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And gave the relic-shrine of cost, With ivory and gems embossed. The poor her Convent's bounty blest, 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. Nought say 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 dishonoured 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 recal-
A sun-scorched desert, waste and bare,
Nor wave, 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 up her eyes 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 mood.
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 grey.
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 Widderington,
Mother of many a valiant son;
At Coquet Isle their beads they tell
To the good Saint who owned the cell;
Then did the Alne attention claim,
And Warkworth, proud of Percy's name;
And next, they crossed themselves, to hear
The whitening breakers sound so near,
Where, boiling through the rocks, they roar,
On Dunstanborough's caverned shore; 20
Thy tower, proud Bamborough, marked they there,
King Ida's castle, huge and square,
From its tall rock look grimly down,
And on the swelling ocean frown ;
Then from the coast they bore away,
And reached the Holy Island's bay.
THE tide did now its flood-mark gain,
And girdled in the Saint's domain :
For, with the flow and ebb, its 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 sandaled 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 frowned,
With massive arches broad and round,
That rose alternate, row and row,
On ponderous columns, short and low,
Built ere the art was known,
By pointed aisle, and shafted stalk,
The arcades of an alley'd walk
To emulate in stone.
On the deep walls the heathen Dane
Had poured his impious rage in vain;
And needful was such strength to these,
Exposed to the tempestuous seas,
Scourged by the winds' eternal sway,
Open to rovers fierce as they,
Which could twelve hundred years withstand
Winds, waves, and northern pirates' hand.
Not but that portions of the pile,
Rebuilded in a later style,
Shewed where the spoiler's hand had been;
Not but the wasting sea-breeze keen
Had worn the pillar's carving quaint,
And mouldered in his niche the Saint,
And rounded, with consuming power,
The pointed angles of each tower:
Yet still entire the Abbey stood,
Like veteran, worn, but unsubdued.
Soon as they neared his turrets 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-drowned 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 relics there,
To meet Saint Hilda's maids, they bare ;
And, as they caught the sounds on air,
They echoed back the hymn.
The islanders, in joyous mood,
Rushed emulously through the flood,
To hale the bark to land ;
Conspicuous by her veil and hood,
Signing the cross, the Abbess stood,
And blessed them with her hand. 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 unhallowed eye,
The stranger sisters roam:
Till fell the evening damp with dew,
And the sharp sea-breeze coldly blew,
For there e'en summer night is chill.
Then, having strayed and gazed their fill,
They closed around the fire ;
And all, in turn, essayed 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.
THEN Whitby's nuns exulting told,
How to their house three barons bold
Must menial service do;
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 Edelfled;