1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lord Byron

R., "Childe Harold's last Dream. An Extract from an unpublished Poem" The Philadelphia Album 4 (16 January 1830)



Sleep weighed upon his eyelids. Shadows came
With the dim rays of twilight, and crept o'er
The silence of his chamber, as a pall.
His fever had abated, but a flush
Like sun-set's dying glory trembled yet
Upon his ample forehead, and the throb
Of his white temple's pulse grew audible
Through his low breathings. He had lain
Quiet for many days, and only spake
To his attendants with a low sweet smile,
That from his smother'd anguish trembled out
Like starlight on still waters. — 'Twas an eve
Of more than common beauty, and the winds
Fragrant and cool came to his fever'd brow
And kissed it as a girl; and it did seem
To the sick man sweet as his Ada's breath!
Then Harold closed his eyes, and slumber fell
With its strange visions o'er his troubled soul!
Life's early hours came back to him — he stood
Beside the abbey, Newstead — and the woods
Waved as the breeze swept by them, bending down
Like an old warrior in his plumes, with grace!
And Harold gazed upon the time-worn walls
Of the old edifice — then he turned
With a strange impulse suddenly away.
He had forsook the halls of his gone sires—
Had won fame's guerdon, and his name peal'd out
The paean of an empire; yet he bowed
To a low altar in his secret soul
Which pride forbade him worship. 'Twas a noon
Of most surpassing loveliness — he strayed
Far from the dim metropolis, and sought
A quiet spot to lave his weary eye
In nature's beauty, and to send his thoughts
Upon a lofty mission 'mid the worlds
Called from the womb of chaos. Harold paused
At foot of mild hill which gently sloped
Down to a river's margin. Here he stood
Gazing upon the waters — drinking in
Fresh draughts of inspiration, till his mind,
Rapt in delicious thoughts, mellowed his soul
And flushed with joy his features. Then a voice
Stole merrily on the silence, and a girl
Fresh as a morning dream, and beautiful,
Bounded along the river. Harold turned
The darkness of his glance upon her form,
But still the creature sprang along the shore
And bounded to his bosom; then they gazed
Into each other's features earnestly
And clasped each other in a mad embrace,
Then gazed again—

Now the dream changed!
The girl still clung to Harold, but was changed!
The rosy light of her unripen'd cheek
And the dark glory of her passionate eye
Seem'd stifled by despair! Her scarlet lip
Had lost its fire and blood — her black hair stream'd
Over her full white shoulders like a cloud
Over a Parian statue — and her glance
Glared like the maniac's crazed through treachery!

She seemed as one
From whom the blood of life had suddenly
Shrunk to her heart — each feature still and pale
And cold and statue-like in mute despair—
Her lips half open with a broken cry,
And the white lid and lash distended wide,
Till all the eye-ball glared in agony!
Such was the change, Childe Harold sooth'd and wept;
The blood came back to that young being's cheek,
And her soul's tempest suaged itself in tears!

Again they wander'd forth whilst twilight fled
Before the moon's wan beauty — mellow eve
Gave tenderness to nature, and the breeze
Came pleasantly from the south, upon its wings
Wafting delightful odours. So they roved
Beneath the starlit sky this mellow eve,
And called up olden memories, and spake
Of time to come. The girl was sad of heart,
And yet she often turned unto the past,
Clinging to Harold with a strange delight,—
A maniac sort of rapture. Harold smiled!
It was near midnight when the lovers stood
Upon a cliff; beneath whose far down base
The river wandered inward! They had been
Telling each other's thoughts, and Harold spoke
Much of the pride which made him fear the world!
The maiden wept in agony — then ask'd
If he would die with her, since fate forbade
That they should live as lovers. Harold gazed
Earnestly in her features — then he mused
Silent and long, and walked with her to die!
They stood above the waters with white arms
The one around the other, and they sprang
Into the eddying river — a cloud passed
Over the bright moon suddenly and hid
The twain from mortal vision — but the dream
Mellowed and changed and took another form.

Summer had come again, and Harold stood
Before an altar, whilst a man of God
Pronounced a holy rite — and he was wed!
But she, the bride, was not the one who stood
With Harold by the river. She was fair
And Harold's bride was fair, but as a flower
Born in the wildwood was the fairy girl
Who plunged beneath the water — but the bride
Was as a lily nurtur'd all by art!