The Fifth Legend of the Hermitage
“Awake! the dim watch-fires are quench’d, and we go
To win a proud grave from the conquering foe!
But ’tis not the day-star which gleams through the gloom,
A glimmering hand beckons on to my doom!
Boy! fill the rich bowl! let its nectar refine
The last bitter drop of the life I resign!
Think oft, while the death-volley rolls on the blast,
The toils and the pangs of thy master are past!
One cup to the land of our fathers is due,
One draught to the hearts that are tender and true!
To her who at twilight still lingers unseen,
And seeks the last print of thy feet on the green!
Fill, boy, fill it high!—let thy heart’s glow exhale
Thy tears, as the sun drinks the dew from our vale:
The gale of cold honour our laurel may wave,
But only love’s dew keeps it green on the grave!
* * *
The black Hussar has turn’d his steed
Thro’ Plaven’s ruin’d dale,
Where famish’d wolves and vultures feed,
And court the poison’d gale:
Where-ever the battle-shout was heard,
His steed that sable warrior spurr’d:
Now while the moon looks pale,
His fetlocks deep in curdled blood
He laves in Plaven’s silent flood.
Beside that war steed’s bending neck
A fairy form of beauty stands—
It seems as if the river-queen
Had shap’d an elf of courtly mien
And dipp’d in balm her dewy hands,
The coral of his lips to deck,
Or robb’d her fairest coronet
Its pearls between those lips to set,
Or woven in her amber loom,
Soft locks to mock the gold-bird’s plume,
And from a river lily’s bell
Lent whiteness in his brow to dwell;
Then sent him to her bow’rs to lead
Sir Conrade and his gallant steed.
“Now, good Sir Conrade, heed me well!
Tempt not the forest wolf to-night,
Nor tread alone this ruin’d dell!
Yon flash is from the watch-fire’s light,
Which guides the robber to his cell!”
“Art thou, my boy, a soldier’s page,
And shrinks thy heart from midnight spell,
O leave to cold and coward Age
The tales which cloister’d dotards tell!
My arm is firm, my sword is just,
No other omen claims my trust!”
“Yet hear me, noble Conrade, now!
Beneath yon hollow mountain’s brow
A meagre sybil sits alone,
And mutters to the scowling skies:
She well might seem a form of stone,
But that a strange and speechless moan
Seems from her yellow lips to rise:
Ere to the tents of gallant men
Thy bounty led me from this glen,
That meagre sybil’s warning tone
Well to my infant ear was known.
O tread not near yon baleful cell!
Thou hear’st her wand’ring goblins yell!”
“Cheer, cheer thy heart, my gentle boy!
’Tis but the shout of gypsy-joy:
Yon watchfire shews the vagrant crew,
Whose chiefs the wanton elk pursue:
From Saxon fields and cities chas’d,
Rich Temeswara’s grape they taste;
And oft the Vaivod’s fur-clad dame,
Soft-smiling thro’ her azure veil,
In whispers tells some cherish’d name,
And fondly hears their mystic tale.
Now round the bowl, with fearless glee,
They sing of love and liberty.”
Back starts his steed—the spur is vain—
Where is the page that held his rein?
Beneath this cavern’d valley’s shade,
Have shiver’d rocks his feet betray’d?
These dizzy steeps and caverns grim
Ask keener eye and firmer limb:—
O’er bush and crag the warrior springs,—
With shouts the hollow mountain rings.
Who lurks within yon silent lair?
No beauteous boy is shelter’d there!
A meagre, wan, and shapeless hag
Smiles grimly thro’ the clefted crag.
The prophetess of Elba’s realm,
The far-fam’d witch of Hohenelm!
“Listen and speak, thou hoary dame!
If here, as Saxon tales relate,
Thy gifted eye can look on fate,
Thou know’st my birthright and my name:
And thou may’st tell what vengeful pow’r
Shall crush thee in this hated hour
If charter’d plunderers annoy
My gentle page, my orphan-boy!”
Thrice, mutt’ring low, the hoary dame
Cower’d scowling o’er her dusky flame,
Thrice wav’d her staff with mystic clang,
And thus in hollow discord sang.
“The Vaivod sat in lonely dell,
And saw the sabbath which none must tell:
He knelt unseen by St. Monan’s cross,
While the night-dew hung on its wither’d moss,
Till once in the hour of darkness there
The witch of the mountain heard his pray’r.
“Thou shalt build a dome on southern land,
Where olives bloom by the sea-gale fann’d:
But none must the light of they hearth behold,
Nor wandering guest thy gates unfold,
Till thy bride proves pure as the mountain-stream,
The forest-dove, and the mild moon’s beam!”
The moss on the Vaivod’s porch was green,
The light of his hearth was never seen;
He heard no sound but the water’s fall,
No guest but the ghosts of his mould’ring hall;
Yet his bride seem’d pure as the bud that blows
In a sunbright cleft among Alpine snows.
The beam of her azure eye was meek,
The dimple dwelt in her fading cheek,
But his frown was dark on her beauty’s pride
As the corsair’s prow on the sparkling tide;
For thrice in the chapel’s shadowy aisle
The witch spoke low with an elf-queen’s smile.
“Once thou may’st look on yon blasted thorn,
Thrice and once on the star of morn;
Five times call on the sprites that dwell
On the holy brink of St. Monan’s well;
Then shall the mirror of ocean shew
If she thou lovest is wise and true!”
The Vaivod sat on St. Monan’s side,
Thrice he look’d on the glassy tide—
He saw his bride’s fair tresses float
O’er the bounding helm of a fisher’s boat,
And a voice said—“Wives thou may’st find again,
But one so true thou wilt seek in vain!”
“The fountain stays not in desert sand,
The moon-beam glides from the grasping hand;
When tempests wither the leafless glade,
The dove flies far to a secret shade—
Thy wife is gone like the mountain-stream,
The forest-dove, and the mild moon’s beam!”
Sir Conrade bow’d his lofty head,
And stern in stifled anguish said,
“Thou know’st me, sybil!—if thine eye
Can Fate’s remotest depths descry,
Well hast thou learnt what pangs await
Uncertain love and jealous hate!
Such anguish as a madman’s thirst
With dreams of distant nectar curst,
While gazing on the poison-tree,
He loathes, yet loves his agony!
But I have legends too to tell
Of mystic craft and wizard spell.—
When Norway’s monarch knelt to gain
The spell of love at Runa’s fane,
A wither’d sybil heard his pray’r,
And wove the gift with magic care.
A web of silken hair she spun,
Dipp’d in the dew from roses won.
She gemm’d the work with sapphires blue,
And ting’d it with the ruby’s hue:
Then hid a pearl within its fold;
Next clos’d it with a ring of gold
In consecrated fire refin’d,
The mighty talisman to bind.
The talisman of pow’r renown’d
Methought in Bertha’s love I found:
Hers was the web of silken hair,
Her lips the honey-dew might spare;
The sapphire sparkled in her eye,
Her blush excell’d the ruby’s dye—
I grasp’d the prize—but could not find
The spotless pearl within enshrin’d:
She fled, and mock’d the ring’s controul,
Tho’ Love’s true flame was in my soul!”
Strange lustre fills the sybil’s eyes,
While thus her mystic tongue replies—
“’Tis said the opal once had pow’r
To lengthen Pleasure’s brightest hour;
The amethyst’s ethereal blue
Could sober truth and peace renew;
And in the glowing ruby dwelt
A sting by guilty lovers felt.
Now all these potent spells are flown,
Or dwell with eastern seers alone;
But Conrade on this holy day
My claim a gem of surer sway—
A faithful heart!—its ample store
Can more than eastern treasures pour;
Can summon Fancy’s richest hues,
And all the light of love diffuse.
Receive the gift!—its price is known
To pure and noble souls alone!
It lends the lip a richer glow
Than Persian rubies can bestow;
It needs no amethyst to teach
The magic melody of speech;
Nor from the sparkling opal steals
The varied ray which wit reveals:
All these the faithful heart supplies,
Love sees them all with Fancy’s eyes:
For thee these precious gifts combine,
The faithful heart is only thine!
My task is done—my tale is told—
The Witch of Hohenelm behold!”
Slow drops her mask—with syren laugh
She rends her hood and breaks her staff;
The blue eyes of the rosy page
Gleam thro’d the borrow’d locks of age!—
“Now, gallant Conrade! take again
The hand that held thy war-steed’s rein!
In deeds of death, in fields of blood,
Thy Bertha by thy side has stood;
If doubted love has fires so pure,
How will rewarded faith endure?
Believe her vow!—if faith can fail,
If doubt can pleading love o’erwhelm,
Think of thy Page in Plaven’s vale,
Think of the Witch of Hohenelm!”