Matilda Betham Poems >>
Cen'lin, Prince Of Mercia

WHEN Britain many chiefs obey'd,
And seven Saxon princes sway'd,
The Mercian monarch, fam'd afar,
In peace respected, fear'd in war,
Favour'd by heav'n above the rest,
In his brave son was fully blest;
For none like Cen'lin did arise,
So virtuous, elegant, and wise.
Of partial Mercian eyes the joy,
His parents idoliz'd the boy;

Saw with just pride each op'ning grace,
His charms of mind, of form, and face.
And as he oft, with modest air,
His thoughts and feelings did declare,
His father would delighted hear,
Would fondly drop the grateful tear;
And proudly cast his eyes around,
But not an equal could be found.
Warm from each lip applauses broke,
And every tongue his praises spoke;
The list'ning courtiers spread his fame,
And blessings follow'd Cen'lins name.
Now twenty summer's suns had flown,
And Mercia's hopes were fully blown;
When ah! conceal'd in coarse disguise,
To Selred's court their darling flies.
Selred, his father's scorn and hate,
Became the ruler of his fate.
There flatter'd, lov'd, the youth remain'd,
Till Cenulph's threats his heir regain'd.

But ah! no more the son of mirth,
His pensive eye now sought the earth;
No more within the dance to move,
Or list to sages, did he love;
But from surrounding friends would fly,
To pour in solitude the sigh.
And soon again the youth withdrew,
Again to th'Eastern-Saxons flew.
His father heard, opprest with woe,
His aged heart forgot to glow;
He learnt his foes an army led,
With youthful Cen'lin at their head,
He call'd his warriors forth to meet,
And stretch the rebel at his feet:
Tears from his eyes in anguish broke,
As thus the aged monarch spoke:
"Ye Mercians, let your banners fly!
"The graceless youth this day shall die!
"For, since he dares an army bring
"Against his father and his king,
"Though dear as life, I will not spare,
"Nor listen to affection's pray'r!
"If all my people should implore,
"I'll pardon the rash boy no more!

"His harden'd heart, to duty blind,
"No ties of gratitude can bind;
"This hoary head would else have rest,
"And pleasure warm this aching breast.
"Ah, cruel youth! thy wrongs I feel,
"More deep than wounds of pointed steel.
"For, if forlorn the parent's doom,
"Who bears his offspring to the tomb,
"Some comfort still his breast may know,
"Some soothing thought may calm his woe,
"And when he gives a loose to pain,
"He feels not that he mourns in vain,
"But fancies still his darling nigh,
"And grateful for each bursting sigh,
"Still bending o'er, with list'ning ear,
"Each weeping, fond complaint to hear,
"The dear-lov'd phantom hovers round,
"And pours a balm in every wound.
"How doubly poignant is my smart,
"Bereaved of my Cen'lin's heart!
"Exil'd from that deluded breast,
"Where I had fondly hop'd to rest,
"With faith undoubting, sweet repose,
"Till Death should bid my eye-lids close.

"And sometimes yet will hope arise;
"Till now he ever scorn'd disguise;
"Some cursed fiend might taint his youth,
"And warp a temper form'd for truth.
"When late he humbly knelt for grace,
"And clasp'd my knees in close embrace,
"Upon his lips a secret hung,
"But something seem'd to stay his tongue;
"I prest not, for my anger slept,
"And fondness only saw he wept;
"Ah! fatal haste! then had I known
"The serpent, I had sav'd my son!
"Yet surely pardon frank as mine,
"A noble heart would more confine!
"When leaguing with my bitter foe,
"To strike some grand, decisive blow;
"Perhaps to rob me of my throne,
"And make it, ere the time, his own;
"Or, should wan guilt a danger dread,
"To humble this devoted head,
"Each throbbing pang of conscience drown,
"And seize, with bloody hands, the crown.
"O'er this offence I cast a veil,
"And fondly hush'd the whisper'd tale.
"Ah fool! deluded by the grace,
"Of that fine form, and perfect face;

"I thought his bosom free from sin,
"Nor dreamt a demon lurk'd within.
"His voice, which ever could controul,
"Each passion of the hearer's soul,
"With ease my partial heart beguil'd,
"Who knew no sorrows when he smil'd.
"And ah! my friends, your downcast eyes,
"Your pensive air, and smother'd sighs,
"All tell me you lament the fate,
"Of him, whom yet you cannot hate.
"And shall I bear then to behold,
"That form inanimate and cold,
"His smiling lips depriv'd of breath,
"His eyes for ever clos'd in death!
"Ah no! my heart with anguish swells,
"And every throbbing vein rebels.
"Let sorrow weep, or anger thrill,
"Yet all the parent triumphs still.
"Oh Father! who in mercy reigns,
"If thy all-ruling will ordains,
"That my unhappy Cen'lin dies,
"Remove the picture from my eyes!
"At the same moment set us free,
"Both rebel sons, my God, to thee!"

Thus did the king pour forth his pray'r,
With all the wildness of despair;
Then, stilling every rising sigh,
He calm'd the anguish of his eye,
And though within the burthen lay,
He wip'd the falling tears away.
When lo! there comes a youthful train,
Descending swiftly to the plain,
Drest like the fairest sons of day,
In floating robes and colours gay;
No crested helmets there appear,
No glittering shield or pointed spear,
But youths with honey-suckles crown'd,
Or their fair locks with fillets bound,
Whose circling ranks and varied dyes,
Shew'd like the bow that gilds the skies.
Whilst in the van a pair were seen,
Of peerless charms and graceful mien;
One lovely form the Mercians knew,
And gladden'd at the pleasing view,
Who, with the glow of youthful prime,
Had all the majesty of time.
And beauteous was the fair he led,
As any fabled Grecian maid;

The nymphs who tend Aurora's car,
And usher in the morning star,
Though made inhabitants of air,
Were not more elegant and fair;
Nor Dian's ever-healthful train,
When skimming o'er the spacious plain,
Had not more pure, more lively dyes,
Or brighter lustre in their eyes.
The king, so late by woe deprest,
Felt hope reanimate his breast,
And as his Cen'lin nearer drew,
His waking hopes more vivid grew.
"My friends," he cried, "will you believe,
"That open mien can e'er deceive?
"That blooming form can e'er unfold,
"A heart ungenerous and cold,
"That melting softness of the eye,
"Can harbour direst cruelty?
"Ah no! a poison's baleful pow'r,
"Lurks not beneath so fair a flow'r.
"Nor are those youths with amber hair,
"Such as fell treason would prepare,
"An aged monarch to dethrone,
"And hear, unmov'd, a father's groan.

"Gay are their looks, no dark disguise,
"Dims the mild radiance of their eyes;
"No murderous thoughts their souls employ,
"But, heralds of transporting joy,
"They come to bid suspicion cease,
"And sooth my sorrow into peace."
Caution could scarce awhile controul
The strong delights of Cenulph's soul;
When Cen'lin knelt, and by his side
Half-kneeling, bent his lovely bride.
But, when he first essay'd to speak,
A hasty blush pass'd o'er his cheek,
He hung awhile his graceful head,
Till thus, with air confus'd he said:
"I come, by love with honours crown'd,
"Yet sorrow casts a shade around,
"That when my consort here I bring,
"The heiress of a potent king,
"The Mercians, clad in armour, come,
"To lead their princess to her home.
"No joyful hail our nuptial greets,
"No proof of love my Ela meets,
"But scarlet banners, waving high,
"The bridal knot and wreath supply.
"Alas! I see mistrust has won
"E'en Cenulph's fondness from his son;

"Or could my ever-honour'd sire,
"A proof of Cen'lin's faith require?
"Can force so needful now appear,
"To aid a pow'r which I revere?
"When eager beauty's form to view,
"I first to Selred's court withdrew,
"A single wish thy pow'r maintain'd,
"A single wish thy son regain'd.
"I left the maid whose matchless charms,
"Each rooted prejudice disarms,
"Who rul'd my heart with sovereign sway,
"And taught a Mercian to obey
"Laws that East-Saxons can impart,
"When wit and beauty string the dart;
"Left her when hope my doubts beguil'd,
"And on our love her father smil'd.
"Oft have I tried to win thine ear,
"The fond, romantic tale to hear,
"But when I found a lonely hour,
"My coward soul has lost the pow'r;
"As on my lips the accents hung,
"Thy hate to Selred check'd my tongue.
"Yet flattering hopes my passion fed,
"And from thy court again I fled;
"I thought when you my fair beheld,
"And knew how greatly she excell'd,

"In every charm, each art refin'd,
"And virtue of the female mind,
"Thy judgment would approve my choice,
"And bless it with a cheerful voice.
"And ah! though fortune did combine
"With love, in making Ela mine,
"I cannot from a grief refrain,
"Remembering that I gave thee pain.
"Yet if thy Cen'lin e'er could please,
"If e'er my cares could give thee ease,
"Let mild affection now arise,
"And beam forgiveness from thine eyes!
"No more thy son shall make thee know
"A pain, or give thee cause of woe.
"No flights the Mercians have to fear,
"For all I love is center'd here."
He spoke, and o'er his father's soul,
A stream of healing comfort stole;
He rose, with slow, majestic grace,
Tears of delight adorn'd his face,
His pious heart with rapture glow'd,
And joy a second youth bestow'd.
"To meet thee thus, my son," he cried,
"This peerless maiden for your bride,

"Bids each distressing thought depart,
"And joy again possess my heart.
"Fair princess, thine the happy fate,
"To heal the wounds of mutual hate;
"No longer shall this bosom know,
"An Eastern-Saxon as my foe;
"And she, who bids that passion rest,
"Doubt not, shall be supremely blest:
"The part is holy and benign,
"Befitting such a form as thine.
"This day, far dearer than before,
"Kind heav'n does twice my son restore,
"For by those speaking looks I see,
"Another valued child in thee."
As then he rais'd them to his breast,
Around the joyful Mercians prest,
And made their shouts of triumph rise,
To the fair concave of the skies.