lord;
50 Or to the couch of the dejected lover
51 Brings true love-knots, and kind remembrances,
52 And cheering glances, making him by night
53 The favoured man he fain would be by day;
54 Nor yet that haggard tyrant of the night,[Page 105]
55 Who comes oft-times to shake the ill man's bed,
56 Tearing him from his heaps of silk and down,
57 To hang his quivering carcase o'er the gulf,
58 Or through the air by foul fiends goaded on,
59 Bears him with dizzy, furious speed along;
60 But she, stiff shrouded in her blackest weed,
61 And swathed with leaden bands, awful and still,
62 Who by the couch of the condemned wretch,
63 Harassed and spent, before the morning breaks,
64 Whose setting sun he never shall behold,
65 Oft takes her stand, and scarce is known from death.
66 But still the red lamp, pendent from the roof,
67 Did cast its trembling and unjoyous light
68 Athwart the lofty chamber of the king;
69 For he alone felt not her weighty power.
70 A load of cares lay heavy at his heart;
71 His thoughtful eyes were bent upon the ground;
72 And the unsuiting gravity of age,
73 Had sadly sobered o'er his cheek of youth,
74 That newly blushed beneath a galling crown.
75 Long had his warlike father ruled the land,
76 Whose vengeful bloody sword no scabbard knew.
77 Wild was his fury in the field of battle,
78 And dreadful was his wrath to nations round,
79 But kind and glowing yearned his manly heart,
80 To the brave hardy sons of his blue hills.
81 He owned a friend and brother of the field,
82 In each broad-chested brawny warrior,
83 Who followed to the fight his daring steps.
84 One deed of fame, done by a son of Curdmore,
85 He prized more than the wealth of peaceful realms,
86 And dealt them death and ruin in his love.
87 Unshaped and rude the state, and knew no law,
88 Save that plain sense which nature gives to all,
89 Of right and wrong within the monarch's breast;
90 And when no storm of passion shook his soul,
91 It was a court of mildest equity.
92 One distant nation only in the field,
93 Could meet his boasted arms with equal strength.
94 Impetuous, rushing from their mountains rude,
95 Oft had they striven like two adverse winds,[Page 107]
96 That bursting from their pent and narrow glens,
97 On the wide desert meet, — in wild contention
98 Tossing aloft in air dun clouds of sand,
99 Tearing the blasted herbage from its bed,
100 And bloating the clear face of beauteous heaven
101 With the dissevered fragments of the earth,
102 Till spent their force, low growling they retire,
103 And for a time within their caverns keep,
104 Gathering new force with which they issue forth
105 To rage and roar again. — So held they strife.
106 But even while Corvan gloried in his might,
107 Death came and laid him low.
108 His spear was hung high in the sombre hall,
109 Whose lofty walls with darkening armour clad,
110 Spoke to the valiant of departed heroes,
111 A fellow now to those which rest ungrasped,
112 Unburnished, and know no master's hand.
113 A hardy people, scattered o'er the hills,
114 And wild uncultivated plains of Curdmore,
115 Depending more upon to-morrow's chace,
116 Than on the scanty produce of their fields,[Page 108]
117 Where the proud warrior, as debased by toil,
118 Throws down unwillingly his boasted weapons,
119 To mar the mossy earth with his rude tillage,
120 Bedding his dwarfish grain in tracks less deep,
121 Than he would plough the bosom of a foe;
122 A people rude but generous now looked up,
123 With wistful and expecting eyes, to Allener,
124 The son of their beloved, their only hope.
125 The general burthen, though but new to care,
126 Was laid on him. His heart within him whispered
127 That he was left in rough and perilous times,
128 Like elder brother of a needy race,
129 To watch and care for all, and it was thoughtful;
130 Sombre and thoughtful as unjoyous age.
131 But never had he felt his mind so dark,
132 As in this heavy and mysterious hour.
133 With drooping head and arms crossed o'er his breast,
134 His spirit all collected in itself,
135 As it had ceased to animate the body,
136 He sat, when like pent air from a dank cave,[Page 109]
137 He felt a cold and shivering wind pass o'er him,
138 And from his sinking bosom raised his head.
139 A thick and mazy mist had filled the chamber,
140 Thro' which the feeble lamp its blue flame showed
141 With a pale moony circlet compassed round,
142 As when the stars through dank unwholesome air
143 Show thro' the night their blunted heads, enlarged,
144 Foretelling plagues to some affrighted land.
145 When, lo! a strange light, breaking thro' the gloom,
146 Struck his astonished mind with awe and wonder.
147 It rose before him in a streamy column,
148 As, seen upon the dim benighted ocean,
149 By partial moon-beams through some severed cloud,
150 The towering, wan, majestic waterspout
151 Delights and awes the wondering mariner.
152 Soul-awed within himself shrunk Curdmore's king;
153 Thick beat his fluttering heart against his breast,
154 As towards him the moving light approached,
155 While opening by degrees its beamy sides,
156 A mighty phantom showed his awful form,[Page 110]
157 Gigantic, far above the sons of men.
158 A robe of watery blue in wreathy folds,
159 Did lightly float o'er his majestic limbs:
160 Firm in their strength more than was ever pictured,
161 Of fabled heroes in their fields of war.
162 One hand was wide outstretchd in threatened act,
163 As if to draw down vengeance from the skies,
164 The other, spread upon his ample breast,
165 Seemed to betoken what restrained its fellow.
166 Thus far to mortal eye he stood revealed,
167 But misty vapour shrouded all above,
168 Save that a ruddy glow did oft break through
169 With hasty flash, according with the vehemence
170 And agitation of the form beneath,
171 Speaking the terrors of that countenance,
172 The friendly darkness veiled.
173 Commotions strange disturbed the heaving earth.
174 A hollow muffled rumbling from beneath,
175 Rolled deeply in its dark and secret course.
176 The castle trembled on its rocky base;
177 And loosened fragments from the nodding towers,
178 Fell on the flinty ground with hideous crash. [Page 111]
179 The bursting gates against the portal rung,
180 And windows clattered in their trembling walls;
181 And as the phantom trode, far echoing loud,
182 The smitten pavement gave a fearful sound.
183 He stopped, the trembling walls their motion ceased,
184 The earth was still; he raised his awful voice.
185 "Thou creature, set o'er creatures like thyself,
186 To bear the rule for an appointed season,
187 Bethink thee well, and commune with thy heart.
188 If one man's blood can mark the unblest front,
189 And visit with extreme of inward pangs
190 The dark breast of the secret murderer,
191 Canst thou have strength all singly in thyself,
192 To bear the blood of thousands on thy head,
193 And wrongs which cry to heaven and shall be heard?
194 Kings to the slaughter lead their people forth,
195 And home return again with thinned bands,
196 Bearing to every house its share of mourning,
197 Whilst high in air they hang their trophied spoils,
198 And call themselves the heroes of the earth.
199 "Thy race is stained with blood: such were thy fathers:
200 But they are passed away and have their place,
201 And thou still breathest in thy weeds of clay,
202 Therefore to thee their doom is veiled in night.
203 Yet mayst thou be assured, that mighty Power
204 Who gave to thee thy form of breathing flesh,
205 Of such like creatures as thyself endowed,
206 Although innumerable on this earth,
207 Doth knowledge take, and careth for the least,
208 And will prepare his vengeance for the man
209 Whose wasteful pride uproots what he hath sown.
210 And now he sets two paths before thy choice,
211 Which are permitted thee: even thou thyself
212 Mayst fix thy doom, — a doom which cannot change.
213 Wilt thou draw out securely on thy throne
214 A life of such content and happiness
215 As thy wild country and rude people yield,
216 Laying thee late to rest in peaceful age,
217 Where thy forefathers sleep; thy name respected,
218 Thy children after thee to fill thy seat?
219 Or wilt thou, as thy secret thoughts incline,[Page 113]
220 Across the untried deep conduct thy bands,
221 Attack the foe on their unguarded coast,
222 O'ercome their strength at little cost of blood,
223 And raise thy trophies on a distant shore,
224 Where none of all thy race have footing gained, —
225 Gaining for Curdmore wealth, and power, and fame,
226 But not that better gain, content and happiness?
227 Wealth, power, renown, thou mayest for Curdmore earn,
228 But mayest not live to see her rising state:
229 For far from hence, upon that hostile shore,
230 A sepulchre which owns no kindred bone,
231 Gapes to receive thee in the pride of youth.
232 This is the will of Heaven: then choose thy fate,
233 Weak son of earth, I leave thee to thy troubles;
234 A little while shall make us more alike,
235 A spirit shalt thou be when next we meet.
236 It vanished. Black mist thickened where it stood.
237 A hollow sounding wind rushed thro' the chamber,[Page 114]
238 And rent in twain the deep embodied darkness
239 Which, curling round in many a pitchy volume,
240 On either side, did slowly roll away,
241 Like two huge waves of death.
242 And now the waving banners of the castle,
243 In early breath of morn began to play,
244 And faintly through the lofty windows looked
245 The doubtful grey-light on the silent chambers
246 Sleep's deadly heaviness fled with the night,
247 And lighter airy fancies of the dawn
248 Confusedly floated in the half-waked mind,
249 Till roused with fuller beams of powerful light,
250 Up sprung the dreamers from their easy beds,
251 And saw with a relieved and thankful heart,
252 The fair blue sky, the uncapped distant hills,
253 The woods, and streams, and valleys brightening gladly,
254 In the blest light of heaven.
255 But neither hill, nor vale, nor wood, nor stream,
256 Nor yet the sun high riding in his strength,[Page 115]
257 That beauty gave to all, cheered Allener,
258 Who wist not when it rose, nor when it set.
259 Silent but troubled in his lofty chamber
260 Two days he sat and shunned the searching eyes,
261 The sidelong looks of many a friendly chief.
262 Oft in his downcast eye the round tear hung,
263 Whilst by his side he clenched his trembling hand,
264 As if to rouse the ardour of his soul.
265 His seat beneath him shook, — high heaved his breast,
266 And burst the bracings of its tightened vestment.
267 The changing passions of his troubled soul
268 Passed with dark speed across his varied face;
269 Each passing shadow followed by a brother,
270 Like clouds across the moon in a wild storm:
271 So warred his doubtful mind, till by degrees
272 The storm subsided, calmer thoughts prevailed;
273 Slow wore the gloom away like morning mist;
274 A gleam of joy spread o'er his lightened visage,
275 And from his eye-balls shot that vivid fire,[Page 116]
276 Which kindles in the bosoms of the brave,
277 When the loud trumpet calls them forth to battle.
278 "Gird on mine armour," said the rising youth,
279 "I am the son of Corvan!"