Poems » william byrd » childe harold s pilgrimage canto the third


     Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child!
     Ada! sole daughter of my house and heart?
     When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smil'd,
     And then we parted--not as now we part,
     But with a hope.--Awaking with a start,
     The waters heave around me; and on high
     The winds lift up their voices: I depart,
     Whither I know not; but the hour's gone by,
When Albion's lessening shores could grieve or glad mine eye.

     Once more upon the waters! yet once more!
     And the waves bound beneath me as a steed
     That knows his rider. Welcome to their roar!
     Swift be their guidance, wheresoe'er it lead!
     Though the strain'd mast should quiver as a reed,
     And the rent canvas fluttering strew the gale,
     Still must I on; for I am as a weed,
     Flung from the rock, on Ocean's foam to sail
Where'er the surge may sweep, the tempest's breath prevail.

     In my youth's summer I did sing of One,
     The wandering outlaw of his own dark mind;
     Again I seize the theme, then but begun,
     And bear it with me, as the rushing wind
     Bears the cloud onwards: in that Tale I find
     The furrows of long thought, and dried-up tears,
     Which, ebbing, leave a sterile track behind,
     O'er which all heavily the journeying years
Plod the last sands of life--where not a flower appears.

     Since my young days of passion--joy, or pain--
     Perchance my heart and harp have lost a string,
     And both may jar: it may be, that in vain
     I would essay as I have sung to sing.
     Yet, though a dreary strain, to this I cling;
     So that it wean me from the weary dream
     Of selfish grief or gladness--so it fling
     Forgetfulness around me--it shall seem
To me, though to none else, a not ungrateful theme.

     He, who grown aged in this world of woe,
     In deeds, not years, piercing the depths of life,
     So that no wonder waits him; nor below
     Can love or sorrow, fame, ambition, strife,
     Cut to his heart again with the keen knife
     Of silent, sharp endurance: he can tell
     Why thought seeks refuge in lone caves, yet rife
     With airy images, and shapes which dwell
Still unimpair'd, though old, in the soul's haunted cell.

     'Tis to create, and in creating live
     A being more intense, that we endow
     With form our fancy, gaining as we give
     The life we image, even as I do now.
     What am I? Nothing: but not so art thou,
     Soul of my thought! with whom I traverse earth,
     Invisible but gazing, as I glow
     Mix'd with thy spirit, blended with thy birth,
 And feeling still with thee in my crush'd feelings' dearth.

     Yet must I think less wildly: I have thought
     Too long and darkly, till my brain became,
     In its own eddy boiling and o'er-wrought,
     A whirling gulf of fantasy and flame:
     And thus, untaught in youth my heart to tame,
     My springs of life were poison'd. 'Tis too late!
     Yet am I chang'd; though still enough the same
     In strength to bear what time cannot abate,
And feed on bitter fruits without accusing Fate.

     Something too much of this--but now 'tis past,
     And the spell closes with its silent seal.
     Long absent HAROLD re-appears at last;
     He of the breast which fain no more would feel,
     Wrung with the wounds which kill not, but ne'er heal,
     Yet Time, who changes all, had alter'd him
     In soul and aspect as in age: years steal
     Fire from the mind as vigour from the limb;
And life's enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim.

     His had been quaff'd too quickly, and he found
     The dregs were wormwood; but he fill'd again,
     And from a purer fount, on holier ground,
     And deem'd its spring perpetual; but in vain!
     Still round him clung invisibly a chain
     Which gall'd for ever, fettering though unseen,
     And heavy though it clank'd not; worn with pain,
     Which pin'd although it spoke not, and grew keen,
Entering with every step he took through many a scene.

     Secure in guarded coldness, he had mix'd
     Again in fancied safety with his kind,
     And deem'd his spirit now so firmly fix'd
     And sheath'd with an invulnerable mind,
     That, if no joy, no sorrow lurk'd behind;
     And he, as one, might 'midst the many stand
     Unheeded, searching through the crowd to find
     Fit speculation; such as in strange land
He found in wonder-works of God and Nature's hand.

     But who can view the ripen'd rose, nor seek
     To wear it? who can curiously behold
     The smoothness and the sheen of beauty's cheek,
     Nor feel the heart can never all grow old?
     Who can contemplate Fame through clouds unfold
     The star which rises o'er her steep, nor climb?
     Harold, once more within the vortex, roll'd
     On with the giddy circle, chasing Time,
Yet with a nobler aim than in his youth's fond prime.

     But soon he knew himself the most unfit
     Of men to herd with Man; with whom he held
     Little in common; untaught to submit
     His thoughts to others, though his soul was quell'd
     In youth by his own thoughts; still uncompell'd,
     He would not yield dominion of his mind
     To spirits against whom his own rebell'd;
     Proud though in desolation; which could find
A life within itself, to breathe without mankind.

     Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends;
     Where roll'd the ocean, thereon was his home;
     Where a blue sky, and glowing clime, extends,
     He had the passion and the power to roam;
     The desert, forest, cavern, breaker's foam,
     Were unto him companionship; they spake
     A mutual language, clearer than the tome
     Of his land's tongue, which he would oft forsake
For Nature's pages glass'd by sunbeams on the lake.

     Like the Chaldean, he could watch the stars,
     Till he had peopled them with beings bright
     As their own beams; and earth, and earthborn jars,
     And human frailties, were forgotten quite:
     Could he have kept his spirit to that flight
     He had been happy; but this clay will sink
     Its spark immortal, envying it the light
     To which it mounts, as if to break the link
That keeps us from yon heaven which woos us to its brink.

     But in Man's dwellings he became a thing
     Restless and worn, and stern and wearisome,
     Droop'd as a wild-born falcon with clipp'd wing,
     To whom the boundless air alone were home:
     Then came his fit again, which to o'ercome,
     As eagerly the barr'd-up bird will beat
     His breast and beak against his wiry dome
     Till the blood tinge his plumage, so the heat
Of his impeded soul would through his bosom eat.

     Self-exil'd Harold wanders forth again,
     With nought of hope left, but with less of gloom;
     The very knowledge that he lived in vain,
     That all was over on this side the tomb,
     Had made Despair a smilingness assume,
     Which, though 'twere wild--as on the plunder'd wreck
     When mariners would madly meet their doom
     With draughts intemperate on the sinking deck--,
Did yet inspire a cheer, which he forbore to check.

     Stop!--for thy tread is on an Empire's dust!
     An Earthquake's spoil is sepulchred below!
     Is the spot mark'd with no colossal bust?
     Nor column trophied for triumphal show?
     None; but the moral's truth tells simpler so:
     As the ground was before, thus let it be;
     How that red rain hath made the harvest grow!
     And is this all the world has gain'd by thee,
Thou first and last of fields! king-making Victory?

     And Harold stands upon this place of skulls,
     The grave of France, the deadly Waterloo!
     How in an hour the power which gave annuls
     Its gifts, transferring fame as fleeting too!
     In "pride of place" here last the Eagle flew,
     Then tore with bloody talon the rent plain,
     Pierc'd by the shaft of banded nations through;
     Ambition's life and labours all were vain;
He wears the shatter'd links of the world's broken chain.

     Fit retribution! Gaul may champ the bit
     And foam in fetters--but is Earth more free?
     Did nations combat to make One submit;
     Or league to teach all kings true sovereignty?
     What! shall reviving Thraldom again be
     The patch'd-up idol of enlighten'd days?
     Shall we, who struck the Lion down, shall we
     Pay the Wolf homage? proffering lowly gaze
And servile knees to thrones? No; prove before ye praise!

     If not, o'er one fallen despot boast no more!
     In vain fair cheeks were furrow'd with hot tears
     For Europe's flowers long rooted up before
     The trampler of her vineyards; in vain years
     Of death, depopulation, bondage, fears,
     Have all been borne, and broken by the accord
     Of rous'd-up millions; all that most endears
     Glory, is when the myrtle wreathes a sword
Such as Harmodius drew on Athens' tyrant lord.

     There was a sound of revelry by night,
     And Belgium's capital had gather'd then
     Her Beauty and her Chivalry, and bright
     The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men;
     A thousand hearts beat happily; and when
     Music arose with its voluptuous swell,
     Soft eyes look'd love to eyes which spake again,
     And all went merry as a marriage bell;
But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell!

     Did ye not hear it?--No; 'twas but the wind,
     Or the car rattling o'er the stony street;
     On with the dance! let joy be unconfin'd;
     No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
     To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet--
     But hark!--that heavy sound breaks in once more,
     As if the clouds its echo would repeat;
     And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before!
Arm! Arm! it is--it is--the cannon's opening roar!

     Within a window'd niche of that high hall
     Sate Brunswick's fated chieftain; he did hear
     That sound the first amidst the festival,
     And caught its tone with Death's prophetic ear;
     And when they smil'd because he deem'd it near,
     His heart more truly knew that peal too well
     Which stretch'd his father on a bloody bier,
     And rous'd the vengeance blood alone could quell:
He rush'd into the field, and, foremost fighting, fell.

     Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro,
     And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress,
     And cheeks all pale, which but an hour ago
     Blush'd at the praise of their own loveliness;
     And there were sudden partings, such as press
     The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs
     Which ne'er might be repeated; who could guess
     If ever more should meet those mutual eyes,
Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise!

     And there was mounting in hot haste: the steed,
     The mustering squadron, and the clattering car,
     Went pouring forward with impetuous speed,
     And swiftly forming in the ranks of war;
     And the deep thunder peal on peal afar;
     And near, the beat of the alarming drum
     Rous'd up the soldier ere the morning star;
     While throng'd the citizens with terror dumb,
Or whispering, with white lips--"The foe! they come! they come!'

     And wild and high the "Cameron's gathering" rose!
     The war-note of Lochiel, which Albyn's hills
     Have heard, and heard, too, have her Saxon foes.
     How in the noon of night that pibroch thrills,
     Savage and shrill! But with the breath which fills
     Their mountain-pipe, so fill the mountaineers
     With the fierce native daring which instils
     The stirring memory of a thousand years,
And Evan's, Donald's fame rings in each clansman's ears!

     And Ardennes waves above them her green leaves,
     Dewy with nature's tear-drops as they pass,
     Grieving, if aught inanimate e'er grieves,
     Over the unreturning brave--alas!
     Ere evening to be trodden like the grass
     Which now beneath them, but above shall grow
     In its next verdure, when this fiery mass
     Of living valour, rolling on the foe
And burning with high hope, shall moulder cold and low.

     Last noon beheld them full of lusty life,
     Last eve in Beauty's circle proudly gay,
     The midnight brought the signal-sound of strife,
     The morn the marshalling in arms, the day
     Battle's magnificently stern array!
     The thunder-clouds close o'er it, which when rent
     The earth is cover'd thick with other clay,
     Which her own clay shall cover, heap'd and pent,
Rider and horse--friend, foe--in one red burial blent!


     There sunk the greatest, nor the worst of men,
     Whose spirit, antithetically mixt,
     One moment of the mightiest, and again
     On little objects with like firmness fixt;
     Extreme in all things! hadst thou been betwixt,
     Thy throne had still been thine, or never been;
     For daring made thy rise as fall: thou seek'st
     Even now to re-assume the imperial mien,
And shake again the world, the Thunderer of the scene!

     Conqueror and captive of the earth art thou!
     She trembles at thee still, and thy wild name
     Was ne'er more bruited in men's minds than now
     That thou art nothing, save the jest of Fame,
     Who woo'd thee once, thy vassal, and became
     The flatterer of thy fierceness, till thou wert
     A god unto thyself; nor less the same
     To the astounded kingdoms all inert,
Who deem'd thee for a time whate'er thou didst assert.

     Oh, more or less than man--in high or low,
     Battling with nations, flying from the field;
     Now making monarchs' necks thy footstool, now
     More than thy meanest soldier taught to yield;
     An empire thou couldst crush, command, rebuild,
     But govern not thy pettiest passion, nor,
     However deeply in men's spirits skill'd,
     Look through thine own, nor curb the lust of war,
Nor learn that tempted Fate will leave the loftiest star.

     Yet well thy soul hath brook'd the turning tide
     With that untaught innate philosophy,
     Which, be it wisdom, coldness, or deep pride,
     Is gall and wormwood to an enemy.
     When the whole host of hatred stood hard by,
     To watch and mock thee shrinking, thou hast smil'd
     With a sedate and all-enduring eye;
     When Fortune fled her spoil'd and favourite child,
He stood unbow'd beneath the ills upon him pil'd.

     Sager than in thy fortunes; for in them
     Ambition steel'd thee on too far to show
     That just habitual scorn, which could contemn
     Men and their thoughts; 'twas wise to feel, not so
     To wear it ever on thy lip and brow,
     And spurn the instruments thou wert to use
     Till they were turn'd unto thine overthrow;
     'Tis but a worthless world to win or lose;
So hath it prov'd to thee, and all such lot who choose.

     If, like a tower upon a headland rock,
     Thou hadst been made to stand or fall alone,
     Such scorn of man had help'd to brave the shock;
     But men's thoughts were the steps which pav'd thy throne,
      Their admiration thy best weapon shone;
     The part of Philip's son was thine, not then
     (Unless aside thy purple had been thrown)
     Like stern Diogenes to mock at men;
For sceptred cynics earth were far too wide a den.

     But quiet to quick bosoms is a hell,
     And there hath been thy bane; there is a fire
     And motion of the soul which will not dwell
     In its own narrow being, but aspire
     Beyond the fitting medium of desire;
     And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore,
     Preys upon high adventure, nor can tire
     Of aught but rest; a fever at the core,
Fatal to him who bears, to all who ever bore.

     This makes the madmen who have made men mad
     By their contagion; Conquerors and Kings,
     Founders of sects and systems, to whom add
     Sophists, Bards, Statesmen, all unquiet things
     Which stir too strongly the soul's secret springs,
     And are themselves the fools to those they fool;
     Envied, yet how unenviable! what stings
     Are theirs! One breast laid open were a school
Which would unteach mankind the lust to shine or rule:

     Their breath is agitation, and their life
     A storm whereon they ride, to sink at last,
     And yet so nurs'd and bigoted to strife,
     That should their days, surviving perils past,
     Melt to calm twilight, they feel overcast
     With sorrow and supineness, and so die;
     Even as a flame unfed, which runs to waste
     With its own flickering, or a sword laid by,
Which eats into itself, and rusts ingloriously.

     He who ascends to mountain-tops, shall find
     The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow;
     He who surpasses or subdues mankind,
     Must look down on the hate of those below.
     Though high above the sun of glory glow,
     And far beneath the earth and ocean spread,
      Round him are icy rocks, and loudly blow
     Contending tempests on his naked head,
And thus reward the toils which to those summits led.


     Lake Leman woos me with its crystal face,
     The mirror where the stars and mountains view
     The stillness of their aspect in each trace
     Its clear depth yields of their far height and hue:
     There is too much of man here, to look through
     With a fit mind the might which I behold;
     But soon in me shall loneliness renew
     Thoughts hid, but not less cherish'd than of old,
Ere mingling with the herd had penn'd me in their fold.

     To fly from, need not be to hate, mankind:
     All are not fit with them to stir and toil,
     Nor is it discontent to keep the mind
     Deep in its fountain, lest it over boil
     In the hot throng, where we become the spoil
     Of our infection, till too late and long
     We may deplore and struggle with the coil,
     In wretched interchange of wrong for wrong
Midst a contentious world, striving where none are strong.

     There, in a moment we may plunge our years
     In fatal penitence, and in the blight
     Of our own soul turn all our blood to tears,
     And colour things to come with hues of Night;
     The race of life becomes a hopeless flight
     To those that walk in darkness: on the sea
     The boldest steer but where their ports invite;
     But there are wanderers o'er Eternity
Whose bark drives on and on, and anchor'd ne'er shall be.

     Is it not better, then, to be alone,
     And love Earth only for its earthly sake?
     By the blue rushing of the arrowy Rhone,
     Or the pure bosom of its nursing lake,
     Which feeds it as a mother who doth make
     A fair but froward infant her own care,
     Kissing its cries away as these awake--
     Is it not better thus our lives to wear,
Than join the crushing crowd, doom'd to inflict or bear?

     I live not in myself, but I become
     Portion of that around me; and to me
     High mountains are a feeling, but the hum
     Of human cities torture: I can see
     Nothing to loathe in nature, save to be
     A link reluctant in a fleshly chain,
     Class'd among creatures, when the soul can flee,
     And with the sky--the peak--the heaving plain
Of ocean, or the stars, mingle--and not in vain.

     And thus I am absorb'd, and this is life:
     I look upon the peopled desert past,
     As on a place of agony and strife,
     Where, for some sin, to sorrow I was cast,
     To act and suffer, but remount at last
     With a fresh pinion; which I feel to spring,
     Though young, yet waxing vigorous as the blast
     Which it would cope with, on delighted wing,
Spurning the clay-cold bonds which round our being cling.

     And when, at length, the mind shall be all free
     From what it hates in this degraded form,
     Reft of its carnal life, save what shall be
     Existent happier in the fly and worm,
     When elements to elements conform,
     And dust is as it should be, shall I not
     Feel all I see, less dazzling, but more warm?
     The bodiless thought? the Spirit of each spot?
Of which, even now, I share at times the immortal lot?

     Are not the mountains, waves and skies a part
     Of me and of my soul, as I of them?
     Is not the love of these deep in my heart
     With a pure passion? should I not contemn
     All objects, if compar'd with these? and stem
     A tide of suffering, rather than forego
     Such feelings for the hard and worldly phlegm
     Of those whose eyes are only turn'd below,
Gazing upon the ground, with thoughts which dare not glow?

     But this is not my theme; and I return
     To that which is immediate, and require
     Those who find contemplation in the urn
     To look on One, whose dust was once all fire,
     A native of the land where I respire
     The clear air for a while--a passing guest,
     Where he became a being--whose desire
     Was to be glorious; 'twas a foolish quest,
The which to gain and keep, he sacrific'd all rest.

     Here the self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau,
     The apostle of affliction, he who threw
     Enchantment over passion, and from woe
     Wrung overwhelming eloquence, first drew
     The breath which made him wretched; yet he knew
     How to make madness beautiful, and cast
     O'er erring deeds and thoughts a heavenly hue
     Of words, like sunbeams, dazzling as they past
The eyes, which o'er them shed tears feelingly and fast.

     His love was passion's essence--as a tree
     On fire by lightning, with ethereal flame
     Kindled he was, and blasted; for to be
     Thus, and enamour'd, were in him the same.
     But his was not the love of living dame,
     Nor of the dead who rise upon our dreams,
     But of ideal beauty, which became
     In him existence, and o'erflowing teems
Along his burning page, distemper'd though it seems.

      This breathed itself to life in Julie, this
     Invested her with all that's wild and sweet;
     This hallow'd, too, the memorable kiss
     Which every morn his fever'd lip would greet
     From hers, who but with friendship his would meet;
     But to that gentle touch through brain and breast
     Flash'd the thrill'd spirit's love-devouring heat;
     In that absorbing sigh perchance more blest
Than vulgar minds may be with all they seek possest.

     His life was one long war with self-sought foes,
     Or friends by him self-banish'd; for his mind
     Had grown Suspicion's sanctuary, and chose,
     For its own cruel sacrifice, the kind,
     'Gainst whom he rag'd with fury strange and blind.
     But he was frenzied--wherefore, who may know?
     Since cause might be which skill could never find;
     But he was frenzied by disease or woe,
To that worst pitch of all, which wears a reasoning show.

     For then he was inspir'd, and from him came,
     As from the Pythian's mystic cave of yore,
     Those oracles which set the world in flame,
     Nor ceas'd to burn till kingdoms were no more:
     Did he not this for France? which lay before
     Bow'd to the inborn tyranny of years?
     Broken and trembling to the yoke she bore,
     Till by the voice of him and his compeers
Rous'd up to too much wrath, which follows o'ergrown fears?

     They made themselves a fearful monument!
     The wreck of old opinions--things which grew,
     Breath'd from the birth of Time: the veil they rent,
     And what behind it lay, all earth shall view.
     But good with ill they also overthrew,
     Leaving but ruins, wherewith to rebuild
     Upon the same foundation, and renew
     Dungeons and thrones, which the same hour refill'd
As heretofore, because ambition was self-will'd.

     But this will not endure, nor be endur'd!
     Mankind have felt their strength and made it felt.
     They might have us'd it better, but, allur'd
     By their new vigour, sternly have they dealt
     On one another; pity ceas'd to melt
     With her once natural charities. But they,
     Who in oppression's darkness cav'd had dwelt,
     They were not eagles, nourish'd with the day;
What marvel then, at times, if they mistook their prey?

     What deep wounds ever clos'd without a scar?
     The heart's bleed longest, and but heal to wear
     That which disfigures it; and they who war
     With their own hopes, and have been vanquish'd, bear
     Silence, but not submission: in his lair
     Fix'd Passion holds his breath, until the hour
     Which shall atone for years; none need despair:
     It came--it cometh--and will come--the power
To punish or forgive--in one we shall be slower.