by Sarah Helen Whitman
Where a lone castle
by the sea
Upreared its dark and moldering pile,
Far seen, with all its frowning towers,
For many and many a weary mile;
The wild waves beat
the castle walls
And bathed the rock with ceaseless showers,
The winds roared hoarsely round the pile,
And moaned along its moldering towers.
Within those wide
and echoing halls,
To guard her from a fatal spell,
A maid, of noble lineage born,
Was doomed in solitude to dwell.
With portents dark
and omens dire,
The orphans natal day began,
As warring destinies conspire
Her charmèd life to bless or ban.
Four Fairies graced
the infants birth
With fame and beauty, wealth and power;
A fifth, by one fell stroke, reversed
The magic splendors of her dower:
If eer a spindles
Should pierce the maidens lily hand,
A solemn trance her eyes should seal
In sleeps forlorn, enchanted land:
A hundred years her
soul should stray
In far-off shadow-lands of dream,
Till, warm beneath loves kindling ray,
It opened to the mornings beam.
In olden times the
tale had birth,
By wandering minstrels told of yore,
Whose names have perished from the earth,
Whose legends live in fairy lore.
The wild waves beat
the castle wall,
And bathed the rock with ceaseless showers;
Dark, heaving billows plunge and fall
In whitening foam beneath the towers.
There, rocked by winds
and lulled by waves,
In youthful grace the maiden grew,
And from her solitary dreams
A sweet and pensive pleasure drew.
Yet often, from her
She gazed athwart the gathering night
To mark the sea-gulls wheeling by,
And longed to follow in their flight.
One winter night,
beside the hearth
She sat and watched the smoldering fire,
While now the tempest seemed to lull,
And now the winds rose high and higher,
Strange sounds are
heard along the wall,
Dim faces glimmer through the gloom,
And still mysterious voices call,
And shadows flit from room to room:
Till, bending oer
the dying brands,
She chanced a sudden gleam to see;
She turned the sparkling embers oer,
And lo! she finds a golden key!
Lured on, as by an
She roamed the castle oer and oer,
Through many a darkling chamber sped,
And many a dusky corridor:
And still, through
unknown, winding ways
She wandered on for many an hour,
For gallery still to gallery leads,
And tower succeeds to tower.
Oft, wearied with
the steep ascent,
She lingered on her lonely way,
And paused beside the pictured walls,
Their countless wonders to survey.
At length, upon a
That wound within a turret high,
She saw a little low-browed door,
And turned, her golden key to try;
Slowly, beneath her
The bolts recede, and, backward flung,
With harsh recoil and sullen clang,
The door upon its hinges swung.
There, in a little
She sees a weird and withered crone,
Who sat and spun amid the gloom,
And turned her wheel with drowsy drone.
With mute amaze and
A passing moment stood the maid,
Then, entering at the narrow door,
More near the mystic task surveyed.
She saw her twine
the flaxen fleece,
She saw her draw the flaxen thread,
She viewed the spindles shining point,
And, pleased, the novel task surveyed.
A sudden longing seized
To twine the fleece,to turn the wheel:
She stretched her lily hand, and pierced
Her finger with the shining steel!
Slowly her heavy eyelids
She feels a drowsy torpor creep
From limb to limb, till every sense
Is locked in an enchanted sleep.
A dreamless slumber,
deep as night,
In deathly trance her senses locked.
At once, through all its massive vaults
And gloomy towers, the castle rocked.
The beldame roused
her from her lair,
And raised on high a mournful wail,
A shrilly scream that seemed to float
A requiem on the dying gale.
A hundred years
shall pass, she said,
Ere those blue eyes behold the morn,
Ere these deserted halls and towers
Shall echo to a bugle-horn;
A hundred Norland
While drenching rains and drifting snows
Shall beat against the castle walls,
Nor wake thee from thy long repose.
A hundred times
the golden grain
Shall wave beneath the harvest moon,
Twelve hundred moons shall wax and wane
Ere yet thine eyes behold the sun!
She ceased; but still
the mystic rhyme
The long-resounding aisles prolong,
And all the castles echoes chime
In answering cadence to her song.
She bore the maiden
to her bower,
An ancient chamber, wide and low,
Where golden sconces from the wall
A faint and trembling lustre throw;
A silent chamber,
Where strange and antique arras hung,
That waved along the moldering walls,
And in the gusty night-wind swung.
She laid her on her
And gently smoothed each snowy limb,
Then drew the curtains dusky fold
To make the entering daylight dim.
And all around, on
Throughout the castles precincts wide,
In every bower and hall,
All slept: the warder in the court,
The figures on the arras wrought,
The steed within his stall.
No more the watch-dog
bayed the moon,
The owlet ceased her boding tune,
The raven on his tower,
All, hushed in slumber still and deep,
Enthralled in an enchanted sleep,
Await the appointed hour.
A pathless forest,
wild and wide,
Engirt the castles inland side,
And stretched for many a mile;
So thick the deep, impervious screen,
Its topmost towers were dimly seen
Above the moldering pile.
So high the ancient
So far aloft their branches flung,
So close the covert grew,
No foot its silence could invade,
No eye could pierce its depths of shade,
Or see the welkin through.
Yet oft, as from some
The traveler cast his eyes around
Oer wold and woodland gray,
He saw, as by the glimmering light
Of moonbeams, on a misty night,
A castle far away.
All desolate and drear
Within the wild and tangled wood,
Mid gloomy foss and fell;
And oft the maidens form did seem
To mingle with a champions dream,
As Gothic legends tell.
Long ere the hundred
years had passed,
Brave knights, with vigil and with fast,
Essayed to break the thrall;
Till, in the old romantic time
Of minstrel and Provençal rhyme,
And Amadis de Gaul,
A paladin from holy
With helm and hauberk, spear and brand,
And high, untarnished crest,
By visions of enchantment led,
Hath vowed the magic maze to tread,
And break her charmèd rest.
As in the Valley of
The bold de Vaux defied alone
The mighty elfin powers,
And sought to gain the enchanted mound,
And break the spell that darkly bound
Its battlements and towers,
So, like that knight
He came through Saracenic Spain
Oer deserts waste and wide;
No dangers daunt, no toils can tire;
With throbbing heart and soul on fire
He seeks his sleeping bride.
He gains the old,
Where never mortal footsteps trod,
He pierced its tangled gloom;
A chillness loads the lurid air,
Where baleful swamp-fires gleam and glare
His pathway to illume.
Well might the warriors
Well might his lofty spirit quail,
On that enchanted ground;
No open foeman meets him there,
But, borne upon the murky air,
Strange horror broods around!
At every turn his
Mid tangled boughs and mosses dank,
For long and weary hours,
Till issuing from the dangerous wood,
The castle full before him stood,
With all its flanking towers!
The moon a paly lustre
Resolved, the grass-grown court he treads;
The gloomy portal gained,
He crossed the thresholds magic bound,
He paced the hall, where all around
A deathly silence reigned.
No fears his venturous
course could stay,
Darkling he groped his dreary way,
Up the wide staircase sprang:
It echoed to his mailèd heel;
With clang of arms and clash of steel
The silent chambers rang.
He sees a glimmering
Far off, with faint and trembling beam,
Athwart the midnight gloom:
Then first his soul confessed a fear,
As with slow footsteps drawing near,
He gained the lighted room.
And now the waning
moon was low,
The perfumed tapers faintly glow,
And, by their dying gleam,
He raised the curtains dusky fold,
And lo! his charmèd eyes behold
The lady of his dream!
As violets peep from
Slowly her heavy lids unclose,
And gently heaves her breast;
But all unconscious was her gaze,
Her eye with listless languor strays
From brand to plumy crest:
A rising blush begins
Like that which steals at early morn
Across the eastern sky;
And slowly, as the morning broke,
The maiden from her trance awoke
Beneath his ardent eye!
As the first kindling
Their level light athwart the dew,
And tipped the hills with flame,
The silent forest-boughs were stirred
With music, as from bee and bird
A mingling murmur came.
From out its depths
of tangled gloom
There came a breath of dewy bloom.
And, from the valleys dim,
A cloud of fragrant incense stole,
As if each violet breathed its soul
Into that floral hymn.
Loud neighed the steed
within his stall,
The cock crowed on the castle wall,
The warder wound his horn;
The linnet sang in leafy bower,
The swallows, twittering from the tower,
Salute the rosy morn.
But fresher than the
And blither than the bugle-horn,
The maidens heart doth prove,
Who, as her beaming eyes awake,
Beholds a double morning break,
The dawn of light and love!