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Anna Jane Vardill

The Chapel of the Isle

“A wizard of France coveted the fair land of Albine, but therein dwelt the son of another magician, who ruled a rare engine called a Parlement, and could raise spirits.”—Old Romaunt.

Is it a cloud of fleecy white
Sits on the calm sea’s bosom bright?
Alone amidst yon glassy bed
A proud isle rears its silver head,
From Earth’s imperial circle hurl’d,
The remnant of an earlier world:
Scarce Alpine summers deign to rest
On that lone island’s frozen breast;
Yet lavish Nature there has strewn
With golden hands her fairest boon,
And richer hearts have ripen’d there
Than in Hesperia’s gardens fair.
Gay Albine in her castle hall
Sat list’ning to the clarion’s call:
A wayward yet a gracious dame,
With lip of balm and eye of flame,
And spirit stubborn as the pile
Of column-rocks that guard her isle,
But bounteous as if round her roll’d
A jasper sea on sands of gold.
Too seldom on her ear in vain
The flatt’rer pour’d his honied strain,
Then would that spirit fierce and wild
Seem, as the cradled slumberer’s, mild.
Her love was fickle, and her smile
Might well the soaring heart beguile
With such false light as pilgrim sees
On icy arch or precipice,
When diamond domes his fancy greet,
While gulfs unmeasur’d wait his feet—
Yet sages, bards, and chiefs, have striv’n
To win so bright yet brief a heav’n!
The Lady in her castle hall
Smil’d as she heard the war-horn’s call;
With magic tales uncouth and drear
Her watchful pages sooth’d her care;
For tho’ her breast no terrors mov’d,
Full well the wond’rous tale she lov’d,
While o’er her wheel of massy gold
Her hand the snow-white fleece unroll’d,
To many a wild lay sweetly trill’d
Her minstrel’s harp the pauses fill’d.—
Unheard, unseen, the Wizard Sprite
Gaz’d with a Goblin’s grim delight;
Yet ’twas not beauty’s sunbeam stole
Thro’ the dark windings of his soul,
But with desiring glance he view’d
The sparkling gems around her strew’d.
Her arm the pearls of Indus brac’d,
The leopard’s spoils her shoulder grac’d,
Round her brown locks and taper waist
 The silk of Persia clung:
And gums, of Araby the pride,
Burnt in rich censers by her side—
Nor prouder shone the eastern bride
 By fabling poets sung.
And oft his scowling eye explor’d
Her hall with massy treasures stor’d,
A steadfast, broad, and rev’rend pile,
Rich with a hundred ages’ toil:
There cluster’d oaks, its columns proud,
Stood like a rude but loyal croud,
Supporters of the one-arch’d roof
Against a thousand tempests proof.
And wreath’d around those columns hung,
The theme of many a minstrel’s tongue,
The pike and bow and jav’lin bright,
And banner hewn in deathful fight,
St. Cloud’s with lilies silver’d o’er,
And pale Iberia’s steep’d in gore,
 Their faded honours twin’d:
Above, in sov’reign pomp unroll’d,
The Red Cross banner’s starry fold
 Wav’d in the western wind,
Which crept thro’ windows blazon’d high
With pomp of gorgeous heraldry,
Where still the boast of ancient days
Shone in a rich but fading blaze.
Firm in the midst the Stone of Pow’r
Rose like the bulwark of the tow’r—
A name he dar’d not look upon
Was graven on that hallow’d stone—
“O! low shall be its fall,” he cried,
“When Albine is the victor’s bride!”
The foe his haggard form forsook,
And Albine’s best-lov’d champion’s took:
He deck’d his dark cheek with the glow
Youth and the laughing Loves bestow;
And such a smile as rosy mirth
Sends from the heart which gave it birth:
“Albine!” the traitor said, and sigh’d—
The fair dame smil’d with beauty’s pride—
“Albine! by all to honour dear,
Give to they faithful servant ear—
Or sacred is this lonely hour
To him who sways the Beacon Tow’r?”
Her azure eye the fair-one rais’d,
Where stern amaze and anger blaz’d—
“Think’st thou a vassal’s love or hate
Can Albine’s woe or weal create?
Go, and revere her fate’s decree,
The Will of Albine must be free!
Low bow’d the crafty wizard’s head—
“Be Albine ever free!” he said;
“But is it love whose gentle pow’r
Sways him who rules the Beacon Tow’r?
Is it for Albine’s love he drains
The riches of her smiling plains?
Nor wassail bowl nor lady gay
Tempts Wilhelm from his lonely way;
Unheard, unseen, the hermit-boy
Pursues his dark and savage joy:
Beneath yon chapel’s ruin’d wall
The goblin-race obey his call;
Else wherefore from their mould’ring bed
Wakes he the spirits of the dead?
Lady! the warning voice revere!
Sleeps Albine when a foe is near?
Once Plata’s gold her coffers lin’d,
And pilgrims from the farthest Ind
Their treasures at her feet resign’d
 In piles of woven gold!
Where lurk they now?—In Albine’s breast
A serpent rears his blazing crest,
 And spreads his venom’d fold.”
Well pleas’d the wizard-foe beheld
Her breast with changeful tumults swell’d—
“Ah, Lady! scorn the beardless sage!
Ill sits the hermit-cowl of age
 On youth’s enamell’d brow!
Shall Albine to a peasant-guide
Her treasures and her fame confide,
 Yet scorn a victor’s vow?
Bid then the shrill-voic’d clarion cease—
Spread in these halls the feast of peace;
Thy throne shall grace the victor’s side,
Thy hand his giant arm shall guide:
First of a new and valiant race,
His brow the Iron Crown shall grace—
Avails it from what dust he springs?
The valiant and the free are kings—
This cup the wounds of war shall heal,
And thy rich lip our concord seal—”
She heard and smil’d—but grimly gaunt,
With eyes that mock’d the guileful vaunt,
The Warden of her Beacon-tow’r
Stood by the timeworn Stone of Pow’r.
To earth the poison’d cup he flung,
And high the Red-Cross banner hung—
“Home, wizard-robber, to thy lair!
Hence, of our island fires beware!
Go! teach thy ear our fate’s behest—
No tyrant-foe, no traitor-guest,
Shall taint the proud isle of the west,
 While Albine’s self is there!”
The Warden gave his bugle sound—
O’er rocks and hills and vallies round,
Swift as the echo flew, arose
The scarlet host to meet their foes:
On ev’ry cliff a beacon’s light
Sprang up to mock the gloom of night,
Till round the proud isle’s rocky head
A wreath of living luster spread—
Then high he wav’d his flaming brand,
And far and wide illumed the strand—
“Is Albine yet subdued?” he cried—
“Shall Albine be the Bandit’s Bride?
First let the pilot ask in vain
Where rose the West’s green Isle,
        the glory of the main?”

Whence come the lonely feet that tread
The mould’ring Chapel of the dead?—
There in religious gloom enclos’d,
A mighty Horologe repos’d—
A work divine!—its massy frame
Glow’d with a never-dying flame;
Within, a hundred wheels of gold,
Self-mov’d with vital instinct roll’d:
Each on its glowing axle burn’d,
Each in a various orbit turn’d;
Confus’dly regular they mov’d,
And concord from contention prov’d.
High on a radiant tripod rais’d,
The adamantine fabric blaz’d,
While on its spiral point supreme
Shone Albine’s ancient diadem,
A magic gift!—for he whose eye
Could fate’s remotest depths descry,
Thus on the dark brink of the tomb
Pronounc’d the sea girt Eden’s doom:
“Long as the holy frame shall stand,
The work of an immortal hand,
Unchang’d and undefac’d shall smile
The glories of the silver Isle:
But when it falls, let Albine wait
The darkest tragedy of fate!”
With stedfast eye and rev’rent feet
Stern Wilhelm trod the dim retreat—
The mystic Horologe alone
Amidst funereal darkness shone—
The key whose magic touch controul’d
The never number’d valves of gold
Was his alone!—in pensive mood
The crystal panoply he view’d,
Dimm’d by the fading touch of time,
But in its slow decay sublime.
Behind him, thro’ the drear abode,
The Wizard-foe in silence strode.
He smil’d—a smile as wan and grim
Shrivels the livid lips of him,
Who, shrunk in floods of sulph’rous fire,
Reviles high heav’n’s avenging ire—
From its broad base, in marble cleav’d,
The tri-form’d pedestal he heav’d,
But heav’d in vain—tho’ feebler shocks
Might rend from Earth her eldest rocks.
Yet o’er its starry summit’s beam
He breath’d a dank and venom’d steam;
Then in its shadow couching low,
Malign he eyed his noblest foe.
Slow to the rev’rend structure’s side
Wilhelm his radiant key applied;
On earth he casts his fearless eyes,
Where shrin’d in fame his father lies—
He calls him!—thro’ the gloom profound
Pale shrouded spectres murmur round—
Earth yawns—beneath his moss-green stone
They hear the dead man’s waking groan—
“Com’st thou so soon, my son, to know
The measure of thy Albine’s woe?
Calls Wilhelm from their peaceful grave
The dead to counsel and to save?
Go! rather wake the living dead
From Slavery’s inglorious bed.
But ’midst her chiefs and kindred slain,
Thy Albine’s self shall still remain
Herself, in storms and ruin, great—
Herself alone shall fix her fate!
Stern Wilhelm hears the welcome doom—
Superior fires his eye illume—
“Father! to heav’n and thee alone
The secret of my soul is known;
That love—that holy love, whose sway
My soul’s assembled powers obey.
Speak thou, to whom unveil’d appears
The offspring of ascending years,
Shall Albine bow to tyrant-pride?
Shall Albine be a Bandit’s bride?”
The dead man smil’d; and as a veil
Of mist ascends before the gale,
Around him from their dark repose
The Future’s awful shadow rose,
Imperial on his purple throne
The mighty Wizard sat alone,
And ’twas a pageant strange to view,
When banners streak’d with ev’ry hue,
By crouds of trembling vassals spread,
Wide as a rainbow, arch’d his head.
Beneath his feet, a footstool proud!
St. Jago’s warworn helmet bow’d,
And that fam’d shield, in slumber lost,
With tow’rs of blazing gold emboss’d,
The pride of Leon’s proudest host
 Lay trampled by his hate:
Sev’n chiefs from Belgia’s baleful strand,
And thrice three from the Mountain Band,
Stood silent at the red right hand
 Of him whose thought was fate.
A moment—and the pomp is past!
His throne has crumbled in the blast;
An exile in unfriended gloom,
He lingers, living in his tomb,
His sentinel, the howling surge;
An empire’s secret groans, his dirge!
The vision changes—and a throng
Of bridal minstrels float along:
The sun on western hills afar
Shines in the May-eve’s ruby car,
While peaceful vales and harvests teem
Beneath the glories of the beam.
She comes!—the pride of Albine’s isle!
With azure eyes and maiden smile.
That with her cheek’s pale beauty show
Like sunbeams pour’d on Alpine snow.
The noblest of her noble race
Beside her holds his envied place:
The freemen of her golden fields
Raise high a canopy of shields;
And rang’d beneath their shade sublime,
Stand knights and chiefs of ev’ry clime:
But from her brow the myrtle leaf
Falls not more beautiful and brief—
Another moment, and the pall
Of death and darkness covers all?
The comet and the star are gone
That empires paus’d to gaze upon;
Yet not alike—the comet’s path
Mark’d an avenging demon’s wrath;
But that mild star of loveliest light,
Which promis’d bliss and fled from sight,
Its place in nobler spheres has won,
Itself in Heav’n’s own world an everlasting Sun!


The European Magazine, Vol. 73, February 1818, pp. 153-155