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"St. Agnes! Ah! it isTSt. Agnes' EveYet men will murder upon holy days: Thou must hold water in a witch's sieve, And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays, To venture so: it fills me with amaze To see thee, Porphyro!—St. Agnes' Eve! God's help! my lady fair the conjuror plays This very night: good angels her deceive! But let me laugh awhile, I 've mickle time to grieve.'
Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon, While Porphyro upon her face doth look, Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone Who keepeth closed a wondrous riddle-book, As spectacled she sits in chimney nook. But soon his eyes grew brilliant, when she told His lady's purpose; and he scarce could brook Tears, at the thought of those enchantments cold, And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.
Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose, Flushing his brow, and in his pained heart Made purple riot: then doth he propose A stratagem, that makes the beldame start: "A cruel man and impious thou art: Sweet lady, let her pray, and sleep and dream Alone with her good angels, far apart From wicked men like thee. Go, Go! I deem Thou canst not surely be the same that thou didst seem.
"I will not harm her, by all saints I swear," Quoth Porphyro: "O may I ne'er find grace When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer, If one of her soft ringlets I displace,
Or look with ruffian passion in her face: Good Angela, believe me by these tears; Or I will, even in a moment's space, Awake, with horrid shout, my foemen's ears, And beard them, though they be more fang'd than wolves and bears."
"Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul! A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing, Whose passing-bell may ere the midnight toll; Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening, Were never miss'd." Thus plaining, doth she bring A gentler speech from burning Porphyro; So woeful, and of such deep sorrowing, That Angela gives promise she will do Whatever he shall wish, betide her weal or woe.
xiz. Which was, to lead him, in close secrecy, Even to Madeline's chamber, and there hide Him in a closet, of such privacy That he might see her beauty unespied, And win perhaps that night a peerless bride, While legion'd fairies paced the coverlet, And pale enchantment held her sleepy-eyed. Never on such a night have lovers met, Since Merlin paid his Demon all the monstrous debt.
"It shall be as thou wishest," said the Dame: "All cates and dainties shall be stored there Quickly on this feast-night: by the tambour frame Her own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare, For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dare On such a catering trust my dizzy head. Wait here, my child, with patience kneel in prayer The while: Ah! thou must needs the lady wed, Or may I never leave my grave among the dead."
So saying she hobbled off with busy fear. The lover's endless minutes slowly pass'd; The dame return'd, and whisper' d in his ear To follow her; with aged eyes aghast From fright of dim espial. Safe at last, Through many a dusky gallery, they gain The maiden's chamber, silken, hush d and chaste; Where Porphyro took covert, pleased amain. His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.
xxrr. Her faltering hand upon the balustrade, Old Angela was feeling for the stair, When Madeline, St. Agnes' charmed maid, Rose, like a mission'd spirit, unaware: With silver taper's light, and pious care, She turn'd, and down the aged gossip led To a safe level matting. Now prepare, Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed; She comes, she comes again, like ring-dove fray'd and fled.
Out went the taper as she hurried in; Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died: She closed the door, she panted, all akin To spirits of the air, and visions wide: No utter'd syllable, or, woe betide! But to her heart, her heart was voluble, Paining with eloquence her balmy side; As though a tongueless nightingale should swell Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.
A casement high and triple-arch'd there was,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes, As are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings; And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries, And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings, A shielded scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings.
Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
Anon his heart revives : her vespers done,
Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
KTiti. Stolen to this paradise, and so entranced, Porphyro gazed upon her empty dress, And listen'd to her breathing, if it chanced To wake into a slumberous tenderness; Which when he heard, that minute did he bless, And breathed himself: then from the closet crept, Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness And over the hush'd carpet, silent, stept, And 'tween the curtains peep'd, where, to!—how fast she slept.
Then by the bed-side, where the faded moon Made a dim, silver twilight, soft he set A table, and, half anguish'd, threw thereon A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet:— O for some drowsy Morphean amulet! The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion, The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarionet, Affray his ears, though but in dying tone:— The hall-door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.
And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
These delicates he heap'd with glowing hand