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Though vain of her religious sway,
V. Nought say I here of Sister Clare, Save this, that she was young and fair; As yet a novice unprofess'd, Lovely and gentle, but distress'd. She was betroth'd to one now dead, Or worse, who had dishonour'd fled. Her kinsmen bade her give her hand To one, who loved her for her land: Herself, almost heart-broken now, Was bent to take the vestal vow, And shroud, within Saint Hilda's gloom, Her blasted hopes and wither'd bloom.
VI. She sate upon the galley's prow, And seem'd to mark the waves below; Nay, seem'd so fix’d her look and eye, To count them as they glided by. She saw them not—'t was seeming allFar other scene her thoughts recal,— A sun-scorch'd desert, waste and bare, Nor wave, nor breezes, murmur'd there; There saw she, where some careless hand o'er a dead corpse had heap'd the sand, To hide it till the jackalls come, To tear it from the scanty tomb.See what a woeful look was given, As she raised up her eyes to heaven!
Wii. Lovely, and gentle, and distress'd– These charms might tame the fiercest breast: Harpers have sung, and poets told, That he, in fury uncontroll'd, The shaggy monarch of the wood, Before a virgin, fair and good, Hath pacitied his savage mood. but passions in the human frame of put the lion's rage to shame: And jealousy, by dark intrigue, With sordid avarice in league, Had practised, with her bowl and knife, Against the mourner's harmless life. This crime was charged 'gainst those who lay Prison'd in Cuthbert's islet gray.
Wiii. And now the vessel skirts the strand of mountainous Northumberland; Towns, towers, and halls, successive rise, And watch the nuns delighted eyes.
Monk-Wearmouth soon behind them lay,
IX. The tide did now its flood-mark gain, And girdled in the saint's domain; For, with the flow and ebb, the style Varies from continent to isle; Dry-shod, o'er sands, twice every day, The pilgrims to the shrine find way; Twice every day, the waves efface Of staves and sandall'd feet the trace. As to the port the galley flew, Higher and higher rose to view The castle with its battled walls, The ancient monastery's halls, A solemn, huge, and dark-red pile, Placed on the margin of the isle.
In Saxon strength that abbey frown'd,
Built ere the art was known,
To emulate in stone.
Xi. Soon as they near'd his turret strong, The maidens raised Saint Hilda's song, And with the sea-wave and the wind, Their voices, sweetly shrill, combined, And made harmonious close; Then, answering from the sandy shore, Half-drown'd amid the breakers' roar, According chorus rose : Down to the haven of the isle, The monks and nuns in order file, From Cuthbert's cloisters grim; Banner, and cross, and reliques there, To meet Saint Hilda's maids they bare; And, as they canght the sounds on air, They echoed back the hymn. The islanders, in joyous mood, Rush'd emulously through the flood, To hale the bark to land; Conspicuous by her veil and hood, Signing the cross, the abbess stood, And bless'd them with her hand.
XII. Suppose we now the welcome said, Suppose the convent banquet made; All through the holy dome, Through cloister, aisle, and gallery, Wherever vestal maid might pry, Nor risk to meet unhallow'd eye, The stranger sisters roam; Till fell the evening damp with dew, And the sharp sea-breeze coldly blew, For there even summer night is chill. Then, having strayed and gazed their fill, They closed around the fire; And all, in turn, essay'd to paint The rival merits of their saint, A theme that ne'er can tire A holy maid; for, be it known, That their saint's honour is their own.
XIII. Then whitby's nuns exulting told, Ilow to their house three barons bold Must menial service do: (8) While horns blow out a note of shame, And monks cry, - Fye upon your name! In wrath, for loss of sylvan game, Saint Hilda's priest ye slew."— * This, on Ascension-day, each year, While labouring on our harbour-pier, Must Herbert, Bruce, and Percy hear.” They told, how in their convent-cell A Saxon princess once did dwell, The lovely Edelled; (9) And how, of thousand snakes, each one Was changed into a coil of stone, When holy Hilda pray'd. Themselves within their holy bound, Their stony folds had often found. They told, how sea-fowls' pinions fail, As over Whitby's towers they sail, (10) And, sinking down, with flutterings faint, They do their homage to the saint.
XIV. Nor did Saint Cuthbert's daughters fail To vie with these in holy tale; His body's resting-place, of old, How of their patron changed, they told: (1 1) How, when the rude Dane burn'd their pile, The monks fled forth from Holy Isle; O'er northern mountain, marsh, and moor, From sea to sea, from shore to shore, Seven years Saint Cuthbert's corpse they bore. They rested them in fair Melrose; But though, alive, he loved it well, Not there his reliques might repose; For, wond’rous tale to tell In his stone coffin forth he rides (A ponderous bark for river tides), Yet light as gossamer it glides, Downward to Tilmouth cell. Nor long was his abiding there, For southward did the saint repair; Chester-le-Street, and Rippon, saw His holy corpse, ere Wardilaw Hail d him with joy and fear; And, after many wanderings past, He chose his lordly seat at last Where his cathedral, huge and vast, Looks down upon the Wear.j There, deep in Durham's Gothic shade, His reliques are in secret laid; But none may know the place, Save of his holiest servants three, Deep sworn to solemn secrecy, Who share that wond'rous grace.
Who may his miracles declare:
(Although with them they led
Before his standard fled. (12) "T was he, to vindicate his reign, Edged Alfred's falchion on the Dane, And turn'd the Conqueror back again, (13) When, with his Norman bowyer band He came to waste Northumberland.
But fain Saint Hilda's nuns would learn,
And hear his anvil sound;
And night were closing round.
XWii. While round the fire such legends go, Far different was the scene of woe,
Where, in a secret aisle beneath,
But though, in the monastic pile,
Some vague tradition go,
To that dread vault to go. Victim and executioner Were blind-fold when transported there. In low dark rounds the arches hung, From the rude rock the side-walls sprung; The grave-stones, rudely sculptured o'er, Half sunk in earth, by time half wore, Were all the pavement of the floor; The mildew drops fell one by one, With tinkling plash, upon the stone. A cresset," in an iron chain, Which served to light this drear domain, With damp and darkness seem'd to strive, As if it scarce might keep alive; And yet it dimly served to show The awful conclave met below.
There, met to doom in secrecy,
On iron table lay;
By the pale cresset's rav;
She closely drew her veil;
And she with awe looks pale:
And he, that ancient man, whose sight
XX. Before them stood a guilty pair; But, though an equal fate they share, Yet one alone deserves our care. Her sex a page's dress belied; The cloak and doublet, loosely tied, Obscured her charms, but could not hide. Her cap down o'er her face she drew; And, on her doublet-breast, She tried to hide the badge of blue, Lord Marmion's falcon crest. But, at the prioress command, A monk undid the silken band That tied her tresses fair, And raised the bonnet from her head, And down her slender form they spread In ringlets rich and rare. Constance de Beverley they know, Sister profess'd of Fontevraud, Whom the church number'd with the dead, For broken vows, and convent fled.
XXI. When thus her face was given to view (Although so pallid was her hue, It did a ghastly contrast bear To those bright ringlets glistering fair), Iter look composed, and steady eye, Bespoke a matchless constancy. And there she stood, so calm and pale, That, but her breathing did not fail, And motion slight of eye and head, And of her bosom, warranted That neither sense nor pulse she lacks, You might have thought a form of wax, Wrought to the very life, was there: So still she was, so pale, so fair.
Her comrade was a sordid soul,
Such as does murder for a meed; Who, but of fear, knows no controul, Because his conscience, sear'd and foul,
Feels not the import of his deed; One, whose brute feeling ne'er aspires Beyond his own more brute desires. Such tools the Tempter ever needs, To do the savagest of deeds; For them no vision'd terrors daunt, Their nights no fancied spectres haunt; One fear with them, of all most base, The fear of death, alone finds place. This wretch was clad in frock and cowl, And shamed not loud to moan and howl, His body on the floor to dash, And crouch, like hound beneath the lash; While his mute partner, standing near, Waited her doom without a tear.
Yet well the luckless wretch might shriek,
!ewn stones and cement were display'd, And building-tools in order laid.
These executioners were chose,
Of some foul crime the stain;
Or thought more grace to gain,
xxv. And now that blind old abbot rose, To speak the chapter's doom, On those the wall was to inclose, Alive, within the tomb : (17) But stopp'd, because that woful maid, Gathering her powers, to speak essay’d. Twice she essay’d, and twice in vain; Her accents might no utterance gain; Nought but imperfect murmurs slip From her convulsed and quivering lip : Twixt each attempt all was so still, You seem'd to hear a distant rill— 'T was ocean's swells and falls; For though this vault of siu and fear Was to the sounding surge so near, A tempest there you scarce could hear, So massive were the walls.
At length, an effort sent apart
And light came to her eye,
By autumn's stormy sky;
And arm'd herself to bear;-It was a fearful sight to see
Such high resolve and constancy, In form so soft and fair.
XXVII. * I speak not to implore your grace; Well know I, for one minute's space Successless might I sue: Nor do I speak your prayers to gain; For if a death of lingering pain, To cleanse my sins, be penance vain, Wain are your masses too.— I listen'd to a traitor's tale, I left the convent and the veil, For three long years I bow'd my pride, A horse-boy in his train to ride; And well my folly's meed he gave, Who forfeited, to be his slave, All here, and all bevond the grave.— He saw young Clara's face more fair, He knew her of broad lands the heir, Forgot his vows, his faith forswore, And Constance was beloved no more.— 'T is an old tale, and often told; But, did my fate and wish agree, Ne'er had been read, in story old, Of maiden true betray'd for gold, That loved, or was avenged, like me!
XXVIII. “The king approved his favourite's aim; In vain a rival barr'd his claim, Whose faith with Clare's was plight, For he attaints that rival's fame With treason's charge—and on they came, In mortal lists to fight. Their oaths are said, Their prayers are pray'd, Their lances in the rest are laid, They meet in mortal shock; And hark! the throng, with thundering cry, Shout ‘Marmion, Marmion to the sky, De Wilton to the block '' Sayye, who preach Heaven shall decide, When in the lists two champions ride, Say, was Heaven's justice here? When loyal in his love and faith, Wilton found overthrow or death, Beneath a traitor's spear. How false the charge, how true he fell, This guilty packet best can tell.» – Then drew a packet from her breast, Paused, gather'd voice, and spoke the rest.
• Still was false Marmion's bridal staid : To Whitby's convent fled the maid,
The hated match to shun. ‘Ho! shifts she thus: King Henry cried; ‘Sir Marinion, she shall be thy bride,
If she were sworn a nun."
For Clara and for me :
And, by his drugs, my rival fair
But ill the dastard kept his oath,
Whose cowardice has undone us both.
XXX. • And now my tongue the secret tells, Not that remorse my bosom swells, But to assure my soul that none Shall ever wed with Marmion. Had fortune my last hope betray'd, This packet, to the king convey'd, Had given him to the headsman's stroke, Although my heart that instant broke.— Now, men of death, work forth your will, For I can suffer, and be still; And, come he slow, or come he fast, It is but Death who comes at last.
xxxi. * Yet dread me, from my living tomb, Ye vassal slaves of bloody Rome! If Marinion's late remorse should wake, Full soon such vengeance will he take, That you shall wish the fiery Dane Had rather been your guest again. Behind, a darker hour ascends! The altars quake, the crosier bends, The ire of a despotic king Rides forth upon destruction's wing. Then shall these vaults, so strong and deep, Burst open to the sea-wind's sweep; Some traveller then shall find my bones, Whitening amid disjointed stones, And, ignorant of priests' cruelty, Marvel such relics here should be.”—
Fix'd was her look, aud stern her air;
Paced forth the judges three;
Of sin and misery.
xxxiii. An hundred winding steps convey That conclave to the upper day;
But, ere they breathed the fresher air,
INTRODUCTION TO CANTO III.
to WILLIAM ERSKINE, ESQ. * Ettrick Forest. Like April morning clouds, that pass With varying shadow o'er the grass, And imitate, on field, and furrow, Life's chequer'd scene of joy and sorrow ; Like streamlet of the mountain north, Now in a torrent racing forth, Now winding slow its silver train, And almost slumbering on the plain; Like breezes of the autumn day, Whose voice inconstant dies away, And ever swells again as fast, When the ear deems its murmur past; Thus various, my romantic theme Flits, winds, or sinks, a morning dream. Yet pleased, our eye pursues the trace Of light and shade's inconstant race; Pleased, views the rivulet afar, Weaving its maze irregular; And pleased, we listen as the breeze Heaves its wild sigh through autumn trees; Then wild as cloud, or stream, or gale, Flow on, slow unconfined, my tale.
Need I to thee, dear Erskine, tell, I love the license all too well, In sounds now lowly, and now strong, To raise the desultory song?— Oft, when 'mid such capricious chime, Some transient fit of lofty rhyme To thy kind judgment seem'd excuse For many an error of the muse,