BALLAD (c. 1807)


The death-bell beats,
The mountain repeats
The echoing sound of the knell;
And the dark monk now
Wraps the cowl round his brow,
As he sits in his lonely cell.

And the cold hand of death
Chills his shuddering breath,
As he lists to the fearful lay,
Which the ghosts of the sky,
As they sweep wildly by,
Sing to departed day.
And they sing of the hour
When the stern Fates had power
To resolve Rosa’s form to its clay.

But that hour is past,
And that hour was the last,
Of peace to the dark monk’s brain;
Bitter tears from his eyes gush’d silent and fast,
And he strove to suppress them in vain.
Then his fair cross of gold he dashed on the floor,
When the death-knell struck on his ear –
‘Delight is in store for her evermore,
But for me is fate, horror, and fear.’

Then his eyes wildly rolled,
When the death-bell tolled,
And he raged in terrific woe;
And he stamped on the ground,
But when ceased the sound,
Tears again begun to flow.

And the ice of despair
Chilled the wild throb of care,
And he sate in mute agony still:
Till the night-stars shone thro’ the cloudless air,
And the pale moonbeam slept on the [hill.]

Then he knelt in his cell,
And the horrors of hell
Were delights to his agonised pain,
And he prayed to God to dissolve the spell,
Which else must ever remain.

And in fervent prayer he knelt to the ground,
Till the abbey bell struck one;
His feverish blood ran chill at the sound,
And a voice hollow, horrible, murmured around,
‘The term of thy penance is done.’

Grew dark the night;
The moonbeam bright
Waxed faint on the mountain high;
And from the black hill
Went a voice cold and shrill –
‘Monk! thou art free to die.’

Then he rose on his feet,
And his heart loud did beat,
And his limbs they were palsied with dread;
Whilst the grave’s clammy dew
O’er his pale forehead grew;
And he shuddered to sleep with the dead.

And the wild midnight storm
Raved around his tall form,
As he sought the chapel’s gloom;
And the sunk grass did sigh
To the wind, bleak and high,
As he search’d for the new-made tomb.

And forms dark and high
Seem’d around him to fly,
And mingle their yells with the blast;
And on the dark wall
Half-seen shadows did fall,
And enhorror’d he onward pass’d.

And the storm fiends wild rave
O’er the new made grave,
And dread shadows linger around,
The monk call’d on God his soul to save,
And in horror sank on the ground.

Then despair nerved his arm,
To dispel the charm,
And he burst Rosa’s coffin asunder.
And the fierce storm did swell
More terrific and fell,
And louder peal’d the thunder.

And laugh’d in joy the fiendish throng,
Mix’d with ghosts of the mouldering dead;
And their grisly wings, as they floated along,
Whistled in murmurs dread.

And her skeleton form the dead nun rear’d,
Which dripp’d with the chill dew of hell.
In her half-eaten eye-balls two pale flames appear’d,
But triumphant their gleam on the dark monk glar’d,
As he stood within the cell.

And her long hand lay on his shuddering brain,
But each power was nerv’d by fear. –
‘I never, henceforth, may breathe again;
Death now ends mine anguish’d pain;
The grave yawns – we meet there.’

And her skeleton lungs did utter the sound,
So deadly, so lone, and so fell,
That in long vibrations shudder’d the ground,
And as the stern notes floated around,
A deep groan was answer’d from Hell!

[SOURCE: Thomas Medwin, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 2 vols (London: Thomas Cautley Newby, 1847), vol. 1, pp. 79–83]

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