« PreviousContinue »
Oh flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified !
Romeo and Juliet.
The abbot arose, and closed his book,
And donned his sandal shoon,
And wandered forth, alone, to look
Upon the summer moon :
A starlight sky was o'er his head,
A quiet breeze around;
And the flowers a thrilling fragrance shed,
And the waves a soothing sound :
It was not an hour, nor a scene, for aught
But love and calm delight;
Yet the holy man had a cloud of thought
On his wrinkled brow that night.
He gazed on the river that gurgled by,
But he thought not of the reeds :
He clasped his gilded rosary,
But he did not tell the beads;
If he looked to the heaven, 'twas not to invoke
The Spirit that dwelleth there;
If he opened his lips, the words they spoke
Had never the tone of prayer.
A pious priest might the abbot seem,
He had swayed the crosier well; But what was the theme of the abbot's dream,
The abbot were loth to tell.
Companionless, for a mile or more,
He traced the windings of the shore.
Oh, beauteous is that river still,
As it winds by many a sloping hill,
And many a dim o'erarching grove,
And many a flat and sunny cove,
And terraced lawns, whose bright arcades
The honeysuckle sweetly shades,
And rocks, whose very crags seemed bowers,
So gay they are with grass and flowers !
But the abbot was thinking of scenery,
About as much in sooth,
As a lover thinks of constancy,
Or an advocate of truth.
He did not mark how the skies in wrath
Grew dark above his head;
He did not mark how the mossy path
Grew damp beneath his tread;
And nearer he came, and still more near,
To a pool, in whose recess
The water had slept for many a year,
"Unchanged and motionless ;
From the river stream it spread away
The space of a half a rood; The surface had the hue of clay
And the scent of human blood;
The trees and the herbs that round it grew
Were venomous and foul;
And the birds that through the bushes flew
Were the vulture and the owl;
The water was as dark and rank
As ever a Company pumped ; And the perch, that was netted and laid on the bank,
Grew rotten while it jumped :
And bold was he who thither came
At midnight, man or boy;
For the place was cursed with an evil name,
And that name was “The Devil's Decoy !"
The abbot was weary as abbot could be,
And he sat down to rest on the stump of a tree.
When suddenly rose a dismal tone-
Was it a song, or was it a moan ?
“Oh, oh! Oh, oh!
Lightly and brightly they glide and go; .
The hungry and keen on the top are leaping,
The lazy and fat in the depths are sleeping ;
Fishing is fine when the pool is muddy,
Broiling is rich when the coals are ruddy !"
In a monstrous fright, by the murky light,
He looked to the left and he looked to the right,
And what was the vision close before him,
That flung such a sudden stupor o'er him ?
'Twas a sight to make the hair uprise,
And the life-blood colder run: .
The startled priest struck both his thighs,
And the abbey clock struck one !
All alone, by the side of the pool,
A tall man sát on a three-legged stool,
Kicking his heels on the dewy sod,
And putting in order his reel and rod;
Red were the rags his shoulders wore,
And a high red cap on his head he bore;
His arms and his legs were long and bare ;
And two or three locks of long red hair
Were tossing about his scraggy neck,
Like a tattered flag o’er a splitting wreck.
It might be Time, or it might be trouble,
Had bent that stout back nearly double-
Sunk in their deep and hollow sockets
That blazing couple of Congreve rockets,
And shrunk and shrivelled that tawny skin,
Till it hardly covered the bones within.
The line the abbot saw him throw
Had been fashioned and formed long ages ago,
And the hands that worked his foreign vest
Long ages ago had gone to their rest:
You would have sworn, as you looked on them,
He had fished in the flood with Ham and Shem!
There was turning of keys, and creaking of locks,
As he took forth a bait from his iron box.
Minnow or gentle, worm or fly—
It seemed not such to the abbot's eye ;
Gaily it glittered with jewel and gem,
And its shape was the shape of a diadem.
It was fastened a gleaming hook about,
By a chain within and a chain without;
The fisherman gave it a kick and a spin,
And the water fizzed as it tumbled in !
From the bowels of the earth,
Strange and varied sounds had birth-
Now the battle’s bursting peal,
Neigh of steed, and clang of steel;
Now an old man's hollow groan
· Echoed from the dungeon stone;
Now the weak and wailing cry
Of a stripling's agony !
Cold by this was the midnight air ;
But the abbot's blood ran colder,
When he saw a gasping knight lie there,
With a gash beneath his clotted hair,
And a hump upon his shoulder.
And the loyal churchman strove in vain
To mutter a Pater Noster;
For he who writhed in mortal pain
Was camped that night on Bosworth plain-
The cruel Duke of Glo'ster!
As he took forth a bait from his iron box.
It was a haunch of princely size,
Filling with fragrance earth and skies.
The corpulent abbot knew full well
The swelling form, and the steaming smell;
Never a monk that wore a hood
Could better have guessed the very wood