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Who keepeth clos'd 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,
Or look with ruffian passion in her face!
Good Angela, believe me, by these tears,
Or I will, even in a moment's space,
Awake with horrid shout my foemen's ears,
And beard them, though they be more fang'd than wolves and bears."
"Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?
A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,
Whose passing bell may ere the midnight toll;
Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening,
Were never miss'd?" Thus plaining, doth she bring
A gentler speech from burning Porphyro,
So woful and of such deep sorrowing,
That Angela gives promise she will do
Whatever he shall wish, betide or weal or wo:
Which was to lead him in close secrecy
Even to Madeline's chamber, and there hide
Him in a closet, of such privacy
That he might see her beauty unespied.
And win perhaps that night a peerless bride,
While legion'd fairies paced the coverlet,
And pale enchantment held her sleepy-eyed.
Never on such a night have lovers met,
Since Merlin paid his demon all the monstrous debt.8
"It shall be as thou wishest," said the dame;
"All cates and dainties shall be stored there,
Quickly on this feast-night; by the tambour frame
Her own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare,
For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dare,
On such a catering, trust my dizzy head.
Wait here, my child, with patience; kneel in prayer
The while; ah! thou must needs the lady wed;
Or may I never leave my grave among the dead!"
So saying, she hobbled off with busy fear;
The lover's endless minute slowly pass'd,
The dame return'd, and whisper'd in his ear
To follow her, with aged eyes aghast
From fright of dim espial. Safe at last
Through many a dusk y gallery, they gain
The maiden's chamber, silken, hush'd and chaste,
Where Porphyro took covert, pleas'd amain:
His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.
Her faltering hand upon the balustrade, Old Angela was feeling for the stair, When Madeline, St. Agnes' charmed maid, Rose, like a mission'd spirit, unaware; With silver taper-light, and pious care She turn'd, and down the aged gossip led To a safe level matting. Now prepare, Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed; She comes, she comes again, like ring-dove fray'd and fled.
Out went the taper as she hurried in;
Its little smoke in pallid moonshine died: 9
She clos'd the door, she panteth all akin
To spirits of the air, and visions wide;
Nor utter'd syllable, or "Wo betide!"
But to her heart her heart was voluble,
Paining with eloquence her balmy side:
As though a tongueless nightingale should swell Her throat in vain, and die heart-stifled in her dell.
A casement high and triple-arch'd there was,
All garlanded with carven images
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes.
As are the tiger-moth's deep damask'd wings; And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries, And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings, A shielded scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings. 10
Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gales on Madeline's fair breast,
As down she knelt for heaven's grace and boon:
Rose-bloom fell on her hands together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory like a saint;
She seem'd a splendid angel, newly drest,
Save wings for heaven :-Porphyro grew faint-11
She knelt so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.
Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmèd jewels one by one ;12
Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
Half hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees
In fancy fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.
Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex'd she lay,
Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress'd
Her smoothed limbs, and soul, fatigued away,
Flown, like a thought, until the morrow day;
Blissfully haven'd both from joy and pain;
Clasp'd like a missal, where swart Paynims pray;
Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again. 13
Stol'n to this paradise and so entranc'd,
Porphyro gaz'd upon her empty dress,
And listen'd to her breathing if it chanc'd
To wake unto a slumb'rous tenderness:
Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
And breath'd himself; then from the closet crept,
Noiseless as fear in a wild wilderness,
And over the hush'd carpet silent stept,
And 'tween the curtains peep'd, where lo! how fast she slept.
Then, by the bedside, where the faded moon
Made a dim silver twilight,-soft he set
A table, and, half-anguish'd, threw thereon
A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet :—
O, for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
The boist'rous, midnight, festive clarion,
The kettle-drum and far-heard clarionet,
Affray his ears, though but in dying tone:-
The hall-door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.
And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep
In blanched linen, smooth and lavender'd,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd,
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrups tinct with cinnamon :14
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr'd
From Fez; and spiced dainties every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar'd Lebanon.
These delicates he heap'd with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathed silver; sumptuously they stand
In the retired quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light.
"And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite.
Open thine eyes for meek St. Agnes' sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache."
Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm
Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dream
By the dusk curtains;-'twas a midnight charm
Impossible to melt as icèd stream:
The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;
Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies;
It seem'd he never, never could redeem
From such a steadfast spell his lady's eyes;
So mus'd awhile, entoil'd in woofèd fantasies.
Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,Tumultuous, and, in chords that tenderest be, He play'd an ancient ditty, long since mute, In Provence call'd, "La belle dame sans mercy:" Close to her ear touching the melody;Wherewith disturb'd she utter'd a soft moan: He ceas'd-she panted quick-and suddenly Her blue affrayèd eyes wide open shone: Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth sculptured stone.
Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep;
There was a painful change that nigh expell'd
The blisses of her dream, so pure and deep,
At which fair Madeline began to weep,
And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
Who knelt, with joinèd hands and piteous eye,
Fearing to move or speak, she look'd so dreamingly.
"Ah Porphyro!" said she, "but even now
Thy voice was a sweet tremble in mine ear,
Made tunable with every sweetest vow;
And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear;
How chang'd thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear !—
Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
Those looks immortal, those complainings dear;
Oh! leave me not in this eternal wo,
For if thou diest, my love, I know not where to go."
Beyond a mortal man impassion'd far15
At these voluptuous accents he arose,
Ethereal, flush'd, and like a throbbing star