« PreviousContinue »
Stol'n to this paradise and so entranc'd,
Porphyro gaz'd upon her empty dress,
And listen’d to her breathing if it chanc'd
To wake unto a slumb’rous tenderness ;
Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
And breath'd himself; then from the closet crept,
Noiseless as fear in a wild wilderness,
And over the hush'd carpet silent stept,
And 'tween the curtains peep’d, where lo! how fast she slept.
Then, by the bedside, where the faded moon
Made a dim silver twilight,-soft he set
A table, and, half-anguish’d, threw thereon
A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet :-
0, for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
The boistrous, midnight, festive clarion,
The kettle-drum and far-heard clarionet,
Affray his ears, though but in dying tone:-
The hall-door shuts again, and all the noise is gone
And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep
In blanched linen, smooth and lavender'd,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd,
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrups tinct with cinnamon :14
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr'd
From Fez; and spiced dainties every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedard Lebanon.
These delicates he heap'd with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathèd silver; sumptuously they stand
In the retirèd quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light.
“ And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite.
Open thine eyes for meek St. Agnes’ sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.”
Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm
Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dream
By the dusk curtains ;~'twas a midnight charm
Impossible to melt as iced stream:
The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;
Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies;
It seem'd he never, never could redeem
From such a steadfast spell his lady's eyes;
So mus'd awhile, entoil'd in woofèd fantasies
Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,
Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be,
He play'd an ancient ditty, long since mute,
In Provence call’d, “ La belle dame sans mercy:"
Close to her ear touching the melody ;-
Wherewith disturb'd she utter'd a soft moan:
He ceas'd-she panted quick-and suddenly
Her blue affrayèd eyes wide open shone:
Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth sculptured stone
Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep;
There was a painful change that nigh expell’d
The blisses of her dream, so pure and deep,
At which fair Madeline began to weep,
And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
Fearing to move or speak, she look'd so dreamingly
XIX. “Ah Porphyro !” said she, “but even now
Thy voice was a sweet tremble in mine ear,
Made tunable with every sweetest vow;
And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear;
How chang'd thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
Those iooks immortal, those complainings dear;
Oh ! leave me not in this eternal wo,
For if thou diest, my love, I know not where to go "
Beyond a mortal man impassion'd far15
At these voluptuous accents he arose,
Ethereal, flush'd, and like a throbbing star
Seen 'mid the sapphire heaven's deep repose :
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odors with the violet,-
Solution sweet. Meantime the frost wind blows
Like love's alarum, pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window panes : St. Agnes' moon hath set.
'T is dark; quick pattereth the flaw-blown sleet:
“ This is no dream; my bride, my Madeline !"
'Tis dark: the icèd gusts still rave and beat.
“ No dream, alas ! alas ! and wo is mine;
Porphyro will leave me here to rave and pine;
Cruel! what traitor could thee hither bring !
I curse not, for my heart is lost in thine,
Though thou forsakest a deceived thing ;-
A dove, forlorn and lost, with sick unprunèd wing.”
“My Madeline, sweet dreamer ! lovely bride!
Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?
Thy beauty's shield, heart-shap'd, and vermeil-dyed ? 18
Ah! silver shrine, here will I take my rest,
After so many hours of toil and quest-
A famish'd pilgrim, saved by miracle :
Though I have found, I will not rob thy nest,
Saving of thy sweet self; if thou think’st well
To trust, fair Madeline, to no rude infidel.
“ Hark! 't is an elfin storm from faery land,
Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed.
Arise,-arise !--the morning is at hand;
The bloated wassailers will never heed;
Let us away, my love, with happy speed;
There are no ears to hear, nor eyes to see,-
Drown'd all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead :
Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be;
For o'er the southern moors I have a home for thee.”
She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
For there were sleeping dragons all around
At glaring watch, perhaps with ready spears.
Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found, -
In all the house was heard no human sound
A chain-droop'd lamp was Alickering by each door;
The arras, rife with horseman, hawk and hound,
Flutter'd in the besieging winds' uproar;
And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.17
They glide like phantoms into the wide hall;
Like phantoms to the inner porch they glide,
Where lay the porter, in uneasy sprawl,
With a huge empty flagon by his side ;
The watchful blood-hound rose, and shook his hide,
But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:
By one, and one, the bolts full easy slide :
The chains lie silent on the foot-worn stones :
The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.
And they are gone; ay, ages long ago,
These lovers fled away into the storm.
That night the Baron dreamt of many a wo,
And all his warrior guests, with shade and form
Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
Were long benightmared. Angela the old
Died palsy-twitch'd, with meagre face deform:
The beadsman, after thousand aves told,
For aye unsought-for slept among his ashes cold.
1“ The Eve of St. Agnes.”—St. Agnes was a Roman virgin, who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Dioclesian. Her parents, a few days after her decease, are said to have had a vision of her, surrounded by angels and attended by a white lamb, which afterwards became sacred to her. In the Catholic Church, formerly, the nuns used to bring a couple of lambs to her altar during mass. The superstition is (for I believe it is still to be found), that, by taking certain measures of divination, damsels may get a sight of their future husbands in a dream. The ordinary process seems to have been by fasting. Aubrey (as quoted in “Brand's Popular Antiquities”) mentions another, which is, to take a row of pins, and pull them out one by one, saying a Paternoster; after which, upon going to bed, the dream is sure to ensue. Brand quotes Ben Jonson:
And on sweet St. Agnes' night,
Pleas'd you with the promis'd sight,
Some of husbands, some of lovers,
Which an empty dream discovers.
2“ The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold.”—Could he have se. sected an image more warm and comfortable in itself, and, therefore, better contradicted by the season? We feel the plump, feathery bird, in his nook, shivering in spite of his natural household warmth, and staring out at the strange weather. The hare cringing through the chill grass is very piteous, and the “ silent flock” very patient; and how quiet and gentle, as well as wintry, are all these circumstances, and fit to open a quiet and gentle poem! The breath of the pilgrim, likened to “ pious incense,” completes them, and is a simile in admirable “ keeping,” as the painters call it; that is to say, is thoroughly harmonious with itself and all that is going on. The breath of the pilgrim is visible, so is that of a censer; the censer, after its fashion, may be said to pray; and its breath, like the pilgrim's, ascends to heaven. Young students of poetry may, in this image alone, see what imagination is, under one of its most poetical forms, and how thoroughly it " tells.” There is no part of it unfitting. It is not applicable in one point, and the reverse in another.
3“ Past the sweet Virgin's picture,” &c.—What a complete feel. ing of winter-time is in this stanza, together with an intimation of those Catholic elegances, of which we are to have more in the poem!
4“ To think how they may ache,” &c.—The germ of the thought, or something like it, is in Dante, where he speaks of the figures that perform the part of sustaining columns in architecture. Keats had read Dante in Mr. Cary's translation, for which he had a great respect. He began to read him afterwards in Italian, which language he was mastering with surprising quickness. A friend of ours has a copy of Ariosto containing admiring marks of his pen. But the same thought may have struck one poet as well as another. Perhaps there are few that have not felt something like it on seeing the figures upon tombs. Here, however, for the first time, we believe, in English poetry, it is expressed, and with what feeling and elegance! Most wintry