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.
William and Helen
By Gottfried August Bürger (1747–1794)
Sir Walter Scott’s Translation of ‘Lenore’

FROM heavy dreams fair Helen rose,
  And eyed the dawning red:—
“Alas, my love, thou tarriest long!
  O art thou false or dead?”
With gallant Frederick’s princely power        5
  He sought the bold crusade;
But not a word from Judah’s wars
  Told Helen how he sped.
With Paynim and with Saracen
  At length a truce was made,        10
And every knight returned to dry
  The tears his love had shed.
Our gallant host was homeward bound
  With many a song of joy;
Green waved the laurel in each plume,        15
  The badge of victory.
And old and young, and sire and son,
  To meet them crowd the way,
With shouts, and mirth, and melody,
  The debt of love to pay.        20
Full many a maid her true-love met,
  And sobbed in his embrace,
And fluttering joy in tears and smiles
  Arrayed full many a face.
Nor joy nor smile for Helen sad;        25
  She sought the host in vain;
For none could tell her William’s fate,
  If faithless or if slain.
The martial band is past and gone;
  She rends her raven hair,        30
And in distraction’s bitter mood
  She weeps with wild despair.
“O rise, my child,” her mother said,
  “Nor sorrow thus in vain:
A perjured lover’s fleeting heart        35
  No tears recall again.”
“O mother, what is gone, is gone,
  What’s lost forever lorn;
Death, death alone can comfort me;
  O had I ne’er been born!        40
“O break, my heart, O break at once!
  Drink my life-blood, Despair!
No joy remains on earth for me,
  For me in heaven no share.”
“O enter not in judgment, Lord!”        45
  The pious mother prays;
Impute not guilt to thy frail child!
  She knows not what she says.
“O say thy paternoster, child!
  O turn to God and grace!        50
His will, that turned thy bliss to bale,
  Can change thy bale to bliss.”
“O mother, mother, what is bliss?
  O mother, what is bale?
My William’s love was heaven on earth;        55
  Without it earth is hell.
“Why should I pray to ruthless Heaven,
  Since my loved William’s slain?
I only prayed for William’s sake,
  And all my prayers were vain.”        60
“O take the sacrament, my child,
  And check these tears that flow;
By resignation’s humble prayer,
  O hallowed be thy woe!”
“No sacrament can quench this fire,        65
  Or slake this scorching pain;
No sacrament can bid the dead
  Arise and live again.
“O break, my heart, O break at once!
  Be thou my god, Despair!        70
Heaven’s heaviest blow has fallen on me,
  And vain each fruitless prayer.”
“O enter not in judgment, Lord,
  With thy frail child of clay!
She knows not what her tongue has spoke;        75
  Impute it not, I pray!
“Forbear, my child, this desperate woe,
  And turn to God and grace;
Well can devotion’s heavenly glow
  Convert thy bale to bliss.”        80
“O mother, mother, what is bliss?
  O mother, what is bale?
Without my William what were heaven,
  Or with him what were hell?”
Wild she arraigns the eternal doom,        85
  Upbraids each sacred Power,
Till, spent, she sought her silent room,
  All in the lonely tower.
She beat her breast, she wrung her hands
  Till sun and day were o’er,        90
And through the glimmering lattice shone
  The twinkling of the star.
Then, crash! the heavy drawbridge fell
  That o’er the moat was hung;
And, clatter, clatter, on its boards        95
  The hoof of courser rung.
The clank of echoing steel was heard
  As off the rider bounded;
And slowly on the winding stair
  A heavy footstep sounded.        100
And hark! and hark! a knock—Tap! tap!
  A rustling stifled noise;
Door-latch and tinkling staples ring;
  At length a whispering voice:
“Awake, awake, arise, my love!        105
  How, Helen, dost thou fare?
Wak’st thou, or sleep’st? laugh’st thou, or weep’st?
  Hast thought on me, my fair?”
“My love! my love! so late at night!
  I waked, I wept for thee.        110
Much have I borne since dawn of morn;
  Where, William, couldst thou be?”
“We saddle late—from Hungary
  I rode since darkness fell;
And to its bourne we both return        115
  Before the matin bell.”
“O rest this night within my arms,
  And warm thee in their fold!
Chill howls through hawthorn bush the wind;—
  My love is deadly cold.”        120
“Let the wind howl through hawthorn bush!
  This night we must away;
The steed is wight, the spur is bright;
  I cannot stay till day.
“Busk, busk, and boune! Thou mount’st behind        125
  Upon my black barb steed:
O’er stock and stile, a hundred mile,
  We haste to bridal bed.”
“To-night—to-night a hundred miles!
  O dearest William, stay!        130
The bell strikes twelve—dark, dismal hour!
  O wait, my love, till day!”
“Look here, look here—the moon shines clear—
  Full fast I ween we ride;
Mount and away! for ere the day        135
  We reach our bridal bed.
“The black barb snorts, the bridle rings,
  Haste, busk, and boune, and seat thee!
The feast is made, the chamber spread,
  The bridal guests await thee.”        140
Strong love prevailed: she busks, she bounes,
  She mounts the barb behind,
And round her darling William’s waist
  Her lily arms she twined.
And, hurry! hurry! off they rode,        145
  And fast as fast might be;
Spurned from the courser’s thundering heels
  The flashing pebbles flee.
And on the right, and on the left,
  Ere they could snatch a view,        150
Fast, fast each mountain, mead, and plain,
  And cot and castle flew.
“Sit fast—dost fear?—The moon shines clear!—
  Fleet goes my barb—keep hold!
Fear’st thou?”—“O no!” she faintly said;        155
  “But why so stern and cold?
“What yonder rings, what yonder sings?
  Why shrieks the owlet gray?”—
“’Tis death-bells’ clang, ’tis funeral song,
  The body to the clay.        160
“With song and clang, at morrow’s dawn,
  Ye may inter the dead;
To-night I ride, with my young bride,
  To deck our bridal bed.
“Come with thy choir, thou coffined guest,        165
  To swell our nuptial song!
Come, priest, to bless our marriage feast!
  Come all, come all along!”
Ceased clang and song; down sunk the bier;
  The shrouded corpse arose:        170
And hurry! hurry! all the train
  The thundering steed pursues.
And forward, forward, on they go;
  High snorts the straining steed;
Thick pants the rider’s laboring breath        175
  As headlong on they speed.
“O William, why this savage haste?
  And where thy bridal bed?”
“’Tis distant far,—low, damp, and chill,
  And narrow,—trustless maid!”        180
“No room for me?”—“Enough for both;
  Speed, speed, my barb, thy course!”
O’er thundering bridge, through boiling surge,
  He drove the furious horse.
Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,        185
  Splash! splash! along the sea;
The scourge is wight, the spur is bright,
  The flashing pebbles flee.
Fled past on right and left how fast
  Each forest, grove, and bower!        190
On right and left fled past how fast
  Each city, town, and tower!
“Dost fear? dost fear? The moon shines clear,
  Dost fear to ride with me?
Hurrah! hurrah! the dead can ride!”—        195
  “O William, let them be!—
“See there, see there! What yonder swings
  And creaks ’mid whistling rain?”
“Gibbet and steel, th’ accursed wheel,
  A murderer in his chain.        200
“Hollo! thou felon, follow here:
  To bridal bed we ride;
And thou shalt prance a fetter dance
  Before me and my bride.”
And hurry! hurry! clash, clash, clash!        205
  The wasted form descends;
And fleet as wind through hazel bush
  The wild career attends.
Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,
  Splash! splash! along the sea;        210
The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,
  The flashing pebbles flee.
How fled what moonshine faintly showed!
  How fled what darkness hid!
How fled the earth beneath their feet,        215
  The heaven above their head!
“Dost fear? dost fear? the moon shines clear
  And well the dead can ride;
Dost, faithful Helen, fear for them?”—
  “O leave in peace the dead!”        220
“Barb! barb! methinks I hear the cock;
  The sand will soon be run;
Barb! barb! I smell the morning air;
  The race is well-nigh done.”
Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,        225
  Splash! splash! along the sea;
The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,
  The flashing pebbles flee.
“Hurrah! hurrah! well ride the dead;
  The bride, the bride is come;        230
And soon we reach the bridal bed,
  For, Helen, here’s my home.”
Reluctant on its rusty hinge
  Revolved an iron door,
And by the pale moon’s setting beam        235
  Were seen a church and tower.
With many a shriek and cry whiz round
  The birds of midnight, scared;
And rustling like autumnal leaves
  Unhallowed ghosts were heard.        240
O’er many a tomb and tombstone pale
  He spurred the fiery horse,
Till sudden at an open grave
  He checked the wondrous course.
The falling gauntlet quits the rein,        245
  Down drops the casque of steel,
The cuirass leaves his shrinking side,
  The spur his gory heel.
The eyes desert the naked skull,
  The mold’ring flesh the bone,        250
Till Helen’s lily arms entwine
  A ghastly skeleton.
The furious barb snorts fire and foam,
  And with a fearful bound,
Dissolves at once in empty air,        255
  And leaves her on the ground.
Half seen by fits, by fits half heard,
  Pale spectres flit along,
Wheel round the maid in dismal dance,
  And howl the funeral song:—        260
“E’en when the heart’s with anguish cleft,
  Revere the doom of heaven.
Her soul is from her body reft;
  Her spirit be forgiven!”

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