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The ass is startled-and stops short
Right in the middle of the thicket;
And Peter, wont to whistle loud
Whether alone or in a crowd,
Is silent as a silent cricket.
What ails you now, my little Bess?
Well may you tremble and look grave!
This cry--that rings along the wood,
This cry--that floats adown the flood,
Comes from the entrance of a cave;
I see a blooming wood-boy there,
And, if I had the power to say
How sorrowful the wanderer is,
Your heart would be as sad as his
Till you had kissed his tears away!
Holding a hawthorn branch in hand,
All bright with berries ripe and red,
Into the cavern's mouth he peeps-
Thence back into the moonlight creeps.
What seeks the boy? The silent dead-
His father!-him doth he require,
Whom he hath sought with fruitless pains
Among the rocks, behind the trees,
Now creeping on his hands and knees,
Now running o'er the open plains.
And hither is he come at last,
When he through such a day has gone,
By this dark cave to be distressed ;
Like a poor bird-her plundered nest
Hovering around with dolorous moan!
Of that intense and piercing cry
The listening ass conjectures well;
Wild as it is, he there can read
Some intermingled notes that plead
With touches irresistible;
But Peter, when he saw the ass
Not only stop but turn, and change
The cherished tenor of his pace
That lamentable noise to chase,
It wrought in him conviction strange;
A faith that for the dead man's sake
And this poor slave who loved him well,
Vengeance upon his head will fall,
Some visitation worse than all
Which ever till this night befell.
Meanwhile the ass to reach his home,
Is striving stoutly as he may;
But, while he climbs the woody hill,
The cry grows weak-and weaker still,
And now at last it dies away!
So with his freight the creature turns
Into a gloomy grove of beech,
Along the shade with footsteps true
Descending slowly, till the two
The open moonlight reach.
And there, along a narrow dell,
A fair smooth pathway you discern,
A length of green and open road-
As if it from a fountain flowed-
Winding away between the fern.
The rocks that tower on either side
Build up a wild fantastic scene;
Temples like those among the Hindoos,
And mosques, and spires, and abbey windows,
And castles all with ivy green!
And, while the ass pursues his way,
Along this solitary dell,
As pensively his steps advance,
The mosques and spires change countenance,
And look at Peter Bell!
That unintelligible cry
Hath left him high in preparation-
Convinced that he, or soon or late,
This very night, will meet his fate-
And so he sits in expectation !
The strenuous animal hath clomb
With the green path,-and now he wends
Where, shining like the smoothest sea,
In undisturbed immensity
A level plain extends.
But whence that faintly-rustling sound
Which, all too long, the pair hath chased !
A dancing leaf is close behind,
Light plaything for the sportive wind
Upon that solitary waste.
When Peter spies the withered leaf,
It yields no cure to his distress;
" Where there is not a bush or tree,
The very leaves they follow me-
So huge hath been my wickedness!”
To a close lane they now are come,
Where, as before, the enduring ass
Moves on without a moment's stop,
Nor once turns round his head to crop
A bramble leaf or blade of grass.
Between the hedges as they go,
The white dust sleeps upon the lane;
And Peter, ever and anon
Back-looking. sees, upon a stone
Or in the dust, a crimson stain.
A stain-as of a drop of blood
By moonlight made more faint and wan-
Ha! why this comfortless despair ?
He knows not how the blood comes there,
And Peter is a wicked man.
At length he spies a bleeding wound,
Where he had struck the creature's head;
He sees the blood, knows what it is, -
A glimpse of sudden joy was his,
But then it quickly fled;
Of him whom sudden death had seized
He thought,-of thee, O faithful ass!
And once again those darting pains,
As meteors shoot through heaven's wide plains,
Pass through his bosom-and repass!
I've heard of one, a gentle soul,
Though given to sadness and to gloom,
And for the fact will vouch, one night
It chanced that by a taper's light
This man was reading in his room;
Bending, as you or I might bend
At night o'er any pious book,
When sudden blackness overspread
The snow-white page on which he read,
And made the good man round him look.
The chamber walls were dark all round,
And to his book he turned again;
The light had left the good man's taper,
And formed itself upon the paper
Into large letters-bright and plain!
The godly book was in his hand-
And, on the page more black than coal,
Appeared, set forth in strange array,
A word--which to his dying day
Perplexed the good man's gentle soul.
The ghostly word, full plainly seen,
Did never from his lips depart;
But he hath said, poor gentle wight!
It brought full many a sin to light
Out of the bottom of his heart.
Dread spirits! to torment the good Why wander from your course so far, Disordering colour, form, and stature! Let good men feel the soul of Nature, And see things as they are.
I know you, potent spirits ! well,
How, with the feeling and the sense
Playing, ye govern foes or friends,
Yoked to your will, for fearful ends-
And this I speak in reverence !