"The Lady of the Castle" by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) Records of Woman: With Other Poems. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, & London: T. Cadell, 1828, second edition. pp. 194-199.
From the "Portrait Gallery," an unfinished Poem.
If there be but one spot upon thy name,
One eye thou fear'st to meet, one human voice
Whose tones thou shrink'st from–Woman! veil thy face,
And bow thy head–and die!
THOU see'st her pictured with her shining hair,
(Famed were those tresses in Provençal song,)
Half braided, half o'er cheek and bosom fair
Let loose, and pouring sunny waves along
Her gorgeous vest. A child's light hand is roving
Midst the rich curls; and, oh! how meekly loving
Its earnest looks are lifted to the face,
Which bends to meet its lip in laughing grace!
Yet that bright lady's eye methinks hath less
Of deep, and still, and pensive tenderness,
Than might beseem a mother's;–on her brow
Something too much there sits of native scorn,
And her smile kindles with a conscious glow,
As from the thought of sovereign beauty born.
–These may be dreams–but how shall woman tell
Of woman's shame, and not with tears?–She fell!
That mother left that child!–went hurrying by
Its cradle–haply, not without a sigh,
Haply one moment o'er its rest serene
She hung–but no! it could not thus have been,
For she went on!–forsook her home, her hearth,
All pure affection, all sweet household mirth,
To live a gaudy and dishonour'd thing,
Sharing in guilt the splendours of a king.
Her lord, in very weariness of life,
Girt on his sword for scenes of distant strife;
He reck'd no more of glory:–grief and shame
Crush'd out his fiery nature, and his name
Died silently. A shadow o'er his halls
Crept year by year; the minstrel pass'd their walls;
The warder's horn hung mute:–meantime the child
On whose first flowering thoughts no parent smiled,
A gentle girl, and yet deep-hearted, grew
Into sad youth; for well, too well, she knew
Her mother's tale! Its memory made the sky
Seem all too joyous for her shrinking eye;
Check'd on her lip the flow of song, which fain
Would there have linger'd; flush'd her cheek to pain
If met by sudden glance; and gave a tone
Of sorrow, as for something lovely gone,
Ev'n to the spring's glad voice. Her own was low
And plaintive–Oh! there lie such depths of wo
In a young blighted spirit! Manhood rears
A haughty brow, and age has done with tears;
But youth bows down to misery, in amaze
At the dark cloud o'ermantling its fresh days,–
And thus it was with her. A mournful sight
In one so fair–for she indeed was fair–
Not with her mother's dazzling eyes of light,
Hers were more shadowy, full of thought and prayer,
And with long lashes o'er a white-rose cheek,
Drooping in gloom, yet tender still and meek,
Still that fond child's–and oh! the brow above,
So pale and pure! so form'd for holy love
To gaze upon in silence!–But she felt
That love was not for her, tho' hearts would melt
Where'er she mov'd, and reverence mutely given
Went with her; and low prayers, that call'd on Heaven
To bless the young Isaure.
One sunny morn
With alms before her castle gate she stood,
Midst peasant-groups; when, breathless and o'erworn,
And shrouded in long weeds of widowhood,
A stranger thro' them broke:–the orphan maid
With her sweet voice, and proffer'd hand of aid,
Turn'd to give welcome; but a wild sad look
Met hers; a gaze that all her spirit shook;
And that pale woman, suddenly subdued
By some strong passion in its gushing mood,
Knelt at her feet, and bath'd them with such tears
As rain the hoarded agonies of years
From the heart's urn; and with her white lips press'd
The ground they trod; then, burying in her vest
Her brow's deep flush, sobb'd out–"Oh! undefiled!
I am thy mother–spurn me not, my child!"
Isaure had pray'd for that lost mother; wept
O'er her stain'd memory, while the happy slept
In the hush'd midnight: stood with mournful gaze
Before yon picture's smile of other days,
But never breath'd in human ear the name
Which weigh'd her being to the earth with shame.
What marvel if the anguish, the surprise,
The dark remembrances, the alter'd guise,
Awhile o'erpower'd her?–from the weeper's touch
She shrank–'twas but a moment–yet too much
For that all humbled one; its mortal stroke
Came down like lightning, and her full heart broke
At once in silence. Heavily and prone
She sank, while o'er her castle's threshold-stone,
Those long fair tresses–they still brightly wore
Their early pride, though bound with pearls no more–
Bursting their fillet, in sad beauty roll'd,
And swept the dust with coils of wavy gold.
Her child bent o'er her–call'd her–'twas too late–
Dead lay the wanderer at her own proud gate!
The joy of courts, the star of knight and bard,–
How didst thou fall, O bright-hair'd Ermengarde!