Joseph Rodman Drake

(1795-1820 / United States)

Extracts From Leon. An Unfinished Poem - Poem by Joseph Rodman Drake

IT is a summer evening, calm and fair,
A warm, yet freshening glow is in the air;
Along its bank, the cool stream wanders slow,
Like parting friends that linger as they go.
The willows, as its waters meekly glide,
Bend their dishevelled tresses to the tide,
And seem to give it, with a moaning sigh,
A farewell touch of tearful sympathy.
Each dusky copse is clad in darkest green:
A blackening mass, just edged with silver sheen
From yon clear moon, who in her glassy face
Seems to reflect the risings of the place.
For on her still, pale orb, the eye may see
Dim spots of shadowy brown, like distant tree
Or far-off hillocks on a moonlight lea.

The stars have lit in heaven their lamps of gold,
The viewless dew falls lightly on the wold,
The gentle air, that softly sweeps the leaves,
A strain of faint, unearthly music weaves;
As when the harp of heaven remotely plays,
Or cygnet's wail - or song of sorrowing fays
That float amid the moonshine glimmerings pale,
On wings of woven air in some enchanted vale.

It is an eve that drops a heavenly balm,
To lull the feelings to a sober calm,
To bid wild passion's fiery flush depart;
And smooth the troubled waters of the heart;
To give a tranquil fixedness to grief,
A cherished gloom, that wishes not relief.

Torn is that heart, and bitter are its throes,
That cannot feel on such a night, repose;
And yet one breast there is that breathes this air,
An eye that wanders o'er the prospect fair,
That sees yon placid moon, and the pure sky
Of mild, unclouded blue; and still that eye
Is thrown in restless vacancy around,
Or cast, in gloomy trance, on the cold ground;
And still, that breast with maddening passion burns,
And hatred, love, and sorrow, rule by turns.

A lovely figure! and in happier hour,
When pleasure laugh'd abroad from hall and bower,
The general eye had deem'd her smiling face
The brightest jewel in the courtly place:
So glossy is her hair's ensabled wreath,
So glowing warm the eye that burns beneath
With so much graceful sweetness of address,
And such a form of rounded slenderness;
Ah! where is he on whom these beauties shine,
But deems a spotless soul inhabits such a shrine?

And yet a keen observer might espy
Strange passions lurking in her deep black eye,
And in the lines of her fine lip, a soul
That in its every feeling spurned control.
They passed unnoted - who will stop to trace
A sullying spot on beauty's sparkling face?
And no one deemed, amid her glances sweet,
Hers was a bosom of impetuous heat;
A heart too wildly in its joys elate,
Formed but to madly love - or madly hate;
A spirit of strong throbs, and steadfast will;
To doat, detest, to die for, or to kill;
Which, like the Arab chief, would fiercely dare
To stab the heart she might no longer share;
And yet so tender, if he loved again,
Would die to save his breast one moment's pain.

But he who cast his gaze upon her now,
And read the traces written on her brow,
Had scarce believed hers was that form of light
That beamed like fabled wonder on the sight;
Her raven hair hung down in loosen'd tress
Before her wan cheek's pallid ghastliness;
And, thro' its thick locks, showed the deadly white,
Like marble glimpses of a tomb, at night.
In fixed and horrid musings now she stands,
Her eyes now bent to earth, and her cold hands,
Prest to her heart, now wildly thrown on high,
They wander o'er her brow - and now a sigh
Breaks deep and full - and, more composedly,
She half exclaims - 'No! no! - it cannot be;
'He loves not, never loved - not even when
'He pressed my wedded hand - I knew it then;
'And yet - fool that I was - I saw he strove
'In vain to kindle pity into love.
'But Florence! she so loved - a sister too!
'My earliest, dearest playmate - one who grew
'Upon my very heart - to rend it so!
'His falsehood I could bear - but hers! ah! no.
'She is not false - I feel she loves me yet,
'And if my boding bosom could forget
'Its wild imaginings, with what sweet pain
'I'd clasp my Florence to my breast again.'
With that came many a thought of days gone by,
Remembered joys of mirthful infancy;
And youth's gay frolic, and the short-lived flow
Of showering tears, in childhood's fleeting wo,
And life's maturer friendship - and the sense
Of heart-warm, open, fearless confidence;
All these came thronging with a tender call,
And her own Florence mingled with them all.
And softened feelings rose amid her pain,
While from her eyes, the clouds, melted in gentle rain.

A hectic pleasure flushed her faded face;
It fled - and deeper paleness took its place;
Then a cold shudder thrill'd her - and, at last,
Her lip a smile of bitter sarcasm cast,
As if she scorned herself, that she could be
A moment lulled by that sweet sophistry;
For in that little minute memory's sting
Gave word and look, sigh, gesture - every thing,
To bid these dear delusive phantoms fly,
And fix her fears in dreadful certainty.

It traced the very progress of their love,
From the first meeting in the locust grove;
When from the chase Leon came bounding there,
Backing his courser with a noble air;
His brown cheek flushed with healthful exercise,
And his warm spirits leaping in his eyes;
It told how lovely looked her sister then,
To long-lost friends, and home just come again;
How on her cheek the tears of meeting lay,
That tear which only feeling hearts can pay;
While the quick pleasure glistened in her eye,
Like clouds and sunshine in an April sky;
And then it told, as their acquaintance grew,
How close the unseen bonds of union drew
Their souls together, and how pleased they were
The same blythe pastimes and delights to share;
How the same chord in each at once would strike,
Their taste, their wishes, and their joys alike.

All this was innocent, but soon there came
Blushes and starts of consciousness and shame;
That, when she entered, upon either cheek
The hasty blood in guilty red would speak
Of something that should not be known - and still
Sighs half suppressed seemed struggling with the will.

It told how oft at eve was Leon gone
In moody wandering to the wood alone;
And in the night, how many a broken dream
Of bliss, or terror, seemed to shake his frame.
How Florence too, in long abstracted fit
Of soul-wrapt musing, for whole hours would sit;
Nor even the power of music, friend, or book,
Could chase her deep forgetfulness of look;
And how, when questioned - with an indrawn sigh,
In vague and far-off phrase, she made reply,
And smiled and struggled to be gay and free,
And then relapsed in dreaming reverie.
How when of Leon she was forced to speak,
Unbidden crimson mantled in her cheek;
And when he entered, how her eye would swim,
And strive to look on every one but him;
Yet, by unconscious fascination led,
In quick short glance each moment tow'rds him fled.
How he, too, seemed to shun her speech and gaze,
And yet he always lingered where she was;
Though nothing in his aspect or his air
Told that he knew she was in presence there;
But an appearance of constrained distress,
And a dull tongue of moveless silentness,
And a down drooping eye of gloom and sadness,
Oh! how unlike his former face of gladness.
''Tis plain! too plain! and I am lost,' she cried;
And in that thought her last good feeling died.

That thought of hopeless sorrow seemed to dart
A thousand stings at once into her heart;
But a strong effort quelled it, and she gave
The next to hatred, vengeance, and the grave.
Her face was calmly stern, and but a glare
Within her eyes - there was no feature there
That told what lashing fiends her inmates were;
Within - there was no thought to bid her swerve
From her intent - but every strained nerve
Was settled and bent up with terrible force,
To some deep deed, far, far beyond remorse;
No glimpse of mercy's light her purpose crost,
Love, nature, pity, in its depths were lost;
Or lent an added fury to the ire
That seared her soul with unconsuming fire;
All that was dear in the wide earth was gone,
She loved but two, and these she doted on
With passionate ardour - and the close strong press
Of woman's heart-cored, clinging tenderness;
These links were torn, and now she stood alone,
Bereft of all, her husband, sister - gone!

Ah! who can tell that ne'er has known such fate,
What wild and dreadful strength it gives to hate?
What had she left? Revenge! Revenge! was there;
He crushed remorse and wrestled down despair:
Held his red torch to memory's page, and threw
A bloody stain on every line she drew;
She felt dark pleasure with her frenzy blend,
And hugged him to her heart, and called him friend.

When sorrowing clouds the face of heaven deform,
And hope's bright star sets darkly in the storm,
Around us ghastly shapes and phantoms swim,
And all beyond is formless, vague, and dim,
Or life's cold barren path before us lies,
A wild and weary waste of tears and sighs;
From the lorn heart each sweetening solace gone,
Abandoned, friendless, withered, lost, and lone;
And when with keener pangs we bleed to know
That hands beloved have struck the deepest blow;
That friends we deemed most true, and held most dear,
Have stretched the pall of death o'er pleasure's bier;
Repaid our trusting faith with serpent guile,
Cursed with a kiss, and stabbed beneath a smile;
What then remains for souls of tender mould?
One last and silent refuge, calm and cold -
A resting place for misery's gentle slave;
Hearts break but once, no wrongs can reach the grave.

Rest ye, mild spirits of afflicted worth!
Sweet is your slumber in the quiet earth;
And soon the voice of heaven shall bid you rise
To meet rewarding smiles in yonder skies.
But where, for solace, shall the bosom turn
For death too strong - for tears - too proudly stern?
When shall the lulling dews of peace descend
On hearts that cannot break and will not bend?
Ah! never, never - they are doomed to feel
Pains that no balm of heaven or earth can heal;
To live in groans, and yield their parting breath
Without a joy in life - or hope in death.
Yet, for a while, one living hope remains,
That nerves each fibre and the soul sustains;
One desperate hope, whose agonizing throes
Are bitterer far than all the worst of woes;
A hope of crime and horrors, wild and strange
As demon thoughts - that hope is thine, Revenge!

'Twas this that gave, oh! Ellinor, to thee
A strength to bear thy matchless misery:
Though the hot blood ran boiling in her brain,
And rolled a tide of fire through every vein,
Though many a rushing voice of blighted bliss
Struck on her mental ears, like adders' hiss;
That hope gave gloomy fierceness to her eye,
Dash'd down the tear, repress'd the unloading sigh;
Fixed her wan quivering lip, and steeled her breast
To crush the hearts that robbed her own of rest.

She wound her way within a heavy shade
Of arching boughs, in broad-spread leaves arrayed;
Which, clustering close and thick, shut out the light,
And tinged with black the shadowy robe of night;
Save here and there a melancholy spark
Of flickering moonshine glimmered through the dark,
Cheerless and dim, as when upon a pall,
Through suffering tears, the looks of sorrow fall;
But opening farther on, on either side
A wider space the severing trees divide;
And longer gleams upon the pathway meet,
And the soft grass is wet beneath her feet.
And now emerging from the darksome shade,
She pressed the silken carpet of the glade.
Beyond the green, within its western close,
A little vine-hung, leafy arbor rose,
Where the pale lustre of the moony flood
Dimm'd the vermillion'd woodbine's scarlet bud;
And glancing through the foliage fluttering round,
In tiny circles gemm'd the freckled ground.
Beside the porch, beneath the friendly screen
Of two tall trees, a mossy bank was seen;
And all around, amid the silvery dew,
The wild-wood pansy rear'd her petals blue;
And gold cups and the meadow cowslip red,
Upon the evening air their odours shed.

Unheeded all the grove's deep gloom had been,
Unseen the moonlight brightness of the green;
In vain the stream's blue burnish met her eye,
Lovely its wave, but pass'd unnoticed by:
The airs of heaven had breath'd around her brow
Their cooling sighs - she felt them not - but now
That lonely bower appeared, and with a start
Convulsive shudders thrill'd her throbbing heart.
For there, in days, alas! for ever gone,
When love's young torch with beams of rapture shone,
When she had felt her heart's impassioned swell,
And almost deem'd her Leon loved as well;
There had she sat, beneath the evening skies,
Felt his warm kiss and heard his murmur'd sighs;
Hung on his breast, caressing and carest,
Her husband smiled, and Ellinor was blest.

And when his injured country's rights to shield,
Blazed his red banner on the battle field,
There had she lingered in the shadows dim,
And sat till morning watch and thought of him;
And wept to think that she might not be there,
His toils, his dangers, and his wounds to share.
And when the foe had bowed beneath his brand,
And to his home he led his conquering band,
There she first caught his long-expected face,
And sprung to smile and weep in his embrace.

These scenes of bliss across her memory fled,
Like lights that haunt the chambers of the dead,
She saw the bower, and read the image there
Of joys that had been, and of woes that were;
She clench'd her hand in agony, and cast
A glance of tears upon it as she past,
A look of weeping sorrow - 'twas the last!
She check'd the gush of feeling, turned her face,
And faster sped along her hurried pace.

No longer now from Leon's lips were heard
The sigh of bliss - the rapture breathing word;
No longer now upon his features dwelt
The glance that sweetly thrills - the looks that melt;
No speaking gaze of fond attachment told,
But all was dull and gloomy, sad and cold.
Yet he was kind, or laboured to be kind,
And strove to hide the workings of his mind;
And cloak'd his heart, to soothe his wife's distress,
Under a mask of tender gentleness.
It was in vain - for ah! how light and frail
To love's keen eye is falsehood's gilded veil.
Sweet winning words may for a time beguile,
Professions lull, and oaths deceive a while;
But soon the heart, in vague suspicion tost,
Must feel a void unfilled, a something lost;
Something scarce heeded, and unprized till gone,
Felt while unseen, and, tho' unnoticed, known:
A hidden witchery, a nameless charm,
Too fine for actions and for words too warm;
That passing all the worthless forms of art,
Eludes the sense, and only woos the heart:
A hallowed spell, by fond affection wove,
The mute, but matchless eloquence of love!

* * * *

Oh! there were times, when to my heart there came
All that the soul can feel, or fancy frame;
The summer party in the open air,
When sunny eyes and cordial hearts were there;
Where light came sparkling thro' the greenwood eaves,
Like mirthful eyes that laugh upon the leaves;
Where every bush and tree in all the scene,
In wind-kiss'd wavings shake their wings of green,
And all the objects round about dispense
Reviving freshness to the awakened sense;
The golden corslet of the humble bee,
The antic kid that frolics round the lea;
Or purple lance-flies circling round the place,
On their light shards of green, an airy race;
Or squirrel glancing from the nut-wood shade
An arch black eye, half pleas'd and half afraid;
Or bird quick darting through the foliage dim,
Or perched and twittering on the tendril slim;
Or poised in ether sailing slowly on,
With plumes that change and glisten in the sun,
Like rainbows fading into mist - and then,
On the bright cloud renewed and changed again;
Or soaring upward, while his full sweet throat
Pours clear and strong a pleasure-speaking note;
And sings in nature's language wild and free,
His song of praise for light and liberty.

And when within, with poetry and song,
Music and books led the glad hours along;
Worlds of the visioned minstrel, fancy-wove,
Tales of old time, of chivalry and love;
Or converse calm, or wit-shafts sprinkled round,
Like beams from gems, too light and fine to wound;
With spirits sparkling as the morning's sun,
Light as the dancing wave he smiles upon,
Like his own course - alas! too soon to know
Bright suns may set in storms, and gay hearts sink in wo.

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Read poems about / on: hope, poem, heaven, light, sister, sorrow, heart, green, lost, memory, red, music, kiss, husband, smile, song, pain, passion, hate, strength

Poem Submitted: Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Poem Edited: Tuesday, May 15, 2001

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