The Rival Sisters: a Poem, in Three Cantos.

Narrative Poems on the Female Character, in the various Relations of Life. By Mary Russell Mitford.

Mary Russell Mitford

83 Spenserians: a moral and sentimental tale that turns on the opposing manners and characters of a bold and retiring sister. The elder sister, Mary, is a homely peasant girl while her sister Grace, raised by an aunt in high life, is vain and deceitful. Each sister gains the husband she deserves. Mary Russell Mitford's poem alludes to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, though the manner adopted in this simple tale is that of James Beattie's The Minstrel.

Mary Russell Mitford: "For the flimsy plot and hurried catastrophe of The Rival Sisters it seems scarcely necessary to apologise — 'Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?'" (New York edition, 1813) x.

John Pye Smith to Mary Russell Mitford: "Your 'Sisters' is marked with the same character as all your other writings — the same power of description, the same views of nature, the same fluency of style — but it left off just where I would go on. Just as I had worked myself up, and begun to be in love, and to make love as I used to do, you left me, and dissipated all the sweet delusion of your scenery. It is really only the beginning of a poem, and as I had not my pencil in my hand, and did not note the few words that struck me, I shall not at present criticise further than by remarking you have repeated the figure of the diamonds as descriptive of dew-drops, whereas I prefer Collins's 'gemm'd' with morning dew as more general, or 'brilliants' as a softer word, and that you have used the word 'lit' instead of lighted. By the way, let me observe that there is quite incident enough for your description. Poetry merely descriptive is like mere landscape in painting without figures, or a fine scene in a tragedy, which when you have gazed on it for a while, you begin to wish for the actors" 9 April 1812; in L'Estrange, Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford (1882) 50-51.

Francis Hodgson: "Pathos is the proper sphere of female poets; and we strenuously recommend to Miss Mitford's attention some pathetic subject. We need not suggest to her discretion that intense tenderness must have frequent though not sudden intervals of remission; that, in order to make us weep sincerely, she must not call too often for our tears; and that, when they are relieved by a smile, the contrast should be that of the sun after an evening shower, decisively yet softly visible" review of Mitford, Poems; Monthly Review NS 68 (July 1812) 319.

British Critic: "We think that the ability of the author to write 'Narrative Poems on the Female Character' is here sufficiently proved" 42 (1813) 237.

Monthly Recorder [New York]: "The Rival Sisters is written in the stanza of Spencer. Its story is extremely simple, and though serious, has not the deep tragic cast of Blanch, or its heart-rending distress. Mary and Grace are the rival sisters; Mary had been bred, and always lived, in a cottage. She was mild, affectionate, and yielding. Grace, the younger sister, was, by a wealthy aunt, early removed from her mother's cot, and brought up in the pomp of opulence; her character was widely different from that of her sister; proud, imperious, and unbending. Sir Walter Mowbray became enamoured of Mary; the day for their union was appointed; Grace came to attend her sister's marriage, and artfully caught the affections of the fickle knight, who still could not but admire the virtues of her whom he had abandoned, and the undiminished affection with which she conducted herself towards her worthless sister. But Mary found in Lord Claremont a more constant lover. Mowbray chose Grace for her beauty, and their married life was a scene of contention. Claremont chose Mary for her worth, and their wedlock produced undiminished happiness. This tale bears the same general character as the former, and with much less plot, is, in our opinion, more highly finished" 1 (May 1813) 114.

La Belle Assemblee: "Her first attempts at poetry gave promise of no ordinary excellence; and, encouraged by the praises of several of her father's friends, who stood high in the estimation of the literary world, she published a small volume of miscellaneous poems. These early effusions were marked by uncommon delicacy of feeling, by a graceful vein of fancy, and by singular sweetness of metre and ease of expression. They were shortly after followed by two narrative poems, Christina,or the Maid of the South Seas, and Blanch, both of which possessed considerable interest as tales, and yet greater merit as poems, and were attended with considerable success. There is a vividness in these poems — a feeling of the fresh air diffused over them, which makes them peculiarly delightful as contrasted with the gaudy and fading exotics which ladies too often prefer. They are thoroughly English, and exquisitely feminine" "Miss Mary Russell Mitford" NS 27 (June 1823) 239-40.

Happiness is like virgin snows,
As soft, as smooth, as gay:
The leveret's step on its surface shows,
And the rustling pine-leaf the linnet throws;
While the beam in whose ruddy light it glows,
For ever melts its charms away.

Content is like the meadow's breast,
Blooming with herbs and flowers:
No hillock betrays the skylark's nest;
No track remains where the arm'd hoof press'd;
And when the scythe shall its beauty wrest,
'Twill spring more fair in vernal hours.

The song has ceas'd. If song indeed it were,
That in one cheerful sweet monotony,
Sooth'd with its warblings faint the morning air,
Like the wild music of the summer bee,
Or wintery robin's dearer melody.
The song has ceas'd. But still the humming sound
Of rustic wheel that join'd the harmony,
Tells where the busy songstress may be found,
And guides the wanderer's steps along the turfy ground.

And one there was, who, from the shady wood,
Survey'd, with quick delight, the pleasant scene;
Deep in a verdant lawn a cottage stood
Circled by antique groves — save that between
One narrow arch, the distance smil'd serene:
Its spires, and hills, and towns, and sparkling streams
Contrasting with the darkly-fring'd ravine,
Or flowery path, where the tall forest gleams,
And rears its stately head, and brightens in the beams.

Nor yet alone upon the crested oak,
Fell with its lustre sheen that orient ray:
Sweetly it kiss'd the light and curling smoke,
That from the cottage chimney wreath'd its way;
Sweetly on the white walls it seem'd to play,
Seen but by snatches through the clustering vine;
And on the quick-hedg'd garden, trimly gay;
And on the lowly porch, where jasmines twine
With honeysuckle pale and modest eglantine.

But chiefly the bright beam of morning shone
On her, who plied the wheel before the door.
His eyes the wanderer shaded from the sun,
Long on the songstress maid intent to pore,
And turn'd to go, yet came to gaze once more:
Charm'd, and much wondering what the charm could be
That fix'd, with magic power unfelt before,
Him who had hung on woman's dangerous glee,
And yet more dangerous sigh — and boasted, "I am free!"

It was not beauty: for, in very truth,
No symmetry of features deck'd the maid.
Was it the vivid blush of early youth;
The Hebe lip where changeful dimples play'd;
The flaxen locks whose crisped ringlets stray'd
O'er the blue dove-like eyes serene and mild;
The rose-tipp'd fingers that her toil betray'd;
The rounded form, luxuriantly wild,
Of woman's graces full; — the face so like a child?

Or was it the expression, calm and even,
Which tells of blest inhabitants within;
A look as tranquil as the summer Heaven;
A smile that cannot light the face of sin;
A sweetness so compos'd that passion's din
Its fair unruffled brow has never mov'd;
Beauty, not of the features nor the skin,
But of the soul; — and loveliness best prov'd
By one unerring test — No sooner seen than lov'd?

Such were the charms that fix'd the wanderer's eye,
And staid his steps to watch the youthful fair;
Her dress, accordant with her industry,
Spoke her some happy peasant's blooming care;
A simple cap confin'd her flowing hair,
A snowy 'kerchief veil'd her bosom sheen;
No covering hid her arms of beauty rare,
And underneath her robe of brightest green,
In a rude slipper cas'd, one fairy foot was seen.

Yet though so simple the fair rustic cot,
So plain its fairer inmate's modest dress,
No trace of poverty deform'd the spot,
Saddening young joy with pictures of distress.
Rather it seem'd, as searching eyes might guess,
Of humble competence the calm retreat;
And visions of scarce-imag'd happiness
Made the young stranger's pulses quicker beat,
And woke the passing thought, — A cot with her how sweet!

Whilst thus he gaz'd, looking his soul away,
An upper casement on its hinges rung,
And a small hand, white as the ocean spray,
Upon the clustering vine recumbent hung:
Swift at the sight, the songstress maiden flung
Her wheel away, and sought the flowery mound,
Where many a cherish'd tender blossom sprung,
Where nice exotics wintery shelter found,
And artificial showers refresh'd the parching ground.

A sprig of myrtle, gay with pearly flowers
And coral-tinctur'd buds, the maiden chose;
The rich geranium next, — then to the bowers
Of native sweets she turn'd, and pluck'd a rose;
A mossy rose whose beauty brighter shows
Through its light sparkling dew-drops! — binding fast
The offering, which with her own graces glows,
Back to the door with sylph-like bound she past,
And round a stately maid her snowy arms she cast.

'Twas beauty's very self her arms embrac'd!
Beauty so perfect, that the Grecian form,
"Which fix'd proportion and gave laws to taste,"
Seem'd but a copy of those graces warm.
Her figure was majestic, as the storm
That broods upon the mountain; — and her face,
Dazzlingly fair and bright and uniform,
As the refulgent sun 'mid cloudless space,
When in the summer noon he runs his ardent race.

Yet in those faultless features and that shape,
So slender, yet so round, a varying line,
A look which, scarcely seen, seems to escape,
Likeness which all can trace and none define,
Seem'd in its bonds the cottage maids to twine.
Though the majestic fair one's golden hair
Broke from the comb that would its pride confine:
Though, as her breast, her flowing robe was fair,
And each nice fold betray'd the toilet's pleasing care;

Full hard it were the secret source to trace
Of that resemblance undefinable:
For not more different was the blooming face
Where smiling innocence had fix'd her cell,
From that where grandeur rode in beauty's shell;
Than the luxuriant figure round and low,
Which like a chubby babe's in dimples fell,
From that, whose towering stature seem'd to grow
With every sudden turn, and every gesture slow.

And still more different seem'd the breathing soul,
Which in the stranger maid's fine features spoke:
The self-admiring glance uncheck'd that stole;
The smile of proud contempt; the frown that broke
Her snowy brow, with beauty-killing stroke;
The cheek, now pale, now flush'd with ardent glee,
As bent to envy's or to passion's yoke;
All seem'd to say, In this fair creature see,
How bright, yet how unlovely, beauty's form may be!

All seem'd to say; nor was the voice unheard,
Though the heart's core it reach'd not by the ear:
But the young stranger keen remark deferr'd,
His first, his favorite maid, to see, to hear.
Though little caught he of those accents clear,
Yet they their kindred and their names reveal—
"Did Mary's song awake thee, sister dear?
Or com'st thou, Grace, the blush of morn to steal?"
Scarcely the words he caught — long he the voice shall feel.

A voice it was so sweet, so musical,
So sighing, yet so cheerful, that it press'd
Upon the ear, like the low dying fall
Of the dear bird of night — when from her nest
With her sweet melody she soothes to rest
Each angry passion and each worldly thought.
Flinging a summer feeling o'er the breast,
Came that soft voice, with peace and gladness fraught:
Oh what of joy and love might not such tones have taught!

Yet though she spake again, and though he stood
Listening, not with his ear, but with his soul;
No other word across the envious wood
Could the rapt stranger hear beneath the knoll.
Faint, sweet, and indistinct, her accents stole;
But he could watch his Mary's lovely face;
Could read on Grace's features passion's scroll;
And, well I ween, was none more skill'd to trace
Good humor's witching charm, or anger's louring race.

He saw the dear one round her sister's waist
One dimpled arm with gay affection fling,
Whilst on fair Grace's snowy breast she plac'd
Her new-blown flowers — the treasures of the spring.
But not one smile arose on cherub wing,—
One grateful smile, to say, How dear thy care!
Shrinking averse, as from a hornet's sting,
Mary's embrace she shunn'd with frowning air,
Nor need her chiding lips her proud contempt declare.

Yet long she seem'd to chide, and pluck'd at last
From her white bosom each balm-breathing flower;
Then on the gale the exil'd blossoms cast;
The gentler gale, which to love's secret bower
The myrtle bore, that still morn's dewy shower,
And his own Mary's sweeter breath retain'd.
There stood the maid, unconscious of her power,
Nor frown, nor pouting lip her beauty stain'd;
The look of joy was gone, the smile of love remain'd.

Temper! thy power more sweetly magical
Than that which grac'd of old Amphion's lyre,
Can savage hearts with wondrous spell enthral;
Can clear Suspicion's mists with gladdening fire;
Can chain in rosy bonds impetuous Ire;
Can melt the ice-bound heart of cold Disdain;
Can dying Love with vital breath inspire;
From every passion pluck the cancerous pain,
And seeming still to yield, lead captive all the train:

Save one alone — pale Envy, it was thou
That gav'st to Grace's heart the venom'd pang;
O never throned on so fair a brow!
Nor ever deeper didst thou strike thy fang,
Than when the smile to Mary's features sprang,
As from her sister's side she turn'd away,
To tend a dove, whose plaintive murmurs rang
Through the thick vine in faint melodious lay,
Seeking her tender care, through each revolving day.

Lovely, but drooping, was the lonely bird,
Sav'd from the fowler's half-successful aim;
Startled and trembling at each sound it heard,
Save when its gentle mistress breath'd its name,
And smooth'd its ruffled breast; Oh, then so tame
Was the mild warbler, that it lov'd to spring
From its close shelter to the fostering dame,
And, drooping on her breast its wounded wing,
Peck at her rosy lip, and softer murmurs sing.

And on her bosom now it lay reclin'd—
Soft as its pillow! when in boisterous play
Grace seiz'd the fluttering bird, and sought to bind
Around its downy neck a collar gay;
The startled favorite quickly flew away;
Mary with breathless speed its flight pursued:
Then first in Grace's eye shone pleasure's ray,
While her sweet sister turn'd with strength subdued,
And, at the cottage door, her graceful toil renew'd.

Yet, as she turn'd, her burning blushes dried
The tear-drop on her cheek that glitter'd sheen,
And her soft smiles soon check'd the gushing tide;
For she her dear lamented bird had seen
Caught by a stranger youth of noblest mien;
Had mark'd his glance, where awe and fondness strove;
Had guess'd what sprig he held of brightest green:
And, blushing, view'd her myrtle and her dove,
Love's emblems! deep enshrin'd in the warm breast of love.

Thou heavenly blessing of the earthly breast,
Whether or Love or Charity thy name,
That in one gentle heart a cherish'd guest,
Would'st in another wake a kindred flame;
Droop not, immortal Love! tho' vain thy aim,
Nor close thy trembling wings in anguish'd pause!
Chang'd, but not lost, thy haven is the same;
For, sure as steel obeys the magnet's laws,
So sure a purer flame the outcast Love shall cause.

The seeds we scatter on a barren rock,
The tempest's angry breath may sweep away;
Yet to the valley wafted by the shock,
And firmer planted by its boisterous sway,
There may they brave unhurt the wintery day;
And peep and brighten in the showers of spring;
And, shelter'd from the sun's oppressive ray,
Through the mild hours of summer blossoming,
Reach their autumnal prime, and golden harvests fling.

So was it now: The quick and anxious throb
Which stirr'd the plumage of the sleeping dove,
As, sooth'd on Frederic's breast, its gasping sob
And fluttering heart were quieted by love;
That throb had power his faltering voice above,
The passions each fair sister rous'd, to tell;
For Mary, it was all that love could prove;
For Grace, contemptuous indignation's swell;
And anger fann'd the flame which sweetness lit so well.

Now in the wood he lies, beneath a birch
Which overspreads a winding narrow stream;
His eyes the shallow waters seem to search,
Though nor the pebbles that transparent gleam,
Nor slender grass that intercepts the beam,
One wandering thought have stolen or conscious glance:
For he is listening to the dearest theme
That ever fill'd a youthful lover's trance,
Nor would he lose one sound for Europe's wide expanse.

To tales of those we love, all sense is ear;
Patience exhaustless; and enamor'd youth
Holds garrulous age too brief, and bends to hear
A grandame's praise, or nurse's tale uncouth,
As wisdom speaking from the lips of truth;
Affection's cravings still unsatisfied,
Long Frederic listen'd to the aged Ruth,
Who seated on a beech root by his side,
Of Mary's goodness told with all a nurse's pride.

O never since the nurse that Shakspeare drew—
(Shakspeare or Nature — are they not the same?)
Was tongue so prone, or memory so true,
To give to childhood's pranks affection's fame.
Each spot that they survey'd, some tale could claim:
In yonder path the dying lamb she found;
Pluck'd on that bank sweet cowslips for her dame;
And with her simple breakfast totter'd round,
To feed the gipsey's child beneath yon woody mound.

How sweet the forest seem'd to Frederic's eyes,
Of Mary's infant sports the happy scene!
Still on the bank the seeded cowslips rise;
And still the ashes on the wither'd green,
Tell where the gipsey's recent camp has been;
And half he deem'd in that lone path to view
The lovely babe o'er the dead lambkin lean;
Its stiffening limbs with freshest flowrets strew,
And bathe the cold mild face with childhood's holy dew.

And Frederic smil'd as, at the wand of truth,
The painted visions, rear'd by fancy, fled;
And by his side the old and feeble Ruth
Appear'd alone in her fair nursling's stead;
Yet from her lips he learn'd that, humbly bred,
His Mary's father was their curate good;
Who, whilst in paths of righteousness he led
His happy flock, death's early victim stood,
And left a lovely wife to cheerless widowhood.

Two cherub children liv'd to soothe her care,
And beautiful it was to see young Grace
Hide in her elder sister's bosom fair,
From each admiring eye, her blushing face;
And beautiful it was to see them chace,
Like bounding fawns, the woodland paths along,
Till flush'd and breathless with the merry race,
The sportive babes, lull'd by the wood-lark's song,
Slept in each other's arms the forest shades among.

But soon a wealthy aunt the younger bore,
Reluctant, from her weeping mother's arms.
Unhappy Grace! Oh never, never more
Shall thy chang'd heart enjoy such simple charms;
Or feel such hope as now thy bosom warms,
Again to share thy sister's fond caress!
Unhappy Grace! — Ah sure the fond alarms,
Which rent sweet Mary's breast with kind distress,
Presag'd you ne'er again should know such happiness!

Long was it ere they met: rear'd in the dome
Of splendid opulence in cities gay,
Grace Neville soon forgot her cottage home,
And the dear partner of her simple play.
Command dwelt in her look; and all gave way,
Obedient to the infant beauty's frown;
She was the theme of every minstrel's lay;
Her smile was happiness, her praise renown,
And added conquests still her ripening beauties crown.

Mary, the whilst, an humble cottage maid,
Pursued her simple path in gay content;
Ne'er from her native home her wishes stray'd,
To those far walls, where, in soft durance pent,
In mirth and sloth her sister's hours were spent:
Except that when she breath'd the breeze of morn,
Or on the rustic gate at evening leant,
A wish, of fondness and of pleasure born,
Would spring, that Grace were there, to share and to adorn!

Ah! little deem'd she that to Grace's eye,
No joy the breathing charms of morn could bring;
The roseate blushes of the eastern sky;
The dews, seen through the mists, which seem to fling
Cold trembling diamonds on the lap of spring;
The varied verdure of the breezy grove;
The brook where swallows skim with glancing wing;
The fragrant gale; the clouds that roll above;
Such scenes the vain can see, nor feel one touch of love.

To taste the bliss which scenes like these inspire,
Belongs but to the pure and blameless breast,
Where never selfish wish, or low desire,
Or vain ungenerous thoughts disturb its rest.
As in the stainless mirror, brighter drest,
And lovelier far the finish'd landscape seems,
So in the virtuous bosom, doubly blest,
Nature in all her radiant beauty gleams,
And snatches higher grace from intellectual beams.

Nor yet alone could Nature's loveliness
Bring bliss to Mary's heart, or charm her sight;
Much she enjoy'd the merry idleness,
What time she led the dance in moonshine bright;
And better still she lov'd in winter's night,
At her dear mother's side to sit and pore,
By the quick blazing faggot's flickering light,
On wild Arabia's sweetly magic lore,
Glowing with strange delight, yet trembling evermore.

Her's too the joy, which those, who proudly live
In gorgeous mansions and in courtly state,
Oft know not, or despise, — The joy to give:
Not the gay baubles, which in equal rate
They take and give — the commerce of the great!
Not Charity, that flies to distant lands,
And leaves unfed the beggar at the gate;
Nor the cold boon, with which reluctant hands
Would bribe the trump of Fame at Vanity's commands.

Of humble usefulness how cheap the power!
Little she had, but kindness made it dear:
The cordial cup, press'd from the cowslip's flower,
Or elder-berry rich, or currant clear;
The homely meal, enrich'd with pity's tear,
Which oft the lone unfriended wanderer fed;
The smile of power the sinking heart to cheer;
And cares which hovering round the sleepless bed,
Oft in their rosy chains the fiend Disease have led.

Such were the tales the happy lover heard
Of her by age belov'd, by youth admir'd;
And much he wish'd, yet fear'd, to speak the word,
To know if none a softer passion fir'd;
To know if her dear heart, still uninspir'd,
Held yet unsear'd by love its healthful beat;
Ruth shook her head, as faltering he inquir'd,
"Has no one sought that flower, so fair, so sweet?"
And soon her story came with wondrous change replete.

"Yes; many a youth had caught from Mary's eye
The spark which kindles love's devouring flame,
And many a broken phrase and smother'd sigh
Had told soft secrets to the lovely dame.
But none so well could hopeless passion tame,
Dismiss the lover, and retain the friend;
At once refuse, yet seem her fate to blame,
And wayward heart, which would, yet could not, blend
With those whose honest worth might prouder maidens bend.

"At length a youthful knight the valley sought,
To join the may-day sports beneath the tree;
Handsome and gay, with grace and riches fraught,
And the near kinsman of our Lord was he;
Sir Walter Mowbray call'd:" — Ruth did not see
The blushes which on Frederic's features play'd.
Nor heard him softly sigh — "And can it be!
Is this then, Mowbray, thy sweet cottage maid!
And is it thy betroth'd, that has my heart betray'd!"

Ruth heard him not: but reckless of his smart
Pursued in simple guise her artless tale;
And told how Mary won Sir Walter's heart,
And how, resistless as th' autumnal gale
Scatters the leaves when withering frosts assail,—
Ev'n so his sighs upon the anxious breast
Of the fond mother, sick and poor, prevail;
And Mary, wondering if the stranger guest
That stirr'd her heart were love, — obey'd her kind behest.

"If love it were, 'twas love resembling fear!
A strange dislike from humble peace to roam;
Aversion to the rank he held so dear,
The sumptuous equipage, the splendid dome,
Serv'd to endear the more her native home.
And she would say, 'Does it not seem to thee
That the light sea-weed, floating on the foam,
Must happier than yon lotos-blossom be
In leaden bason pent? — happier, for it is free!

"'And yet that lotos, on th' Egyptian wave,
Enjoy'd its native sun, its freshening shower;
Till brought to northern climes, a torpid slave,
And nurs'd to sickly life in art's warm bower,
See how it seems to mourn, poor languid flower!
The fancied charms, which forc'd it here to pine!
Ah! Mowbray, should I, in some after hour,
Sigh for the humble blessings I resign,
To share thy splendid lot, — Will not such fate be mine?'

"So (as with Mowbray o'er the fair domain
Of Claremont's Lord she roam'd,) the maiden said:
A sunny smile, sweet, transitory, vain,
Around her lovely mouth full archly play'd;
And the fond youth, not by such threat dismay'd,
Press'd her to name the blest, th' important day,
When he (O happiest!) from her native glade,
The sweet unfading flower should bear away,
To bloom in softer skies, and brighter charms display.

"The day was fix'd, when, as Sir Walter's bride,
Sweet Mary from her peaceful home should go.
Yet much she long'd, in Grace's arms to hide,
On that auspicious morn, doubt's painful glow;
And bid her tears on that white bosom flow,
Which could to infant grief such balm impart;
And Grace obey'd her call: and came to show
Proud man's inconstancy, — Vain woman's art;—
The serpent's glittering form, and worse than serpent's heart.

"Canst thou not guess that which I hate to tell?
Grace Neville's beauty might a world ensnare;
And lur'd from Mary by her witching spell,
Mowbray beheld and lov'd the worthless fair.—
She rose to breathe with him the morning air;
She echo'd every strain that Mowbray sang;
If the cool grove he trod, he found her there:
She in the evening dance to meet him sprang;
And in the moonlight walk their mutual carols rang.

"Successful were her arts. — Nor Mary strove
To win again the heart she once had fir'd:
She gain'd her mother's blessing to their love,
With difficulty gain'd — and then retir'd,
(E'en by the changeful youth rever'd, admir'd,)
To cheerful toils, contentment, and repose.
Whilst, not by love but vanity inspir'd,
To-morrow's bridals Grace's empire close,
And from her native plains, the Lady Mowbray goes."

Still Frederic listen'd, though the tale was told:
Rousing at length, to the good dame he turn'd;
And his sweet gracious thanks, more than his gold,
Might claim the tear that on her bosom burn'd.
Oh! how false Mowbray's fickle vows he spurn'd,
Yet blest th' inconstancy his soul despis'd!
Ah, ye such mingled feelings well have learn'd,
Who loving one, by faithless fools mispriz'd,
In wrongs that left her free, have joy'd and sympathis'd!

Ye best can tell with what contemptuous hate
And scornful pity Frederic's bosom glow'd,
For the false fair, whom even-handed fate
Plung'd in the gulph from whence their treachery flow'd.
"O comfortless and wretched your abode
Will be," he cried, "ye cold and heartless twain!
How different from her calm and peaceful road,
Whom sweetness leads and virtue's lovely train!"
He said, and left the woods to view her charms again.

'Tis blest, as rare, when nature's glories find
Man's jarring soul in such pure harmony,
That every charm strikes from th' accordant mind,
A sweeter tone of higher extasy!
'Twas now the loveliest hour of fair July:
The birds in silence sought their verdant cell,
Save that one chirp, soft as a lover's sigh,
Simple yet joyous, scarce distinguish'd fell,
And seem'd of peace and rest the warring world to tell.

The gentle lamb now sought her mother's side;
Whilst the shy bat, quick glancing o'er the stream,
Seem'd like some airy fleeting shade to glide:
Transparent in the horizontal beam
The elmin leaves like pendent emeralds gleam;
And, piercing every western dell, the sun
Rich glories threw, till each rude nook, I deem,
So bright in its illusive lustre shone,
That eastern Kings had own'd their jewel'd thrones outdone.

And lovely as the gay and cheerful glow
Of thy retiring beams, bright orb of light!
From whose blest fount, hope, joy, and being flow,
Ev'n such as thou, so beautiful, so bright,
So good is Temper to our mental sight!
Ev'n as thy rays each craggy path illume,
And flash their glories on the brow of night,
So can she chase the intellectual gloom;—
The sun that gladdens life, the torch that lights the tomb.

Frederic had watch'd each transitory charm
Of earth and sky, from the refulgent hue
That universal nature seem'd to warm
With undestroying fires, more bright to view
Than Etna or Vesuvius ever knew;
Till now that twilight wraps her sable stole
Round wood and sky; and the refreshing dew
Seems o'er the mead in vapory clouds to roll,
Or gem the slender grass beneath each woody knoll.

Dear to the lover's heart the twilight hour!
The hour when fancy's potent dreams enthrall,
And mingling hope and love's bewitching power,
Charm each bewilder'd sense, and chain them all.
O what sweet dreams obey the Syren's call
Of ceaseless bliss and exquisite delight!
Ev'n so to dream is joy! — Joy that would fall,
Like snow-wreaths in the sun, at morning light—
Reason is day's stern Queen! — Wild fancy rules the night.

Yet dearer even than that magic dream
It is, to linger round her lov'd abode,
Who, like the polar star's benignant beam,
Points to the haven of bliss, and lights the road.
The wavering flame that through the casement glow'd,
Capricious blazing from the cottage fire,
At times a swift and graceful shadow show'd;
The cheerful soul could ev'n the shade inspire,
With its own airy grace, and charms that cannot tire.

Young Frederic stood upon the very spot
Where his ear drank in love at early morn:
And now he saw the Sisters leave the cot,
With one, at once his hatred and his scorn,
With Mowbray, he the heartless and forsworn!
Mary alone advanc'd beyond the door,
And pausing, with a charm of kindness born,
"Will you not come, dear Grace, and tread once more
The scene of early bliss, our nurse's humble floor?"

"Will you not come?" As if to tempt her forth,
Peer'd, o'er the feathery grove, the silver moon,
Darting her pallid light from south to north
And lending to the world a milder noon;
Still Grace refus'd; "Mary, grant thou my boon,"
Sir Walter cried, "and I with thee will go;"
And Mary smil'd and paus'd, but answer'd soon,
"Why wilt thou tempt me thus to empty show?
Why force me still to say, my kindest brother, no?"

"In sooth, the show thou scorn'st, my gentle dame,
Is the heart's hope of many a lovely girl;
For never yet rank's proud and beamy flame
Play'd round a fairer brow than Claremont's Earl;
I would but guide him to the modest pearl,
Which by my brighter diamond shines so fair:
Those charms that ne'er were made for village churl,
I would but to a genial region bear,
And show to courtly crowds my chosen, peerless pair.

"I ask thee but one week with us to stay
At Claremont Hall, and canst thou then refuse?
Desert thy sister on her bridal day?
Fly from a brother who so humbly sues?"
"Nay, Mowbray, mock not thus my lowly views,
Nor teach my Grace to scorn her sister's name.
Blest may you be, and well your blessings use!
Honor wait on you, riches, health and fame!
Each holy hope fulfill'd, and every virtuous aim!

"For me — Oh, leave me here! content, to cheer
My tender mother through declining age;
Leave me, nor yet believe, my sister dear,
(Though far from courtly Claremont's bustling stage,)
To-morrow's joy will any heart engage
More deeply, or with fewer tears between;—
Nor will I hide it in my hermitage;
The tabor shall our youthful friends convene,
And Mary lead the dance along the village green.

"I am no guest for Claremont Hall — Farewell!"
Sweet was her smile as lightly forth she sprang.
Gay Mowbray sigh'd, — and something seem'd to swell
Within his breast, as the resounding clang
Of the clos'd door, which through the cottage rang,
Proclaim'd his chafing lady's angry mood:
And even as he gaz'd, he felt a pang,
Insulting though he were — Both of one blood,
He thought, and both so fair! — Ah, why not both so good?

Frederic the converse heard across the court,
And Grace's rage compar'd to his was cool;
"With Mary's virgin coyness dost thou sport,
Judging her soul by thine, officious fool!
And is Lord Claremont then thy destin'd tool?"
Pausing he strove imperious wrath to curb,
And with sweet Mary's art his passions school;
Till now she skims across each dewy herb,
Whilst scarce her bounding steps the timid hare disturb.

'Twas in a path where the bright moon-beams slept,
And Mary saw and knew the stranger youth;
Half-starting with surprise, yet still she kept
Her fearless way tow'rds the low cot of Ruth.
Frederic advanc'd: — For manly grace, in sooth,
Few forms with his could vie: — Yet earnest love
In manner loses what it gains in truth;
And ne'er ungracefully did Frederic move,
Till to sweet Mary's hands he gave her rescued dove.

Half caught the maiden his confusion sweet,
Whilst flinging her light basket from her hand,
His piercing eyes her modest glances meet,
All as to clasp the bird her arms expand.
Her quicker breath the dove's light plumage fann'd,
As if her innocent joy she strove to check:
Yet still she strok'd its wing, with gesture bland,
Still laid her cheek against its glossy neck,
And show'd how childhood's joys can lovely woman deck.

Yes! If a friend I sought, it should be one
Who to such childish pleasures knows to bend:
Who seeks the shell upon the sea-beach thrown,
And the light weed where shape and coloring blend;
Whose feet the wild, untrodden dell descend
To seek the primrose pale, the violet fair,
The robin's nest from plunderers to defend,
With the young brood her simple viands share,
And smile with blameless joy at each successful care.

For good and happy is the glowing breast
Whence, universal love! thy essence springs!
What though wit's carping tribe, proudly unblest,
Mock at the bliss thy joyous spirit brings:
What though they hold the beauties nature flings
And her free denizens, as parts so small
Of this fair world, such vile and useless things
As wisdom scorns, and folly dooms to fall:
Yet she whom genius loves has care and love for all.

Frederic, delighted, view'd the gentle maid;
The more delighted, for his piercing look
Soon guess'd she would not fly his proffer'd aid;
Mary her bird, and he the basket took,
And as they pass'd, each glen and darkling nook,
And every silvery path to converse led.
For terror soon each generous mind forsook,
And they had gaily reach'd Ruth's humble shed,
Ere either heart had deem'd that half their way was sped.

And yet, in sooth, as slowly had they walk'd
As if their lingering steps could bribe old Time
To stop his fleeting sand-glass while they talk'd;
Or win the moon to stay her course sublime
And list young Frederic's wild and ardent rhyme,
And Mary's song, his sweetest recompense.
Nor e'er, thou silvery moon, in any clime
Rose sweeter offerings to thy heavenly sense,
Than love's enthusiast lay and warbling innocence.

Sweet was it to the lover's heart to mark
How Ruth on Mary's gentle accents hung,
Whilst, wisely cheerful as the matin lark,
Kindness and comfort mingling from her tongue,
And plenty from her liberal hand, she flung.
Yet envied he the goodness he admir'd,
When with a parting kiss from Ruth she sprung:
And with a new and scarce-own'd wish inspir'd
To charm as she was charm'd, from the lone cot retir'd.

Silent awhile they walk'd. — It was a pause
That calm and gay indifference never knew;
Each throbbing heart could well explain the cause,
And fear'd, yet long'd the converse to renew.
Frederic began — "Why does each spot I view
Which as I came I lov'd, now wake my fear?
'Tis that they say — I soon must bid adieu
To her whose sweet companionship would cheer
Arabia's lonely wilds, or Lapland's ice-bound year.

"Nay shake not thus thy head, sweet monitress!
This is no fancy of the sickly brain,
Born of bright moonshine and calm loneliness,
And fading in the morning light again:
Still dost thou smile? list then a humbler strain,
List, nor refuse thy lowly suppliant's prayer!
Didst thou not say, that quitting the gay train
Who to Lord Claremont's sumptuous halls repair,
Thou on the village green to-morrow's dance shouldst share?

"Thou hast refus'd to join the courtly group;
A peasant gains the bliss denied a peer!
Mary, were I that peasant, I would stoop
To gaze on kings as from a higher sphere!
Oh make me then thus happy, maiden dear,
And deign with me to lead the rustic dance!"
In her sweet smile he found no cause of fear,
And caught the joy that could his soul entrance,
Before she whisper'd "yes," from her accordant glance.

Yet, from some lurking feeling, Frederic ask'd,
(Could it be jealousy?) "Hast thou e'er met
The youthful Earl, who in one blaze has bask'd
Of prosperous fortune, never troubled yet
Till now that Mary scorns his coronet:
Know'st thou Lord Claremont?" "No! I know him not.
Yet when I hear his virtues, I regret
For one short moment my calm humble lot,
And the strong bar that parts the castle from the cot:—

"I go not there — for I am here so blest!
Why should I risk thy precious peace, content?
Why seek by flattering tongues to be caress'd
Then rudely from the fickle bosom rent,
And left to pine, to pity, to lament?
No, Frederic, here, upon my native green,
I mourn no friendships lost, no hours mispent.
Nay vanity itself endears the scene,
There I a slave should be — and here I am a queen.

"The fairy queen — Titania, merry sprite!
To-morrow eve, we hold our revels gay;
Now, Oberon, we part! — A fair good night!"
She cried, and airy as the sprightly fay
Bounded from Frederic's side alert away;
And gain'd her cottage home; and dreamt, I deem,
Not of the coming morn's superb array,
But of her waking vision's new born theme:—
O shadow of a shade! — Is it not all a dream?

Ye lovely dames, beneath whose nuptial state,
The proud earth trembled as it pass'd along,
Tell, for ye can, the honors that await
The beauteous idol of the courtly throng!
Tell, for ye can, that ev'n while bards prolong
In praise of the fair bride the mirthful hour,
Ev'n in the dance, the banquet, and the song,
The heart returns to its dear native bower;
And doubt, the mildew, hangs in love's expanded flower.

For ye, sweet maids! — needless it were to tell,
How lightly tripp'd at eve upon the plain,
Young Frederic and the nymph, whose powerful spell
Had bound him in the strong though flowery chain
That Temper weaves and never weaves in vain.
Beauty but traces letters on the sand;
Temper engraves on brass. And the bright swain
Who own'd in Mary's form her soft command
As Frederic won her heart, as Claremont gain'd her hand.

And needless 'twere to tell that Mary's life
In virtue pass'd, and bliss that cannot cloy:
Whilst Grace with Mowbray wag'd incessant strife,
And found in every blessing some alloy.
For wedlock, like the Amreeta cup, brings joy
Unfading to the gentle and the good:
But in the fierce and wicked can destroy
Love, peace, and hope; and rushing through the blood
Deathless, yet killing not, give wrath perpetual food!

[New York (1813) 163-206]