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THE breeze which swept away the smoke
Round Norham Castle rolled,
When all the loud artillery spoke
With lightning-flash and thunder-stroke
As Marmion left the hold,-
It curled not Tweed alone, that breeze,
upon Northumbrian seas,
It freshly blew, and strong,
Where, from high Whitby's cloistered pile,
Bound to Saint Cuthbert's Holy Isle,
It bore a bark along.
Upon the gale she stooped her side,
And bounded o'er the swelling tide,
As she were dancing home;
The merry seamen laughed to see
Their gallant ship so lustily
Furrow the green sea-foam.
Much joyed they in their honored freight;
For, on the deck, in chair of state,
The Abbess of Saint Hilda placed,
With five fair nuns, the galley graced.
'Twas sweet to see these holy maids, Like birds escaped to greenwood shades, Their first flight from the cage,
How timid and how curious, too,
For all to them was strange and new,
And all the common sights they view,
Their wonderment engage.
One eyed the shrouds and swelling sail,
With many a benedicite;
One at the rippling surge grew pale,
And would for terror pray ;
Then shrieked, because the sea-dog, nigh,
His round black head and sparkling eye
Reared o'er the foaming spray;
And one would still adjust her veil,
Disordered by the summer gale,
Perchance lest some more worldly eye
Her dedicated charms might spy;
Perchance, because such action graced
Her fair-turned arm and slender waist.
Light was each simple bosom there,
Save two, who ill might pleasure share, —
The Abbess and the Novice Clare.
The Abbess was of noble blood,
But early took the veil and hood,
life she cast a look,
Or knew the world that she forsook.
Fair too she was, and kind had been
As she was fair, but ne'er had seen
For her a timid lover sigh,
Nor knew the influence of her eye.
Love to her ear was but a name,
Combined with vanity and shame;
Her hopes, her fears, her joys were all
Bounded within the cloister wall:
The deadliest sin her mind could reach,
Was of monastic rule the breach;
And her ambition's highest aim
To emulate Saint Hilda's fame.
For this she gave her ample dower
To raise the convent's eastern tower;
For this, with carving rare and quaint,
She decked the chapel of the saint,
And gave the relic-shrine of cost,
With ivory and gems embossed.
The poor her convent's bounty blessed,
The pilgrim in its halls found rest.
Black was her garb, her rigid rule
Reformed on Benedictine school;
Her cheek was pale, her form was spare ;
Vigils and penitence austere
Had early quenched the light of youth.
But gentle was the dame, in sooth;
Though, vain of her religious sway,
She loved to see her maids obey.
Yet nothing stern was she in cell,
And the nuns loved their Abbess well.
Sad was this voyage to the dame;
Summoned to Lindisfarne, she came,
There, with Saint Cuthbert's Abbot old
And Tynemouth's Prioress, to hold
A chapter of Saint Benedict,
For inquisition stern and strict,
On two apostates from the faith,
And, if need were, to doom to death.
I here of Sister Clare,
Save this, that she was young and fair;
As yet, a novice unprofessed,
Lovely and gentle, but distressed.
She was betrothed to.one now dead,
Or worse, who had dishonored 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 withered bloom.
She sate upon the galley's prow,
And seemed to mark the waves below;
Nay, seemed, so fixed her look and eye,
To count them as they glided by.
She saw them not 'twas seeming all —
Far other scene her thoughts recall,
A sun-scorched desert, waste and bare,
Nor waves, nor breezes, murmured there;
There saw she, where some careless hand
O'er a dead corpse had heaped the sand,
To hide it till the jackals come
To tear it from the scanty tomb.
See what a woful look was given,
As she raised
to heaven !
Lovely and gentle and distressed -
These charms might tame the fiercest breast;
Harpers have sung and poets told
That he, in fury uncontrolled,
The shaggy monarch of the wood,
Before a virgin fair and good,
Hath pacified his savage
But passions in the human frame
Oft put the lion's rage to shame:
And jealousy, by dark intrigue,
With sordid avarice in league,
Had practised with their bowl and knife,
Against the mourner's harmless life.
This crime was charged 'gainst those who lay
Prisoned in Cuthbert's islet gray.
And now the vessel skirts the strand
Of mountainous Northumberland;
Towns, towers, and halls successive rise,
And catch the nuns' delighted eyes.
Monk-Wearmouth soon behind them lay;
And Tynemouth's priory and bay;
They marked, amid her trees, the hall
Of lofty Seaton-Delaval;
They saw the Blythe and Wansbeck floods
Rush to the sea through sounding woods;
They passed the tower of Widdrington,
Mother of many a valiant son;
At Coquet-isle their beads they tell
To the good saint who owned the cell;