THE VIGIL OF ST. MARK
1806

JAMES MONTGOMERY


Returning from their evening walk,
          On yonder ancient style,
In sweet, romantic, tender talk,
          Two lovers paused awhile: –

EDMUND, the monarch of the dale,
          All-conscious of his powers;
ELLA, the lily of the vale,
          The rose of AUBURN's bowers!

In airy LOVE's delightful bands
          He held her heart in vain;
The Nymph denied her willing hands
          To HYMEN's awful chain.

'Ah! why,' said he, 'our bliss delay!
          'Mine ELLA! why so cold?
'Those who but love from day to day,
          'From day to day grow old.

'The blinding arrow cleaves the sky,
          'Nor leaves a trace behind;
'And single lives like arrows fly,
          '– They vanish thro' the wind.

'In Wedlock's sweet endearing lot
          'Let us improve the scene,
'That some may be, when we are not,
          'To tell – that we have been.'

''Tis now,' replied the village Belle,
          'Saint Mark's mysterious eve;
'And all that old traditions tell
          'I tremblingly believe: –

'How, when the midnight signal tolls,
          'Along the church-yard green,
'A mournful train of sentenced souls
          'In winding-sheets are seen!

'The ghosts of all, whom DEATH shall doom
          'Within the coming year,
'In pale procession walk the gloom,
          'Amid the silence drear!

'If EDMUND, bold in conscious might,
          'By love severely tried,
'Can brave the terrors of to-night,
          ELLA will be his bride.'

She spake, – and, like the nimble fawn,
          From EDMUND's presence fled:
He sought, across the rural lawn,
          The dwelling of the dead!

That silent, solemn, simple spot,
          The mouldering realm of peace,
Where human passions are forgot!
          Where human follies cease!

The gliding moon, through heaven serene,
          Pursued her tranquil way,
And shed o'er all the sleeping scene
          A soft nocturnal day.

With swelling heart and eager feet,
          Young EDMUND gain'd the church,
And chose his solitary seat
          Within the dreadful porch.

Thick, threatening clouds, assembling soon,
          Their dragon-wings display'd;
Eclipsed the slow-retiring moon,
          And quench'd the stars in shade.

Amid the deep abyss of gloom
          No ray of beauty smiled,
Save, glistening o'er some haunted tomb,
          The glow-worm's lustre wild.

The village watch-dogs bay'd around,
          The long grass whistled drear,
The steeple trembled to the ground,
          Even EDMUND quaked with fear.

All on a sudden died the blast,
          Dumb horror chill'd the air,
While NATURE seem'd to pause aghast,
In uttermost despair.

– Twelve times the midnight herald toll'd
          As oft did EDMUND start;
For every stroke fell dead and cold
          Upon his fainting heart.

Then glaring through the ghastly gloom,
          Along the church-yard green,
The destin'd victims of the tomb
          In winding sheets were seen.

In that pale moment EDMUND stood,
          Sick with severe surprise;
While creeping horror drank his blood,
          And fix'd his flinty eyes.

He saw the secrets of the grave!
          He saw the face of DEATH!
No pitying power appear'd to save –
          He gasp'd away his breath!

Yet still the scene his soul beguiled,
          And every spectre cast
A look, unutterably wild,
          On EDMUND, as they pass'd.

All on the ground entranced he lay;
          At length the vision broke!
– When, lo! – a kiss as cold as clay,
          The slumbering Youth awoke.

That moment, streaming through a cloud,
          The sudden moon display'd,
Robed in a melancholy shroud,
          The image of a maid.

Her dusky veil aside she threw,
          And shew'd a face most fair;
– To clasp his ELLA – ELLA – EDMUND flew,
          And clipt the empty air!

'Ha! who art thou!' – His cheek grew pale;
          A well-known voice replied,
ELLA, the lily of the vale!
          ELLA – thy destin'd bride!'

To win his neck, her airy arms
          The pallid phantom spread;
Recoiling from her blasted charms,
          The' affrighted lover fled.

To shun the visionary maid
          His speed outstript the wind;
But, – though unseen to move, – the shade
          Was evermore behind!

So DEATH's unerring arrows glide,
          Yet seem suspended still;
Nor pause, nor shrink, nor turn aside,
          But smite, subdue and kill.

O'er many a mountain, moor and vale,
          On that tremendous night,
The Ghost of ELLA, wild and pale,
          Pursued her Lover's flight.

But when the dawn began to gleam,
          Ere yet the morning shone,
She vanish'd like a nightmare-dream,
          And EDMUND stood alone.

Three days, bewilder'd and forlorn,
          He sought his home in vain;
At length he hail'd the hoary thorn,
          That crown'd his native plain.

'Twas evening: – all the air was balm,
          The heavens serenely clear;
When the soft music of a psalm
          Came pensive o'er his ear.

Then sunk his heart; – a strange surmise
          Made all his blood run cold:
He flew, – a funeral met his eyes;
          He paused, – a death-bell toll'd.

''Tis she! 'tis she!' – He burst away;
          And bending o'er the spot,
Where all that once was ELLA lay,
          He all beside forgot!

A maniac now, in dumb despair,
          With love-bewilder'd mien,
He wanders, weeps and watches there,
          Among the hillocks green.

And every Eve of pale ST. MARK,
          As village hinds relate,
He walks with ELLA in the dark,
          And reads the rolls of Fate!


[SOURCE: James Montgomery, The Wanderer of Switzerland, and Other Poems (London: Vernor and Hood; Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1806), pp. 137–46]


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