The Lady Of La Garaye - Prologue

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RUINS! A charm is in the word:
It makes us smile, it makes us sigh,
'Tis like the note of some spring bird
Recalling other Springs gone by,
And other wood-notes which we heard
With some sweet face in some green lane,
And never can so hear again!
Ruins! They were not desolate
To us,--the ruins we remember:
Early we came and lingered late,

Through bright July, or rich September;
With young companions wild with glee,
We feasted 'neath some spreading tree--
And looked into their laughing eyes,
And mocked the echo for replies.
Oh! eyes--and smiles--and days of yore,
Can nothing your delight restore?
Return? In vain we listen;
Those voices have been lost to earth!
Our hearts may throb--our eyes may glisten,
They'll call no more in love or mirth.
For, like a child sent out to play,
Our youth hath had its holiday,
And silence deepens where we stand
Lone as in some foreign land,
Where our language is not spoken,
And none know our hearts are broken.

Ruins! How we loved them then!
How we loved the haunted glen
Which grey towers overlook,
Mirrored in the glassy brook.
How we dreamed,--and how we guessed,
Looking up, with earnest glances,
Where the black crow built its nest,
And we built our wild romances;
Tracing in the crumbled dwelling
Bygone tales of no one's telling!

This was the Chapel: that the stair:
Here, where all lies damp and bare,
The fragrant thurible was swung,
The silver lamp in beauty hung,
And in that mass of ivied shade
The pale nuns sang--the abbot prayed.

This was the Kitchen. Cold and blank
The huge hearth yawns; and wide and high
The chimney shows the open sky;
There daylight peeps through many a crank
Where birds immund find shelter dank,
And when the moonlight shineth through,
Echoes the wild tu-whit tu-whoo
Of mournful owls, whose languid flight
Scarce stirs the silence of the night.

This is the Courtyard,--damp and drear!
The men-at-arms were mustered here;
Here would the fretted war-horse bound,
Starting to hear the trumpet sound;
And Captains, then of warlike fame,
Clanked and glittered as they came.
Forgotten names! forgotten wars!
Forgotten gallantry and scars!
How is your little busy day
Perished and crushed and swept away!

Here is the Lady's Chamber, whence
With looks of lovely innocence
Some heroine our fancy dresses
In golden locks or raven tresses,
And pearl embroidered silks and stuffs,
And quaintly quilted sleeves and ruffs,
Looked forth to see retainers go,
Or trembled at the assaulting foe.

This was the Dungeon; deep and dark!
Where the starved prisoner moaned in vain
Until Death left him, stiff and stark,
Unconscious of the galling chain
By which the thin bleached bones were bound
When chance revealed them under ground.

Oh, Time! oh, ever conquering Time!
These men had once their prime:
But now, succeeding generations hear
Beneath the shadow of each crumbling arch
The music low and drear,
The muffled music of thy onward march,
Made up of piping winds and rustling leaves
And plashing rain-drops falling from slant eaves,
And all mysterious unconnected sounds
With which the place abounds.
Time doth efface
Each day some lingering trace
Of human government and human care:

The things of air
And earth, usurp the walls to be their own;
Creatures that dwell alone,
Occupy boldly: every mouldering nook
Wherein we peer and look,
Seems with wild denizens so swarming rife,
We know the healthy stir of human life
Must be for ever gone!
The walls where hung the warriors' shining casques
Are green with moss and mould;
The blindworm coils where Queens have slept, nor asks
For shelter from the cold.
The swallow,--he is master all the day,
And the great owl is ruler through the night;
The little bat wheels on his circling way
With restless flittering flight;

And that small black bat, and the creeping things,
At will they come and go,
And the soft white owl with velvet wings
And a shriek of human woe!
The brambles let no footstep pass
By that rent in the broken stair,
Where the pale tufts of the windle-strae grass
Hang like locks of dry dead hair;
But there the keen wind ever weeps and moans,
Working a passage through the mouldering stones.

Oh, Time! oh, conquering Time!
I know that wild wind's chime
Which, like a passing bell,
Or distant knell,
Speaks to man's heart of Death and of Decay;
While thy step passes o'er the necks of Kings
And over common things,--
And into Earth's green orchards making way,
Halts, where the fruits of human hope abound,
And shakes their trembling ripeness to the ground.

But hark, a sudden shout
Of laughter! and a nimble giddy rout,
Who know not yet what saddened hours may mean,
Come dancing through the scene!

Ruins! Ruins! let us roam
Through what was a human home,
What care we
How deep its depths of darkness be?
Follow! Follow!
Down the hollow
Through the bramble-fencing thorns
Where the white snail hides her horns;
Leap across the dreadful gap
To that corner's mossy lap,--
Do, and dare!
Clamber up the crumbling stair;
Trip along the narrow wall,
Where the sudden rattling fall
Of loosened stones, on winter nights,
In his dreams the peasant frights:
And push them, till their rolling sound,
Dull and heavy, beat the ground.

Now a song, high up and clear,
Like a lark's enchants the ear;
Or some happy face looks down,
Looking, oh! so fresh and fair,
Wearing youth's most glorious crown,
One rich braid of golden hair:
Or two hearts that wildly beat,
And two pair of eager feet,
Linger in the turret's bend
As they side by side ascend,
For the momentary bliss
Of a lover's stolen kiss;
And emerge into the shining
Of that summer day's declining,
Disengaging clasping hands
As they meet their comrade bands;
With the smile that lately hovered,
(Making lips and eyes so bright,)
And the blush which darkness covered
Mantling still in rosy light!

Ruins! Oh! ye have your charm;

Death is cold, but life is warm;
And the fervent days we knew
Ere our hopes grew faint and few,
Claim even now a happy sigh,
Thinking of those hours gone by:
Of the wooing long since passed,--
Of the love that still shall last,--
Of the wooing and the winning;
Brightest end to bright beginning;
When the feet we sought to guide
Tripped so lightly by our side,
That, as swift they made their way
Through the path and tangled brake,
Safely we could swear and say
We loved all ruins for their sake!

Gentle hearts, one ruin more
From amongst so many score--
One, from out a host of names,
To your notice puts forth claims.
Come! with me make holiday,
In the woods of La Garaye,
Sit within those tangled bowers,
Where fleet by the silent hours,
Only broken by a song
From the chirping woodland throng.
Listen to the tale I tell:
Grave the story is--not sad;
And the peasant plodding by
Greets the place with kindly eye
For the inmates that it had!

© Caroline Norton