Epistle From The Rhine.

A poem by Frances Anne Kemble

To Y ---, with a bowl of Bohemian glass.

From rocky hills, where climbs the vine;
Where on his waves the wandering Rhine
Sees imaged ruins, towns and towers,
Bare mountain scalps, green forest bowers;
From that broad land of poetry,
Wild legend, noble history,
This token many a day bore I,
To lay it at your feet, dear Y - -.

Little the stupid bowl will tell
Of all that on its way befell,
Since from old Frankfort's free domain,
Where smiling vineyards skirt the main,
It took its way; what sunsets red
Their splendours o'er the mountains shed,
How the blue Taunus' distant height
Like hills of fire gave back the light,
And how, on river, rock, and sky,
The sun declined so tenderly,
That o'er the scene white moonlight fell,
Ere we had bid the day farewell.
From Maintz, where many a warrior priest
Was wont of yore to fight and feast,
The broad stream bore us down its tide,
Till where upon its steeper side,
Grim Ehrenfels, with turrets brown,
On Hatto's wave-worn tower looks down.
Here did we rest, - my dearest Y - -,
This bowl could all as well as I,
Describe that scene, when in the deep,
Still, middle night, all wrapped in sleep,
The hamlet lone, the dark blue sky,
The eddying river sweeping by,
Lay 'neath the clear unclouded light
Of the full moon: broad, brimming, bright,
The glorious flood went rolling by
Its world of waves, while silently
The shaggy hills on either side,
Watched like huge giants by the tide.
From where the savage bishop's tower
Obstructs the flood, a sullen roar
Broke on the stillness of the night,
And the rough waters, yeasty white,
Foamed round that whirlpool dread and deep,
Where still thy voice is heard to weep,
Gisela! maiden most unblest,
Thou Jephtha's daughter of the West!
Who shall recall the shadowy train
That, in the magic light, my brain
Conjured upon the glassy wave,
From castle, convent, crag and cave?
Down swept the Lord of Allemain,
Broad-browed, deep-chested Charlemagne,
And his fair child, who tottering bore
Her lover o'er the treacherous floor
Of new-fallen snow, that her small feet
Alone might print that tell-tale sheet,
Nor other trace show the stern guard,
The nightly path of Eginhard.
What waving plumes and banners passed,
With trumpet clang and bugle blast,
And on the night-wind faintly borne,
Strains from that mighty hunting-horn,
Which through these woods, in other days,
Startled the echoes of the chase.
On trooped the vision; lord and dame,
On fiery steed and palfrey tame,
Pilgrims, with palms and cockle-shells,
And motley fools, with cap and bells,
Princes and Counties Palatine,
Who ruled and revelled on the Rhine,
Abbot and monk, with many a torch,
Came winding from each convent porch;
And holy maids from Nonnenwerth,
In the pale moonlight all came forth;
Thy love, Roland, among the rest,
Her meek hands folded on her breast,
Her sad eyes turned to heaven, where thou
Once more shalt hear love's early vow, -
That vow, which led thee home again
From Roncevalles' bloody plain, -
That vow, that ne'er again was spoken
Till death the nun's drear oath had broken.
Down from each crumbling castle poured,
Of ruthless robber-knights, the horde,
Sweeping with clang and clamour by,
Like storm-cloud rattling through the sky:
Pageant so glorious ne'er, I ween,
On lonely river bank was seen.

So passed that night: but with the day
The vision melted all away;
And wrapped in sullen mist and rain,
The river bore us on again,
With heavy hearts and tearful eyes,
That answered well the weeping skies
Of autumn, which now hung o'er all
The scene their leaden, dropping pall,
Beneath whose dark gray veils, once more
We hailed our native Albion's shore,
Our pilgrimage of pleasure o'er.

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