56 Spenserians with an introduction in couplets. The Desolation of Eyam describes a seventeenth-century outbreak of the plague in the Peak District. The story, which ends tragically, describes the heroic efforts of the pastor Mompesson and his wife Catherine to bring comfort to the afflicted. The manner of the Howitts' poem owes much to James Beattie's The Minstrel and Thomas Campbell's Gertrude of Wyoming, while the theme appears derived from Robert Southey's Tale of Paraguay (1825), all written in Spenserians.
Authors' note: "The preceding poem presents, as nearly as poetry may do, actual events. The picture of domestic happiness and generous exaltation of character, and of subsequent distress, exhibited in the lives of William and Catherine Mompesson, is replete with poetic beauty and pathos. For the most complete detail of this awful tragedy, we would refer our readers to 'Anecdotes of Illustrious Characters,' and 'Rhode's Peak Scenery'" p. 41.
Bernard Barton to William Jerdan: "Forgive me if I am bold suitor for a friend — but I have another, or rather a pair.... They are just about bringing out another little Volume of Verse, to be called The Desolation of Eyam and Other Poems, by Wm. and Mary Howitt— I expect it will appear early next month, and I trouble thee with this to bespeak for it, at least thy kind and candid perusal. Of its contents, except the titles of one or two pieces, I know nothing — but I cannot help auguring well of it — At any rate I cannot refrain from expressing my wish that it may find thee in a propitious mood, the priority of thy notices, and the wide circulation of the Literary Gazette — render its Verdict no matter of light moment" 21 April 1827; in Literary Correspondence, ed. James E. Barcus (1966) 68-69.
Literary Gazette: "There is much talent and equal good feeling displayed in the pages of this little volume. Flowers flung in the broad highway, fresh and pleasant, and associating themselves with our kindly thoughts and affections.... We shall best praise the work before us by likening it to the little fountain itself so prettily describes, — a soft spring known by its musical murmur, and by the green leaves which shoot forth and grow fresh in the falling of its dewy spray" (23 June 1827) 386-87.
John Bowyer Nichols: "Eyam is a retired parish, celebrated as the scene of Christian heroism displayed by the Rev. William Mompesson, a predecessor of Mr. [Thomas] Seward in the Rectory, during a great plague, which raged there in 1666, the year following that in London. See an account of the circumstances, composed by Miss Seward, in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. LXXI. i. 300; and some letters written by Mr. Mompesson at the period, in Anecdotes of distinguished Persons, by William Seward, Esq. A Poem has also been published on the subject, intituled: The Desolation of Eyam; by William and Mary Howitt, authors of the Forest Minstrel and other Poems" Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-58) 6:47n.
Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "William and Mary Howitt have together pursued literature with a success which has been great indeed. The wife is one of the best lyrists of the day, excelling in ballad poetry; the husband, a bold and vigorous writer also. To both, the English and American public are indebted for translations of the works of Miss Bermer, Miss Carlin, and other foreign writers of fiction. Mrs. Howitt has herself written several novels" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 3:171n.
Extensive quotations, engravings of Eyam, and information about the historical events recounted in the poem appear in William Hone, The Table Book (1828) 482-95.
INTRODUCTION; — THE PEAK.
Land of green hills, and fairy dales,
Of fountains and of streams!
Again the sun thy region Hails
With beauty in his beams.
The leaves, in light and crisped pride,
Are clustering on each mountain side.
Thy shrubby tors and spires of grey
Shine clear and solemn through the day.
The lily of the valley opes
Its pure bells on thy wooded slopes.
The trembling cistus waves its gold
On tufted bank, and cliff-top bold.
The orchis and the bee-flower blow
Sweet in the grassy glen below.
The light bird's-cherry hangs its flag,
In snowy splendour, from the crag.
Thy beautiful waters — how they fly!
Sparkling and pure, as beams the sky
Down on their fleet and wandering way,
Through banks rich with the wild-wood spray.
'Tis joy! 'tis joy! to wander here
In the green glory of the year!
So deep the flower-crop in thy vales;
So light and freshly flit the gales
O'er thy soft slopes and verdant hills;
The sky-lark's song so sweetly fills
The soothed ear, from morn till night,
Soaring in his entranced flight,
As if to heaven he fain would go
Telling of all the bliss below;
Within thy sun-lit, leafy dells
The soul of solitude so dwells;
Is shed so on the cliffs around;
So rises in the eternal sound
Of living waters, rushing o'er
Their rock-bed, with a sea-like roar;
Such brightness fills the arched sky:
So quietly the hill-tops lie
In sunshine, and the wild-bird's glee
Rings from the rock-nursed service tree:
Such a delicious air is thrown,
Such a reposing calm is known
On these delightful hills,
That, as the dreaming poet lies
Drinking the splendour of the skies,
The sweetness which distils
From herbs and flowers — a thrilling sense
Steals o'er his musing heart, intense,
Passive, yet deep; the joy which dwells
Where nature frames her loneliest spells.
And Fancy's whispers would persuade
That peace had here her sojourn made,
And love and gladness pitched their tent,
When from the world, in woe, they went.
That each grey hill had reared its brow
In peaceful majesty, as now.
That thus these streams had traced their way
Through scenes as bright and pure as they;
That here no sadder strain was heard
Than the free note of wandering bird;
And man had here, in nature's eye,
Known not a pain, except, to die.
The sun still shone, the gales flew bland
Over this pleasant fairy-land,
Hidden by a spell — a place of light
Through the world's long and barbarous night.
Poets may dream — alas! that they
Should dream so wildly, even by day—
Poets may dream of love and truth,
Islands of bliss, and founts of youth:
But, from creation's earliest birth,
The curse of blood has raged on earth.
Since the first arm was raised to smite
The sword has travelled like a blight,
From age to age, from realm to realm,
Guiding the seaman's ready helm.
Go! question well — search far and near,
Bring me of earth a portion here.
Look! is not that exuberant soil
Fraught with the battle's bloody spoil?
Turn where thou may'st, go where thou wilt,
Thy foot is on a spot of guilt.
The curse, the blight have not passed by
These dales now smiling in thine eye.
Of human ills an ample share,
Ravage, and dearth, domestic care,
They have not 'scaped. This region blest
Knew not of old its pleasant rest.
Grandeur there was, but all that cheers,
Is the fair work of recent years.
The Druid-stones are standing still
On the green top of many a hill;
The fruitful plough, with mining share,
At times, lays some old relic bare;
The Danish mell; the bolt of stone,
To a yet ruder people known;
And oft, as on some point which lies
In the deep hush of earth and skies,
In twilight, silence, and alone,
I've sate upon the Druid-stone,
The visions of those distant times,
Their barbarous manners, creeds and crimes,
Have come, joy's brightest thrill to raise,
For life's blest boon in happier days.
But not of them — rude race — I sing;
Nor yet of war, whose fiery wing,
From age to age, with waste and wail,
Drove from wide champaign, and low vale,
Warrior and woman: child and flock,
Here, to the fastness of the rock.
The husbandman has ceased to hear
Amidst his fields the cry of fear.
Waves the green corn — green pastures rise
Around, — the lark is in the skies.
The song a later time must trace
When faith here found a dwelling-place.
The tale is tinged with grief and scath,
But not in which man's cruel wrath,
Like fire of fiendish spirit shows,
But where, through terrors, tears, and woes,
He rises dauntless, pure, refined;
Not chill'd by self, nor fired by hate,
Love in his life, — and even his fate
A blessing on his kind.
Joy to thy course, young traveller, as the speed
Of thy exulting spirit leads thee now,
Wherever brighter land, or braver deed
May call thee forth, a worshipper, to bow.
Joy to thy course, young traveller, for thou
Hast been a fairy dreamer from thy birth,
In thy glad home hast bent, with constant brow,
O'er charmed lore, and tale of high-souled worth,
Till all that brightens heaven thou fondly deem'st on earth.
Fair scenes are shining round thee, fair, young eyes
Are beaming on thee love's entrancing light;
Then, while youth's buoyant spirit still denies
To feel earth's chillness, to discern its blight;
While thy warm sighs no sharp regrets excite;
And, even thy tears, like the sweet dews of May,
Are scatterings from a fountain of delight,
Come lend thine ear a moment to my lay,
For 'tis of souls like thine, — the noblest of their day.
Among the verdant mountains of the Peak,
There lies a quiet hamlet, where the slope
Of pleasant uplands wards the north-winds bleak;
Below, wild dells romantic pathways ope;
Around, above it, spreads a shadowy cope
Of forest trees: flower, foliage, and clear rill
Wave from the cliffs, or down ravines elope;
It seems a place charmed from the power of ill
By sainted words of old: — so lovely, lone, and still.
And many are the pilgrim feet which tread
Its rocky steeps; which thither yearly go;
Yet, less by love of Nature's wonders led,
Than by the memory of a mighty woe,
Which smote, like blasting thunder, long ago,
The peopled hills. There stands a sacred tomb,
Where tears have rained, nor yet shall cease to flow;
Recording days of death's sublimest gloom;
Mompesson's power and pain, — his beauteous Catherine's doom.
There dwelt they in the summer of their love.
He, the young pastor of that mountain fold,
For whom, not Fancy could foretell above,
Bliss more than earth had at his feet unrolled.
Yet, ceased he not on that high track to hold,
Upon whose bright, eternal steep is shewn
Faith's starry coronal. The sad, the cold
Caught from his fervent spirit its warm tone,
And woke to loftier aims, and feelings long unknown.
And she, — his pride and passion — she, all sun,
All love, and mirth and beauty; — a rich form
Of finished grace, where Nature had outdone
Her wonted skill. Oh! well might Fancy's swarm
Of more than earthly hopes and visions, warm
His ardent mind; for, joyous was her mood;
There seemed a spirit of gladness to inform
Her happy frame, by no light shock subdued,
Which filled her home with light, and all she touched imbued.
Her laugh was like the sun's forth-bursting shine
Upon the summits of her favourite hills;
Her playful tones thrilled with that spell divine
Which beauty, even into a sound, instils:
And yet, as when a passing shadow fills
Some fairy valley, darkening, yet the more
Augmenting its wild beauty — when life's ills,
Or solemn hopes upon her spirit bore,
With what pathetic thought her melting soul ran o'er.
So lived, so loved they. Their life lay enshrined
Within themselves and people. They reck'd not
How the world sped around them, nor divined;
Heaven, and their home endearments fill'd their lot.
Within the charmed boundary of their cot,
Was treasured high and multifarious lore
Of sage, divine, and minstrel ne'er forgot
In wintry hours; and, carolled on their floor,
Were childhood's happy lays. Could Heaven award them more?
Abroad, they hailed around ten thousand friends
Mountains and valleys; flitting light and shade,
Caves, waters, winds; whatever lives, or lends
Its being, or its beauty to the aid
Of that soul-kindling charm which has arrayed
Those Alpine haunts. With these they loved to dwell,
In sunny hours; in Dovedale's elfin glade;
Chatsworth's green bowers; Monsal's Arcadian dell;
Or sterner tracks, where thought's more awful influence fell.
So lived, so loved they. But, as in the calm
Of a hot noon, a sudden gust will wake;
Anon clouds throng; then fiercer squalls alarm;
Then thunder, flashing gleams, and the wild break
Of wind and deluge: — till the living quake,
Towers rock, woods crash amid the tempest, — so
In their reposing calm of gladness, spake
A word of fear; first whispering — dubious — low,
Then lost; — then firm and clear, a menacing of woe:
'Till out it burst, a dreadful cry of death;
"The Plague! the Plague! "The withering language flew,
And faintness followed on its rapid breath,
And all hearts sunk; as pierced with lightning through.
"The Plague! the Prague!" No groundless panic grew;
But there, sublime in awful darkness, trod
The Pest; and lamentation, as he slew,
Proclaimed his ravage in each sad abode,
Mid frenzied shrieks for aid — and vain appeals to God.
Then rose the lover — then the mother rose
In Catherine's heart — her children she embraced;
Her knee on earth, her forehead with the throes
Of terror pale, wildly herself she cast
Before her lord. — "Fly, ere the hope be past
Fly! let us fly! 'Tis madness here to be.
The vast metropolis became a waste
Before this deadly pestilence: — and shall we
These blessed ones expose? Heaven! Nature bid us flee!"
Her cheek was blanched, — paleness, as mountain snow,
Was on her features; but her eloquent eye
Beamed with all woman's tenderness — the glow
Of loftiest mind; but, ere he spoke reply,
Faded the glow, — the passion had passed by.
She rose — and gazing on her children, where
In innocent fear and wonder they drew nigh,
Tears gushed amain, and her maternal air
Told that her soul's chief pain and sorrow centred there.
"I know," she said, "I know, my loved one, thou
Wilt not depart. Thy high resolve I read;
Nor longer seek thy generous heart to bow.
God be our shield! Oh God! behold our need!
But these?" — Then sprang, as from enchantment freed,
Mompesson to his noble Catherine's breast;
"Aye, they shall go — haste thou their flight to lead.
Nay, dost thou pause? Yield'st thou not this request?
Then God indeed shield thee! His will decide the rest."
They went — those lovely ones, to their retreat.
They went — those glorious ones, to their employ;
To check the ominous speed of flying feet;
To quell despair; to soothe the fierce annoy,
Which, as a stormy ocean without buoy
Tossing a ship distressed, twixt reef and rock,
Hurried the crowd, from years of quiet joy
Thus roused to fear by this terrific shock;
And wild, distracted, mazed, the pastor met his flock.
But ardent, strong, armed with that heavenly faith,
His glowing theme through length of happier days
He buried in his heart all sense of scath,
And framed his words their smitten thoughts to raise:
"Alas! beloved friends! Alas! where strays
Your wonted mind? What mean these signs of flight?
Is God unpitying, though he wrath displays?
Is the sun quenched when clouds obscure his light?
Oh! calm your trembling souls, be strong in christian might.
"And whither would you fly? Can the wide world
Afford a hope of safety here unfound?
Here mountain gales their pinions have unfurled;
Wide space extends; sweet waters pour around.
We breathe not here, as in the tainted bound
Of a huge city. Health will soon return,
But, like some wretch whom sudden flames confound,
You rush abroad uncertain aid to earn,
And what you might subdue, the winds give power to burn .
"Here we may strive and conquer, and may save
Our country from this desolating curse;
Some few, perchance, may fill an earlier grave;
But, if ye fly, it follows, and ye nurse
Death in your flight; wide, wider ye disperse
Destruction through the land. Oh then! bow down
And vow to Him, to virtue ne'er averse,
To stand unshrinking 'neath Death's fiercest frown.
Then Heaven shall give us rest, and earth a fair renown."
They heard, and they obeyed, — for, simple-hearted,
He was to them their wisdom and their tower;
To theirs, his brilliant spirit had imparted
All that they knew of virtue's loftier power;
Their friend, their guide, their idolized endower
With daily blessings, health of mind and frame;
They heard, and they obeyed; — but not the more
Obeyed the plague; no skill its wrath could tame;
It grew, it raged, it spread; like a devouring flame.
Oh! piteous was it then that place to tread,
Where children played and mothers had looked on,
They lay, like flowers plucked to adorn the dead;
The bright-eyed maid no adoration won;
Youth in its greenness, trembling age was gone;
O'er each bright cottage hearth death's darkness stole;
Tears fell, pangs racked, where happiness had shone.
But turn we now from scenes of boundless dole,
And cull one simple tale from the funereal roll.
"There are my native mountains," cried aloud
A gallant youth, as his exulting view
Caught, like a dim and distant range of cloud,
The Peak's blue ridges. There he stood, and drew
With a deep pause, his breath; the bright tears grew
In his fixed eyes, then, with a sudden bound,
Onward he towards that hilly region flew;
And now, he lightly trod the ascending ground;
And now, those fairy dales, and green hills hemmed him round.
Oh! if thy birth-place is not of the hills;
If thou, in thy sweet childhood, hast not known
What a wild joy the youthful bosom fills
Amidst the tempest's and the torrent's tone,
Warring in some stern solitude alone,
Or, leaping down the steep's rejoicing side,
When morning's splendour, and glad voices thrown
From cliff to cliff, send joy and beauty wide,
Thou know'st not with what heart along those dales he hied.
His home was in those mountains, and a home
Filled with the history of his early years,
The sun of affluence lit its ample dome;
And there a father's pride, a mother's tears,
A sister's generous love; all that endears
And chains the heart to one enchanted spot,
Were hoarded there, and there a thousand fears
Had woke for him in one, whose humble lot
Was blessed to be borne, whilst by him unforgot.
Yes; he had loved! 'Twas with a boyish love,
But not a boy's caprice, a mountain flower,
Lowly, but lovely. The sweet passion throve
Triumphantly thro' many a summer hour;
But fell, as love is wont, beneath the power
Of a proud father's glance, who hoped, with skill,
To pluck that blossom from its sheltering bower;
Strong was his love, but pride was stronger still,
And doomed his only boy the victim of his will.
And therefore in the greenness of his age,
Sent with a famous captain of the time
(For to a day long past refers my page,)
To quench in wonders love's delightful crime,
Tossed on the sea, from distant clime to clime,
He on a marvellous pilgrimage was cast!
The new-found world, with all its scenes sublime
Before his ardent spirit strangely passed,
And each succeeding realm seemed fairer than the last.
But how had sped his father's chief intent?
Oh! lovers need not ask, for love will know.
As o'er the sea, mid summer isles he went,
Gazing on Chimborazo's heights of snow;
Breasting with gallant ship the mighty flow
Of Amazonian river, or La Plate,
Midst dusky tribes, he only seemed to know
One wish uncrowned, — to Ellen to relate
All these delicious scenes, and story of his fate.
And here he was again — before his eyes,
Rose, like a bosky island, from the dell
A wood-crowned, rocky rampart; there Eyam lies;
And there his Ellen, and his parents dwell.
Oh! what quick feelings in his bosom swell;
An eager tremor hurries every limb;
Sweet Fancy holds him by her brightest spell;
Fear's hovering cloud, nor Sorrow's visage dim,
Haunted the happy dream, which came alone to him.
There is a dell, the merry school-boy's sling
Whirled in the village, might discharge a stone
Into its centre; yet, the shouts which ring
Forth from the hamlet travel, over blown,
Nor to its sheltered quietude are known.
So hushed, so shrouded its deep bosom lies,
It brooks no sound, but the congenial tone
Of stirring leaves, loud rill, the melodies
Of Summer's breezy breath, or Autumn's stormier skies.
A nook more fair never disclosed its sweetness
To the glad gaze of heavenly shapes, which ran
Through the world's solitudes, with winged fleetness,
Ere evil deeds had left on earth their ban;—
To forest Dian, — jolly-hearted Pan;
Or wilder spirits, of that later race,
Who came in song from the bright East, till man,
Inquisitive and bold, in every place
Had dared their rites to view, their wood-walks to deface.
Northward, from shadowy rocks, a wild stream pours;
Then wider spreads the hollow — lofty trees
Cast summer shades; it is a place of flowers,
Of sun and fragrance, birds and chiming bees.
Then higher shoot the hills. Acclivities
Splintered and stern, each like a castle grey,
Where ivy climbs, and roses woo the breeze,
Narrow the pass; there, trees in close array
Shut, from this woodland cove, all distant, rude survey.
But its chief ornament, a miracle
Of Nature's mirth, a wondrous temple stands,
Right in the centre of this charmed dell,
Which every height and bosky slope commands.
Arch meeting arch, unwrought of human hands,
Form dome and portals. On its roof the air
Waves leafy boughs; the Alpine flower expands;
It seems a spell-constructed bower, the care
Of Maugraby the stern, or of Banou the fair.
This was the haunt of Raynal's boyish feet.
It was a spot all coloured with the flame
Of earliest love's communion, doubly sweet
From memory and long absence. Here he came,
Led by their power, his homeward path to frame;
When hark! — a sound! — it issued from the dell;
A solemn voice, as though one did declaim
On some high theme; it ceased and then the swell
Of a slow, psalm-like chaunt on his amazement fell.
A moment, listening in profound surprise,
He stood, — then, bursting through that woody screen,
What vision of strange aspect met his eyes!
In that fantastic temple's porch was seen
The youthful pastor; lofty was his mien,
But stamped with thoughts of such appalling scope,
As rarely gather on a brow serene;
And who were they, on the opposing slope,
To whom his solemn tones told but one awful hope?
A pallid, ghost-like, melancholy crew,
Seated on scattered crags, and far-off knolls,
As fearing each the other. They were few.
As men whom one brief hour will from the rolls
Of life cut off, and toiling for their souls'
Welcome into eternity — they seemed
Lost in the heart's last conflict, which controls
All outward life — they sate as men who dreamed;
No motion in their frames — no eye perception beamed.
But suddenly, a wild and piercing cry
Arose amongst them; and an ancient man,
Furious in mood — red frenzy in his eye,
Sprang forth, and shouting, towards the hollow ran.
His white locks floated round his features wan;
He rushed impatient to the valley rill;
To drink, to revel in the wave began,
As one on fire with thirst; then, with a shrill
Laugh, as of joy, he sank — he lay — and all was still.
Then from their places solemnly two more
Went forth, as if to lend the sufferer aid;
But in their hands, in readiness, they bore
The charnel tools, the mattock and the spade.
They broke the turf — they dug — they calmly laid
The old man in his grave; and o'er him threw
The earth, by prayer, nor requiem delayed;
Then turned, and with no lingering adieu,
Swifter than they approached, from the strange scene withdrew.
But where was Raynal? Smitten, as by thunder,
A dread, unearthly vision seemed to dance
Before his view — a statue of pale wonder
He stood. — till starting forth, as from a trance,
He deemed again delusion in his glance—
Once more he listened for that thrilling scream—
The breeze alone sighed through the still expanse;
The spectral group, like figures of a dream,
Had fled — yet there the grave lay by the moaning stream.
'Twas Sabbath eve, but yet no sabbath sound
Came from the village; — no rejoicing bells
Were heard; no groups of strolling youths were found,
Nor lovers loitering on the distant fells.
No laugh, no shout of infancy, which tells
Where radiant health and happiness repair;
But silence, such as with the lifeless dwells,
Fell on his shuddering heart, and fix'd him there,
Frozen with dreams of death, and bodings of despair.
His home! — his blessed home! — the quenchless light
Of his long wanderings; — why should I unveil
Its hollow silence, and disastrous night?—
His love! — Alas! it is a joyless tale!
And little boots it now, or may avail,
To mourn a broken heart — for centuries still.
Where the bee wanders with her merry hail,
High, midst the heath-bells of a southern hill,
Their green and dewy graves the unconscious sufferers fill.
The Plague had triumphed — Death, Dismay and Gloom
Had made high carnival; the people fell;
Yet quailed not the survivors, till the tomb
Refused them even its refuge; — till the bell
Ceased, in despair, its long, continuous knell;
And with it, ceased the last of living sound.
Stripped of love's life, the few were left to dwell
In moody apathy; and Horror round;
Waved her tremendous wings o'er the untrodden ground.
Yet, on thro' all, unfearing, and unharmed,
Mompesson and his Catherine had sped;
As God's peculiar grace their frames had charmed
From the Plague's might. The dying and the dead,
The fear-sick heart, the wretch from whom had fled
In his delirious fury all beside,
They sought, they soothed, and holy comfort shed;
Or the last boon to mortal need supplied,
Scattering through that thick gloom, a heavenly light as wide,
O patriots pure! O virtue-crowned pair!
Grey eld than yours can boast no nobler name.
Time has shewn glorious spirits which could dare
Death for their country, in the hour of fame.
Thus Codrus died: Thermopylae became
Freedom's eternal watchword: Curtius sprung
Into the burning gulph: to death and shame
Attilius moved; and those proud deeds have rung
Through every age and land on wonder's blazoning tongue.
And it was well — though nations watch'd their doom.
But not for you Fame spread her splendid lure;
Hid 'mongst your mountains in the secret bloom
Of life and love, amidst a race obscure,
Yet dared ye death; nay, nerved even to endure
Its ghastliest terrors, the plebeian throng;
Vowing your lives your country to secure;
Unseen, unsoothed, in holiest patience strong;
Nobler, for ye hoped less, than those high names of song.
But now hope gleamed abroad. The Plague seemed staid;
And the loud winds of Autumn glad uproar
Made in the welkin. — Health their call obeyed,
And Confidence her throne resumed once more.
Nay, joy itself was in the Pastor's bower;
For him the Plague had sought, its final prey;
And Catherine pale, and shuddering at its power,
Had watched, had wept, had seen it pass away,—
And joy shone through their home like a bright summer's day.
The sudden fear woke memory in her cell;
And tracing back the brightness of their being;
Their love, their bliss, the fatal shafts which fell
Around them — smote them — yet, even now were fleeing;
Death unto numbers, but to them decreeing
Safety; — rich omens for succeeding years,
In that sweet gaiety of spirit seeing,
Theirs was that triumph which distress endears;
And gladness which breaks forth in mingling smiles and tears.
So passed that evening: — but, still midnight falls
And why gleams thence that lamp's unwonted glare?
Oh! there is speechless woe within those walls:
Death's stern farewell is given in thunder there.
Mompesson wrapt in dreams and fancies fair,
Which took their fashion from that evening's tone,
At once sprang up in terror and despair,
Roused by that voice which never yet had known
To wake aught in his heart, but pure delight alone.
"My William!" faint and plaintive was the cry,
And chill the hand which fell upon his breast—
"My dearest William, wake thee! Oh! that I
With such sad tidings should dispel thy rest.
But death is here!" With agony possessed,
He snatched a light — he saw — he reeled — he fell.
There, in its deadliest form prevailed the pest.
Too well he knew the fatal signs — too well;
A moment — and to life — to happiness farewell!
Frantic with grief he clasped her — and to heaven
A passionate prayer he threw; — he madly thought
The grasp of death asunder to have riven,
In that incredulous wonder which is wrought
When that which lives and loves, at once, is brought
To be as nothing; — and the rebel mind
Fights fiercely with its destiny; untaught
By all that time should teach: for feeling, blind,
Heeds not — though thought assents — alarms by Heaven designed.
But Catherine's breast no fear, nor passion knew.
She thought not of herself. Her parting soul
Was bathed in tenderness. Her words, like dew
In twilight gloom, o'er his wild frenzy stole.
"Oh! calm thee, dearest one — Oh! yet control
Thy grief, while thus communion is allowed;—
Time speeds — Death calls — a moment, and the whole
Of Catherine, rescued from the oblivious shroud,
For thee, will live alone in hope death may not cloud.
"In that clear hope whose radiant wings now raise
My spirit; — in the faith which thou hast fed;
And in the precious memory of those days
Which here, where now we sever, we have led.
Yes! ours on earth lies been a pathway spread
Surely with every joy which heaven can yield,
Save in its perpetuity; — now fled,
In memory be their redolence revealed.
It shall! — I know thy heart! — and it shall yet be healed.
"Hence springs my solace, — though I see thy grief,
I know that God on earth has need of thee;
And will sustain thee in time's sojourn brief.
And those dear, dear remembrancers of me,—
Oh! could I clasp them! — but, it cannot be—
Heaven on their lovely heads its goodness shower!—
It will! — it will! — and thou, in them, shalt see
The soothing balm, the Eternal One will pour
Into thy bruised heart — till meet our souls once more."
She ceased — and that tremendous silence flung.
On love's last accents, with astounding close,
Startled the mourner, who still fondly clung
To the dear lips whence now no murmur flows.
Bowed to the dust by passion's wildest throes,
Through the long night he wrestled with despair;
But the day dawned upon him — he arose;
The christian grew victorious in his prayer,
Which, though it stanched not grief, had given him power to bear.
One word: — and thro' the unconscious household
The fleet alarm: — one lightning-winged cry
Shot through the hamlet; and a wailing grew,
Wilder than when the plague-fiend first drew nigh.
One troublous hour, — and from all quarters fly
The wretched remnant, who had ceased to weep;
But sorrow, which had drained their bosoms dry,
Found yet fresh fountains in the spirit deep,
Wringing out burning tears that loved one's couch to steep.
'Tis o'er — the shock most terrible of all—
The trembling, sinking sufferer has stood,
And heard the clods, which smite the heartstrings, fall;
And felt the sick'ning soul — the freezing blood;
Then, from the sobbing crowd — the bursting flood
Of sorrow, stealing, like a ghost away,
Through the dim, wintry hours the mourner's mood
He nursed in silence, till spring's jocund day,
Chased, from the hallowed spot, his mirthless soul for aye.
Bright shines the sun upon the white walls wreathed
With flowers and leafy branches, in that lone
And sheltered quiet, where the mourner breathed
His future anguish; pleasant there the tone
Of bees; the shadows, o'er still waters thrown,
From the broad plane-tree; in the grey church nigh,
And near that altar where his faith was known,
Humble as his own spirit we descry
The record which denotes where sacred ashes lie.
And be it so for ever; — it is glory.
Tombs, mausoleums, scrolls, whose weak intent
Time laughs to scorn, as he blots out their story,
Are not the mighty spirit's monument.
He builds with the world's wonder — his cement
Is the world's love; — he lamps his beamy shrine,
With fires of the soul's essence, which, unspent,
Burn on for ever, — such bright tomb is thine,
Great patriot, and so rests thy peerless Catherine.