Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838 / England)
The Fairy Of The Fountains
WHY did she love her mother's so?
It hath wrought her wondrous wo.
Once she saw an armed knight
In the pale sepulchral light;
When the sullen starbeams throw
Evil spells on earth below:
And the moon is cold and pale,
And a voice is on the gale,
Like a lost soul's heavenward cry,
Hopeless in its agony.
He stood beside the castle-gate,
The hour was dark, the hour was late;
With the bearing of a king
Did he at the portal ring,
And the loud and hollow bell
Sounded like a Christian's knell.
That pale child stood on the wall,
Watching there, and saw it all.
Then she was a child as fair
As the opening blossoms are:
But with large black eyes, whose light
Spoke of mystery and might.
The stately stranger's head was bound
With a bright and golden round;
Curiously inlaid, each scale
Shone upon his glittering mail;
His high brow was cold and dim,
And she felt she hated him.
Then she heard her mother's voice,
Saying, ' 'Tis not at my choice!
'We for ever, wo the hour,
'When you sought my secret bower,
'Listening to the word of fear,
'Never meant for human ear.
'Thy suspicion's vain endeavour,
'We! we! parted us for ever.'
Still the porter of the hall
Heeded not that crown'd knight's call.
When a glittering shape there came,
With a brow of starry flame;
And he led that knight again
O'er the bleak and barren plain.
He flung, with an appealing cry,
His dark and desperate arms on high;
And from Melusina's sight
Fled away through thickest night.
Who has not, when but a child,
Treasured up some vision wild:
Haunting them with nameless fear,
Filling all they see or hear,
In the midnight's lonely hour,
With a strange mysterious power?
So a terror undefined
Entered in that infant mind;—
A fear that haunted her alone,
For she told her thought to none.
Years passed on, and each one threw,
O'er those walls a deeper hue;
Large and old the ivy leaves
Heavy hung around the eaves,
Till the darksome rooms within
Daylight never entered in.
And the spider's silvery line
Was the only thing to shine.
Years past on,—the fair child now
Wore maiden beauty on her brow—
Beauty such as rarely flowers
In a fallen world like ours.
She was tall;—a queen might wear
Such a proud imperial air;
She was tall, yet when unbound,
Swept her bright hair to the ground,
Glittering like the gold you see
On a young laburnum tree.
Yet her eyes were dark as night,
Melancholy as moonlight,
With the fierce and wilder ray
Of a meteor on its ray.
Lonely was her childhood's time,
Lonelier was her maiden prime;
And she wearied of the hours
Wasted in those gloomy towers;
Sometimes through the sunny sky
She would watch the swallows fly;
Making of the air a bath,
In a thousand joyous rings:
She would ask of them their path,
She would ask of them their wings.
Once her stately mother came,
With her dark eye's funeral flame,
And her cheek as pale as death,
And her cold and whispering breath;
With her sable garments bound
By a mystic girdle round,
Which, when to the east she turned,
With a sudden lustre burned.
Once that ladye, dark and tall,
Stood upon the castle wall;
And she marked her daughter's eyes
Fix'd upon the glad sunrise,
With a sad yet eager look,
Such as fixes on a book
Which describes some happy lot,
Lit with joys that we have not.
And the thought of what has been,
And the thought of what might be,
Makes us crave the fancied scene,
And despise reality.
'Twas a drear and desert plain
Lay around their own domain;
But, far off, a world more fair
Outlined on the sunny air;
Hung amid the purple clouds,
With which early morning shrouds
All her blushes, brief and bright,
Waking up from sleep and night.
In a voice so low and dread,
As a voice that wakes the dead;
Then that stately lady said:
'Daughter of a kingly line,—
''Daughter, too, of race like mine,—
'Such a kingdom had been thine;
'For thy father was a king,
'Whom I wed with word and ring.
'But in an unhappy hour,
'Did he pass my secret bower,—
''Did he listen to the word,
'Mortal ear hath never heard;
'From that hour of grief and pain
'Might we never meet again.
'Maiden, listen to my rede,
'Punished for thy father's deed:
'Here, an exile I must stay,
'While he sees the light of day.
'Child, his race is mixed in thee,
'With mine own more high degree.
'Hadst thou at Christ's altar stood,
'Bathed in His redeeming flood;
'Thou of my wild race had known
'But its loveliness alone.
'Now thou hast a mingled dower,
'Human passion—fairy power.
'But forefend thee from the last:
'Be its gifts behind thee cast.
'Many tears will wash away
'Mortal sin from mortal clay.
'Keep thou then a timid eye
'On the hopes that fill yon sky;
'Bend thou with a suppliant knee,
'And thy soul yet saved may be;—
''Saved by Him who died to save
'Man from death beyond the grave.'
Easy 'tis advice to give,
Hard it is advice to take
Years that lived—and years to live,
Wide and weary difference make.
To that elder ladye's mood,
Suited silent solitude:
For her lorn heart's wasted soil
Now repaid not hope's sweet toil.
Never more could spring-flowers grow,
On the worn-out soil below;
But to the young Melusine,
Earth and heaven were yet divine.
Still illusion's purple light
Was upon the morning tide,
And there rose before her sight
The loveliness of life untried.
Three sweet genii,—Youth, Love, Hope,—
Drew her future horoscope.
Must such lights themselves consume?
Must she be her own dark tomb?
But far other thoughts than these—
Life's enchanted phantasies,
Were with Melusina now,
Stern and dark contracts her brow;
And her bitten lip is white,
As with passionate resolve,
Muttered she,—'It is my right;
'On me let the task devolve:
'Since such blood to me belongs;
'It shall seek its own bright sphere;
'I will well avenge the wrongs
'Of my mother exiled here.'
Two long years are come and past,
And the maiden's lot is cast;—
Cast in mystery and power,
Worked out by the watching hour,
By the word that spirits tell,
By the sign and by the spell.
Two long years have come and gone,
And the maiden dwells alone.
For the deed which she hath done,
Is she now a banished one;—
Banished from her mother's arms,
Banished by her mother's charms,
With a curse of grief and pain,
Never more to meet again.
Great was the revenge she wrought,
Dearly that revenge was bought.
When the maiden felt her powers,
Straight she sought her father's towers.
With a sign, and with a word,
Passed she on unseen, unheard,
One, a pallid minstrel born
On Good Friday's mystic morn,
Said he saw a lady there,
Tall and stately, strange and lair,
With a stern and glittering eye,
Like a shadow gliding by.
All was fear and awe next day,
For the king had passed away.
He had pledged his court at night,
In the red grape's flowing light.
All his pages saw him sleeping;
Next day there was wail and weeping.
Halls and lands were wandered o'er,
But they saw their king no more.
Strange it is, and sad to tell,
What the royal knight befell.
Far upon a desert land,
Does a mighty mountain stand;
On its summit there is snow,
While the bleak pines moan below;
And within there is a cave
Opened for a monarch's grave
Bound in an enchanted sleep
She hath laid him still and deep.
She, his only child, has made
That strange tomb where he is laid:
Nothing more of earth to know,
Till the final trumpet blow.
Mortal lip nor mortal ear,
Were not made to speak nor hear
That accursed word which sealed,—
All those gloomy depths concealed.
With a look of joy and pride,
Then she sought her mother's side.
Whispering, on her bended knee,
'Oh! my mother, joyous be;
'For the mountain torrents spring
'O'er that faithless knight and king.'
Not another word she spoke,
For her speech a wild shriek broke;
For the widowed queen upsprung,
Wild her pale thin hands she wrung.
With her black hair falling round,
Flung her desperate on the ground;
While young Melusine stood by,
With a fixed and fearful eye.
When her agony was past,
Slowly rose the queen at last;
With her black hair, like a shroud,
And her bearing high and proud;
With the marble of her brow,
Colder than its custom now;
And her eye with a strange light
Seem'd to blast her daughter's sight.
And she felt her whole frame shrink,
And her young heart's pulses sink;
And the colour left her mouth,
As she saw her mother signing,
One stern hand towards the south,
Where a strange red star was shining.
With a muttered word and gaze,
Fixed upon its vivid rays;
Then she spoke but in a tone,
Her's, yet all unlike her own.—
''Spirit of our spirit-line,
'Curse for me this child of mine.
'Six days yield not to our powers,
'But the seventh day is ours.
'By yon star, and by our line,
'Be thou cursed, maiden mine.'
Then the maiden felt hot pain
Run through every burning vein.
Sudden with a fearful cry
Writhes she in her agony;
Burns her cheek as with a flame,
For the maiden knows her shame.
By a lovely river's side,
Where the water-lilies glide,
Pale, as if with constant care
Of the treasures which they bear;
For those ivory vases hold
Each a sunny gilt of gold.
And blue flowers on the banks,
Grow in wild and drooping ranks,
Bending mournfully above,
O'er the waters which they love;
But which bear off, day by day,
Their shadow and themselves away.
Willows by that river grow
With their leaves half green, half snow,
Summer never seems to be
Present all with that sad tree.
With its bending boughs are wrought
Tender and associate thought,
Of the wreaths that maidens wear
In their long neglected hair.
Of the branches that are thrown
On the last, the funeral stone.
And of those torn wreaths that suit
Youthful minstrel's wasted lute.
But the stream is gay to-night
With the full-moon's golden light,
And the air is sweet with singing,
And the joyous horn is ringing,
While fair groups of dancers round
Circle the enchanted ground.
And a youthful warrior stands
Gazing not upon those bands,
Not upon the lovely scene,
But upon its lovelier queen,
Who with gentle word and smile
Courteous prays his stay awhile.
The fairy of the fountains, she
A strange and lovely mystery,
She of whom wild tales have birth,
When beside a winter hearth,
By some aged crone is told,
Marvel new or legend old.
But the lady fronts him there,
He but sees she is so fair,
He but hears that in her tone
Dwells a music yet unknown;
He but feels that he could die
For the sweetness of her sigh.
But how many dreams take flight
With the dim enamoured night;
Cold the morning light has shone,
And the fairy train are gone,
Melted in the dewy air,
Lonely stands young Raymond there.
Yet not all alone, his heart
Hath a dream that will not part
From that beating heart's recess;
What that dream may lovers guess.
Yet another year hath flown
In a stately hall alone,
Like an idol in a shrine
Sits the radiant Melusine.
It is night, yet o'er the walls,
Light, but light unearthly, falls.
Not from lamp nor taper thrown,
But from many a precious stone,
With whose variegated shade
Is the azure roof inlaid,
And whose coloured radiance throws
Hues of violet and rose.
Sixty pillars, each one shining
With a wreath of rubies twining,
Bear the roof—the snow-white floor
Is with small stars studded o'er.
Sixty vases stand between,
Filled with prefumes for a queen;
And a silvery cloud exhales
Odours like those fragrant gales,
Which at eve float o'er the sea
From the purple Araby.
Nothing stirs the golden gloom
Of that dim enchanted room.
Not a step is flitting round,
Not a noise, except the sound
Of the distant fountains falling,
With a soft perpetual calling,
To the echoes which reply
Musical and mournfully.
Sits the fairy ladye there,
Like a statue, pale and fair;
From her cheek the rose has fled,
Leaving deeper charms instead.
On that marble brow are wrought
Traces of impassioned thought;
Such as without shade or line
Leave their own mysterious sign.
While her eyes, they are so bright,
Dazzle with imperious light.
Wherefore doth the maiden bend?
Wherefore doth the blush ascend,
Crimson even to her brow,
Sight nor step are near her now?
Hidden by her sweeping robe,
Near her stands a crystal globe,
Gifted with strange power to show
All that she desires to know.
First she sees her palace gate,
With its steps of marble state;
Where two kneeling forms seem weeping
O'er the watch which they are keeping,
While around the dusky boughs
Of a gloomy forest close,
Not for those that blush arose.
But she sees beside the gate,
A young and anxious palmer wait;
Well she knows it is for her,
He has come a worshipper.
For a year and and for a day.
Hath he worn his weary way;
Now a sign from that white hand,
And the portals open stand.
But a moment, and they meet,
Raymond kneels him at her feet;
Reading in her downcast eye,
All that woman can reply.
Weary, weary had the hours
Passed within her fairy bowers;
She was haunted with a dream
Of the knight beside the stream.
Who hath never felt the sense
Of such charmed influence.
When the shapes of midnight sleep
One beloved object keep,
Which amid the cares of day
Never passes quite away?
Guarded for the sweetest mood
Of our happy solitude,
Linked with every thing we love,
Flower below, or star above:
Sweet spell after sweet spell thrown
Till the wide world is its own.
Turned the ladye deadly pale,
As she heard her lover's tale,
'Yes,' she said, oh! low sweet word,
Only in a whisper heard.
'Yes, if my true heart may be
Worthy, Christian knight, of thee,
By the love that makes thee mine
I am deeply, dearly thine.
But a spell is on me thrown,
Six days may each deed be shown.
But the seventh day must be
Mine, and only known to me.
Never must thy step intrude
On its silent solitude.
Hidden from each mortal eye
Until seven years pass by.
When these seven years are flown,
All my secret may be known.
But if, with suspicious eye,
Thou on those dark hours wilt pry,
Then farewell, beloved in vain,
Never might we meet again.'
Gazing on one worshipped brow,
When hath lover spared a vow?
With an oath and with a prayer
Did he win the prize he sought.
Never was a bride so fair
As the bride that Raymond brought
From the wood's enchanted bowers
To his old ancestral towers.
——Oh, sweet love, could thy first prime
Linger on the steps of time,
Man would dream the unkind skies
Sheltered still a Paradise.
But, alas, the serpent's skill
Is amid our garden still.
Soon a dark inquiring thought
On the baron's spirit wrought:
She, who seemed to love him so,
Had she aught he might not know?
Was it wo, how could she bear
Grief he did not soothe nor share?
Was it guilt? no—heaven's own grace
Lightened in that loveliest face.
Then his jealous fancies rose,
(Our Lady keep the mind from those!)
Like a fire within the brain,
Maddens that consuming pain.
Henceforth is no rest by night,
Henceforth day has no delight.
Life hath agonies that tell
Of their late left native hell.
But mid their despair is none
Like that of the jealous one.
'Tis again the fatal day,
When the ladye must away,
To her lonely palace made
Far within the forest shade,
Where the mournful fountains sweep
With a voice that seems to weep.
On that morn Lord Raymond's bride
Ere the daybreak leaves his side.
Never does the ladye speak
But her tears are on his cheek,
And he hears a stifled moan
As she leaves him thus alone.
Hath she then complaint to make,
Is there yet some spell to break?
Come what will, of weal or wo,
'Tis the best the worst to know.
He hath followed—wo, for both,
That the knight forgot his oath.
Where the silvery fountains fall,
Stands no more the charmed hall;
But the dismal yew-trees droop,
And the pines above them stoop,
While the gloomy branches spread,
As they would above the dead,
In some churchyard large and drear
Haunted with perpetual fear.
Dark and still like some vast grave,
Near there yawns a night-black cave.
O'er its mouth wild ivy twines
There the daylight never shines.
Beast of prey or dragon's lair,
Yet the knight hath entered there.
Dimly doth the distant day
Scatter an uncertain ray,
While strange shapes and ghastly eyes
Mid the spectral darkness rise.
But he hurries on, and near
He sees a sudden light appear,
Wan and cold like that strange lamp
Which amid the charnel's damp
Shows but brightens not the gloom
Of the corpse and of the tomb.
With a cautious step he steals
To the cave that light reveals.
'Tis such grotto as might be,
Nereïd's home beneath the sea.
Crested with the small bright stars
Of a thousand rainbow spars.
And a fountain from the side
Pours beneath its crystal tide,
In a white and marble bath
Singing on its silvery path;
While a meteor's emerald rays
O'er the lucid water plays.—
Close beside, with wild flowers laid,
Is a couch of green moss made.
There he sees his lady lie;
Pain is in her languid eye,
And amid her hair the dew
Half obscures its golden hue;
Damp and heavy, and unbound,
Its wan clusters sweep around.
On her small hand leans her head,—
See the fevered cheek is red,
And the fiery colour rushes
To her brow in hectic blushes.—
What strange vigil is she keeping!
He can hear that she is weeping.—
He will fling him at her feet,
He will kiss away her tears.
Ah, what doth his wild eyes meet,
What below that form appears?
Downwards from that slender waist,
By a golden zone embraced,
Do the many folds escape,
Of the subtle serpent's shape.—
Bright with many-coloured dyes
All the glittering scales arise,
With a red and purple glow
Colouring the waves below!
At the strange and fearful sight,
Stands in mute despair the knight,—
Soon to feel a worse despair,
Melusina sees him there!
And to see him is to part
With the idol of her heart,
Part as just the setting sun
Tells the fatal day is done.
Vanish all those serpent rings,
To her feet the lady springs,
And the shriek rings through the cell,
Of despairing love's farewell,—
Hope and happiness are o'er,
They can meet on earth no more.
Years have past since this wild tale—
Still is heard that lady's wail,
Ever round that ancient tower,
Ere its lord's appointed hour.
With a low and moaning breath
She must mark approaching death,
While remains Lord Raymond's line
Doomed to wander and to pine.
Yet, before the stars are bright,
On the evening's purple light,
She beside the fountain stands
Wringing sad her shadowy hands.
May our Lady, as long years
Pass with their atoning tears,
Pardon with her love divine
The fountain fairy—Melusine!
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