Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Mazeppa’s Ride
By Lord Byron (1788–1824)
From ‘Mazeppa

THE LAST of human sounds which rose,
  As I was darted from my foes,
Was the wild shout of savage laughter,
  Which on the wind came roaring after
A moment from that rabble rout:        5
With sudden wrath I wrenched my head,
  And snapped the cord which to the mane
  Had bound my neck in lieu of rein,
And, writhing half my form about,
Howled back my curse; but ’midst the tread,        10
The thunder of my courser’s speed,
Perchance they did not hear nor heed;
It vexes me—for I would fain
Have paid their insult back again.
I paid it well in after days:        15
There is not of that castle gate,
Its drawbridge and portcullis weight,
Stone, bar, moat, bridge, or barrier left;
Nor of its fields a blade of grass,
  Save what grows on a ridge of wall,        20
  Where stood the hearthstone of the hall;
And many a time ye there might pass,
Nor dream that e’er that fortress was:
I saw its turrets in a blaze,
Their crackling battlements all cleft,        25
  And the hot lead pour down like rain
From off the scorched and blackening roof,
Whose thickness was not vengeance-proof.
  They little thought, that day of pain
When, launched as on the lightning’s flash,        30
They bade me to destruction dash,
  That one day I should come again,
With twice five thousand horse, to thank
  The Count for his uncourteous ride.
They played me then a bitter prank,        35
  When, with the wild horse for my guide,
They bound me to his foaming flank:
At length I played them one as frank—
For time at last sets all things even—
  And if we do but watch the hour,        40
  There never yet was human power
Which could evade, if unforgiven,
The patient search and vigil long
Of him who treasures up a wrong.
*        *        *        *        *
We rustled through the leaves like wind,        45
Left shrubs, and trees, and wolves behind.
By night I heard them on the track,
Their troop came hard upon our back,
With their long gallop, which can tire
The hound’s deep hate and hunter’s fire:        50
Where’er we flew they followed on,
Nor left us with the morning sun;
Behind I saw them, scarce a rood,
At daybreak winding through the wood,
And through the night had heard their feet        55
Their stealing, rustling step repeat.
Oh! how I wished for spear or sword,
At least to die amidst the horde,
And perish—if it must be so—
At bay, destroying many a foe.        60
When first my courser’s race begun,
I wished the goal already won;
But now I doubted strength and speed.
Vain doubt! his swift and savage breed
Had nerved him like the mountain roe;        65
Not faster falls the blinding snow
Which whelms the peasant near the door
Whose threshold he shall cross no more,
Bewildered with the dazzling blast,
Than through the forest-paths he passed—        70
Untired, untamed, and worse than wild;
All furious as a favored child
Balked of its wish; or fiercer still—
A woman piqued—who has her will.
*        *        *        *        *
Onward we went—but slack and slow:        75
  His savage force at length o’erspent,
The drooping courser, faint and low,
    All feebly foaming went….
At length, while reeling on our way,
Methought I heard a courser neigh,        80
From out yon tuft of blackening firs.
Is it the wind those branches stirs?
No, no! from out the forest prance
  A trampling troop; I see them come!
In one vast squadron they advance!        85
  I strove to cry—my lips were dumb.
The steeds rush on in plunging pride;
But where are they the reins to guide?
A thousand horse—and none to ride!
With flowing tail, and flying mane,        90
Wide nostrils, never stretched by pain,
Mouths bloodless to the bit or rein,
And feet that iron never shod,
And flanks unscarred by spur or rod,
A thousand horse, the wild, the free,        95
Like waves that follow o’er the sea,
    Came thickly thundering on,
As if our faint approach to meet;
The sight re-nerved my courser’s feet;
A moment staggering, feebly fleet,        100
A moment, with a faint low neigh,
    He answered, and then fell;
With gasps and glazing eyes he lay,
  And reeking limbs immovable—
His first and last career is done!        105

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