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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 seesaw 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 heaveas 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
Weets him, beneath the shadowy trees.
Is it the moon's distorted face?
The ghost-like image of a cloud ?
Is it a gallows there portrayed?
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?
Never did pulse so quickly throb,
And never heart so loudly panted ;
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 flown!
PART SECOND. 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 moonbeams quiver. A happy respite !—but at length He feels the glimmering of the moon; Wakes with glazed eye, and feebly sighingTo sink perhaps, where he is lying, 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 !
His head upon his elbow propped,
Becoming less and less perplexed,
Skyward he looks—to rock and wood-
And then-upon the glassy flood
His wandering eye is fixed.
Thought he, “That is the face of one
In his last sleep securely bound !".
So toward the stream his head he bent,
And downward thrust. his staff, intent
The river's depth to sound.
Now-like a tempest-shattered bark
That overwhelmed and prostrate lies,
And in a moment to the verge
Is lifted of a foaming surge-
Full suddenly the ass doth rise!
His staring bones all shake with joy-
And close by Peter's side he stands :
While Peter o'er the river bends,
The little ass his neck extends,
And fondly licks his hands.
Such life is in the ass's eyes-
Such life is in his limbs and ears-
That Peter Bell, if he had been
The veriest coward ever seen,
· Must now have thrown aside his fears.
The ass looks on-and to his work
Is Peter quietly resigned;
He touches here-he touches there-
And now among the dead man's hair
His sapling Peter has entwined.
He pulls—and looks—and pulls again;
And he whom the poor ass has lost,
The man who had been four days dead,
Head foremost from the river's bed
Uprises-like a ghost!
And Peter draws him to dry land;
And through the brain of Peter pass
Some poignant twitches, fast and faster,
“No doubt;" quoth he, “he is the master
Of this poor miserable ass!”
The meagre shadow all this while-
What aim is his? what is he doing?
His sudden fit of joy is flown,--
He on his knees hath laid him down,
As if he were his grief renewing.
But no-his purpose and his wish
The suppliant shows, well as he can ;
Thought Peter, “Whatsoe'er betide,
I'll go, and he my way will guide
To the cottage of the drowned man.”
Encouraged by this hope, he mounts
Upon the pleased and thankful ass ;
And then, without a moment's stay,
That earnest creature turned away,
Leaving the body on the grass.
Intent upon his faithful watch,
The beast four days and nights had passed;
A sweeter meadow ne'er was seen,
And there the ass four days had been,
Nor ever once did break his fast!
Yet firm his step, and stout his heart !
The mead is crossed-the quarry's mouth
Is reached--but there the trusty guide
Into a thicket turns aside,
And takes his way towards the south.
When hark, a burst of doleful sound !
And Peter honestly might say,
The like came never to his ears,
Though he has been, full thirty years,
A rover-night and day.
'Tis not a plover of the moors,
'Tis not a bittern of the fen;
Nor can it be a barking fox-
Nor night-bird chambered in the rocks
Nor wild-cat in a woody glen!