The Serfs are glad through Lara's wide domain,  And slavery half forgets her feudal chain; He, their unhoped, but unforgotten lord — The long self-exiled chieftain is restored: There be bright faces in the busy hall, Bowls on the board, and banners on the wall; Far chequering o'er the pictured window, plays The unwonted fagots' hospitable blaze; And gay retainers gather round the hearth, With tongues all loudness, and with eyes all mirth.
The chief of Lara is return'd again: And why had Lara cross'd the bounding main? Left by his sire, too young such loss to know, Lord of himself; — that heritage of woe, That fearful empire which the human breast But holds to rob the heart within of rest! — With none to check, and few to point in time The thousand paths that slope the way to crime; Then, when he most required commandment, then Had Lara's daring boyhood govern'd men. It skills not, boots not, step by step to trace His youth through all the mazes of its race; Short was the course his restlessness had run, But long enough to leave him half undone.
And Lara left in youth his fatherland; But from the hour he waved his parting hand Each trace wax'd fainter of his course, till all Had nearly ceased his memory to recall. His sire was dust, his vassals could declare, 'Twas all they knew, that Lara was not there; Nor sent, nor came he, till conjecture grew Cold in the many, anxious in the few. His hall scarce echoes with his wonted name, His portrait darkens in its fading frame, Another chief consoled his destined bride, The young forgot him, and the old had died; "Yet doth he live!" exclaims the impatient heir, And sighs for sables which he must not wear. A hundred scutcheons deck with gloomy grace The Laras' last and longest dwelling-place; But one is absent from the mouldering file, That now were welcome to that Gothic pile.
He comes at last in sudden loneliness, And whence they know not, why they need not guess; They more might marvel, when the greeting's o'er, Not that he came, but came not long before: No train is his beyond a single page, Of foreign aspect, and of tender age. Years had roll'd on, and fast they speed away To those that wander as to those that stay; But lack of tidings from another clime Had lent a flagging wing to weary Time. They see, they recognise, yet almost deem The present dubious, or the past a dream.
He lives, nor yet is past his manhood's prime, Though sear'd by toil, and something touch'd by time; His faults, whate'er they were, if scarce forgot, Might be untaught him by his varied lot; Nor good nor ill of late were known, his name Might yet uphold his patrimonial fame. His soul in youth was haughty, but his sins No more than pleasure from the stripling wins; And such, if not yet harden'd in their course, Might be redeem'd, nor ask a long remorse.
And they indeed were changed — 'tis quickly seen, Whate'er he be, 'twas not what he had been: That brow in furrow'd lines had fix'd at last, And spake of passions, but of passion past; The pride, but not the fire, of early days, Coldness of mien, and carelessness of praise; A high demeanour, and a glance that took Their thoughts from others by a single look; And that sarcastic levity of tongue, The stinging of a heart the world hath stung, That darts in seeming playfulness around, And makes those feel that will not own the wound: All these seem'd his, and something more beneath Than glance could well reveal, or accent breathe. Ambition, glory, love, the common aim That some can conquer, and that all would claim, Within his breast appear'd no more to strive, Yet seem'd as lately they had been alive; And some deep feeling it were vain to trace At moments lighten'd o'er his livid face.
Not much he loved long question of the past, Nor told of wondrous wilds, and deserts vast, In those far lands where he had wander'd lone, And — as himself would have it seem — unknown: Yet these in vain his eye could scarcely scan, Nor glean experience from his fellow-man; But what he had beheld he shunn'd to show, As hardly worth a stranger's care to know; If still more prying such inquiry grew, His brow fell darker, and his words more few.
Not unrejoiced to see him once again, Warm was his welcome to the haunts of men; Born of high lineage, link'd in high command, He mingled with the magnates of his land; Join'd the carousals of the great and gay, And saw them smile or sigh their hours away; But still he only saw, and did not share The common pleasure or the general care; He did not follow what they all pursued, With hope still baffled, still to be renew'd; Nor shadowy honour, nor substantial gain, Nor beauty's preference, and the rival's pain: Around him some mysterious circle thrown Repell'd approach, and showed him still alone; Upon his eye sate something of reproof, That kept at least frivolity aloof; And things more timid that beheld him near, In silence gazed, or whisper'd mutual fear; And they the wiser, friendlier few confess'd They deem'd him better than his air express'd.
'Twas strange — in youth all action and all life, Burning for pleasure, not averse from strife; Woman — the field — the ocean — all that gave Promise of gladness, peril of a grave, In turn he tried — he ransack'd all below, And found his recompence in joy or woe, No tame, trite medium; for his feelings sought In that intenseness an escape from thought: The tempest of his heart in scorn had gazed On that the feebler elements hath raised; The rapture of his heart had look'd on high, And ask'd if greater dwelt beyond the sky: Chain'd to excess, the slave of each extreme, How woke he from the wildness of that dream? Alas! he told not — but he did awake To curse the wither'd heart that would not break.
Books, for his volume heretofore was Man, With eye more curious he appear'd to scan, And oft, in sudden mood, for many a day From all communion he would start away: And then, his rarely call'd attendants said, Through night's long hours would sound his hurried tread O'er the dark gallery, where his fathers frown'd In rude but antique portraiture around. They heard, but whisper'd — "/that/ must not be known — The sound of words less earthly than his own. Yes, they who chose might smile, but some had seen They scarce knew what, but more than should have been. Why gazed he so upon the ghastly head Which hands profane had gather'd from the dead, That still beside his open'd volume lay, As if to startle all save him away? Why slept he not when others were at rest? Why heard no music, and received no guest? All was not well, they deem'd — but where the wrong? Some knew perchance — but 'twere a tale too long; And such besides were too discreetly wise, To more than hint their knowledge in surmise; But if they would — they could" — around the board, Thus Lara's vassals prattled of their lord.
It was the night — and Lara's glassy stream The stars are studding, each with imaged beam: So calm, the waters scarcely seem to stray, And yet they glide like happiness away; Reflecting far and fairy-like from high The immortal lights that live along the sky: Its banks are fringed with many a goodly tree, And flowers the fairest that may feast the bee; Such in her chaplet infant Dian wove, And Innocence would offer to her love. These deck the shore; the waves their channel make In windings bright and mazy like the snake. All was so still, so soft in earth and air, You scarce would start to meet a spirit there; Secure that nought of evil could delight To walk in such a scene, on such a night! It was a moment only for the good: So Lara deem'd, nor longer there he stood, But turn'd in silence to his castle-gate; Such scene his soul no more could contemplate. Such scene reminded him of other days, Of skies more cloudless, moons of purer blaze, Of nights more soft and frequent, hearts that now — No — no — the storm may beat upon his brow, Unfelt — unsparing — but a night like this, A night of beauty mock'd such breast as his.
He turn'd within his solitary hall, And his high shadow shot along the wall; There were the painted forms of other times, 'Twas all they left of virtues or of crimes, Save vague tradition; and the gloomy vaults That hid their dust, their foibles, and their faults; And half a column of the pompous page, That speeds the specious tale from age to age: When history's pen its praise or blame supplies, And lies like truth, and still most truly lies. He wandering mused, and as the moonbeam shone Through the dim lattice o'er the floor of stone, And the high fretted roof, and saints, that there O'er Gothic windows knelt in pictured prayer, Reflected in fantastic figures grew, Like life, but not like mortal life, to view; His bristling locks of sable, brow of gloom, And the wide waving of his shaken plume, Glanced like a spectre's attributes, and gave His aspect all that terror gives the grave.
'Twas midnight — all was slumber; the lone light Dimm'd in the lamp, as loth to break the night. Hark! there be murmurs heard in Lara's hall — A sound — voice — a shriek — a fearful call! A long, loud shriek — and silence — did they hear That frantic echo burst the sleeping ear? They heard and rose, and tremulously brave Rush where the sound invoked their aid to save; They come with half-lit tapers in their hands, And snatch'd in startled haste unbelted brands.
Cold as the marble where his length was laid, Pale as the beam that o'er his features play'd, Was Lara stretch'd; his half-drawn sabre near, Dropp'd it should seem in more than nature's fear; Yet he was firm, or had been firm till now, And still defiance knit his gather'd brow; Though mix'd with terror, senseless as he lay, There lived upon his lip the wish to slay; Some half-form'd threat in utterance there had died, Some imprecation of despairing pride; His eye was almost seal'd, but not forsook Even in its trance the gladiator's look, That oft awake his aspect could disclose, And now was fix'd in horrible repose. They raise him — bear him: hush! he breathes, he speaks! The swarthy blush recolours in his cheeks, His lip resumes its red, his eye, though dim, Rolls wide and wild, each slowly quivering limb Recalls its function, but his words are strung In terms that seem not of his native tongue; Distinct but strange, enough they understand To deem them accents of another land, And such they were, and meant to meet an ear That hears him not — alas! that cannot hear!
His page approach'd, and he alone appear'd To know the import of the words they heard; And by the changes of his cheek and brow They were not such as Lara should avow, Nor he interpret, yet with less surprise Than those around their chieftain's state he eyes, But Lara's prostrate form he bent beside, And in that tongue which seem'd his own replied, And Lara heeds those tones that gently seem To soothe away the horrors of his dream; If dream it were, that thus could overthrow A breast that needed not ideal woe.
Whate'er his frenzy dream'd or eye beheld, If yet remember'd ne'er to be reveal'd, Rests at his heart: the custom'd morning came, And breathed new vigour in his shaking frame; And solace sought he none from priest nor leech, And soon the same in movement and in speech As heretofore he fill'd the passing hours, Nor less he smiles, nor more his forehead lours Than these were wont; and if the coming night Appear'd less welcome now to Lara's sight, He to his marvelling vassals shew'd it not, Whose shuddering proved /their/ fear was less forgot. In trembling pairs (alone they dared not) crawl The astonish'd slaves, and shun the fated hall; The waving banner, and the clapping door; The rustling tapestry, and the echoing floor; The long dim shadows of surrounding trees, The flapping bat, the night song of the breeze; Aught they behold or hear their thought appals As evening saddens o'er the dark gray walls.
Vain thought! that hour of ne'er unravell'd gloom Came not again, or Lara could assume A seeming of forgetfulness that made His vassals more amazed nor less afraid — Had memory vanish'd then with sense restored? Since word, nor look, nor gesture of their lord Betray'd a feeling that recall'd to these That fever'd moment of his mind's disease. Was it a dream? was his the voice that spoke Those strange wild accents; his the cry that broke Their slumber? his the oppress'd o'er-labour'd heart That ceased to beat, the look that made them start? Could he who thus had suffer'd, so forget When such as saw that suffering shudder yet? Or did that silence prove his memory fix'd Too deep for words, indelible, unmix'd In that corroding secresy which gnaws The heart to shew the effect, but not the cause? Not so in him; his breast had buried both, Nor common gazers could discern the growth Of thoughts that mortal lips must leave half told; They choke the feeble words that would unfold.
In him inexplicably mix'd appear'd Much to be loved and hated, sought and fear'd; Opinion varying o'er his hidden lot, In praise or railing ne'er his name forgot; His silence form'd a theme for others' prate — They guess'd — they gazed — they fain would know his fate. What had he been? what was he, thus unknown, Who walk'd their world, his lineage only known? A hater of his kind? yet some would say, With them he could seem gay amidst the gay; But own'd that smile, if oft observed and near, Waned in its mirth and wither'd to a sneer; That smile might reach his lip, but pass'd not by, None e'er could trace its laughter to his eye: Yet there was softness too in his regard, At times, a heart as not by nature hard, But once perceived, his spirit seem'd to chide Such weakness, as unworthy of its pride, And steel'd itself, as scorning to redeem One doubt from others' half withheld esteem; In self-inflicted penance of a breast Which tenderness might once have wrung from rest; In vigilance of grief that would compel The soul to hate for having loved too well.
There was in him a vital scorn of all: As if the worst had fall'n which could befall, He stood a stranger in this breathing world, An erring spirit from another hurled; A thing of dark imaginings, that shaped By choice the perils he by chance escaped; But 'scaped in vain, for in their memory yet His mind would half exult and half regret: With more capacity for love than earth Bestows on most of mortal mould and birth, His early dreams of good outstripp'd the truth, And troubled manhood follow'd baffled youth; With thought of years in phantom chase misspent, And wasted powers for better purpose lent; And fiery passions that had pour'd their wrath In hurried desolation o'er his path, And left the better feelings all at strife In wild reflection o'er his stormy life; But haughty still, and loth himself to blame, He call'd on Nature's self to share the shame, And charged all faults upon the fleshly form She gave to clog the soul, and feast the worm; 'Till he at last confounded good and ill, And half mistook for fate the acts of will: Too high for common selfishness, he could At times resign his own for others' good, But not in pity, not because he ought, But in some strange perversity of thought, That sway'd him onward with a secret pride To do what few or none would do beside; And this same impulse would, in tempting time, Mislead his spirit equally to crime; So much he soar'd beyond, or sunk beneath The men with whom he felt condemn'd to breathe, And long'd by good or ill to separate Himself from all who shared his mortal state; His mind abhorring this had fix'd her throne Far from the world, in regions of her own; Thus coldly passing all that pass'd below, His blood in temperate seeming now would flow: Ah! happier if it ne'er with guilt had glow'd, But ever in that icy smoothness flow'd: 'Tis true, with other men their path he walk'd, And like the rest in seeming did and talk'd, Nor outraged Reason's rules by flaw nor start, His madness was not of the head, but heart; And rarely wander'd in his speech, or drew His thoughts so forth as to offend the view.
With all that chilling mystery of mien, And seeming gladness to remain unseen, He had (if 'twere not nature's boon) an art Of fixing memory on another's heart: It was not love, perchance — nor hate — nor aught That words can image to express the thought; But they who saw him did not see in vain, And once beheld, would ask of him again: And those to whom he spake remember'd well, And on the words, however light, would dwell. None knew nor how, nor why, but he entwined Himself perforce around the hearer's mind; There he was stamp'd, in liking, or in hate, If greeted once; however brief the date That friendship, pity, or aversion knew, Still there within the inmost thought he grew. You could not penetrate his soul, but found Despite your wonder, to your own he wound. His presence haunted still; and from the breast He forced an all-unwilling interest; Vain was the struggle in that mental net, His spirit seem'd to dare you to forget!
There is a festival, where knights and dames, And aught that wealth or lofty lineage claims, Appear — a high-born and a welcomed guest To Otho's hall came Lara with the rest. The long carousal shakes the illumined hall, Well speeds alike the banquet and the ball; And the gay dance of bounding Beauty's train Links grace and harmony in happiest chain: Blest are the early hearts and gentle hands That mingle there in well according bands; It is a sight the careful brow might smooth, And make Age smile, and dream itself to youth, And Youth forget such hour was pass'd on earth, So springs the exulting bosom to that mirth!
And Lara gazed on these sedately glad, His brow belied him if his soul was sad, And his glance follow'd fast each fluttering fair, Whose steps of lightness woke no echo there: He lean'd against the lofty pillar nigh With folded arms and long attentive eye, Nor mark'd a glance so sternly fix'd on his, Ill brook'd high Lara scrutiny like this: At length he caught it, 'tis a face unknown, But seems as searching his, and his alone; Prying and dark, a stranger's by his mien, Who still till now had gazed on him unseen; At length encountering meets the mutual gaze Of keen inquiry, and of mute amaze; On Lara's glance emotion gathering grew, As if distrusting that the stranger threw; Along the stranger's aspect fix'd and stern Flash'd more than thence the vulgar eye could learn.
"'Tis he!" the stranger cried, and those that heard Re-echo'd fast and far the whisper'd word. "'Tis he!" — "'Tis who?" they question far and near, Till louder accents rang on Lara's ear; So widely spread, few bosoms well could brook The general marvel, or that single look; But Lara stirr'd not, changed not, the surprise That sprung at first to his arrested eyes Seem'd now subsided, neither sunk nor raised Glanced his eye round, though still the stranger gazed; And drawing nigh, exclaim'd, with haughty sneer, "'Tis he! — how came he thence? — what doth he here?"
It were too much for Lara to pass by Such question, so repeated fierce and high; With look collected, but with accent cold, More mildly firm than petulantly bold, He turn'd, and met the inquisitorial tone — "My name is Lara! — when thine own is known, Doubt not my fitting answer to requite The unlook'd for courtesy of such a knight. 'Tis Lara! — further wouldst thou mark or ask? I shun no question, and I wear no mask." "Thou shunn'st no question! Ponder — is there none Thy heart must answer, though thine ear would shun? And deem'st thou me unknown too? Gaze again! At least thy memory was not given in vain. Oh! never canst thou cancel half her debt, Eternity forbids thee to forget." With slow and searching glance upon his face Grew Lara's eyes, but nothing there could trace They knew, or chose to know — with dubious look He deign'd no answer, but his head he shook, And half contemptuous turn'd to pass away; But the stern stranger motion'd him to stay. "A word! — I charge thee stay, and answer here To one, who, wert thou noble, were thy peer, But as thou wast and art — nay, frown not, lord, If false, 'tis easy to disprove the word — But as thou wast and art, on thee looks down, Distrusts thy smiles, but shakes not at thy frown. Art thou not he? whose deeds — "
"Whate'er I be, Words wild as these, accusers like to thee, I list no further; those with whom they weigh May hear the rest, nor venture to gainsay The wondrous tale no doubt thy tongue can tell, Which thus begins courteously and well. Let Otho cherish here his polish'd guest, To him my thanks and thoughts shall be express'd." And here their wondering host hath interposed — "Whate'er there be between you undisclosed, This is no time nor fitting place to mar The mirthful meeting with a wordy war. If thou, Sir Ezzelin, hast ought to show Which it befits Count Lara's ear to know, To-morrow, here, or elsewhere, as may best Beseem your mutual judgment, speak the rest; I pledge myself for thee, as not unknown, Though, like Count Lara, now return'd alone From other lands, almost a stranger grown; And if from Lara's blood and gentle birth I augur right of courage and of worth, He will not that untainted line belie, Nor aught that knighthood may accord deny." "To-morrow be it," Ezzelin replied, "And here our several worth and truth be tried: I gage my life, my falchion to attest My words, so may I mingle with the blest!"
What answers Lara? to its centre shrunk His soul, in deep abstraction sudden sunk; The words of many, and the eyes of all That there were gather'd, seem'd on him to fall; But his were silent, his appear'd to stray In far forgetfulness away — away — Alas! that heedlessness of all around Bespoke remembrance only too profound.
"To-morrow! — ay, to-morrow!" — further word Than those repeated none from Lara heard; Upon his brow no outward passion spoke, From his large eye no flashing anger broke; Yet there was something fix'd in that low tone Which shew'd resolve, determined, though unknown. He seized his cloak — his head he slightly bow'd, And passing Ezzelin he left the crowd; And as he pass'd him, smiling met the frown With which that chieftain's brow would bear him down: It was nor smile of mirth, nor struggling pride That curbs to scorn the wrath it cannot hide; But that of one in his own heart secure Of all that he would do, or could endure. Could this mean peace? the calmness of the good? Or guilt grown old in desperate hardihood? Alas! too like in confidence are each For man to trust to mortal look or speech; From deeds, and deeds alone, may he discern Truths which it wrings the unpractised heart to learn.
And Lara call'd his page, and went his way — Well could that stripling word or sign obey: His only follower from those climes afar Where the soul glows beneath a brighter star; For Lara left the shore from whence he sprung, In duty patient, and sedate though young; Silent as him he served, his fate appears Above his station, and beyond his years. Though not unknown the tongue of Lara's land, In such from him he rarely heard command; But fleet his step, and clear his tones would come, When Lara's lip breathed forth the words of home: Those accents, as his native mountains dear, Awake their absent echoes in his ear, Friends', kindreds', parents', wonted voice recall, Now lost, abjured, for one — his friend, his all: For him earth now disclosed no other guide; What marvel then he rarely left his side?
Light was his form, and darkly delicate That brow whereon his native sun had sate, But had not marr'd, though in his beams he grew, The cheek where oft the unbidden blush shone through; Yet not such blush as mounts when health would show All the heart's hue in that delighted glow; But 'twas a hectic tint of secret care That for a burning moment fever'd there; And the wild sparkle of his eye seem'd caught From high, and lighten'd with electric thought, Though its black orb those long low lashes' fringe Had temper'd with a melancholy tinge; Yet less of sorrow than of pride was there, Or, if 'twere grief, a grief that none should share: And pleased not him the sports that please his age, The tricks of youth, the frolics of the page; For hours on Lara he would fix his glance, As all-forgotten in that watchful trance; And from his chief withdrawn, he wander'd lone, Brief were his answers, and his questions none; His walk the wood, his sport some foreign book; His resting-place the bank that curbs the brook; He seem'd, like him he served, to live apart From all that lures the eye, and fills the heart; To know no brotherhood; and take from earth No gift beyond that bitter boon — our birth.
If aught he loved, 'twas Lara; but was shown His faith in reverence and in deeds alone; In mute attention; and his care, which guess'd Each wish, fulfill'd it ere the tongue express'd. Still there was haughtiness in all he did, A spirit deep that brook'd not to be chid; His zeal, though more than that of servile hands, In act alone obeys, his air commands; As if 'twas Lara's less than /his/ desire That thus he served, but surely not for hire. Slight were the tasks enjoin'd him by his lord, To hold the stirrup, or to bear the sword; To tune his lute, or, if he will'd it more, On tomes of other times and tongues to pore; But ne'er to mingle with the menial train, To whom he shew'd not deference nor disdain, But that well-worn reserve which proved he knew No sympathy with that familiar crew: His soul, whate'er his station or his stem, Could bow to Lara, not descend to them. Of higher birth he seem'd, and better days, Nor mark of vulgar toil that hand betrays, So femininely white it might bespeak Another sex, when match'd with that smooth cheek, But for his garb, and something in his gaze, More wild and high than woman's eye betrays; A latent fierceness that far more became His fiery climate than his tender frame: True, in his words it broke not from his breast, But from his aspect might be more than guess'd. Kaled his name, though rumour said he bore Another ere he left his mountain shore; For sometimes he would hear, however nigh, That name repeated loud without reply, As unfamiliar, or, if roused again, Start to the sound, as but remember'd then; Unless 'twas Lara's wonted voice that spake, For then, ear, eyes, and heart would all awake.
He had look'd down upon the festive hall, And mark'd that sudden strife so mark'd of all; And when the crowd around and near him told Their wonder at the calmness of the bold, Their marvel how the high-born Lara bore Such insult from a stranger, doubly sore, The colour of young Kaled went and came, The lip of ashes, and the cheek of flame; And o'er his brow the dampening heart-drops threw The sickening iciness of that cold dew That rises as the busy bosom sinks With heavy thoughts from which reflection shrinks. Yes — there be things which we must dream and dare And execute ere thought be half aware: Whate'er might Kaled's be, it was enow To seal his lip, but agonise his brow. He gazed on Ezzelin till Lara cast That sidelong smile upon on the knight he pass'd; When Kaled saw that smile his visage fell, As if on something recognised right well; His memory read in such a meaning more Than Lara's aspect unto others wore. Forward he sprung — a moment, both were gone, And all within that hall seem'd left alone; Each had so fix'd his eye on Lara's mien, All had so mix'd their feelings with that scene, That when his long dark shadow through the porch No more relieves the glare of yon high torch, Each pulse beats quicker, and all bosoms seem To bound as doubting from too black a dream, Such as we know is false, yet dread in sooth, Because the worst is ever nearest truth. And they are gone — but Ezzelin is there, With thoughtful visage and imperious air; But long remain'd not; ere an hour expired He waved his hand to Otho, and retired.
The crowd are gone, the revellers at rest; The courteous host, and all-approving guest, Again to that accustom'd couch must creep Where joy subsides, and sorrow sighs to sleep, And man, o'erlabour'd with his being's strife, Shrinks to that sweet forgetfulness of life: There lie love's feverish hope. and cunning's guile, Hate's working brain and lull'd ambition's wile; O'er each vain eye oblivion's pinions wave, And quench'd existence crouches in a grave. What better name may slumber's bed become? Night's sepulchre, the universal home, Where weakness, strength, vice, virtue, sunk supine, Alike in naked helplessness recline; Glad for awhile to heave unconscious breath, Yet wake to wrestle with the dread of death, And shun, though day but dawn on ills increased, That sleep, the loveliest, since it dreams the least.
CANTO THE SECOND.
Night wanes — the vapours round the mountains curl'd, Melt into morn, and Light awakes the world. Man has another day to swell the past, And lead him near to little, but his last; But mighty Nature bounds as from her birth, The sun is in the heavens, and life on earth; Flowers in the valley, splendour in the beam, Health on the gale, and freshness in the stream. Immortal man! behold her glories shine, And cry, exulting inly, "They are thine!" Gaze on, while yet thy gladden'd eye may see, A morrow comes when they are not for thee; And grieve what may above thy senseless bier, Nor earth nor sky will yield a single tear; Nor cloud shall gather more, nor leaf shall fall, Nor gale breathe forth one sigh for thee, for all; But creeping things shall revel in their spoil, And fit thy clay to fertilise the soil.
'Tis morn — 'tis noon — assembled in the hall, The gather'd chieftains come to Otho's call: 'Tis now the promised hour, that must proclaim The life or death of Lara's future fame; When Ezzelin his charge may here unfold, And whatsoe'er the tale, it must be told. His faith was pledged, and Lara's promise given, To meet it in the eye of man and Heaven. Why comes he not? Such truths to be divulged, Methinks the accuser's rest is long indulged.
The hour is past, and Lara too is there, With self-confiding, coldly patient air; Why comes not Ezzelin? The hour is past, And murmurs rise, and Otho's brow's o'ercast, "I know my friend! his faith I cannot fear, If yet he be on earth, expect him here; The roof that held him in the valley stands Between my own and noble Lara's lands; My halls from such a guest had honour gain'd, Nor had Sir Ezzelin his host disdain'd, But that some previous proof forbade his stay, And urged him to prepare against to-day; The word I pledge for his I pledge again, Or will myself redeem his knighthood's stain."
He ceased — and Lara answer'd, "I am here To lend at thy demand a listening ear, To tales of evil from a stranger's tongue, Whose words already might my heart have wrung, But that I deem'd him scarcely less than mad, Or, at the worst, a foe ignobly bad. I know him not — but me it seems he knew In lands where — but I must not trifle too: Produce this babbler — or redeem the pledge; Here in thy hold, and with thy falchion's edge."
Proud Otho on the instant, reddening, threw His glove on earth, and forth his sabre flew. "The last alternative befits me best, And thus I answer for mine absent guest."
With cheek unchanging from its sallow gloom, However near his own or other's tomb; With hand, whose almost careless coolness spoke Its grasp well-used to deal the sabre-stroke; With eye, though calm, determined not to spare, Did Lara too his willing weapon bare. In vain the circling chieftains round them closed, For Otho's frenzy would not be opposed; And from his lip those words of insult fell — His sword is good who can maintain them well.
Short was the conflict; furious, blindly rash, Vain Otho gave his bosom to the gash: He bled, and fell; but not with deadly wound, Stretch'd by a dextrous sleight along the ground. "Demand thy life!" He answer'd not: and then From that red floor he ne'er had risen again, For Lara's brow upon the moment grew Almost to blackness in its demon hue; And fiercer shook his angry falchion now Than when his foe's was levell'd at his brow; Then all was stern collectedness and art, Now rose the unleaven'd hatred of his heart; So little sparing to the foe he fell'd, That when the approaching crowd his arm withheld He almost turn'd the thirsty point on those Who thus for mercy dared to interpose; But to a moment's thought that purpose bent; Yet look'd he on him still with eye intent, As if he loathed the ineffectual strife That left a foe, howe'er o'erthrown, with life; As if to search how far the wound he gave Had sent its victim onward to his grave.
They raised the bleeding Otho, and the Leech Forbade all present question, sign, and speech; The others met within a neighbouring hall, And he, incensed and heedless of them all, The cause and conqueror in this sudden fray, In haughty silence slowly strode away; He back'd his steed, his homeward path he took, Nor cast on Otho's tower a single look.
But where was he? that meteor of a night, Who menaced but to disappear with light. Where was this Ezzelin? who came and went To leave no other trace of his intent. He left the dome of Otho long ere morn, In darkness, yet so well the path was worn He could not miss it: near his dwelling lay; But there he was not, and with coming day Came fast inquiry, which unfolded nought Except the absence of the chief it sought. A chamber tenantless, a steed at rest, His host alarm'd, his murmuring squires distress'd: Their search extends along, around the path, In dread to met the marks of prowlers' wrath: But none are there, and not a brake hath borne Nor gout of blood, nor shred of mantle torn; Nor fall nor struggle hath defaced the grass, Which still retains a mark where murder was; Nor dabbling fingers left to tell the tale, The bitter print of each convulsive nail, When agonised hands that cease to guard, Wound in that pang the smoothness of the sward. Some such had been, if here a life was reft, But these were not; and doubting hope is left; And strange suspicion, whispering Lara's name, Now daily mutters o'er his blacken'd fame; Then sudden silent when his form appear'd, Awaits the absence of the thing it fear'd; Again its wonted wondering to renew, And dye conjecture with a darker hue.
Days roll along, and Otho's wounds are heal'd, But not his pride; and hate no more conceal'd: He was a man of power, and Lara's foe, The friend of all who sought to work him woe, And from his country's justice now demands Account of Ezzelin at Lara's hands. Who else than Lara could have cause to fear His presence? who had made him disappear, If not the man on whom his menaced charge Had sate too deeply were he left at large? The general rumour ignorantly loud, The mystery dearest to the curious crowd; The seeming friendlessness of him who strove To win no confidence, and wake no love; The sweeping fierceness which his soul betray'd, The skill with which he wielded his keen blade; Where had his arm unwarlike caught that art? Where had that fierceness grown upon his heart? For it was not the blind capricious rage A word can kindle and a word assuage; But the deep working of a soul unmix'd With aught of pity where its wrath had fix'd; Such as long power and overgorged success Concentrates into all that's merciless: These, link'd with that desire which ever sways Mankind, the rather to condemn than praise, 'Gainst Lara gathering raised at length a storm, Such as himself might fear, and foes would form, And he must answer for the absent head Of one that haunts him still, alive or dead.
Within that land was many a malcontent, Who cursed the tyranny to which he bent; That soil full many a wringing despot saw, Who work'd his wantonness in form of law; Long war without and frequent broil within Had made a path for blood and giant sin, That waited but a signal to begin New havoc, such as civil discord blends, Which knows no neuter, owns but foes or friends; Fix'd in his feudal fortress each was lord, In word and deed obey'd, in soul abhorr'd. Thus Lara had inherited his lands, And with them pining hearts and sluggish hands; But that long absence from his native clime Had left him stainless of oppression's crime, And now, diverted by his milder sway, All dread by slow degrees had worn away; The menials felt their usual awe alone, But more for him than them that fear was grown; They deem'd him now unhappy, though at first Their evil judgment augur'd of the worst, And each long restless night, and silent mood, Was traced to sickness, fed by solitude: And though his lonely habits threw of late Gloom o'er his chamber, cheerful was his gate; For thence the wretched ne'er unsoothed withdrew, For them, at least, his soul compassion knew. Cold to the great, contemptuous to the high, The humble pass'd not his unheeding eye; Much he would speak not, but beneath his roof They found asylum oft, and ne'er reproof. And they who watch'd might mark that, day by day, Some new retainers gather'd to his sway; But most of late, since Ezzelin was lost, He play'd the courteous lord and bounteous host: Perchance his strife with Otho made him dread Some snare prepared for his obnoxious head; Whate'er his view, his favour more obtains With these, the people, than his fellow thanes. If this were policy, so far 'twas sound, The million judged but of him as they found; From him by sterner chiefs to exile driven They but required a shelter, and 'twas given. By him no peasant mourn'd his rifled cot, And scarce the serf could murmur o'er his lot; With him old avarice found its hoard secure, With him contempt forbore to mock the poor; Youth present cheer and promised recompense Detain'd, till all too late to part from thence: To hate he offer'd, with the coming change, The deep reversion of delay'd revenge; To love, long baffled by the unequal match, The well-won charms success was sure to snatch. All now was ripe, he waits but to proclaim That slavery nothing which was still a name. The moment came, the hour when Otho thought Secure at last the vengeance which he sought His summons found the destined criminal Begirt by thousands in his swarming hall, Fresh from their feudal fetters newly riven, Defying earth, and confident of heaven. That morning he had freed the soil-bound slaves Who dig no land for tyrants but their graves! Such is their cry — some watchword for the fight Must vindicate the wrong, and warp the right; Religion — freedom — vengeance — what you will, A word's enough to raise mankind to kill; Some factious phrase by cunning caught and spread, That guilt may reign, and wolves and worms be fed!
Throughout that clime the feudal chiefs had gain'd Such sway, their infant monarch hardly reign'd; Now was the hour for faction's rebel growth, The serfs contemn'd the one, and hated both: They waited but a leader, and they found One to their cause inseparably bound; By circumstance compell'd to plunge again, In self-defence, amidst the strife of men. Cut off by some mysterious fate from those Whom birth and nature meant not for his foes, Had Lara from that night, to him accurst, Prepared to meet, but not alone, the worst: Some reason urged, whate'er it was, to shun Inquiry into deeds at distance done; By mingling with his own the cause of all, E'en if he fail'd, he still delay'd his fall. The sullen calm that long his bosom kept, The storm that once had spent itself and slept, Roused by events that seem'd foredoom'd to urge His gloomy fortunes to their utmost verge, Burst forth, and made him all he once had been, And is again; he only changed the scene. Light care had he for life, and less for fame, But not less fitted for the desperate game: He deem'd himself mark'd out for others' hate, And mock'd at ruin, so they shared his fate. What cared he for the freedom of the crowd? He raised the humble but to bend the proud. He had hoped quiet in his sullen lair, But man and destiny beset him there: Inured to hunters, he was found at bay; And they must kill, they cannot snare the prey. Stern, unambitious, silent he had been Henceforth a calm spectator of life's scene; But dragg'd again upon the arena, stood A leader not unequal to the feud; In voice — mien — gesture — savage nature spoke, And from his eye the gladiator broke.
What boots the oft-repeated tale of strife, The feast of vultures, and the waste of life? The varying fortune of each separate field, The fierce that vanquish, and the faint that yield? The smoking ruin, and the crumbled wall? In this the struggle was the same with all; Save that distemper'd passions lent their force In bitterness that banish'd all remorse. None sued, for Mercy know her cry was vain, The captive died upon the battle-slain: In either cause, one rage alone possess'd The empire of the alternate victor's breast; And they that smote for freedom or for sway, Deem'd few were slain, while more remain'd to slay. It was too late to check the wasting brand, And Desolation reap'd the famish'd land; The torch was lighted, and the flame was spread, And Carnage smiled upon her daily bread.
Fresh with the nerve the new-born impulse strung, The first success to Lara's numbers clung: But that vain victory hath ruin'd all; They form no longer to their leader's call: In blind confusion on the foe they press, And think to snatch is to secure success. The lust of booty, and the thirst of hate, Lure on the broken brigands to their fate: In vain he doth whate'er a chief may do, To check the headlong fury of that crew, In vain their stubborn ardour he would tame, The hand that kindles cannot quench the flame. The wary foe alone hath turn'd their mood, And shewn their rashness to that erring brood: The feign'd retreat, the nightly ambuscade, The daily harass, and the fight delay'd, The long privation of the hoped supply, The tentless rest beneath the humid sky, The stubborn wall that mocks the leaguer's art, And palls the patience of his baffled heart, Of these they had not deem'd: the battle-day They could encounter as a veteran may; But more preferr'd the fury of the strife, And present death, to hourly suffering life: And famine wrings, and fever sweeps away His numbers melting fast from their array; Intemperate triumph fades to discontent, And Lara's soul alone seems still unbent: But few remain to aid his voice and hand, And thousands dwindled to a scanty band: Desperate, though few, the last and best remain'd To mourn the discipline they late disdain'd. One hope survives, the frontier is not far, And thence they may escape from native war; And bear within them to the neighbouring state An exile's sorrows, or an outlaw's hate: Hard is the task their fatherland to quit, But harder still to perish or submit.
It is resolved — they march — consenting Night Guides with her star their dim and torchless flight; Already they perceive its tranquil beam Sleep on the surface of the barrier stream; Already they descry — Is yon the bank? Away! 'tis lined with many a hostile rank. Return or fly! — What glitters in the rear? 'Tis Otho's banner — the pursuer's spear! Are those the shepherds' fires upon the height? Alas! they blaze too widely for the flight: Cut off from hope, and compass'd in the toil, Less blood, perchance, hath bought a richer spoil!
A moment's pause — 'tis but to breathe their band Or shall they onward press, or here withstand? It matters little — if they charge the foes Who by their border-stream their march oppose, Some few, perchance, may break and pass the line, However link'd to baffle such design. "The charge be ours! to wait for their assault Were fate well worthy of a coward's halt." Forth flies each sabre, rein'd is every steed, And the next word shall scarce outstrip the deed: In the next tone of Lara's gathering breath How many shall but hear the voice of death!
His blade is bared — in him there is an air As deep, but far too tranquil for despair; A something of indifference more than then Becomes the bravest, if they feel for men. He turn'd his eye on Kaled, ever near, And still too faithful to betray one fear; Perchance 'twas but the moon's dim twilight threw Along his aspect an unwonted hue Of mournful paleness, whose deep tint express'd The truth, and not the terror of his breast. This Lara mark'd, and laid his hand on his: It trembled not in such an hour as this; His lip was silent, scarcely beat his heart, His eye alone proclaim'd — "We will not part! Thy band may perish, or thy friends may flee, Farewell to life, but not adieu to thee!"
The word hath pass'd his lips, and onward driven, Pours the link'd band through ranks asunder riven; Well has each steed obey'd the armed heel, And flash the scimitars, and rings the steel; Outnumber'd, not outbraved, they still oppose Despair to daring, and a front to foes; And blood is mingled with the dashing stream, Which runs all redly till the morning beam.
Commanding, aiding, animating all, Where foe appear'd to press, or friend to fall, Cheers Lara's voice, and waves or strikes his steel, Inspiring hope himself had ceased to feel. None fled, for well they knew that flight were vain, But those that waver turn to smite again, While yet they find the firmest of the foe Recoil before their leader's look and blow; Now girt with numbers, now almost alone, He foils their ranks, or reunites his own; Himself he spared not — once they seem'd to fly — Now was the time, he waved his hand on high, And shook — Why sudden droops that plumed crest? The shaft is sped — the arrow's in his breast! That fatal gesture left the unguarded side, And Death hath stricken down yon arm of pride. The word of triumph fainted from his tongue; That hand, so raised, how droopingly it hung! But yet the sword instinctively retains, Though from its fellow shrink the falling reins; These Kaled snatches: dizzy with the blow, And senseless bending o'er his saddle-bow Perceives not Lara that his anxious page Beguiles his charger from the combat's rage: Meantime his followers charge and charge again; Too mix'd the slayers now to heed the slain!
Day glimmers on the dying and the dead, The cloven cuirass, and the helmless head; The war-horse masterless is on the earth, And that last gasp hath burst his bloody girth: And near, yet quivering with what life remain'd, The heel that urged him, and the hand that rein'd: And some too near that rolling torrent lie, Whose waters mock the lip of those that die; That panting thirst which scorches in the breath Of those that die the soldier's fiery death, In vain impels the burning mouth to crave One drop — the last — to cool it for the grave; With feeble and convulsive effort swept Their limbs along the crimson'd turf have crept: The faint remains of life such struggles waste, But yet they reach the stream, and bend to taste: They feel its freshness, and almost partake — Why pause? — No further thirst have they to slake — It is unquench'd, and yet they feel it not — It was an agony — but now forgot!
Beneath a lime, remoter from the scene, Where but for him that strife had never been, A breathing but devoted warrior lay: 'Twas Lara bleeding fast from life away. His follower once, and now his only guide, Kneels Kaled watchful o'er his welling side, And with his scarf would stanch the tides that rush With each convulsion in a blacker gush; And then, as his faint breathing waxes low, In feebler, not less fatal tricklings flow: He scarce can speak, but motions him 'tis vain, And merely adds another throb to pain. He clasps the hand that pang which would assuage, And sadly smiles his thanks to that dark page, Who nothing fears, nor feels, nor heeds, nor sees, Save that damp brow which rests upon his knees; Save that pale aspect, where the eye, though dim, Held all the light that shone on earth for him.
The foe arrives, who long had search'd the field, Their triumph nought till Lara too should yield; They would remove him, but they see 'twere vain, And he regards them with a calm disdain, That rose to reconcile him with his fate, And that escape to death from living hate: And Otho comes, and leaping from his steed, Looks on the bleeding foe that made him bleed, And questions of his state; he answers not, Scarce glances on him as on one forgot, And turns to Kaled: — each remaining word, They understood not, if distinctly heard; His dying tones are in that other tongue, To which some strange remembrance wildly clung. They spake of other scenes, but what — is known To Kaled, whom their meaning reach'd alone; And he replied, though faintly, to their sound, While gazed the rest in dumb amazement round: They seem'd even then — that twain — unto the last To half forget the present in the past; To share between themselves some separate fate, Whose darkness none beside should penetrate.
Their words though faint were many — from the tone Their import those who heard could judge alone; From this, you might have deem'd young Kaled's death More near than Lara's by his voice and breath, So sad, so deep, and hesitating broke The accents his scarce-moving pale lips spoke; But Lara's voice, though low, at first was clear And calm, till murmuring death gasp'd hoarsely near: But from his visage little could we guess, So unrepentant, dark, and passionless, Save that when struggling nearer to his last, Upon that page his eye was kindly cast; And once, as Kaled's answering accents ceased, Rose Lara's hand, and pointed to the East: Whether (as then the breaking sun from high Roll'd back the clouds) the morrow caught his eye, Or that 'twas chance, or some remember'd scene That raised his arm to point where such had been, Scarce Kaled seem'd to know, but turn'd away, As if his heart abhorr'd that coming day, And shrunk his glance before that morning light To look on Lara's brow — where all grew night. Yet sense seem'd left, though better were its loss; For when one near display'd the absolving cross, And proffer'd to his touch the holy bead, Of which his parting soul might own the need, He look'd upon it with an eye profane, And smiled — Heaven pardon! if 'twere with disdain; And Kaled, though he spoke not, nor withdrew From Lara's face his fix'd despairing view, With brow repulsive, and with gesture swift, Flung back the hand which held the sacred gift, As if such but disturb'd the expiring man, Nor seem'd to know his life but /then/ began, The life immortal infinite, secure, To all for whom that cross hath made it sure!
But gasping heaved the breath that Lara drew, And dull the film along his dim eye grew; His limbs stretch'd fluttering, and his head droop'd o'er The weak yet still untiring knee that bore: He press'd the hand he held upon his heart — It beats no more, but Kaled will not part With the cold grasp, but feels, and feels in vain, For that faint throb which answers not again. "It beats!" — Away, thou dreamer! he is gone — It once was Lara which thou look'st upon.
He gazed, as if not yet had pass'd away The haughty spirit of that humble clay; And those around have roused him from his trance, But cannot tear from thence his fixed glance; And when in raising him from where he bore Within his arms the form that felt no more, He saw the head his breast would still sustain, Roll down like earth to earth upon the plain; He did not dash himself thereby, nor tear The glossy tendrils of his raven hair, But strove to stand and gaze, but reel'd and fell, Scarce breathing more than that he loved so well. Than that /he/ lov'd! Oh! never yet beneath The breast of man such trusty love may breathe! That trying moment hath at once reveal'd The secret long and yet but half conceal'd; In baring to revive that lifeless breast, Its grief seem'd ended, but the sex confess'd; And life return'd, and Kaled felt no shame — What now to her was Womanhood or Fame?
And Lara sleeps not where his fathers sleep, But where he died his grave was dug as deep; Nor is his mortal slumber less profound, Though priest nor bless'd, nor marble deck'd the mound; And he was mourn'd by one whose quiet grief, Less loud, outlasts a people's for their chief. Vain was all question ask'd her of the past, And vain e'en menace — silent to the last; She told nor whence nor why she left behind Her all for one who seem'd but little kind. Why did she love him? Curious fool! — be still — Is human love the growth of human will? To her he might be gentleness; the stern Have deeper thoughts than your dull eyes discern, And when they love, your smilers guess not how Beats the strong heart, though less the lips avow. They were not common links that form'd the chain That bound to Lara Kaled's heart and brain; But that wild tale she brook'd not to unfold, And seal'd is now each lip that could have told.
They laid him in the earth, and on his breast, Besides the wound that sent his soul to rest, They found the scattered dints of many a scar Which were not planted there in recent war: Where'er had pass'd his summer years of life, It seems they vanish'd in a land of strife; But all unknown his glory or his guilt, These only told that somewhere blood was spilt. And Ezzelin, who might have spoke the past, Return'd no more — that night appear'd his last.
Upon that night (a peasant's is the tale) A Serf that cross'd the intervening vale, When Cynthia's light almost gave way to morn, And nearly veil'd in mist her waning horn; A Serf, that rose betimes to thread the wood, And hew the bough that bought his children's food, Pass'd by the river that divides the plain Of Otho's lands and Lara's broad domain: He heard a tramp — a horse and horseman broke From out the wood — before him was a cloak Wrapt round some burthen at his saddle-bow, Bent was his head, and hidden was his brow. Roused by the sudden sight at such a time, And some foreboding that it might be crime, Himself unheeded watch'd the stranger's course, Who reach'd the river, bounded from his horse, And lifting thence the burthen which he bore, Heaved up the bank, and dash'd it from the shore,  Then paused, and look'd, and turn'd, and seem'd to watch, And still another hurried glance would snatch, And follow with his step the stream that flow'd, As if even yet too much its surface show'd: At once he started, stoop'd, around him strewn The winter floods had scatter'd heaps of stone; Of these the heaviest thence he gather'd there, And slung them with a more than common care. Meantime the Serf had crept to where unseen Himself might safely mark what this might mean. He caught a glimpse, as of a floating breast, And something glitter'd starlike on the vest, But ere he well could mark the buoyant trunk, A massy fragment smote it, and it sunk: It rose again, but indistinct to view, And left the waters of a purple hue, Then deeply disappear'd: the horseman gazed Till ebb'd the latest eddy it had raised; Then turning, vaulted on his pawing steed, And instant spurr'd him into panting speed. His face was mask'd — the features of the dead, If dead it were, escaped the observer's dread; But if in sooth a star its bosom bore, Such is the badge that knighthood ever wore, And such 'tis known Sir Ezzelin had worn Upon the night that led to such a morn. If thus he perish'd, Heaven receive his soul! His undiscover'd limbs to ocean roll; And charity upon the hope would dwell It was not Lara's hand by which he fell.
And Kaled — Lara — Ezzelin, are gone, Alike without their monumental stone! The first, all efforts vainly strove to wean From lingering where her chieftain's blood had been. Grief had so tamed a spirit once too proud, Her tears were few, her wailing never loud; But furious would you tear her from the spot Where yet she scarce believed that he was not, Her eye shot forth with all the living fire That haunts the tigress in her whelpless ire; But left to waste her weary moments there, She talk'd all idly unto shapes of air, Such as the busy brain of Sorrow paints, And woos to listen to her fond complaints; And she would sit beneath the very tree, Where lay his drooping head upon her knee; And in that posture where she saw him fall, His words, his looks, his dying grasp recall; And she had shorn, but saved her raven hair, And oft would snatch it from her bosom there, And fold and press it gently to the ground, As if she stanch'd anew some phantom's wound. Herself would question, and for him reply; Then rising, start, and beckon him to fly From some imagined spectre in pursuit; Then seat her down upon some linden's root, And hide her visage with her meagre hand, Or trace strange characters along the sand. — This could not last — she lies by him she loved; Her tale untold — her truth too dearly proved.