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The meagre beast lay still as death And Peter's lips with fury quiver Quoth he, “ You little mulish dog, I'll Aling your carcase like a log Head-foremost down the river!"
An impious oath confirmed the threat
But, while upon the ground he lay,
To all the echoes, south and north,
And east and west, the Ass sent forth
A loud and piteous bray!
This outcry, on the heart of Peter,
Seems like a note of joy to strike, —
Joy at the heart of Peter knocks ;
But in the echo of the rocks
Was something Peter did not like.
Whether to cheer his coward breast,
Or that he could not break the chain,
In this serene and solemn hour,
Twined round him by demoniac power,
To the blind work he turned again. -
Among the rocks and winding crags -
Among the mountains far away -
Once more the Ass did lengthen out
More ruefully an endless shout,
The long dry see-saw of his horrible bray!
What is there now in Peter's heart?
Or whence the might of this strange sound?
The moon uneasy looked and dimmer,
The broad blue heavens appeared to glimmer,
And the rocks staggered all around.
From Peter's hand the sapling dropped!
Threat has he none to execute -
“ If any one should come and see
That I am here, they'll think,” quoth he,
“ I'm helping this poor dying brute.”
He scans the Ass from limb to limb;
And Peter now uplifts his eyes ;-
Steady the moon doth look and clear,
And like themselves the rocks appear,
And quiet are the skies.
Whereat, in resolute mood, once more
He stoops the Ass's neck to seize-
Foul purpose, quickly put to flight!
For in the pool a startling sight
Meets him, beneath the shadowy trees.
Is it the moon's distorted face?
The ghost-like image of a cloud?
Is it a gallows there pourtrayed?
Is Peter of himself afraid?
Is it a coffin, – or a shroud?
A grisly idol hewn in stone?
Or imp from witch's lap let fall?
Or a gay ring of shining fairies,
Such as pursue their brisk vagaries
In sylvan bower, or haunted hall?
Is it a fiend that to a stake.
Of fire his desperate self is tethering?
Or stubborn spirit doomed to yell
In solitary ward or cell,
Ten thousand miles from all his brethren?
A throbbing pulse the Gazer hath -
Puzzled he was, and now is daunted;
He looks, he cannot choose but look ;
Like one intent upon a book -
A book that is enchanted.
Ah, well-a-day for Peter Bell! -
He will be turned to iron soon,
Meet Statue for the court of Fear!
His hat is up- and every hair
Bristles -- and whitens in the moon!
He looks—he ponders--looks again ;
He sees a motion-hears a groan ;-
His eyes will burst -his heart will break-
He gives a loud and frightful shriek,
And drops, a senseless weight, as if his life were
We left our Hero in a trance,
Beneath the alders, near the river ;
The Ass is by the river side,
And, where the feeble breezes glide,
Upon the stream the moon-beams quiver.
A happy respite!—but he wakes ;-
And feels the glimmmering of the moon
And to stretch forth his hands is trying ;
Sure, when he knows where he is lying,
He'll sink into a second swoon.
He lifts his head - he sees his staff;
He touches-'tis to him a treasure !
Faint recollection seems to tell
That he is yet where mortals dwell —
A thought received with languid pleasure!