Helen Maria Williams
Part Of An Irregular Fragment - Poem by Helen Maria Williams
Rise, winds of night! relentless tempests, rise!
Rush from the troubled clouds, and o'er me roll!
In this chill pause a deeper horror lies,
A wilder fear appals my shudd'ring soul!--
'Twas on this day,* this hour accurst,
That Nature, starting from repose,
Heard the dire shrieks of murder burst--
From infant innocence they rose,--
And shook these solemn towers!
I shudd'ring pass that fatal room,
For ages wrapt in central gloom!--
I shudd'ring pass that iron door,
Which fate perchance unlocks no more;
Death, smear'd with blood, o'er the dark portal lowers!
How fearfully my step resounds
Along these lonely bounds!--
Spare, savage blast! the taper's quiv'ring fires;
Deep in these gath'ring shades its flame expires.
Ye host of heaven! the door recedes--
It mocks my grasp--what unseen hands
Have burst its iron bands?
No mortal force this gate unbarr'd,
Where danger lives, which terrors guard--
Dread powers! its screaming hinges close
On this dire scene of impious deeds--
My feet are fix'd!--Dismay has bound
My step on this polluted ground!
But lo! the pitying moon a line of light
Athwart the horrid darkness dimly throws,
And from yon grated window chases night.
Ye visions that before me roll,
That freeze my blood, that shake my soul!
Are ye the phantoms of a dream?--
Pale spectres! are ye what ye seem?--
They glide more near!
Their forms unfold!
Fix'd are their eyes--on me they bend--
Their glaring look is cold!
And hark!--I hear
Sounds that the throbbing pulse of life suspend:
"No wild illusion cheats thy sight
With shapes that only live in night--
Mark the native glories spread
Around my bleeding brow!
The crown of Albion wreath'd my head,
When my father shook his spear,
When his banner sought the skies,
Her baffled host recoil'd with fear,
Nor turn'd their shrinking eyes.
Soon as the daring eagle springs,
To bask in heav'n's empyreal light,
The vultures ply their baleful wings,
A cloud of deep'ning colour marks their flight,
Staining the golden day:--
But see! amid the rav'nous brood
A bird of fiercer aspect soar--
The spirits of a rival race*
Hang on the noxious blast, and trace
With gloomy joy his destin'd prey;
Inflame th' ambitious wish that thirsts for blood,
And plunge his talons deep in kindred gore.
"View the stern form that hovers nigh:
Fierce rolls his dauntless eye,
In scorn of hideous death;
Till starting at a brother's* name,
Horror shrinks his glowing frame;
Locks the half-utter'd groan,
And chills the parting breath:--
Astonish'd Nature heav'd a moan!
When her affrighted eye beheld the hands
She form'd to cherish, rend her holy bands.
"Look where a royal infant+ kneels;
Shrieking, and agoniz'd with fear,
He sees the dagger pointed near
A much-lov'd brother's+ breast,
And tells an absent mother all he feels!
His eager eye he casts around,--
Where shall her guardian form be found,
On which his eager eye would rest?
On her he calls in accents wild,
And wonders why her step is slow
To save her suff'ring child!
Rob'd in the regal garb, his brother stands
In more majestic woe,
And meets the impious stroke with bosom bare,
Then fearless grasps the murd'rer's hands,
And asks the minister of hell to spare
The child, whose feeble arms sustain
His bleeding form, from cruel death.
In vain fraternal fondness pleads,
For cold is now his livid cheek,
And cold his last, expiring breath;
And now, with aspect meek,
The infant lifts its mournful eye,
And asks, with trembling voice, to die,
If death will cure his heaving heart of pain!
His heaving heart now bleeds!--
Foul tyrant! o'er the gilded hour
That beams with all the blaze of power,
Remorse shall spread her thickest shroud!
The furies in thy tortur'd ear
Shall howl, with curses deep and loud,
And wake distracting fear!
I see the ghastly spectre rise,
Whose blood is cold, whose hollow eyes
Seem from his head to start!--
With upright hair and shiv'ring heart,
Dark o'er thy midnight couch he bends,
And clasps thy shrinking frame, thy impious spirit rends."
Now his thrilling accents die--
His shape eludes my searching eye.
But who is he,* convuls'd with pain,
That writhes in every swelling vein?
Yet in so deep, so wild a groan,
A sharper anguish seems to live
Than life's expiring pang can give!--
He dies deserted, and alone.
If pity can allay thy woes,
Sad spirit, they shall find repose:
Thy friend, thy long-lov'd friend is near;
He comes to pour the parting tear,
He comes to catch the parting breath.
Ah, heaven! no melting look he wears,
His alter'd eye with vengeance glares;
Each frantic passion at his soul;
'Tis he has dash'd that venom'd bowl
With agony and death!
But whence arose that solemn call?
Yon bloody phantom waves his hand,
And beckons me to deeper gloom!
Rest, troubled form! I come--
Some unknown power my step impels
To horror's secret cells.
"For thee I raise this sable pall,
It shrouds a ghastly band:
Stretch'd beneath, thy eye shall trace
A mangled regal race!
A thousand suns have roll'd, since light
Rush'd on their solid night!
See, o'er that tender frame grim Famine hangs,
And mocks a mother's pangs!
The last, last drop which warm'd her veins
That meagre infant drains,
Then gnaws her fond, sustaining breast!
Stretch'd on her feeble knees, behold
Another victim sinks to lasting rest;
Another yet her matron arms would fold,
Who strives to reach her matron arms in vain--
Too weak her wasted form to raise,
On him she bends her eager gaze;
She sees the soft imploring eye
That asks her dear embrace, the cure of pain--
She sees her child at distance die!
But now her stedfast heart can bear,
Unmov'd, the pressure of despair.
When first the winds of winter urge their course
O'er the pure stream, whose current smoothly glides,
The heaving river swells its troubled tides;
But when the bitter blast with keener force
O'er the high wave an icy fetter throws,
The harden'd wave is fix'd in dead repose."
"Say, who that hoary form? alone he stands,
And meekly lifts his wither'd hands;
His white beard streams with blood!
I see him with a smile deride
The wounds that pierce his shrivell'd side,
Whence flows a purple flood;
But sudden pangs his bosom tear--
On one big drop, of deeper dye,
I see him fix his haggard eye
In dark, and wild despair!
That sanguine drop which wakes his woe,
Say, Spirit! whence its source?"
"Ask no more its source to know--
Ne'er shall mortal eye explore
Whence flow'd that drop of human gore,
Till the starting dead shall rise,
Unchain'd from earth, and mount the skies,
And Time shall end his fated course.
Now th' unfathom'd depth behold:
Look but once--a second glance
Wraps a heart of human mould
In death's eternal trance!
"That shapeless phantom, sinking slow
Deep down the vast abyss below,
Darts thro' the mists that shroud his frame,
A horror, nature hates to name!
Mortal, could thine eyes behold
All those sullen mists enfold,
Thy sinews at the sight accurst
Would wither, and thy heart-strings burst;
Death would grasp with icy hand,
And drag thee to our grizly band!
Away! the sable pall I spread,
And give to rest th' unquiet dead;
Haste! ere its horrid shroud enclose
Thy form, benumb'd with wild affright,
And plunge thee far through wastes of night,
In yon black gulph's abhorr'd repose!"
As, starting at each step, I fly,
Why backward turns my frantic eye,
That closing portal past?
Two sullen shades, half-seen, advance!
On me, a blasting look they cast,
And fix my view with dang'rous spells,
Where burning frenzy dwells!--
Again! their vengeful look--and now a speechless--
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