‘Courage was cast about her like a dress
Of solemn comeliness,
A gathered mind and an untroubled face
Did give her dangers grace.’ ~ Donne.
The war-note of the Saracen
Was on the winds of France;
It had stilled the harp of the Troubadour,
And the clash of the tourney’s lance.
The sounds of the sea, and the sounds of the night,
And the hollow echoes of charge and flight,
Were around Clotilde, as she knelt to pray
In a chapel where the mighty lay,
On the old Provencal shore;
Many a Chatillon beneath,
Unstirred by the ringing trumpet’s breath,
His shroud of armour wore.
And the glimpses of moonlight that went and came
Through the clouds, like bursts of a dying flame,
Gave quivering life to the slumber pale
Of stern forms crouched in their marble mail,
At rest on the tombs of the knightly race,
The silent throngs of that burial-place.
They were imaged there with helm and spear,
As leaders in many a bold career –
And haughty their stillness looked and high,
Like a sleep whose dreams were of victory.
But meekly the voice of the lady rose
Through the trophies of their proud repose;
Meekly, yet fervantly, calling down aid,
Under their banners of battle she prayed;
With her pale fair brow, and her eyes of love,
Upraised to the Virgin’s portrayed above,
And her hair flung back, till it swept the grave
Of a Chatillon with its gleamy wave.
And her fragile frame, at every blast,
That full of the savage war-horn passed,
Trembling, as trembles a bird’s quick heart,
When it vainly strives from its cage to part –
So knelt she in her woe;
A weeper alone with the tearless dead –
Oh! they reck not of tears o’er their quiet shed,
Or the dust that stirred below!
Hark! a swift step! she hath caught its tone,
Through the dash of the sea, through the wild wind’s moan
Is her lord returned with his conquering bands?
No! a breathless vassal before her stands!
– ‘Hast thou been on the field? – Art thou come from the host?’
– ‘from the slaughter, lady! – All, all is lost!
Our banners are taken, our knights laid low,
Our spearmen chased by the Paynim foe;
And thy lord,’ his voice took a sadder sound-
‘Thy lord – he is not on the bloody ground!
There are those who tell that the leader’s plume
Was seen on the flight through the gathering gloom.’
– A change o’er her mien and her spirit passed;
She ruled the heart which had beat so fast,
She dashed the tears from her kindling eye,
With a glance, as of sudden royalty:
The proud blood sprang in a fiery flow,
Quick o’er bosom, and cheek, and brow,
And her young voice rose till the peasant shook
At the thrilling tone and the falcon-look:
– ‘dost thou stand by the tombs of the glorious dead,
And fear not to say that their son hath fled?
Away! he is lying by lance and shield, –
Point me the path to his battle-field!’
The shadows of the forest
Are about the lady now;
She is hurrying through the midnight on,
Beneath the dark pine-bough.
There’s a murmur of omens in every leaf,
There’s a wail in the stream like the dirge of a chief;
The branches that rock to the tempest strife
Are groaning like things of troubled life;
The wind from the battle seems rushing by
With a funeral-march through the gloomy sky
The pathway is rugged, and wild, and long,
But her fame in the daring of love is strong,
And her soul as on swelling seas upborne,
And girded all fearful things to scorn.
And fearful things were around her spread,
When she reached the field of the warrior dead.
There lay the noble, the valiant, low –
word speaks of deeper woe;
There lay the
– on each fallen head
Mothers’ vain blessings and tears had shed;
Sisters were watching in many a home
For the fettered footstep, no more to come;
Names in the prayer of that night were spoken,
Whose claim unto kindred prayer was broken;
And the fire was heaped, and the bright wine poured
For those, now needing nor hearth nor board;
Only a requiem, a shroud, a knell,
And oh! ye beloved of women, farewell!
Silently, with lips compressed,
Pale hands clasped above her breast,
Stately brow of anguish high,
Deathlike cheek, but dauntless eye;
Silently, o’er that red plain,
Moved the lady ‘midst the slain.
Sometimes it seemed as a charging cry,
Or the ringing tramp of a steed, came nigh;
Sometimes a blast of the Paynim horn,
Sudden and shrill from the mountain’s borne;
And her maidens trembled; – but on
No meaning fell with those sounds of fear;
They had less of mastery to shake her now,
Than the quivering, erewhile, of an aspen-bough.
She searched into many an unclosed eye,
That looked, without soul, to the starry sky;
She bowed down o’er many a shattered breast,
She lifted up helmet and cloven crest –
Not there, not there he lay!
‘Lead where the most hath been dared and done,
Where the heart of the battle hath bled, – lead on!’
And the vassal took the way.
He turned to a dark and lonely tree
That waved o’er a fountain red;
had the currents free
From noble veins been shed.
Thickest there the spear-heads gleamed,
And the scattered plumage streamed,
And the broken shields were tossed,
And the shivered lances crossed,
And the mail-clad sleepers round
Made the harvest of that ground.
He was there! the leader amidst his band
Where the faithful had made their last vain stand;
He was there! but affection’s glance alone
The darkly-changed in that hour had known;
With the falchion yet in his cold hand grasped,
And a banner of France to his bosom clasped,
And the form that of conflict bore fearful trace,
And the face – oh! speak not of that dead face!
As it lay to answer love’s look no more,
Yet never so proudly loved before!
She quelled in her soul the deep floods of woe,
The time was not yet for their waves to flow:
She felt the full presence, the might of death,
Yet there came no sob with her struggling breath,
And a proud smile shone o’er her pale despair,
As she turned to his follower – ‘Your lord is there!
Look on him! know him by scarf and crest! –
Bear him away with his sires to rest!’
Another day, another night,
And the sailor on the deep
Hears the low chant of a funeral rite
From the lordly chapel sweep.
It comes with a broken and muffled tone,
As if that rite were in terror done:
Yet the song ‘midst the seas hath a thrilling power,
And he knows ’tis a chieftain’s burial hour.
Hurriedly, in fear and woe,
Through the aisle the mourners go;
With a hushed and stealthy tread,
Bearing on the noble dead;
Sheathed in armour of the field –
Only his wan face revealed,
Whence the still and solemn gleam
Doth a strange sad contrast seem
To the anxious eyes of that pale band,
With torches wavering in every hand,
For they dread each moment the shout of war,
And the burst of the Moslem scimitar.
There is no plumed head o’er the bier to bend,
No brother of battle, no princely friend:
No sound comes back like the sounds of yore,
Unto sweeping swords from the marble floor;
By the red fountain the valiant lie,
The flower of Provencal chivalry;
free step, and one lofty heart,
Bear through that scene to the last their part.
She hath led the death-train of the brave
To the verge of his own ancestral grave;
She hath held o’er her spirit long rigid sway,
But the struggling passion must now have way;
In the cheek, half seen through her mourning veil,
By turns does the swift blood flush and fail;
The pride on the lip is lingering still,
But it shakes as a flame to the blast might thrill;
Anguish and triumph are met at strife,
Rending the cords of her frail young life;
And she sinks at last on her warrior’s bier,
Lifting her voice, as if death might hear.
‘I have won thy fame from the breath of wrong,
My soul hath risen for thy glory strong!
Now call me hence, by thy side to be,
The world thou leavest has no place for me.
The light goes with thee, the joy, the worth-
Faithful and tender! Oh! call me forth!
Give me my home on thy noble heart, –
Well have we loved, let us both depart!’ –
And pale on the breast of the dead she lay,
The living cheek to the cheek of clay;
cheek! – Oh! it was not vain,
That strife of the spirit to rend its chain;
She is there at rest in her place of pride,
In death how queen-like – a glorious bride!
Joy for the freed one! – she might not stay
When the crown had fallen from her life away;
She might not linger – a weary thing,
A dove with no home for its broken wing,
Thrown on the harshness of alien skies,
That know not its own land’s melodies,
From the long heart-withering early gone;
She hath lived – she hath loved – her task is done!