Coventry Patmore

(23 July 1823 - 26 November 1896 / Essex, England)

The Falcon - Poem by Coventry Patmore

Who would not be Sir Hubert, for his birth and bearing fine,
His rich sky-skirted woodlands, valleys flowing oil and wine;
Sir Hubert, to whose sunning all the rays of fortune shine?
So most men praised Sir Hubert, and some others warm'd with praise
Of Hubert noble-hearted, than whom none went on his ways
Less spoilt by splendid fortune, whom no peril could amaze.
To Ladies all, save one, he was the rule by which the worth
Of other men was reckon'd; so that many a maid, for dearth
Of such a knight to woo her, love forswore, and with it mirth.
No prince could match his banquets, when proud Mabel was his guest;
And shows and sumptuous triumphs day by day his hope express'd
That love e'en yet might burgeon in her young unburgeon'd breast.
Time pass'd, and use for riches pass'd with hope, which slowly fled;
And want came on unheeded; and report in one day spread
Of good Sir Hubert houseless, and of Mabel richly wed.
Forth went he from the city where she dwelt, to one poor farm,
All left of all his valleys: there Sir Hubert's single arm
Served Hubert's wants; and labour soon relieved love's rankling harm.
Much hardship brought much easement of the melancholy freight
He bore within his bosom; and his fancy was elate
And proud of Love's rash sacrifice which led to this estate.
One friend was left, a falcon, famed for beauty, skill, and size,
Kept from his fortune's ruin, for the sake of its great eyes,
That seem'd to him like Mabel's. Of an evening he would rise,
And wake its royal glances and reluctantly flapp'd wings,
And looks of grave communion with his lightsome questionings,
That broke the drowsy sameness, and the sense like fear that springs
At night, when we are conscious of our distance from the strife
Of cities, and the memory of the spirit in all things rife
Endows the silence round us with a grim and ghastly life.
His active resignation wrought, in time, a heartfelt peace,
And though, in noble bosoms, love once lit can never cease,
He could walk and think of Mabel, and his pace would not increase.
Who say, when somewhat distanced from the heat and fiercer might,
‘Love's brand burns us no longer; it is out,’ use not their sight
For ever and for ever we are lighted by the light:
And ere there be extinguish'd one minutest flame, love-fann'd,
The Pyramids of Egypt shall have no place in the land,
But as a nameless portion of its ever-shifting sand.
News came at last that Mabel was a widow; but, with this,
That all her dead Lord's wealth went first to her one child and his;
So she was not for Hubert, had she beckon'd him to bliss;
For Hubert felt, tho' Mabel might, like him, become resign'd
To poverty for Love's sake, she might never, like him, find
That poverty is plenty, peace, and freedom of the mind.
One morning, while he rested from his delving, spade in hand,
He thought of her and blest her, and he look'd about the land,
And he, and all he look'd at, seem'd to brighten and expand.
The wind was newly risen; and the airy skies were rife
With fleets of sailing cloudlets, and the trees were all in strife,
Extravagantly triumphant at their newly gotten life.
Birds wrangled in the branches, with a trouble of sweet noise;
Even the conscious cuckoo, judging wisest to rejoice,
Shook round his ‘cuckoo, cuckoo,’ as if careless of his voice.
But Hubert mused and marvell'd at the glory in his breast;
The first glow turn'd to passion, and he nursed it unexpress'd;
And glory gilding glory turn'd, at last, to sunny rest.
Then again he look'd around him, like an angel, and, behold,
The scene was changed; no cloudlets cross'd the serious blue, but, roll'd
Behind the distant hill-tops, gleam'd aërial hills of gold.
The wind too was abated, and the trees and birds were grown
As quiet as the cloud-banks; right above, the bright sun shone,
Down looking from the forehead of the giant sky alone.
Then the nightingale, awaken'd by the silence, shot a throng
Of notes into the sunshine: cautious first, then swift and strong;
Then he madly smote them round him, till the bright air throbb'd with song,
And suddenly stopp'd singing, all amid his ecstasies:—
Myrtles rustle; what sees Hubert? sight is sceptic, but his knees
Bend to the Lady Mabel, as she blossoms from the trees.
She spoke, her eyes cast downwards, while upon them, dropp'd half way,
Lids fairer than the bosom of an unblown lily lay:
‘In faith of ancient amity, Sir Hubert, I this day
‘Would beg a boon, and bind me your great debtor.’ O, her mouth
Was sweet beyond new honey, or the bean-perfumed South,
And better than pomegranates to a pilgrim dumb for drouth!
She look'd at his poor homestead; at the spade beside his hand;
And then her heart reproach'd her, What inordinate demand
Was she come there for making! Then she says, in accents bland,
Her Page and she are weary, and her wish can wait; she'll share
His noontide meal, by his favour. This he hastens to prepare;
But, lo! the roost is empty, and his humble larder bare.
No friend has he to help him; no one near of whom to claim
The tax, and force its payment in his passion's sovereign name;
No time to set the pitfalls for the swift and fearful game;
Too late to fly his falcon, which, as if it would assist
Its master's trouble, perches on his idly proffer'd fist,
With busy, dumb caresses, treading up and down his wrist.
But now a gleam of comfort and a shadow of dismay
Pass o'er the good knight's features; now it seems he would essay
The fatness of his falcon, while it flaps both wings for play;
Now, lo, the ruthless lover takes it off its trusted stand;
Grasps all its frighten'd body with his hard remorseless hand;
Puts out its faithful life, and plucks and broils it on the brand.
In midst of this her dinner, Mabel gave her wish its word:
‘My wilful child, Sir Hubert, pines from fancy long deferr'd;
And now he raves in fever to possess your famous bird.’
‘Alas!’ he said, ‘behold it there.’ Then nobly did she say:
‘It grieves my heart, Sir Hubert, that I'm much too poor to pay
For this o'er-queenly banquet I am honour'd with to-day;
‘But if, Sir, we two, henceforth, can converse as friends, my board
To you shall be as open as it would were you its Lord.’
And so she bow'd and left him, from his vex'd mind unrestored.
Months pass'd, and Hubert went not, but lived on in his old way;
Until to him, one morning, Mabel sent her Page to say,
That, should it suit his pleasure, she would speak with him that day.
‘Ah, welcome Sir!’ said Mabel, rising courteous, kind and free
‘I hoped, ere this, to have had you for my guest, but now I see
That you are even prouder than they whisper you to be.’
Made grave by her great beauty, but not dazzled, he replied,
With every noble courtesy, to her words; and spoke beside
Such things as are permitted to bare friendship; not in pride,
Or wilful overacting of the right, which often blends
Its sacrificial pathos, bitter-sweet, with lover's ends,
Or that he now remember'd her command to meet ‘as friends;’
But having not had knowledge that the infant heir was dead,
Whose life made it more loving to preserve his love unsaid,
He waited, calmly wondering to what mark this summons led.
She, puzzled with a strangeness by his actions disavow'd,
Spoke further: ‘Once, Sir Hubert, I was thoughtless, therefore proud;
Your love on me shone sunlike. I, alas, have been your cloud,
‘And, graceless, quench'd the light that made me splendid. I would fain
Pay part of what I owe you, that is, if,—alas, but then
I know not! Things are changed, and you are not as other men.’
She strove to give her meaning, yet blush'd deeply with dismay
Lest he should find it. Hubert fear'd she purpos'd to repay
His love with less than love. Thought he, ‘Sin 'twas my hawk to slay!’
His eyes are dropp'd in sorrow from their worshipping: but, lo!
Upon her sable vesture they are fall'n; with progress slow,
Through dawning apprehension to sweet hope, his features glow;
And all at once are lighted with a light, as when the moon,
Long labouring to the margin of a cloud, still seeming soon
About to swim beyond it, bursts at last as bare as noon.
‘O, Lady, I have loved, and long kept silence; but I see
The time is come for speaking, O, sweet Lady, I should be
The blessedest knight in Christendom, were I beloved by thee!’
One small hand's weight of whiteness on her bosom did she press;
The other, woo'd with kisses bold, refused not his caress;
Feasting the hungry silence came, sob-clad, her silver ‘Yes.’

Now who would not be Hubert, for his dark-eyed Bride divine,
Her rich, sky-skirted woodlands, valleys flowing oil and wine,
Sir Hubert to whose sunning all the rays of fortune shine!’


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 14, 2010



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