Felicia Dorothea Hemans
The Widow Of Crescentius : Part II.
Hast thou a scene that is not spread
With records of thy glory fled?
A monument that doth not tell
The tale of liberty's farewell?
Italia! thou art but a grave
Where flowers luxuriate o'er the brave,
And nature gives her treasures birth
O'er all that hath been great on earth.
Yet smile thy heavens as once they smiled,
When thou wert freedom's favoured child:
Though fane and tomb alike are low,
Time hath not dimmed thy sunbeam's glow;
Oh, yet, though by thy sorrows bent,
In nature's pomp magnificent;
What marvel if, when all was lost,
Still on thy bright, enchanted coast,
Though many an omen warned him thence,
Lingered the lord of eloquence?
Still gazing on the lovely sky,
Whose radiance wooed him - but to die:
would not linger there,
Where heaven, earth, ocean, all are fair?
Who 'midst thy glowing scenes could dwell,
Nor bid awhile his griefs farewell?
Hath not thy pure and genial air
Balm for all sadness but despair?
No! there are pangs, whose deep-worn trace
magic can efface!
Hearts by unkindness wrung may learn
The world and all its gifts to spurn:
Time may steal on with silent tread,
And dry the tear that mourns the dead,
May change fond love, subdue regret,
And teach e'en vengeance to forget:
But thou, Remorse! there is no charm,
sting, avenger, to disarm!
Vain are bright suns and laughing skies
To soothe thy victim's agonies:
The heart once made thy burning throne,
Still, while it beats, is thine alone.
In vain for Otho's joyless eye
Smile the fair scenes of Italy,
As through her landscapes' rich array
The imperial pilgrim bends his way.
Thy form, Crescentius, on his sight
Rises when nature laughs in light,
Glides round him at the midnight hour,
Is present in his festal bower,
With awful voice and frowning mien,
By all but him unheard, unseen.
Oh! thus to shadows of the grave
Be every tyrant still a slave!
Where through Gargano's woody dells,
O'er bending oaks the north wind swells,
A sainted hermit's lowly tomb
Is bosomed in umbrageous gloom,
In shades that saw him live and die
Beneath their waving canopy.
'Twas his, as legends tell, to share
The converse of immortals there;
Around that dweller of the wild
There 'bright appearances' have smiled.
And angel-wings, at eve, have been
Gleaming the shadowy boughs between.
And oft from that secluded bower
Hath breathed, at midnight's calmer hour
A swell of viewless harps, a sound
Of warbled anthems pealing round.
Oh, none but voices of the sky
Might wake that thrilling harmony,
Whose tones, whose very echoes made
An Eden of the lonely shade!
Years have gone by; the hermit sleeps
Amidst Gargano's woods and steeps:
Ivy and flowers have half o'ergrown,
And veiled his low sepulchral stone:
Celestial footsteps haunt the hill;
And oft the awe-struck mountaineer
Aerial vesper-hymns may hear
Around those forest-precincts float,
Soft, solemn, clear, but still remote.
Oft will Affliction breathe her plaint
To that rude shrine's departed saint,
And deem that spirits of the blest
There shed sweet influence o'er her breast.
And thither Otho now repairs,
To soothe his soul with vows and prayers;
And if for him, on holy ground,
The lost one, Peace, may yet be found,
'Midst rocks and forests, by the bed,
Where calmly sleep the sainted dead,
She dwells, remote from heedless eye,
With Nature's lonely majesty.
Vain, vain the search - his troubled breast
Nor vow nor penance lulls to rest;
The weary pilgrimage is o'er,
The hopes that cheered it are no more.
Then sinks his soul, and day by day
Youth's buoyant energies decay.
The light of health his eye hath flown,
The glow that tinged his cheek is gone.
Joyless as one on whom is laid
Some baleful spell that bids him fade,
Extending its mysterious power
O'er every scene, o'er every hour
withers; and to him
He withers - in that glorious clime
Where Nature laughs in scorn of Time;
And suns, that shed on all below
Their full and vivifying glow,
From him alone their power withhold,
And leaves his heart in darkness cold.
Earth blooms around him, heaven is fair,
only seems to perish there.
Yet sometimes will a transient smile
Play o'er his faded cheek awhile,
When breathes his minstrel boy a strain
Of power to lull all earthly pain;
So wildly sweet, its notes might seem
The ethereal music of a dream,
A spirit's voice from worlds unknown,
Deep thrilling power in every tone!
Sweet is that lay, and yet its flow
Hath language only given to woe;
And if at times its wakening swell
Some tale of glory seems to tell,
Soon the proud notes of triumph die,
Lost in a dirge's harmony.
Oh! many a pang the heart hath proved
Hath deeply suffered, fondly loved,
Ere the sad strain could catch from thence
Such deep impassioned eloquence! -
Yes! gaze on him, that minstrel boy -
He is no child of hope and joy!
Though few his years, yet have they been
Such as leave traces on the mien,
And o'er the roses of our prime
Breathe other blights than those of time.
Yet seems his spirit wild and proud,
By grief unsoftened and unbowed.
Oh! there are sorrows which impart
A sternness foreign to the heart,
And, rushing with an earthquake's power,
That makes a desert in an hour,
Rouse the dread passions in their course,
As tempests wake the billows' force!-
'Tis sad, on youthful Guido's face,
The stamp of woes like these to trace.
Oh! where can ruins awe mankind,
Dark as the ruins of the mind?
His mien is lofty, but his gaze
Too well a wandering soul betrays:
His full dark eye at times is bright
With strange and momentary light,
Whose quick uncertain flashes throw
O'er his pale cheek a hectic glow:
And oft his features and his air
A shade of troubled mystery wear,
A glance of hurried wildness, fraught
With some unfathomable thought.
Whate'er that thought, still, unexpressed,
Dwells the sad secret in his breast;
The pride his haughty brow reveals,
All other passion well conceals -
He breathes each wounded feeling's tone
In music's eloquence alone;
His soul's deep voice is only poured
Through his full song and swelling chord.
He seeks no friend, but shuns the train
Of courtiers with a proud disdain;
And, save when Otho bids his lay
Its half unearthly power essay
In hall or bower the heart to thrill,
His haunts are wild and lonely still.
Far distant from the heedless throng,
He roves old Tiber's banks along,
Where Empire's desolate remains
Lie scattered o'er the silent plains;
Or, lingering 'midst each ruined shrine
That strews the desert Palatine,
With mournful yet commanding mien,
Like the sad genius of the scene,
Entranced in awful thought appears
To commune with departed years.
Or, at the dead of night, when Rome
Seems of heroic shades the home;
When Tiber's murmuring voice recalls
The mighty to their ancient halls;
When hushed is every meaner sound,
And the deep moonlight-calm around
Leaves to the solemn scene alone
The majesty of ages flown, -
A pilgrim to each hero's tomb,
He wanders through the sacred gloom;
And, 'midst those dwellings of decay,
At times will breathe so sad a lay,
So wild a grandeur in each tone,
'Tis like a dirge for empires gone!
Awake thy pealing harp again,
But breathe a more exulting strain,
Young Guido! for awhile forgot
Be the dark secrets of thy lot,
And rouse the inspiring soul of song
To speed the banquet's hour along! -
The feast is spread, the music's call
Is echoing through the royal hall,
And banners wave and trophies shine
O'er stately guests in glittering line;
And Otho seeks awhile to chase
The thoughts he never can erase,
And bid the voice, whose murmurs deep
Rise like a spirit on his sleep -
The still small voice of conscience - die,
Lost in the din of revelry.
On his pale brow dejection lowers,
But that shall yield to festal hours;
A gloom is in his faded eye,
But that from music's power shall fly:
His wasted cheek is wan with care,
But mirth shall spread fresh crimson there.
Wake, Guido! wake thy numbers high,
Strike the bold chord exultingly!
And pour upon the enraptured ear
Such strains as warriors love to hear!
Let the rich mantling goblet flow,
And banish all resembling woe;
And, if a thought intrude, of power
To mar the bright convivial hour,
Still must its influence lurk unseen,
And cloud the heart - but not the mien!
Away, vain dream! - on Otho's brow,
Still darker lower the shadows now;
Changed are his features, now o'erspread
With the cold paleness of the dead;
Now crimsoned with a hectic dye,
The burning flush of agony!
His lip is quivering, and his breast
Heaves with convulsive pangs oppressed;
Now his dim eye seems fixed and glazed,
And now to heaven in anguish raised;
And as, with unavailing aid,
Around him throng his guests dismayed,
He sings - while scarce his struggling breast,
Hath power to falter - 'This is death!'
Then rushed that haughty child of song,
Dark Guido, through the awe-struck throng:
Filled with a strange delirious light,
His kindling eye shone wildly bright;
And on the sufferer's mien awhile
Gazing with stern vindictive smile,
A feverish glow of triumph dyed
His burning cheek, while thus he cried : -
'Yes! these are death-pangs - on thy brow
Is set the seal of vengeance now!
Oh! well was mixed the deadly draught,
And long and deeply hast thou quaffed;
And bitter as thy pangs may be,
They are but guerdons meet from me!
Yet, these are but a moment's throes,
Howe'er intense, they soon shall close.
Soon shalt thou yield thy fleeting breath -
life hath been a lingering death;
Since one dark hour of woe and crime,
A blood-spot on the page of time!
'Deemest thou my mind of reason void?
It is not frenzied, - but destroyed!
Ay! view the wreck with shuddering thought,
That work of ruin thou hast wrought!
The secret of thy doom to tell,
My name alone suffices well!
Stephania! - once a hero's bride!
Otho! thou knowest the rest -
Yes! trusting to a monarch's word,
The Roman fell, untried, unheard!
And thou, whose every pledge was vain,
trust in aught again?
'He died, and I was changed - my soul,
A lonely wanderer, spurned control.
From peace, and light, and glory hurled,
The outcast of a purer world,
I saw each brighter hope o'erthrown,
And lived for one dread task alone.
The task is closed, fulfilled the vow -
The hand of death is on thee now.
Betrayer! in thy turn betrayed,
The debt of blood shall soon be paid!
Thine hour is come - the time hath been
My heart had shrunk from such a scene;
feeling long is past - my fate
Hath made me stern as desolate.
'Ye that around me shuddering stand,
Ye chiefs and princes of the land!
Mourn ye a guilty monarch's doom?
Ye wept not o'er the patriot's tomb!
sleeps unhonoured - yet be mine
To share his low, neglected shrine.
His soul with freedom finds a home.
His grave is that of glory - Rome!
Are not the great of old with her,
That city of the sepulchre?
Lead me to death! and let me share
The slumbers of the mighty there!'
The day departs - that fearful day
Fades in calm loveliness away:
From purple heavens its lingering beam
Seems melting into Tiber's stream,
And softly tints each Roman hill
With glowing light, as clear and still
As if, unstained by crime or woe,
Its hours had passed in silent flow.
The day sets calmly - it hath been
Marked with a strange and awful scene.
One guilty bosom throbs no more,
And Otho's pangs and life are o'er.
And thou, ere yet another sun
His burning race hath brightly run,
Released from anguish by thy foes,
Daughter of Rome! shalt find repose.
Yes! on thy country's lovely sky
Fix yet once more thy parting eye!
A few short hours - and all shall be
The silent and the past for thee.
Oh! thus with tempests of a day
We struggle, and we pass away,
Like the wild billows as they sweep,
Leaving no vestige on the deep!
And o'er thy dark and lowly bed
The sons of future days shall tread,
The pangs, the conflicts, of thy lot
By them unknown, by thee forgot.
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