The Deserted Palace

written by

« Reload image

``My feet are dead, the cold rain beats my face!''
``Courage, sweet love, this tempest is our friend!''
``Yet oh, shall we not rest a little space?
This city sleeps; some corner may defend
Our weary bodies till the storm amend.''
``So tired, dear heart? Then we will seek some place
Safe from rude weather and this night air chill,
And prying eyes of those that mean us ill.''

These lovers, fleeing through the midnight street,
Breathlessly pause amid the gusty moan
Of winds that have not heard their echoing feet.
Blind houses, towering up, leave light alone
From narrow skies in glimmering swiftness blown:
In front, from vales of darkness wild airs beat;
Behind them, shouldering crests of cloudy pine
Looms, lost in heaven, the cloven Apennine.

Down the strange street their doubtful steps explore
Each shadowy archway, angle, and recess,
For shelter, nor have travelled far before
Giselda, half--despaired for weariness,
Feels on her fingers Raymond lightly press;
Heavy above the surging wind's uproar
With a dull echo, clanging now, then drowned,
Reverberates a sullen stormy sound.

What heart so fixed that darkness cannot shock?
When the mind stumbles with the blind footfall,
What world may not a random sound unlock,
Wild as a fever--dream's original,
Where through black void we should for ever fall,
Did not our hearts freeze as in dungeon rock?
So Night may mask, when reason, numbed in trance,
Quails at the wandering cyclops, idiot Chance.

Beyond a buttress both had crept more near.
In this dim wall was it a gate that swung?
Still hesitating, half--bewitched in fear,
Upon the silent intervals they hung.
Again it clanged as if the senseless tongue
Of Chaos knelled upon the startled ear,
Resounding mockery of that tranquil, bright
Well--featured earth men fable in daylight.

A gate so old it leaned and swung awry,
With such indifferent motion to and fro
As a stone rolled by shore waves fitfully,
Heavy and melancholy, wavering slow,
Then closed and clashing with a sudden blow:
To what forlorn abode, left long to lie
For spider, gray owl, and the blind bat's wing,
Could this be door? What ruin mouldering?

Raymond with doubtful hand felt on the bar
Rusty and wet; pushed slow the ponderous wood
That gaped on blackness; moaning from afar
A riotous gust rolled back the hinge; he stood,
And leaning pressed the dark weight all he could;
Again it yielded with a grinding jar;
They entered, where they knew not; empty ground
Seemed closed by heights of doubled gloom around.

``What place is this? My feet tread soft on grass,''
Giselda whispered. Raymond drew her on.
Across what seemed a weed--grown court they pass--
Black walls around them, heaven above them wan--
Till soon a row of pillars dimly shone
Before them, o'er wet marble steps. ``Alas!
I fear,'' she cried; but he drew close to his
Her cheek, and made her blood brave with a kiss.

Wondering in that deserted colonnade,
They hearkened to the storm, less boisterous there,
Till to their peering sight a hollower shade
Signalled a doorway deep in quiet air;
And now their hearts beat at an omen fair;
For venturing hands, on either doorpost laid,
Found, sculptured there, soft features of a child,
Where, ignorant of darkness, beauty smiled.

As sailors, nearing home, but blown from land,
When the wind bears them scent of fields they knew;
As a blind father, when his son's young hand,
Laid confident on his, brings faith anew
In the lost light and the pure heavenly blue;
As homeless Psyche, when she trembling scanned
Love's fair strange house, and a mild voice drew near
Invisibly, and soothed away her fear;

So thrilled by silent sweet encouragement,
As if some guardian presence ministered
To aid them, onward, hand in hand, they went.
No living sound in all the place they heard;
Still on they groped, but not a form appeared;
Sometimes beneath an arch their heads were bent:
At last a window, pallid through the gloom,
Showed them each other 'mid an empty room.

Each in the other's face, with breathing stilled,
The tender bright eyes tenderly discerned;
And they embraced, while both their bosoms filled
With growing charm of peace so strangely earned.
Rapt thus they stood, nor any longer turned
At sudden gusts that through the midnight thrilled.
He smoothed the rain--drops from her hair that strayed;
She smiled and spoke: ``I am no more afraid.''

But soon a nest secure from wind they found,
Pillowing their cloaks against the corner wall,
And rested happy; there the roar was drowned,
And only in subsiding interval
Of shuddering flaws, they heard the rushing fall
From rain--swept eaves; 'mid desolation round
Their hearts beat closer to each other, warm
Because of those wild blasts of wandering storm.

Giselda drooped her heavy--lidded eyes;
Tired out, her peaceful bosom sank and swelled:
Soft upon Raymond's shoulder breathed her sighs;
His fostering arm her leaning breast upheld;
Her drowsing head by slumber sweetly quelled
Now and then, lifted in a child's surprise,
Murmured, and soon from all the long day's ache
Slipped into sleep; but Raymond stayed awake.

Bold was his heart; yet extreme tenderness
For that dear heaven enfolded in his arm
Sharpened his fond thoughts to a strange distress,
Threatening his secret storm--encircled charm,
As by the violent waters walled from harm
Amidst the whirlpool's roaring heedlessness
A stillness keeps, most perfect, yet so frail,
That in an instant shattered it may fail.

Then he bethought him of what laughter dead
Had under those old rafters leapt and rung;
What companies of joy had banqueted;
What lovers listened and what ladies sung:
Here had they dwelt, been beautiful, been young!
He bent in tears above that precious head
Slumbering, a thousand times more dear than life,
By him, and whispered, ``O my wife, my wife!

``Alas! what eager hearts and hands once wrought
This chosen place to fashion and adorn!
And now their names are faded out of thought,
And their fond toil neglected and forlorn.
This is their grave. O would that it were morn!
All my great love in this dark house seems naught,
And I in a dead midnight--world alone,
Save for thy dear heart beating on my own.

``Beat close, warm heart, ere my sad spirit cower.
From those dead bosoms not a single sigh!
Year heaped on year, hour creeping over hour,
The wilderness of silence spreads more nigh.
And what a momentary moth am I!
Beat nearer, heart! tell me I still have power
To breathe, to move; I grow so faint and dead,
So Time's wide seas weigh heavy on my head!''

Thus murmuring with daunted forehead low
Leant to her breaths, he listened to the rain.
The gloom seemed living, seemed to tower and grow
O'er him, a shadow among shadows vain.
At last the thoughts grew cloudy in his brain;
The young blood in his wearied limbs grew slow;
His arms relaxed, and in his senses lulled
The sadness faded, exquisitely dulled.

Birds that have nested in tall elm--tree tops
Sleep not more sound, when winds that rock them roar,
Whirling dry leaves about the wintry copse,
Than both slept now, while on the wild night wore.
At last the storm ebbed and was heard no more,
Save in brief gusts and sudden shaken drops:
The dawn came hushed, and found each peaceful face
Turned to the other in entranced embrace.

Raymond awoke. It was the early light
That stole through half--closed shutters o'er the room:
With gleaming stillness it caressed his sight,
And on the floor lay tender like a bloom.
It seemed his own heart wholly to illume,
Soft as a smile, and growing slowly bright,
Spilled its reflected clearness everywhere
Into all corners of that chamber bare.

Slow in delicious languor turn his eyes
Wondering around him. Still Giselda dreams;
But all things else how new a wonder dyes!
From the sunned floor the young light upward gleams,
Hovers about the ceiling's coffered beams,
And those deep squares of shadow glorifies,
Smiling fresh colours on the cornice old
And shielded corbels' rich abraded gold;

Where underneath, in clear or faded stain,
The walls were pictured with old stories fair:
The selfsame walls that, prisoning his pain,
Gloomed yesternight so desolately bare
Now blushed and gloried in the morning air,
More beautiful in Time's enchanting wane,
As leaves by spoiling Autumn fostered few
Treasure the wonder of her tenderest hue.

On the left hand there was a wild seashore,
And Hero, leaning from her turret lone,
Gazed out impassioned where the surge upbore
Leander's face turned fainting to her own.
Careless of chill spray through her deep hair blown,
She stretched her arms, never to clasp him more.
Even now his hands were tossed up in the foam,
But from his eyes his soul leapt towards its home.

Upon the right flushed Cephalus hallooed,
Parting green thickets; knew his spear had sped,
But knew not yet the white doe of that wood
Was his own Procris. Low her piteous head
Lay on the grass; her bosom brightly bled,
And her lips trembling strove, while yet they could,
To pardon the dear hand that wrought that wound,
While dumbly she caressed his whimpering hound.

These upon either end wall were portrayed;
But in the midst was Orpheus with his lyre,
Singing to the ear of one beloved shade,
Lost somewhere in those aisles of gloomy fire.
Only for her he poured his soul's desire:
Yet the grim Pluto hearkened as he played,
And Proserpine remembered the sweet spring,
And with wet cheek besought him still to sing.

Eurydice, through darkness music--drawn,
Was gliding (none forbad her) toward his feet;
And other ghosts like, in the earliest dawn,
Sparrows that stir and raise their restless tweet,
Stole fluttering, because of sound so sweet,
Over the pale flowers of their shadowy lawn,
Lifting their drooping heads as they drew nigh;
And all those faces listening seemed to sigh.

Love, whom no goal, no haven satisfies,
Love hungered and athirst, bound, scarred and lame,
Proud rebel, who through fading mortal eyes
Shoots beams of that clear fire Time cannot tame,
Burned here in suffering flesh his beacon flame.
Ah, who can read these passionate histories,
Nor feel vibrations as of music roll
Ennobling challenge to his kindled soul?

Raymond beheld them; and it seemed all time,
Till now a cave of dimness, without hue,
Flushed back love's colours from its farthest prime,
Claiming the sacrificial fire anew
From his full heart. Nay, every age foreknew
This moment, and the dumb years seemed to climb
Patiently growing toward this latest hour
That bore his own love like a folded flower.

He hung above her slumber, and he spelled
Upon her face the still soul unaware.
A whiter throat than Hero's sorrow swelled
Shone faint beside the flame--brown wave of hair:
But on her cheek the blood's clear tinge how rare!
And the red mouth, how sweet a song it held
Asleep until the living dawn should rise
Brimmed in the perfect sunbirth of her eyes!

O surely here the dead world's shadow--brood
Of spirits yearning from the misty tomb
Hung o'er the presage of earth's coming good,
And poured for her their prayerful hope, in whom
Life triumphing wore all their ravished bloom--
Soft image of immortal womanhood,
For whose dear sake the world waits in its need,
And heroes of the farthest age must bleed.

Raymond gazed on, and could not gaze his fill,
Rapt on a silent stream of thought afloat.
The soft light stirred not; all the house was still;
Only at times with negligent sweet note
A thrush without would fill his freshened throat,
Where the sun slept on the warm window--sill,
And in translucent leaves of trailing vine
Melted his glittering rays to golden wine.

Giselda's face gleamed in the shadowed light.
He bent to wake her; then again delayed,
Lingering upon the foretaste of delight.
``O you dear spirits,'' suddenly he prayed,
``Whose hearts imagined and whose hands arrayed
This home in beauty, ere you turned to night,
And having shed your grosser mortal part
Live in the beatings of the gazer's heart!

Peace be upon you, peace for ever be!
Let my lips bless you, whose bright faith unmarred
Shows me the core of my felicity,
And who, though deep in drear oblivion barred,
Committing Sorrow into Beauty's guard,
Pour your immortal ardour into me:
To such a faith all my desire I vow,
May it burn ever as 'tis kindled now!

Wake, love, awake. O thou art grown so dear,
Yet in the enriching beams of this new day
So glorious a spirit, I almost fear
That from sleep's prison thou wilt soar away
Beyond the stretching of my arms. Nay, nay,
I'll hazard hope for truth. Love, I am here,
Shine out thine answer from these opening eyes,
And lift my soul up into Paradise!''

Enraptured thus, he kissed her. She awoke.
Her gaze that wandered, anchored upon his
In happiness, and dreamingly she spoke:
``Do I sleep still? Or what fair house is this?''
Smiling, he answered with joy's perfect kiss,
And raised her up and wrapt her in her cloak.
So both stole forth. The still world seemed to lie
Their radiant kingdom under the wide sky:
Young was the morning, and their hearts were high.

© Robert Laurence Binyon