Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE IMPROVISATRICE: THE CHARMED CUP, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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THE IMPROVISATRICE: THE CHARMED CUP, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: And fondly round his neck she clung
Last Line: Worshipped and flattered but for thee!
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia


AND fondly round his neck she clung;
Her long black tresses round him flung, --
Love chains, which would not let him part;
And he could feel her beating heart,
The pulses of her small white hand,
The tears she could no more command,
The lip which trembled, though near his;
The sigh that mingled with her kiss; --
Yet parted he from that embrace.
He cast one glance upon her face:
His very soul felt sick to see
Its look of utter misery;
Yet turned he not; one moment's grief,
One pang, like lightning, fierce and brief,
One thought, half pity, half remorse,
Passed o'er him. On he urged his horse;
Hill, ford, and valley spurred he by,
And when his castle-gate was nigh,
White foam was on his 'broider'd rein,
And each spur had a blood-red stain.
But soon he entered that fair hall:
His laugh was loudest there of all;
And the cup that wont one name to bless,
Was drained for its forgetfulness.
The ring, once next his heart, was broken;
The gold chain kept another token.
Where is the curl he used to wear --
The raven tress of silken hair?
The winds have scattered it. A braid
Of the first spring day's golden shade,
Waves with the dark plumes on his crest.
Fresh colours are upon his breast:
The slight blue scarf, of simplest fold,
Is changed for one of woven gold.
And he is by a maiden's side,
Whose gems of price, and robes of pride,
Would suit the daughter of a king;
And diamonds are glistening
Upon her arm. There's not one curl
Unfastened by a loop of pearl.
And he is whispering in her ear
Soft words that ladies love to hear.

Alas! -- the tale is quickly told --
His love hath felt the curse of gold!
And he is bartering his heart
For that in which it hath no part.
There's many an ill that clings to love;
But this is one all else above; --
For love to bow before the name
Of this world's treasure: shame! oh, shame!
Love, be thy wings as light as those
That waft the zephyr from the rose, --
This may be pardoned -- something rare
In loveliness has been thy snare!
But how, fair Love, canst thou become
A thing of mines -- a sordid gnome?

And she whom JULIAN left -- she stood
A cold white statue; as the blood
Had, when in vain her last wild prayer,
Flown to her heart, and frozen there.
Upon her temple, each dark vein
Swelled in its agony of pain.
Chill, heavy damps were on her brow;
Her arms were stretched at length, though now
Their clasp was on the empty air:
A funeral pall -- her long black hair
Fell over her; herself the tomb
Of her own youth, and breath, and bloom.

Alas! that man should ever win
So sweet a shrine to shame and sin
As woman's heart! -- and deeper woe
For her fond weakness, not to know
That yielding all but breaks the chain
That never reunites again!

It was a dark and tempest night --
No pleasant moon, no blest starlight;
But meteors glancing o'er the way,
Only to dazzle and betray.
And who is she that, 'mid the storm,
Wraps her slight mantle round her form?
Her hair is wet with rain and sleet,
And blood is on her small snow feet.
She has been forced a way to make
Through prickly weed and thorned brake,
Up rousing from its coil the snake;
And stirring from their damp abode
The slimy worm and loathsome toad:
And shuddered as she heard the gale
Shriek like an evil spirit's wail;
When followed, like a curse, the crash
Of the pines in the lightning flash: --
A place of evil and of fear --
Oh! what can JULIAN'S love do here?

On, on the pale girl went. At last
The gloomy forest depths are past,
And she has reached the wizard's den,
Accursed by God and shunned by men.
And never had a ban been laid
Upon a more unwholesome shade.
There grew dank elders, and the yew
Its thick sepulchral shadow threw;
And brooded there each bird most foul,
The gloomy bat and sullen owl.

But IDA entered in the cell,
Where dwelt the wizard of the dell.
Her heart lay dead, her life-blood froze
To look upon the shape which rose
To bar her entrance. On that face
Was scarcely left a single trace
Of human likeness: the parched skin
Showed each discoloured bone within;
And, but for the most evil stare
Of the wild eyes' unearthly glare,
It was a corpse, you would have said,
From which life's freshness long had fled.
Yet IDA knelt her down and prayed
To that dark sorcerer for his aid.
He heard her prayer with withering look;
Then from unholy herbs he took
A drug, and said it would recover
The lost heart of her faithless lover.
She trembled as she turned to see
His demon sneer's malignity;
And every step was winged with dread,
To hear the curse howled as she fled.

It is the purple twilight hour,
And JULIAN is in IDA'S bower.
He has brought gold, as gold could bless
His work of utter desolateness!
He has brought gems, as if Despair
Had any pride in being fair!
But IDA only wept, and wreathed
Her white arms round his neck; then breathed
Those passionate complaints that wring
A woman's heart, yet never bring
Redress. She called upon each tree
To witness her lone constancy!
She called upon the silent boughs,
The temple of her JULIAN'S vows
Of happiness too dearly bought!
Then wept again. At length she thought
Upon the forest sorcerer's gift --
The last, lone hope that love had left!
She took the cup and kissed the brim,
Mixed the dark spell, and gave it him
To pledge his once dear IDA'S name!
He drank it. Instantly the flame
Ran through his veins: one fiery throb
Of bitter pain -- one gasping sob
Of agony -- the cold death-sweat
Is on his face -- his teeth are set --
His bursting eyes are glazed and still:
The drug has done its work of ill.
Alas! for her who watched each breath,
The cup her love had mixed bore -- death.

LORENZO! -- when next morning came
For the first time I heard thy name!
LORENZO! -- how each ear-pulse drank
The more than music of that tone!
LORENZO! -- how I sighed that name,
As breathing it, made it mine own!
I sought the gallery: I was wont
To pass the noontide there, and trace
Some statue's shape of loveliness --
Some saint, some nymph, or muse's face.
There, in my rapture, I could throw
My pencil and its hues aside,
And, as the vision past me, pour
My song of passion, joy, and pride.
And he was there, -- LORENZO there!
How soon the morning past away,
With finding beauties in each thing
Neither had seen before that day!
Spirit of Love! soon thy rose-plumes wear
The weight and the sully of canker and care:
Falsehood is round thee; Hope leads thee on,
Till every hue from thy pinion is gone.
But one bright moment is all thine own,
The one ere thy visible presence is known;
When, like the wind of the south, thy power,
Sunning the heavens, sweetening the flower,
Is felt, but not seen. Thou art sweet and calm
As the sleep of a child, as the dew-fall of blam.
Fear has not darkened thee; Hope has not made
The blossoms expand, it but opens to fade.
Nothing is known of those wearing fears
Which will shadow the light of thy after-years.
Then art thou bliss: -- but once throw by
The veil which shrouds thy divinity;
Stand confessed, -- and thy quiet is fled!
Wild flashes of rapture may come instead,
But pain will be with them. What may restore
The gentle happiness known before?
I owned not to myself I loved, --
No word of love LORENZO breathed;
But I lived in a magic ring,
Of every pleasant flower wreathed.
A brighter blue was on the sky,
A sweeter breath in music's sigh;
The orange shrubs all seemed to bear
Fruit more rich, and buds more fair.
There was a glory on the noon,
A beauty in the crescent moon,
A lulling stillness in the night,
A feeling in the pale starlight.
There was a charmed note on the wind,
A spell in poetry's deep store --
Heart-uttered words, passionate thoughts,
Which I had never marked before.
'Twas as my heart's full happiness
Poured over all its own excess.

One night there was a gorgeous feast
For maskers in COUNT LEON'S hall;
And all of gallant, fair, and young,
Were bidden to the festival.
I went, garbed as a Hindoo girl;
Upon each arm an amulet,
And by my side a little lute
Of sandal-wood with gold beset.
And shall I own that I was proud
To hear, amid the gazing crowd,
A murmur of delight, when first
My mask and veil I threw aside?
For well my conscious cheek betrayed
Whose eye was gazing on me too!
And never yet had praise been dear,
As on that evening, to mine ear,
LORENZO! I was proud to be
Worshipped and flattered but for thee!





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