The Lady of Provence.*

Courage was cast about her like a dress
Of solemn comeliness,
A gather’d mind and an untroubled face
Did give her dangers grace.
The war-note of the Saracen1
Was on the winds of France ;2
It had still’d the harp of the Troubadour,3
And the clash of the Tourney’s lance.4
The sounds of the sea and the sounds of the night,5
And the hollow echoes of charge and flight,6
Were around Clotilde, as she knelt to pray7
In a chapel where the mighty lay,8
On the old Provencal shore ;9
Many a Chatillon beneath,10
Unstirr’d by the ringing trumpet’s breath,11
His shroud of armour wore.12
And the glimpses of moonlight that went and came13
Through the clouds, like bursts of a dying flame,14
Gave quivering life to the slumbers pale15
Of stern forms couch’d in their marble mail,16
At rest on the tombs of the kulghtly race,17
The silent throngs of that burial-place.18
They were imaged there with helm and spear,19
As leaders in many a bold career,20
And haughty their stillness look’d and high,21
Like a sleep whose dreams were of victory :22
But meekly the voice of the lady rose23
Through the trophies of their proud repose.24
Meekly, yet fervently, calling down aid,25
Under their banners of battle she pray’d ;26
With her pale fair brow, and her eyes of love,27
Uprais’d to the Virgin’s pourtray’d above,28
And her hair flung back, till it swept the grave29
Of a Chatillon with its gleamy wave.30
And her fragile frame, at every blast31
That full of the savage war-horn pass’d,32
Trembling as trembles a bird’s quick heart,33
When it vainly strives from its cage to part,—34
So knelt she in her woe :35
A weeper alone with the tearless dead36
Oh ! they reck not of tears o’er their quiet shed,37
Or the dust had stirr’d below !38
Hark ! a swift step ! she hath caught its tone,39
Through the dash of the sea, through the wild wind’s moan ;—40
Is her Lord return’d with his conquering bands ?41
No ! a breathless vassal before her stands !42
— “ Hast thou been on the field ?— Art thou come from the host ?”43
— “ From the slaughter, Lady !— All, all is lost !44

* Founded on an incident in the early French history.
Our banners are taken, our knights laid low,45
Our spearmen chased by the Paynim foe,46
And thy Lord”—his voice took a sadder sound47
Thy Lord—he is not on the bloody ground !48
There are those who tell that the leader’s plume49
Was seen on the flight through the gathering gloom.”50
—A change o’er her mien and her spirit pass’d ;51
She ruled the heart which had beat so fast,52
She dash’d the tears from her kindling eye,53
With a glance as of sudden royalty ;54
The proud blood sprang, in a fiery flow,55
Quick over bosom, and cheek, and brow,56
And her young voice rose, till the peasant shook57
At the thrilling tone and the falcon-look :58
— “ Dost thou stand midst the tombs of the glorious dead,59
And fear not to say that their son hath fled ?60
—Away ! he is lying by lance and shield61
Point me the path to his battle field !”62
The shadows of the forest63
Are about the Lady now ;64
She is hurrying through the midnight on,65
Beneath the dark pine-bough.66
There’s a murmur of omens in every leaf,67
There’s a wail in the stream like the dirge of a chief ;68
The branches that rock to the tempest-strife,69
Are groaning like things of troubled life ;70
The wind from the battle seems rushing by71
With a funeral march gh the gloomy sky ;72
The pathway rugged, and wild, and long,73
But her frame in the daring of love is strong,74
And her soul as on swelling seas upborne,75
And girded all fearful things to scorn.76
And fearful things were around her spread,77
When she reach’d the field of the warrior-dead ;78
There lay the noble, the valiant low79
—Aye ! but one word speaks of deeper woe ;80
There lay the loved !—on each fallen head81
Mothers vain blessings and tears had shed ;82
Sisters were watching, in many a home,83
For the fetter’d footstep, no more to come ;84
Names in the prayers of that night were spoken85
Whose claim unto kindred prayers was broken ;86
And the fire was heap’d, and the bright wine pour’d87
For those, now needing nor hearth nor board ;88
Only a requiem, a shroud, a knell,89
—And oh ! ye beloved of woman, farewell !90
Silently, with lips compress’d,91
Pale hands clasp’d above her breast,92
Stately brow of anguish high,93
Death-like cheek, but dauntless eye ;94
Silently, o’er that red plain,95
Moved the lady midst the slain.96
Sometimes it seem’d as a charging cry,97
Or the ringing tramp of a steed came nigh ;98
Sometimes a blast of the Paynim horn,99
Sudden and shrill, from the mountains borne ;100
And her maidens trembled :— but on her ear101
No meaning fell with those sounds of fear ;102
They had less of mastery to shake her now,103
Than the quivering, erewhile, of an aspen bough.104
She search’d into many an unclosed eye,105
That look’d without soul to the starry sky ;106
She bow’d down o’er many a shatter’d breast,107
She lifted up helmet and cloven crest108
Not there, not there he lay !109
Lead where the most hath been dared and done,110
Where the heart of the battle hath bled,—lead on !”111
And the vassal took the way.112
He turn’d to a dark and lonely tree,113
That waved o’er a fountain red ;114
Oh ! swiftest there had the current free115
From noble veins been shed.116
Thickest there the spear-heads gleam’d,117
And the scatter’d plumage stream’d,118
And the broken shields were toss’d,119
And the shiver’d lances cross’d,120
And the mail-clad sleepers round121
Made the harvest of that ground.122
He was there ! the leader amidst his band,123
Where the faithful had made their last vain stand ;124
He was there ! but affection’s glance alone,125
The darkly chenaee in that hour had known ;126
With the falchion yet in his cold hand grasp’d,127
And a banner of France to his bosom clasp’d,128
And the form that of conflict bore fearful trace,129
And the face—oh ! speak not of that dead face !130
As it lay to answer love’s look no more,131
Yet never so proudly loved before !132
She quell’d in her soul the deep floods of woe,133
The time was not yet for their waves to flow ;134
She felt the full presence, the might of death,135
Yet there came no sob with her struggling breath,136
And a proud smile shone o’er her pale despair,137
As she turn’d to his followers— “ Your Lord is there !138
Look on him ! know him by scarf and crest !139
Bear him away with his sires to rest !”140
Another day—another night141
And the sailor on the deep142
Hears the low chant of a funeral rite143
From the lordly chapel sweep :144
It comes with a broken and muffled tone,145
As if that rite were in terror done,146
Yet the song midst the seas hath a thrilling power,147
And he knows ’tis a chieftain’s burial-hour.148
Hurriedly, in fear and woe,149
Through the aisle the mourners go ;150
With a hush’d and stealthy tread,151
Bearing on the noble dead,152
Sheathed in armour of the field153
Only his wan face reveal’d,154
Whence the still and solemn gleam155
Doth a strange sad contrast seem156
To the anxious eyes of that pale band,157
With torches wavering in every hand,158
For they dread each moment the shout of war,159
And the burst of the Moslem scymitar.160
There is no plumed head o’er the bier to bend,161
No brother of battle, no princely friend ;162
No sound comes back, like the sounds of yore,163
Unto sweeping swords from the marble floor ;164
By the red fountain the valiant lie,165
The flower of Provencal chivalry,166
But one free step and one lofty heart,167
Bear through that scene, to the last, their part.168
She hath led the death-train of the brave169
To the verge of his own ancestral grave ;170
She hath held o’er his spirit long rigid sway,171
But the struggling passion must now have way.172
In the cheek half seen through her mourning veil,173
By turns doth the swift blood flush and fail,174
The pride on the lip is lingering still,175
But it shakes as a flame to the blast might thrill ;176
Anguish and Triumph are met at strife,177
Rending the cords of her frail young life ;178
And she sinks at last on her warrior’s bier,179
Lifting her voice as if death might hear.180
I have won thy fame from the breath of wrong,181
My soul hath risen for thy glory strong !182
Now call me hence by thy side to be,183
The world thou leav’st hath no place for me.184
The light goes with thee, the joy, the worth185
Faithful and tender ! Oh ! call me forth !186
Give me my home on thy noble heart,187
Well have we loved, let us both depart !”188
And pale on the breast of the Dead she lay,189
The living cheek to the cheek of clay ;190
The living cheek !— Oh ! it was not vain,191
That strife of the spirit to rend its chain,192
She is there at rest in her place of pride,193
In death how queen-like—a glorious bride !194
Joy for the freed One !— she might not stay195
When the crown had fall’n from her life away ;196
She might not linger—a weary thing,197
A dove with no home for its broken wing,198
Thrown on the harshness of alien skies,199
That know not its own land’s, melodies.200
From the long heart-withering early gone ;201
She hath lived—she hath loved—her task is done !202