Page images
PDF
EPUB

MAZEPPA'S RIDE

(MAZEPPA, Stanzas 9-17.)

"BRING forth the horse"!-the horse was brought; In truth he was a noble steed,

A Tartar of the Ukraine breed,

Who look'd as though the speed of thought

Were in his limbs; but he was wild,

Wild as the wild deer, and untaught,

With spur and bridle undefiled

'Twas but a day he had been caught;
And snorting, with erected mane,
And struggling fiercely, but in vain,
In the full foam of wrath and dread
To me the desert-born was led :
They bound me on, that menial throng,
Upon his back with many a thong;
Then loosed him with a sudden lash-
Away!-away !—and on we dash!-
Torrents less rapid and less rash.

Away!-away!—My breath was gone—
I saw not where he hurried on :
'Twas scarcely yet the break of day,
And on he foam'd-away!-away !—
The last of human sounds which rose,
As I was darted from my foes,
Was the wild shout of savage laughter,
Which on the wind came roaring after

A moment from that rabble rout:
With sudden wrath I wrench'd my head,
And snapp'd the cord, which to the mane
Had bound my neck in lieu of rein,
And, writhing half my form about,

Howl'd back my curse; but 'midst the tread,
The thunder of my courser's speed,
Perchance they did not hear nor heed :
It vexes me- -for I would fain
Have paid their insult back again.
I paid it well in after days :
There is not of that castle gate,

Its drawbridge and portcullis' weight,
Stone, bar, moat, bridge, or barrier left;
Nor of its fields a blade of grass,

Save what grows on a ridge of wall,
Where stood the hearth-stone of the hall;
And many a time ye there might pass,
Nor dream that e'er that fortress was :
I saw its turrets in a blaze,
Their crackling battlements all cleft,

And the hot lead pour down like rain From off the scorch'd and blackening roof, Whose thickness was not vengeance-proof. They little thought that day of pain, When launch'd as on the lightning's flash, They bade me to destruction dash,

That one day I should come again, With twice five thousand horse, to thank The Count for his uncourteous ride. They play'd me then a bitter prank,

When, with the wild horse for my guide, They bound me to his foaming flank : At length I play'd them one as frankFor time at last sets all things even

And if we do but watch the hour,
There never yet was human power
Which could evade, if unforgiven,
The patient search and vigil long
Of him who treasures up a wrong.

Away, away, my steed and I,

Upon the pinions of the wind, All human dwellings left behind; We sped like meteors through the sky, When with its crackling sound the night Is chequer'd with the northern light : Town-village-none were on our track, But a wild plain of far extent, And bounded by a forest black;

And, save the scarce seen battlement On distant heights of some strong hold, Against the Tartars built of old, No trace of man. The year before A Turkish army had march'd o'er ; And where the Spahi's hoof hath trod, The verdure flies the bloody sod :The sky was dull, and dim, and gray, And a low breeze crept moaning byI could have answer'd with a sighBut fast we fled, away, away— And I could neither sigh nor pray ; And my cold sweat-drops fell like rain Upon the courser's bristling mane; But, snorting still with rage and fear, He flew upon his far career : At times I almost thought, indeed, He must have slacken'd in his speed; But no-my bound and slender frame Was nothing to his angry might,

M

And merely like a spur became :
Each motion which I made to free
My swoln limbs from their agony
Increased his fury and affright :
I tried my voice,—'twas faint and low,
But yet he swerved as from a blow;
And, starting to each accent, sprang
As from a sudden trumpet's clang:
Meantime my cords were wet with gore,
Which, oozing through my limbs, ran o’er ;
And in my tongue the thirst became
A something fierier far than flame.

We near'd the wild wood-'twas so wide,
I saw no bounds on either side;
'Twas studded with old sturdy trees,
That bent not to the roughest breeze
Which howls down from Siberia's waste,
And strips the forest in its haste,—
But these were few, and far between
Set thick with shrubs more young and green,
Luxuriant with their annual leaves,

Ere strown by those autumnal eves
That nipt the forest's foliage dead,
Discolour'd with a lifeless red,
Which stands thereon like stiffen'd gore
Upon the slain when battle's o'er,
And some long winter's night hath shed
Its frost o'er every tombless head,
So cold and stark the raven's beak
May peck unpierced each frozen cheek :
'Twas a wild waste of underwood,
And here and there a chestnut stood,
The strong oak, and the hardy pine;
But far apart and well it were,

Or else a different lot were mine—

The boughs gave way, and did not tear My limbs; and I found strength to bear My wounds, already scarr'd with coldMy bonds forbade to loose my hold.

We rustled through the leaves like wind,
Left shrubs, and trees, and wolves behind;
By night I heard them on the track,
Their troop came hard upon our back,
With their long gallop, which can tire
The hound's deep hate, and hunter's fire:
Where'er we flew they follow'd on,
Nor left us with the morning sun;
Behind I saw them, scarce a rood,

At day-break winding through the wood,
And through the night had heard their feet
Their stealing, rustling step repeat.
Oh! how I wish'd for spear or sword,
At least to die amidst the horde,
And perish-if it must be so-
At bay, destroying many a foe.
When first my courser's race begun,
I wish'd the goal already won;
But now I doubted strength and speed.
Vain doubt! his swift and savage breed
Had nerved him like the mountain-roe;
Nor faster falls the blinding snow
Which whelms the peasant near the door
Whose threshold he shall cross no more,
Bewilder'd with the dazzling blast,
Than through the forest-paths he past-
Untired, untamed, and worse than wild;
All furious as a favour'd child

Balk'd of its wish; or fiercer still-
A woman piqued—who has her will.

« PreviousContinue »