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.

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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!