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Percy Bysshe Shelley

(1792-1822 / Horsham / England)

Sister Rosa: A Ballad


I.
The death-bell beats!--
The mountain repeats
The echoing sound of the knell;
And the dark Monk now
Wraps the cowl round his brow,
As he sits in his lonely cell.

II.
And the cold hand of death
Chills his shuddering breath,
As he lists to the fearful lay
Which the ghosts of the sky,
As they sweep wildly by,
Sing to departed day.
And they sing of the hour
When the stern fates had power
To resolve Rosa’s form to its clay.

III.
But that hour is past;
And that hour was the last
Of peace to the dark Monk’s brain.
Bitter tears, from his eyes, gushed silent and fast;
And he strove to suppress them in vain.

IV.
Then his fair cross of gold he dashed on the floor,
When the death-knell struck on his ear.--
'Delight is in store
For her evermore;
But for me is fate, horror, and fear.'

V.
Then his eyes wildly rolled,
When the death-bell tolled,
And he raged in terrific woe.
And he stamped on the ground,--
But when ceased the sound,
Tears again began to flow.

VI.
And the ice of despair
Chilled the wild throb of care,
And he sate in mute agony still;
Till the night-stars shone through the cloudless air,
And the pale moonbeam slept on the hill.

VII.
Then he knelt in his cell:--
And the horrors of hell
Were delights to his agonized pain,
And he prayed to God to dissolve the spell,
Which else must for ever remain.

VIII.
And in fervent pray'r he knelt on the ground,
Till the abbey bell struck One:
His feverish blood ran chill at the sound:
A voice hollow and horrible murmured around--
'The term of thy penance is done!'

IX.
Grew dark the night;
The moonbeam bright
Waxed faint on the mountain high;
And, from the black hill,
Went a voice cold and still,--
'Monk! thou art free to die.'

X.
Then he rose on his feet,
And his heart loud did beat,
And his limbs they were palsied with dread;
Whilst the grave's clammy dew
O'er his pale forehead grew;
And he shuddered to sleep with the dead.

XI.
And the wild midnight storm
Raved around his tall form,
As he sought the chapel's gloom:
And the sunk grass did sigh
To the wind, bleak and high,
As he searched for the new-made tomb.

XII.
And forms, dark and high,
Seemed around him to fly,
And mingle their yells with the blast:
And on the dark wall
Half-seen shadows did fall,
As enhorrored he onward passed.

XIII.
And the storm-fiends wild rave
O’er the new-made grave,
And dread shadows linger around.
The Monk called on God his soul to save,
And, in horror, sank on the ground.

XIV.
Then despair nerved his arm
To dispel the charm,
And he burst Rosa's coffin asunder.
And the fierce storm did swell
More terrific and fell,
And louder pealed the thunder.

XV.
And laughed, in joy, the fiendish throng,
Mixed with ghosts of the mouldering dead:
And their grisly wings, as they floated along,
Whistled in murmurs dread.

XVI.
And her skeleton form the dead Nun reared
Which dripped with the chill dew of hell.
In her half-eaten eyeballs two pale flames appeared,
And triumphant their gleam on the dark Monk glared,
As he stood within the cell.

XVII.
And her lank hand lay on his shuddering brain;
But each power was nerved by fear.--
'I never, henceforth, may breathe again;
Death now ends mine anguished pain.--
The grave yawns,--we meet there.'

XVIII.
And her skeleton lungs did utter the sound,
So deadly, so lone, and so fell,
That in long vibrations shuddered the ground;
And as the stern notes floated around,
A deep groan was answered from hell.

Submitted: Thursday, April 01, 2010

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