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Anna Jane Vardill

The Legend of Dunbar

Lord Patrick from his home lies far,
And the death-bird screams over old Dunbar:
His hound has forgotten his native land;
His warhorse stoops to another hand;
No traveller treads that lonely way,
Save the Palmer from Cheviot’s mountain grey.
And that pale musing wand’rer sighs,
With blighted cheek and hollow eyes,
 As on his pilgrim-staff reposed,
He leans beside the church-yard bound,
Gazing on many a mossy mound,
 O’er gentle hearts for ever closed.
He loves upon that turf to rest,
Yet there is in his lonely breast
No relic of love-hallow’d days,
Such as in sweet remembrance stays,
Like summer flow’rs that softly breathe,
Though time has shrunk the rosy wreath.
The fountain of his joy is dried,
And the rich channel it supplied
Is now a chasm dark and deep,
Where weeds and baleful serpents creep.
A mourner sits in the roofless aisle
Of old Dunbar’s forsaken pile,
Where, stretch’d upon his shield of pride,
A warrior’s form lies sanctified.
With upraised palms together prest,
Signing his hope of holy rest.
“Lady!” the Palmer said, and frown’d,
“Thy locks are smooth and jet-black yet,
Thine eyes for lovers’ lamps are fit,
Why sitt’st thou on this lonely mound?”
On that fair lady’s face awhile
Dwelt such a chill and changeless smile
As parts the pale lips of the dead,
When life, but not its look, is fled.
“I have seen royal banners bow’d,
 And now the wild fox hides her young
 Where noble Patrick’s trophies hung,
While wine-cups cheer’d his vassal croud.
He lies forgot—yet there is one
 Who would not blame a secret sigh,
From pomp and mirthful pageants won,
 To grace his long-past obsequy!
The pages of his bier are gone,
 The banner and the pall are roll’d;
They gave him here a silent stone,
 And deem’d the tale of mourning told.
They urge the feast, the dance, the race,
 To wear that printless tale away—
I only see his vacant place,
 And grieve at even Grief’s decay.
O who would smile on living worth?
 The noblest is remember’d not—
O who shall welcome Honour’s birth,
 When Honour’s self lies here forgot!
But, Palmer, thou has hoary hair,
And many a year of brooding care
Has sunk thy cheek and dimm’d thine eye:
Tell then if ought beneath the sky
Is happiness which man may share.”
Lowly the Palmer bent his knee—
“Thy thoughts are earthly things above;
Yet happiness on earth may be,
And ag’d men teach the mystery—
It has the eye and voice of Love,
But walks and dwells with Charity.
Love has a tongue which dare not praise,
 But language in its silence dwells.
Love has an eye that cannot gaze,
 Yet with a glance its secret tells.
The lip, the cheek, have magic speech,
 A blush may plead—a smile persuade;
But hearts are dumb, and none can teach
 The rebel tongue to lend them aid.
And Charity from mortal sight
 Retires its busy glance to shun:
She walks in shadow, but has light
 From him whose eye is in the Sun.
She loves the valley, and her rest
 Is the world-wearied heart’s recess;
And once, when man was Eden’s guest,
 He knew, and call’d her Happiness.”—
Smiling, the Lady stoop’d to fill
Her maple cup at Deva’s rill.

“Palmer! (she cried) the widow’s cruse
Yields not the spicy purple juice;
Yet take this draught—a boon so small
She weeps to give, but gives thee all.”
Softly she smiled, and meekly spoke.

Why shook the Palmer as he quaff’d
From hands so fair the gentle draught,
With lifted eye and loosen’d cloak
Back from his shining armour thrown?
The red light of the fading west
Seem’d on his shrivell’d brow to rest,
Like glory on a broken throne.
“Fair lady, thou hast taught me well
How happiness on earth may dwell.
 It is when bending by the grave
Of him who stung my trusting heart,
And rent away its dearest part,
 I learn to bless, forgive, and save!
Thou know’st me now! but never yet
 Did hate the cup of peace repay:
A dagger’s hilt would ill befit
 The hand which thus on thine I lay.
I loved thee when no eye but mine
 Upon thy virgin beauty dwelt:
I loved thee, for no heart but thine
 A captive’s silent sorrows felt.
Thy husband wrong’d me—I am he
 Whose vengeance laid thy banners low;
 But never to a nobler foe
Did holy earth give sepulchre.
They said thy monarch’s heart was chill,
 But Lady! look on mine, and learn
How deep beneath a frozen hill
 A never-dying flame may burn.
Fair Agnes!—Iceland-springs are soft;
 The sun in polar climes is bright?—
And Love’s own gentle planet oft
 Beams fairest in the wintry night.
Lady! yon pale round moon shall wane,
Ere with his pilgrim staff again
 A Palmer at thy gate shall stand;
Then fill the goblet to the brim,
The taper and the hearth-fire trim,
 Thy boon may bless a monarch’s hand:
Turn, mourner, to thy home, and prove
Kings vanquish noble foes by love.”

Ere the new moon’s silver horn was bow’d,
The Lady sat in her castle proud:—
High in her hall a goblet shone
Of the onyx pale and purple stone,
And its base was a gem so pure and bright,
It seem’d an orb of golden light.
The heart-worn pilgrim’s sorrows sank
Whene’r of that precious cup he drank;
But he who would sweetness prove
 This legend on its brim may see,
If his eye and tongue are true to love,
And his hand and heart to Charity.


The European Magazine, Vol. 71, January 1817, pp. 65-66