Childe Harold

"Oh Gwynedd, fast thy star declineth,

Thy name is gone, thy rights invaded,

And hopelessly the strong oak pineth,

Where the tall sapling faded;

The mountain eagle idly cowers

Beside his slaughtered young,

Our sons must bow to other powers,

Must learn a stranger tongue.

Pride, valour, freedom, treasures that have been,

Do they all slumber in the grave of Rhun?"

Thus sad and low the murmurs spread

Round Owain's stately walls,

While he, a mourner o'er the dead,

Sate lonely in his halls;

And not the hardiest warrior there,

Unpitying, might blame

The reckless frenzy of despair

Which shook that iron frame;

Eyes that had coldly gazed on woman's grief,

Wept o'er the anguish of their stern old chief.

Not all unheard those murmurs past,

They reached a lady's bower,

Where meekly drooped beneath the blast

Proud Gwynedd's peerless flower;

And she, the hero's widow'd bride,

Has roused her from her sorrow's spell,

And vowed one effort should be tried

For that fair land he loved so well.

There came a footstep, light and lone,

To break the Chieftain's solitude,

And, bending o'er a harp's low tone,

A form of fragile beauty stood;

More like the maid, in fairy lay, {97}

Whose very being was of flowers,

Than creature, moulded from the clay,

To dwell in this cold sphere of ours.

Her snowy brow through dark locks gleamed,

And long and shadowy lashes curled,

O'er eyes whose deep'ning radiance seemed

Caught from the light of another world;

And on her cheek there was a glow,

Like clouds that kiss the parting sun;

Death's crimson banner, spread to show

His mournful triumph was begun.

Has grief so dulled Prince Owain's ear,

Her melody he may not hear?

No kindly look, or word, or token,

His trance of wretchedness has broken,

Yet knows she, in that lonely spot,

Her presence felt, tho' greeted not;

Knows that no foot, save hers, unbidden;

Had dared to tread the living tomb,

No other hand had waked, unchidden,

The echoes of that sullen gloom;

And now her voice's gentle tone

Blends with the harp, in dirge-like moan:

"I mourn for Rhun; the spider's patient trail

Hangs fairy cordage round his useless mail;

The pennon, never seen to yield,

Bends in the light breeze, idly gay,

And rusted spear, and riven shield

Tell of a warrior past away.

"I mourn for Rhun; alas! the damp earth lies

Heavy and chill on those unconscious eyes;

Around those cold and powerless fingers,

The earthworm coils her slimy rings;

Above his grave the wild bird lingers,

And many a requiem o'er it sings.

"I mourn for Rhun; doth not the stranger tread,

With spurning foot, upon his lowly bed?

Doth not his spirit wailing roam,

The land his dying wishes bless'd?

And finds, within the Cymry's home,

But the oppressor and oppress'd."

The minstrel pauses in her strain,

To gaze on Owain's altered brow,

Where shame and sorrow, pride and pain,

Are striving for the mastery now.

Not long the pause, again she flings

Her fingers o'er the sounding strings;

Mournfully still, yet hurriedly,

Waking a bolder melody;

Her form assumes a loftier height,

Her dark eyes flash more wildly bright,

And the voice, that seem'd o'er the ear to float,

Now stirs the heart like a trumpet's note.

"Whence is the light on my spirit cast,

A glance of the future, a dream of the past?

There's a coming sound in the shelter'd glen,

Like the measur'd tread of warlike men,

And the mingled hum of a gathering crowd,

And the war-cry echoing far and loud.

"I hear their shields and corselets clashing,

I see the gleam of their blue spears flashing,

And the sun on plume-deck'd helmets glance,

And the banners that on the free wind dance,

And the steed of the chief in his gallant array

As he rushes to glory, away, away!"

"Sweep on, sweep on, in your crushing might,

Bear ye that banner o'er hill and height!

Sweep on, sweep on, in your 'whelming wrath,

The far-scented raven shall follow your path;

Let him track the step of the mountain ranger,

And his beak shall be red with the blood of the stranger.

"On, for the fortress, whose gloomy height

Looks down on the valley in scornful might,

Leave not one stone on another to tell

That the Saxon has dwelt where no more he shall dwell;

Let the green weed o'ershadow the desolate hearth

That has rung to the spoiler's exulting mirth.

"On! When the strife grows fierce and high,

Vengeance and Rhun be your battle-cry!

Star of the Cymry! can it be

They go to conquer and not with thee?

Thy blood is on the foeman's glaive,

My lost, my beautiful, my brave!"

The song has ceased, but ere its close,

The lustre from those eyes is gone,

The cheek has lost its crimson rose,

The voice has changed its thrilling tone,

Till the last notes in murmurs die,

Faint as the echo of a sigh.

The task is done, the spell is cast,

And, left in silent loneliness,

The o'erwrought spirit breaks at last,

Her hands her throbbing temples press,

And tears are gushing fast and bright,

Down those small palms and fingers slight.

Oh, human love! how beautiful thou art,

Shading the ruin, clinging round the tomb,

And ling'ring still, tho' all beside depart;

Can the cold sceptic, with his creed of gloom,

Deem that thy final dwelling is the dust,

Thy faith but folly, nothingness thy trust?

The Saxon feasted high that night,

In Wyddgrug's fortress proud,

Where countless torches lent their light,

And the song of mirth was loud;

And ruby juice of Southern vine

Sparkled in cups of golden shine.

Sudden there rose a fearful cry,

That drowned the voice of revelry,

And then a glare so fiercely bright,

It paled the torches' waning light,

And as its blaze more redly glowed,

Leaving no niche or grey stone darkling,

A deep and deadly current flowed

To mingle with the wine-cup's sparkling.

And, in that triumph's wild'ring hour

Of sated vengeance, grappled power,

Owain has lost the show of grief,

Once more his Cymry's warlike chief,

With dauntless mien he proudly stands,

The centre of his faithful bands,

Who gladly view the haughty brow,

Whence care and pain seem banished now,

And little reck what deeper lies,

All is not joy that wears its guise,

And, not, 'mid valour's trophies won,

Can he forget his slaughtered son.

Forget! no, time and absence have estranged

Those who in sundered paths must tread,

We may forget the distant or the changed,

But not--oh, not the dead:

All other things, that round us come and pass,

Some with'ring chance or change have proved,

But they still bear, in mem'ry's magic glass,

The semblance we have loved.

The morning breaks all calm and bright

On ruins stern and bloody plain,

Flinging her rich and growing light

O'er many a ghastly heap of slain;

And pure and fresh her lustre showers

On shattered helm and dinted mail,

As when her coming wakes the flowers

In some peace-hallow'd vale.

But where is she, whose voice had power

To rouse the war storm's awful might?

Glad eager footsteps seek her bower,

With tidings of the glorious fight;

On her loved harp her head is bowed,

One slender arm still round it clings,

And her dark tresses in a cloud,

Are clust'ring o'er the silent strings.

They clasp her hands, they call her name,

They bid her strike the harp once more,

And sing of victory, and fame,

The song she loved in days of yore.

Vain, vain, there comes no breath or sound

Those faded lips to sever,

The broken heart its rest hath found,

The harp is hushed for ever.