She ceased, and a deep tingling silence fell
Instantly round,—silence complete, and yet
Instinct as with a breathing sweetness, left
By the rare spirit of her voice foregone;
Even as the fragrance of a flower were felt
Pervading the mute air through which erewhile,
It had been borne by the delighted hand
Of some sweet-thoughted maiden. Turning then
Her bright face towards me, as I stood entranced,
Yet with keen wonder stung, she said, “I love thee
As first love loveth—utterly! But ah
This love itself—this purple-wingéd love—
This life-enriching spirit of delight
Is but a honey-bee of paradise,
That only in the morning glory dares
To range abroad, only in vagrant mood,
Adventures out into the common world
Of man and woman, thither lured by sight
Of some sweet human soul that blooms apart,
Untainted by a rank soil’s weedy growths
Lured thither thus, yet being even then
A wilful wanderer from its birthplace pure,
Whereto it sadly must return again,
Or forfeit else its natal passport, ere
The dread night cometh. Yet of how great worth
Is love within the world! By the fair spring
Of even the lowliest love, how many rich
And gracious things that could not else have been,
Grow up like flowers, and breathe a perfume forth
That never leaves again the quickened sense
It once hath hit, as with a fairy’s wand!”
She spoke in mournful accents wild and sweet,
And lustrous tears brimmed over from the eyes
That met my own now melancholy gaze.
But not all comfortless is grief that sees
Itself reflected in another’s eyes,
And love again grew glad: alas, not long
For with a short low gasp of sudden fear
She started back, and hark! within the tower
A sound of strenuous steps approaching fast
Rang upwards, as it seemed, from the hard slabs
Of a steep winding stair; and soon the huge
And brazen portal, that behind us shut,
Burst open with a clang of loosened bolts—
A clang like thunder, that went rattling out
Against the echoes of the distant hills.
With deafened ears and looks aghast I turned
Towards the harsh noise, there to behold, between
The mighty jambs in the strong wall from which
The door swung inward, a tremendous form!
A horrid gloomy form that shapeless seemed,
And yet, in all its monstrous bulk, to man
A hideous likeness bare! Still more and more
Deformed it grew, as forth it swelled, and then
Its outlines melted in a grizzly haze,
That hung about them, even as grey clouds
Beskirt a coming tempest’s denser mass,
That thickens still internally, and shows
The murkiest in the midst—yea, murkiest there,
Where big with fate, and hid in solid gloom,
The yet still spirit of the thunder broods,
And menaces the world.
Beholding that dread form, the lady of light
Had rushed to my extended arms, and hid
Her beamy face, fright-harrowed, in my breast!
And thus we stood, made one in fear; while still
That terrible vision out upon us glared
With horny eyeballs—horrible the more
For that no evidence of conscious will,
No touch of passion, vitalized their fixed
Eumenidèan, stone-cold stare, as towards
Some surely destined task they seemed to guide
Its shapeless bulk and awful ruthless strength.
Then with a motion as of one dark stride
Shadowing forward, and outstretching straight
One vague-seen arm, from my reluctant grasp
It tore the radiant lady, saying “This
Is love forbidden!” in a voice whose tones
Were like low guttural thunders heard afar,
Outgrowling from the clouded gorges wild
Of steep-cragged mountains, when a sultry storm
Is pondering in its dark pavilions there.
Me then he seized, and threw me strongly back
Within the brazen door; its massive beam
Dropped with a wall-quake, and the bolts were shot
Into their sockets with a shattering jar.
I may not paint the horrible despair
That froze me now; more horrible than aught
In actual destiny, in waking life,
Could give the self -possession of my soul.
Within, without,—all silent, stirless, cold
Whither was she, my lady of delight
Reft terribly away? Time—every drip of which
Was as an age—kept trickling on and on,
Brought no release, no hope; brought not a breath
That spake of fellowship, or even of life
Out of myself. Utterly blank I stood
In marble-cold astonishment of heart!
And when at length I cast despairing eyes—
Eyes so despairing that the common gift
Of vision stung me like a deadly curse—
The dungeon round, pure pity of myself
So warmed and loosened from my brain, the pent
And icy anguish, that its load at once
Came like an Alp-thaw streaming through my eyes;
Till resignation, that balm-fragrant flower
Of meek pale grief that hath its root in tears,
Grew out of mine, and dewed my soul with peace.
My dungeon was a half-round lofty cell,
Massively set within the crossing wall
That seemed to cut the tower’s whole round in twain;
A door with iron studs and brazen clamps
Shut off the inner stairway of the tower;
And by this door a strange and mystic thing,
A bat-winged steed on scaly dragon claws,
Stood mute and rigid in the darkening cell.
The night came on; I saw the bat-winged steed
Fade, melt and die into the gathering gloom,
Then in the blackness hour by hour I paced,
And heard my step—the only sound to me
In all the wide world—throb with a dull blow
Down through the hollow tower that seemed to yawn.
A monstrous well beneath, with wide waste mouth
Bridged only by the quaking strip of floor
On which I darkling strode. Then hour on hour
Paused as if clotting at the heart of time,
And yet no other sound had being there
And still that strange, mute, mystic, bat-winged steed
Stood waiting near me by the inner door.
At last, all suddenly, in the air aloft
Over the tower a wild wailful song
Woke, flying many-voiced, then sweeping off
Far o’er the echoing hills, so passed away
In dying murmurs through the hollow dark.
In vain was the charm sought
In vain was our spell wrought
Which that dread watcher’s eyes drowsy might keep;
In vain was the dragon-steed
There at the hour of need
Out with his double freight blissward to sweep.
In vain were our spells of an infinite cost
Yon gulf by a mortal may never be crossed
Never, ah never!
The doom holds for ever
For ever! for ever!
Away, come away!
For see, wide uprolling, the white front of day!
Away to the mystic mid-regions of sleep,
Of the beautiful Spirit of sleep.
The gulf we are crossing may never be crossed
By a mortal, ah, never!
The doom holds for ever!
For ever! for ever!
So passed that song (of which the drift alone
Is here reached after in such leaden speech
As uncharmed mortals use). And when its tones
Out towards the mountains in the dark afar
Had wasted, light began to pierce the gloom,
Marbling the dusk with grey; and then the steed,
With his strange dragon-claws and half-spread wings,
Grew slowly back into the day again.
The sunrise! Oh, it was a desolate pass
Immured in that relentless keep, to feel
How o’er the purple hills came the bright sun,
Rejoicing in his strength; and then to know
That he was wheeling up the heaven, and o’er
My prison roof, tracking his midway course
With step of fire, loud rolling through the world
The thunder of its universal life!
Thus seven times wore weary day and night
Wearily on, and still I could not sleep.
And still through this drear time the wintry tooth
Of hunger never gnawed my corporal frame;
No thirst inflamed me; while by the grim door
That strange, unmoving, dragon-footed steed
Stood as at first. Mere wonder at my doom
Relieved the else-fixed darkness of despair!
But on the seventh night at midnight—hark!
What might I hear? A step?—a small light step,
That by the stair ascending, swiftly came
Straight to the inner door—then stopped. Alas!
The black leaf opened not; and yet, the while,
A rainbow radiance through its solid breadth
Came flushing bright, in subtle wave on wave,
As sunset glow in swift rich curves wells forth
Through some dense cloud upon the verge of heaven:
So came it, filling all the cell at length
With rosy lights; and then the mystic steed
Moved, and spread wide his glimmering bat-like wings.
When hark! deep down in the mysterious tower
Another step! Yea, the same strenuous tramp
That once before I heard, big beating up—
A cry, a struggle, and retreating steps!
And that fair light had faded from the air.
Again the hateful tramp came booming up;
The great door opened, and the monster-fiend
Filled all the space between the mighty jambs.
My heart glowed hot with rage and hate at once;
Fiercely I charged him, but his horrible glooms
Enwrapped me closer, in yet denser coils
Every dread moment! But my anguish now,
My pain, and hate, and loathing, all had grown
Into so vast a horror that methought
I burst with irresistible strength away—
Rushed through the door and down the stairway—down
An endless depth—till a portcullis, hinged
In the tower’s basement, opened to my flight
It fell behind me, and my passage lay
By the long ripples of the rock-edged lake.
Then, breathless, pausing in my giddy flight,
I saw the lustrous lady upward pass
Through the lit air, with steadfast downward look
Of parting recognition—full of love,
But painless, passionless. Above the tower
And o’er the clouds her radiance passed away,
And melted into heaven’s marble dome!
Then fell there on my soul a sense of loss
So bleak, so desolate, that with a wild
Sleep-startling outcry, sudden I awoke
Awoke to find it but a wondrous dream;
Yet ever since to feel as if some pure
And guardian soul, out of the day and night,
Had passed for ever from the reach of love!