Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Georgian Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Georgian Verse.  1909.
 
The Eve of St. Mark
By John Keats (1795–1821)
 
A Fragment

UPON 1 a Sabbath-day it fell;
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell,
That call’d the folks to evening prayer;
The city streets were clean and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains;        5
And, on the western window panes,
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatur’d green valleys cold,
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge,        10
Of primroses by shelter’d rills,
And daisies on the aguish hills.
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell:
The silent streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies,        15
Warm from their fire-side orat’ries;
And moving, with demurest air,
To even-song, and vesper prayer.
Each arched porch, and entry low,
Was fill’d with patient folk and slow,        20
With whispers hush, and shuffling feet,
While play’d the organ loud and sweet.
 
The bells had ceas’d, the prayers begun,
And Bertha had not yet half done
A curious volume, patch’d and torn,        25
That all day long, from earliest morn,
Had taken captive her two eyes,
Among its golden broideries;
Perplex’d her with a thousand things,—
The stars of Heaven, and angels’ wings,        30
Martyrs in a fiery blaze,
Azure saints and silver rays,
Moses’ breastplate, and the seven,
Candlesticks John saw in Heaven,
The winged Lion of St. Mark,        35
And the Covenantal Ark,
With its many mysteries,
Cherubim and golden mice.
 
Bertha was a maiden fair,
Dwelling in th’ old Minster-square;        40
From her fire-side she could see,
Sidelong, its rich antiquity,
Far as the Bishop’s garden-wall;
Where sycamores and elm-trees tall,
Full-leav’d, the forest had outstript,        45
By no sharp north-wind ever nipt,
So shelter’d by the mighty pile.
Bertha arose, and read awhile,
With forehead ’gainst the window-pane.
Again she try’d, and then again,        50
Until the dusk eve left her dark
Upon the legend of St. Mark.
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin,
She lifted up her soft warm chin.
With arching neck and swimming eyes,        55
And daz’d with saintly imageries.
 
All was gloom, and silent all,
Save now and then the still foot-fall
Of one returning homewards late,
Past the echoing minster-gate.        60
The clamorous daws, that all the day
Above tree-tops and towers play,
Pair by pair had gone to rest,
Each in its ancient belfry nest,
Where asleep they fall betimes,        65
To music and the drowsy chimes.
 
All was silent, all was gloom,
Abroad and in the homely room:
Down she sat, poor cheated soul;
And struck a lamp from the dismal coal;        70
Lean’d forward, with bright drooping hair
And slant look, full against the glare.
Her shadow, in uneasy guise,
Hover’d about, a giant size,
On ceiling-beam and old oak chair,        75
The parrot’s cage, and panel square;
And the warm angled winter-screen,
On which were many monsters seen,
Call’d doves of Siam, Lima mice,
And legless birds of Paradise,        80
Macaw, and tender Avadavat,
And silken-furr’d Angora cat.
Untir’d she read, her shadow still
Glower’d about, as it would fill
The room with wildest forms and shades,        85
As though some ghostly Queen of spades
Had come to mock behind her back,
And dance, and ruffle her garments black.
Untir’d she read the legend page,
Of holy Mark, from youth to age,        90
On land, on sea, in pagan chains,
Rejoicing for his many pains.
Sometimes the learned eremite,
With golden star, or dagger bright,
Referr’d to pious poesies        95
Written in smallest crow-quill size
Beneath the text: and thus the rhyme
Was parcel’d out from time to time:
——‘Als writith he of swevenis,
Men han beforne they wake in bliss,        100
Whanne that hir friendes thinke him bound
In crimped shroude farre under grounde:
And how a litling childe mote be
A saint er its nativitie,
Gif that the modre (God her blesse!)        105
Kepen in solitarinesse,
And kissen devoute the holy croce,
Of Goddes love, and Sathan’s force,—
He writith; and thinges many mo
Of swiche thinges I may not show.        110
Bot I must tellen verilie
Somdel of Saintè Cicilie,
And chieflie what he auctorethe
Of Saintè Markis life and dethe:’
At length her constant eyelids come        115
Upon the fervent martyrdom;
Then lastly to his holy shrine,
Exalt amid the tapers’ shine
At Venice,—
 
Note 1. “The following is no doubt the superstition with which Keats intended to develope this poem. It was much akin to the belief connected with the Eve of St. Agnes: It was believed that if a person, on St. Mark’s Eve, placed himself near the church porch when twilight was thickening, he would behold the apparitions of those persons in the parish who were to be seized with any severe disease that year, go into the church. If they remained there, it signified their death; if they came out again, it portended their recovery, and the longer or shorter the time they remained in the building, the severer or less dangerous their illness. Infants, under age to walk, rolled in.” (Quoted by De Sélincourt, from The Unseen World, Masters, 1853.) Mr. Buxton Forman has discovered some additional lines to this poem belonging between lines 98 and 99. [back]
 
 
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