Romaunt Of The Oak

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

"I rode to death, for I fought for shame--
The Lady Maurine of noble name,

"The fair and faithless!--Though life be long
Is love the wiser?--Love made song

"Of all my life; and the soul that crept
Before, arose like a star and leapt:

"Still leaps with the love that it found untrue,
That it found unworthy.--Now run me through!

"Yea, run me through! for meet and well,
And a jest for laughter of fiends in hell,

"It is that I, who have done no wrong,
Should die by the hand of Hugh the Strong,

"Of Hugh her leman!--What else could be
When the devil was judge twixt thee and me?

"He splintered my lance, and my blade he broke--
Now finish me thou 'neath the trysting oak!" ...

The crest of his foeman,--a heart of white
In a bath of fire,--stooped i' the night;

Stooped and laughed as his sword he swung,
Then galloped away with a laugh on his tongue....

But who is she in the gray, wet dawn,
'Mid the autumn shades like a shadow wan?

Who kneels, one hand on her straining breast,
One hand on the dead man's bosom pressed?

Her face is dim as the dead's; as cold
As his tarnished harness of steel and gold.

O Lady Maurine! O Lady Maurine!
What boots it now that regret is keen?

That his hair you smooth, that you kiss his brow
What boots it now? what boots it now?...

She has haled him under the trysting oak,
The huge old oak that the creepers cloak.

She has stood him, gaunt in his battered arms,
In its haunted hollow.--"Be safe from storms,"

She laughed as his cloven casque she placed
On his brow, and his riven shield she braced.

Then sat and talked to the forest flowers
Through the lonely term of the day's pale hours.

And stared and whispered and smiled and wept,
While nearer and nearer the evening crept.

And, lo, when the moon, like a great gold bloom
Above the sorrowful trees did loom,

She rose up sobbing, "O moon, come see
My bridegroom here in the old oak-tree!

"I have talked to the flowers all day, all day,
For never a word had he to say.

"He would not listen, he would not hear,
Though I wailed my longing into his ear.

"O moon, steal in where he stands so grim,
And tell him I love him, and plead with him.

"Soften his face that is cold and stern
And brighten his eyes and make them burn,

"O moon, O moon, so my soul can see
That his heart still glows with love for me!" ...

When the moon was set, and the woods were dark,
The wild deer came and stood as stark

As phantoms with eyes of fire; or fled
Like a ghostly hunt of the herded dead.

And the hoot-owl called; and the were-wolf snarled;
And a voice, in the boughs of the oak-tree gnarled,--

Like the whining rush of the hags that ride
To the witches' sabboth,--crooned and cried.

And wrapped in his mantle of wind and cloud
The storm-fiend stalked through the forest loud.

When she heard the dead man rattle and groan
As the oak was bent and its leaves were blown,

And the lightning vanished and shimmered his mail,
Through the swirling sweep of the rain and hail,

She seemed to hear him, who seemed to call,--
"Come hither, Maurine, the wild leaves fall!

"The wild leaves rustle, the wild leaves flee;
Come hither, Maurine, to the hollow tree!

"To the trysting tree, to the tree once green;
Come hither, Maurine! come hither, Maurine!" ...

They found her closed in his armored arms--
Had he claimed his bride on that night of storms?

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