Percy Shelley: Poems

Rosalind, Helen, And Her Child


Come hither, my sweet Rosalind.

'Tis long since thou and I have met;

And yet methinks it were unkind

Those moments to forget.

Come, sit by me. I see thee stand _5

By this lone lake, in this far land,

Thy loose hair in the light wind flying,

Thy sweet voice to each tone of even

United, and thine eyes replying

To the hues of yon fair heaven. _10

Come, gentle friend: wilt sit by me?

And be as thou wert wont to be

Ere we were disunited?

None doth behold us now; the power

That led us forth at this lone hour _15

Will be but ill requited

If thou depart in scorn: oh! come,

And talk of our abandoned home.

Remember, this is Italy,

And we are exiles. Talk with me _20

Of that our land, whose wilds and floods,

Barren and dark although they be,

Were dearer than these chestnut woods:

Those heathy paths, that inland stream,

And the blue mountains, shapes which seem _25

Like wrecks of childhood's sunny dream:

Which that we have abandoned now,

Weighs on the heart like that remorse

Which altered friendship leaves. I seek

No more our youthful intercourse. _30

That cannot be! Rosalind, speak.

Speak to me. Leave me not.--When morn did come,

When evening fell upon our common home,

When for one hour we parted,--do not frown:

I would not chide thee, though thy faith is broken: _35

But turn to me. Oh! by this cherished token,

Of woven hair, which thou wilt not disown,

Turn, as 'twere but the memory of me,

And not my scorned self who prayed to thee.


Is it a dream, or do I see _40

And hear frail Helen? I would flee

Thy tainting touch; but former years

Arise, and bring forbidden tears;

And my o'erburthened memory

Seeks yet its lost repose in thee. _45

I share thy crime. I cannot choose

But weep for thee: mine own strange grief

But seldom stoops to such relief:

Nor ever did I love thee less,

Though mourning o'er thy wickedness _50

Even with a sister's woe. I knew

What to the evil world is due,

And therefore sternly did refuse

To link me with the infamy

Of one so lost as Helen. Now _55

Bewildered by my dire despair,

Wondering I blush, and weep that thou

Should'st love me still,--thou only!--There,

Let us sit on that gray stone

Till our mournful talk be done. _60


Alas! not there; I cannot bear

The murmur of this lake to hear.

A sound from there, Rosalind dear,

Which never yet I heard elsewhere

But in our native land, recurs, _65

Even here where now we meet. It stirs

Too much of suffocating sorrow!

In the dell of yon dark chestnutwood

Is a stone seat, a solitude

Less like our own. The ghost of Peace _70

Will not desert this spot. To-morrow,

If thy kind feelings should not cease,

We may sit here.


Thou lead, my sweet,

And I will follow.


'Tis Fenici's seat

Where you are going? This is not the way, _75

Mamma; it leads behind those trees that grow

Close to the little river.


Yes: I know;

I was bewildered. Kiss me and be gay,

Dear boy: why do you sob?


I do not know:

But it might break any one's heart to see _80

You and the lady cry so bitterly.


It is a gentle child, my friend. Go home,

Henry, and play with Lilla till I come.

We only cried with joy to see each other;

We are quite merry now: Good-night.

The boy _85

Lifted a sudden look upon his mother,

And in the gleam of forced and hollow joy

Which lightened o'er her face, laughed with the glee

Of light and unsuspecting infancy,

And whispered in her ear, 'Bring home with you _90

That sweet strange lady-friend.' Then off he flew,

But stopped, and beckoned with a meaning smile,

Where the road turned. Pale Rosalind the while,

Hiding her face, stood weeping silently.

In silence then they took the way _95

Beneath the forest's solitude.

It was a vast and antique wood,

Thro' which they took their way;

And the gray shades of evening

O'er that green wilderness did fling _100

Still deeper solitude.

Pursuing still the path that wound

The vast and knotted trees around

Through which slow shades were wandering,

To a deep lawny dell they came, _105

To a stone seat beside a spring,

O'er which the columned wood did frame

A roofless temple, like the fane

Where, ere new creeds could faith obtain,

Man's early race once knelt beneath _110

The overhanging deity.

O'er this fair fountain hung the sky,

Now spangled with rare stars. The snake,

The pale snake, that with eager breath

Creeps here his noontide thirst to slake, _115

Is beaming with many a mingled hue,

Shed from yon dome's eternal blue,

When he floats on that dark and lucid flood

In the light of his own loveliness;

And the birds that in the fountain dip _120

Their plumes, with fearless fellowship

Above and round him wheel and hover.

The fitful wind is heard to stir

One solitary leaf on high;

The chirping of the grasshopper _125

Fills every pause. There is emotion

In all that dwells at noontide here;

Then, through the intricate wild wood,

A maze of life and light and motion

Is woven. But there is stillness now: _130

Gloom, and the trance of Nature now:

The snake is in his cave asleep;

The birds are on the branches dreaming:

Only the shadows creep:

Only the glow-worm is gleaming: _135

Only the owls and the nightingales

Wake in this dell when daylight fails,

And gray shades gather in the woods:

And the owls have all fled far away

In a merrier glen to hoot and play, _140

For the moon is veiled and sleeping now.

The accustomed nightingale still broods

On her accustomed bough,

But she is mute; for her false mate

Has fled and left her desolate. _145

This silent spot tradition old

Had peopled with the spectral dead.

For the roots of the speaker's hair felt cold

And stiff, as with tremulous lips he told

That a hellish shape at midnight led _150

The ghost of a youth with hoary hair,

And sate on the seat beside him there,

Till a naked child came wandering by,

When the fiend would change to a lady fair!

A fearful tale! The truth was worse: _155

For here a sister and a brother

Had solemnized a monstrous curse,

Meeting in this fair solitude:

For beneath yon very sky,

Had they resigned to one another _160

Body and soul. The multitude:

Tracking them to the secret wood,

Tore limb from limb their innocent child,

And stabbed and trampled on its mother;

But the youth, for God's most holy grace, _165

A priest saved to burn in the market-place.

Duly at evening Helen came

To this lone silent spot,

From the wrecks of a tale of wilder sorrow

So much of sympathy to borrow _170

As soothed her own dark lot.

Duly each evening from her home,

With her fair child would Helen come

To sit upon that antique seat,

While the hues of day were pale; _175

And the bright boy beside her feet

Now lay, lifting at intervals

His broad blue eyes on her;

Now, where some sudden impulse calls

Following. He was a gentle boy _180

And in all gentle sorts took joy;

Oft in a dry leaf for a boat,

With a small feather for a sail,

His fancy on that spring would float,

If some invisible breeze might stir _185

Its marble calm: and Helen smiled

Through tears of awe on the gay child,

To think that a boy as fair as he,

In years which never more may be,

By that same fount, in that same wood, _190

The like sweet fancies had pursued;

And that a mother, lost like her,

Had mournfully sate watching him.

Then all the scene was wont to swim

Through the mist of a burning tear. _195

For many months had Helen known

This scene; and now she thither turned

Her footsteps, not alone.

The friend whose falsehood she had mourned,

Sate with her on that seat of stone. _200

Silent they sate; for evening,

And the power its glimpses bring

Had, with one awful shadow, quelled

The passion of their grief. They sate

With linked hands, for unrepelled _205

Had Helen taken Rosalind's.

Like the autumn wind, when it unbinds

The tangled locks of the nightshade's hair,

Which is twined in the sultry summer air

Round the walls of an outworn sepulchre, _210

Did the voice of Helen, sad and sweet,

And the sound of her heart that ever beat,

As with sighs and words she breathed on her,

Unbind the knots of her friend's despair,

Till her thoughts were free to float and flow; _215

And from her labouring bosom now,

Like the bursting of a prisoned flame,

The voice of a long pent sorrow came.


I saw the dark earth fall upon

The coffin; and I saw the stone _220

Laid over him whom this cold breast

Had pillowed to his nightly rest!

Thou knowest not, thou canst not know

My agony. Oh! I could not weep:

The sources whence such blessings flow _225

Were not to be approached by me!

But I could smile, and I could sleep,

Though with a self-accusing heart.

In morning's light, in evening's gloom,

I watched,--and would not thence depart-- _230

My husband's unlamented tomb.

My children knew their sire was gone,

But when I told them,--'He is dead,'--

They laughed aloud in frantic glee,

They clapped their hands and leaped about, _235

Answering each other's ecstasy

With many a prank and merry shout.

But I sate silent and alone,

Wrapped in the mock of mourning weed.

They laughed, for he was dead: but I _240

Sate with a hard and tearless eye,

And with a heart which would deny

The secret joy it could not quell,

Low muttering o'er his loathed name;

Till from that self-contention came _245

Remorse where sin was none; a hell

Which in pure spirits should not dwell.

I'll tell thee truth. He was a man

Hard, selfish, loving only gold,

Yet full of guile; his pale eyes ran _250

With tears, which each some falsehood told,

And oft his smooth and bridled tongue

Would give the lie to his flushing cheek;

He was a coward to the strong:

He was a tyrant to the weak, _255

On whom his vengeance he would wreak:

For scorn, whose arrows search the heart,

From many a stranger's eye would dart,

And on his memory cling, and follow

His soul to its home so cold and hollow. _260

He was a tyrant to the weak,

And we were such, alas the day!

Oft, when my little ones at play,

Were in youth's natural lightness gay,

Or if they listened to some tale _265

Of travellers, or of fairy land,--

When the light from the wood-fire's dying brand

Flashed on their faces,--if they heard

Or thought they heard upon the stair

His footstep, the suspended word _270

Died on my lips: we all grew pale:

The babe at my bosom was hushed with fear

If it thought it heard its father near;

And my two wild boys would near my knee

Cling, cowed and cowering fearfully. _275

I'll tell thee truth: I loved another.

His name in my ear was ever ringing,

His form to my brain was ever clinging:

Yet if some stranger breathed that name,

My lips turned white, and my heart beat fast: _280

My nights were once haunted by dreams of flame,

My days were dim in the shadow cast

By the memory of the same!

Day and night, day and night,

He was my breath and life and light, _285

For three short years, which soon were passed.

On the fourth, my gentle mother

Led me to the shrine, to be

His sworn bride eternally.

And now we stood on the altar stair, _290

When my father came from a distant land,

And with a loud and fearful cry

Rushed between us suddenly.

I saw the stream of his thin gray hair,

I saw his lean and lifted hand, _295

And heard his words,--and live! Oh God!

Wherefore do I live?--'Hold, hold!'

He cried, 'I tell thee 'tis her brother!

Thy mother, boy, beneath the sod

Of yon churchyard rests in her shroud so cold: _300

I am now weak, and pale, and old:

We were once dear to one another,

I and that corpse! Thou art our child!'

Then with a laugh both long and wild

The youth upon the pavement fell: _305

They found him dead! All looked on me,

The spasms of my despair to see:

But I was calm. I went away:

I was clammy-cold like clay!

I did not weep: I did not speak: _310

But day by day, week after week,

I walked about like a corpse alive!

Alas! sweet friend, you must believe

This heart is stone: it did not break.

My father lived a little while, _315

But all might see that he was dying,

He smiled with such a woeful smile!

When he was in the churchyard lying

Among the worms, we grew quite poor,

So that no one would give us bread: _320

My mother looked at me, and said

Faint words of cheer, which only meant

That she could die and be content;

So I went forth from the same church door

To another husband's bed. _325

And this was he who died at last,

When weeks and months and years had passed,

Through which I firmly did fulfil

My duties, a devoted wife,

With the stern step of vanquished will, _330

Walking beneath the night of life,

Whose hours extinguished, like slow rain

Falling for ever, pain by pain,

The very hope of death's dear rest;

Which, since the heart within my breast _335

Of natural life was dispossessed,

Its strange sustainer there had been.

When flowers were dead, and grass was green

Upon my mother's grave,--that mother

Whom to outlive, and cheer, and make _340

My wan eyes glitter for her sake,

Was my vowed task, the single care

Which once gave life to my despair,--

When she was a thing that did not stir

And the crawling worms were cradling her _345

To a sleep more deep and so more sweet

Than a baby's rocked on its nurse's knee,

I lived: a living pulse then beat

Beneath my heart that awakened me.

What was this pulse so warm and free? _350

Alas! I knew it could not be

My own dull blood: 'twas like a thought

Of liquid love, that spread and wrought

Under my bosom and in my brain,

And crept with the blood through every vein; _355

And hour by hour, day after day,

The wonder could not charm away,

But laid in sleep, my wakeful pain,

Until I knew it was a child,

And then I wept. For long, long years _360

These frozen eyes had shed no tears:

But now--'twas the season fair and mild

When April has wept itself to May:

I sate through the sweet sunny day

By my window bowered round with leaves, _365

And down my cheeks the quick tears fell

Like twinkling rain-drops from the eaves,

When warm spring showers are passing o'er.

O Helen, none can ever tell

The joy it was to weep once more! _370

I wept to think how hard it were

To kill my babe, and take from it

The sense of light, and the warm air,

And my own fond and tender care,

And love and smiles; ere I knew yet _375

That these for it might, as for me,

Be the masks of a grinning mockery.

And haply, I would dream, 'twere sweet

To feed it from my faded breast,

Or mark my own heart's restless beat _380

Rock it to its untroubled rest,

And watch the growing soul beneath

Dawn in faint smiles; and hear its breath,

Half interrupted by calm sighs,

And search the depth of its fair eyes _385

For long departed memories!

And so I lived till that sweet load

Was lightened. Darkly forward flowed

The stream of years, and on it bore

Two shapes of gladness to my sight; _390

Two other babes, delightful more

In my lost soul's abandoned night,

Than their own country ships may be

Sailing towards wrecked mariners,

Who cling to the rock of a wintry sea. _395

For each, as it came, brought soothing tears;

And a loosening warmth, as each one lay

Sucking the sullen milk away

About my frozen heart, did play,

And weaned it, oh how painfully-- _400

As they themselves were weaned each one

From that sweet food,--even from the thirst

Of death, and nothingness, and rest,

Strange inmate of a living breast!

Which all that I had undergone _405

Of grief and shame, since she, who first

The gates of that dark refuge closed,

Came to my sight, and almost burst

The seal of that Lethean spring;

But these fair shadows interposed: _410

For all delights are shadows now!

And from my brain to my dull brow

The heavy tears gather and flow:

I cannot speak: Oh, let me weep!

The tears which fell from her wan eyes _415

Glimmered among the moonlight dew:

Her deep hard sobs and heavy sighs

Their echoes in the darkness threw.

When she grew calm, she thus did keep

The tenor of her tale:

He died: _420

I know not how: he was not old,

If age be numbered by its years:

But he was bowed and bent with fears,

Pale with the quenchless thirst of gold,

Which, like fierce fever, left him weak; _425

And his strait lip and bloated cheek

Were warped in spasms by hollow sneers;

And selfish cares with barren plough,

Not age, had lined his narrow brow,

And foul and cruel thoughts, which feed _430

Upon the withering life within,

Like vipers on some poisonous weed.

Whether his ill were death or sin

None knew, until he died indeed,

And then men owned they were the same. _435

Seven days within my chamber lay

That corse, and my babes made holiday:

At last, I told them what is death:

The eldest, with a kind of shame,

Came to my knees with silent breath, _440

And sate awe-stricken at my feet;

And soon the others left their play,

And sate there too. It is unmeet

To shed on the brief flower of youth

The withering knowledge of the grave; _445

From me remorse then wrung that truth.

I could not bear the joy which gave

Too just a response to mine own.

In vain. I dared not feign a groan,

And in their artless looks I saw, _450

Between the mists of fear and awe,

That my own thought was theirs, and they

Expressed it not in words, but said,

Each in its heart, how every day

Will pass in happy work and play, _455

Now he is dead and gone away.

After the funeral all our kin

Assembled, and the will was read.

My friend, I tell thee, even the dead

Have strength, their putrid shrouds within, _460

To blast and torture. Those who live

Still fear the living, but a corse

Is merciless, and power doth give

To such pale tyrants half the spoil

He rends from those who groan and toil, _465

Because they blush not with remorse

Among their crawling worms. Behold,

I have no child! my tale grows old

With grief, and staggers: let it reach

The limits of my feeble speech, _470

And languidly at length recline

On the brink of its own grave and mine.

Thou knowest what a thing is Poverty

Among the fallen on evil days:

'Tis Crime, and Fear, and Infamy, _475

And houseless Want in frozen ways

Wandering ungarmented, and Pain,

And, worse than all, that inward stain

Foul Self-contempt, which drowns in sneers

Youth's starlight smile, and makes its tears _480

First like hot gall, then dry for ever!

And well thou knowest a mother never

Could doom her children to this ill,

And well he knew the same. The will

Imported, that if e'er again _485

I sought my children to behold,

Or in my birthplace did remain

Beyond three days, whose hours were told,

They should inherit nought: and he,

To whom next came their patrimony, _490

A sallow lawyer, cruel and cold,

Aye watched me, as the will was read,

With eyes askance, which sought to see

The secrets of my agony;

And with close lips and anxious brow _495

Stood canvassing still to and fro

The chance of my resolve, and all

The dead man's caution just did call;

For in that killing lie 'twas said--

'She is adulterous, and doth hold _500

In secret that the Christian creed

Is false, and therefore is much need

That I should have a care to save

My children from eternal fire.'

Friend, he was sheltered by the grave, _505

And therefore dared to be a liar!

In truth, the Indian on the pyre

Of her dead husband, half consumed,

As well might there be false, as I

To those abhorred embraces doomed, _510

Far worse than fire's brief agony

As to the Christian creed, if true

Or false, I never questioned it:

I took it as the vulgar do:

Nor my vexed soul had leisure yet _515

To doubt the things men say, or deem

That they are other than they seem.

All present who those crimes did hear,

In feigned or actual scorn and fear,

Men, women, children, slunk away, _520

Whispering with self-contented pride,

Which half suspects its own base lie.

I spoke to none, nor did abide,

But silently I went my way,

Nor noticed I where joyously _525

Sate my two younger babes at play,

In the court-yard through which I passed;

But went with footsteps firm and fast

Till I came to the brink of the ocean green,

And there, a woman with gray hairs, _530

Who had my mother's servant been,

Kneeling, with many tears and prayers,

Made me accept a purse of gold,

Half of the earnings she had kept

To refuge her when weak and old. _535

With woe, which never sleeps or slept,

I wander now. 'Tis a vain thought--

But on yon alp, whose snowy head

'Mid the azure air is islanded,

(We see it o'er the flood of cloud, _540

Which sunrise from its eastern caves

Drives, wrinkling into golden waves,

Hung with its precipices proud,

From that gray stone where first we met)

There now--who knows the dead feel nought?-- _545

Should be my grave; for he who yet

Is my soul's soul, once said: ''Twere sweet

'Mid stars and lightnings to abide,

And winds and lulling snows, that beat

With their soft flakes the mountain wide, _550

Where weary meteor lamps repose,

And languid storms their pinions close:

And all things strong and bright and pure,

And ever during, aye endure:

Who knows, if one were buried there, _555

But these things might our spirits make,

Amid the all-surrounding air,

Their own eternity partake?'

Then 'twas a wild and playful saying

At which I laughed, or seemed to laugh: _560

They were his words: now heed my praying,

And let them be my epitaph.

Thy memory for a term may be

My monument. Wilt remember me?

I know thou wilt, and canst forgive _565

Whilst in this erring world to live

My soul disdained not, that I thought

Its lying forms were worthy aught

And much less thee.


O speak not so,

But come to me and pour thy woe _570

Into this heart, full though it be,

Ay, overflowing with its own:

I thought that grief had severed me

From all beside who weep and groan;

Its likeness upon earth to be, _575

Its express image; but thou art

More wretched. Sweet! we will not part

Henceforth, if death be not division;

If so, the dead feel no contrition.

But wilt thou hear since last we parted _580

All that has left me broken hearted?


Yes, speak. The faintest stars are scarcely shorn

Of their thin beams by that delusive morn

Which sinks again in darkness, like the light

Of early love, soon lost in total night. _585


Alas! Italian winds are mild,

But my bosom is cold--wintry cold--

When the warm air weaves, among the fresh leaves,

Soft music, my poor brain is wild,

And I am weak like a nursling child, _590

Though my soul with grief is gray and old.


Weep not at thine own words, though they must make

Me weep. What is thy tale?


I fear 'twill shake

Thy gentle heart with tears. Thou well

Rememberest when we met no more, _595

And, though I dwelt with Lionel,

That friendless caution pierced me sore

With grief; a wound my spirit bore

Indignantly, but when he died,

With him lay dead both hope and pride. _600

Alas! all hope is buried now.

But then men dreamed the aged earth

Was labouring in that mighty birth,

Which many a poet and a sage

Has aye foreseen--the happy age _605

When truth and love shall dwell below

Among the works and ways of men;

Which on this world not power but will

Even now is wanting to fulfil.

Among mankind what thence befell _610

Of strife, how vain, is known too well;

When Liberty's dear paean fell

'Mid murderous howls. To Lionel,

Though of great wealth and lineage high,

Yet through those dungeon walls there came _615

Thy thrilling light, O Liberty!

And as the meteor's midnight flame

Startles the dreamer, sun-like truth

Flashed on his visionary youth,

And filled him, not with love, but faith, _620

And hope, and courage mute in death;

For love and life in him were twins,

Born at one birth: in every other

First life then love its course begins,

Though they be children of one mother; _625

And so through this dark world they fleet

Divided, till in death they meet;

But he loved all things ever. Then

He passed amid the strife of men,

And stood at the throne of armed power _630

Pleading for a world of woe:

Secure as one on a rock-built tower

O'er the wrecks which the surge trails to and fro,

'Mid the passions wild of human kind

He stood, like a spirit calming them; _635

For, it was said, his words could bind

Like music the lulled crowd, and stem

That torrent of unquiet dream

Which mortals truth and reason deem,

But is revenge and fear and pride. _640

Joyous he was; and hope and peace

On all who heard him did abide,

Raining like dew from his sweet talk,

As where the evening star may walk

Along the brink of the gloomy seas, _645

Liquid mists of splendour quiver.

His very gestures touched to tears

The unpersuaded tyrant, never

So moved before: his presence stung

The torturers with their victim's pain, _650

And none knew how; and through their ears

The subtle witchcraft of his tongue

Unlocked the hearts of those who keep

Gold, the world's bond of slavery.

Men wondered, and some sneered to see _655

One sow what he could never reap:

For he is rich, they said, and young,

And might drink from the depths of luxury.

If he seeks Fame, Fame never crowned

The champion of a trampled creed: _660

If he seeks Power, Power is enthroned

'Mid ancient rights and wrongs, to feed

Which hungry wolves with praise and spoil,

Those who would sit near Power must toil;

And such, there sitting, all may see. _665

What seeks he? All that others seek

He casts away, like a vile weed

Which the sea casts unreturningly.

That poor and hungry men should break

The laws which wreak them toil and scorn, _670

We understand; but Lionel

We know, is rich and nobly born.

So wondered they: yet all men loved

Young Lionel, though few approved;

All but the priests, whose hatred fell _675

Like the unseen blight of a smiling day,

The withering honey dew, which clings

Under the bright green buds of May,

Whilst they unfold their emerald wings:

For he made verses wild and queer _680

On the strange creeds priests hold so dear,

Because they bring them land and gold.

Of devils and saints and all such gear,

He made tales which whoso heard or read

Would laugh till he were almost dead. _685

So this grew a proverb: 'Don't get old

Till Lionel's "Banquet in Hell" you hear,

And then you will laugh yourself young again.'

So the priests hated him, and he

Repaid their hate with cheerful glee. _690

Ah, smiles and joyance quickly died,

For public hope grew pale and dim

In an altered time and tide,

And in its wasting withered him,

As a summer flower that blows too soon _695

Droops in the smile of the waning moon,

When it scatters through an April night

The frozen dews of wrinkling blight.

None now hoped more. Gray Power was seated

Safely on her ancestral throne; _700

And Faith, the Python, undefeated,

Even to its blood-stained steps dragged on

Her foul and wounded train, and men

Were trampled and deceived again,

And words and shows again could bind _705

The wailing tribes of human kind

In scorn and famine. Fire and blood

Raged round the raging multitude,

To fields remote by tyrants sent

To be the scorned instrument _710

With which they drag from mines of gore

The chains their slaves yet ever wore:

And in the streets men met each other,

And by old altars and in halls,

And smiled again at festivals. _715

But each man found in his heart's brother

Cold cheer; for all, though half deceived,

The outworn creeds again believed,

And the same round anew began,

Which the weary world yet ever ran. _720

Many then wept, not tears, but gall

Within their hearts, like drops which fall

Wasting the fountain-stone away.

And in that dark and evil day

Did all desires and thoughts, that claim _725

Men's care--ambition, friendship, fame,

Love, hope, though hope was now despair--

Indue the colours of this change,

As from the all-surrounding air

The earth takes hues obscure and strange, _730

When storm and earthquake linger there.

And so, my friend, it then befell

To many, most to Lionel,

Whose hope was like the life of youth

Within him, and when dead, became _735

A spirit of unresting flame,

Which goaded him in his distress

Over the world's vast wilderness.

Three years he left his native land,

And on the fourth, when he returned, _740

None knew him: he was stricken deep

With some disease of mind, and turned

Into aught unlike Lionel.

On him, on whom, did he pause in sleep,

Serenest smiles were wont to keep, _745

And, did he wake, a winged band

Of bright persuasions, which had fed

On his sweet lips and liquid eyes,

Kept their swift pinions half outspread

To do on men his least command; _750

On him, whom once 'twas paradise

Even to behold, now misery lay:

In his own heart 'twas merciless,

To all things else none may express

Its innocence and tenderness. _755

'Twas said that he had refuge sought

In love from his unquiet thought

In distant lands, and been deceived

By some strange show; for there were found,

Blotted with tears as those relieved _760

By their own words are wont to do,

These mournful verses on the ground,

By all who read them blotted too.

'How am I changed! my hopes were once like fire:

I loved, and I believed that life was love. _765

How am I lost! on wings of swift desire

Among Heaven's winds my spirit once did move.

I slept, and silver dreams did aye inspire

My liquid sleep: I woke, and did approve

All nature to my heart, and thought to make _770

A paradise of earth for one sweet sake.

'I love, but I believe in love no more.

I feel desire, but hope not. O, from sleep

Most vainly must my weary brain implore

Its long lost flattery now: I wake to weep, _775

And sit through the long day gnawing the core

Of my bitter heart, and, like a miser, keep,

Since none in what I feel take pain or pleasure,

To my own soul its self-consuming treasure.'

He dwelt beside me near the sea; _780

And oft in evening did we meet,

When the waves, beneath the starlight, flee

O'er the yellow sands with silver feet,

And talked: our talk was sad and sweet,

Till slowly from his mien there passed _785

The desolation which it spoke;

And smiles,--as when the lightning's blast

Has parched some heaven-delighting oak,

The next spring shows leaves pale and rare,

But like flowers delicate and fair, _790

On its rent boughs,--again arrayed

His countenance in tender light:

His words grew subtile fire, which made

The air his hearers breathed delight:

His motions, like the winds, were free, _795

Which bend the bright grass gracefully,

Then fade away in circlets faint:

And winged Hope, on which upborne

His soul seemed hovering in his eyes,

Like some bright spirit newly born _800

Floating amid the sunny skies,

Sprang forth from his rent heart anew.

Yet o'er his talk, and looks, and mien,

Tempering their loveliness too keen,

Past woe its shadow backward threw, _805

Till like an exhalation, spread

From flowers half drunk with evening dew,

They did become infectious: sweet

And subtle mists of sense and thought:

Which wrapped us soon, when we might meet, _810

Almost from our own looks and aught

The wild world holds. And so, his mind

Was healed, while mine grew sick with fear:

For ever now his health declined,

Like some frail bark which cannot bear _815

The impulse of an altered wind,

Though prosperous: and my heart grew full

'Mid its new joy of a new care:

For his cheek became, not pale, but fair,

As rose-o'ershadowed lilies are; _820

And soon his deep and sunny hair,

In this alone less beautiful,

Like grass in tombs grew wild and rare.

The blood in his translucent veins

Beat, not like animal life, but love _825

Seemed now its sullen springs to move,

When life had failed, and all its pains:

And sudden sleep would seize him oft

Like death, so calm, but that a tear,

His pointed eyelashes between, _830

Would gather in the light serene

Of smiles, whose lustre bright and soft

Beneath lay undulating there.

His breath was like inconstant flame,

As eagerly it went and came; _835

And I hung o'er him in his sleep,

Till, like an image in the lake

Which rains disturb, my tears would break

The shadow of that slumber deep:

Then he would bid me not to weep, _840

And say, with flattery false, yet sweet,

That death and he could never meet,

If I would never part with him.

And so we loved, and did unite

All that in us was yet divided: _845

For when he said, that many a rite,

By men to bind but once provided,

Could not be shared by him and me,

Or they would kill him in their glee,

I shuddered, and then laughing said-- _850

'We will have rites our faith to bind,

But our church shall be the starry night,

Our altar the grassy earth outspread,

And our priest the muttering wind.'

'Twas sunset as I spoke: one star _855

Had scarce burst forth, when from afar

The ministers of misrule sent,

Seized upon Lionel, and bore

His chained limbs to a dreary tower,

In the midst of a city vast and wide. _860

For he, they said, from his mind had bent

Against their gods keen blasphemy,

For which, though his soul must roasted be

In hell's red lakes immortally,

Yet even on earth must he abide _865

The vengeance of their slaves: a trial,

I think, men call it. What avail

Are prayers and tears, which chase denial

From the fierce savage, nursed in hate?

What the knit soul that pleading and pale _870

Makes wan the quivering cheek, which late

It painted with its own delight?

We were divided. As I could,

I stilled the tingling of my blood,

And followed him in their despite, _875

As a widow follows, pale and wild,

The murderers and corse of her only child;

And when we came to the prison door

And I prayed to share his dungeon floor

With prayers which rarely have been spurned, _880

And when men drove me forth and I

Stared with blank frenzy on the sky,

A farewell look of love he turned,

Half calming me; then gazed awhile,

As if thro' that black and massy pile, _885

And thro' the crowd around him there,

And thro' the dense and murky air,

And the thronged streets, he did espy

What poets know and prophesy;

And said, with voice that made them shiver _890

And clung like music in my brain,

And which the mute walls spoke again

Prolonging it with deepened strain:

'Fear not the tyrants shall rule for ever,

Or the priests of the bloody faith; _895

They stand on the brink of that mighty river,

Whose waves they have tainted with death:

It is fed from the depths of a thousand dells,

Around them it foams, and rages, and swells,

And their swords and their sceptres I floating see, _900

Like wrecks in the surge of eternity.'

I dwelt beside the prison gate;

And the strange crowd that out and in

Passed, some, no doubt, with mine own fate,

Might have fretted me with its ceaseless din, _905

But the fever of care was louder within.

Soon, but too late, in penitence

Or fear, his foes released him thence:

I saw his thin and languid form,

As leaning on the jailor's arm, _910

Whose hardened eyes grew moist the while,

To meet his mute and faded smile,

And hear his words of kind farewell,

He tottered forth from his damp cell.

Many had never wept before, _915

From whom fast tears then gushed and fell:

Many will relent no more,

Who sobbed like infants then; aye, all

Who thronged the prison's stony hall,

The rulers or the slaves of law, _920

Felt with a new surprise and awe

That they were human, till strong shame

Made them again become the same.

The prison blood-hounds, huge and grim,

From human looks the infection caught, _925

And fondly crouched and fawned on him;

And men have heard the prisoners say,

Who in their rotting dungeons lay,

That from that hour, throughout one day,

The fierce despair and hate which kept _930

Their trampled bosoms almost slept:

Where, like twin vultures, they hung feeding

On each heart's wound, wide torn and bleeding,--

Because their jailors' rule, they thought,

Grew merciful, like a parent's sway. _935

I know not how, but we were free:

And Lionel sate alone with me,

As the carriage drove thro' the streets apace;

And we looked upon each other's face;

And the blood in our fingers intertwined _940

Ran like the thoughts of a single mind,

As the swift emotions went and came

Thro' the veins of each united frame.

So thro' the long long streets we passed

Of the million-peopled City vast; _945

Which is that desert, where each one

Seeks his mate yet is alone,

Beloved and sought and mourned of none;

Until the clear blue sky was seen,

And the grassy meadows bright and green, _950

And then I sunk in his embrace,

Enclosing there a mighty space

Of love: and so we travelled on

By woods, and fields of yellow flowers,

And towns, and villages, and towers, _955

Day after day of happy hours.

It was the azure time of June,

When the skies are deep in the stainless noon,

And the warm and fitful breezes shake

The fresh green leaves of the hedgerow briar, _960

And there were odours then to make

The very breath we did respire

A liquid element, whereon

Our spirits, like delighted things

That walk the air on subtle wings, _965

Floated and mingled far away,

'Mid the warm winds of the sunny day.

And when the evening star came forth

Above the curve of the new bent moon,

And light and sound ebbed from the earth, _970

Like the tide of the full and the weary sea

To the depths of its own tranquillity,

Our natures to its own repose

Did the earth's breathless sleep attune:

Like flowers, which on each other close _975

Their languid leaves when daylight's gone,

We lay, till new emotions came,

Which seemed to make each mortal frame

One soul of interwoven flame,

A life in life, a second birth _980

In worlds diviner far than earth,

Which, like two strains of harmony

That mingle in the silent sky

Then slowly disunite, passed by

And left the tenderness of tears, _985

A soft oblivion of all fears,

A sweet sleep: so we travelled on

Till we came to the home of Lionel,

Among the mountains wild and lone,

Beside the hoary western sea, _990

Which near the verge of the echoing shore

The massy forest shadowed o'er.

The ancient steward, with hair all hoar,

As we alighted, wept to see

His master changed so fearfully; _995

And the old man's sobs did waken me

From my dream of unremaining gladness;

The truth flashed o'er me like quick madness

When I looked, and saw that there was death

On Lionel: yet day by day _1000

He lived, till fear grew hope and faith,

And in my soul I dared to say,

Nothing so bright can pass away:

Death is dark, and foul, and dull,

But he is--O how beautiful! _1005

Yet day by day he grew more weak,

And his sweet voice, when he might speak,

Which ne'er was loud, became more low;

And the light which flashed through his waxen cheek

Grew faint, as the rose-like hues which flow _1010

From sunset o'er the Alpine snow:

And death seemed not like death in him,

For the spirit of life o'er every limb

Lingered, a mist of sense and thought.

When the summer wind faint odours brought _1015

From mountain flowers, even as it passed

His cheek would change, as the noonday sea

Which the dying breeze sweeps fitfully.

If but a cloud the sky o'ercast,

You might see his colour come and go, _1020

And the softest strain of music made

Sweet smiles, yet sad, arise and fade

Amid the dew of his tender eyes;

And the breath, with intermitting flow,

Made his pale lips quiver and part. _1025

You might hear the beatings of his heart,

Quick, but not strong; and with my tresses

When oft he playfully would bind

In the bowers of mossy lonelinesses

His neck, and win me so to mingle _1030

In the sweet depth of woven caresses,

And our faint limbs were intertwined,

Alas! the unquiet life did tingle

From mine own heart through every vein,

Like a captive in dreams of liberty, _1035

Who beats the walls of his stony cell.

But his, it seemed already free,

Like the shadow of fire surrounding me!

On my faint eyes and limbs did dwell

That spirit as it passed, till soon, _1040

As a frail cloud wandering o'er the moon,

Beneath its light invisible,

Is seen when it folds its gray wings again

To alight on midnight's dusky plain,

I lived and saw, and the gathering soul _1045

Passed from beneath that strong control,

And I fell on a life which was sick with fear

Of all the woe that now I bear.

Amid a bloomless myrtle wood,

On a green and sea-girt promontory, _1050

Not far from where we dwelt, there stood

In record of a sweet sad story,

An altar and a temple bright

Circled by steps, and o'er the gate

Was sculptured, 'To Fidelity;' _1055

And in the shrine an image sate,

All veiled: but there was seen the light

Of smiles which faintly could express

A mingled pain and tenderness

Through that ethereal drapery. _1060

The left hand held the head, the right--

Beyond the veil, beneath the skin,

You might see the nerves quivering within--

Was forcing the point of a barbed dart

Into its side-convulsing heart. _1065

An unskilled hand, yet one informed

With genius, had the marble warmed

With that pathetic life. This tale

It told: A dog had from the sea,

When the tide was raging fearfully, _1070

Dragged Lionel's mother, weak and pale,

Then died beside her on the sand,

And she that temple thence had planned;

But it was Lionel's own hand

Had wrought the image. Each new moon _1075

That lady did, in this lone fane,

The rites of a religion sweet,

Whose god was in her heart and brain:

The seasons' loveliest flowers were strewn

On the marble floor beneath her feet, _1080

And she brought crowns of sea-buds white

Whose odour is so sweet and faint,

And weeds, like branching chrysolite,

Woven in devices fine and quaint.

And tears from her brown eyes did stain _1085

The altar: need but look upon

That dying statue fair and wan,

If tears should cease, to weep again:

And rare Arabian odours came,

Through the myrtle copses steaming thence _1090

From the hissing frankincense,

Whose smoke, wool-white as ocean foam,

Hung in dense flocks beneath the dome--

That ivory dome, whose azure night

With golden stars, like heaven, was bright-- _1095

O'er the split cedar's pointed flame;

And the lady's harp would kindle there

The melody of an old air,

Softer than sleep; the villagers

Mixed their religion up with hers, _1100

And, as they listened round, shed tears.

One eve he led me to this fane:

Daylight on its last purple cloud

Was lingering gray, and soon her strain

The nightingale began; now loud, _1105

Climbing in circles the windless sky,

Now dying music; suddenly

'Tis scattered in a thousand notes,

And now to the hushed ear it floats

Like field smells known in infancy, _1110

Then failing, soothes the air again.

We sate within that temple lone,

Pavilioned round with Parian stone:

His mother's harp stood near, and oft

I had awakened music soft _1115

Amid its wires: the nightingale

Was pausing in her heaven-taught tale:

'Now drain the cup,' said Lionel,

'Which the poet-bird has crowned so well

With the wine of her bright and liquid song! _1120

Heardst thou not sweet words among

That heaven-resounding minstrelsy?

Heard'st thou not that those who die

Awake in a world of ecstasy?

That love, when limbs are interwoven, _1125

And sleep, when the night of life is cloven,

And thought, to the world's dim boundaries clinging,

And music, when one beloved is singing,

Is death? Let us drain right joyously

The cup which the sweet bird fills for me.' _1130

He paused, and to my lips he bent

His own: like spirit his words went

Through all my limbs with the speed of fire;

And his keen eyes, glittering through mine,

Filled me with the flame divine, _1135

Which in their orbs was burning far,

Like the light of an unmeasured star,

In the sky of midnight dark and deep:

Yes, 'twas his soul that did inspire

Sounds, which my skill could ne'er awaken; _1140

And first, I felt my fingers sweep

The harp, and a long quivering cry

Burst from my lips in symphony:

The dusk and solid air was shaken,

As swift and swifter the notes came _1145

From my touch, that wandered like quick flame,

And from my bosom, labouring

With some unutterable thing:

The awful sound of my own voice made

My faint lips tremble; in some mood _1150

Of wordless thought Lionel stood

So pale, that even beside his cheek

The snowy column from its shade

Caught whiteness: yet his countenance,

Raised upward, burned with radiance _1155

Of spirit-piercing joy, whose light,

Like the moon struggling through the night

Of whirlwind-rifted clouds, did break

With beams that might not be confined.

I paused, but soon his gestures kindled _1160

New power, as by the moving wind

The waves are lifted, and my song

To low soft notes now changed and dwindled,

And from the twinkling wires among,

My languid fingers drew and flung _1165

Circles of life-dissolving sound,

Yet faint; in aery rings they bound

My Lionel, who, as every strain

Grew fainter but more sweet, his mien

Sunk with the sound relaxedly; _1170

And slowly now he turned to me,

As slowly faded from his face

That awful joy: with looks serene

He was soon drawn to my embrace,

And my wild song then died away _1175

In murmurs: words I dare not say

We mixed, and on his lips mine fed

Till they methought felt still and cold:

'What is it with thee, love?' I said:

No word, no look, no motion! yes, _1180

There was a change, but spare to guess,

Nor let that moment's hope be told.

I looked, and knew that he was dead,

And fell, as the eagle on the plain

Falls when life deserts her brain, _1185

And the mortal lightning is veiled again.

O that I were now dead! but such

(Did they not, love, demand too much,

Those dying murmurs?) he forbade.

O that I once again were mad! _1190

And yet, dear Rosalind, not so,

For I would live to share thy woe.

Sweet boy! did I forget thee too?

Alas, we know not what we do

When we speak words.

No memory more _1195

Is in my mind of that sea shore.

Madness came on me, and a troop

Of misty shapes did seem to sit

Beside me, on a vessel's poop,

And the clear north wind was driving it. _1200

Then I heard strange tongues, and saw strange flowers,

And the stars methought grew unlike ours,

And the azure sky and the stormless sea

Made me believe that I had died,

And waked in a world, which was to me _1205

Drear hell, though heaven to all beside:

Then a dead sleep fell on my mind,

Whilst animal life many long years

Had rescued from a chasm of tears;

And when I woke, I wept to find _1210

That the same lady, bright and wise,

With silver locks and quick brown eyes,

The mother of my Lionel,

Had tended me in my distress,

And died some months before. Nor less _1215

Wonder, but far more peace and joy,

Brought in that hour my lovely boy;

For through that trance my soul had well

The impress of thy being kept;

And if I waked, or if I slept, _1220

No doubt, though memory faithless be,

Thy image ever dwelt on me;

And thus, O Lionel, like thee

Is our sweet child. 'Tis sure most strange

I knew not of so great a change, _1225

As that which gave him birth, who now

Is all the solace of my woe.

That Lionel great wealth had left

By will to me, and that of all

The ready lies of law bereft _1230

My child and me, might well befall.

But let me think not of the scorn,

Which from the meanest I have borne,

When, for my child's beloved sake,

I mixed with slaves, to vindicate _1235

The very laws themselves do make:

Let me not say scorn is my fate,

Lest I be proud, suffering the same

With those who live in deathless fame.

She ceased.--'Lo, where red morning thro' the woods _1240

Is burning o'er the dew;' said Rosalind.

And with these words they rose, and towards the flood

Of the blue lake, beneath the leaves now wind

With equal steps and fingers intertwined:

Thence to a lonely dwelling, where the shore _1245

Is shadowed with steep rocks, and cypresses

Cleave with their dark green cones the silent skies,

And with their shadows the clear depths below,

And where a little terrace from its bowers,

Of blooming myrtle and faint lemon-flowers, _1250

Scatters its sense-dissolving fragrance o'er

The liquid marble of the windless lake;

And where the aged forest's limbs look hoar,

Under the leaves which their green garments make,

They come: 'Tis Helen's home, and clean and white, _1255

Like one which tyrants spare on our own land

In some such solitude, its casements bright

Shone through their vine-leaves in the morning sun,

And even within 'twas scarce like Italy.

And when she saw how all things there were planned, _1260

As in an English home, dim memory

Disturbed poor Rosalind: she stood as one

Whose mind is where his body cannot be,

Till Helen led her where her child yet slept,

And said, 'Observe, that brow was Lionel's, _1265

Those lips were his, and so he ever kept

One arm in sleep, pillowing his head with it.

You cannot see his eyes--they are two wells

Of liquid love: let us not wake him yet.'

But Rosalind could bear no more, and wept _1270

A shower of burning tears, which fell upon

His face, and so his opening lashes shone

With tears unlike his own, as he did leap

In sudden wonder from his innocent sleep.

So Rosalind and Helen lived together _1275

Thenceforth, changed in all else, yet friends again,

Such as they were, when o'er the mountain heather

They wandered in their youth, through sun and rain.

And after many years, for human things

Change even like the ocean and the wind, _1280

Her daughter was restored to Rosalind,

And in their circle thence some visitings

Of joy 'mid their new calm would intervene:

A lovely child she was, of looks serene,

And motions which o'er things indifferent shed _1285

The grace and gentleness from whence they came.

And Helen's boy grew with her, and they fed

From the same flowers of thought, until each mind

Like springs which mingle in one flood became,

And in their union soon their parents saw _1290

The shadow of the peace denied to them.

And Rosalind, for when the living stem

Is cankered in its heart, the tree must fall,

Died ere her time; and with deep grief and awe

The pale survivors followed her remains _1295

Beyond the region of dissolving rains,

Up the cold mountain she was wont to call

Her tomb; and on Chiavenna's precipice

They raised a pyramid of lasting ice,

Whose polished sides, ere day had yet begun, _1300

Caught the first glow of the unrisen sun,

The last, when it had sunk; and thro' the night

The charioteers of Arctos wheeled round

Its glittering point, as seen from Helen's home,

Whose sad inhabitants each year would come, _1305

With willing steps climbing that rugged height,

And hang long locks of hair, and garlands bound

With amaranth flowers, which, in the clime's despite,

Filled the frore air with unaccustomed light:

Such flowers, as in the wintry memory bloom _1310

Of one friend left, adorned that frozen tomb.

Helen, whose spirit was of softer mould,

Whose sufferings too were less, Death slowlier led

Into the peace of his dominion cold:

She died among her kindred, being old. _1315

And know, that if love die not in the dead

As in the living, none of mortal kind

Are blest, as now Helen and Rosalind.


_63 from there]from thee edition 1819.

_366 fell]ran edition 1819.

_405-_408 See Editor's Note on this passage.

_551 Where]When edition 1819.

_572 Ay, overflowing]Aye overflowing edition 1819.

_612 dear]clear cj. Bradley.

_711 gore editions 1819, 1839. See Editor's Note.

_932 Where]When edition 1819.

_1093-_1096 See Editor's Note.

_1168-_1171] See Editor's Note.

_1209 rescue]rescued edition 1819. See Editor's Note.