Robin Hood: A Fragment

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Robin Hood: A Fragment

"The richest jewel in all the heavenly treasure,
That ever yet unto the earth was shown,
Is perfect concord, -- the only perfect pleasure
That wretched earth-born men have ever known;
For many hearts it doth confound in one,
That whatso one doth speak, or will, or do,
With one consent they all agree thereto."
        Sir J. Davies. Orchestra.


PART I.
Robert Southey


I.

HAPPY, the adage saith, that Bride
Upon whose nuptial day
The sun shines fairly forth; --
That Corpse upon whose bier
The rains of heaven descend.
O! Emma! fairest, loveliest of thy sex!
O! Lady! -- heavenly-minded as high born,
That faith was shaken by thy fate
In Loxley's pleasant bowers,
And throughout Sherwood's groves and greenwood glades,
And all along the winding banks of Trent.


II.

For sure, if ever on a marriage day
Approving angels smiled
Upon their happy charge,
'Twas when her willing hand
Was to Lord William given.
The noble to the noble -- blooming youth
To manhood in its comeliness and prime:
Beauty to manliness and worth to worth;
The gentle to the brave --
The generous to the good.


III.

Yet not a sunbeam that May morning pierced
The dense and heavy canopy of clouds
Which poured their drenching stores continuous down.
Amid the thickest shade
The deer sought shelter -- not a vernal song
Rose from the cheerless groves. --
Loxley's loud bells, which should have sent
Their sweet and merry music far and wide
Throughout all Sherwood on that joyful day,
Flung with vain effort then their jubilant peal
To the deaf storm that scatter'd it.
The wind alone was heard,
And in its intervals, the heavy rain
Incessant pattering on the leafy woods.


IV.

Alas! the Lady Emma's passing bell
Was heard when May returned!
And when through Loxley's gate
She on her bier was borne,
The deer were sporting in the sunny glades;
Birds warbled -- streams were sparkling -- new-born flowers
Diffused their fragrance on the breath of Spring.
There was joy in the air,
There was joy in the woods,
There was joy in the waters,
Joy everywhere but in the heart of man.


V.

Doubly was that vain adage thus disproved;
Doubly to all who knew
The gentle lady, happy in her lord
Even to the height of wedded blessedness:
And then so holy in her life,
So meek of heart -- so bountiful of hand,
That oft it had been said,
With sad presageful feeling all too true,
Heaven would not leave that angel long
In this unworthy world.


VI.

A mournful day for Sherwood, -- ne'er till then
Had that old forest seen
A grief so general, since the oaks
From immemorial time had shadowed it;
A mournful day for Loxley's pleasant bowers
Now to be left forlorn!
A mournful day for Lindsey and for Kyme,
For Huntingdon; for all Fitzhood's domains
A day of evil and abiding woe.


VII.

The cradle had been dressed;
Alas! the mother's bier hath been required. --
The gossips who had there
For happiest office met
With busy pride convened in joyful hour. --
The guests who had been bidden there
To glad festivity,
Repass in funeral train,
(True mourners they) the melancholy gate;
And for the pancakes which officious joy
Made ready, never doubting such event,
The arval bread is doled.


VIII.

Woe for that hospitable hall;
Woe for the vassals of Fitzhood's domains,
So envied late, as in their lord
Above all vassals blest, --
Their lord, the just, the bountiful, the good,
Is lost to them this day!
Earl William, when the Lady Emma died,
Died to the world: -- He buries in her grave
His earthly hopes and fears --
His earthly cares and ties he casts away --
The hour which hath bereaved Fitzhood
Hath widowed many a wife,
And many a child doth it leave fatherless.


IX.

For when Earl William found
That prayers and vows availed not to arrest
The inevitable hour;
He with a virile effort, self-controlled,
Closed like a miser's treasure, in his heart,
That grief of griefs. -- His tears,
As if their springs were dry, forbore to flow --
His countenance was changed:
Its anguish and its agony intense
Had passed away; nor these alone. --
The wonted radiance which enlightens it,
The sunshine of the soul,
The warm benevolence,
Delighting to diffuse
Its own redundant happiness
Which there for ever shone: --
All were departed thence; and in their stead
A cold and fixed serenity like death
Had set its stamp severe.


X.

Earl William, when the rites are done,
Sets forth upon his journey to defend
The holy Sepulchre!
Short was the notice which was sent abroad
Throughout the forest -- "follow him who list."
They who are ready, with their lord
Will from the church begin their pilgrimage.
They who remain to set
Their house in order, at the post
Will join him with what speed they may.


XI.

With less alacrity
The summons of their dread liege lord the king
Would there have been obeyed
Than that sad invitation was, by Knight,
And Squire, and Serving-man,
And simple Forester.
Oh! call not men ungrateful, if sometimes
A monster of ingratitude is found!
The crime is monstrous -- men and beasts
Bear witness it is so; for not alone
Speaking humanity disowns the stain;
Even the dumb world doth manifest
That uncontaminate nature hath no part
In the abhorred offence.


XII.

This day's example proved
That grateful love esteems
No sacrifice too painful -- none too great.
With prompt, unhesitating faith, not then
Repining, nor hereafter to repent.
Wives in their youth were left,
And parents in their age,
And children who required a father's care:
Last blessings were received,
And last embraces given,
And last adieus were breathed from bleeding hearts.


XIII.

Behold the strange procession move along,
A mix'd and mournful train!
First the cross-bearer comes,
Lifting the standard of our faith on high, --
Memorial of our Lord, in whose dear name,
In sure and certain hope,
The dead are laid to rest.
The white-robed choristers came next,
Singing the funeral psalm,
With solemn intonation sad and sweet.
How pale and dim a flame
The yellow wax emits,
Where the tall tapers two and two are borne,
Less by their light descried
Than by their transient smoke,
Which, fleeting as the breath of mortal life,
Melts in the air, and is for ever gone.


XIV.

Then on the bier, in serecloths swathed
And grave-clothes garmented,
Comes what was late the human tabernacle
Of that immortal spirit, whom perhaps
A sense of earthly love
Saddens in heaven that hour; --
A poor forsaken tenement of clay,
Yet in its ruins to be reverenced still
With human feelings and religious awe,
And natural piety.


XV.

A pitiable sight,
Behind the mother's bier,
Weeping, as well she may, the nurse
Bears in his chrysome robe the new-born babe:
Sweetly he sleeps the while,
Insensate as that mother's lifeless clay.
On either hand, in funeral pomp,
The escutcheons of De Vere and Beauchamp spread
Their mournful blazonry;
Behind, for war displayed,
The banner of Fitzhood!
That banner which when last
Earl William hung in Loxley's hall on high,
His happy heart had breathed
A silent prayer to heaven
It might hang idly there,
Till after many a year had filled
Its inoffensive course;
Some duteous hand might then
Suspend it o'er his hearse.


XVI.

A pious hope -- an honourable pride!
For wheresoever in the field
Those bands engrailed were seen,
Sure token had they given;
That on that side the rightful cause was found --
Sure confidence that all
Which worth and knightly prowess might achieve,
Would that day there be done.
Fair promise and success
Against all vantages;
And if such vantage made all valour vain,
Even then a never-failing pledge
Of honour and renown.


XVII.

So Trent had witnessed on that famous day,
When thro' his high-swoln stream
The standard-bearer bore his precious charge,
Exulting in such office; while his steed
Breasting with ample chest
The rapid waters, eyed the bank in hope,
And with straightforward effort won
Aslant his fearless way.
Quailed at that unexpected sight,
The embattled enemy
Renewed their charge, like men subdued in soul;
And Lincoln, from its rescued walls,
Beheld the brave Usurper beaten down.


XVIII.

So Test had witnessed in an hour,
When Fortune turned away her face unjust:
And Wilton, when again
To the right cause she gave the meed
Of Victory well deserved:
For whensoe'er to fields of civil strife,
Gloucester the wise, the prudent, and the good,
Went forth, by fatal circumstance compelled,
There was that banner seen;
A sure support in need,
Then Huntingdon was found;
In peace or war, in weal or woe,
The noble Robert's trust
In that tried friend was placed:
Brethren in soul they were, whom kindred worth
Had heart to heart allied.


XIX.

Alas! that banner heretofore
Had gone forth cheerfully;
Boldly displayed with hope it had gone forth
With willing hearts, and hands alert,
And glad fidelity;
And thoughts of that dear happiness,
Which, when the fight was done,
Awaited its return.
In funeral silence now it passed the gate,
Where loud hurrahs, with joyful augury,
Were wont to usher it:
And for the clarion's voice, which should have breathed
Anticipant of victory,
Its spirit-stirring note,
The deep-toned dirge was heard before --
The horsemen's pace behind --
With regular foot-fall slow;
And from the woods around,
The descant blithe of blackbird and of thrush,
And woodlark's louder, livelier, richer strain;
An unpremeditated concert wild
Of joyous natural sounds;
Which gave to human grief
A keener edge that hour.


XX.

Full six score spears hath Sherwood sent:
Thirty have joined from Lindsey and from Kyme;
The rest are on the way,
And with the men of Huntingdon,
Will on the march fall in.
Young Ingelram is there, for whom
Lilias is left to mourn,
And deem her gentle heart
Unhappily bestowed
On one who, at the will of his liege lord,
Hath left it now to break.
High-minded youth! he bears that grief
As deeply rooted in his own;
Nor will it cease to rankle there,
Till, yielding to the fatal force
Of fell disease, by Syrian suns induced,
He sinks, his strength subdued;
And from his dying lips
The name of that beloved maid is heard,
In his last aspirations, breathed to Heaven.


XXI.

Not with less sacrifice
The good Sir Gilbert goes --
Better will he endure the hour,
When, like a lion taken in the toils,
The Saracens will close their victims in,
And from all sides against the Christian dog,
Sure of its stroke, the scimitar descends; -
Better will he endure
That hour of brave despair,
Of faithful hope and death;
Than when upon Idonea's lips this morn
He prest a parting kiss,
And o'er his only Boy
(A three years' darling) breathed,
With anguish ill subdued,
His valediction in a last embrace.


XXII.

Look now at Reginald!
There is no heaviness upon his brow;
No sorrow in that reckless eye;
No trouble in that sensual countenance;
No bodings in that hard and hollow heart:
He, when he breaks away from natural ties,
Not more obstruction feels
Than what, upon a still autumnal day,
The stag perceives upon his antlered crest,
From threads of gossamer,
That spread and float along the tangled sky;
Even the parental tears that fell for him
Will presently be dried.
Reginald leaves no loves;
Bears with him no regret --
No fond remembrance, and no sad presage --
Nor doth one generous hope,
Nor one religious aspiration, stir
Within his worthless breast:
For he unto himself is all in all.
So he may find his fill
Of animal content,
He cares not where or how.
As little it imports
How, where, or when the inevitable hour
May overtake him, nor if worms at home,
Sea sharks, or Syrian dogs,
Jackalls and vultures share their fitting prey.


XXIII.

And this too, might of Ulpho have been said;
And this too of himself --
Self-judged -- did Ulpho deem.
Born with an iron frame,
His heart had, in the mould
Of that obdurate age,
Received its impress. War had seemed to him
Man's proper element,
The one sole business not to be disdained --
The only pastime worthy of pursuit.
Nor when, beneath the Leech's hand he lay,
And felt the smart of wine
Within his open wounds,
And saw, for so it seemed, the face of death,
Did that sharp discipline
Abate the fiery fever of his mind.
But cooler years had overtaken him,
And imperceptibly
The example of Earl William's lovely life
Had sunk into his heart,
Like gentle rain upon an herb whose root
Retains the sap of life, --
Green when its leaves have withered with long drought;
And when he willingly obeyed
This day's unhappy call,
'Twas with a hope that, in the Holy War,
He might atone for deeds,
Which, when they rose again
Within his secret soul,
At every visitation wore
A bloodier, blacker hue. --
There went not in Earl William's company
A wiser, nor a sadder man that day.


XXIV.

With what a different mien
Did Hereward bestride his stately steed!
The cloud that overcast his countenance
Is but a passing grief,
The livery of the hour.
Tears he hath shed upon his sister's neck,
Upon his mother's knees,
When, kneeling, he received
Her blessing, dutifully felt,
And from a soul which found
Support in piety,
Devoutly, painfully, and firmly given.
Tears he hath shed when girding on
His honoured father's sword,
Which on the wall had hung,
A mournful relic, since Test's fatal day,
Whereon his father fell.
And when the old hearth-dog
Fawned round his parting steps,
And lifted an imploring look of love,
Tears had burst forth and freely flown.
Yet in those eyes thus dimmed
Heroic hope was seen,
And youthful aspiration; for this day
Fulfils his heart's desire.
Soon shall he now behold
Strange countries, and the pomp of glorious war;
Soon on the misbelievers shall he prove
His spirit not degenerate: in the joy
Of faith shall kiss the Holy Sepulchre,
And offering there the accepted sacrifice
Of his accomplished vow,
Return -- so he anticipates -- to hang
Once more upon the wall his father's sword,
Thrice-hallowed then, and over it the palm
To Christian merits due and knightly worth.


PART II.
Caroline Anne Bowles Southey


I.

MAJESTICALLY slow
The sun goes down in glory --
The full-orbed autumn sun;
From battlement to basement,
From flanking tower to flanking tower,
The long-ranged windows of a noble hall
Fling back the flamy splendour.
Wave above wave below,
Orange, and green, and gold,
Russet and crimson,
Like an embroidered zone, ancestral woods,
Close round on all sides:
Those again begirt
In wavy undulations of all hues
To the horizon's verge by the deep forest.


II.

The holy stillness of the hour,
The hush of human life,
Lets the low voice be heard --
The low, sweet, solemn voice
Of the deep woods --
Its mystical murmuring
Now swelling into choral harmony --
Rich, full, exultant;
In tremulous whispers next,
Sinking away,
A spiritual undertone,
Till the cooing of the woodpigeon
Is heard alone;
And the going in the tree-tops,
Like the sound of the sea
And the tinkling of many streamlets.


III.

But hark! what sonorous sound
Wakens the woodland echoes?
Again, and yet again --
That long, deep, mellow tone
Slow swinging thro' the motionless air. --
From yonder knoll it comes,
Where the grey gables of an ancient pile
Between the forest waves
(More sombrous there)
Are just discernible.
Again; -- how sweetly solemn!
How soothing sweet the sound!
And hark! -- a heavenlier still -- a holy chaunt --
Ave Maria! 'tis the vesper bell.


IV.

From the battlemented height
Of the baronial hall,
Slowly retire the sunbeams:
And where they lingering lie
(As in love loth to depart)
On the fair terrace underneath,
Longer and blacker fall the pointed shadows
Of the dwarfed yews, pyramidally clipt,
Each in its wrought-stone vase,
Along the heavy spiral balusters
At regular distance set.


V.

What a strange stillness reigns!
No sound of life within,
No stir of life without:
The very fountain in that trellis'd flower court
The terrace overlooks,
Sends up from the unfailing source
Its sparkling jet no longer --
The leaden Nereid, with her empty urn
Half-buried in fallen leaves, where she lies low
In her green, slimy basin.


VI.

What a strange stillness reigns!
Grass grows in the vast courts,
Where, if a loosened stone falls,
Hollow reverberations ring around,
Like the voices of Desolation.
No hurrying to and fro of gay retainers,
No jostling claimants at the Buttery-hatch:
Hushed the great stable-yard;
No hoof-stamp in the stall,
No steed led forth,
No hawk in training,
Not a hound in leash;
No jingling bridles and sharp sound of spur,
And gibe and jest -- loud laugh and snatch of song,
And call and quick command
'Mongst grooms and gallants there.
No sight nor sound
Of life or living thing;
Only at intervals, a deep-mouthed bay,
And the clanking of chains,
When, from his separate watch,
One mastiff answers another:
Or a cat steals along in the shadow --
Or a handmaiden crosses -- just seen, and gone;
Or a grey-headed Servitor.


VII.

See! to their lofty eyries
The Martens are coming home:
With a strange boldness, methinks,
As in right of sole possession.
How they sweep round the silent walls!
And over the terrace now
Are wheeling in mad gyrations.
And hark! to that stir within --
'Tis the ringing laugh of a Baby,
That sweetest of human sounds.
"Wouldst thou follow the Martens, my sweet one?
My bird! wouldst thou fly away,
And leave thine old Nurse all alone?" cries a voice;
And the sound of a kiss is heard,
And the murmur of infant fondness,
Like the crooning of a dove.


VIII.

And see, where the terrace abuts
That northern flanking tower,
From a side entrance --
Window and portal both --
With musical laugh and scream,
And gibberings unintelligibly sweet,
And pretty passion, scuffling the small feet,
A child comes tottering out,
Eagerly straining on its leading-strings,
From her upholding hand who follows close --
That old devoted woman.
And side by side, and step for step, sedate,
Serious as with that woman joined in trust,
Paces a noble wolf-dog, --
His grave eye
Incessant glancing at the infant Heir.


IX.

The infant Heir! -- E'en so.
In those blue veins, with delicate tracery
Marbling the pearly fairness
Of that large open brow,
The blood of Beauchamp and Fitzhood
Flows mingled.
And this is Loxley --
His father's hall ancestral,
His mother's bridal bower.
And as he stretches out his little hands
Toward that butterfly,
Its airy flight,
As if in mockery of the vain pursuit,
Leads on his eager eye
(All reckless he,)
To where she slumbers yonder,
In that grey pile, from whence the vesper bell
Resounded late,
Sleeping the dreamless sleep.


X.

Six months thrice told
Have taught those tottering feet
The first unstable steps,
And with a double row of pearl complete
Have lined those rosy lips,
And tuned that tongue
To stammer "Father!" with its earliest prayer.
"Of such little ones," God hath said,
By the mouth of his dear Son,
That their Angels do always behold him.
In the day of battle, who knows
But the prayer of his child may come
Between Earl William's head
And the Moslem scimitar!


XI.

For in the Holy Land he tarries yet --
The good Earl William:
For the safe rearing of his infant Boy
Confiding under God --
(God over all)
Whose servant and whose soldier
Doubly signed,
He doth avouch himself --
To the fond guardianship
Of his dead Lady's nurse,
Old faithful Cecily,
And of his venerable almoner,
Good Father Hugh;
The same who joined his hand,
In holy marriage vow,
With the lost Emma;
Who, at the close of the short bridal year,
Pronounced beside her grave,
With tremulous voice,
The sentence on all living,
"Dust to Dust:"
And, e'er the clangour of the closing vault
Through the long echoing arches
Died away,
Had dedicated to the Lord
The motherless innocent,
The infant Robert.


XII.

So in forsaken Loxley's halls
Sole rulers they remained; --
Of the deserted child
Sole guardians; --
That grey-haired Man of God,
And faithful woman old.
And with a deep devotedness of love,
And feudal fealty,
Ennobled by affection,
And sense of higher duty, -- as of those
Who to a greater than their earthly liege-lord
Must one day give account, --
Did each discharge his trust,
According to the measure of his gifts,
And as befitted each
In his own proper station.


XIII.

And much delighted, he,
That good old man,
(Learned, as good,
And as the unlearned, simple),
To share with Cicely her pious task
Of earliest teaching.
And when the beautiful Babe,
With hands devoutly folded palm to palm,
Held up within his own,
Murmured the first short prayer;
Or all i' th' midst,
With innocent irreverence broke off
Into contagious mirth;
Or with grave mimickry
Slipping his fair curled head
Into the rosary at the Father's girdle,
Made show to tell the beads;
Or to lie hidden
Quite lost, forsooth!
I' th' folds of his dark robe,
Then would the venerable man
Fall into visions oft,
Prefiguring to himself
A time when on the tablets of that mind,
So unimpressible now,
He should write precious things;
And with God's blessing, of one noble scion
Make a ripe scholar,
Aye -- a clerk -- (who knows?)
Learned as royal Beauclerc!


XIV.

Good Father Hugh!
'Twas a right pleasant dream;
But as the little Robert throve apace,
From baby-hood to boy-hood
Making fast progress,
And of excellent parts
Gave promise;
Quick-witted sense and shrewdness --
Noble nature --
Gentle and generous, as brave and bold --
Loving withal, and truthful;
Yet, sooth to say, --
And the good Father still
Would muse perplext upon that verity, --
Small aptness shewed the boy,
And liking less
For serious task 'soever:
Neither at sight of horn-book,
Or lettered page so fair
Illuminated -- beautiful to see --
With large red capitals,
Sparkled his dark blue eyes.
And evermore he failed
To count aright the numerals, all a-row
Ranged in fair order;
Whereas, strange to tell,
And true as strange,
Let Hubert the old huntsman but fling down
(Humouring the child)
His arrows all a-heap,
And lo! as at a glance the tale was told,
True to a feather.


XV.

And at his pastime in the Hall, where now
For warlike trophy scarce a spear was left
Propping the dusty banners,
Of every stag whose antlers branched around
He could tell every story,
True, as taught
By that old Huntsman,
Missing not a tittle.
Whereas, of daintiest legend,
Treating of saint, or martyr holiest,
Or sage profound,
For delectation and improvement both
Culled by the Father, and recounted oft
With persevering patience;
No single circumstance,
Sentence or syllable, could he retain,
Not for an hour! --
Marvelled the good man much.
"This thing," thought he, "is hard to understand;"
But strong in faith and hope
He kept his even course,
Casting his bread upon the waters,
To find -- God willing --
After many days.