Down the dim West slow fails the stricken sun,
And from his hot face fades the crimson flush
Veiled in death’s herald-shadows sick and gray.
Silent and dark the sombre valley lies
Forgotten; happy in the late fond beams
Glimmer the constant waves of Galilee.
Afar, below, in airy music ring
The bugles of my host; the column halts,
A wearied serpent glittering in the vale,
Where rising mist-like gleam the tented camps.
Pitch my pavilion here, where its high cross
May catch the last light lingering on the hill.
The savage shadows, struggling by the shore,
Have conquered in the valley; inch by inch
The vanquished light fights bravely to these crags
To perish glorious in the sunset fire;
Even as our hunted Cause so pressed and torn
In Syrian valleys, and the trampled marge
Of consecrated streams, displays at last
Its narrowing glories from these steadfast walls.
Here in God’s name we stand, and brighter far
Shines the stern virtue of my martyr-host
Through these invidious fortunes, than of old,
When the still sunshine glinted on their helms,
And dallying breezes woke their bridle-bells
To tinkling music by the reedy shore
Of calm Tiberias, where our angry Lord,
Wroth at the deadly sin that cursed our camp,
Denied and blinded us, and gave us up
To the avenging sword of Saladin.
Yet would he not permit his truth to sink
To utter loss amid that foundering fight,
But led us, scarred and shattered from the spoil
Of Paynim rage, the desert’s thirsty death,
To where beneath the sheltering crags we prayed
And rested and grew strong. Heroes and saints
To alien peoples shall they be, my brave
And patient warriors; for in their stout hearts
God’s spirit dwells forever, and their hands
Are swift to do his service on his foes.
The swelling music of their vesper-hymn
Is rising fragrant from the shadowed vale
Familiar to the welcoming gates of heaven.
_Mother of God! as evening falls
Upon the silent sea,
_ Mother of God! as evening falls
Upon the silent sea,
And shadows veil the mountain walls,
We lift our souls to thee!
From lurking perils of the night,
The desert’s hidden harms,
From plagues that waste, from blasts that smite,
Defend thy men-at-arms!_
Ay! Heaven keep them! and ye angel-hosts
That wait with fluttering plumes around the great
White throne of God, guard them from scathe and harm!
For in your starry records never shone
The memory of desert so great as theirs.
I hold not first, though peerless else on earth,
That knightly valor, born of gentle blood
And war’s long tutelage, which hath made their name
Blaze like a baleful planet o’er these lands;
Firm seat in saddle, lance unmoved, a hand
Wedding the hilt with death’s persistent grasp;
One-minded rush in fight that naught can stay.
Not these the highest, though I scorn not these,
But rather offer Heaven with humble heart
The deeds that heaven hath given us arms to do.
For when God’s smile was with us we were strong
To go like sudden lightning to our mark:
As on that summer day when Saladin–
Passing in scorn our host at Antioch,
Who spent the days in revel, and shamed the stars
With nightly scandal–came with all his host,
Its gay battalia brave with saffron silks,
Flaunting the banners of the Caliphate
Beneath the walls of fair Jerusalem:
And white and shaking came the Leper-King,
Great Baldwin’s blasted scion, and Tripoli
And I, and twenty score of Temple Knights,
To meet the myriads marshalled by the bright
Untarnished flower of Eastern chivalry;
A moment paused with level-fronting spears
And moveless helms before that shining host,
Whose gay attire abashed the morning light,
And then struck spur and charged, while from the mass
Of rushing terror burst the awful cry,
_God and the Temple_! As the avalanche slides
Down Alpine slopes, precipitous, cold and dark,
Unpitying and unwrathful, grinds and crushes
The mountain violets and the valley weeds,
And drags behind a trail of chaos and death;
So burst we on that field, and through and through
The gay battalia brave with saffron silks,
Crushed and abolished every grace and gleam,
And dragged where’er we rode a sinuous track
Of chaos and death, till all the plain was filled
With battered armor, turbaned trunkless heads,
With silken mantles blushing angry gules
And Bagdad’s banners trampled and forlorn.
And Saladin, stunned and bewildered sore,–
The greatest prince, save in the grace of God,
That now wears sword,–mounted his brother’s barb,
And, followed by a half-score followers,
Sped to his castle Shaubec, over against
The cliffs by Ascalon, and there abode:
And sullenly made order that no more
The royal nouba should be played for him
Until he should erase the rusting stain
Upon his knightly honor; and no more
The nouba sounded by the Sultan’s tent,
Morning nor evening by the silent tent,
Until the headlong greed of Chatillon
Spread ruin on our cause from Montreale.
But greatest are my warriors, as I deem,
In that their hearts, nearer than any else
Keep true the pledge of perfect purity
They pledged upon their sword-hilts long ago.
For all is possible to the pure in heart.
_Mother of God! thy starry smile
Still bless us from above!
Keep pure our souls from passion’s guile,
Our hearts from earthly love!
Still save each soul from guilt apart
As stainless as each sword
And guard undimmed in every heart
The image of our Lord!_
O goodliest fellowship that the world has known,
True hearts and stalwart arms! above your breasts
Glitters no flash of wreathen amulet
Forged against sword-stroke by the chanted rhythm
Of charms accurst; but in each steadfast heart
Blazes the light of cloudless purity,
That like a splendid jewel glorifies
With restless fire the gold that spheres it round,
And marks you children of our God, whose lives
He guards with the awful jealousy of love.
And even me that generous love has spared,–
Me, trustless knight and miserable man,–
Sad prey of dark and mutinous thoughts that tempt
My sick soul into perjury and death–
Since his great love had pity of my pain,
Has spared to lead these blameless warriors safe
Into the desert from the blazing towns,
Out of the desert to the inviolate hills
Where God has roofed them with his hollow shield.
Through all these days of tempest and eclipse
His hand has led me and his wrath has flashed
Its lightnings in the pathway of my sword.
And so I hope, and so my crescent faith
Gains daily power, that all my prayers and tears
And toils and blood and anguish borne for him
May blot the accusing of my deadly sin
From heaven’s high compt, and give me rest in death;
And lay the pallid ghost of mortal love,
That fills with banned and mournful loveliness,
Unblest, the haunted chambers of my soul.
My misery will atone,–my misery,
Dear God, will surely atone! for not the sting
Of macerating thongs, nor the slow horror
Of crowns of thorny iron maddening the brows,
Nor all that else pale hermits have devised
To scourge the rebel senses in their shade
Of caverned desolation, have the power
To smart and goad and lash and mortify
Like the great love that binds my ruined heart
Relentless, as the insidious ivy binds
The shattered bulk of some deserted tower,
Enlacing slow and riving with strong hands
Of pitiless verdure every seam and jut,
Till none may tear it forth and save the tower.
So binds and masters me my hopeless love.
So through the desert, in the silent hills,
I’ the current of the battle’s storm and stress,
One thought has driven me,–that though men may call
Me stainless Paladin, Knight leal and true
To Christ and Our Lady, still I know myself
A knight not after God’s own heart, a soul
Recreant, and whelmed in the forbidden sin.
For dearer to my sad heart than the cross
I give my heart’s best blood for are the eyes
That long ago, when youth and hope were mine,
I loved in thy still valleys, far Provence!
And sweeter to my spirit than the bells
Of rescued Salem are the loving tones
Of her dear voice, soft echoing o’er the years.
They haunt me in the stillness and the glare
Of desert noontide when the horizon’s line
Swims faintly throbbing, and my shadow hides
Skulking beneath me from the brassy sky.
And when night comes to soothe with breath of balm
And pomp of stars the worn and weary world,
Her eyes rise in my soul and make its day.
And even into the battle comes my love,
Snatching the duty that I offer Heaven.
At closing of El-Majed’s awful day,
When the last quivering sunbeams, choked with dust
And fume of blood, failed on the level plain,
In the last charge, when gathered all our knights
The precious handful who from morn had stemmed
The fury of the multitudinous hosts
Of Islam, where in youth’s hot fire and pride
Ramped the young lion-whelp, Ben-Saladin;
As down the slope we rode at eventide,
The dying sunlight faintly smiled to greet
Our tattered guidons and our dinted helms
And lance-heads blooming with the battle’s rose.
Into the vale, dusk with the shadow of death,
With silent lips and ringing mail we rode.
And something in the spirit of the hour,
Or fate, or memory, or sorrow, or sin,
Or love, which unto me is all of these,
Possessed and bound me; for when dashed our troop
In stormy clangor on the Paynim lines
The soul of my dead youth came into me;
Faded away my oath; the woes of Zion,
God was forgot; blazed in my leaping heart,
With instant flash, life’s inextinguished fires;
Plunging along each tense limb poured the blood
Hot with its years of sleeping-smothered flame.
And in a dream I charged, and in a dream
I smote resistless; foemen in my path
Fell unregarded, like the wayside flowers
Clipped by the truant’s staff in daisied lanes.
For over me burned lustrous the dear eyes
Of my beloved; I strove as at a joust
To gain at end the guerdon of her smile.
And ever, as in the dense melee I dashed,
Her name burst from my lips, as lightning breaks
Out of the plunging wrack of summer storms.
O my lost love! Bright o’er the waste of years–
That bliss and beauty shines upon my soul;
As far beyond yon desert hangs the sun,
Gilding with tender beam the barren stretch
Of sands that intervene. In this still light
The old sweet memories glimmer back to me.
Fair summers of my youth,–the idle days
I wandered in the bosky coverts hid
In the dim woods that girt my ancient home;
The blue young eyes I met and worshipped there;
The love that growing turned those gloomy wilds
To faery dells, and filled the vernal air
With light that bathed the hills of Paradise;
The warm, long days of rapturous summer-time,
When through the forests thick and lush we strayed,
And love made our own sunshine in the shades.
And all things fair and graceful in the woods
I loved with liberal heart; the violets
Were dear for her dear eyes, the quiring birds
That caught the musical tremble of her voice.
O happy twilights in the leafy glooms!
When in the glowing dusk the winsome arts
And maiden graces that all day had kept
Us twain and separate melted away
In blushing silence, and my love was mine
Utterly, utterly, with clinging arms
And quick, caressing fingers, warm red lips,
Where vows, half uttered, drowned in kisses, died;
Mine, with the starlight in her passionate eyes;
The wild wind of the woodland breathing low
To wake the elfin music of the leaves,
And free the prisoned odors of the flowers,
In honor of young Love come to his throne!
While we under the stars, with twining arms
And mutual lips insatiate, gave our souls–
Madly forgetting earth and heaven–to love!
_In desert march or battles flame,
In fortress and in field,
Our war-cry is thy holy name,
Thy love our joy and shield!
And if we falter, let thy power
Thy stern avenger be,
And God forget us in the hour
We cease to think of thee!_
Curse me not, God of Justice and of Love!
Pitiful God, let my long woe atone!
I cannot deem but God has pitied me;
Else why with painful care have I been saved,
Whenever tossed and drenched in the fierce tide
Of Saladin’s victories by the walls profaned
Of Jaffa, on the sands of far Daroum,
Or in the battle thundering on the downs
Of Ramlah, or the bloody day that shed
Red horrors on high Gaza’s parapets?
For never a storm of fatal fight has raged
In Islam’s track of rout and ruin swept
From Egypt to Gebail, but when the ebb
Of battle came I and my host have lain,
Scarred, scorched, safe somewhere on its fiery shore.
At Marcab’s lingering siege, where day by day
We told the Moslem legions toiling slow,
Planting their engines, delving in their mines
To quench in our destruction this last light
Of Christendom, our fortress in the crags,
God’s beacon swung defiant from the stars;
One thunderous night I knew their miners groped
Below, and thought ere morn to die, in crush
And tumult of the falling citadel.
And pondering of my fate–the broken storm
Sobbing its life away–I was aware
There grew between me and the quieting skies
A face and form I knew,–not as in dreams,
The sad dishevelled loveliness of earth,
But lighter than the thin air where she swayed,–
Gold hair flame-fluttered, eyes and mouth aglow
With lambent light of spiritual joy.
With sweet command she beckoned me away
And led me vaguely dreaming, till I saw
Where the wild flood in sudden fury had burst
A passage through the rocks: and thence I led
My host unharmed, following her luminous eyes,
Until the East was gray, and with a smile
Wooing me heavenward still she passed away
Into the rosy trouble of the dawn.
And I believe my love is shrived in heaven,
And I believe that I shall soon be free.
For ever, as I journey on, to me
Waking or sleeping come faint whisperings
And fancies not of earth, as if the gates
Of near eternity stood for me ajar,
And ghostly gales come blowing o’er my soul
Fraught with the amaranth odors of the skies.
I go to join the Lion-Heart at Acre,
And there, after due homage to my liege,
And after patient penance of the church,
And after final devoir in the fight,
If that my God be gracious, I shall die.
And so I pray–Lord pardon if I sin!–
That I may lose in death’s imbittered wave,
The stain of sinful loving, and may find
In glory again the love I lost below,
With all of fair and bright and unattained,
Beautiful in the cherishing smile of God,
By the glad waters of the River of Life!
Night hangs above the valley; dies the day
In peace, casting his last glance on my cross,
And warns me to my prayers. _Ave Maria!
Mother of God! the evening fades
On wave and hill and lea_,
_And in the twilight’s deepening shades
We lift our souls to thee!
In passion’s stress–the battles strife,
The desert’s lurking harms,
Maid-Mother of the Lord of Life
Protect thy men-at-arms!_
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Based on Keywords: bosky, gaza, provence, baldwin, men-at-arms, unattained, gules, antioch, quiring, bagdad, lion-heart