23 Spenserians; a tale of the Crusades — or rather not a tale, since the Fragment consists of sentimental scenes rather than plot: "Can ever Edmund, by the battle's spoils, | The loss of genuine joys like these requite? | Where is the palm that equals Ellen's smiles? | Ah! where is the reward that thus repays his toils?"
Samuel Egerton Brydges: "I perceive, or think I perceive, that I have always held the same tenor of sentiment and expression, from the earliest poetry I have written, — if I may call it poetry. I like imagery, but am of opinion that it will not do, unaccompanied by sentiment and reflection. There is one thing more, which raises poetry into a higher class: this is, when the scenery, the facts, and the characters are imaginary. Once can write more freely in an imaginary character than in one's own, or that of any real person whose history is well known. It is this which is the essence of poetry, because it is invention, or creation. But we are not precluded from clothing real persons with imaginary feelings and qualities and circumstances" Autobiography (1834) 1:211.
In Richard's days, when many a war-worn knight,
From blood-stain'd fields of battles lost and won,
Where Europe's troops, array'd in armour bright,
Unfurl'd the banner'd cross before the sun,
Weary return'd, their race of glory run,
The remnant of their days to spend at last
In those calm mansions where their lives begun;
Where they might muse upon their perils past,
And on the gloom of age soft smiles their children cast;
Amid the throng St. Aubin's Baron came,
A man, whose generous heart and valiant hand
In Salem's fields had gain'd immortal fame:
Two years had gone, since first he led his band
From Cantia's vallies to the hallow'd land,
Stain'd by the infidel's unholy crew;
And left his lovely child's caresses bland;
His weeping wife's belov'd embraces flew,
Mid war on distant plains seek for danger new.
Forth with the peer a neighb'ring chieftain's heir,
Young Edmund, who had long for action pin'd,
Sallied, the darts of glorious death to dare,
And laurels round his boyish brow to bind.
A youth he was of truly noble mind,
Which in a form as noble was encas'd;
Bold as the lion, though as Pity kind;
Oft in his fancy he the foe had chas'd,
Then in his early dreams the goddess Fame embrac'd.
Soon as the long array began to move,
Joy in his mien, impatience in his eye,
Long his triumphant looks to hide he strove:
Yet when the beauteous Ellen's form came nigh,
Ellen, St. Aubin's only hope, the sigh
Rose from his inmost heart; the long farewell
The trickling tears could only now supply:
Nor dar'd he on futurity to dwell,
Nor could the rising thoughts of past enjoyments quell.
Sweet days, how blissful, did they know their bliss!
The days of childhood past in pure delight;
Th' unfeigned smile, the unimpassion'd kiss,
The tear that every toy can put to flight,
The careless day, and the unruffled night!
Can ever Edmund, by the battle's spoils,
The loss of genuine joys like these requite?
Where is the palm that equals Ellen's smiles?
Ah! where is the reward that thus repays his toils?
Yet e'en in Ellen's smiles of late infus'd
A little bitter ting'd the cup of joy;
For on her form no more at ease he mus'd,
Nor with her lily hand could safely toy!
When absent, still her image would employ
His restless fancy— — — — — — — — —
—— — — — — — — — — — — — — —
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — .
Nor could the priest, a proud and gloomy soul,
Who in the neighbouring abbey dwelt at ease,
Who oft in vain had striven to controul
The sallies that a lively spirit seize,
The wanton raptures of the boy appease:
Nor could the youth conceal th' indignant rage
Of generous anger, when the priest, to teaze
The sweet effusions of a tender age,
The dear enchantment chill'd with taunts and maxims sage.
Glad had the holy father seen him go;
And though with outward pomp and formal prayer
He sought of Heaven its blessings to bestow,
And make the gallant youth its chosen care,
Deep in his heart the inward hate he bare;
And while he ask'd aloud that he the wreath
Of future glorious victories might wear,
His kindest wish was, he might close his breath
In distant eastern fields by honourable death.
Many a fell danger, many an onset fierce
Had the bold chief endur'd with dauntless mind:
Yet still affection's anxious cares would pierce
His inmost heart for those he left behind.
Nor had th' array and din of war confin'd
His busy thoughts to Asia's crowded plains!
For his dear nuptial partner oft he pin'd;
Oft in his fancy's eye his daughter reigns;
And oft with tears his cheeks her rising image stains.
"O Heaven," he pray'd, "protect my faithful wife,
While now I fight with thy Barbarian foes!
Prolong her virtuous and instructive life
To soothe my little Ellen's childish woes;
To nourish every virtuous thought that grows
In her young bosom, and to guard her heart
From the vile hidden thorns that interpose
Too oft in outward flowers their cruel dart,
And wounds, no future balm can e'er remove, impart!"
But Heaven or heard not, or Heaven thought not fit
To grant the fond request: the mother died;
As the last pangs forewarn'd her, she must quit
Her lovely charge, "My dearest child," she cried,
"I go commanded hence; and be thy pride
To shew thy mother's cares have not been vain!
Let tenderest duty all thy actions guide;
And when Heaven's mercy o'er the fearful main
Bears thy lov'd father safe, his drooping age sustain!"
The mournful tidings many a weary day,
And many a tedious month were passing slow;
Ere yet to end his doubts they found their way,
And struck a fatal, e'en though lingering blow.
She, who, his hopes had whisper'd, would bestow
The crown on all his toils, in silent rest
Was with the dwellers of the grave laid low;
And all the dreams of future joys, that blest
His sanguine fancy, fled from his desponding breast.
But time, and busy scenes began to calm
His bosom's waves: Affection fond the form
Of his sweet child recall'd, to pour a balm
Into his wounds, and once again to warm
His hopes, o'erwhelm'd in Sorrow's chilly storm:
And when at length, with wreaths of glory bound,
Weary he left the tented field's alarm,
To seek for rest on Europe's distant ground,
New hopes in Ellen's smiles his rising fancy found.
Now safely landed on his native shore,
Many a long mile the pensive Baron pac'd,
And now o'er distant well-known hills once more
His castle's glittering towers he faintly trac'd:
Joy at the sight and Fear alternate chas'd
Each other through his palpitating breast:
Now gay in youth a daughter he embrac'd;
And now, as boding glooms his mind opprest,
His child a lifeless corse his longing arms carest.
Bolder the turrets rear'd their frowning height,
And more distinct the cross-sign'd flag display'd
Its flapping streamers to the approaching sight:
With beating hearts his little train, array'd
In order due, each tedious step upbraid;
Till now arriv'd within its inmost bound
The very courts their happy steps invade;
The horse's hoofs upon the drawbridge sound,
And the loud trumpet brays the mighty walls around.
Forth sallies from the hall the beauteous maid,
And trembling kneels before her father's feet;
Her streaming eyes her tender joy betray'd,
And her tongue faulter'd, and refus'd to greet
Her long-lost parent: but her lips repeat
The holy kiss, as, in his arms embrac'd,
The weeping Baron's dear caresses meet
Fondness unfeign'd, and all the raptures chaste
Of pure unmingled love a sire and daughter taste.
Now rings the hall with festive rights inspir'd;
Down the long tables, rang'd on every side,
The war-worn crew, with new sprung spirit fir'd,
Their cares and toils and dangers past deride;
And still as they repeat their travels wide
To list'ning trains who greet their glad return,
They long again to stem the spreading tide
Of mighty oceans, and again they burn
In distant eastern climes th' assailing foe to turn.
High at the top the lovely Ellen sits,
While her glad father with uncheck'd delight
Hangs on her tender smiles, and oft by fits
As the bold youth indulge their raptur'd sight,
Temper'd by distance, at the glances bright
Of her illumin'd face, her idol-form
Sinks in their hearts, and e'en her looks requite
The perils of the battle, and the storm;
Then wonder, love, and awe at once their bosoms warm.
Night came; and toil of body and of mind,
And spirits with a thousand feelings worn,
The Baron's aged frame had soon consign'd
To slumbers deep and sound; but ere the morn
Had climb'd the sky, he wak'd; and all forlorn
In that lov'd bed the partner of his days
Was wont to press, he found his bosom torn
With pangs reviv'd, which keener tortures raise;
And Grief's new-covered fires with double fury blaze.
His daughter's soothing voice, and sweet caress
Could ill his agonizing sorrow quell,
Though much he strove their tumults to repress,
And veil in smiles the trickling tears which fell
Adown his furrow'd cheeks, and spoke so well
What rankling wounds affection's breast can sting!
How vain the attempt to charm the solemn knell,
That still in Love's immersed ear will ring,
E'en though a dearest child her soft enchantment bring!
Yet still, as glided peaceful days along,
A calm began to steal upon his heart;
At Ellen's youthful wiles, at Ellen's song
A ray of cheerful light was seen to dart
Across his gloomy looks, and thence impart
Balm to his thoughts, and from his feeble frame
Drive by degrees Regret's consuming smart;
Of thrilling joy to spread the tender flame;
And back to earthly scenes his far-fled hopes reclaim.
Lovelier each hour the blooming maiden grew;
Her form with more luxuriant beauty glow'd;
Her soft cheeks wore a more enchanting hue;
Nor hadst thou, Nature, though thy bounty show'd
An outward shape so perfect, less bestow'd
In the full gifts of her accomplish'd mind;
There melting Sentiment had found abode;
There Fancy's rich creations were design'd;
There mimic Memory kept her brilliant forms enshrin'd.
O'er his dear charge the rapt St. Aubin hung,
With love the Muse herself can ill express;
Each morn, in haste impatiently he sprung
With Ellen's smiles his longing sight to bless;
Each morn within his fond embrace to press
Her, who on earth was now his only care;
Whose form ador'd e'en if with rude caress
The airs of Heaven should visit, he his prayer
With tears would upward urge his idol child to spare!!—