There stood in times long, long ago, a castle high and hoar:
Wide o'er the plain its walls were seen, e'en to the blue-rimmed shore;
And fragrant gardens wreathed it round with coronal of flowers,
'Mid which the crystal fountains played in rainbow-tinted showers.

'Twas there a haughty monarch sat—what warrior like to him?
Upon his throne he sat and frowned, as spectre pale and grim:
He thinks—men quake with terror; he looks—all hold their breath;
For what he speaks is torture, and what he writes is death!

To this proud keep drew near one day a noble minstrel pair,
One with long locks of gleaming gold, and one of snow-white hair;
The old man bore the cherished harp, mounted on gallant steed;
Beside him tripped a blooming boy, riv'lling the palfrey's speed.

The old man spake: “Prepare, my son, our saddest, sweetest song;
In fullest tone let every breath, soul-freighted, float along!
Glee's glowing glance, grief's downcast eye, paint with thy rarest art—
With us it rests to move to-day the stern king's stony heart.”

Within the pillar'd hall of state the modest minstrels stand
Before the king upon his throne and queen at his right hand:
He direful in his majesty as blood-red Northern Light,
She sweet and mild as moon at full in breezeless autumn night.

The grey-haired harper struck the strings—they owned the master spell—
Richer, still richer on the ear the murm'ring music fell;
And heavenly-clear the youth's pure voice rang out in trumpet tone,
Blent with the old man's hollow bass that moaned as spirits moan.

Of blissful by-gone Golden Age, of Love, of leafy Spring,
Freedom, and Dignity, and Truth, and Holiness they sing;
They sing of all things beautiful, of all that men desire;
They sing of all things worshipful, of all that men admire.

  ― 205 ―
The simpering, circling, courtier-band for once forgot to mock,
And ruffian hearts gushed out in prayer—the rod had struck the rock!
The queen, dissolved in tenderness, in sorrow sweetly sad,
Threw from her breast a blushing rose as guerdon for the lad.

“My court to lead, my wife to lure—is that your treach'rous game?”
The king exclaimed with quiv'ring limbs and awful eyes a-flame;
Then hurled his glittering blade that pierced before its mark could fly—
From breast whence erst welled golden song the blood-jet spouted high.

As storm-swept, all the listening throng fly off in wild alarm,
The youth—death's rattle in his throat—lies on his master's arm,
Who wraps him in his purple cloak, mounts him upon the horse,
And upright on the padded selle bears off the clay-cold corse.

He stops before the castle gates, with eye that sparkles fire,
He dashes on their marble posts his thrice-renowned lyre;
Then cries aloud, in stern calm voice, like destiny, that rings
Through that sweet pleasaunce for the fair, that palace home of kings:—

“Woe unto you, ye haughty halls! Music be heard no more
Within your walls, nor dancer trip upon the blood-stained floor!
No, sighs and groans be yours alone, the footfall of the slave,
Till the Avenger treads you down, and rank weeds o'er you wave!

“Woe unto you, ye gardens green, bright in the light of May,
This dead youth's pale, disfigured face hath blasted you to-day!
Blight wither every dewy flower, drought dry up every well,
And stones be heaped upon your lawns, of this foul deed to tell!

“Woe unto thee, thou dastard fiend! thou curse of minstrelsie!
Thy toils are vain, the crown of fame shall ne'er descend on thee!
Thy name shall rot in endless night, despite thy carking care,
Lost like a dying man's last breath, in empty, viewless air!”

The old man spake—avenging Heaven hath listened to his cry:
Those halls—where are they? E'en their walls in shapeless ruin lie.
One tell-tale column towers alone to mark th' accursed site;
And this, long tottering to its fall, may fall this very night.

For fragrant plots, a dreary waste where no tree casts its shade,
No silvery fountain gurgles up to gladden grassy glade.
The king's name finds no annals, gleams star-like in no verse,
It is sunken and forgotten!—Such was the Minstrel's Curse!

  ― 206 ―


Before his troop Childe Harald rides,
Harald, the fierce and bold;
By the moon's shimmering light they cross
A lone and savage wold.

Full many a foeman's flag they bear
Loud flapping in the breeze;
Full oft the distant hills ring back
Their martial melodies.

What rustles, lurking, in the bush?
What swims, with fitful gleam,
Upon the boughs? and falls from heaven,
And rises from the stream?

Who scatter flowers upon their path?
Who sing that witching song?
Who dance between them, vault behind
And with them ride along?

Who clasp so soft, and kiss so sweet?
Who cling so to the breast?
Who take the sword, and steal the steed,
And leave nor peace nor rest?

The Elfins' light-heeled band are these—
Who can their might withstand?
The victors all are vanquished now—
Captives in Fairy-land.

Harald alone, the flower of knights,
The Elfins fail to harm;
In steel encased from head to foot,
He mocks their subtle charm.

Upon the turf lie sword and shield,
But where their wearers bold?
Curvetting chargers, riderless,
Rush neighing o'er the wold.

And sad at heart proud Harald spurs—
The night winds round him moan;
Through the moist moonlit forest glades
Childe Harold rides alone.

  ― 207 ―
A clear stream trickles from a rock,
He springeth from the selle,
And making cup of plumëd casque,
Drinks of the cooling well.

His thirst is quenched, but foot and hand
No more his will obey;
Upon the stone he sits and nods,
And there must sleep for aye.

With hair and beard as white as snow,
Head drooped upon the breast,
Through countless years he slumbers on
In that mysterious rest.

When lightnings flash, when thunder rolls,
When storms roar through the wold,
Then in his dreams he grasps his sword—
Brave Harald as of old!


In the still cloister garden
There roamed a blighted maid;
The moon shone sad above her,
Tears from her eyelids strayed
As she thought of her dead lover.

“ 'Tis well my faithful darling
Has gone away to rest,
For he in bliss abideth,
And we may love the blest—
My love no longer hideth.”

Where, silvered by the moonlight,
Stood Mary undefiled,
Drew near the trembling maiden:
As mother soothes her child,
She soothed the sorrow-laden;

Who at her feet fell gazing
Upwards in heavenly peace,
Till Death the calm eyes clouded,
The spirit found release—
Her veil the maiden shrouded.

  ― 208 ―


Hast thou the castle seen,
The high keep by the sea?
Of rosy-golden sheen
The clouds that o'er it be.

'Twould stoop to a sweet drowning
In the glass-clear flood below;
'Twould climb to a proud crowning
With the evening sunlight's glow.

“I have the castle seen,
The high keep by the sea;
And the moon above it lean,
And mist spread drearily.”

The breeze and the billows bounding,
Were they blithe as they swept along?
Were the lofty halls resounding
With music and festal song?

“The waves no more rebounded,
The winds, as weary, slept;
With a wail the halls resounded,
I listened—and I wept.”

Didst see on their lieges loyal
The king and the queen look down,—
The wave of the purple royal,
The flash of the golden crown?

Proud led they forth no daughter,
No maiden passing fair
As sunlight on the water,—
Gleaming in golden hair?

“Parents twain—no crown adorning
Brow dark with sorrow's blot—
I beheld, in robes of mourning—
The maiden saw I not.


It chanced that three Burschen went over the Rhine,
And talked with a hostess—“The Chequers” her sign.

“Frau hostess, hast thou good ale and good wine?
And where is that sweet little daughter of thine?”

  ― 209 ―
“My ale and wine are fresh and clear—
My daughter—lies upon her bier.”

And when they entered the inner room,
There lay she—shrouded for the tomb.

The first drew back the veil with a sigh,
And viewed her with a mournful eye:

“Ah, wert thou living, my pretty dove,
Thee henceforth would I only love.”

The second covered up her face,
And turned aside and wept apace:

“Ah, me! that thou art on thy bier—
I've loved thee so for many a year!”

The third once more drew back the veil,
And kissed her on her mouth so pale:

“I loved thee ever, I love thee still
My love eternity shall fill.