The guests are met, the feast is near,
But Marie does not yet appear!
And to her vacant seat on high
Is lifted many an anxious eye.
The splendid show, the sumptuous board,
The long details which feuds afford,
And discontent is prone to hold,
Absorb the factious and the cold;–
Absorb dull minds, who, in despair,
The standard grasp of worldly care,
Which none can quit who once adore–
They love, confide, and hope no more;
Seek not for truth, nor e’er aspire
To nurse that immaterial fire,
From whose most healthful warmth proceed
Each real joy and generous deed;
Which, once extinct, no toil or pain
Can kindle into life again,
To light the then unvarying eye,
To melt, in question or reply,
Those tones, so subtil and so sweet,
That none can look for, none repeat;
Which, self-impell’d, defy controul,–
They bear the signet of the soul;
And, as attendants of their flight,
Enforce persuasion and delight.
Words that an instant have reclin’d
Upon the pillow of the mind,
Or caught, upon their rapid way,
The beams of intellectual day,
Pour fresh upon the thirsty ear,
O’erjoy’d, and all awake to hear,
Proof that in other hearts is known
The secret language of our own.
They to the way-worn pilgrim bring
A draught from Rapture’s sparkling spring;
And, ever welcome, are, when given,
Like some few scatter’d flowers from heaven;
Could such in earthly garlands twine,
To bloom by others less divine.
Where does this idle Minstrel stay?
Proud are the guests, august the day;
And princes of the realm attend
The triumph of their sovereign’s friend;–
Triumph of stratagem and fight
Gain’d o’er a young and gallant knight,
Who, the last fort compell’d to yield,
Perish’d, despairing, in the field.
The Norman Chief, whose sudden blow
Had laid fair England’s banner low;
Spite of resistance firm and bold
Secur’d the latest, surest hold
Its sceptre touch’d across the main,
Important, difficult to gain,
Easy against her to retain;–
Baron de Brehan–seem’d to stand
An alien in his native land;
One whom no social ties endear’d
Except his child; and she appear’d
Unconsciously to prompt his toil,–
Unconsciously to take the spoil
Of hate and treason; and, ’twas said,
The pillage of a kinsman dead,
Whom, for his large domain, he slew:
‘Twas whisper’d only,–no one knew.
At tale of murderous deed, his ear
No startling summons seem’d to hear;
Yet should some sudden theme intrude
Of friend betray’d–ingratitude;–
Or treacherous counsel–follies nurs’d
In ardent minds, who, dying, curs’d
The guileful author of their woes;
His troubled look would then disclose
Some secret anguish, inward care,
Which mutely, sternly, said, Forbear!
He spake of policy and right,
Of bold exploits in recent fight,–
Of interest, and the common weal,
Of distant empire, slow appeal.
Skill’d to elicit thoughts unknown
In other minds, and hide his own,
His brighter eye, in darting round
Their purposes and wishes found.
Praises, and smiles, and promise play’d
Around his speech; which yet convey’d
No meaning, when, the moment past,
Memory retold her stores at last.
Courtiers were there, the old and young,
Of high and haughty lineage sprung;
And jewell’d matrons: some had been,
Erewhile, spectators of a scene
Like this, with mien and manners gay;
Who now, their hearts consum’d away,
Held all the pageant in disdain,
And seem’d to smile and speak with pain.
Of such were widows, who deplor’d
Husbands long lost, but still ador’d;
To grace their children, fierce and proud,
Like martyrs led into the crowd:
Mothers, their sole remaining stay,
In some dear son, late snatch’d away;
Whose duty made them better brook
Their lords’ high tone and careless look;
Whose praises had awaken’d pride
In bosoms dead to all beside.
Warriors, infirm with battles grown,
Were there, in languid grandeur thrown
On the low bench, who seem’d to say,
“Our mortal vigour wanes away;”
And gentle maid, with aspect meek,
While cloud-like blushes cross her cheek,
Restless awaits the Minstrel’s power
To dispossess the present hour,
And by a spirit-seizing charm,
Her thoughts employ, her fancy warm,
And snatch her from the mute distress
Of conscious, breathless bashfulness.
Young knights, who never tamely wait,
Crowd in the porch, or near the gate,
By quick return, and sudden throng,
Announcing the expected song.
The Minstrel comes, and, by command,
Before the nobles of the land,
In her poor order’s simple dress,
Grac’d only by the native tress,
A flowing mass of yellow’d light,
Whose bold swells gleam with silver bright,
And dove-like shadows sink from sight.
Those long, soft locks, in many a wave
Curv’d with each turn her figure gave;
Thick, or if threatening to divide,
They still by sunny meshes hide;
Eluding, by commingling lines,
Whatever severs or defines.
Amid the crowd of beauties there,
None were so exquisitely fair;
And, with the tender, mellow’d air,
The taper, flexile, polish’d limb,
The form so perfect, yet so slim,
And movement, only thought to grace
The dark and yielding Eastern race;
As if on pure and brilliant day
Repose, as soft as moonlight, lay.
Reluctant still she seem’d,–her feet
Sought slowly the appointed seat:
Her hand, oft lifting to her head,
She lightly o’er her forehead spread;
Then the unconscious motion check’d,
And, struggling with her own neglect,
Seem’d as she but by effort found
The presence of an audience round.
Meanwhile the murmurings died away
Which spake impatience of delay:
A pitying wonder, new and kind,
Arose in each beholder’s mind:
They saw no scorn to meet reproof,
No arrogance to keep aloof;
Her air absorb’d, her sadden’d mien,
Combin’d the mourning, captive queen,
With _her_ who at the altar stands
To raise aloft her spotless hands,
In meek and persevering prayer,
For such as falter in despair.
All that was smiling, bright, and gay,
Youth’s show of triumph during May,
Its roseate crown, was snatch’d away!
Yet sorrows, which had come so soon,
Like tender morning dew repos’d,
O’er hope and joy as softly clos’d
As moist clouds on the light at noon.
Opprest by some heart-withering pang,
Upon her harp she seem’d to hang
Awhile o’erpower’d–then faintly sang:
“Demand no lay of long-past times;
Of foreign loves, or foreign crimes;
Demand no visions which arise
To Rapture’s eager, tearless eyes!
Those who can travel far, I ween,
Whose strength can reach a distant scene,
And measure o’er large space of ground,
Have not, like me, a deadly wound!
Near home, perforce, alas, I stray,
Perforce pursue my destin’d way,
Through scenes where all my trouble grows,
And where alone remembrance flows.
Like evening swallows, still my wings
Float round in low, perpetual rings;
But never fold the plume for rest
One moment in the tranquil nest;
And have no strength to reach the skies,
No power, no hope, no wish to rise!
“Blame me not, _Fancy_, if I now restrain
Thy wandering footsteps, now thy wings confine;
Tis the decree of Fate,–it is not mine!
For I would let thee free and widely stray–
Would follow gladly, tend thee on thy way,
And never of the devious track complain,
Never thy wild and sportive flights disdain!
Though reasonless those graceful moods may be,
They still, alas! were passing sweet to me.
“Unhappy that I am, compell’d to bind
This murmuring captive! one who ever strove
By each endearing art to win my love;
Who, ever unoffending, ever bright,
Danc’d in my view, and pleas’d me to delight!
She scatter’d showers of lilies on my mind;
For, oh! so fair, so fresh, and so refin’d,
Her child-like offerings, without thorns to pain,
Without one canker’d wound, or earthly stain.
“And, _darling!_ as my trembling fingers twine
Those fetters round thee, they are wet with tears!
For the sweet playmate of my early years
I cannot thus afflict, nor thus resign
My equal liberty, and not repine!
For I had made thee, infant as thou art,
Queen of my hopes, my leisure, and my heart;
Given thee its happiest laugh, its sweetest tear,
And all I found or conquer’d every year.
“I blame me now I let thy sports offend
Old Time, and laid thy snare within his path
To make him falter, as it often hath;
For he grew angry soon, and held his breath,
And hurried on, in frightful league with Death,
To make the way through which my footsteps bend,
Late rich in all that social scenes attend,
A desert; and with thee I droop, I die,
Beneath the look of his malignant eye.
“Me do triumphant heroes call
To grace with harp their festal hall?
O! must my voice awake the song?–
My skill the artful tale prolong?
Yes! I am call’d–it is my doom!
Unhappily, ye know not whom,
Nor what, impatient ye demand!
How hostile now the fever’d hand,
Across these chords unwilling thrown,
To echo plainings of my own!
Little indeed can ye divine
What song ye ask who call for mine!
“Till now, before the courtly crowd
I humbly and I gaily bow’d;
The blush was not to shame allied
Which on my glowing cheek I wore;
No lowly seemings pain’d nay pride,
My heart was laughing at the core;
And sometimes, as the stream of song
Bore me with eddying haste along,
My father’s spirit would arise,
And speak strange meaning from these eyes,
At which a conscious cheek would quail,
A stern and lofty bearing fail:
Then could a chieftain condescend
In me to recognize his friend!
Then could a warrior low incline
His eye, when it encounter’d mine!
A tone can make the guilty start!
A glance can pierce the conscious heart,
Encountering memory in its flight,
Most waywardly! Such wounds are slight;
But I withdraw the painful light!
“Fair lords and princes! many a time
For you I wove my pictur’d rhyme;
Refin’d new thoughts and fancies crude
In deep and careful solitude;
‘And, when my task was finish’d, came
To seek the meed of praise or blame;
While, even then, untir’d I strove
To serve beneath the yoke of love.
Whene’er I mark’d a fearful look,
When pride, or when resentment, spoke,
I bent the tenor of my strain,
And trembled lest it were in vain.
By many an undiscover’d wile
I brought the pallid lip to smile,
Clear’d the maz’d thought for ampler scope,
Sustain’d the flagging wings of hope;
And threw a mantle over care
Such as the blooming Graces wear!
I made the friend resist his pride,
Scarce aiming what he felt to hide
From other eyes, his own implor’d
That kindness were again restor’d.
As generous themes engag’d my tongue
In pleadings for the fond and young:
Towards his child the father leant,
In fast-subsiding discontent:
I made that father’s claims be felt,
And saw the rash, the stubborn, melt;
Nay, once, subdued, a rebel knelt.
“Thus skill’d, from pity’s warm excess,
The aching spirit to caress;
Profuse of her ideal wealth,
And rich in happiness and health,
An alien, class’d among the poor,
Unheeded, from her precious store,
Its best and dearest tribute brought;
The zeal of high, adventurous thought,
The tender awe in yielding aid,
E’en of its own soft hand afraid!
Stealing, through shadows, forth to bless,
Her venturous service knew no bound;
Yet shrank, and trembled, when success
Its earnest, fullest wishes crown’d!
This alien sinks, opprest with woe,
And have you nothing to bestow?
No language kind, to sooth or cheer?–
No soften’d voice,–no tender tear?–
No promise which may hope impart?
No fancy to beguile the heart;
To chace those dreary thoughts away,
And waken from this deep dismay!
“Is it that station, power, or pride,
Can human sympathies divide?
Or is she deem’d a thing of art,
Form’d only to enact a part,
Whose nice perceptions all belong
To modulated thought and song,
And, in fictitious feeling thrown,
Lie waste or callous in her own?
“Is it from poverty of soul;
Or does some fear some doubt, controul?
So round the heart strong fibres strain,
That it attempts to beat in vain?
Does palsy on your feelings hang,
Deaden’d by some severer pang?
If so, behold, my eyes o’erflow!
For, O! that anguish well I know!
When once that fatal stroke is given,–
When once that finest nerve is riven,
Our love, our pity, all are o’er;
We even sooth ourselves no more!
“Back, hurrying feelings! to the time
I learnt to clothe my thoughts in rhyme!
When, climbing up my father’s knees,
I gaily sang, secure to please!
Rounded his pale and wasted cheek,
And won him, in his turn, to speak:
When, for reward, I closer prest,
And whisper’d much, and much carest;
With timorous eye, and head aside,
Half ask’d, and laugh’d, and then denied;
Ere I again petition made
To hear the often-told crusade.
How, knowing hardship but by name,
Misled by friendship and by fame,
His parents’ wishes he disdain’d,
With zeal, nor real quite, nor feign’d;
And fought on many a famous spot;–
The suffering of a captive’s lot;
My Georgian mother’s daring flight;
The day’s concealment, march by night;
Her death, when, touching Christian ground,
They deem’d repose and safety found:
How, on his arm, by night and day,
I, then a happy infant, lay,
And taught him not to mourn, but pray.
How, when, at length, he reach’d his home,
His heart foretold a gentle doom;
With tears of fondness in his eyes,
Hoping to cause a glad surprize;
Full of submission, pondering o’er
What he too lightly priz’d before;
The curse with tenfold vengeance fell.–
Those who had lov’d him once so well,
In whose indulgence perfect trust
Had still been wise, though most unjust,
Were in the grave!–Their hearts were cold!
His penitence might still be told–
Told to the winds! for few would hear,
Or, hearing, deem that tale sincere
His patrimony’s lord denied,
Who, hardening in possession’s pride,
Affirm’d the rightful owner died.
“A victim from devouring strife,
And slavery, return’d with life;
Possessions, honours, parents gone,
The very hand that urg’d him on,
Now, by its stern repelling, tore
The veil that former falsehood wore!
“When he first bar’d his heart before thy view,
Told all its inmost beatings–told them true;
Nay, e’en the pulse, the secret, trembling thrill,
On which the slightest touch alone would kill;
While thou, with secret aim, collected art,
Didst wind around that bold, confiding heart,
And, in its warm and healthful breathings fling
A subtle poison, and a deadly sting!
“Where shall we else so fell a traitor find?
The wilful, hard misleader of the blind
And what can be the soul-perverter’s meed,
Plotting to lure his friend to such a deed,
As made self-hatred on the conscience lay
That heavy weight she never moves away?
O! where the good man’s inner barriers close
‘Gainst the world’s cruel judgments, and his foes
Enfolding truth, and prayer, and soul’s repose,
Thine is a mournful numbness, or a din,
For many strong accusers lurk within!
“And, since this fatal period, in thine eyes
A shrewd and unrelaxing witness lies;
While, on the specious language of the tongue,
Deceit has hateful, warning accents hung;
And outrag’d nature, struggling with a smile,
Announces nought but discontent and guile;
Each trace of fair, auspicious meaning flown,
All that makes man by man belov’d and known.
Silence, indignant thought! forego thy sway!
Silence! and let me measure on my way!
“Soul-struck, and yielding to his fate,
My father left his castle gate.
‘Thou,’ he would cry, with flowing eyes,
‘That moment wert the sacrifice!
Little, alas! avails to thee
Wealth, honours, titles, ancestry;
All lost by me! I dar’d to lift
On high thy welfare, as a gift!
To save thee, dearest, dar’d resign
Thy worldly good! it was not mine!
But, O! I felt around thee twin’d
My very self,–my heart and mind!
All that may chance is dead to me,
Save only as it touches thee!
Could self-infliction but atone
For one who lives in thee alone;
If my repentance and my tears
Could spare thy future smiling years,
The fatal curse should only rest
Upon this firm, though guilty breast?
Yet, tendering from thy vessel’s freight
Offerings of such exceeding weight,
And free thee from one earthly chain!
Envy and over-weening hate
Would on thy orphan greatness wait;
Folly that supple nature bend
For parasites to scorn thy friend;
And pamper’d vanity incline
To wilful blindness such as mine!
“‘Thee to the altar yet I bring!
Hear me, my Saviour and my King!
Again I for my child resign
All worldly good! but make her thine!
Let her soft footsteps gently move,
Nor waken grief, nor injure love;
Carelessly trampling on the ground
That priceless gem, so rarely found;
That treasure, which, should angels guard,
Would all their vigilance reward!
“‘My mind refuses still to fear
She should be cold or insincere;
That aught like meanness should debase
One of our rash and wayward race,
No! most I dread intemperate pride,
Deaf ardour, reckless, and untried,
With firm controul and skilful rein,
Its hurrying fever to restrain!
“‘Others might wish their soul’s delight
Should be most lovely to the sight;
And beauty vainly I ador’d,
Serv’d with my eye, my tongue, my sword;
Nay, let me not from truth depart!
Enshrin’d and worship’d it at heart.
Oft, when her mother fix’d my gaze,
Enwrapt, on bright perfection’s blaze,
Hopes the imperious spell beguil’d,
Transcendant thus to see my child:
But now, for charms of form or face,
Save only purity and grace;
Save sweetness, which all rage disarms,
Would lure an infant to her arms
In instantaneous love; and make
A heart, like mine, with fondness ache;
I little care, so she be free
From such remorse as preys on me!’
“My dearest father!–Yet he grew
Profoundly anxious, as he knew
More of the dangers lurking round;
But I was on enchanted ground!
Delighted with my minstrel art,
I had a thousand lays by heart;
And while my yet unpractis’d tongue
Descanted on the strains I sung,
Still seeking treasure, like a bee,
I laugh’d and caroll’d, wild with glee!
“Delicious moments then I knew,
When the rough winds against me blew:
When, from the top of mountain steep,
I glanc’d my eye along the deep;
Or, proud the keener air to breathe,
Exulting saw the vale beneath.
When, launch’d in some lone boat, I sought
A little kingdom for my thought,
Within a river’s winding cove,
Whose forests form a double grove,
And, from the water’s silent flow,
Appear more beautiful below;
While their large leaves the lilies lave,
Or plash upon the shadow’d wave;
While birds, with darken’d pinions, fly
Across that still intenser sky;
Fish, with cold plunge, with startling leap,
Or arrow-flight across the deep;
And stilted insects, light-o-limb,
Would dimple o’er the even brim;
If, with my hand, in play, I chose
The cold, smooth current to oppose,
As fine a spell my senses bound
As vacant bosom ever found!
“And when I took my proudest post,
Near him on earth I valued most,
(No after-time could banish thence
A father’s dear pre-eminence,)
And felt the kind, protecting charm,
The clasp of a paternal arm;
Felt, as instinctively it prest,
The sacred magnet of his breast,
‘Gainst which I lean’d, and seem’d to grow,
With that deep fondness none can know,
Whom Providence does not assign
A parent excellent as mine!
That faith beyond, above mistrust,
That gratitude, so wholly just,
Each several, crowding claim forgot,
Whose source was light, without a blot;
No moment of unkindness shrouding,
No speck of anger overclouding:
An awful and a sweet controul,
A rainbow arching o’er the soul;
A soothing, tender thrill, which clung
Around the heart, while, all unstrung,
The thought was still, and mute the tongue!
“O! in that morn of life is given
To one so tun’d, a sumptuous dower!
Joys, which have flown direct from heaven,
And Graces, captive in her bower.
“Thoughts which can sail along the skies,
Or poise upon the buoyant air;
And make a peasant’s soul arise
A monarch’s mighty power to share.
“When all that we perceive below,
By land or sea, by night or day,
The past, the future, and the flow
Of present times, their tribute pay.
“Each bird, from cleft, from brake, or bower,
Bears her a blessing on its wings;
And every rich and precious flower
Its fragrance on her spirit flings.
“There’s not a star that shines above
But pours on her a partial ray;
Endearments, like maternal love,
Her love to Nature’s self repay.
“Faith, Hope, and Joy about her heart,
Close interlace the angel arm;
And with caresses heal the smart
Of every care, and every harm.
“Amid the wealth, amid the blaze
Of luxury and pomp around,
How poor is all the eye surveys
To what we know of fairy ground!”
She ceases, and her tears flow fast–
O! can this fit of softness last,
Which, so unlook’d for, comes to share
The sickly triumph of despair?
Upon the harp her head is thrown,
All round is like a vision flown;
And o’er a billowy surge her mind
Views lost delight left far behind.
More Poetry from Matilda Betham:Matilda Betham Poems based on Topics: Mind, Love, Friendship, Sadness, Youth, Smiling, Joy & Excitement, Light, Fear, Life, Thought & Thinking
- The Lay Of Marie - Canto Second (Matilda Betham Poems)
- The Lay Of Marie - Canto Third (Matilda Betham Poems)
- The Old Sheperd's Recollections (Matilda Betham Poems)
- Cen'lin, Prince Of Mercia (Matilda Betham Poems)
- The Outlaw (Matilda Betham Poems)
- Edgar And Ellen (Matilda Betham Poems)
Readers Who Like This Poem Also Like:Based on Topics: Love Poems, Man Poems, Life Poems, World Poems, Night Poems, Light Poems, Mind Poems, Sadness Poems, Time Poems, Death & Dying Poems, Soul Poems
Based on Keywords: long-past, dispossess, deplor, interlace, transcendant, curv, glanc, enact, accusers, patrimony, flexile