Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
 
Rhyme of the Duchess May
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
 
TO the belfry, one by one, went the ringers from the sun,
                    Toll slowly.
And the oldest ringer said, “Ours is music for the Dead,
    When the rebecks are all done.”
 
Six abeles i’ the churchyard grow on the northside in a row,        5
                    Toll slowly.
And the shadows of their tops rock across the little slopes
    Of the grassy graves below.
 
On the south side and the west, a small river runs in haste,
                    Toll slowly.        10
And between the river flowing and the fair green trees a-growing
    Do the dead lie at their rest.
 
On the east I sate that day, up against a willow gray:
                    Toll slowly.
Through the rain of willow-branches, I could see the low hill-ranges,        15
    And the river on its way.
 
There I sate beneath the tree, and the bell tolled solemnly,
                    Toll slowly.
While the trees’ and river’s voices flowed between the solemn noises,—
    Yet death seemed more loud to me.        20
 
There I read this ancient rhyme, while the bell did all the time
                    Toll slowly.
And the solemn knell fell in with the tale of life and sin,
    Like a rhythmic fate sublime.
 
THE RHYME
Broad the forest stood (I read) on the hills of Linteged—
        25
                    Toll slowly.
And three hundred years had stood mute adown each hoary wood,
    Like a full heart having prayed.
 
And the little birds sang east, and the little birds sang west,
                    Toll slowly.        30
And but little thought was theirs, of the silent antique years,
    In the building of their nest.
 
Down the sun dropped large and red, on the towers of Linteged,—
                    Toll slowly.
Lance and spear upon the height, bristling strange in fiery light,        35
    While the castle stood in shade.
 
There, the castle stood up black, with the red sun at its back,—
                    Toll slowly.
Like a sullen smouldering pyre, with a top that flickers fire,
    When the wind is on its track.        40
 
And five hundred archers tall did besiege the castle wall,
                    Toll slowly.
And the castle, seethed in blood, fourteen days and nights had stood,
    And to-night was near its fall.
 
Yet thereunto, blind to doom, three months since, a bride did come,—        45
                    Toll slowly.
One who proudly trod the floors, and softly whispered in the doors,
    “May good angels bless our home.”
 
Oh, a bride of queenly eyes, with a front of constancies,—
                    Toll slowly.        50
Oh, a bride of cordial mouth,—where the untired smile of youth
    Did light outward its own sighs.
 
’Twas a Duke’s fair orphan-girl, and her uncle’s ward, the Earl
                    Toll slowly.
Who betrothed her, twelve years old, for the sake of dowry gold,        55
    To his son Lord Leigh, the churl.
 
But what time she had made good all her years of womanhood,
                    Toll slowly.
Unto both those Lords of Leigh, spake she out right sovranly,
    “My will runneth as my blood.        60
 
“And while this same blood makes red this same right hand’s veins,” she said,—
                    Toll slowly.
“’Tis my will as lady free, not to wed a Lord of Leigh,
    But Sir Guy of Linteged.”
 
The old Earl he smilèd smooth, then he sighed for wilful youth.—        65
                    Toll slowly.
“Good my niece, that hand withal looketh somewhat soft and small,
    For so large a will, in sooth.”
 
She, too, smiled by that same sign,—but her smile was cold and fine,—
                    Toll slowly.        70
“Little hand clasps muckle gold; or it were not worth the hold
    Of thy son, good uncle mine!”
 
Then the young lord jerked his breath, and sware thickly in his teeth,
                    Toll slowly.
“He would wed his own betrothed, an she loved him, and she loathed,        75
    Let the life come or the death.”
 
Up she rose with scornful eyes, as her father’s child might rise,
                    Toll slowly.
“Thy hound’s blood, my Lord of Leigh, stains thy knightly heel,” quoth she,
    “And he moans not where he lies,        80
 
“But a woman’s will dies hard, in the hall or on the sward!—
                    Toll slowly.
By that grave, my lords, which made me orphaned girl and dowered lady,
    I deny you wife and ward.”
 
Unto each she bowed her head, and swept past with lofty tread.        85
                    Toll slowly.
Ere the midnight-bell had ceased, in the chapel had the priest
    Blessed her, bride of Linteged.
 
Fast and fain the bridal train along the night-storm rode amain:
                    Toll slowly.        90
Hard the steeds of lord and serf struck their hoofs out on the turf,
    In the pauses of the rain.
 
Fast and fain the kinsmen’s train along the storm pursued amain—
                    Toll slowly.
Steed on steed-track, dashing off—thickening, doubling hoof on hoof,        95
    In the pauses of the rain.
 
And the bridegroom led the flight on his red-roan steed of might,
                    Toll slowly.
And the bride lay on his arm, still as if she feared no harm,
    Smiling out into the night.        100
 
“Dost thou fear?” he said at last;—“Nay!” she answered him in haste,—
                    Toll slowly.
“Not such death as we could find—only life with one behind—
    Ride on fast as fear—ride fast!”
 
Up the mountain wheeled the steed—girth to ground, and fetlocks spread,—        105
                    Toll slowly.
Headlong bounds, and rocking flanks,—down he staggered—down the banks,
    To the towers of Linteged.
 
High and low the serfs looked out, red the flambeaus tossed about,—
                    Toll slowly.        110
In the courtyard rose the cry—“Live the Duchess and Sir Guy!”
    But she never heard them shout.
 
On the steed she dropped her cheek, kissed his mane and kissed his neck,—
                    Toll slowly.
“I had happier died by thee, than lived on a Lady Leigh,”        115
    Were the first words she did speak.
 
But a three months’ joyaunce lay ’twixt that moment and to-day,
                    Toll slowly.
When five hundred archers tall stand beside the castle wall
    To recapture Duchess May.        120
 
And the castle standeth black, with the red sun at its back,—
                    Toll slowly.
And a fortnight’s siege is done—and, except the Duchess, none
    Can misdoubt the coming wrack.
 
Then the captain, young Lord Leigh, with his eyes so gray of blee,        125
                    Toll slowly.
And thin lips that scarcely sheath the cold white gnashing of his teeth
    Gnashed in smiling, absently,
 
Cried aloud—“So goes the day, bridegroom fair of Duchess May!—
                    Toll slowly.        130
Look thy last upon that sun. If thou seest to-morrow’s one,
    ’Twill be through a foot of clay.
 
“Ha, fair bride! Dost hear no sound, save that moaning of the hound?—
                    Toll slowly.
Thou and I have parted troth,—yet I keep my vengeance-oath,        135
    And the other may come round.
 
“Ha! thy will is brave to dare, and thy new love past compare,—
                    Toll slowly.
Yet thine old love’s falchion brave is as strong a thing to have,
    As the will of lady fair.        140
 
“Peck on blindly, netted dove!—if a wife’s name thee behove,
                    Toll slowly.
Thou shalt wear the same to-morrow, ere the grave has hid the sorrow
    Of thy last ill-mated love.
 
“O’er his fixed and silent mouth, thou and I will call back troth,        145
                    Toll slowly.
He shall altar be and priest,—and he will not cry at least
    ‘I forbid you,—I am loath!’
 
“I will wring my fingers pale in the gauntlet of my mail,
                    Toll slowly.        150
‘Little hand and muckle gold’ close shall lie within my hold,
    As the sword did, to prevail.”
 
Oh the little birds sang east, and the little birds sang west,
                    Toll slowly.
Oh, and laughed the Duchess May, and her soul did put away        155
    All his boasting, for a jest.
 
In her chamber did she sit, laughing low to think of it,—
                    Toll slowly.
“Tower is strong and will is free—thou canst boast, my Lord of Leigh,
    But thou boasteth little wit.”        160
 
In her tire-glass gazèd she, and she blushed right womanly.
                    Toll slowly.
She blushed half from her disdain—half, her beauty was so plain,—
    —“Oath for oath, my Lord of Leigh!”
 
Straight she called her maidens in—“Since ye gave me blame herein,        165
                    Toll slowly.
That a bridal such as mine should lack gauds to make it fine,
    Come and shrive me from that sin.
 
“It is three months gone to-day, since I gave mine hand away.
                    Toll slowly.        170
Bring the gold and bring the gem, we will keep bride-state in them,
    While we keep the foe at bay.
 
“On your arms I loose my hair;—comb it smooth and crown it fair,
                    Toll slowly.
I would look in purple pall from this lattice down the wall,        175
    And throw scorn to one that’s there!”
 
Oh, the little birds sang east, and the little birds sang west,
                    Toll slowly.
On the tower the castle’s lord leant in silence on his sword,
    With an anguish in his breast.        180
 
With a spirit-laden weight, did he lean down passionate.
                    Toll slowly.
They have almost sapped the wall,—they will enter there withal,
    With no knocking at the gate.
 
Then the sword he leant upon, shivered—snapped upon the stone,—        185
                    Toll slowly.
“Sword,” he thought, with inward laugh, “ill thou servest for a staff
    When thy nobler use is done!
 
“Sword, thy nobler use is done!—tower is lost, and shame begun;
                    Toll slowly.        190
If we met them in the breach, hilt to hilt, or speech to speech,
    We should die there, each for one.
 
“If we met them at the wall, we should singly, vainly fall,—
                    Toll slowly.
But if I die here alone,—then I die, who am but one,        195
    And die nobly for them all.
 
“Five true friends lie for my sake, in the moat and in the brake,—
                    Toll slowly.
Thirteen warriors lie at rest, with a black wound in the breast,
    And not one of these will wake.        200
 
“So no more of this shall be!—heart-blood weighs too heavily—
                    Toll slowly.
And I could not sleep in grave, with the faithful and the brave
    Heaped around and over me.
 
“Since young Clare a mother hath, and young Ralph a plighted faith,        205
                    Toll slowly.
Since my pale young sister’s cheeks blush like rose when Ronald speaks,
    Albeit never a word she saith—
 
“These shall never die for me—lifeblood falls too heavily:
                    Toll slowly.        210
And if I die here apart,—o’er my dead and silent heart
    They shall pass out safe and free.
 
“When the foe hath heard it said—‘Death holds Guy of Linteged,’—
                    Toll slowly.
That new corse new peace shall bring; and a blessèd, blessèd thing,        215
    Shall the stone be at its head.
 
“Then my friends shall pass out free, and shall bear my memory,—
                    Toll slowly.
Then my foes shall sleek their pride, soothing fair my widowed bride
    Whose sole sin was love of me.        220
 
“With their words all smooth and sweet, they will front her and entreat
                    Toll slowly.
And their purple pall will spread underneath her fainting head
    While her tears drop over it.
 
“She will weep her woman’s tears, she will pray her woman’s prayers,—
                    Toll slowly.        225
But her heart is young in pain, and her hopes will spring again
    By the suntime of her years.
 
“Ah, sweet May!—ah, sweetest grief!—once I vowed thee my belief,
                    Toll slowly.
That thy name expressed thy sweetness,—May of poets, in completeness!        230
    Now my May-day seemeth brief.”
 
All these silent thoughts did swim o’er his eyes grown strange and dim,—
                    Toll slowly.
Till his true men in the place, wished they stood there face to face
    With the foe instead of him.        235
 
“One last oath, my friends that wear faithful hearts to do and dare!—
                    Toll slowly.
Tower must fall, and bride be lost!—swear me service worth the cost,”
    —Bold they stood around to swear.
 
“Each man clasp my hand and swear, by the deed we failed in there,        240
                    Toll slowly.
Not for vengeance, not for right, will ye strike one blow to-night!”
    —Pale they stood around—to swear.
 
“One last boon, young Ralph and Clare! faithful hearts to do and dare!
                    Toll slowly.        245
Bring that steed up from his stall, which she kissed before you all,
    Guide him up the turret-stair.
 
“Ye shall harness him aright, and lead upward to this height!
                    Toll slowly.
Once in love and twice in war, hath he borne me strong and far,        250
    He shall bear me far to-night.”
 
Then his men looked to and fro, when they heard him speaking so.
                    Toll slowly.
—“’Las! the noble heart,” they thought,—“he in sooth is grief-distraught.
    Would we stood here with the foe!”        255
 
But a fire flashed from his eye, ’twixt their thought and their reply,—
                    Toll slowly.
“Have ye so much time to waste! We who ride here, must ride fast,
    As we wish our foes to fly.”
 
They have fetched the steed with care, in the harness he did wear,        260
                    Toll slowly.
Past the court and through the doors, across the rushes of the floors;
    But they goad him up the stair.
 
Then from out her bower chambère, did the Duchess May repair.
                    Toll slowly.        265
“Tell me now what is your need,” said the lady, “of this steed,
    That ye goad him up the stair?”
 
Calm she stood; unbodkined through, fell her dark hair to her shoe,—
                    Toll slowly.
And the smile upon her face, ere she left the tiring-glass,        270
    Had not time enough to go.
 
“Get thee back, sweet Duchess May! hope is gone like yesterday,—
                    Toll slowly.
One half-hour completes the breach; and thy lord grows wild of speech,
    Get thee in, sweet lady, and pray.        275
 
“In the east tower, high’st of all,—loud he cries for steed from stall.
                    Toll slowly.
He would ride as far,” quoth he, “as for love and victory,
    Though he rides the castle wall.
 
“And we fetch the steed from stall, up where never a hoof did fall.—        280
                    Toll slowly.
Wifely prayer meets deathly need! may the sweet Heavens hear thee plead,
    If he rides the castle-wall.”
 
Low she dropped her head, and lower, till her hair coiled on the floor,—
                    Toll slowly.        285
And tear after tear you heard fall distinct as any word
    Which you might be listening for.
 
“Get thee in, thou soft ladie!—here is never a place for thee!—
                    Toll slowly.
Braid thy hair and clasp thy gown, that thy beauty in its moan        290
    May find grace with Leigh of Leigh.”
 
She stood up in bitter case, with a pale yet stately face,
                    Toll slowly.
Like a statue thunderstruck, which, though quivering, seems to look
    Right against the thunder-place.        295
 
And her foot trod in, with pride, her own tears i’ the stone beside,—
                    Toll slowly.
“Go to, faithful friends, go to!—Judge no more what ladies do,—
    No, nor how their lords may ride!”
 
Then the good steed’s rein she took, and his neck did kiss and stroke:        300
                    Toll slowly.
Soft he neighed to answer her; and then followed up the stair,
    For the love of her sweet look.
 
Oh, and steeply, steeply wound up the narrow stair around,—
                    Toll slowly.        305
Oh, and closely speeding, step by step beside her treading,
    Did he follow, meek as hound.
 
On the east tower, high’st of all,—there, where never a hoof did fall,—
                    Toll slowly.
Out they swept, a vision steady,—noble steed and lovely lady,        310
    Calm as if in bower or stall!
 
Down she knelt at her lord’s knee, and she looked up silently,—
                    Toll slowly.
And he kissed her twice and thrice, for that look within her eyes
    Which he could not bear to see.        315
 
Quoth he, “Get thee from this strife,—and the sweet saints bless thy life!—
                    Toll slowly.
In this hour, I stand in need of my noble red-roan steed—
    But no more of my noble wife.”
 
Quoth she, “Meekly have I done all thy biddings under sun:        320
                    Toll slowly.
But by all my womanhood,—which is proved so true and good,
    I will never do this one.
 
“Now by womanhood’s degree, and by wifehood’s verity,
                    Toll slowly.        325
In this hour if thou hast need of thy noble red-roan steed,
    Thou hast also need of me.
 
“By this golden ring ye see on this lifted hand pardie,
                    Toll slowly.
If this hour, on castle-wall, can be room for steed from stall,        330
    Shall be also room for me.
 
“So the sweet saints with me be” (did she utter solemnly,)
                    Toll slowly.
“If a man, this eventide, on this castle-wall will ride,
    He shall ride the same with me.”        335
 
Oh, he sprang up in the selle, and he laughed out bitter well,—
                    Toll slowly.
“Wouldst thou ride among the leaves, as we used on other eves,
    To hear chime a vesper-bell?”
 
She clang closer to his knee—“Ay, beneath the cypress-tree!—        340
                    Toll slowly.
Mock me not; for otherwhere than along the greenwood fair,
    Have I ridden fast with thee!
 
“Fast I rode with new-made vows, from my angry kinsman’s house!
                    Toll slowly.        345
What! and would you men should reck that I dared more for love’s sake
    As a bride than as a spouse?
 
“What, and would you it should fall, as a proverb, before all,
                    Toll slowly.
That a bride may keep your side while through castlegate you ride,        350
    Yet eschew the castle-wall?”
 
Ho! the breach yawns into ruin, and roars up against her suing,—
                    Toll slowly.
With the inarticulate din, and the dreadful falling in—
    Shrieks of doing and undoing!        355
 
Twice he wrung her hands in twain; but the small hands closed again.
                    Toll slowly.
Back he reined the steed—back, back! but she trailed along his track
    With a frantic clasp and strain!
 
Evermore the foemen pour through the crash of window and door,—        360
                    Toll slowly.
And the shouts of Leigh and Leigh, and the shrieks of “kill!” and “flee!”
    Strike up clear amid the roar.
 
Thrice he wrung her hands in twain,—but they closed and clung again,—
                    Toll slowly.        365
Wild she clung, as one, withstood, clasps a Christ upon the rood,
    In a spasm of deathly pain.
 
She clung wild and she clung mute,—with her shuddering lips half-shut.
                    Toll slowly.
Her head fallen as half in swound,—hair and knee swept on the ground,        370
    She clung wild to stirrup and foot.
 
Back he reined his steed back-thrown on the slippery coping-stone.
                    Toll slowly.
Back the iron hoofs did grind on the battlement behind,
    Whence a hundred feet went down.        375
 
And his heel did press and goad on the quivering flank bestrode,
                    Toll slowly.
“Friends and brothers, save my wife!—Pardon, sweet, in change for life,—
    But I ride alone to God.”
 
Straight as if the Holy name had upbreathed her like a flame,        380
                    Toll slowly.
She upsprang, she rose upright,—in his selle she sat in sight;
    By her love she overcame.
 
And her head was on his breast, where she smiled as one at rest,—
                    Toll slowly.        385
“Ring,” she cried, “O vesper-bell, in the beech-wood’s old chapelle!
    But the passing-bell rings best.”
 
They have caught out at the rein, which Sir Guy threw loose—in vain,
                    Toll slowly.
For the horse in stark despair, with his front hoofs poised in air,        390
    On the last verge rears amain.
 
Now he hangs, he rocks between—and his nostrils curdle in,—
                    Toll slowly.
And he shivers head and hoof—and the flakes of foam fall off;
    And his face grows fierce and thin!        395
 
And a look of human woe from his staring eyes did go,
                    Toll slowly.
And a sharp cry uttered he, in a foretold agony
    Of the headlong death below,—
 
And “Ring, ring,—thou passing-bell,” still she cried, i’ the old chapelle!—        400
                    Toll slowly.
Then back-toppling, crushing back, a dead weight flung out to wrack,
    Horse and riders overfell!
 
Oh, the little birds sang east, and the little birds sang west,—
                    Toll slowly.        405
And I read this ancient Rhyme in the churchyard, while the chime
    Slowly tolled for one at rest.
 
The abeles moved in the sun, and the river smooth did run,
                    Toll slowly.
And the ancient Rhyme rang strange, with its passion and its change,        410
    Here, where all done lay undone.
 
And beneath a willow tree, I a little grave did see,
                    Toll slowly.
Where was graved,—HERE UNDEFILED, LIETH MAUD, A THREE-YEAR CHILD,
    EIGHTEEN HUNDRED FORTY-THREE.        415
 
Then, O Spirits—did I say—ye who rode so fast that day,—
                    Toll slowly.
Did star-wheels and angel-wings, with their holy winnowings,
    Keep beside you all the way?
 
Though in passion ye would dash, with a blind and heavy crash.        420
                    Toll slowly.
Up against the thick-bossed shield of God’s judgment in the field,—
    Though your heart and brain were rash,—
 
Now, your will is all unwilled—now your pulses are all stilled,—
                    Toll slowly.        425
Now, ye lie as meek and mild (whereso laid) as Maud the child,
    Whose small grave was lately filled.
 
Beating heart and burning brow, ye are very patient now,
                    Toll slowly.
And the children might be bold to pluck the kingcups from your mould        430
    Ere a month had let them grow.
 
And you let the goldfinch sing in the alder near in spring,
                    Toll slowly.
Let her build her nest and sit all the three weeks out on it,
    Murmuring not at any thing.        435
 
In your patience ye are strong; cold and heat ye take not wrong:
                    Toll slowly.
When the trumpet of the angel blows eternity’s evangel,
    Time will seem to you not long.
 
Oh, the little birds sang east, and the little birds sang west,        440
                    Toll slowly.
And I said in underbreath,—all our life is mixed with death,
    And who knoweth which is best?
 
Oh, the little birds sang east, and the little birds sang west,
                    Toll slowly.        445
And I smiled to think God’s greatness flowed around our incompleteness,—
    Round our restlessness, his rest.
 
 
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors