by Henry Alford
``Here is no place for greeting: fly afar
Before the absent sisterhood return.
In my well--sembled agony, yon star
I watched, whose westering rays now faintly burn:
It symbols forth my fate; and wouldst thou learn
What bodes this meeting, ere it dips below
The mountain--range which thou canst just discern,
Safe refuge must be won; for as we go,
Shining, it bodeth joy: but sunken, tears and woe.''
She speaks, and forth into the gleamy night
They pass together; dim and ill--defined
Their thoughts;--now wandering with the mazy light
Of the wan moon, now with the moaning wind.
Thus do great issues of a sudden joined
Benumb men's spirits; who in thrall endure
Waiting the judgment of the ordering mind,
Who clears the vision with her influence pure,
And lights up memory's lamps along the steep obscure.
But whither shall they fly?--the night's high noon
Hath past, and she is faint and weary grown:
``Lady, the abbey--gate is reached full soon:
There can I hide thee; in those towers of stone
Are secret chambers kenned by me alone,
Where I can tend thee, while the coming day
Shall bring thee rest; then when its light hath flown,
Mine be it, in maturer thought, to say
How we may shape our course to regions far away.''
With hurried steps to gain those towers they press;
But ere they reached them, had that lady's sight
Not earthward drooped for very weariness,
She might have seen that clear symbolic light
First fainter wane, then vanish from the night.
The other marked its dying radiance well;
But he was one whom omens could not fright:
But, 'spite his better judgment, sooth to tell,
Faintness struck through his heart, and broke joy's rapturous spell.
The abbot sitteth in his chamber lone,
And by him sits the lady of his love;
The crosier leans upon the fretted stone,
Swept by the sacred vestment from above:
He prayeth not--for he can never move
His fond eyes from that lovely lady's brow;
Whose downcast looks seem gently to reprove
The scheme that riseth in their wishes now,
To doff the saintly veil, and break the chartered vow.
They gaze upon each other earnestly,
Scarce daring to discover but in look
What each might read of in the other's eye.
Belike ye wonder, what such question shook
The firm resolve that erst their spirits took;--
In sooth, God's vows were on them both; but yet
The first law in the heaven--descended book,
Firmer that veil or chartered vow, is set;
Quos Deus junxit, homo ne quis separet.
Oh, who can sound the depth of human joy,
The fathomless tranquillity of bliss!
Clear shine the eyes, when in their calm employ
They scan some form which they have wept to miss;
Quick through the being thrills the mystic kiss
Of wife, or clinging child; light pass the days
Though sad, with such to cheer; and sweet it is
To sit, and even unto tears to gaze
On flowers which Love hath given to bloom beside our ways.
Long hours have flown, to wedded rapture given;
And now upon the dusk and dawning air,
Which murmurs, with its quick shrill pulses riven,
The matin bell sounds forth, calling to prayer,
The abbey--brotherhood and hamlets near:
Then spoke the abbot: ``Part we for an hour;
Then follow me into a refuge near,
A hiding--place within this solid tower,
Known but to those who here have held this highest power.''
He leadeth her a dark and narrow way,
Along the windings of that hidden stair;
They might see nothing of the rising day,
Until that he had brought his lady dear
Unto a chamber, rudely fashioned, near
The top roof of the abbey--pile, and lit
By one small window, where the hour of prayer
Secure from rude intrusion she might sit,
And watch the morning clouds along the landscape flit.
``Say ye she left Saint Mary's Priory
This night?--perchance she roameth in the glade,
Or seeketh some lone cottage wearily:
Strict search for her in this our abbey made
Hath found no trace; each hiding--place displayed
Shows no such tenant: and our holy chief
Tells how he left her on your pavement laid,
What time she sunk exhausted by her grief,
After confession gave her prisoned woes relief.''
Past is all peril now--the search is done,
Past the spare meal, and spent the hour of prayer;
The holy men are singly pent each one
In chamber climbed by solitary stair:
And quickly as the anxious lover dare
He seeks with throbbing heart that nest secure:
``Rejoice, my wedded love, my life, my fair!
Our way is straight, our course is safe as pure,
Our life of love and joy from disappointment sure.''
He found her,--as ye find some cherished bud
Of early primrose, when the storm is past,
Crushed by the vexing of the tempest flood;--
Prostrate and pale she lay, for Death had cast
His Gorgon spell upon her: thick and fast
The abbot's bursting heart did upward beat.
A while benumbed he stood: Reason at last
Fled with the wild crash from her central seat,
And all his soul within him burned with maddening heat!
Three hundred years, above the tall elm--wood
One ivied pinnacle hath signified
The place where once the abbey--pile hath stood.
A hundred years before, the abbot died,--
A man of many woes: one summer--tide
They found his coffin in the churchyard--wall;
And when they forced the stony lid aside,
Gazed on his face beneath the mouldered pall,
Even as the spirit left it--pale and tear--worn all.
And often, down that dark and narrow way,
Along the windings of that hidden stair,
Sweeps a dim figure, as the rustics say,
And tracks the path even to the house of prayer:
What in the dusky night it doeth there,
None may divine, nor its return have met;
Only, upon the hushed and listening air
Strange words, as men pass by, are sounding yet:
Quos Deus junxit, homo ne quis separet!
Last updated January 14, 2019