Robert Southey

(1774 - 1843 / Bristol / England)

Lord William - Poem by Robert Southey

No eye beheld when William plunged
Young Edmund in the stream,
No human ear but William's heard
Young Edmund's drowning scream.

Submissive all the vassals own'd
The murderer for their Lord,
And he, the rightful heir, possessed
The house of Erlingford.

The ancient house of Erlingford
Stood midst a fair domain,
And Severn's ample waters near
Roll'd through the fertile plain.

And often the way-faring man
Would love to linger there,
Forgetful of his onward road
To gaze on scenes so fair.

But never could Lord William dare
To gaze on Severn's stream;
In every wind that swept its waves
He heard young Edmund scream.

In vain at midnight's silent hour
Sleep closed the murderer's eyes,
In every dream the murderer saw
Young Edmund's form arise.

In vain by restless conscience driven
Lord William left his home,
Far from the scenes that saw his guilt,
In pilgrimage to roam.

To other climes the pilgrim fled,
But could not fly despair,
He sought his home again, but peace
Was still a stranger there.

Each hour was tedious long, yet swift
The months appear'd to roll;
And now the day return'd that shook
With terror William's soul.

A day that William never felt
Return without dismay,
For well had conscience kalendered
Young Edmund's dying day.

A fearful day was that! the rains
Fell fast, with tempest roar,
And the swoln tide of Severn spread
Far on the level shore.

In vain Lord William sought the feast
In vain he quaff'd the bowl,
And strove with noisy mirth to drown
The anguish of his soul.

The tempest as its sudden swell
In gusty howlings came,
With cold and death-like feelings seem'd
To thrill his shuddering frame.

Reluctant now, as night came on,
His lonely couch he prest,
And wearied out, he sunk to sleep,
To sleep, but not to rest.

Beside that couch his brother's form
Lord Edmund seem'd to stand,
Such and so pale as when in death
He grasp'd his brother's hand;

Such and so pale his face as when
With faint and faltering tongue,
To William's care, a dying charge
He left his orphan son.

'I bade thee with a father's love
My orphan Edmund guard--
Well William hast thou kept thy charge!
Now take thy due reward.'

He started up, each limb convuls'd
With agonizing fear,
He only heard the storm of night--
'Twas music to his ear.

When lo! the voice of loud alarm
His inmost soul appals,
What ho! Lord William rise in haste!
The water saps thy walls!

He rose in haste, beneath the walls
He saw the flood appear,
It hemm'd him round, 'twas midnight now,
No human aid was near.

He heard the shout of joy, for now
A boat approach'd the wall,
And eager to the welcome aid
They crowd for safety all.

My boat is small, the boatman cried,
This dangerous haste forbear!
Wait other aid, this little bark
But one from hence can bear.

Lord William leap'd into the boat,
Haste--haste to yonder shore!
And ample wealth shall well reward,
Ply swift and strong the oar.

The boatman plied the oar, the boat
Went light along the stream,
Sudden Lord William heard a cry
Like Edmund's drowning scream.

The boatman paus'd, methought I heard
A child's distressful cry!
'Twas but the howling wind of night
Lord William made reply.

Haste haste--ply swift and strong the oar!
Haste haste across the stream!
Again Lord William heard a cry
Like Edmund's drowning scream.

I heard a child's distressful scream
The boatman cried again.
Nay hasten on--the night is dark--
And we should search in vain.

Oh God! Lord William dost thou know
How dreadful 'tis to die?
And can'st thou without pity hear
A child's expiring cry?

How horrible it is to sink
Beneath the chilly stream,
To stretch the powerless arms in vain,
In vain for help to scream?

The shriek again was heard. It came
More deep, more piercing loud,
That instant o'er the flood the moon
Shone through a broken cloud.

And near them they beheld a child,
Upon a crag he stood,
A little crag, and all around
Was spread the rising flood.

The boatman plied the oar, the boat
Approach'd his resting place,
The moon-beam shone upon the child
And show'd how pale his face.

Now reach thine hand! the boatman cried
Lord William reach and save!
The child stretch'd forth his little hands
To grasp the hand he gave.

Then William shriek'd; the hand he touch'd
Was cold and damp and dead!
He felt young Edmund in his arms
A heavier weight than lead.

The boat sunk down, the murderer sunk
Beneath the avenging stream;
He rose, he scream'd, no human ear
Heard William's drowning scream.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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