High, on the Solitude of Alpine Hills, O'er-topping the grand imag'ry of Nature, Where one eternal winter seem'd to reign; An HERMIT'S threshold, carpetted with moss, Diversified the Scene. Above the flakes Of silv'ry snow, full many a modest flow'r Peep'd through its icy veil, and blushing ope'd Its variegated hues; The ORCHIS sweet, The bloomy CISTUS, and the fragrant branch Of glossy MYRTLE. In his rushy cell, The lonely ANCHORET consum'd his days, Unnotic'd, and unblest. In early youth, Cross'd in the fond affections of his soul By false Ambition, from his parent home He, solitary, wander'd; while the Maid Whose peerless beauty won his yielding heart Pined in monastic horrors ! Near his sill A little cross he rear'd, where, prostrate low At day's pale glimpse, or when the setting Sun Tissued the western sky with streamy gold, His Orisons he pour'd, for her, whose hours Were wasted in oblivion. Winters pass'd, And Summers faded, slow, unchearly all To the lone HERMIT'S sorrows: For, still, Love A dark, though unpolluted altar, rear'd On the white waste of wonders! From the peak Which mark'd his neighb'ring Hut, his humid Eye Oft wander'd o'er the rich expanse below; Oft trac'd the glow of vegetating Spring, The full-blown Summer splendours, and the hue Of tawny scenes Autumnal: Vineyards vast, Clothing the upland scene, and spreading wide The promised tide nectareous; while for him The liquid lapse of the slow brook was seen Flashing amid the trees, its silv'ry wave! Far distant, the blue mist of waters rose Veiling the ridgy outline, faintly grey, Blended with clouds, and shutting out the Sun. The Seasons still revolv'd, and still was he By all forgotten, save by her, whose breast Sigh'd in responsive sadness to the gale That swept her prison turrets. Five long years, Had seen his graces wither ere his Spring Of life was wasted. From the social scenes Of human energy an alien driv'n, He almost had forgot the face of Man.-- No voice had met his ear, save, when perchance The Pilgrim wand'rer, or the Goatherd Swain, Bewilder'd in the starless midnight hour Implored the HERMIT'S aid, the HERMIT'S pray'rs; And nothing loath by pity or by pray'r Was he, to save the wretched. On the top Of his low rushy Dome, a tinkling bell Oft told the weary Trav'ller to approach Fearless of danger. The small silver sound In quick vibrations echo'd down the dell To the dim valley's quiet, while the breeze Slept on the glassy LEMAN. Thus he past His melancholy days, an alien Man From all the joys of social intercourse, Alone, unpitied, by the world forgot!
His Scrip each morning bore the day's repast Gather'd on summits, mingling with the clouds, From whose bleak altitude the Eye look'd down While fast the giddy brain was rock'd by fear. Oft would he start from visionary rest When roaming wolves their midnight chorus howl'd, Or blasts infuriate shatter'd the white cliffs, While the huge fragments, rifted by the storm, Plung'd to the dell below. Oft would he sit In silent sadness on the jutting block Of snow-encrusted ice, and, shudd'ring mark (Amid the wonders of the frozen world) Dissolving pyramids, and threatening peaks, Hang o'er his hovel, terribly Sublime.
And oft, when Summer breath'd ambrosial gales, Soft sailing o'er the waste of printless dew Or twilight gossamer, his pensive gaze Trac'd the swift storm advancing, whose broad wing Blacken'd the rushy dome of his low Hut; While the pale lightning smote the pathless top Of tow'ring CENIS, scatt'ring high and wide A mist of fleecy Snow. Then would he hear, (While MEM'RY brought to view his happier days) The tumbling torrent, bursting wildly forth From its thaw'd prison, sweep the shaggy cliff Vast and Stupendous ! strength'ning as it fell, And delving, 'mid the snow, a cavern rude!
So liv'd the HERMIT, like an hardy Tree Plac'd on a mountain's solitary brow, And destin'd, thro' the Seasons, to endure Their wond'rous changes. To behold the face Of ever-varying Nature, and to mark In each grand lineament, the work of GOD! And happier he, in total Solitude Than the poor toil-worn wretch, whose ardent Soul That GOD has nobly organiz'd, but taught, For purposes unknown, to bear the scourge Of sharp adversity, and vulgar pride. Happier, O ! happier far, than those who feel, Yet live amongst the unfeeling ! feeding still The throbbing heart, with anguish, or with Scorn.
One dreary night when Winter's icy breath Half petrified the scene, when not a star Gleam'd o'er the black infinity of space, Sudden, the HERMIT started from his couch Fear-struck and trembling! Ev'ry limb was shook With painful agitation. On his cheek The blanch'd interpreter of horror mute Sat terribly impressive! In his breast The ruddy fount of life convulsive flow'd And his broad eyes, fix'd motionless as death, Gaz'd vacantly aghast ! His feeble lamp Was wasting rapidly; the biting gale Pierc'd the thin texture of his narrow cell; And Silence, like a fearful centinel Marking the peril which awaited near, Conspir'd with sullen Night, to wrap the scene In tenfold horrors. Thrice he rose; and thrice His feet recoil'd; and still the livid flame Lengthen'd and quiver'd as the moaning wind Pass'd thro' the rushy crevice, while his heart Beat, like the death-watch, in his shudd'ring breast.
Like the pale Image of Despair he sat, The cold drops pacing down his hollow cheek, When a deep groan assail'd his startled ear, And rous'd him into action. To the sill Of his low hovel he rush'd forth, (for fear Will sometimes take the shape of fortitude, And force men into bravery) and soon The wicker bolt unfasten'd. The swift blast, Now unrestrain'd, flew by; and in its course The quiv'ring lamp extinguish'd, and again His soul was thrill'd with terror. On he went, E'en to the snow-fring'd margin of the cragg, Which to his citadel a platform made Slipp'ry and perilous! 'Twas darkness, all! All, solitary gloom!--The concave vast Of Heav'n frown'd chaos; for all varied things Of air, and earth, and waters, blended, lost Their forms, in blank oblivion ! Yet not long Did Nature wear her sable panoply, For, while the HERMIT listen'd, from below A stream of light ascended, spreading round A partial view of trackless solitudes; And mingling voices seem'd, with busy hum, To break the spell of horrors. Down the steep The HERMIT hasten'd, when a shriek of death Re-echoed to the valley. As he flew, (The treach'rous pathway yielding to his speed,) Half hoping, half despairing, to the scene Of wonder-waking anguish, suddenly The torches were extinct; and second night Came doubly hideous, while the hollow tongues Of cavern'd winds, with melancholy sound Increas'd the HERMIT'S fears. Four freezing hours He watch'd and pray'd: and now the glimm'ring dawn Peer'd on the Eastern Summits; (the blue light Shedding cold lustre on the colder brows Of Alpine desarts;) while the filmy wing Of weeping Twilight, swept the naked plains Of the Lombardian landscape. On his knees The ANCHORET blest Heav'n, that he had 'scap'd The many perilous and fearful falls Of waters wild and foamy, tumbling fast From the shagg'd altitude. But, ere his pray'rs Rose to their destin'd Heav'n, another sight, Than all preceding far more terrible, Palsied devotion's ardour. On the Snow, Dappled with ruby drops, a track was made By steps precipitate; a rugged path Down the steep frozen chasm had mark'd the fate Of some night traveller, whose bleeding form Had toppled from the Summit. Lower still The ANCHORET descended, 'till arrived At the first ridge of silv'ry battlements, Where, lifeless, ghastly, paler than the snow On which her cheek repos'd, his darling Maid Slept in the dream of Death ! Frantic and wild He clasp'd her stiff'ning form, and bath'd with tears The lilies of her bosom,--icy cold-- Yet beautiful and spotless. Now, afar The wond'ring HERMIT heard the clang of arms Re-echoing from the valley: the white cliffs Trembled as though an Earthquake shook their base With terrible concussion ! Thund'ring peals From warfare's brazen throat, proclaim'd th' approach Of conquering legions: onward they extend Their dauntless columns ! In the foremost group A Ruffian met the HERMIT'S startled Eyes Like Hell's worst Demon ! For his murd'rous hands Were smear'd with gore; and on his daring breast A golden cross, suspended, bore the name Of his ill-fated Victim!--ANCHORET! Thy VESTAL Saint, by his unhallow'd hands Torn from RELIGION'S Altar, had been made The sport of a dark Fiend, whose recreant Soul Had sham'd the cause of Valour ! To his cell The Soul-struck Exile turn'd his trembling feet, And after three lone weeks, of pain and pray'r, Shrunk from the scene of Solitude--and DIED!