Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ROLAND'S TOWER: A LEGEND OF THE RHINE, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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ROLAND'S TOWER: A LEGEND OF THE RHINE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Where, like a courser starting from the spur
Last Line: Was roland's death-bed!
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia
Subject(s): Roland


Oh, Heaven! the deep fidelity of love!

WHERE, like a courser starting from the spur,
Rushes the deep-blue current of the Rhine,
A little island rests; green cypresses
Are its chief growth, bending their heavy boughs
O'er grey stones marking long-forgotten graves.
A convent once stood here; and yet remain
Relics of other times, pillars and walls,
Worn away and discolour'd, yet so hung
With wreaths of ivy that the work of ruin
Is scarcely visible. How like this is
To the so false exterior of the world!
Outside, all looks so fresh and beautiful;
But mildew, rot, and worm, work on beneath,
Until the heart is utterly decay'd.
There is one grave distinguish'd from the rest,
But only by a natural monument: --
A thousand deep-blue violets have grown
Over the sod. -- I do love violets:
They tell the history of woman's love;
They open with the earliest breath of spring;
Lead a sweet life of perfume, dew, and light;
And, if they perish, perish with a sigh
Delicious as that life. On the hot June
They shed no perfume: the flowers may remain,
But the rich breathing of their leaves is past; --
Like woman, they have lost their loveliest gift,
When yielding to the fiery hour of passion:
The violet breath of love is purity.

On the shore opposite, a tower stands
In ruins, with a mourning-robe of moss
Hung on the grey and shatter'd walls, which fling
A shadow on the waters; it comes o'er
The waves, all bright with sunshine, like the gloom
Adversity throws on the heart's young gladness.

I saw the river on a summer eve:
The sun was setting over fields of corn, --
'Twas like a golden sea; -- and on the left
Were vineyards, whence the grapes shone forth like gems,
Rubies, and lighted amber; and thence spread
A wide heath cover'd with thick furze, whose flowers,
So bright, are like the pleasures of this world,
Beautiful in the distance, but, once gain'd,
Little worth, piercing through the thorns which grow
Around them ever. Wilder and more steep
The banks upon the river's other side:
Tall pines rose up like warriors; the wild rose
Was there in all its luxury of bloom,
Sown by the wind, nursed by the dew and sun:
And on the steeps were crosses grey and old,
Which told the fate of some poor traveller.
The dells were filled with dwarfed oaks and firs;
And on the heights, which master'd all the rest,
Were castles, tenanted now by the owl,
The spider's garrison: there is not one
Without some strange old legend of the days
When love was life and death, -- when lady's glove
Or sunny curl were banners of the battle.
My history is of the tower which looks
Upon the little island.

LORD HERBERT sat him in his hall: the hearth
Was blazing as it mock'd the storm without
With its red cheerfulness: the dark hounds lay
Around the fire; and the old knight had doff'd
His hunting-cloak, and listen'd to the lute
And song of the fair girl who at his knee
Was seated. In the April hour of life,
When showers are led by rainbows, and the heart
Is all bloom and green leaves, was ISABELLE:
A band of pearls, white like the brow o'er which
They pass'd, kept the bright curls from off the forehead; thence
They wander'd to her feet -- a golden shower.
She had that changing colour on the cheek
Which speaks the heart so well; those deep-blue eyes,
Like summer's darkest sky, but not so glad --
They were too passionate for happiness.
Light was within her eyes, bloom on her cheek,
Her song had raised the spirit of her race
Upon her eloquent brow. She had just told
Of the young ROLAND'S deeds, -- how he had stood
Against a host and conquer'd; when there came
A pilgrim to the hall -- and never yet
Had stranger ask'd for shelter and in vain!
The board was spread, the Rhenish flask was drain'd;
Again they gather'd round the hearth, again
The maiden raised her song; and at its close, --
"I would give worlds," she said, "to see this chief,
This gallant ROLAND! I could deem him all
A man must honour and a woman love!"
"Lady! I pray thee not recall those words,
For I am ROLAND!" From his face he threw
The hood and pilgrim's cloak, -- and a young knight
Knelt before ISABELLE!

They loved; -- they were beloved. Oh, happiness!
I have said all that can be said of bliss,
In saying that they loved. The young heart has
Such store of wealth in its own fresh wild pulse;
And it is love that works the mind, and brings
Its treasure to the light. I did love once --
Loved as youth -- woman -- genius loves; though now
My heart is chill'd and sear'd, and taught to wear
That falsest of false things -- a mask of smiles;
Yet every pulse throbs at the memory
Of that which has been! Love is like the glass,
That throws its own rich colour over all,
And makes all beautiful. The morning looks
Its very loveliest, when the fresh air
Has tinged the cheek we love with its glad red;
And the hot noon flits by most rapidly,
When dearest eyes gaze with us on the page
Bearing the poet's words of love: and then
The twilight walk, when the linked arms can feel
The beating of the heart; upon the air
There is a music never heard but once, --
A light the eyes can never see again;
Each star has its own prophecy of hope,
And every song and tale that breathe of love
Seem echoes of the heart.

And time pass'd by --
As time will ever pass, when Love has lent
His rainbow plumes to aid his flight -- and spring
Had wedded with the summer, when a steed
Stood at LORD HERBERT'S gate, -- and ISABELLE
Had wept farewell to ROLAND, and had given
Her blue scarf for his colours. He was gone
To raise his vassals, for LORD HERBERT'S towers
Were menaced with a siege; and he had sworn
By ISABELLE'S white hand that he would claim
Its beauty only as a conqueror's prize.
Autumn was on the woods, when the blue Rhine
Grew red with blood: -- LORD HERBERT'S banner flies,
And gallant is the bearing of his ranks.
But where is he who said that he would ride
At his right hand to battle? -- ROLAND! where --
Oh! where is ROLAND?

ISABELLE has watch'd
Day after day, night after night, in vain,
Till she has wept in hopelessness, and thought
Upon old histories, and said with them,
"There is hope in man's fidelity!"
ISABELLE stood upon her lonely tower;
And as the evening-star rose up, she saw
An armed train bearing her father's banner
In triumph to the castle. Down she flew
To greet the victors: -- they had reach'd the hall
Before herself. What saw the maiden there?
A bier! -- her father laid upon that bier!
ROLAND was kneeling by the side, his face
Bow'd on his hands and hid; -- but ISABELLE
Knew the dark curling hair and stately form,
And threw her on his breast. He shrank away
As she were death, or sicknesss, or despair.
"ISABELLE! it was I who slew thy father!"
She fell almost a corpse upon the body.
It was too true! With all a lover's speed,
ROLAND had sought the thickest of the fight;
He gain'd the field just as the crush began; --
Unwitting of his colours, he had slain
The father of his worshipp'd ISABELLE!

They met once more; -- and ISABELLE was changed
As much as if a lapse of years had past:
She was so thin, so pale, and her dim eye
Had wept away its luxury of blue.
She had cut off her sunny hair, and wore
A robe of black, with a white crucifix: --
It told her destiny -- her youth was vow'd
To Heaven. And in the convent of the isle,
That day she was to enter, ROLAND stood
Like marble, cold, and pale, and motionless.
The heavy sweat upon his brow was all
His sign of life. At length he snatch'd the scarf
That ISABELLE had tied around his neck,
And gave it her, -- and pray'd that she would wave
Its white folds from the lattice of her cell
At each pale rising of the evening-star,
That he might know she lived. They parted -- Never
Those lovers met again! But ROLAND built
A tower beside the Rhine, and there he dwelt.
And every evening saw the white scarf waved,
And heard the vesper-hymn of ISABELLE
Float in deep sweetness o'er the silent river.
One evening, and he did not see the scarf, --
He watch'd and watch'd in vain; at length his hope
Grew desperate, and he pray'd his ISABELLE
Might have forgotten him: -- but midnight came,
And with it came the convent's heavy bell,
Tolling for a departed soul; and then
He knew that ISABELLE was dead! Next day
They laid her in her grave; -- and the moon rose
Upon a mourner weeping there: -- that tomb
Was ROLAND'S death-bed!





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