John Ruskin.

The poems of John Ruskin : now first collected from original manuscript and printed sources (Volume 2) online

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" The chapel vaults are deadly damp,

Their air is breathless all ;
The downy bats they clasp and cramp

Their cold wings to the wall ;
The bright-eyed eft, from cranny and cleft,

Doth noiselessly pursue
The twining light of the death-worms white,

In the pools of the earth-dew ;
The downy bat, the death-worm white,

And the eft with its sable coil
They are company good for a sworded knight,

In his rest from the battle-toil ;
The sworded knight is sunk in rest,

With the cross-hilt in his hand ?
But his arms are folded o'er his breast

As weak as ropes of sand.
His eyes are dark, his sword of wrath

Is impotent and dim ;
Dark lord ! in this thy victor path,

Remember him."


The sounds sunk deeply, and were gone ;
And, for a time, the quiet crowd


Hung on the long departing tone,

Of wailing in the morning cloud,
In spirit wondering and beguiled ;

Then turned, with steadfast gaze, to learn
What recked he, of such warning wild

Amboise's champion stern.
But little to their sight betrayed
The visor bars and plumage shade ;
The nearest thought he smiled
Yet more in bitterness than mirth,
And held his eyes upon the earth
With thoughtful gaze, half sad, half keen,
As they would seek, beneath the screen
Of living turf and golden bloom,
The secrets of its under-tomb.


A moment more, with burning look,
High in the air his plume he shook,
And waved his lance as in disdain,
And struck his charger with the rein,
And loosed the sword-hilt to his grasp,
And closed the visor's grisly clasp,
And all expectant sate and still ;
The herald blew his summons shrill :
Keen answer rose from list and tent,
For France had there her bravest sent,
With hearts of steel, and eyes of flame,
Full armed the knightly concourse came ;


They came like storms of heaven set free,
They came like surges of the sea,

Resistless, dark and dense :
Like surges on a sable rock,
They fell with their own fiery shock,

Dashed into impotence.
O'er each encounter's rush and gloom,
Like meteor rose Amboise's plume ;
As stubble to his calm career
Crashed from his breast the splintered spear ;
Before his charge the war-horse reeled,
And bowed the helm, and sank the shield,
And checked the heart, and failed the arm ;
And still the herald's loud alarm

Disturbed the short delay
" On, chevaliers ! for fame, for love,
For these dark eyes that burn above

The field of your affray ! "


Six knights had fallen, the last in death,

Deeply the challenger drew his breath.

The field was hushed, the wind that rocked

His standard staff grew light and low.
A seventh came not. He unlocked

His visor-clasp, and raised his brow
To catch its coolness. Marvel not
If it were pale with weariness,


For fast that day his hand had wrought

Its warrior- work of victory ;
Yet, one who loved him might have thought

There was a trouble in his eye,
And that it turned in some distress

Unto the quiet sky.
Indeed, that sky was strangely still,
And through the air unwonted chill

Hung on the heat of noon ;
Men spoke in whispers, and their words
Came brokenly, as if the chords

Of their hearts were out of tune ;
And deeper still, and yet more deep
The coldness of that heavy sleep
Came on the lulled air. And men saw,
In every glance, an answering awe
Meeting their own with doubtful change
Of expectation wild and strange.
Dread marvel was it thus to feel
The echoing earth, the trumpet-peal,
The thundering hoof, the crashing steel,

Cease to a pause so dead ;
They heard the aspens' moaning shiver,
And the low tinkling of the river

Upon its pebble bed.

The challenger's trump rang long and loud,
And the light upon his standard proud

Grew indistinct and dun ;
The challenger's trump rang long and loud,


And the shadow of a narrow cloud
Came suddenly o'er the sun :


A narrow cloud of outline quaint,

Much like a human hand ;
And after it, with following faint,

Came up a dull, grey, lengthening band

Of small cloud-billows, like sea-sand,
And then, out of the gaps of blue,
Left moveless in the sky, there grew
Long snaky knots of sable mist,
Which counter-winds did vex and twist,
Knitted and loosed, and tossed and tore,
Like passive weeds on that sandy shore ;
And these seemed with their touch to infect
The sweet, white upper clouds, and checked
Their pacing on the heavenly floor,

And quenched the light which was to them
As blood and life, singing the while

A fitful requiem ;
Until the hues of each cloud-isle

Sank into one vast veil of dread,

Coping the heaven as if with lead,
With dragged, pale edges here and there,
Through which the noon's transparent glare

Fell with a dusky red.
And all the summer voices sank

To let that darkness pass ;


The weeds were quiet on the bank,

The cricket in the grass ;
The merry birds, the buzzing flies,

The leaves of many lips,
Did make their songs a sacrifice

Unto the noon-eclipse.


The challenger's trump rang long and loud

Hark, as its notes decay !
Was it out of the earth or up in the cloud ?

Or an echo far away ?
Soft it came, and none knew whence
Deep, melodious, and intense,

So lightly breathed, so wildly blown,
Distant it seemed yet everywhere
Possessing all the infinite air

One quivering trumpet-tone !
With slow increase of gathering sway,
Louder along the wind it lay ;
It shook the woods, it pressed the wave,
The guarding rocks through chasm and cave
Roared in their fierce reply.

It rose, and o'er the lists at length

Crashed into full tempestuous strength,
Shook through its storm-tried turrets high

Amboise's mountain home,
And the broad thunder-vaulted sky

Clanged like a brazen dome.



Unchanged, unchilled in heart and eye,
The challenger heard that dread reply ;
His head was bowed upon his breast,
And on the darkness in the west
His glance dwelt patiently ;
Out of that western gloom there came
A small white vapour, shaped like flame,
Unscattering, and on constant wing
Rode lonely, like a living thing,
Upon its stormy path ; it grew,
And gathered as it onward drew
It paused above the lists, a roof
Inwoven with a lightning woof
Of undulating fire, whose trace,
Like corpse-fire on a human face,
Was mixed of light and death ; it sank
Slowly ; the wild war-horses shrank

Tame from the nearing flash ; their eyes
Glared the blue terror back ; it shone
On the broad spears, like wavering wan

Of unaccepted sacrifice.
Down to the earth the smoke-cloud rolled
Pale-shadowed through its sulphurous fold,
Banner and armour, spear and plume
Gleamed like a vision of the tomb.
One form alone was all of gloom
In deep and dusky arms arrayed,



Changeless alike through flash and shade,

Sudden within the barrier gate

Behold, the seventh champion sate !

He waved his hand he stooped his lance

The challenger started from his trance ;

He plunged his spur he loosed his rein
A flash a groan a woman's cry
And up to the receiving sky

The white cloud rose again !


The white cloud rose the white cloud fled

The peace of heaven returned in dew,
And soft and far the noontide shed

Its holiness of blue.
The rock, the earth, the wave, the brake

Rejoiced beneath that sweet succeeding ;
No sun nor sound can warm or wake

One human heart's unheeding.
Stretched on the dark earth's bosom, chill,
Amboise's lord lay stark and still.
The heralds raise him but to mark
The last light leave his eyeballs dark
The last blood dwindle on his cheek
They turned ; a murmur wild and weak
Passed on the air, in passion broken,

The faint low sob of one in pain
" Lo ! the faith thou hast forgotten

Binds thee with its broken chain ! "



The mists, that mark the day's decline,

Save cooled and lulled the purple air ;
The bell, from Saint Cecilia's shrine,

Hath tolled the evening hour of prayer ;
With folded veil, and eyes that shed
Faint rays along the stones they tread,
And bosom stooped, and step subdued,
Came forth that ancient sisterhood ;
Each bearing on her lips along
Part of the surge of a low song,
A wailing requiem, wildly mixed

With suppliant cry, how weak to win,
From home so far from fate so fixed,

A spirit dead in sin !
Yet yearly must they meet, and pray

For her who died how long ago !

How long 'twere only Love could know ;
And she, ere her departing day,
Had watched the last of Love's decay ;
Had felt upon her fading cheek

None but a stranger's sighs ;


Had none but stranger souls to seek

Her death-thoughts in her eyes ;
Had none to guard her couch of clay,

Or trim her funeral stone,
Save those who, when she passed away,

Felt not the more alone.


And years had seen that narrow spot
Of death-sod levelled and forgot,
Ere question came of record kept,
Or how she died or where she slept.
The night was wild, the moon was late
A lady sought the convent gate ;
The midnight chill was on her breast,

The dew was on her hair,
And in her eye there was unrest,

And on her brow, despair.
She came to seek the face, she said,

Of one deep injured. One by one
The gentle sisters came, and shed

The meekness of their looks upon
Her troubled watch. " I know them not,

I know them not," she murmured still :
" Are then her face her form forgot ?

Alas ! we lose not when we will
The thoughts of an accomplished ill ;
The image of our love may fade,
But what can quench a victim's shade ?



" She comes not yet. She will not come.

I seek her chamber ; " and she rose
With a quick start of grief, which some

Would have restrained ; but the repose
Of her pale brow rebuked them. " Back,"

She cried, " the path, the place, I know,
Follow me not though broad and black
The night lies on that lonely track.
There moves for ever by my side
A darker spirit for my guide ;
A broader curse a wilder woe,
Must gird my footsteps as I go."


Sternly she spoke, and shuddering, sought
The cloister arches, marble-wrought,
That send, through many a trembling shaft,
The deep wind's full, melodious draught,
Round the low space of billowy turf,
Where funeral roses flash like surf,
O'er those who share the convent grave,
Laid each beneath her own green wave.


From stone to stone she past, and spelt
The letters with her fingers felt ;

214 TH E BROKEN CHAIN. 1842,

The stains of time are drooped across
Those mouldering names, obscure with moss ;
The hearts where once they deeply dwelt,
With music's power to move and melt,
Are stampless too the fondest few
Have scarcely kept a trace more true.


She paused at length beside a girth

Of osiers overgrown and old ;
And with her eyes fixed on the earth,

Spoke slowly and from lips as cold

As ever met the burial mould.


" I have not come to ask for peace

From thee, thou unforgiving clay !
The pangs that pass the throbs that cease

From such as thou, in their decay,
Bequeath them that repose of wrath

So dark of heart, so dull of ear,
That bloodless strength of sworded sloth,

That shows not mercy, knows not fear,
And keeps its death-smile of disdain
Alike for pity, as for pain.
But, galled by many a ghastly link,

That bound and brought my soul to thee,
I come to bid thy vengeance drink

The wine of this my misery.


Look on me as perchance the dead
Can look, through soul and spirit spread
Before thee ; go thou forth, and tread
The lone fields of my life, and see

Those dark, large flocks of restless pangs
They pasture, and the thoughts of thee

That shepherd them, and teach their fangs
To eat the green, and guide their feet
To trample where the banks are sweet,
And judge betwixt us, which is best,
My sleepless torture, or thy rest ;
And which the worthier to be wept,
The fate I caused, or that I kept.
I tell thee, that my steps must stain
With more than blood, their path of pain ;
And I would fold my weary feet
More gladly in thy winding sheet,
And wrap my bosom in thy shroud,
And dash thy darkness on the crowd

Of terrors in my sight, and sheathe
Mine ears from their confusion loud,

And cool my brain with cypress wreath
More gladly from its pulse of blood,
Than ever bride with orange bud
Clouded her moony brow. Alas !
This osier fence I must not pass.
Wilt thou not thank me, that I dare

To feel the beams and drink the breath
That curse me out of Heaven, nor share


The cup that quenches human care,

The Sacrament of death ;
But yield thee this, thy living prey
Of erring soul and tortured clay,
To feed thee, when thou com'st to keep
Thy watch of wrath around my sleep,
Or turn the shafts of daylight dim,
With faded breast and frozen limb ?


" Yet come, and be, as thou hast been,

Companion ceaseless not unseen,

Though gloomed the veil of flesh between

Mine eyes and thine, and fast and rife

Around me flashed the forms of life :

I knew them by their change for one

I did not lose, I could not shun,

Through laughing crowd, and lighted room,

Through listed field, and battle's gloom,

Through all the shapes and sounds that press

The Path or wake the Wilderness :

E'en when He came, mine eyes to fill,

Whom Love saw solitary still,

For ever, shadowy by my side,

I heard thee murmur, watched thee glide ;

But what shall now thy purpose bar ?

The laughing crowd is scattered far,

The lighted hall is left forlorn,

The listed field is white with corn,


And he, beneath whose voice and brow
I could forget thee, is as thou."


She spoke, she rose, and, from that hour,

The peasant groups that pause beside

The chapel walls at eventide,

To catch the notes of chord and song

That unseen fingers form, and lips prolong,
Have heard a voice of deeper power,

Of wilder swell, and purer fall,

More sad, more modulate, than all.
It is not keen, it is not loud,

But ever heard alone,
As winds that touch on chords of cloud

Across the heavenly zone,
Then chiefly heard, when drooped and drowned
In strength of sorrow, more than sound ;
That low articulated rush

Of swift, but secret passion, breaking
From sob to song, from gasp to gush ;
Then failing to that deadly hush,

That only knows the wilder waking
That deep, prolonged, and dream-like swell,
So full that rose so faint that fell,
So sad so tremulously clear
So checked with something worse than fear.
Whose can they be ?
Go, ask the midnight stars, that see


The secrets of her sleepless cell ;
For none but God and they can tell
What thoughts and deeds of darkened choice
Gave horror to that burning voice

That voice, unheard save thus, untaught
The words of penitence or prayer ;

The grey confessor knows it not ;
The chapel echoes only bear
Its burst and burthen of despair ;
And pity's voice hath rude reply
From darkened brow and downcast eye,
That quench the question, kind or rash,
With rapid shade and reddening flash ;
Or, worse, with the regardless trance
Of sealed ear, and sightless glance,
That fearful glance, so large and bright,
That dwells so long, with heed so light,
When, far within, its fancy lies,
Nor movement marks, nor ray replies,
Nor kindling dawn, nor holy dew
Reward the words that soothe or sue.


Restless she moves ; beneath her veil
That writhing brow is sunk and shaded ;

Its touch is cold its veins are pale
Its crown is lost its lustre faded ;

Yet lofty still, though scarcely bright,

Its glory burns beneath the blight


Of washing thought, and withering crime,
And curse of torture and of time ;
Of pangs of pride, endured degraded
Of guilt unchecked, and grief unaided.
Her sable hair is slightly braided ;
Warm, like south wind, its foldings float
Round her soft hands and marble throat ;
How passive these, how pulseless this,

That love should lift, and life should warm !
Ah 1 where the kindness, or the kiss,

Can break their dead and drooping charm !
Perchance they were not always so :

That breast hath sometimes movement deep,
Timed like the sea, that surges slow
Where storms have trodden long ago ;

And sometimes, from their listless sleep,
Those hands are harshly writhed and knit,
As grasping what their frenzied fit
Deemed peace to crush, or death to quit.
And then the sisters shrink aside ;

They know the words that others hear
Of grace, or gloom to charm, or chide,

Fall on her inattentive ear
As falls the snowflake on the rock,
That feels no chill, and knows no shock ;
Nor dare they mingle in her mood,
So dark, and dimly understood ;

And better so, if, as they say,
'Tis something worse than solitude :


For some have marked, when that dismay
Had seemed to snatch her soul away,
That in her eye's unquietness
There shone more terror than distress ;
And deemed they heard, when, soft and dead,
By night they watched her sleepless tread,
Strange words addressed, beneath her breath,
As if to one who heard in death,
And, in the night-wind's sound and sigh,
Imagined accents of reply.


The sun is on his western march,

His rays are red on shaft and arch ;

With hues of hope their softness dyes

The image with the lifted eyes,*

Where listening still, with tranced smile,

Cecilia lights the glimmering aisle ;

So calm the beams that flushed her rest

Of ardent brow, and virgin breast,

Whose chill they pierced, but not profaned,

And seemed to stir what scarce they stained,

So warm the life, so pure the ray :

Such she had stood, ere snatched from clay,

* I was thinking of the St. Cecilia of Raphael at Bologna, turned
into marble were it possible, where so much depends on the entranced
darkness of the eyes. The shrine of St. Cecilia is altogether imaginary ;
sue is not a favourite saint in matters of dedication, I don't know why.


When sank the tones of sun and sphere,
Deep melting on her mortal ear ;
And angels stooped, with fond control,
To write the rapture on her soul.


Two sisters, at the statue's feet,
Paused in the altar's arched retreat,
As risen but now from earnest prayer
One aged and grey one passing fair ;
In changeful gush of breath and blood,
Mute for a time the younger stood ;
Then raised her head and spoke : the flow
Of sound was measured, stern, and slow :


" Mother ! thou sayest she died in strife
Of heavenly wrath and human woe ;

For me, there is not that in life

Whose loss could ask, or love could owe,
As much of pang as now I show ;

But that the book which angels write
Within men's spirits day by day,

That diary of judgment-light,
That cannot pass away,

Which, with cold ear and glazing eye,

Men hear and read before they die,

Is open now before me set ;

Its drifting leaves are red and wet


With blood and fire, and yet, methought,
Its words were music, were they not
Written in darkness.

/ confess !

Say'st thou ? The sea shall yield its dead,
Perchance my spirit its distress ;

Yet there are paths of human dread

That none but God should trace or tread ;
Men judge by a degraded law ;

With Him, I fear not : He who gave
The sceptre to the passion, saw

The sorrow of the slave.
He made me, not as others are,

Who dwell, like willows by a brook
That see the shadow of one star

For ever with serenest look
Lighting their leaves, that only hear
Their sun-stirred boughs sing soft and clear,
And only live by consciousness
Of waves that feed and winds that bless.
Me rooted on a lonely rock,

Amidst the rush of mountain rivers,
He doomed to bear the sound and shock
Of shafts that rend and storms that rock,

The frost that blasts, and flash that shivers ;
And I am desolate and sunk,
A lifeless wreck a leafless trunk,
Smitten with plagues, and seared with sin,
And black with rottenness within,


But conscious of the holier will

That saved me long, and strengthens still.


" Mine eyes are dim, they scarce can trace
The rays that pierce this lonely place ;
But deep within their darkness dwell
A thousand thoughts they knew too well.
Those orbed towers obscure and vast,*
That light the Loire with sunset last ;
Those fretted groups of shaft and spire
That crest Amboise's cliff with fire,
When, far beneath, in moonlight fail
The winds that shook the pausing sail ;
The panes that tint with dyes divine
The altar of St. Hubert's shrine ;
The very stone on which 1 knelt,

When youth was pure upon my brow,
Though word I prayed, or wish I felt

I scarce remember now.
Methought that there I bowed to bless

A warrior's sword a wanderer's way :

* The circular tower, [or bastion of the castle-rock], of Amboise,
is so large as to admit of a spiral ascent in its interior, which two horse-
men may ride up abreast. The chapel, which crowns the precipice,
though small, is one of the loveliest bits of rich detail in France. In
reality it is terminated by a small wooden spire. It is dedicated
to St. Hubert, a grotesque piece of carving above the entrance repre-
senting his rencontre svith the sacred stag.


Ah ! nearer now, the knee would press
The heart for which the lips would pray.

The thoughts were meek, the words were low
I deemed them free from sinful stain ;

It might be so. I only know

These were unheard, and those were vain.


" That stone is raised ; where once it lay
Is built a tomb of marble grey : *
Asleep within the sculptured veil
Seems laid a knight in linked mail ;
Obscurely laid in powerless rest,

The latest of his line ;
Upon his casque he bears no crest,

Upon his shield no sign.
I've seen the day when through the blue
Of broadest heaven his banner flew,
And armies watched, through farthest fight,
The stainless symbol's stormy light

Wave like an angel's wing.

Ah ! now a scorned and scathed thing,
Its silken folds the worm shall fret,
The clay shall soil, the dew shall wet,
Where sleeps the sword that once could save,

* There is no such tomb now in existence, the chapel being circular,
and unbroken in design ; in fact, I have my doubts whether there ever
was anything of the kind, the lady being slightly too vague in her
assertions to deserve unqualified credit.


And droops the arm that bore ;
Its hues must gird a nameless grave ;
Nor wind shall wake, nor lance shall wave,

Nor glory gild it more :
For he is fallen oh ! ask not how,

Or ask the angels that unlock

The inmost grave's sepulchral rock ;
I could have told thee once, but now
'Tis madness in me all, and thou
Wouldst deem it so, if I should speak.
And I am glad my brain is weak ;
Ah ! this is yet its only wrong,
To know too well to feel too long.


" But I remember how he lay
When the rushing crowd were all away :
And how I called, with that low cry
He never heard without reply ;
And how there came no sound nor sign,
And the feel of his dead lips on mine ;
And when they came to comfort me,
I laughed, because they could not see
The stain of blood, or print of lance,
To write the tomb upon the trance.
I saw, what they had heeded not,
Above his heart a small black spot ;
Ah, woe ! I knew how deep within

That stamp of death, that seal of sin,


Had struck with mortal agony
The heart so false to all but me.


" Mother ! methinks my soul can say
It loved as well as woman's may ;
And what I would have given, to gain
The answering love, to count were vain ;
I know not, what I gave I know
My hope on high, my all below.
But hope and height of earth and heaven,
Or highest sphere to angels given,
Would I surrender, and take up
The horror of this cross and cup
I bear and drink, to win the thought
That I had failed in what I sought ;
Alas ! I won rejoiced to win
The love whose every look was sin ;
Whose every dimly worded breath
Was but the distant bell of death
For her who heard, for him who spoke.

Ah ! though those hours were swift and few,
The guilt they bore, the vow they broke,

Time cannot punish nor renew.


" They told me, long ago, that thou
Hadst seen, beneath this very shade


Of mouldering stone that wraps us now,

The death of her whom he betrayed.
Thine eyes are wet with memory,
In truth 'tis fearful sight to see

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Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe poems of John Ruskin : now first collected from original manuscript and printed sources (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 14)