The White Doe of Rylstone. Canto V.

The White Doe of Rylstone; or the Fate of the Nortons, a Poem. By William Wordsworth.

William Wordsworth

Quarterly Review: "In the fifth Canto, Emily appears, watching the arrival of news, upon the top of Norton tower, when the old man returns, and relates, as gently as he could, the sad tidings which he had to impart. He had found her father in prison, and Francis (though not as a prisoner) with him. He then mentions a conversation which he had witnessed between these two; in which old Norton had charged his son to regain, if possible, the banner, and to lay it upon St. Mary's shrine at Bolton Abbey, as a memorial of the purity and disinterestedness of the motives for which he had risked all that was dear to him....The promise was scarce given, when the officers appeared, and old Norton and his eight sons were led forth to execution. The scene is described with considerable effect. Before them went a soldier bearing the banner in question; as soon as Francis perceived it, he went up, and, with a look of calm command, took it from him, and immediately departed, making his way through the crowd with the banner in his hand" 14 (October 1815) 219-20.

Thomas Noon Talfourd: "Perhaps the highest instance of Wordsworth's imaginative faculty, exerted in a tale of human fortunes, is to be found in The White Doe of Rylstone. He has here succeeded in two distinct efforts, the results of which are yet in entire harmony. He has shown the gentle spirit of a high-born maiden gathering strength and purity from sorrow, and finally, after the destruction of her family, and amidst the ruin of her paternal domains, consecrated by suffering. He has also here, by the introduction of that lovely wonder, the favourite doe of his heroine, at once linked the period of his narrative to that of its events, and softened down the saddest catastrophe and the most exquisite of mortal agonies.... All who have read the poem aright, will feel prepared for that apotheosis which the poet has reserved for this radiant being, and will recognise the imaginative truth of that bold figure, by which the decaying towers of Bolton are made to smile upon its form, and to attest to its unearthly relations" "On the Genius and Writings of Wordsworth" New Monthly Magazine (December 1820); Talfourd's Miscellaneous Writings (1869) 58.

High on a point of rugged ground,
Among the wastes of Rylstone Fell,
Above the loftiest ridge or mound
Where Foresters or Shepherds dwell,
An Edifice of warlike frame
Stands single (Norton Tower its name,)
It fronts all quarters, and looks round
O'er path and road, and plain and dell,
Dark moor, and gleam of pool and stream,
Upon a prospect without bound.

The summit of this bold ascent,
Though bleak and bare, and as seldom free
As Pendle-hill or Pennygent
From wind, or frost, or vapours wet,
Had often heard the sound of glee
When there the youthful Nortons met,
To practise games and archery:
How proud and happy they! the crowd
Of Lookers-on how pleased and proud!
And from the heat of the noon-tide sun,
From showers, or when the prize was won,
They to the Watch-tower did repair,
Commodious Pleasure-house! and there
Would mirth run round, with generous fare;
And the stern old Lord of Rylstone-hall,
He was the proudest of them all!

But now, his Child, with anguish pale,
Upon the height walks to and fro;
'Tis well that she hath heard the tale,—
Received the bitterness of woe:
Dead are they, they were doomed to die;
The Sons and Father all are dead,
All dead save One; and Emily
No more shall seek this Watch-tower high,
To look far forth with anxious eye,—
She is relieved from hope and dread,
Though suffering in extremity.

For she had hoped, had hoped and feared,
Such rights did feeble nature claim;
And oft her steps had hither steered,
Though not unconscious of self-blame;
For she her Brother's charge revered,
His farewell words; and by the same,
Yea by her Brother's very name,
Had, in her solitude, been cheared.

She turned to him, who, with his eye
Was watching her while on the height
She sate, or wandered restlessly,
O'erburdened by her sorrow's weight;
To him who this dire news had told,
And now beside the Mourner stood;
(That grey-haired Man of gentle blood,
Who with her Father had grown old
In friendship, rival Hunters they,
And fellow Warriors in their day)
To Rylstone he the tidings brought;
Then on this place the Maid had sought:
And told, as gently as could be,
The end of that sad Tragedy,
Which it had been his lot to see.

To him the Lady turned; "You said
That Francis lives, he is not dead?"

"Your noble Brother hath been spared,
To take his life they have not dared.
On him and on his high endeavour
The light of praise shall shine for ever!
Nor did he (such heaven's will) in vain
His solitary course maintain;
Not vainly struggled in the might
Of duty seeing with clear sight;
He was their comfort to the last,
Their joy till every pang was past.

"I witnessed when to York they came—
What, Lady, if their feet were tied!
They might deserve a good Man's blame;
But, marks of infamy and shame,
These were their triumph, these their pride.
'Lo Francis comes,' the people cried,
'A Prisoner once, but now set free.
'Tis well, for he the worst defied
For sake of natural Piety;
He rose not in this quarrel, he
His Father and his Brothers wooed,
Both for their own and Country's good,
To rest in peace — he did divide,
He parted from them; but at their side
Now walks in unanimity—
Then peace to cruelty and scorn,
While to the prison they are borne,
Peace, peace to all indignity!'

"And so in Prison were they laid—
Oh hear me, hear me, gentle Maid!
For I am come with power to bless,
To scatter gleams through your distress
Of a redeeming happiness.
Me did a reverend pity move
And privilege of ancient love,
But most, compassion for your fate,
Lady! for your forlorn estate,
Me did these move, and I made bold,
And entrance gained to that strong-hold.

"Your Father gave me cordial greeting;
But to his purposes, that burned
Within him, instantly returned—
He was commanding and entreating,
And said, 'We need not stop, my Son!
But I will end what is begun;
'Tis matter which I do not fear
To entrust to any living ear.'
And so to Francis he renewed
His words, more calmly thus pursued.

"'Might this our enterprize have sped,
Change wide and deep the Land had seen,
A renovation from the dead,
A spring-tide of immortal green:
The darksome Altars would have blazed
Like stars when clouds are rolled away;
Salvation to all eyes that gazed,
Once more the Rood had been upraised
To spread its arms, and stand far aye.
Then, then, had I survived to see
New life in Bolton Priory;
The voice restored, the eye of truth
Re-opened that inspired my youth;
Had seen her in her pomp arrayed;
This Banner (for such vow I made)
Should on the consecrated breast
Of that same Temple have found rest:
I would myself have hung it high,
Glad offering of glad victory!

"'A shadow of such thought remains
To chear this sad and pensive time;
A solemn fancy yet sustains
One feeble Being — bids me climb
Even to the last — one effort more
To attest my Faith, if not restore.

"'Hear then,' said he, 'while I impart,
My Son, the last wish of my heart.
—The Banner strive thou to regain;
And, if the endeavour be not vain,
Bear it — to whom if not to thee
Shall I this lonely thought consign?—
Bear it to Bolton Priory,
And lay it on Saint Mary's shrine,—
To wither in the sun and breeze
Mid those decaying Sanctities.
There let at least the gift be laid,
The testimony there displayed;
Bold proof that with no selfish aim,
But for lost Faith and Christ's dear name,
I helmeted a brow though white,
And took a place in all men's sight;
Yea offered up this beauteous Brood,
This fair unrivalled Brotherhood,
And turned away from thee, my Son!
And left — but be the rest unsaid,
The name untouched, the tear unshed,—
My wish is known and I have done:
Now promise, grant this one request,
This dying prayer, and be thou blest!'

"Then Francis answered fervently,
'If God so will, the same shall be.'

"Immediately, this solemn word
Thus scarcely given, a noise was heard,
And Officers appeared in state
To lead the Prisoners to their fate.
They rose, oh! wherefore should I fear
To tell, or, Lady, you to hear?
They rose — embraces none were given—
They stood like trees when earth and heaven
Are calm; they knew each other's worth,
And reverently the Band went forth.
They met, when they had reached the door,
The Banner which a Soldier bore,
One marshalled thus with base intent
That he in scorn might go before,
And, holding up this monument,
Conduct them to their punishment;
So cruel Sussex, unrestrained
By human feeling, had ordained:
The unhappy Banner Francis saw,
And, with a look of calm command
Inspiring universal awe,
He took it from the Soldier's hand;
And all the People that were round
Confirmed the deed in peace profound.
—High transport did the Father shed
Upon his Son — and they were led,
Led on, and yielded up their breath,
Together died, a happy death!
But Francis, soon as he had braved
This insult, and the Banner saved,
That moment, from among the tide
Of the spectators occupied
In admiration or dismay,
Bore unobserved his Charge away."

These things, which thus had in the sight
And hearing passed of Him who stood
With Emily, on the Watch-tower height,
In Rylstone's woeful neighbourhood,
He told; and oftentimes with voice
Of power to encourage or rejoice;
For deepest sorrows that aspire,
Go high, no transport ever higher.
"Yet, yet in this affliction," said
The old Man to the silent Maid,
"Yet, Lady! heaven is good — the night
Shews yet a Star which is most bright;
Your Brother lives — he lives — is come
Perhaps already to his home;
Then let us leave this dreary place."
She yielded, and with gentle pace,
Though without one uplifted look,
To Rylstone-hall her way she took.—

[pp. 81-93]