Henry Glassford Bell

(1803-1874 / Scotland)

An Unrecorded Chronicle - Poem by Henry Glassford Bell

Roll back, roll back a hundred years,
Thou ever-rolling wheel of time ;
Restore again dead hopes and fears,
Exhume the undiscovered crime.

Why should the tale remain untold,
Or noiseless Lethe waft it by ?—
The actors in the scene are cold,
But human passions never die.

She had no child ; a fatal spell
Hung over the unfruitful bands ;
Without a child the title fell,
A stranger took her lord's broad lands.

They went away beyond the sea,
They found beneath another sky
An infant on a mother's knee,—
'What is there gold will fail to buy ?

A nameless infant,—was it sin
To snatch it from a hopeless doom,
Wrap it in ermine to the chin,
And cradle it in soft perfume ?

They took it home ; it was their own ;
The vassals welcomed it with joy ;
A bud, and then a flower half-blown,
A jocund, frank, and stirring boy.

But heaven is high; a change was wrought;
Would that the past were all undone !
A fruitful change the seasons brought,
She bore her own true lord a son.

Would that the past were blotted out!
'Was it for this the lie was told 1
For him, that nameless beggar's lout,
That vulgar chattel bought and sold !

She gazed upon her sleeping son,
Fairer than all the flowers of May ;
Her flesh and blood, her only one,
Whose birthright she had thrown away.

She cursed the floor on which he stept
Who bore an elder brother's name;
Into her heart a serpent crept,
And gnawed it like a smouldering flame.

Herbs have their juices,—nay, there lies
An essence in one golden flower
Beneath whose strength a giant dies,
Not instantly, but hour by hour.

Too slow for her; she marked each day
The flushing cheek, the wasted limb,
The smile that still would feebly play
Although the filmy eye was dim.

One morn the summer sun shone bright
Upon the curtains round his head,—
She looked, but there was no more light
For him who lay in that cold bed.

They buried him, for after death
Some things show stranger than before ;
They whispered in an underbreath,
' Why comes this blackness creeping o'er ? '

'Twas said her lord grow somewhat cold,
Twas said she oft was seen to brood
O'er some deep thought that was not told,
Then suddenly to change her mood.

But let her lord be cold or kind,
Or let her mood be stern or mild,
One constant rapture iilled her mind—
The growth of that late-granted child.

She watched him through all childhood's pains,
She watched him through youth's fervent hours,
She held him in the softest chains
That love ere wove of thornless flowers.

And when he stood upon the brink
Of manhood, bold and eagle-eyed,
And when his mother saw each link
Of her ambition clasped,—he died.

A sudden and a fearful doom,
His steed fell where the waters meet;
They bore him home in speechless gloom,
They laid him dead before her feet.

She did not swoon—she did not shriek—
She saw the red gash on his head;
Convulsively she tried to speak,
And in the trial reason fled.

She knew no human face again,
She would not stay within stone walls,
She sought the wild wind and the rain,
She sang by swollen waterfalls.

But most she lingered by the grave
Where that poor changeling's dust was laid,
By day or night it thrilled the brave
To hear the muttered words she said.

All semblance to herself was lost,
Her matted hair fell lank and gray,
She gibbered like an unlaid ghost,
And no one dared to cross her way.

She passed,—and it is all forgot;
But think you those three souls have met
Where fleshless spirit dieth not,
Or do they wait the judgment yet ?


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, October 16, 2010



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