Felicia Dorothea Hemans
Costanza - Poem by Felicia Dorothea Hemans
She knelt in prayer. A stream of sunset fell
Thro' the stain'd window of her lonely cell,
And with its rich, deep, melancholy glow
Flushing her cheek and pale Madonna brow,
While o'er her long hair's flowing jet it threw
Bright waves of goldâ€“the autumn forest's hueâ€“
Seem'd all a vision's mist of glory, spread
By painting's touch around some holy head,
Virgin's or fairest martyr's. In her eye,
Which glanced as dark, clear water to the sky,
What solemn fervour lived! And yet what wo,
Lay like some buried thing, still seen below
The glassy tide! Oh! he that could reveal
What life had taught that chasten'd heart to feel,
Might speak indeed of woman's blighted years,
And wasted love, and vainly bitter tears!
But she had told her griefs to heaven alone,
And of the gentle saint no more was known,
Than that she fled the world's cold breath, and made
A temple of the pine and chestnut shade,
Filling its depths with soul, whene'er her hymn
Rose thro' each murmur of the green, and dim,
And ancient solitude; where hidden streams
Went moaning thro' the grass, like sounds in dreams,
Music for weary hearts! Midst leaves and flowers
She dwelt, and knew all secrets of their powers,
All nature's balms, wherewith her gliding tread
To the sick peasant on his lowly bed,
Came and brought hope; while scarce of mortal birth
He deem'd the pale fair form, that held on earth
Communion but with grief.
Ere long a cell,
A rock-hewn chapel rose, a cross of stone
Gleam'd thro' the dark trees o'er a sparkling well,
And a sweet voice, of rich, yet mournful tone,
Told the Calabrian wilds, that duly there
Costanza lifted her sad heart in prayer.â€“
And now 'twas prayer's own hour. That voice again
Thro' the dim foliage sent its heavenly strain,
That made the cypress quiver where it stood,
In day's last crimson soaring from the wood
Like spiry flame. But as the bright sun set,
Other and wilder sounds in tumult met
The floating song. Strange sounds!â€“the trumpet's peal,
Made hollow by the rocks; the clash of steel,
The rallying war cry.â€“In the mountain-pass,
There had been combat; blood was on the grass,
Banners had strewn the waters; chiefs lay dying,
And the pine-branches crash'd before the flying.
And all was chang'd within the still retreat,
Costanza's home:â€“there enter'd hurrying feet,
Dark looks of shame and sorrow; mail-clad men,
Stern fugitives from that wild battle-glen,
Scaring the ringdoves from the porch-roof, bore
A wounded warrior in: the rocky floor
Gave back deep echoes to his clanging sword,
As there they laid their leader, and implor'd
The sweet saint's prayers to heal him; then for flight,
Thro' the wide forest and the mantling night,
Sped breathlessly again.â€“They pass'dâ€“but he,
The stateliest of a hostâ€“alas! to see
What mother's eyes have watch'd in rosy sleep
Till joy, for very fullness, turn'd to weep,
Thus chang'd!â€“a fearful thing! His golden crest
Was shiver'd, and the bright scarf on his breastâ€“
Some costly love-giftâ€“rent:â€“but what of these?
There were the clustering raven-locksâ€“the breeze
As it came in thro' lime and myrtle flowers,
Might scarcely lift themâ€“steep'd in bloody showers,
So heavily upon the pallid clay
Of the damp cheek they hung! the eyes' dark rayâ€“
Where was it?â€“and the lips!â€“they gasp'd apart,
With their light curve, as from the chisel's art,
Still proudly beautiful! but that white hueâ€“
Was it not death's?â€“that stillnessâ€“that cold dew
On the scarr'd forehead? No! his spirit broke
From its deep trance ere long, yet but awoke
To wander in wild dreams; and there he lay,
By the fierce fever as a green reed shaken,
The haughty chief of thousandsâ€“the forsaken
Of all save one!â€“She fled not. Day by dayâ€“
Such hours are woman's birthrightâ€“she, unknown,
Kept watch beside him, fearless and alone;
Binding his wounds, and oft in silence laving
His brow with tears that mourn'd the strong man's raving.
He felt them not, nor mark'd the light, veil'd form
Still hovering nigh; yet sometimes, when that storm
Of frenzy sank, her voice, in tones as low
As a young mother's by the cradle singing,
Would sooth him with sweet aves, gently bringing
Moments of slumber, when the fiery glow
Ebb'd from his hollow cheek.
At last faint gleams
Of memory dawn'd upon the cloud of dreams,
And feebly lifting, as a child, his head,
And gazing round him from his leafy bed,
He murmur'd forth, 'Where am I? What soft strain
Pass'd, like a breeze, across my burning brain?
Back from my youth it floated, with a tone
Of life's first music, and a thought of oneâ€“
Where is she now? and where the gauds of pride
Whose hollow splendour lured me from her side?
All lost!â€“and this is death!â€“I cannot die
Without forgiveness from that mournful eye!
Away! the earth hath lost her. Was she born
To brook abandonment, to strive with scorn?
My first, my holiest love!â€“her broken heart
Lies low, and Iâ€“unpardon'd I depart.'
But then Costanza rais'd the shadowy veil
From her dark locks and features brightly pale,
And stood before him with a smileâ€“oh! ne'er
Did aught that smiled so much of sadness wearâ€“
And said 'Cesario! look on me; I live
To say my heart hath bled, and can forgive.
I loved thee with such worship, such deep trust
As should be Heaven's aloneâ€“and Heaven is just!
I bless theeâ€“be at peace.'
But o'er his frame
Too fast the strong tide rush'dâ€“the sudden shame,
The joy, th' amaze!â€“he bow'd his headâ€“it fell
On the wrong'd bosom which had lov'd so well;
And love still perfect, gave him refuge there,â€“
His last faint breath just wav'd her floating hair.
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