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Wilson's Border Tales
Edmund and Helen - A Metrical Tale


Canto First

Come, sit thee by me, love, and thou shalt hear
A tale may win a smile and claim a tear-
A plan and simple story, told in rhyme,
As sang the minstrels of the olden time.
No idle Muse I'll needlessly invoke-
No patron's aid to steer me from the rock
Of cold neglect round which oblivion lies;
But loved one, I will look into thine eyes,
From which young poesy first touched my soul,
And bade the burning words in numbers roll;--
They were the light in which I learned to sing;
And still to thee will kindling fancy cling-
Glow at thy smile, as when, in younger years,
I've seen thee smiling through thy maiden tears,
Like a fair floweret bent with morning dew;
While sunbeams kissed its leaves of loveliest hue.
Thou wert the chord and spirit of my lyre-
Thy love the living voice that breathed "aspire!"-
That smoothed ambition's steep and toilsome height.
And in its darkest paths was round me, light.
Then sit thee by me, love, and list the strain,
Which, but for thee, had still neglected lain.

II.

Didst thou ere mark, within a beauteous vale,
Where sweetest wild flowers scent the summer gale,
And the blue Tweed, in silver windings glides,
Kissing the bending branches on its sides,
A snow white cottage, one that well might seem
A poet's picture of contentment's dream?
Two chestnuts broad and tall emblower the spot,
And bend in beauty o'er the peaceful cot;
The creeping ivy clothes its roof with green,
White round the door, the perfumed woodbine's seen
Shading a rustic arch; and smiling near,
Like rainbow fragments, blooms a rich parterre;
Grey, naked crags-a steep and pine clad hill-
A mountain chain and tributary rill-
A distant hamlet and an ancient wood,
Begirt the valley where the cottage stood.
That cottage was a young Enthusiast's home,
Ere blind ambition lured his steps to roam;
He was a wayward, bold, and ardent boy,
At once his parent's grief-their hope and joy.
Men call him Edmund.-Oft his mother wept
Beside the couch where yet her schoolboy slept,
As, starting in his slumbers, he would seem
To speak of things of which none else might dream.

III.

Adown the vale, a stately mansion rose,
With arboured lawns, like visions of repose;
Serene in summer loveliness, and fair
As if no passion e'er was dweller there
Save innocence and love; for they alone
Within the smiling vale of peace were known.
But fairer and more lovely far than all,
Like Spring's first flowers, was Helen of the Hall-
The blue eyed daughter of the mansion's lord,
And living image of a wife adored,
But now no more-for e'er a lustrum shed
Its smiles and sunshine o're the infant's head,
Death like a passing spirit, touched the brow
Of the young mother-and the father now
Lived as a dreamer on his daughter's face,
That seemed a mirror wherein he could trace
The long lost past-the eyes of love and light,
Which his fond soul had worshipped, ere the night
Of death and sorrow sealed those eyes in gloom-
Darkened his joys, and whelmed them in the tomb.

IV.

Young Edmund and fair Helen, from the years
Of childhood's golden joys and passing tears,
Were friends and playmates; and together they
Across the lawn, or through the woods would stray.
While he was wont to pull the lilies fair,
And weave them with the primrose, round her hair:--
Plait toys of rushes, or bedeck the thorn
With daisies sparkling with the dews of morn;
While she, these simple gifts would grateful take-
Loved for their own and for the giver's sake.
Or, they would chase the butterfly and bee
From flower to flower-shouting in childish glee.
Or hunt the cuckoo's echo through the glad,
Chasing the wandering sound from shade to shade.
Or, if she conned the daily task in vain,
A word from Edmund made the lesson plain.

V.

Thus years rolled by in innocence and truth,
And playful childhood melted into youth,
As dies the dawn in rainbows, ray by ray
In blushing beauty stealing into day.
And thus, too, passed, unnoticed and unknown,
The sports of childhood, fleeting one by one,
Like broken dreams, of which we neither know
From whence they come, nor mark we when they go.
Yet would they stray where Tweed's fair waters glide,
As we have wandered-fondly side by side;
And when dim gloaming's shadows o'er it stole
As silence visible-until the soul
Grew tranquil as the scene-then would they trace
The deep'ning shadows on the river's face-
A voiceless world, where glimmered, downward far,
Inverted mountain, tree, and cloud, and star.
"Twas Edmund's choicest scene, and he would dwell
On it, till he grew eloquent, and tell
Its beauties o'er and o'er, until the maid
Knew every gorgeous tint and mellowed shade
Which evening from departed sunbeams threw,
And as a painter on the waters drew.

VI.

Or, when brown Autumn touched the leaves with age,
The heavens became the young Enthusiast's page
Wherein his fancy read; and they would then,
Hand locked in hand, forsake the haunts of men;
Communing with the silver queen of night,
Which, as a spirit, shone upon their sight,
Full orbed in maiden glory; and her beams
Fell on their hearts, like distant shadowed gleams
Of future joy and undefined bliss-
Half of another world and half of this.
Then, rapt in dreams, oft would he gazing stand,
Grasping in his her fair and trembling hand,
And thus exclaim-"Helen, when I'm gone,
When that bright moon shall shine on you alone,
And but one shadow on the river fall-
Say, wilt thou then these heavenly hours recall?
Or read, upon the fair moon's smiling brow
The words we've uttered-those we utter now?
Or think, though seas divide us, I may be
Gazing upon that glorious orb with thee
At the same moment-hearing in its rays,
The hallowed whisperings of early days
For oh, there is a language in its calm
And holy light, that hath a power to balm
The troubled spirit, and like memory's glass,
Make bygone happiness before us pass.

VII.

Or, they would gaze upon the evening star,
Blazing in beauteous glory from afar,
Dazzling its kindred spheres, and bright o'er all,
Like LOVE on the Eternal's coronal;
Until their eyes its rays reflected threw
In glances eloquent-though words were few;
For weel I ween, it is enough to feel
The power of such an hour upon us steal,
As if a holy spirit filled the air,
And nought but love and silence might be there-
Or whispers, which, like Philomel's soft strains,
Are only heard to tell that silence reigns.
Yet he at times would break the hallowed spell
And thus in eager rhapsodies would dwell
Upon the scene:-"O'er us rolls world on world,
Like the Almighty's regal robes unfurled;-
O'erwhelming, dread, unbounded, and sublime-
Eternity's huge arms that girdle time
And roll around it, marking out the years
Of this dark spot of sin amidst the spheres!
For, oh, while gazing upon worlds so fair,
'Tis hard to think that sin has entered there.
That those bright orbs which now in glory swim,
Should e'er for man's ingratitude be dim!
Bewildered, lost, I cast mine eyes abroad,
And read on every star the name of-GOD!
The thought o'erwhelms me -Yet, while gazing on
Yon star of love, I cannot feel alone;
For wheresoe'er my after lot may be
That evening star shall speak of home and thee.
Fancy will view it o'er yon mountain's brow
That sleeps in solitude before us now;
While memory's lamp shall kindle at its rays,
And light the happy scenes of other days-
Such scenes as this; and then the very breeze
That with it bears the odour of the trees,
And gathers up the meadows sweet perfume,
From off my clouded brow shall chase the gloom
Of sick'ning absence-for the scented air
To me wafts back remembrance, as the prayer
Of lisping childhood is remembered yet,
Like living words, which we can ne'er forget."

VIII.

Till now, their life had been one thought of joy,
A vision time was destined to destroy-
As dies the dewy net work on the thorn,
Before the sunbeams, with the mists of morn.
Thus far their lives in one smooth current ran-
They loved, yet knew not when that love began,
And hardly knew they loved; though it had grown
A portion of their being, and had thrown
Its spirit o'er them; for its shoots had sprung
Up in their hearts, while yet their hearts were young;
Even like the bright leaves of some wandering seed,
Which Autumn's breezes bear across the mead,
O'er naked wild and mountain, till the wind,
Dropping its gift, a stranger flower we find.
And with their years, the kindling feeling grew,
But grew unnoticed, and no change they knew;
For it had grown, even as a bud displays
Its opening beauties-one on which we gaze
Yet note no seeming change from hour to hour,
But find, at length the bud a lovely flower.

IX.

Thus, thrice six golden summers o'er them fled,
And on their hearts their rip'ning influence shed
Till one fair eve, when from the gorgeous west
Cloud upon cloud in varied splendour pressed
Around the setting sun, which blinding shone
On the horizon like its Maker's throne;
Till veiled in glory, and its parting ray
Fell as a blessing on the closing day-
Or, like the living smile of Nature's God,
Upon his creatures setting peace abroad.
The early lark had ceased its evening song,
And silence reigned amidst the feathered throng;
Save where the chaffinch, with unvarying strain,
Its short sweet line of music thrilled again;
Or where the stock dove, from the neighbouring grove
Welcomed the twilight with the voice of love-
Then Edmund wandered by the trysting-tree,
Where, at that hour, the maid was wont to be;-
But now she came not. Deep'ning shade on shade,
The night crept round him; still he lonely strayed;
Gazed on the tree gray its foliage grew,
And stars marked midnight, ere he slow withdrew.
Another evening came-a third passed on-
And wondering, fearing, still he stood alone.
Trembling and gazing on her father's hall,
Where lights were glittering as a festival
And, as with cautious step he ventured near,
Sounds of glad music burst upon his ear,
And figures glided in the circling dance,
While wild his love and poverty at once
Flashed through his bursting heart, and smote him new
As if a thunderbolt had scorched his brow,
And scathed his very spirit; as he stood,
Mute as despair-the ghost of solitude!

X.

Strange guests were revelling at the princely hall-
Proud peers and ladies fair; but chief of all,
A rich and haughty knight, from Beaumont side,
Who came to woo fair Helen as his bride;
Or, rather from her father ask her hand,
And woo no more; but deem consent, command.
He too was young, high-born, and bore a name
sounding with honours bought, though not with fame
And the consent he sought, her father gave,
Nor feared the daughter of his love would brave
In aught his wishes, or oppose his will;
For she had ever sought it, as the rill
Seeketh the valley or the ocean's breast;
And, ere his very wishes were expressed,
She strove to trace their meaning in his eyes,
Even as a seaman readeth on the skies
The coming breeze, the calm, or brooding gale,
Then spreads the canvass wide, or reefs the sail,
Nor did he doubt, that still her heart was free
As the fleet mountain deer, which as a veil
The wilderness surrounds; for she had grown
Up as a desert flower, that he alone
Had watched and cherished; and the blinding pride
Of wealth and ancestory, had served to hide,
From him alone, what long within the vale
Had been the rustic gossip's eveing tale.
That such presumptuous love could e'er employ
The secret fancies of the cottage boy,
He would have held impossible-or smiled
At the bold madness of a thought so wild-
Reading his daughter's spirit by his own,
Which reared an ancient name as virtue's throne,
And only stooped to look on meaner things,
Whose honours echoed not the breath of kings.

XI.

Wild were the passions-fierce the anguish now,
Which tore the very soul, and clothed the brow
Of the Enthusiast;--while gaunt Despair,
Its heavy, cold, and iron hand laid bare,
And in its grasp of torture clenched his heart,
Till, one by one, the life-drops seem to start
In agony unspeakable; within
His breast its freezing shadow-dark as Sin,
Gloomy as Death, and desolate as Hell,
Like starless midnight on his spirit fell,
Burying his soul in darkness;-while his Love,
Fierce as a whirlwind, in its madness strove
With stern Despair, as on the field of wrath
The wounded warhorse, panting, strives with Death
Then as the conflict weakened, Hope would dash
Across his bosom, like the death winged flash
That flees before the thunder; yet its light,
Lived but a moment, leaving deeper night
Around the strife of passions; and again
The struggle maddened, and the hope was vain.

XII.

He heard the maidens of the valley say,
How they, upon their lady's wedding day
Would strew her path with flowers, and o'er the lawn
Join in the dance, to eve from early dawn;
While, with a smile and half deriding glance.
Some sought him as their partner in the dance:
And peasant railers, as he passed them by,
Laughed-whispered-laughed again, and mocked
But he disdained them; and his heaving breast
Had no room left to feel their vulgar jest;
For it ran o'er with agony and scorn,
Its water dropping on a rock, was borne.

XIII.

Twas a fair summer night, and the broad moon
Sailed in calm glory through the skies of June;
Pouring on earth its pale and silv'ry light,
Till roughest forms were softened to the sight;
And on the western hills its faintest ray
Kissed the yet ruddy streaks of parted day.
The stars were few, and twinkling, dimly shone,
For the bright moon in beauty reigned alone;
One cloud lay sleeping 'neath the breathless sky,
Bathed in the limpid light; while, as the sigh
Of secret love, silent as shadows glide,
The soft wind played among the leafy pride
Of the green trees, and scarce the aspen shook;
A babbling voice was heard from every brook;
And down the vale, in murmurs low and long,
Tweed poured its ancient and unwearied song.
Before, behind, around, afar and near,
The wakeful landrail's watchword met the ear.
When Edmund leaned against the hallowed tree,
Whose shade had been their temple, and where he
Had carved their names in childhood, and they yet
Upon the rind were visible. They met
Beneath its branches spreading like a bower,
For months-for years; and the impassioned hour
Of silent deep deliciousness, and bliss
Pure as an angel's-fervid as the kiss
Of a young mother on her first-born's brow-
Fled in their depth of joy, they knew not how;
as the Boreal meteor mocks the eye,
Living a moment on the gilded sky,
And dying in the same, ere we can trace
Its golden hues, its form, or hiding place.
But now to him each moment dragged a chain,
And time itself seemed weary. The fair plain,
Where the broad river, in its pride was seen,
With stately woods and fields of lovliest green.
To him was now a wilderness; and even
Upon the everlasting face of heaven
A change had passed-its very light was changed,
And shed forth sickness; for he stood estranged
From all that he had loved, and every scene
Spoke of despair where love and joy had been.
Thus desolate he stood, when, lo! a sound
Of voices and gay laughter echoed round.
Then, straight a party issued from the wood,
And, ere he marked them, all before him stood.
He gazed-he startled-shook-exclaimed aloud,
"Helen!"-then burst away! and as a shroud
The sombre trees concealed him; but a cry
Of sudden anguish, echoed a reply
To his wild word of misery, though he
Heard not its tone of heart pierced agony.
She, whom his fond soul worshipped as its bride,
He saw before him, by her wooer's side,
Midst other proud ones;-'twas a sight like death-
Death on his very heart !-The balmy breath
Of the calm night struck on his brow with fire;
For each fierce passion, burning in its ire,
Raged in his bosom as a with'ring flame,
And scarce he knew he madly breathed her name;
But, as a bark before the tempest tossed,
Rushed from the scene, exclaiming wildly-"Lost!"

XIV.

Two days of sorrow slowly round had crept,
And Helen lonely in her chamber wept;
Shunning her father's guests, and shunning, too,
The glance of rage and scorn, which now he threw
Upon the child that e'er to him had been
Dear as immortal hope, when o'er the scene
Of human life, death, slow twilight, lowers;-
She was the sunlight of his widowed hours-
The all he loved-the glory of his eye-
His hope by day-the sole remaining tie
That linked him with the world; and rudely now
That link seemed broken; and upon his brow.
Wrath lay in gloom; while, from his very feet,
He spurned the being he was wont to meet
With outstretched arms of fondness and of pride,
While all the father's feelings in a tide
Of transport gushed. But now she wept alone,
Shunning and shunned; and still the bitter tone
In which she heard her Edmund breathe her name
Rang in her heaving bosom; and the flame
That lit his eye with frenzy and despair,
Upon her naked spirit seemed to glare
With an accusing glance; yet while her tears
Were flowing silently, as hours and years
Flow down the tide of time, one whom she loved,
And who from childhood still had faithful proved,
Approached her weeping, and within her hand
A packet placed, as Edmund's-last command!
Wild throbbed her heart, and tears a moment fled,
While, tremblingly, she broke the seal, and read-
Then wept, and sobbed aloud, and read again,
These farewell words of passion and of pain.

XV.
EDMUND'S LETTER.


Helen!-farewell! I write but could not speak
That parting word of bitterness;-the cheek
Grows pale when the tongue utters it;-the knell
Which tells-'the grave is ready!' and doth swell
On the dull wind, tolling-'the dead-the dead!'
Sounds not more desolate, It is a dread
And fearful thing to be of hope bereft,
As if the soul itself had died, and left
The body living-feeding in its breast
The death of deaths its everlasting guest
Such is my cheerless bosom-'tis a tomb
Where hope lies buried in eternal gloom,
And Love mourns o'er it-yes, my Helen-Love--
Like the sad wailings of a widowed dove
Over its rifled nest. Yet blame me not,
That I, a lowly peasant's son, forgot
The gulf between our stations. Could I gaze
Upon the glorious sun, and see its rays
Fling light and beauty round me, and remain
Dead to its power, while on the lighted plain
The humblest weed looked up in love, and spread
Its leaves before it!-The vast sea doth wed
The simple brook; the bold lark soars on high,
Bounds from its humble nest and woos the sky--
Yea, the frail ivy seeks and loves to cling
Round the proud branches of the forest's king;
Then blame me not;-thou wilt not-cannot blame:
Our sorrows, hopes, and joys, have been the same-
Been one from childhood; but the dream is past,
And stern realities at length have cast
Our fates asunder. Yet, when thou shalt see
Proud ones before thee bend the suppliant knee,
And kiss thy garment while they who woo thy hand,
Spurn not the peasant boy who dared to stand
Before thee, in the rapture of his heart,
And woo thee as thine equal. Courtly art
May find more fitting phrase to charm thine ear,
But, dearest, mayst thou find them as sincere!
And, oh! by every past and hallowed hour!
By the lone tree that formed our trysting bower!
By the fair moon, and all the stars of night,
That round us threw love's holiest, dearest light!
By infant passion's first and burning kiss!
By every witness of departed bliss!
Forget me not-loved one!-Forget me not!
For, oh, to know that I am not forgot-
That thou wilt retain within thy breast
Some thought of him who loved you first and best-
To know but this, would in my bosom be
Like one faint star seen from the pathless sea
By the bewildered mariner. Once more,
Maid of my heart-farewell! A distant shore
Must be thy Edmund's home-though where the soul
Is as a wilderness-from pole to pole
The desolate in heart may ceaseless roam,
Nor find on earth that spot of heaven-a home!
But be thou happy!-be my Helen blessed!
Thou wilt be happy! Oh! those words have pressed
Thoughts on my brain on which I may not dwell!
Again, farewell!-my Helen, fare-thee-well!

XVI.

A gallant bark was gliding o'er the seas,
And like a living mass, before the breeze,
Swept on majestic, as a thing of mind
Whose spirit held communion with the wind,
Rearing and rising o'er the billowed tide,
As a proud steed doth toss its head in pride.
Upon its deck young Edmund silent stood-
A son of sadness; and his mournful mood
Grew day by day, while wave on wave rolled by,
And he their homeward current with a sigh
Followed with fondness. Still the vessel bore
The wanderer onward from his native shore,
Till in a distant land he lonely stood
'Midst city crowds in more than solitude.

XVII.

There long he wandered without aim or plan,
Till disappointment whispered-act as a man!
But, though it cool the fever of the brain,
And shake, untaught, presumption's idle reign,
Bring folly to its level, and bid hope
Before the threshold of attainment stop;
Still-when its blastings thwart our every scheme,
When humblest wishes seem an idle dream,
And the bare bread of life is half denied-
Such disappointments humble not our pride;
But they do change the temper of the soul-
Change every word and action-and enrol
The nobler mind with things of basest name-
With idleness, dishonesty, and shame!
It hath its bounds-and thus far it is well
To check presumption-visions wild to quell;
Then, 'tis the chastening of a father's hand-
All wholesome-all expedient. But to stand
Writhing beneath the unsparing lash, and be
Trampled on veriest earth, while misery
Stems the young blood, or makes it freeze with care
And on the tearless eyeballs writes-Despair!
Oh! this is terrible!-and it doth throw
Upon the brow such early marks of woe
That men seemed old ere they have well been young--
Their fond hopes perish, and their hearts are wrung
With such dark feelings-misanthropic gloom,
Spite of their natures, haunts them to the tomb.

XVIII.

Now, Edmund 'midst the bustling throng appears
One old in wretchedness, though young in years,
For he had struggled with an angry world,
Had felt misfortune's billows o'er him hurled,
And strove against its tide-where wave meets wave
Like huge leviathans sporting wild, and lave
Their mountain breakers round with circling sweep,
Till, drawn within the vortex of their deep,
The man of ruin struggleth-but in vain:
Like dying swimmers who, in breathless pain
Despairing, strike at random!-It would be
A subject worth the schoolmen's scrutiny,
To trace each simple source from whence arose
The strong and mingled stream of human woes;-
But here we may not. It is ours alone
To make the lonely wanderer's fortunes known;
And now, in plain but faithful colours dressed,
To paint the feelings of his hopeless breast.

XIX.

His withered prospects blacken-wounds await-
The grave grows sunlight to his darker fate.
All now is gall and bitterness within,
And thoughts, once sternly pure, half yield to sin.
His sickened soul, in all its native pride,
Swells 'neath the breast that tattered vestments hide,
Disdained-disdaining-while men flourish, he
Still stands a stately through a withered tree.
But, heavens!-the agony of the moment when
Suspicion stamped the smiles of other men!
When friends glanced doubts, and proudly prudent grew,
His counsellers, and his accusers too!

XX.

Picture his pain, his misery, when first
His growing wants their proud concealment burst
When the first tears start from his stubborn soul,
Big, burning, solitary drops, that roll
Down his pale cheek-the momentary gush
Of human weakness-till the whirlwind rush
Of pride-of shame-had dashed them from his eye,
And his swollen heart heaved mad with agony!
Then-then the pain!-the infinity of feeling!
Words fail to paint its anguish. Reason, reeling,
Staggered with torture through his burning brain,
While his teeth gnashed with bitterness and pain-
Reflection grew a scorpion!-speech had fled,
And all but madness and despair were dead!

XXI.

He slept to dream of death-or worse than death;
For death were bliss, and the convulsive wrath
Of living torture peace, to the dread weight
That pressed upon sensation, while the light
Of reason gleamed but horror, and strange hosts
Of hideous phantasies, like threat'ning ghosts,
Grotesquely mingled, preyed upon his brain:
Then would he dream of yesterdays again,
Or view to-morrow's terrors thick surround
His fancy with forebodings. While the sound
Of his own breath broke frightful on his ear,
He, bathed in icy sweat, would start in fear,
Trembling and pale; then did his glances seem
Sad as the sun's last, conscious, farewell gleam
Upon the eve of judgment. Such appear
His days and nights whom hope has ceased to cheer.
But grov'llers know it not. The supple slave
Whose worthiest record is a nameless grave-
Whose trucking spirit bends and bids him kneel,
And fawn and vilely kiss a patron's heel-
Even he can cast the cursed suspicious eye-
Inquire the cause of this-the reason why?
And stab the sufferer. Then, the tenfold pain
To feel a gilded butterfly's disdain!-
A kicking ass, without an ass's sense,
Whose only virtue is-pounds-shillings-pence!
And, now, while ills on ills beset him round,
The scorn of such the hopeless Edmund found.

XXII.

But Hope returned, and on the wanderer's ear
Breathed its life-giving watchword-persevere!
And torn by want, and struggling with despair,
These were his words-his fixed resolve and prayer.--
"Hail, perseverance!-rectitude of heart!-
Through life thy aid-thy conquering power impart!
Repulsed and broken-blasted-be thou ever
A portion of my spirit!-Leave me never!
Firm-fixed in purpose-watchful-unsubdued,
Until my hand hath grasped the prize pursued."


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