Felicia Dorothea Hemans
The Forest Sanctuary - Part I.
The voices of my home!-I hear them still!
They have been with me through the dreamy night-
The blessed household voices, wont to fill
My heart's clear depths with unalloy'd delight!
I hear them still, unchang'd:-though some from earth
Are music parted, and the tones of mirth-
Wild, silvery tones, that rang through days more bright!
Have died in others,-yet to me they come,
Singing of boyhood back-the voices of my home!
They call me through this hush of woods, reposing
In the grey stillness of the summer morn,
They wander by when heavy flowers are closing,
And thoughts grow deep, and winds and stars are born;
Ev'n as a fount's remember'd gushings burst
On the parch'd traveller in his hour of thirst,
E'en thus they haunt me with sweet sounds, till worn
By quenchless longings, to my soul I say-
Oh! for the dove's swift wings, that I might flee away,
And find mine ark!-yet whither?-I must bear
A yearning heart within me to the grave.
I am of those o'er whom a breath of air-
Just darkening in its course the lake's bright wave,
And sighing through the feathery canes -hath power
To call up shadows, in the silent hour,
From the dim past, as from a wizard's cave!-
So must it be!-These skies above me spread,
Are they my own soft skies?-Ye rest not here, my dead!
Ye far amidst the southern flowers lie sleeping,
Your graves all smiling in the sunshine clear,
Save one!-a blue, lone, distant main is sweeping
High o'er one gentle head-ye rest not here!-
'Tis not the olive, with a whisper swaying,
Not thy low ripplings, glassy water, playing
Through my own chesnut groves, which fill mine ear;
But the faint echoes in my breast that dwell,
And for their birth-place moan, as moans the ocean-shell.
Peace!-I will dash these fond regrets to earth,
Ev'n as an eagle shakes the cumbering rain
From his strong pinion. Thou that gav'st me birth,
And lineage, and once home,-my native Spain!
My own bright land-my father's land-my child's!
What hath thy son brought from thee to the wilds?
He hath brought marks of torture and the chain,
Traces of things which pass not as a breeze,
A blighted name, dark thoughts, wrath, woe-thy gifts are these.
A blighted name-I hear the winds of morn-
Their sounds are not of this!-I hear the shiver
Of the green reeds, and all the rustlings, borne
From the high forest, when the light leaves quiver:
Their sounds are not of this!-the cedars, waving,
Lend it no tone: His wide savannahs laving,
It is not murmur'd by the joyous river!
What part hath mortal name, where God alone
Speaks to the mighty waste, and through its heart is known?
Is it not much that I may worship Him,
With nought my spirit's breathings to control,
And feel His presence in the vast, and dim,
And whispery woods, where dying thunders roll
From the far cataracts?-Shall I not rejoice
That I have learn'd at last to know His voice
From man's?-I will rejoice!-my soaring soul
Now hath redeem'd her birth-right of the day,
And won, through clouds, to Him, her own unfetter'd way!
And thou, my boy! that silent at my knee
Dost lift to mine thy soft, dark, earnest eyes,
Fill'd with the love of childhood, which I see
Pure through its depths, a thing without disguise;
Thou that hast breath'd in slumber on my breast,
When I have check'd its throbs to give thee rest,
Mine own! whose young thoughts fresh before me rise!
Is it not much that I may guide thy prayer,
And circle thy glad soul with free and healthful air?
Why should I weep on thy bright head, my boy?
Within thy fathers' halls thou wilt not dwell,
Nor lift their banner, with a warrior's joy,
Amidst the sons of mountain chiefs, who fell
For Spain of old.-Yet what if rolling waves
Have borne us far from our ancestral graves?
Thou shalt not feel thy bursting heart rebel
As mine hath done; nor bear what I have borne,
Casting in falsehood's mould th' indignant brow of scorn.
This shall not be thy lot, my blessed child!
I have not sorrow'd, struggled, liv'd in vain-
Hear me! magnificent and ancient wild;
And mighty rivers, ye that meet the main,
As deep meets deep; and forests, whose dim shade
The flood's voice, and the wind's, by swells pervade;
Hear me!-'tis well to die, and not complain,
Yet there are hours when the charg'd heart must speak,
Ev'n in the desert's ear to pour itself, or break!
I see an oak before me, it hath been
The crown'd one of the woods; and might have flung
Its hundred arms to Heaven, still freshly green,
But a wild vine around the stem hath clung,
From branch to branch close wreaths of bondage throwing,
Till the proud tree, before no tempest bowing,
Hath shrunk and died, those serpent-folds among.
Alas! alas!-what is it that I see?
An image of man's mind, land of my sires, with thee!
Yet art thou lovely!-Song is on thy hills-
Oh sweet and mournful melodies of Spain,
That lull'd my boyhood, how your memory thrills
The exile's heart with sudden-wakening pain!-
Your sounds are on the rocks-that I might hear
Once more the music of the mountaineer!-
And from the sunny vales the shepherd's strain
Floats out, and fills the solitary place
With the old tuneful names of Spain's heroic race.
But there was silence one bright, golden day,
Through my own pine-hung mountains. Clear, yet lone
In the rich autumn light the vineyards lay,
And from the fields the peasant's voice was gone;
And the red grapes untrodden strew'd the ground,
And the free flocks untended roam'd around:
Where was the pastor?-where the pipe's wild tone?
Music and mirth were hush'd the hills among,
While to the city's gates each hamlet pour'd its throng.
Silence upon the mountains!-But within
The city's gates a rush-a press-a swell
Of multitudes their torrent way to win;
And heavy boomings of a dull deep bell,
A dead pause following each-like that which parts
The dash of billows, holding breathless hearts
Fast in the hush of fear-knell after knell;
And sounds of thickening steps, like thunder-rain,
That plashes on the roof of some vast echoing fane!
What pageant's hour approach'd?-The sullen gate
Of a strong ancient prison-house was thrown
Back to the day. And who, in mournful state,
Came forth, led slowly o'er its threshold-stone?
They that had learn'd, in cells of secret gloom,
How sunshine is forgotten!-They, to whom
The very features of mankind were grown
Things that bewilder'd!-O'er their dazzled sight,
They lifted their wan hands, and cower'd before the light!
To this man brings his brother!-Some were there,
Who with their desolation had entwin'd
Fierce strength, and girt the sternness of despair
Fast round their bosoms, ev'n as warriors bind
The breast-plate on for fight: but brow and cheek
Seem'd theirs a torturing panoply to speak!
And there were some, from whom the very mind
Had been wrung out: they smil'd-oh! startling smile
Whence man's high soul is fled!-where doth it sleep the while?
But onward moved the melancholy train,
For their false creeds in fiery pangs to die.
This was the solemn sacrifice of Spain-
Heaven's offering from the land of chivalry!
Through thousands, thousands of their race they mov'd-
Oh! how unlike all others!-the belov'd,
The free, the proud, the beautiful! whose eye
Grew fix'd before them, while a people's breath
Was hush'd, and its one soul bound in the thought of death!
It might be that amidst the countless throng,
There swell'd some heart with Pity's weight oppress'd,
For the wide stream of human love is strong;
And woman, on whose fond and faithful breast
Childhood is rear'd, and at whose knee the sigh
Of its first prayer is breath'd, she, too, was nigh.
-But life is dear, and the free footstep bless'd,
And home a sunny place, where each may fill
Some eye with glistening smiles,-and therefore all were still-
All still-youth, courage, strength!-a winter laid,
A chain of palsy, cast on might and mind!
Still, as at noon a southern forest's shade,
They stood, those breathless masses of mankind;
Still, as a frozen torrent!-but the wave
Soon leaps to foaming freedom-they, the brave,
Endur'd-they saw the martyr's place assign'd
In the red flames-whence is the withering spell
That numbs each human pulse?-they saw, and thought it well.
And I, too, thought it well! That very morn
From a far land I came, yet round me clung
The spirit of my own. No hand had torn
With a strong grasp away the veil which hung
Between mine eyes and truth. I gaz'd, I saw,
Dimly, as through a glass. In silent awe
I watch'd the fearful rites; and if there sprung
One rebel feeling from its deep founts up,
Shuddering, I flung it back, as guilt's own poison-cup
But I was waken'd as the dreamers waken
Whom the shrill trumpet and the shriek of dread
Rouse up at midnight, when their walls are taken,
And they must battle till their blood is shed
On their own threshold-floor. A path for light
Through my torn breast was shatter'd by the might
Of the swift thunder-stroke-and Freedom's tread
Came in through ruins, late, yet not in vain,
Making the blighted place all green with life again.
Still darkly, slowly, as a sullen mass
Of cloud, o'ersweeping, without wind, the sky,
Dream-like I saw the sad procession pass,
And mark'd its victims with a tearless eye.
They mov'd before me but as pictures, wrought
Each to reveal some secret of man's thought,
On the sharp edge of sad mortality,
Till in his place came one-oh! could it be?
-My friend, my heart's first friend!-and did I gaze on thee?
On thee! with whom in boyhood I had play'd,
At the grape-gatherings, by my native streams;
And to whose eye my youthful soul had laid
Bare, as to Heaven's, its glowing world of dreams;
And by whose side midst warriors I had stood,
And in whose helm was brought-oh! earn'd with blood
The fresh wave to my lips, when tropic beams
Smote on my fever'd brow!-Ay, years had pass'd,
Severing our paths, brave friend!-and thus we met at last!
I see it still-the lofty mien thou borest-
On thy pale forehead sat a sense of power!
The very look that once thou brightly worest,
Cheering me onward through a fearful hour,
When we were girt by Indian bow and spear,
Midst the white Andes-ev'n as mountain deer,
Hemm'd in our camp-but thro' the javelin shower
We rent our way, a tempest of despair!
-And thou-hadst thou but died with thy true brethren there!
I call the fond wish back-for thou hast perish'd
More nobly far, my Alvar!-making known
The might of truth; and be thy memory cherish'd
With theirs, the thousands, that around her throne
Have pour'd their lives out smiling, in that doom
Finding a triumph, if denied a tomb!
-Ay, with their ashes hath the wind been sown,
And with the wind their spirit shall be spread,
Filling man's heart and home with records of the dead.
Thou Searcher of the Soul! in whose dread sight
Not the bold guilt alone, that mocks the skies,
But the scarce-own'd, unwhisper'd thought of night,
As a thing written with the sunbeam lies;
Thou know'st-whose eye through shade and depth can see.
That this man's crime was but to worship thee,
Like those that made their hearts thy sacrifice,
The call'd of yore; wont by the Saviour's side,
On the dim Olive-Mount to pray at eventide.
For the strong spirit will at times awake,
Piercing the mists that wrap her clay-abode;
And, born of thee, she may not always take
Earth's accents for the oracles of God;
And ev'n for this-O dust, whose mask is power!
Reed, that wouldst be a scourge thy little hour!
Spark, whereon yet the mighty hath not trod,
And therefore thou destroyest!-where were flown
Our hope, if man were left to man's decree alone?
But this I felt not yet. I could but gaze
On him, my friend; while that swift moment threw
A sudden freshness back on vanish'd days,
Like water-drops on some dim picture's hue;
Calling the proud time up, when first I stood
Where banners floated, and my heart's quick blood
Sprang to a torrent as the clarion blew,
And he-his sword was like a brother's worn,
That watches through the field his mother's youngest born.
But a lance met me in that day's career,
Senseless I lay amidst th' o'ersweeping fight,
Wakening at last-how full, how strangely clear,
That scene on memory flash'd!-the shivery light,
Moonlight, on broken shields-the plain of slaughter,
The fountain-side-the low sweet sound of water-
And Alvar bending o'er me-from the night
Covering me with his mantle!-all the past
Flow'd back-my soul's far chords all answer'd to the blast.
Till, in that rush of visions, I became
As one that by the bands of slumber wound,
Lies with a powerless, but all-thrilling frame,
Intense in consciousness of sight and sound,
Yet buried in a wildering dream which brings
Lov'd faces round him, girt with fearful things!
Troubled ev'n thus I stood, but chain'd and bound
On that familiar form mine eye to keep-
-Alas! I might not fall upon his neck and weep!
He pass'd me-and what next?-I look'd on two,
Following his footsteps to the same dread place,
For the same guilt-his sisters!-Well I knew
The beauty on those brows, though each young face
Was chang'd-so deeply chang'd!-a dungeon's air
Is hard for lov'd and lovely things to bear,
And ye, O daughters of a lofty race,
Queen-like Theresa! radiant Inez!-flowers
So cherish'd! were ye then but rear'd for those dark hours?
A mournful home, young sisters! had ye left,
With your lutes hanging hush'd upon the wall,
And silence round the aged man, bereft
Of each glad voice, once answering to his call.
Alas, that lonely father! doom'd to pine
For sounds departed in his life's decline,
And, midst the shadowing banners of his hall,
With his white hair to sit, and deem the name
A hundred chiefs had borne, cast down by you to shame!
And woe for you, midst looks and words of love,
And gentle hearts and faces, nurs'd so long!
How had I seen you in your beauty move,
Wearing the wreath, and listening to the song!
-Yet sat, ev'n then, what seem'd the crowd to shun,
Half veil'd upon the clear pale brow of one,
And deeper thoughts than oft to youth belong,
Thoughts, such as wake to evening's whispery sway,
Within the drooping shade of her sweet eyelids lay.
And if she mingled with the festive train,
It was but as some melancholy star
Beholds the dance of shepherds on the plain,
In its bright stillness present, though afar.
Yet would she smile-and that, too, hath its smile-
Circled with joy which reach'd her not the while,
And bearing a lone spirit, not at war
With earthly things, but o'er their form and hue
Shedding too clear a light, too sorrowfully true.
But the dark hours wring forth the hidden might
Which hath lain bedded in the silent soul,
A treasure all undreamt of;-as the night
Calls out the harmonies of streams that roll
Unheard by day. It seem'd as if her breast
Had hoarded energies, till then suppress'd
Almost with pain, and bursting from control,
And finding first that hour their pathway free:
-Could a rose brave the storm, such might her emblem be!
For the soft gloom whose shadow still had hung
On her fair brow, beneath its garlands worn,
Was fled; and fire, like prophecy's had sprung
Clear to her kindled eye. It might be scorn-
Pride-sense of wrong-ay, the frail heart is bound
By these at times, ev'n as with adamant round,
Kept so from breaking!-yet not thus upborne
She mov'd, though some sustaining passion's wave
Lifted her fervent soul-a sister for the brave!
And yet, alas! to see the strength which clings
Round woman in such hours!-a mournful sight,
Though lovely!-an o'erflowing of the springs,
The full springs of affection, deep as bright!
And she, because her life is ever twin'd
With other lives, and by no stormy wind
May thence be shaken, and because the light
Of tenderness is round her, and her eye
Doth weep such passionate tears-therefore she thus can die.
Therefore didst thou , through that heart-shaking scene,
As through a triumph move; and cast aside
Thine own sweet thoughtfulness for victory's mien,
O faithful sister! cheering thus the guide,
And friend, and brother of thy sainted youth,
Whose hand had led thee to the source of truth,
Where thy glad soul from earth was purified;
Nor wouldst thou, following him through all the past,
That he should see thy step grow tremulous at last.
For thou hadst made no deeper love a guest
Midst thy young spirit's dreams, than that which grows
Between the nurtur'd of the same fond breast,
The shelter'd of one roof; and thus it rose
Twin'd in with life.-How is it, that the hours
Of the same sport, the gathering early flowers
Round the same tree, the sharing one repose,
And mingling one first prayer in murmurs soft,
From the heart's memory fade, in this world's breath, so oft?
But thee that breath had touch'd not; thee, nor him,
The true in all things found!-and thou wert blest
Ev'n then, that no remember'd change could dim
The perfect image of affection, press'd
Like armour to thy bosom!-thou hadst kept
Watch by that brother's couch of pain, and wept,
Thy sweet face covering with thy robe, when rest
Fled from the sufferer; thou hadst bound his faith
Unto thy soul-one light, one hope ye chose-one death.
So didst thou pass on brightly!-but for her,
Next in that path, how may her doom be spoken!
-All-merciful! to think that such things were,
And are , and seen by men with hearts unbroken!
To think of that fair girl, whose path had been
So strew'd with rose-leaves, all one fairy scene!
And whose quick glance came ever as a token
Of hope to drooping thought, and her glad voice
As a free bird's in spring, that makes the woods rejoice!
And she to die!-she lov'd the laughing earth
With such deep joy in its fresh leaves and flowers!
-Was not her smile even as the sudden birth
Of a young rainbow, colouring vernal showers?
Yes! but to meet her fawn-like step, to hear
The gushes of wild song, so silvery clear,
Which, oft unconsciously, in happier hours
Flow'd from her lips, was to forget the sway
Of Time and Death below,-blight, shadow, dull decay!
Could this change be?-the hour, the scene, where last
I saw that form, came floating o'er my mind:
-A golden vintage-eve;-the heats were pass'd,
And, in the freshness of the fanning wind,
Her father sat, where gleam'd the first faint star
Through the lime-boughs; and with her light guitar,
She, on the greensward at his feet reclin'd,
In his calm face laugh'd up; some shepherd-lay
Singing, as childhood sings on the lone hills at play.
And now-oh God!-the bitter fear of death,
The sore amaze, the faint o'ershadowing dread,
Had grasp'd her!-panting in her quick-drawn breath,
And in her white lips quivering;-onward led,
She look'd up with her dim bewilder'd eyes,
And there smil'd out her own soft brilliant skies,
Far in their sultry southern azure spread,
Glowing with joy, but silent!-still they smil'd,
Yet sent down no reprieve for earth's poor trembling child.
Alas! that earth had all too strong a hold,
Too fast, sweet Inez! on thy heart, whose bloom
Was given to early love, nor knew how cold
The hours which follow. There was one, with whom,
Young as thou wert, and gentle, and untried,
Thou might'st, perchance, unshrinkingly have died;
But he was far away;-and with thy doom
Thus gathering, life grew so intensely dear,
That all thy slight frame shook with its cold mortal fear!
No aid!-thou too didst pass!-and all had pass'd,
The fearful-and the desperate-and the strong!
Some like the bark that rushes with the blast,
Some like the leaf swept shiveringly along,
And some as men, that have but one more field
To fight, and then may slumber on their shield,
Therefore they arm in hope. But now the throng
Roll'd on, and bore me with their living tide,
Ev'n as a bark wherein is left no power to guide.
Wave swept on wave. We reach'd a stately square,
Deck'd for the rites. An altar stood on high,
And gorgeous, in the midst. A place for prayer,
And praise, and offering. Could the earth supply
No fruits, no flowers for sacrifice, of all
Which on her sunny lap unheeded fall?
No fair young firstling of the flock to die,
As when before their God the Patriarchs stood?
-Look down! man brings thee, Heaven! his brother's guiltless blood!
Hear its voice, hear!-a cry goes up to thee,
From the stain'd sod;-make thou thy judgment known
On him, the shedder!-let his portion be
The fear that walks at midnight-give the moan
In the wind haunting him a power to say
'Where is thy brother?'-and the stars a ray
To search and shake his spirit, when alone
With the dread splendor of their burning eyes!
-So shall earth own thy will-mercy, not sacrifice!
Sounds of triumphant praise!-the mass was sung-
-Voices that die not might have pour'd such strains!
Thro' Salem's towers might that proud chant have rung,
When the Most High, on Syria's palmy plains,
Had quell'd her foes!-so full it swept, a sea
Of loud waves jubilant, and rolling free!
-Oft when the wind, as thro' resounding fanes,
Hath fill'd the choral forests with its power,
Some deep tone brings me back the music of that hour.
It died away;-the incense-cloud was driven
Before the breeze-the words of doom were said;
And the sun faded mournfully from Heaven,
-He faded mournfully! and dimly red,
Parting in clouds from those that look'd their last,
And sigh'd-'farewell, thou sun!'-Eve glow'd and pass'd-
Night-midnight and the moon-came forth and shed
Sleep, even as dew, on glen, wood, peopled spot-
Save one-a place of death-and there men slumber'd not.
'Twas not within the city -but in sight
Of the snow-crown'd sierras, freely sweeping,
With many an eagle's eyrie on the height,
And hunter's cabin, by the torrent peeping
Far off: and vales between, and vineyards lay,
With sound and gleam of waters on their way,
And chesnut-woods, that girt the happy sleeping,
In many a peasant-home!-the midnight sky
Brought softly that rich world round those who came to die.
The darkly-glorious midnight sky of Spain,
Burning with stars!-What had the torches' glare
To do beneath that Temple, and profane
Its holy radiance?-By their wavering flare,
I saw beside the pyres-I see thee now ,
O bright Theresa! with thy lifted brow,
And thy clasp'd hands, and dark eyes fill'd with prayer!
And thee, sad Inez! bowing thy fair head,
And mantling up thy face, all colourless with dread!
And Alvar, Alvar!-I beheld thee too,
Pale, stedfast, kingly; till thy clear glance fell
On that young sister; then perturb'd it grew,
And all thy labouring bosom seem'd to swell
With painful tenderness. Why came I there,
That troubled image of my friend to bear,
Thence, for my after-years?-a thing to dwell
In my heart's core, and on the darkness rise,
Disquieting my dreams with its bright mournful eyes?
Why came I? oh! the heart's deep mystery!-Why
In man's last hour doth vain affection's gaze
Fix itself down on struggling agony,
To the dimm'd eye-balls freezing, as they glaze?
It might be-yet the power to will seem'd o'er-
That my soul yearn'd to hear his voice once more!
But mine was fetter'd!-mute in strong amaze,
I watch'd his features as the night-wind blew,
And torch-light or the moon's pass'd o'er their marble hue.
The trampling of a steed!-a tall white steed,
Rending his fiery way the crowds among-
A storm's way through a forest-came at speed,
And a wild voice cried 'Inez!' Swift she flung
The mantle from her face, and gaz'd around,
With a faint shriek at that familiar sound,
And from his seat a breathless rider sprung,
And dash'd off fiercely those who came to part,
And rush'd to that pale girl, and clasp'd her to his heart.
And for a moment all around gave way
To that full burst of passion!-on his breast,
Like a bird panting yet from fear she lay,
But blest-in misery's very lap-yet blest!-
Oh love, love, strong as death!-from such an hour
Pressing out joy by thine immortal power,
Holy and fervent love! had earth but rest
For thee and thine, this world were all too fair!
How could we thence be wean'd to die without despair?
But she-as falls a willow from the storm,
O'er its own river streaming-thus reclin'd
On the youth's bosom hung her fragile form,
And clasping arms, so passionately twin'd
Around his neck-with such a trusting fold,
A full deep sense of safety in their hold,
As if nought earthly might th' embrace unbind!
Alas! a child's fond faith, believing still
Its mother's breast beyond the lightning's reach to kill!
Brief rest! upon the turning billow's height,
A strange sweet moment of some heavenly strain,
Floating between the savage gusts of night,
That sweep the seas to foam! Soon dark again
The hour-the scene-th' intensely present, rush'd
Back on her spirit, and her large tears gush'd
Like blood-drops from a victim; with swift rain
Bathing the bosom where she lean'd that hour,
As if her life would melt into th' o'erswelling shower.
But he, whose arm sustain'd her!-oh! I knew
'Twas vain, and yet he hop'd!-he fondly strove
Back from her faith her sinking soul to woo,
As life might yet be hers!-A dream of love
Which could not look upon so fair a thing,
Remembering how like hope, like joy, like spring,
Her smile was wont to glance, her step to move,
And deem that men indeed, in very truth,
Could mean the sting of death for her soft flowering youth!
He woo'd her back to life.-'Sweet Inez, live!
My blessed Inez!-visions have beguil'd
Thy heart-abjure them!-thou wert form'd to give,
And to find, joy; and hath not sunshine smil'd
Around thee ever? Leave me not, mine own!
Or earth will grow too dark!-for thee alone,
Thee have I lov'd, thou gentlest! from a child,
And borne thine image with me o'er the sea,
Thy soft voice in my soul-speak!-Oh! yet live for me!'
She look'd up wildly; these were anxious eyes
Waiting that look-sad eyes of troubled thought,
Alvar's-Theresa's!-Did her childhood rise,
With all its pure and home-affections fraught,
In the brief glance?-She clasp'd her hands-the strife
Of love, faith, fear, and that vain dream of life,
Within her woman's breast so deeply wrought,
It seem'd as if a reed so slight and weak
Must , in the rending storm not quiver only-break!
And thus it was-the young cheek flush'd and faded,
As the swift blood in currents came and went,
And hues of death the marble brow o'ershaded,
And the sunk eye a watery lustre sent
Thro' its white fluttering lids. Then tremblings pass'd
O'er the frail form, that shook it, as the blast
Shakes the sere leaf, until the spirit rent
Its way to peace-the fearful way unknown-
Pale in love's arms she lay-she! -what had lov'd was gone!
Joy for thee, trembler!-thou redeem'd one, joy!
Young dove set free! earth, ashes, soulless clay,
Remain'd for baffled vengeance to destroy;
-Thy chain was riven!-nor hadst thou cast away
Thy hope in thy last hour!-though love was there
Striving to wring thy troubled soul from prayer,
And life seem'd robed in beautiful array,
Too fair to leave!-but this might be forgiven,
Thou wert so richly crown'd with precious gifts of Heaven!
But woe for him who felt the heart grow still,
Which, with its weight of agony, had lain
Breaking on his!-Scarce could the mortal chill
Of the hush'd bosom, ne'er to heave again,
And all the silence curdling round the eye,
Bring home the stern belief that she could die,
That she indeed could die!-for wild and vain
As hope might be-his soul had hoped-'twas o'er-
-Slowly his failing arms dropp'd from the form they bore.
They forc'd him from that spot.-It might be well,
That the fierce, reckless words by anguish wrung
From his torn breast, all aimless as they fell,
Like spray-drops from the strife of torrents flung,
Were mark'd as guilt.-There are, who note these things
Against the smitten heart; its breaking strings
-On whose low thrills once gentle music hung-
With a rude hand of touch unholy trying,
And numbering then as crimes, the deep, strange tones replying.
But ye in solemn joy, O faithful pair!
Stood gazing on your parted sister's dust;
I saw your features by the torch's glare,
And they were brightening with a heavenward trust!
I saw the doubt, the anguish, the dismay,
Melt from my Alvar's glorious mien away,
And peace was there-the calmness of the just!
And, bending down the slumberer's brow to kiss,
'Thy rest is won,' he said :-'sweet sister! praise for this!'
I started as from sleep;-yes! he had spoken-
A breeze had troubled memory's hidden source!
At once the torpor of my soul was broken-
Thought, feeling, passion, woke in tenfold force.
-There are soft breathings in the southern wind,
That so your ce-chains, O ye streams! unbind,
And free the foaming swiftness of your course!
-I burst from those that held me back, and fell
Ev'n on his neck, and cried-'Friend, brother! fare thee well!'
Did he not say 'Farewell?'-Alas! no breath
Came to mine ear. Hoarse murmurs from the throng
Told that the mysteries in the face of death
Had from their eager sight been veil'd too long.
And we were parted as the surge might part
Those that would die together, true of heart.
-His hour was come-but in mine anguish strong,
Like a fierce swimmer through the midnight sea,
Blindly I rush'd away from that which was to be.
Away-away I rush'd;-but swift and high
The arrowy pillars of the firelight grew,
Till the transparent darkness of the sky
Flush'd to a blood-red mantle in their hue;
And, phantom-like, the kindling city seem'd
To spread, float, wave, as on the wind they stream'd,
With their wild splendour chasing me!-I knew
The death-work was begun-I veil'd mine eyes,
Yet stopp'd in spell-bound fear to catch the victims' cries,
What heard I then?-a ringing shriek of pain,
Such as for ever haunts the tortur'd ear?
-I heard a sweet and solemn-breathing strain
Piercing the flames, untremulous and clear!
-The rich, triumphal tones!-I knew them well,
As they came floating with a breezy swell!
Man's voice was there-a clarion voice to cheer
In the mid-battle-ay, to turn the flying-
Woman's-that might have sung of Heaven beside the dying!
It was a fearful, yet a glorious thing,
To hear that hymn of martyrdom, and know
That its glad stream of melody could spring
Up from th' unsounded gulfs of human woe!
Alvar! Theresa!-what is deep? what strong?
-God's breath within the soul!-It fill'd that song
From your victorious voices!-but the glow
On the hot air and lurid skies increas'd-
-Faint grew the sounds-more faint-I listen'd-they had ceas'd!
And thou indeed hadst perish'd, my soul's friend!
I might form other ties-but thou alone
Couldst with a glance the veil of dimness rend,
By other years o'er boyhood's memory thrown!
Others might aid me onward:-Thou and I
Had mingled the fresh thoughts that early die,
Once flowering-never more!-And thou wert gone!
Who could give back my youth, my spirit free,
Or be in aught again what thou hadst been to me?
And yet I wept thee not, thou true and brave!
I could not weep!-there gather'd round thy name
Too deep a passion!-thou denied a grave!
Thou , with the blight flung on thy soldier's fame!
Had I not known thy heart from childhood's time?
Thy heart of hearts?-and couldst thou die for crime?
-No! had all earth decreed that death of shame,
I would have set, against all earth's decree,
Th' inalienable trust of my firm soul in thee!
There are swift hours in life-strong, rushing hours,
That do the work of tempests in their might!
They shake down things that stood as rocks and towers
Unto th' undoubting mind;-they pour in light
Where it but startles-like a burst of day
For which th' uprooting of an oak makes way;-
They sweep the colouring mists from off our sight,
They touch with fire, thought's graven page, the roll
Stamp'd with past years-and lo! it shrivels as a scroll!
And this was of such hours!-the sudden flow
Of my soul's tide seem'd whelming me; the glare
Of the red flames, yet rocking to and fro,
Scorch'd up my heart with breathless thirst for air,
And solitude, and freedom. It had been
Well with me then, in some vast desert scene,
To pour my voice out, for the winds to bear
On with them, wildly questioning the sky,
Fiercely th' untroubled stars, of man's dim destiny.
I would have call'd, adjuring the dark cloud;
To the most ancient Heavens I would have said
-'Speak to me! show me truth!'-through night aloud
I would have cried to him, the newly dead,
'Come back! and show me truth!'-My spirit seem'd
Gasping for some free burst, its darkness teem'd
With such pent storms of thought!-again I fled-
I fled, a refuge from man's face to gain,
Scarce conscious when I paus'd, entering a lonely fane.
A mighty minster, dim, and proud, and vast!
Silence was round the sleepers, whom its floor
Shut in the grave; a shadow of the past,
A memory of the sainted steps that wore
Erewhile its gorgeous pavement, seem'd to brood
Like mist upon the stately solitude,
A halo of sad fame to mantle o'er
Its white sepulchral forms of mail-clad men,
And all was hush'd as night in some deep Alpine glen.
More hush'd, far more!-for there the wind sweeps by,
Or the woods tremble to the streams' loud play!
Here a strange echo made my very sigh
Seem for the place too much a sound of day!
Too much my footstep broke the moonlight, fading,
Yet arch through arch in one soft flow pervading;
And I stood still:-prayer, chant, had died away,
Yet past me floated a funereal breath
Of incense.-I stood still-as before God and death!
For thick ye girt me round, ye long-departed!
Dust-imaged form-with cross, and shield, and crest;
It seem'd as if your ashes would have started,
Had a wild voice burst forth above your rest!
Yet ne'er, perchance, did worshipper of yore
Bear to your thrilling presence what I bore
Of wrath-doubt-anguish-battling in the breast!
I could have pour'd out words, on that pale air,
To make your proud tombs ring:-no, no! I could not there!
Not midst those aisles, through which a thousand years
Mutely as clouds and reverently had swept;
Not by those shrines, which yet the trace of tears
And kneeling votaries on their marble kept!
Ye were too mighty in your pomp of gloom
And trophied age, O temple, altar, tomb!
And you, ye dead!-for in that faith ye slept,
Whose weight had grown a mountain's on my heart,
Which could not there be loos'd.-I turn'd me to depart.
I turn'd-what glimmer'd faintly on my sight,
Faintly, yet brightening, as a wreath of snow
Seen through dissolving haze?-The moon, the night,
Had waned, and dawn pour'd in;-grey, shadowy, slow,
Yet day-spring still!-a solemn hue it caught,
Piercing the storied windows, darkly fraught
With stoles and draperies of imperial glow;
And soft, and sad, that colouring gleam was thrown,
Where, pale, a pictur'd form above the altar shone.
Thy form, thou Son of God!-a wrathful deep,
With foam, and cloud, and tempest, round thee spread,
And such a weight of night!-a night, when sleep
From the fierce rocking of the billows fled.
A bark show'd dim beyond thee, with its mast
Bow'd, and its rent sail shivering to the blast;
But, like a spirit in thy gliding tread,
Thou, as o'er glass, didst walk that stormy sea
Through rushing winds, which left a silent path for thee
So still thy white robes fell!-no breath of air
Within their long and slumberous folds had sway!
So still the waves of parted, shadowy hair
From thy clear brow flow'd droopingly away!
Dark were the Heavens above thee, Saviour!-dark
The gulfs, Deliverer! round the straining bark!
But thou!-o'er all thine aspect and array
Was pour'd one stream of pale, broad, silvery light-
-Thou wert the single star of that all-shrouding night!
Aid for one sinking!-Thy lone brightness gleam'd
On his wild face, just lifted o'er the wave,
With its worn, fearful; human look that seem'd
To cry through surge and blast-'I perish-save!'
Not to the winds-not vainly!-thou wert nigh,
Thy hand was stretch'd to fainting agony,
Even in the portals of th' unquiet grave!
O thou that art the life! and yet didst bear
Too much of mortal woe to turn from mortal prayer!
But was it not a thing to rise on death,
With its remember'd light, that face of thine,
Redeemer! dimm'd by this world's misty breath,
Yet mournfully, mysteriously divine?
-Oh! that calm, sorrowful, prophetic eye,
With its dark depths of grief, love, majesty!
And the pale glory of the brow!-a shrine
Where Power sat veil'd, yet shedding softly round
What told that thou couldst be but for a time uncrown'd!
And more than all, the Heaven of that sad smile!
The lip of mercy, our immortal trust!
Did not that look, that very look, erewhile,
Pour its o'ershadow'd beauty on the dust?
Wert thou not such when earth's dark cloud hung o'er thee?
-Surely thou wert!-my heart grew hush'd before thee,
Sinking with all its passions, as the gust
Sank at thy voice, along its billowy way:-
-What had I there to do, but kneel, and weep, and pray?
Amidst the stillness rose my spirit's cry
Amidst the dead-'By that full cup of woe,
Press'd from the fruitage of mortality,
Saviour! for thee-give light! that I may know
If by thy will, in thine all-healing name,
Men cast down human hearts to blighting shame,
And early death-and say, if this be so,
Where then is mercy?-whither shall we flee,
So unallied to hope, save by our hold on thee?
'But didst thou not, the deep sea brightly treading,
Lift from despair that struggler with the wave?
And wert thou not, sad tears, yet awful, shedding,
Beheld, a weeper at a mortal's grave?
And is this weight of anguish, which they bind
On life, this searing to the quick of mind,
That but to God its own free path would crave,
This crushing out of hope, and love, and youth,
Thy will indeed?-Give light! that I may know the truth!
'For my sick soul is darken'd unto death,
With shadows from the suffering it hath seen
The strong foundations of mine ancient faith
Sink from beneath me-whereon shall I lean?
-Oh! if from thy pure lips was wrung the sigh
Of the dust's anguish! if like man to die,
-And earth round him shuts heavily-hath been
Even to thee bitter, aid me!-guide me!-turn
My wild and wandering thoughts back from their starless bourne!'
And calm'd I rose:-but how the while had risen
Morn's orient sun, dissolving mist and shade!
-Could there indeed be wrong, or chain, or prison.
In the bright world such radiance might pervade?
It fill'd the fane, it mantled the pale form
Which rose before me through the pictured storm,
Even the grey tombs it kindled, and array'd
With life!-how hard to see thy race begun,
And think man wakes to grief, wakening to thee, O sun!
I sought my home again:-and thou, my child,
There at thy play beneath yon ancient pine,
With eyes, whose lightning laughter hath beguil'd
A thousand pangs, thence flashing joy to mine;
Thou in thy mother's arms, a babe, didst meet
My coming with young smiles, which yet, though sweet,
Seem'd on my soul all mournfully to shine,
And ask a happier heritage for thee,
Than but in turn the blight of human hope to see.
Now sport, for thou are free-the bright birds chasing,
Whose wings waft star-like gleams from tree to tree;
Or with the fawn, thy swift wood-playmate racing,
Sport on, my joyous child! for thou art free!
Yes, on that day I took thee to my heart,
And inly vow'd, for thee a better part
To choose; that so thy sunny bursts of glee
Should wake no more dim thoughts of far-seen woe,
But, gladdening fearless eyes, flow on-as now they flow.
Thou hast a rich world round thee:-Mighty shades
Weaving their gorgeous tracery o'er thy head,
With the light melting through their high arcades,
As through a pillar'd cloister's: but the dead
Sleep not beneath; nor doth the sunbeam pass
To marble shrines through rainbow-tinted glass;
Yet thou, by fount and forest-murmur led
To worship, thou art blest!-to thee is shown
Earth in her holy pomp, deck'd for her God alone.
Felicia Dorothea Hemans's Other Poems
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Comments about this poem (The Forest Sanctuary - Part I. by Felicia Dorothea Hemans )
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