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The sculptured dead on each side seemed to freeze,
Imprisoned in black, purgatorial rails :
Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat❜ries,
He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.
Northward he turneth through a little door,
And scarce three steps, ere music's golden tongue
Flattered to tears this aged man and poor:
But no; already had his death-bell rung:
The joys of all his life were said and sung:
His was harsh penance on St. Agnes' Eve.
Another way he went, and soon among
Rough ashes sat he, for his soul's reprieve;
And all night kept awake, for sinners' sake to grieve.
That ancient beadsman heard the prelude soft;
And so it chanced (for many a door was wide,
From hurry to and fro) soon up aloft
The silver-snarling trumpets 'gan to chide;
The level chambers ready with their pride,
Were glowing to receive a thousand guests:
And carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
Stared, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
With hair blown back, and wings put crosswise on their
At length burst in the argent revelry
With plume, tiara, and all rich array,
Numerous as shadows haunting fairily
The brain, new stuffed, in youth, with triumphs gay
These let us wish away,
Of old romance. And turn, sole-thoughted, to one lady there, Whose heart had brooded all that wintry day On love, and winged St. Agnes' saintly care, As she had heard old dames full many times declare.
They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve,
Young virgins might have visions of delight;
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the honeyed middle of the night,
If ceremonies due they did aright;
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white:
Nor look behind or sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
Full of this whim was youthful Madeline: The music, yearning, like a god in pain, She scarcely heard; her maiden eyes divine, Fixed on the floor, saw many a sweeping train Pass by, she heeded not at all; in vain Came many a tip-toe amorous cavalier, And back retired, not cooled by high disdain, But she saw not; her heart was otherwhere; She sighed for Agnes' dreams, the sweetest of the year.
She danced along with vague, regardless eyes,
Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and short;
The hallowed hour was near at hand: she sighs
Amid the timbrels and the thronged resort
Of whisperers in anger or in sport;
'Mid looks of love, defiance, hate, and scorn;
Hoodwinked with faery fancy; all amort,
Save to St. Agnes' and her lambs unshorn,
And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.
So, purposing each moment to retire,
She lingered still. Meantime, across the moors,
Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire
For Madeline. Beside the portal doors
Buttressed from moonlight, stands he, and implores
All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
But for one moment in the tedious hours,
That he might gaze and worship all unseen,
Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss ;—in sooth such things
He ventures in-let no buzzed whisper tell;
All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords
Will storm his heart, Love's feverous citadel.
For him those chambers had barbarian hordes,
Hyæna foemen, and hot-blooded lords,
Whose very dogs would execrations howl
Against his lineage. Not one breast affords
Him any mercy, in that mansion foul,
Save one old beldame, weak in body and in soul.
Ah! happy chance! the aged creature came
Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand,
To where he stood, hid from the torches' light,
Behind a broad hall pillar, far beyond
The sound of merriment and chorus bland. He startled her; but soon she knew his face, And grasped his fingers in her palsied hand : Saying, "Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place. They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race.
"Get hence! get hence! there's dwarfish Hildebrand, He had a fever late, and in the fit
He cursed thee and thine, both house and land:
Then there's that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
More tame for his grav hairs-Alas, me! flit;
Flit like a ghost away!”—“Ah, gossip dear,
We're safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
And tell me how-"--" Good Saints! not here, not here! Follow me, child, or else these stones will be thy bier!"
He followed through a lowly, arched way,
Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume;
And as she muttered, "Well-a-well-a-day!"
He found him in a little moonlight room,
Pale, latticed, chill, and silent as a tomb.
"Now tell me where is Madeline," said he;
"Oh, tell me, Angela, by the holy loom
Which none but secret sisterhood may see,
When they St. Agnes' wool are weaving piously."
"St. Agnes! Ah! it is St. Agnes' Eve—
Yet men will murder upon holidays;
Thou must hold water in a witch's sieve,
And be the liege lord of all elves and fays,
To venture so: it fills me with amaze
To see thee, Porphyro!—St. Agnes' Eve!
God's help! my lady fair the conjurer plays
This very night: good angels her deceive!
But let me laugh awhile; I've mickle time to grieve."
Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon,
While Porphyro upon her face doth look,
Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone,
Who keepeth closed a wondrous riddle-book,
As spectacled she sits in chimney nook;
But soon his eyes grow brilliant, when she told
His lady's purpose; and he scarce could brook
Tears, at the thought of those enchantments cold,
And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.
Sudden a thought came, like a full-blown rose,
Flushing his brow, and in his painèd heart
Made purple riot; then doth he propose
A stratagem, that makes the beldame start.
"A cruel man and impious thou art;
Sweet lady! let her pray, and sleep and dream,
Alone with her good angels far apart
From wicked men like thee.—Go! go! I deem
Thou canst not, surely, be the same that thou dost seem."
"I will not harm her, by all saints, I swear!”
Quoth Porphyro. "Oh, may I ne'er find grace,
When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,
If one of her soft ringlets I displace,