Page images

His sabre's hilt and scabbard felt,
And whether they had chafed his belt-
And next the venerable man,

From out his havresack and can,

Prepared and spread his slender stock;
And to the monarch and his men
The whole or portion offer'd then
With far less of inquietude

Than courtiers at a banquet would.
And Charles of this his slender share
With smiles partook a moment there,
To force of cheer a greater show,
And seem above both wounds and woe; —
And then he said "Of all our band,
Though firm of heart and strong of hand,
In skirmish, march, or forage, none
Can less have said or more have done
Than thee, Mazeppa! On the earth

So fit a pair had never birth,
Since Alexander's days till now,

As thy Bucephalus and thou:

All Scythia's fame to thine should yield For pricking on o'er flood and field." Mazeppa answer'd-" Ill betide

The school wherein I learn'd to ride!"

[blocks in formation]

[ocr errors]

I think 'twas in my twentieth spring, -
Ay, 't was, when Casimir was king-
John Casimir,-I was his page
Six summers, in my earlier age:
A learned monarch, faith! was he,
And most unlike your majesty:
He made no wars, and did not gain
New realms to lose them back again;
And (save debates in Warsaw's diet)
He reign'd in most unseemly quiet;
Not that he had no cares to vex,
He loved the muses and the sex;
And sometimes these so froward are,
They made him wish himself at war;
But soon his wrath being o'er, he took
Another mistress, or new book;
And then he gave prodigious fêtes-
All Warsaw gather'd round his gates
To gaze upon his splendid court,

And dames, and chiefs, of princely port:
He was the Polish Solomon,

So sung his poets, all but one,

Who, being unpension'd, made a satire, And boasted that he could not flatter.

[merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

A count of far and high descent,
Rich as a salt or silver mine;
And he was proud, ye may divine,

As if from heaven he had been sent:
He had such wealth in blood and ore

As few could match beneath the throne;
And he would gaze upon his store,
And o'er his pedigree would pore,
Until by some confusion led,

Which almost look'd like want of head,
He thought their merits were his own.
His wife was not of his opinion-

His junior she by thirty years-
Grew daily tired of his dominion;
And, after wishes, hopes, and fears,
To virtue a few farewell tears,

A restless dream or two, some glances
At Warsaw's youth, some songs, and dances,
Awaited but the usual chances,

Those happy accidents which render
The coldest dames so very tender,
To deck her Count with titles given,
'Tis said, as passports into heaven;
But, strange to say, they rarely boast
Of these, who have deserved them most.


"I was a goodly stripling then ;

At seventy years I so may say,
That there were few, or boys or men,
Who, in my dawning time of day,
of vassal or of knight's degree,
Could vie in vanities with me;
For I had strength, youth, gaiety,
A port, not like to this ye see,

But smooth, as all is rugged now;

For time, and care, and war, have plough'd My very soul from out my brow;

And thus I should be disavow'd By all my kind and kin, could they Compare my day and yesterday; This change was wrought, too, long ere age Had ta'en my features for his page : With years, ye know, have not declined My strength, my courage, or my mind, Or at this hour I should not be Telling old tales beneath a tree, With starless skies my canopy. But let me on: Theresa's form Methinks it glides before me now, Between me and yon chestnut's bough, The memory is so quick and warm; And yet I find no words to tell The shape of her I loved so well: She had the Asiatic eye,

Such as our Turkish neighbourhood, Hath mingled with our Polish blood, Dark as above us is the sky;

1 This comparison of a "salt mine" may, perhaps, be permitted to a Pole, as the wealth of the country consists greatly in the salt mines.

But through it stole a tender light,
Like the first moonrise of midnight;
Large, dark, and swimming in the stream,
Which seem'd to melt to its own beam;
All love, half langour, and half fire,
Like saints that at the stake expire,
And lift their raptured looks on high,
As though it were a joy to die. '
A brow like a midsummer lake,

Transparent with the sun therein,
When waves no murmur dare to make,
And heaven beholds her face within.
A cheek and lip- but why proceed?
I loved her then- I love her still;
And such as I am, love indeed

In fierce extremes in good and ill.
But still we love even in our rage,
And haunted to our very age
With the vain shadow of the past,
As is Mazeppa to the last.


"We met- we gazed - I saw, and sigh`d,
She did not speak, and yet replied;
There are ten thousand tones and signs
We hear and see, but none defines -
Involuntary sparks of thought,

Which strike from out the heart o'erwrought,
And form a strange intelligence,
Alike mysterious and intense,

Which link the burning chain that binds,
Without their will, young hearts and minds;
Conveying, as the electric wire,

We know not how, the absorbing fire. —
I saw, and sigh'd-in silence wept,
And still reluctant distance kept,
Until I was made known to her,
And we might then and there confer
Without suspicion - then, even then,

I long'd, and was resolved to speak;
But on my lips they died again,

The accents tremulous and weak,
Until one hour. There is a game,
A frivolous and foolish play,
Wherewith we while away the day;
It is I have forgot the name-
And we to this, it seems, were set,
By some strange chance, which I forget:

I reck'd not if I won or lost,

It was enough for me to be
So near to hear, and oh ! to see
The being whom I loved the most.

I watch'd her as a sentinel,

(May ours this dark night watch as well!)
Until I saw, and thus it was,

That she was pensive, nor perceived
Her occupation, nor was grieved
Nor glad to lose or gain; but still

Play'd on for hours, as if her will

Yet bound her to the place, though not
That hers might be the winning lot. 2

Then through my brain the thought did pass

Even as a flash of lightning there,
That there was something in her air

Which would not doom me to despair;

["Until it proves a joy to die."-MS.]

And on the thought my words broke forth,

All incoherent as they were-
Their eloquence was little worth,
But yet she listen'd- 't is enough
Who listens once will listen twice;
Her heart, be sure, is not of ice,
And one refusal no rebuff.


"I loved, and was beloved again-
They tell me, Sire, you never knew
Those gentle frailties; if 't is true,

I shorten all my joy or pain;
To you 't would seem absurd as vain ;
But all men are not born to reign,
Or o'er their passions, or as you
Thus o'er themselves and nations too.
I am- or rather was a prince,

A chief of thousands, and could lead

Them on where each would foremost bleed;

But could not o'er myself evince
The like control - But to resume:
I loved, and was beloved again;

In sooth, it is a happy doom,

But yet where happiest ends in pain. —
We met in secret, and the hour
Which led me to that lady's bower
Was fiery Expectation's dower.

My days and nights were nothing - all
Except that hour which doth recall
In the long lapse from youth to age
No other like itself - I'd give
The Ukraine back again to live
It o'er once more- and be a page,
The happy page, who was the lord
Of one soft heart, and his own sword,
And had no other gem nor wealth
Save nature's gift of youth and health.
We met in secret-doubly sweet,
Some say, they find it so to meet;

I know not that I would have given
My life but to have call'd her mine
In the full view of earth and heaven;
For I did oft and long repine
That we could only meet by stealth.


"For lovers there are many eyes,

And such there were on us; - the devil
On such occasions should be civil-
The devil! I'm loth to do him wrong,
It might be some untoward saint,
Who would not be at rest too long,

But to his pious bile gave vent-
But one fair night, some lurking spies
Surprised and seized us both.

The Count was something more than wroth—

I was unarm'd; but if in steel,

All cap-à-pie from head to heel,

What 'gainst their numbers could I do?

"T was near his castle, far away

From city or from succour near,

And almost on the break of day;

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

I did not think to see another,

My moments seem'd reduced to few; And with one prayer to Mary Mother, And, it may be, a saint or two,

As I resign'd me to my fate,
They led me to the castle gate:

Theresa's doom I never knew,
Our lot was henceforth separate.
An angry man, ye may opine,
Was he, the proud Count Palatine;
And he had reason good to be,

But he was most enraged lest such
An accident should chance to touch
Upon his future pedigree;

Nor less amazed, that such a blot
His noble 'scutcheon should have got,
While he was highest of his line;

Because unto himself he seem'd
The first of men, nor less he deem'd
In others' eyes, and most in mine.
'Sdeath! with a page perchance a king
Had reconciled him to the thing;
But with a stripling of a page —
I felt

but cannot paint his rage.


""Bring forth the horse!'-the horse was brought;
In truth, he was a noble steed,
A Tartar of the Ukraine breed,

Who look'd as though the speed of thought
Were in his limbs; but he was wild,

Wild as the wild deer, and untaught,
With spur and bridle undefiled -

"T was but a day he had been caught;
And snorting, with erected mane,
And struggling fiercely, but in vain,
In the full foam of wrath and dread
To me the desert-born was led :
They bound me on, that menial throng,
Upon his back with many a thong ;
They loosed him with a sudden lash
Away! away!—and on we dash!
Torrents less rapid and less rash.


"Away!-away! - My breath was gone

I saw not where he hurried on :
"T was scarcely yet the break of day,
And on he foam'd-away!-away!
The last of human sounds which rose,
As I was darted from my foes,
Was the wild shout of savage laughter,
Which on the wind came roaring after
A moment from that rabble rout:
With sudden wrath I wrench'd my head,
And snapp'd the cord, which to the mane
Had bound my neck in lieu of rein,
And writhing half my form about,
Howl'd back my curse; but 'midst the tread,
The thunder of my courser's speed,
Perchance they did not hear nor heed:
It vexes me for I would fain

Have paid their insult back again.

I paid it well in after days:

There is not of that castle gate,

Its drawbridge and portcullis' weight,
Stone, bar, moat, bridge, or barrier left;

Nor of its fields a blade of grass,

Save what grows on a ridge of wall, Where stood the hearth-stone of the hall; And many a time ye there might pass, Nor dream that e'er that fortress was : I saw its turrets in a blaze,

Their crackling battlements all cleft,

And the hot lead pour down like rain From off the scorch'd and blackening roof, Whose thickness was not vengeance-proof. They little thought that day of pain, When launch'd, as on the lightning's flash, They bade me to destruction dash,

That one day I should come again,
With twice five thousand horse, to thank
The Count for his uncourteous ride.
They play'd me then a bitter prank,
When, with the wild horse for my guide,
They bound me to his foaming flank :
At length I play'd them one as frank
For time at last sets all things even-
And if we do but watch the hour,
There never yet was human power
Which could evade, if unforgiven,
The patient search and vigil long
Of him who treasures up a wrong.


"Away, away, my steed and I,

Upon the pinions of the wind,
All human dwellings left behind;
We sped like meteors through the sky,
When with its crackling sound the night
Is chequer'd with the northern light :
Town -

- village - none were on our track, But a wild plain of far extent,

And bounded by a forest black;

And, save the scarce seen battlement
On distant heights of some strong hold,
Against the Tartars built of old,
No trace of man. The year before
A Turkish army had march'd o'er ;
And where the Spahi's hoof hath trod,
The verdure flies the bloody sod: -
The sky was dull, and dim, and gray,
And a low breeze crept moaning by -
I could have answer'd with a sigh-
But fast we fled, away, away
And I could neither sigh nor pray;
And my cold sweat-drops fell like rain
Upon the courser's bristling mane;
But, snorting still with rage and fear,
He flew upon his far career :

At times I almost thought, indeed,
He must have slacken'd in his speed;
But no- - my bound and slender frame
Was nothing to his angry might,
And merely like a spur became :
Each motion which I made to free
My swoln limbs from their agony

Increas'd his fury and affright:

I tried my voice, 't was faint and low,
But yet he swerv'd as from a blow;
And, starting to each accent, sprang
As from a sudden trumpet's clang:
Meantime my cords were wet with gore,
Which, oozing through my limbs, ran o'er;

And in my tongue the thirst became A something filerier far than flame.


"We near'd the wild wood-'t was so wide, I saw no bounds on either side;

"T was studded with old sturdy trees,
That bent not to the roughest breeze
Which howls down from Siberia's waste,
And strips the forest in its haste, -

But these were few, and far between

Set thick with shrubs more young and green,
Luxuriant with their annual leaves,
Ere strown by those autumnal eves
That nip the forest's foliage dead,
Discolour'd with a lifeless red,
Which stands thereon like stiffen'd gore
Upon the slain when battle's o'er,
And some long winter's night hath shed
Its frost o'er every tombless head,
So cold and stark the raven's beak
May peck unpierced each frozen cheek:
"T was a wild waste of underwood,
And here and there a chestnut stood,
The strong oak, and the hardy pine;
But far apart and well it were,

Or else a different lot were mine

The boughs gave way, and did not tear My limbs; and I found strength to bear My wounds, already scarr'd with cold— My bonds forbade to loose my hold. We rustled through the leaves like wind, Left shrubs, and trees, and wolves behind; By night I heard them on the track, Their troop came hard upon our back, With their long gallop, which can tire The hound's deep hate, and hunter's fire : Where'er we flew they follow'd on, Nor left us with the morning sun; Behind I saw them, scarce a rood, At day-break winding through the wood, And through the night had heard their feet Their stealing, rustling step repeat. Oh how I wish'd for spear or sword, At least to die amidst the horde, And perish-if it must be soAt bay, destroying many a foe. When first my courser's race begun, I wish'd the goal already won; But now I doubted strength and speed. Vain doubt! his swift and savage breed Had nerved him like the mountain-roe; Nor faster falls the blinding snow Which whelms the peasant near the door Whose threshold he shall cross no more, Bewilder'd with the dazzling blast, Than through the forest-paths he pastUntired, untamed, and worse than wild; All furious as a favour'd child Balk'd of its wish; or fiercer stillA woman piqued-who has her will.


"The wood was past; 'twas more than noon, But chill the air, although in June;

[The reviewer already quoted says,-" As the Hetman proceeds, it strikes us there is a much closer resemblance to the fiery flow of Walter Scott's chivalrous narrative, than in

Or it might be my veins ran cold-
Prolong'd endurance tames the bold;
And I was then not what I seem,
But headlong as a wintry stream,
And wore my feelings out before
I well could count their causes o'er:
And what with fury, fear, and wrath,
The tortures which beset my path,
Cold, hunger, sorrow, shame, distress,
Thus bound in nature's nakedness;
Sprung from a race whose rising blood
When stirr'd beyond its calmer mood,
And trodden hard upon, is like
The rattle-snake's, in act to strike,
What marvel if this worn-out trunk
Beneath its woes a moment sunk?
The earth gave way, the skies roll'd round,
I seem'd to sink upon the ground;
But err'd, for I was fastly bound.
My heart turn'd sick, my brain grew sore,
And throbb'd awhile, then beat no more:
The skies spun like a mighty wheel;

I saw the trees like drunkards reel,
And a slight flash sprang o'er my eyes,
Which saw no farther: he who dies
Can die no more than then I died.
O'ertortured by that ghastly ride,

I felt the blackness come and go,

And strove to wake; but could not make My senses climb up from below:

I felt as on a plank at sea,

When all the waves that dash o'er thee,
At the same time upheave and whelm,
And hurl thee towards a desert realm.
My undulating life was as

The fancied lights that flitting pass
Our shut eyes in deep midnight, when
Fever begins upon the brain;
But soon it pass'd, with little pain,
But a confusion worse than such:
I own that I should deem it much,
Dying, to feel the same again;
And yet I do suppose we must
Feel far more ere we turn to dust:
No matter; I have bared my brow
Full in Death's face-before-and now. 1


"My thoughts came back; where was I? Cold,
And numb, and giddy: pulse by pulse
Life reassumed its lingering hold,
And throb by throb: till grown a pang

Which for a moment would convulse,
My blood reflow'd, though thick and chill;
My ear with uncouth noises rang,

My heart began once more to thrill; My sight return'd, though dim; alas! And thicken'd, as it were, with glass. Methought the dash of waves was nigh; There was a gleam too of the sky, Studded with stars; it is no dream; The wild horse swims the wilder stream! The bright broad river's gushing tide Sweeps, winding onward, far and wide,

any of Lord Byron's previous pieces. Nothing can be grander than the sweep and torrent of the horse's speed, and the slow, unwearied, indexible pursuit of the wolves."]

And we are half-way, struggling o'er
To yon unknown and silent shore.
The waters broke my hollow trance,
And with a temporary strength

My stiffen'd limbs were rebaptized.
My courser's broad breast proudly braves,
And dashes off the ascending waves,
And onward we advance!

We reach the slippery shore at length,
A haven I but little prized,
For all behind was dark and drear
And all before was night and fear.
How many hours of night or day
In those suspended pangs I lay,
I could not tell; I scarcely knew
If this were human breath I drew.


"With glossy skin, and dripping mane,

And reeling limbs, and reeking flank, The wild steed's sinewy nerves still strain Up the repelling bank.

We gain the top: a boundless plain
Spreads through the shadow of the night,
And onward, onward, onward, seems,
Like precipices in our dreams,
To stretch beyond the sight;
And here and there a speck of white,
Or scatter'd spot of dusky green,

In masses broke into the light,
As rose the moon upon my right.
But nought distinctly seen
In the dim waste would indicate
The omen of a cottage gate;
No twinkling taper from afar
Stood like a hospitable star;
Not even an ignis-fatuus rose
To make him merry with my woes:
That very cheat had cheer'd me then!
Although detected, welcome still,
Reminding me, through every ill,
Of the abodes of men.

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

"Up rose the sun; the mists were curl'd
Back from the solitary world
Which lay around-behind- before;
What booted it to traverse o'er
Plain, forest, river? Man nor brute,
Nor dint of hoof, nor print of foot,
Lay in the wild luxuriant soil;
No sign of travel-none of toil;
The very air was mute;

And not an insect's shrill small horn,
Nor matin bird's new voice was borne
From herb nor thicket. Many a werst,
Panting as if his heart would burst,
The weary brute still stagger'd on;
And still we were-or seem'd-alone :
At length, while reeling on our way,
Methought I heard a courser neigh,
From out yon tuft of blackening firs.
Is it the wind those branches stirs ?
No, no! from out the forest prance

A trampling troop; I see them come!
In one vast squadron they advance!

I strove to cry-my lips were dumb.
The steeds rush on in plunging pride;
But where are they the reins to guide?
A thousand horse- and none to ride!
With flowing tail, and flying mane,
Wide nostrils-never stretch'd by pain,
Mouths bloodless to the bit or rein,
And feet that iron never shod,
And flanks unscarr'd by spur or rod,
A thousand horse, the wild, the free,
Like waves that, follow o'er the sea,
Came thickly thundering on,
As if our faint approach to meet;
The sight re-nerved my courser's feet,
A moment staggering, feebly fleet,
A moment, with a faint low neigh,
He answer'd, and then fell ;
With gasps and glazing eyes he lay,
And reeking limbs immoveable,

His first and last career is done!
On came the troop- they saw him stoop,
They saw me strangely bound along

His back with many a bloody thong: They stop-they start- they snuff the air, Gallop a moment here and there, Approach, retire, wheel round and round, Then plunging back with sudden bound, Headed by one black mighty steed, Who seem'd the patriarch of his breed, Without a single speck or hair

Of white upon his shaggy hide;

They snort- they foam-neigh-swerve aside, And backward to the forest fly,

By instinct, from a human eye.

They left me there to my despair,

Link'd to the dead and stiffening wretch, Whose lifeless limbs beneath me stretch,

1[" Rose crimson, and forbad the stars

To sparkle in their radiant cars."- MS.]

« PreviousContinue »