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Narrative Poems

Table of Contents

  1. The Last Days of Herculaneum by Edwin Atherstone
  2. Death-Doomed by Will Carleton
  3. The Old Elm of Newbury by Hannah Flagg Gould
  4. The Trapper's Story by James W. Whilt
  5. Casabianca by Felicia Dorthea Hemans
  6. Horatius at the Bridge by Thomas B. Macaulay
  7. The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Tennyson

  1. The Last Days of Herculaneum

    Edwin Atherstone

    There was a man,
    A Roman soldier, for some daring deed
    That trespassed on the laws, in dungeon low
    Chained down. His was a noble spirit, rough,
    But generous, and brave, and kind.
    He had a son; it was a rosy boy,
    A little faithful copy of his sire,
    In face and gesture. From infancy, the child
    Had been his father's solace and his care.

    Every sport
    The father shared and heightened. But at length,
    The rigorous law had grasped him, and condemned
    To fetters and to darkness.

    The captive's lot,
    He felt in all its bitterness: the walls
    Of his deep dungeon answered many a sigh
    And heart-heaved groan. His tale was known, and touched
    His jailer with compassion; and the boy,
    Thenceforth a frequent visitor, beguiled
    His father's lingering hours, and brought a balm
    With his loved presence, that in every wound
    Dropped healing. But, in this terrific hour,
    He was a poisoned arrow in the breast
    Where he had been a cure.

    With earliest morn
    Of that first day of darkness and amaze,
    He came. The iron door was closed—for them
    Never to open more! The day, the night
    Dragged slowly by; nor did they know the fate
    Impending o'er the city. Well they heard
    The pent-up thunders in the earth beneath,
    And felt its giddy rocking; and the air
    Grew hot at length, and thick; but in his straw
    The boy was sleeping: and the father hoped
    The earthquake might pass by: nor would he wake
    From his sound rest the unfearing child, nor tell
    The dangers of their state.

    On his low couch
    The fettered soldier sank, and, with deep awe,
    Listened the fearful sounds: with upturned eye,
    To the great gods he breathed a prayer; then, strove
    To calm himself, and lose in sleep awhile
    His useless terrors. But he could not sleep:
    His body burned with feverish heat; his chains
    Clanked loud, although he moved not; deep in earth
    Groaned unimaginable thunders; sounds,
    Fearful and ominous, arose and died,
    Like the sad mornings of November's wind,
    In the blank midnight. Deepest horror chilled
    His blood that burned before; cold, clammy sweats
    Came o'er him; then anon, a fiery thrill
    Shot through his veins. Now, on his couch he shrunk
    And shivered as in fear; now, upright leaped,
    As though he heard the battle trumpet sound,
    And longed to cope with death.

    He slept, at last,
    A troubled, dreamy sleep. Well had he slept
    Never to waken more! His hours are few,
    But terrible his agony.

    Soon the storm
    Burst forth; the lightnings glanced; the air
    Shook with the thunders. They awoke; they sprung
    Amazed upon their feet. The dungeon glowed
    A moment as in sunshine—and was dark:
    Again, a flood of white flame fills the cell,
    Dying away upon the dazzled eye
    In darkening, quivering tints, as stunning sound
    Dies throbbing, ringing in the ear.

    With intensest awe,
    The soldier's frame was filled; and many a thought
    Of strange foreboding hurried through his mind,
    As underneath he felt the fevered earth
    Jarring and lifting; and the massive walls,
    Heard harshly grate and strain: yet knew he not,
    While evils undefined and yet to come
    Glanced through his thoughts, what deep and cureless wound
    Fate had already given.—Where, man of woe
    Where, wretched father! is thy boy? Thou call'st
    His name in vain:—he can not answer thee.

    Loudly the father called upon his child:
    No voice replied. Trembling and anxiously
    He searched their couch of straw; with headlong haste
    Trod round his stinted limits, and, low bent,
    Groped darkling on the earth:—no child was there.
    Again he called: again, at farthest stretch
    Of his accursed fetters, till the blood
    Seemed bursting from his ears, and from his eyes
    Fire flashed, he strained with arm extended far,
    And fingers widely spread, greedy to touch
    Though but his idol's garment. Useless toil!
    Yet still renewed: still round and round he goes,
    And strains, and snatches, and with dreadful cries
    Calls on his boy.

    Mad frenzy fires him now.
    He plants against the wall his feet; his chain
    Grasps; tugs with giant strength to force away
    The deep-driven staple; yells and shrieks with rage:
    And, like a desert lion in the snare,
    Raging to break his toils,—to and fro bounds.
    But see! the ground is opening;—a blue light
    Mounts, gently waving,—noiseless;—thin and cold
    It seems, and like a rainbow tint, not flame;
    But by its luster, on the earth outstretched,
    Behold the lifeless child! his dress is singed,
    And, o'er his face serene, a darkened line
    Points out the lightning's track.

    The father saw,
    And all his fury fled:—a dead calm fell
    That instant on him:—speechless—fixed—he stood,
    And with a look that never wandered, gazed
    Intensely on the corse. Those laughing eyes
    Were not yet closed,—and round those ruby lips
    The wonted smile returned.

    Silent and pale
    The father stands:—no tear is in his eye:—
    The thunders bellow;—but he hears them not:—
    The ground lifts like a sea;—he knows it not:—
    The strong walls grind and gape:—the vaulted roof
    Takes shape like bubble tossing in the wind;
    See! he looks up and smiles; for death to him
    Is happiness. Yet could one last embrace
    Be given, 't were still a sweeter thing to die.

    It will be given. Look! how the rolling ground,
    At every swell, nearer and still more near
    Moves toward the father's outstretched arm his boy.
    Once he has touched his garment:—how his eye
    Lightens with love, and hope, and anxious fears!
    Ha, see! he has him now!—he clasps him round;
    Kisses his face; puts back the curling locks,
    That shaded his fine brow; looks in his eyes;
    Grasps in his own those little dimpled hands;
    Then folds him to his breast, as he was wont
    To lie when sleeping; and resigned, awaits
    Undreaded death.

    And death came soon and swift
    And pangless. The huge pile sank down at once
    Into the opening earth. Walls—arches—roof—
    And deep foundation stones—all—mingling—fell!

  2. Death-Doomed

    by Will Carleton

    They're taking me to the gallows, mother—they mean to hang me high;
    They're going to gather round me there, and watch me till I die;
    All earthly joy has vanished now, and gone each mortal hope,—
    They'll draw a cap across my eyes, and round my neck a rope;
    The crazy mob will shout and groan—the priest will read a prayer,
    The drop will fall beneath my feet and leave me in the air.
    They think I murdered Allen Bayne; for so the Judge has said,
    And they'll hang me to the gallows, mother—hang me till I'm dead!

    The grass that grows in yonder meadow, the lambs that skip and play,
    The pebbled brook behind the orchard, that laughs upon its way,
    The flowers that bloom in the dear old garden, the birds that sing and fly,
    Are clear and pure of human blood, and, mother, so am I!
    By father's grave on yonder hill—his name without a stain—
    I ne'er had malice in my heart, or murdered Allen Bayne!
    But twelve good men have found me guilty, for so the Judge has said,
    And they'll hang me to the gallows, mother—hang me till I'm dead!

    The air is fresh and bracing, mother; the sun shines bright and high;
    It is a pleasant day to live—a gloomy one to die!
    It is a bright and glorious day the joys of earth to grasp—
    It is a sad and wretched one to strangle, choke, and gasp!
    But let them damp my lofty spirit, or cow me if they can!
    They send me like a rogue to death—I'll meet it like a man;
    For I never murdered Allen Bayne! but so the Judge has said,
    And they'll hang me to the gallows, mother—hang me till I'm dead!

    Poor little sister 'Bell will weep, and kiss me as I lie;
    But kiss her twice and thrice for me, and tell her not to cry;
    Tell her to weave a bright, gay garland, and crown me as of yore,
    Then plant a lily upon my grave, and think of me no more.
    And tell that maiden whose love I sought, that I was faithful yet;
    But I must lie in a felon's grave, and she had best forget.
    My memory is stained forever; for so the Judge has said,
    And they'll hang me to the gallows, mother—hang me till I'm dead!

    Lay me not down by my father's side; for once, I mind, he said
    No child that stained his spotless name should share his mortal bed.
    Old friends would look beyond his grave, to my dishonored one,
    And hide the virtues of the sire behind the recreant son.
    And I can fancy, if there my corse its fettered limbs should lay,
    His frowning skull and crumbling bones would shrink from me away;
    But I swear to God I'm innocent, and never blood have shed!
    And they'll hang me to the gallows, mother—hang me till I'm dead!

    Lay me in my coffin, mother, as you've sometimes seen me rest:
    One of my arms beneath my head, the other on my breast.
    Place my Bible upon my heart—nay, mother, do not weep—
    And kiss me as in happier days you kissed me when asleep.
    And for the rest—for form or rite—but little do I reck;
    But cover up that curséd stain—the black mark on my neck!
    And pray to God for his great mercy on my devoted head;
    For they'll hang me to the gallows, mother—hang me till I'm dead!

    * * * * * * *
    But hark! I hear a mighty murmur among the jostling crowd!
    A cry!—a shout!—a roar of voices!—it echoes long and loud!
    There dashes a horseman with foaming steed and tightly-gathered rein!
    He sits erect!—he waves his hand!—good Heaven! 'tis Allen Bayne!
    The lost is found, the dead alive, my safety is achieved!
    For he waves his hand again, and shouts, "The prisoner is reprieved!"
    Now, mother, praise the God you love, and raise your drooping head;
    For the murderous gallows, black and grim, is cheated of its dead!

  3. The Old Elm of Newbury

    by Hannah Flagg Gould

    Did ever it come in your way to pass
    The silvery pond with its fringe of grass;
    And, threading the lane hard by, to see
    The veteran ELM OF NEWBURY?

    You saw how its roots had grasped the ground
    As if it had felt that the earth went round,
    And fastened them down with determined will
    To keep it steady, and hold it still.
    Its aged trunk, so stately and strong
    Has braved the blasts as they're rushed along,
    Its head has towered, and its arms have spread,
    While more than a hundred years have fled!

    Well, that old elm, that is now so grand,
    Was once a twig in the rustic hand
    Of a youthful peasant, who went one night
    To visit his love, by the tender light
    Of the modest moon and her twinkling host,
    While the star that lighted his bosom most,
    And gave to his lonely feet their speed,
    Abode in a cottage beyond the mead!

    'T was the peaceful close of a summer's day;
    Its glorious orb had passed away;
    The toil of the field till the morn had ceased,
    For a season of rest to man and beast.
    The mother had silenced her humming wheel;
    The father returned for the evening meal,
    The thanks of one who had chosen the part
    Of the poor in spirit, the rich in heart,
    Who, having the soul's grand panacea,
    Feel all is added that's needful here;
    And know this truth of the human breast,
    That, wanting little, is being blest.
    The good old man in his chair reclined,
    At a humble door, with a peaceful mind,
    While the drops from his sun-burnt brow were dried
    By the cool, sweet air of the eventide.

    The son from the yoke had unlocked the bow,
    Dismissing the faithful ox to go
    And graze in the close. He had called the kine
    For their oblation at day's decline.
    He'd gathered and numbered the lambs and sheep,
    And fastened them up in their nightly keep.
    He'd stood by the coop till the hen could bring
    Her huddling brood safe under her wing;
    And made them secure from the hooting owl,
    Whose midnight prey was the shrieking fowl.
    When all was finished, he sped to the well
    Where the old gray bucket hastily fell,
    And the clear cold water came up to chase
    The dust of the field from his neck and face,
    And hands and feet, till the youth began
    To look renewed in the outer man;
    And soon arrayed in his Sunday's best,
    The stiff new suit had done the rest;
    And the hale, young lover was on his way,
    Where, through the fen and the field it lay;
    And over the bramble, the brake and the grass,
    As the shortest cut to the house of his lass.

    It is not recorded how long he staid
    In the cheerful home of the smiling maid;
    But when he came out, it was late and dark,
    And silent—not even a dog would bark,
    To take from his feeling of loneliness,
    And make the length of his way seem less.
    He thought it was strange, that the treacherous moon
    Should have given the world the slip so soon;
    And, whether the eyes of the girl had made
    The stars of the sky in his own to fade,
    Or not, it certainly seemed to him,
    That each grew distant, and small, and dim;
    And he shuddered to think he now was about
    To take a long and a lonely route;
    For he did not know what fearful sight
    Might come to him through the shadows of night!

    An Elm grew close by the cottage's eaves;
    So, he plucked him a twig well clothed with leaves,
    And sallying forth with the supple arm,
    To serve as a talisman parrying harm,
    He felt that, though his heart was so big,
    'T was even the stouter for having the twig.
    For this, he thought, would answer to switch
    The horrors away, as he crossed the ditch,
    The meadow and copse, wherein, perchance,
    Will-o'-the-wisp might wickedly dance;
    And wielding it keep him from having a chill
    At the menacing sound of 'Whip-poor-will!'
    And his flesh from creeping beside the bog
    At the harsh, bass voice of the viewless frog:—
    In short, he felt that the switch would be
    Guard, plaything, business and company!

    When he got safe home, and joyfully found
    He still was himself! and living! and sound!
    He planted the twig by his family cot,
    To stand as a monument marking the spot
    It helped him to reach: and, what was still more,
    Because it had grown by his fair one's door.

    The twig took root; and as time flew by,
    Its boughs spread wide, and its head grew high;
    While the priest's good service had long been done,
    Which made the youth and the maiden one;
    And their young scions arose and played
    Around the tree, in its leafy shade.

    But many and many a year has fled
    Since they were gathered among the dead.
    And now their names with the moss o'ergrown,
    Are veiled from sight on the church-yard stone,
    That leans away, in a lingering fall,
    And owns the power that shall level all
    The works that the hand of man hath wrought,
    Bring him to dust, and his name to nought.
    While, near in view, and just beyond
    The grassy skirts of the silver pond,
    In its 'green old age,' stands the noble tree,
    The veteran ELM OF NEWBURY.

  4. The Trapper's Story

    by James W. Whilt

    The trapper sat in his cabin
    With grizzled beard and hair,
    Yet straight as any soldier's
    Were his massive shoulders square.
    Eyes as clear as a mountain spring
    That could pierce you at a glance,
    Sharp as a pointed arrow
    Or Indian warrior's lance.

    "Pard, will you kindly tell me
    Why you seek the hills,
    Why you love the solitude
    The lakes and crystal rills?
    I don't want to be inquisitive,
    Or pry into your life,
    But; did you ever have a sweetheart,
    Did you ever have a wife?"

    The trapper turned his eyes on me,
    'Twas with a friendly smile:—
    "Yes, Pal, I had a sweetheart,
    Also a wife and child.
    We had a little cabin,
    With plenty to wear and eat;
    We were richer far than any king,
    'Twas love so pure and sweet.

    And Oh! how she loved the forest,
    And how she would sing all day;
    Happier far than the spotted fawns
    That on yonder hillside play.
    Then she told me the news one evening,
    That made me feel so proud;
    A child was soon to crown our joy;
    Say;—I walked along a cloud!

    Now, Pard, I can't explain to you,—
    How am I going to tell
    Of the joy within our cabin
    That we both had loved so well?
    But God loves the best and purest,—
    Say, my eyes are growing dim—
    He took her up to Heaven
    Along with Little Jim!

    So now I seek the forest
    For I know her Spirit is here,
    For very often on the trail
    I feel her presence near.
    And as long as the Creator
    Will let me cruise around,
    It will always be the woods for me,
    I think them sacred ground."

  5. Casabianca

    by Felicia Dorthea Hemans.

    The boy stood on the burning deck,
    Whence all but him had fled;
    The flame that lit the battle's wreck
    Shone round him o'er the dead.
    ...

    Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
    As born to rule the storm;
    A creature of heroic blood,
    A proud though childlike form.

    The flames rolled on—he would not go
    Without his father's word;
    That father, faint in death below,
    His voice no longer heard.

    He called aloud, "Say, father, say
    If yet my task is done?"
    He knew not that the chieftain lay
    Unconscious of his son.

    "Speak, father!" once again he cried,
    "If I may yet be gone!"
    And but the booming shots replied,
    And fast the flames rolled on.

    Upon his brow he felt their breath,
    And in his waving hair;
    And looked from that lone post of death
    In still, yet brave despair.

    And shouted but once more aloud
    "My father! must I stay?"
    While o'er him fast, through sail and shroud,
    The wreathing fires made way.

    They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
    They caught the flag on high,
    And streamed above the gallant child
    Like banners in the sky.

    Then came a burst of thunder sound—
    The boy—oh! where was he?
    —Ask of the winds that far around
    With fragments strew the sea;

    With mast, and helm, and pennon fair.
    That well had borne their part—
    But the noblest thing that perished there
    Was that young, faithful heart.

  6. Horatius at the Bridge

    by Thomas B. Macaulay.

    Lars Porsena of Clusium,
    By the Nine Gods he swore
    That the great house of Tarquin
    Should suffer wrong no more.
    By the Nine Gods he swore it,
    And named a trysting-day,
    And bade his messengers ride forth,
    East and west and south and north,
    To summon his array.

    East and west and south and north
    The messengers ride fast,
    And tower and town and cottage
    Have heard the trumpet's blast.
    Shame on the false Etruscan
    Who lingers in his home
    When Porsena of Clusium
    Is on the march for Rome!

    The horsemen and the footmen
    Are pouring in amain,
    From many a stately market-place,
    From many a fruitful plain;
    From many a lonely hamlet,
    Which, hid by beech and pine,
    Like an eagle's nest, hangs on the crest
    Of purple Apennine.

    The harvests of Arretium,
    This year, old men shall reap;
    This year, young boys in Umbro
    Shall plunge the struggling sheep;
    And in the vats of Luna,
    This year, the must shall foam
    Round the white feet of laughing girls
    Whose sires have marched to Rome.

    There be thirty chosen prophets,
    The wisest of the land,
    Who alway by Lars Porsena
    Both morn and evening stand:
    Evening and morn the Thirty
    Have turned the verses o'er,
    Traced from the right on linen white
    By mighty seers of yore.

    And with one voice the Thirty
    Have their glad answer given:
    "Go forth, go forth, Lars Porsena;
    Go forth, beloved of Heaven;
    Go, and return in glory
    To Clusium's royal dome;
    And hang round Nurscia's altarsv The golden shields of Rome."

    And now hath every city
    Sent up her tale of men;
    The foot are fourscore thousand,
    The horse are thousands ten.
    Before the gates of Sutrium
    Is met the great array.
    A proud man was Lars Porsena
    Upon the trysting-day.

    For all the Etruscan armies
    Were ranged beneath his eye,
    And many a banished Roman,
    And many a stout ally;
    And with a mighty following
    To join the muster came
    The Tusculan Mamilius,
    Prince of the Latian name.

    But by the yellow Tiber
    Was tumult and affright:
    From all the spacious champaign
    To Rome men took their flight.
    A mile around the city,
    The throng stopped up the ways;
    A fearful sight it was to see
    Through two long nights and days.

    Now, from the rock Tarpeian,
    Could the wan burghers spy
    The line of blazing villages
    Red in the midnight sky.
    The Fathers of the City,
    They sat all night and day,
    For every hour some horseman came
    With tidings of dismay.

    To eastward and to westward
    Have spread the Tuscan bands;
    Nor house, nor fence, nor dovecot,
    In Crustumerium stands.
    Verbenna down to Ostia
    Hath wasted all the plain;
    Astur hath stormed Janiculum,
    And the stout guards are slain.

    I wis, in all the Senate,
    There was no heart so bold,
    But sore it ached, and fast it beat,
    When that ill news was told.
    Forthwith up rose the Consul,
    Up rose the Fathers all;
    In haste they girded up their gowns,
    And hied them to the wall.

    They held a council standing
    Before the River Gate;
    Short time was there, ye well may guess,
    For musing or debate.
    Out spoke the Consul roundly:
    "The bridge must straight go down;
    For, since Janiculum is lost,
    Naught else can save the town."

    Just then a scout came flying,
    All wild with haste and fear:
    "To arms! to arms! Sir Consul;
    Lars Porsena is here."
    On the low hills to westward
    The Consul fixed his eye,
    And saw the swarthy storm of dust
    Rise fast along the sky.

    And nearer, fast, and nearer
    Doth the red whirlwind come;
    And louder still, and still more loud,
    From underneath that rolling cloud,
    Is heard the trumpet's war-note proud,
    The trampling and the hum.
    And plainly and more plainly
    Now through the gloom appears,
    Far to left and far to right,
    In broken gleams of dark-blue light,
    The long array of helmets bright,
    The long array of spears.

    And plainly and more plainly,
    Above the glimmering line,
    Now might ye see the banners
    Of twelve fair cities shine;
    But the banner of proud Clusium
    Was the highest of them all,
    The terror of the Umbrian,
    The terror of the Gaul.

    Fast by the royal standard,
    O'erlooking all the war,
    Lars Porsena of Clusium
    Sat in his ivory car.
    By the right wheel rode Mamilius,
    Prince of the Latian name,
    And by the left false Sextus,
    That wrought the deed of shame.

    But when the face of Sextus
    Was seen among the foes,
    A yell that rent the firmament
    From all the town arose.
    On the house-tops was no woman
    But spat toward him and hissed,
    No child but screamed out curses,
    And shook its little fist.

    But the Consul's brow was sad,
    And the Consul's speech was low,
    And darkly looked he at the wall,
    And darkly at the foe.
    "Their van will be upon us
    Before the bridge goes down;
    And if they once may win the bridge,
    What hope to save the town?"

    Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The Captain of the Gate:
    "To every man upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late;
    And how can man die better
    Than facing fearful odds,
    For the ashes of his fathers,
    And the temples of his gods.

    "And for the tender mother
    Who dandled him to rest,
    And for the wife who nurses
    His baby at her breast,
    And for the holy maidens
    Who feed the eternal flame,
    To save them from false Sextus
    That wrought the deed of shame?

    "Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
    With all the speed ye may;
    I, with two more to help me,
    Will hold the foe in play.
    In yon straight path a thousand
    May well be stopped by three.
    Now who will stand on either hand,
    And keep the bridge with me?"

    Then out spake Spurius Lartius—
    A Ramnian proud was he—
    I will stand at thy right hand,
    And keep the bridge with thee."
    And out spake strong Herminius—
    Of Titian blood was he—
    "I will abide on thy left side,
    And keep the bridge with thee."

    "Horatius," quoth the Consul,
    "As thou say'st, so let it be,"
    And straight against that great array
    Forth went the dauntless Three.
    For Romans in Rome's quarrel
    Spared neither land nor gold,
    Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
    In the brave days of old.

    Now while the Three were tightening
    Their harness on their backs,
    The Consul was the foremost man
    To take in hand an ax;
    And Fathers mixed with Commons
    Seized hatchet, bar, and crow,
    And smote upon the planks above,
    And loosed the props below.
    Meanwhile the Tuscan army,
    Right glorious to behold,
    Came flashing back the noonday light,
    Rank behind rank, like surges bright
    Of a broad sea of gold.

    Four hundred trumpets sounded
    A peal of warlike glee,
    As that great host, with measured tread,
    And spears advanced, and ensigns spread,
    Rolled slowly toward the bridge's head,
    Where stood the dauntless Three.

    The Three stood calm and silent,
    And looked upon the foes,
    And a great shout of laughter
    From all the vanguard rose:
    And forth three chiefs came spurring
    Before that deep array;
    To earth they sprang, their swords they drew,
    And lifted high their shields, and flew
    To win the narrow way;

    Aunus from green Tifernum,
    Lord of the Hill of Vines;
    And Seius, whose eight hundred slaves
    Sicken in Ilva's mines;
    And Picus, long to Clusium
    Vassal in peace and war,
    Who led to fight his Umbrian powers
    From that gray crag where, girt with towers,
    The fortress of Nequinum lowers
    O'er the pale waves of Nar.

    Stout Lartius hurled down Aunus
    Into the stream beneath;
    Herminius struck at Seius,
    And clove him to the teeth;
    At Picus brave Horatius
    Darted one fiery thrust;
    And the proud Umbrian's gilded arms
    Clashed in the bloody dust.

    Then Ocnus of Falerii
    Rushed on the Roman Three;
    And Lausulus of Urgo,
    The rover of the sea;
    And Aruns of Volsinium,
    Who slew the great wild boar,
    The great wild boar that had his den
    Amid the reeds of Cosa's fen.
    And wasted fields and slaughtered men
    Along Albinia's shore.

    Herminius smote down Aruns;
    Lartius laid Ocnus low;
    Right to the heart of Lausulus
    Horatius sent a blow.
    "Lie there," he cried, "fell pirate!
    No more, aghast and pale,
    From Ostia's walls the crowd shall mark
    The tracks of thy destroying bark,
    No more Campania's hinds shall fly
    To woods and caverns when they spy
    Thy thrice accurséd sail."

    But now no sound of laughter
    Was heard among the foes.
    A wild and wrathful clamour
    From all the vanguard rose.
    Six spears' length from the entrance
    Halted that deep array,
    And for a space no man came forth
    To win the narrow way.

    But hark! the cry is Astur:
    And lo! the ranks divide;
    And the great Lord of Luna
    Comes with his stately stride.
    Upon his ample shoulders
    Clangs loud the fourfold shield,
    And in his hand he shakes the brand
    Which none but he can wield.

    He smiled on those bold Romans,
    A smile serene and high;
    He eyed the flinching Tuscans,
    And scorn was in his eye.
    Quoth he: "The she-wolf's litter
    Stand savagely at bay;
    But will ye dare to follow,
    If Astur clears the way?"

    Then, whirling up his broadsword
    With both hands to the height,
    He rushed against Horatius,
    And smote with all his might.
    With shield and blade Horatius
    Right deftly turned the blow.
    The blow, though turned, came yet too nigh;
    It missed his helm, but gashed his thigh:
    The Tuscans raised a joyful cry
    To see the red blood flow.

    He reeled, and on Herminius
    He leaned one breathing space;
    Then, like a wildcat mad with wounds,
    Sprang right at Astur's face.
    Through teeth, and skull, and helmet,
    So fierce a thrust he sped,
    The good sword stood a handbreadth out
    Behind the Tuscan's head.

    And the great Lord of Luna
    Fell at the deadly stroke,
    As falls on Mount Alvernus
    A thunder-smitten oak.
    Far o'er the crashing forest
    The giant arms lie spread;
    And the pale augurs, muttering low,
    Gaze on the blasted head.

    On Astur's throat Horatius
    Right firmly pressed his heel,
    And thrice and four times tugged amain
    Ere he wrenched out the steel.
    "And see," he cried, "the welcome,
    Fair guests, that waits you here!
    What noble Lucumo comes next
    To taste our Roman cheer?"

    But at his haughty challenge
    A sullen murmur ran,
    Mingled of wrath, and shame, and dread,
    Along that glittering van.
    There lacked not men of prowess,
    Nor men of lordly race;
    For all Etruria's noblest
    Were round the fatal place.

    But all Etruria's noblest
    Felt their hearts sink to see
    On the earth the bloody corpses,
    In the path the dauntless Three:
    And, from the ghastly entrance
    Where those bold Romans stood,
    All shrank, like boys who unaware,
    Ranging the woods to start a hare,
    Come to the mouth of the dark lair
    Where, growling low, a fierce old bear
    Lies amid bones and blood.

    Was none who would be foremost
    To lead such dire attack?
    But those behind cried "Forward!"
    And those before cried "Back!"
    And backward now and forward
    Wavers the deep array;
    And on the tossing sea of steel
    To and fro the standards reel;
    And the victorious trumpet peal
    Dies fitfully away.

    Yet one man for one moment Strode out before the crowd;
    Well known was he to all the Three, And they gave him greeting loud:
    "Now welcome, welcome, Sextus! Now welcome to thy home!
    Why dost thou stay, and turn away? Here lies the road to Rome."

    Thrice looked he at the city;
    Thrice looked he at the dead;
    And thrice came on in fury,
    And thrice turned back in dread:
    And, white with fear and hatred,
    Scowled at the narrow way
    Where, wallowing in a pool of blood,
    The bravest Tuscans lay.

    But meanwhile ax and lever
    Have manfully been plied,
    And now the bridge hangs tottering
    Above the boiling tide.
    "Come back, come back, Horatius!"
    Loud cried the Fathers all.
    "Back, Lartius! Back, Herminius!
    Back, ere the ruin fall!"

    Back darted Spurius Lartius;
    Herminius darted back:
    And, as they passed, beneath their feet
    They felt the timbers crack.
    But when they turned their faces,
    And on the farther shore
    Saw brave Horatius stand alone,
    They would have crossed once more.

    But with a crash like thunder
    Fell every loosened beam,
    And, like a dam, the mighty wreck
    Lay right athwart the stream;
    And a long shout of triumph
    Rose from the walls of Rome,
    As to the highest turret tops
    Was splashed the yellow foam.

    And, like a horse unbroken
    When first he feels the rein,
    The furious river struggled hard,
    And tossed his tawny mane;
    And burst the curb, and bounded,
    Rejoicing to be free,
    And whirling down, in fierce career,
    Battlement, and plank, and pier,
    Rushed headlong to the sea.

    Alone stood brave Horatius,
    But constant still in mind;
    Thrice thirty thousand foes before,
    And the broad flood behind.
    "Down with him!" cried false Sextus,
    With a smile on his pale face.
    "Now yield thee," cried Lars Porsena,
    "Now yield thee to our grace."

    Round turned he, as not deigning
    Those craven ranks to see;
    Naught spake he to Lars Porsena,
    To Sextus naught spake he;
    But he saw on Palatinus
    The white porch of his home;
    And he spake to the noble river
    That rolls by the towers of Rome:

    "O Tiber! Father Tiber!
    To whom the Romans pray,
    A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,
    Take thou in charge this day!"
    So he spake, and speaking sheathed
    The good sword by his side,
    And, with his harness on his back,
    Plunged headlong in the tide.

    No sound of joy or sorrow
    Was heard from either bank;
    But friends and foes in dumb surprise,
    With parted lips and straining eyes,
    Stood gazing where he sank;
    And when above the surges
    They saw his crest appear,
    All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry,
    And even the ranks of Tuscany
    Could scarce forbear to cheer.

    And fiercely ran the current,
    Swollen high by months of rain;
    And fast his blood was flowing,
    And he was sore in pain,
    And heavy with his armour,
    And spent with changing blows:
    And oft they thought him sinking,
    But still again he rose.

    Never, I ween, did swimmer,
    In such an evil case,
    Struggle through such a raging flood
    Safe to the landing place;
    But his limbs were borne up bravely
    By the brave heart within,
    And our good Father Tiber
    Bore bravely up his chin.

    "Curse on him!" quoth false Sextus;
    "Will not the villain drown?
    But for this stay, ere close of day
    We should have sacked the town!"
    "Heaven help him!" quoth Lars Porsena,
    "And bring him safe to shore;
    For such a gallant feat of arms
    Was never seen before."

    And now he feels the bottom;
    Now on dry earth he stands;
    Now round him throng the Fathers
    To press his gory hands;
    And now with shouts and clapping,
    And noise of weeping loud,
    He enters through the River Gate,
    Borne by the joyous crowd.

    They gave him of the corn land,
    That was of public right.
    As much as two strong oxen
    Could plow from morn till night:
    And they made a molten image,
    And set it up on high,
    And there it stands unto this day
    To witness if I lie.

    It stands in the Comitium,
    Plain for all folk to see,—
    Horatius in his harness,
    Halting upon one knee:
    And underneath is written,
    In letters all of gold,
    How valiantly he kept the bridge
    In the brave days of old.

    And still his name sounds stirring
    Unto the men of Rome,
    As the trumpet blast that cries to them
    To charge the Volscian home;
    And wives still pray to Juno
    For boys with hearts as bold
    As his who kept the bridge so well
    In the brave days of old.

    And in the nights of winter,
    When the cold north winds blow,
    And the long howling of the wolves
    Is heard amid the snow;
    When round the lonely cottage
    Roars loud the tempest's din,
    And the good logs of Algidus
    Roar louder yet within;

    When the oldest cask is opened,
    And the largest lamp is lit;
    When the chestnuts glow in the embers,
    And the kid turns on the spit;
    When young and old in circle
    Around the firebrands close;
    When the girls are weaving baskets,
    And the lads are shaping bows;

    When the goodman mends his armour,
    And trims his helmet's plume;
    When the goodwife's shuttle merrily
    Goes flashing through the loom,—
    With weeping and with laughter
    Still is the story told,
    How well Horatius kept the bridge
    In the brave days of old.

  7. The Lady of Shalott

    by Alfred Tennyson.

    Part I
    On either side the river lie
    Long fields of barley and of rye,
    That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
    And thro' the field the road runs by
    To many-tower'd Camelot;
    The yellow-leaved waterlily
    The green-sheathed daffodilly
    Tremble in the water chilly
    Round about Shalott.

    Willows whiten, aspens shiver.
    The sunbeam showers break and quiver
    In the stream that runneth ever
    By the island in the river
    Flowing down to Camelot.
    Four gray walls, and four gray towers
    Overlook a space of flowers,
    And the silent isle imbowers
    The Lady of Shalott.

    Underneath the bearded barley,
    The reaper, reaping late and early,
    Hears her ever chanting cheerly,
    Like an angel, singing clearly,
    O'er the stream of Camelot.
    Piling the sheaves in furrows airy,
    Beneath the moon, the reaper weary
    Listening whispers, ' 'Tis the fairy,
    Lady of Shalott.'

    The little isle is all inrail'd
    With a rose-fence, and overtrail'd
    With roses: by the marge unhail'd
    The shallop flitteth silken sail'd,
    Skimming down to Camelot.
    A pearl garland winds her head:
    She leaneth on a velvet bed,
    Full royally apparelled,
    The Lady of Shalott.

    Part II
    No time hath she to sport and play:
    A charmed web she weaves alway.
    A curse is on her, if she stay
    Her weaving, either night or day,
    To look down to Camelot.
    She knows not what the curse may be;
    Therefore she weaveth steadily,
    Therefore no other care hath she,
    The Lady of Shalott.

    She lives with little joy or fear.
    Over the water, running near,
    The sheepbell tinkles in her ear.
    Before her hangs a mirror clear,
    Reflecting tower'd Camelot.
    And as the mazy web she whirls,
    She sees the surly village churls,
    And the red cloaks of market girls
    Pass onward from Shalott.

    Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
    An abbot on an ambling pad,
    Sometimes a curly shepherd lad,
    Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
    Goes by to tower'd Camelot:
    And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
    The knights come riding two and two:
    She hath no loyal knight and true,
    The Lady of Shalott.

    But in her web she still delights
    To weave the mirror's magic sights,
    For often thro' the silent nights
    A funeral, with plumes and lights
    And music, came from Camelot:
    Or when the moon was overhead
    Came two young lovers lately wed;
    I am half sick of shadows,' said
    The Lady of Shalott.

    Part III
    A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
    He rode between the barley-sheaves,
    The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
    And flam'd upon the brazen greaves
    Of bold Sir Lancelot.
    A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
    To a lady in his shield,
    That sparkled on the yellow field,
    Beside remote Shalott.

    The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
    Like to some branch of stars we see
    Hung in the golden Galaxy.
    The bridle bells rang merrily
    As he rode down from Camelot:
    And from his blazon'd baldric slung
    A mighty silver bugle hung,
    And as he rode his armour rung,
    Beside remote Shalott.

    All in the blue unclouded weather
    Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
    The helmet and the helmet-feather
    Burn'd like one burning flame together,
    As he rode down from Camelot.
    As often thro' the purple night,
    Below the starry clusters bright,
    Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
    Moves over green Shalott.

    His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
    On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
    From underneath his helmet flow'd
    His coal-black curls as on he rode,
    As he rode down from Camelot.
    From the bank and from the river
    He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
    'Tirra lirra, tirra lirra:'
    Sang Sir Lancelot.

    She left the web, she left the loom
    She made three paces thro' the room
    She saw the water-flower bloom,
    She saw the helmet and the plume,
    She look'd down to Camelot.
    Out flew the web and floated wide;
    The mirror crack'd from side to side;
    'The curse is come upon me,' cried
    The Lady of Shalott.

    Part IV
    In the stormy east-wind straining,
    The pale yellow woods were waning,
    The broad stream in his banks complaining,
    Heavily the low sky raining
    Over tower'd Camelot;
    Outside the isle a shallow boat
    Beneath a willow lay afloat,
    Below the carven stern she wrote,
    The Lady of Shalott.

    A cloudwhite crown of pearl she dight,
    All raimented in snowy white
    That loosely flew (her zone in sight
    Clasp'd with one blinding diamond bright)
    Her wide eyes fix'd on Camelot,
    Though the squally east-wind keenly
    Blew, with folded arms serenely
    By the water stood the queenly
    Lady of Shalott.

    With a steady stony glance—
    Like some bold seer in a trance,
    Beholding all his own mischance,
    Mute, with a glassy countenance—
    She look'd down to Camelot.
    It was the closing of the day:
    She loos'd the chain, and down she lay;
    The broad stream bore her far away,
    The Lady of Shalott.

    As when to sailors while they roam,
    By creeks and outfalls far from home,
    Rising and dropping with the foam,
    From dying swans wild warblings come,
    Blown shoreward; so to Camelot
    Still as the boathead wound along
    The willowy hills and fields among,
    They heard her chanting her deathsong,
    The Lady of Shalott.

    A longdrawn carol, mournful, holy,
    She chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
    Till her eyes were darken'd wholly,
    And her smooth face sharpen'd slowly,
    Turn'd to tower'd Camelot:
    For ere she reach'd upon the tide
    The first house by the water-side,
    Singing in her song she died,
    The Lady of Shalott.

    Under tower and balcony,
    By garden wall and gallery,
    A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
    Deadcold, between the houses high,
    Dead into tower'd Camelot.
    Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
    To the planked wharfage came:
    Below the stern they read her name,
    The Lady of Shalott.

    They cross'd themselves, their stars they blest,
    Knight, minstrel, abbot, squire, and guest.
    There lay a parchment on her breast,
    That puzzled more than all the rest,
    The wellfed wits at Camelot.
    'The web was woven curiously,
    The charm is broken utterly,
    Draw near and fear not,—this is I,
    The Lady of Shalott.'