Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ROSAMUND DE CLIFFORD TO KING HENRY III, AFTER SHE HAD TAKEN THE VEIL, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

ROSAMUND DE CLIFFORD TO KING HENRY III, AFTER SHE HAD TAKEN THE VEIL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Henry, 'its past! Each painful effort o'er
Last Line: That even death was weak to end our love.
Subject(s): Clifford, Rosamund (d.1176); Farewell; Henry Iii, King Of England (1207-1272); Love; Nuns; Redemption; Regret; Salvation; Parting


HENRY, 'its past! each painful effort o'er,
Thy love, thy Rosamund, exists no more:
She lives, but lives no longer now for you;
She writes, but writes to bid the last adieu.

Why bursts the big tear from my guilty eye:
Why heaves my love-lorn breast the impious sigh?
Down, bosom! down, and learn to heave in prayer;
Flow, flow, my tears, and wash away despair:
Ah, no! still, still the lurking sin I see,
My heart will heave, my tears will fall for thee.
Yes, Henry! through the vestal's guilty veins,
With burning sway the furious passion reigns;
For thee, seducer, still the tear will fall,
And love torment in Godstow's hallow'd wall.

Yet virtue from her deathlike sleep awakes,
Remorse comes on, and rears her whip of snakes.
Ah, Henry! fled are all those fatal charms
That led their victim to the monarch's arms;
No more responsive to the evening air
In wanton ringlets waves my golden hair;
No more amid the dance my footsteps move,
No more the languid eye dissolves with love;
Fades on the cheek of Rosamund the rose,
And penitence awakes from sin's repose.

Harlot! adultress! Henry! can I bear
Such aggravated guilt, such full despair!
By me the marriage-bed defil'd, by me
The laws of heaven forsook, defiled for thee!
Dishonour fix'd on Clifford's ancient name,
A father sinking to the grave with shame;
These are the crimes that harrow up my heart,
These are the crimes that poison memory's dart;
For these each pang of penitence I prove,
Yet these, and more than these, are lost in love.

Yes, even here amid the sacred pile,
The echoing cloister, and the long-drawn aisle;
Even here, when pausing on the silent air,
The midnight bell awakes and calls to prayer;
As on the stone I bend my clay-cold knee,
Love heaves the sigh, and drops the tear for thee:
All day the penitent but wakes to weep,
'Till nature and the woman sink in sleep;
Nightly to thee the guilty dreams repair,
And morning wakes to sorrow and despair!
Lov'd of my heart, the conflict soon must cease,
Soon must this harrow'd bosom rest in peace;
Soon must it heave the last soul-rending breath,
And sink to slumber in the arms of death.

To slumber! oh, that I might slumber there!
Oh, that that dreadful thought might lull despair!
That death's chill dews might quench this vital flame,
And life lie mouldering with this lifeless frame!
Then would I strike with joy the friendly blow,
Then rush to mingle with the dead below.
Oh, agonizing hour! when round my head
Dark-brow'd despair his shadowing wings shall spread:
When conscience from herself shall seek to fly,
And, loathing life, still more shall loath to die!
Already vengeance lifts his iron rod,
Already conscience sees an angry God!
No virtue now to shield my soul I boast,
No hope protects, for innocence is lost!

Oh, I was cheerful as the lark, whose lay
Trills through the ether, and awakes the day!
Mine was the heartfelt smile, when earliest light
Shot through the fading curtain of the night;
Mine was the peaceful heart, the modest eye
That met the glance, or turn'd it knew not why.
At evening hour I struck the melting lyre,
Whilst partial wonder fill'd my doating sire,
'Till he would press me to his aged breast,
And cry, "My child, in thee my age is blest!
Oh! may kind Heaven protract my span of life
To see my lovely Rosamund a wife;
To view her children climb their grandsire's knee,
To see her husband love, and love like me!
Then, gracious Heaven, decree old Clifford's end,
Let his grey hairs in peace to death descend."

The dreams of bliss are vanish'd from his view,
The buds of hope are blasted all by you;
Thy child, O Clifford! bears a mother's name,
A mother's anguish, and a harlot's shame;
Even when her darling children climb her knee,
Feels the full force of guilt and infamy!
Wretch, most unhappy! thus condemn'd to know,
Even in her dearest bliss, her keenest woe;
Curst be this form, accurst these fatal charms
That buried virtue in seduction's arms;
Or rather curst that sad, that fatal hour,
When Henry first beheld and felt their power;
When my too-partial brother's doating tongue
On each perfection of a sister hung;
Told of the graceful form, the rose-red cheek,
The ruby lip, the eye that knew to speak,
The golden locks, that, shadowing half the face
Display'd their charms, and gave and hid a grace.
'Twas at that hour when night's englooming sway
Steals on the fiercer glories of the day;
Sad all around, as silence stills the whole,
And pensive fancy melts the softening soul;
These hands upon the pictured arras wove
The mournful tale of Edwy's hapless love;
When the fierce priest, inflam'd with savage pride,
From the young monarch tore his blushing bride:
Loud rung the horn, I heard the coursers' feet,
My brothers came—o'erjoyed I ran to meet;
But when my sovereign met my wandering eye,
I blush'd, and gaz'd, and fear'd, yet knew not why;
O'er all his form with wistful glance I ran,
Nor knew the monarch, till I lov'd the man.
Pleas'd with attention, overjoy'd I saw
Each look obey'd, and every word a law.
Too soon I felt the secret flame advance,
Drank deep the poison of the mutual glance;
And still I ply'd my pleasing task, nor knew
In shadowing Edwy I had portray'd you.

Thine, Henry, is the crime: 'tis thine to bear
The aggravated weight of full despair;
To wear the day in woe, the night in tears,
And pass in penitence the joyless years:
Guiltless in ignorance, my love-led eyes
Knew not the monarch in the knight's disguise:
Fraught with deceit, th' insidious monarch came,
To blast his faithful subject's spotless name;
To pay each service of old Clifford's race
With all the keenest anguish of disgrace!
Of love he talk'd; abash'd my down-cast eye,
Nor seem'd to seek, nor yet had power to fly;
Still, as he urg'd his suit, his wily art
Told not his rank till victor o'er my heart:
Ah, known too late! in vain my reason strove,
Fame, honour, reason, all were lost in love.

How heav'd thine artful breast the deep-drawn sigh?
How spoke thy looks? how glow'd thine ardent eye?
When skill'd in guile, that soft seductive tongue
Talk'd of its truth, and Clifford was undone.
Oh, cursed hour of passion's maddening sway,
Guilt which a life of tears must wash away!
Gay as the morning lark no more I rose,
No more each evening sunk to calm repose;
No more in fearless innocence mine eye,
Or met the glance, or turn'd it knew not why;
No more my fingers struck the trembling lyre,
No more I ran with joy to meet my sire;
But guilt's deep poison ran through every vein,
But stern reflection claim'd his ruthless reign;
Still vainly seeking from myself to fly,
In anxious guilt I shunn'd each friendly eye;
A thousand torments still my steps pursue,
And guilt, still lovely, haunts my soul with you.
Harlot, adultress, each detested name,
Stamps everlasting blots on Clifford's fame!
How can this wretch prefer the prayer to Heaven?
How, self-condemned, expect to be forgiven?

And yet fond hope, with self-deluding art,
Still sheds her opiate poison o'er my heart;
Paints thee most wretched in domestic strife,
Curst with a kingdom, and a royal wife;
And vainly whispers comfort to my breast—
"I curst myself that Henry might be blest."
Too fond deluder! impotent thy power
To whisper comfort in the mournful hour;
Weak, vain seducer, hope! thy balmy breath,
To soothe reflection on the bed of death;
To calm stern conscience' self-afflicting care,
Or ease the raging pangs of wild despair.

Why, Nature, didst thou give this fatal face?
Why heap with charms to load me with disgrace?
Why bid mine eyes two stars of beauty move?
Why form the melting soul too apt for love?
Thy last best blessing meant, the feeling breast,
Gave way to guilt, and poison'd all the rest.
Now bound in sin's indissoluble chains,
Fled are the charms, the guilt alone remains!

Oh! had fate plac'd amidst Earl Clifford's hall
Of menial vassals, me most mean of all;
Low in my hopes, and homely rude my face,
Nor form, nor wishes rais'd above my place;
How happy, Rosamund, had been thy lot,
In peace to live unknown, and die forgot!
Guilt had not then infix'd her piercing sting,
Nor scorn revil'd the harlot of a king;
Contempt had not revil'd my fallen fame,
Nor infamy debas'd a Clifford's name.

Oh, Clifford! Oh, my sire! thy honours now
Thy child has blasted on thine ancient brow;
Fallen is that darling child from virtue's name,
And thy grey hairs sink to the grave with shame!
Still busy fancy bids the scene arise,
Still paints the father to these wretched eyes.
Methinks I see him now, with folded arms,
Think of his child, and curse her fatal charms:
Those charms, her ruin! that in happier days,
With all a father's love, he lov'd to praise:
Unkempt his hoary locks, his head hung low
In all the silent energy of woe;
Yet still the same kind parent, still all mild,
He prays forgiveness for his sinful child.
And yet I live! if this be life, to know
The agonizing weight of hopeless woe:
Thus far, remote from every friendly eye,
To drop the tear, and heave the ceaseless sigh.
Each dreadful pang remorse inflicts to prove,
To weep and pray, yet still to weep and love:
Scorn'd by the virgins of this holy dome,
A living victim in the cloister'd tomb,
To pray, though hopeless, justice should forgive,
Scorn'd by myself: if this be life, I live!

Oft will remembrance, in her painful hour,
Cast the keen glance to Woodstock's lovely bower;
Recal each sinful scene of life to view,
And give the soul again to guilt and you.
Oh! I have seen thee trace the bower around,
And heard the forest echo Rosamund;
Have seen thy frantic looks, thy wildering eye,
Heard the deep groan and bosom-rending sigh;
Vain are the searching glance, the love-lorn groan,
I live—but live to penitence alone;
Depriv'd of every joy which life can give,
Most vile, most wretched, most despis'd, I live.

Too well thy deep regret, thy grief, are known,
Too true I judge thy sorrows by my own!
Oh! thou hast lost the dearest charm of life,
The fondest, tenderest, loveliest, more than wife;
One who, with every virtue, only knew
The fault, if fault it be, of loving you;
One whose soft bosom seem'd as made to share
Thine every joy, and solace every care;
For crimes like these secluded, doom'd to know
The aggravated weight of guilt and woe.

Still dear, still lov'd, I learnt to sin of thee,
Learn, thou seducer, penitence from me!
Oh! that my soul this last pure joy may know,
Sometimes to soothe the dreadful hour of woe.
Henry! by all the love my life has shown,
By all the sinful raptures we have known,
By all the parting pangs that rend my breast,
Hear, my lov'd lord, and grant my last request;
And, when the last tremendous hour shall come,
When all my woes are buried in the tomb,
Then grant the only boon this wretch shall crave—
Drop the sad tear to dew my humble grave;
Pause o'er the turf in fulness bent of woe,
And think who lies so cold and pale below!
Think from the grave she speaks the last decree,
"What I am now, soon, Henry, thou must be!"
Then be this voice of wonted power possest,
To melt thy heart, and triumph in thy breast:
So should my prayers with just success be crown'd
Should Henry learn remorse from Rosamund;
Then shall thy sorrow and repentance prove,
That even death was weak to end our love.





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