Llewellyn.

A poem by Walter R. Cassels

I. - In the Porch.

[MORGAN and a MONK.]


MORGAN.

The tale is pitiful. 'Twas on this wise--
Llewellyn went at morn among the hills,
To hunt, as is his use. My lady, too,
With all her maidens, early sallied forth,
A pilgrimage among the neighbouring vales,
Culling of simples, nor yet comes she home;
And so the child lay sleeping in his crib,
With Gelert--you remember the old hound?
He pull'd the stag of ten down by the Holy Well--
With Gelert set to watch him like a nurse.

MONK.

The dog alone? nay! friend, but that is strange!

MORGAN.

Strange! Not a whit, for fifty times before
The hound hath kept him like his own bred whelp,
And ne'er a one could touch him; but the child
Play'd with his shaggy ears and great rough coat,
As no grown man had dared.

MONK.

I know there is
A strange nobility in dogs, to bear
The utmost sport of children, that would seize
Man by the throat e'en for a finger touch--
But to your tale--

MORGAN.

Well! suddenly at noon,
Llewellyn, baffled of his game, hied back,
Striding right grimly in his discontent,
And whistling, oft his spear upon the ground,
Slaying the visions of his fretful dreams;
And presently he thought him of his child:
So with its winsome ways to wile the time,
He went unto the chamber where it lay,
Watch'd o'er by Gelert, as his custom was:
But there, alack! or that the child had crost
The savage humour of the beast, or that
Some sudden madness had embolden'd it,
He saw the child lie bloody mid the sheets,
Slain by the hound, as it would seem, for there
Lay Gelert lapping from his chaps the blood,
That hung in gouts from every grisly curl.

MONK.

O Heaven! the woful deed! What did your lord?

MORGAN.

You know the hasty humour of the man,
That brooks no let betwixt him and his mood--
He slew the old hound with his heavy spear,
That almost licking of his feet fell dead;
For Gelert loved him well, and, crouching, took
Without a cry the blow that struck his heart.

MONK.

This is a sorry day for all the house; they say
Llewellyn had his soul set on the child.

MORGAN.

His soul! Ay, marry! many a time and oft
I've seen the man's great heart stare from his eyes,
Just like a girl's, out at the crowing boy:
And yesterday it was he perch'd him fair
Upon his broad rough shoulder, like a lamb
Laid on the topmost reaches of a hill,
And so he bore him, all his face a-glow,
When heralds came with war-notes from the king;
At which he turn'd him soft--the startled babe
Still set astride, and looking fondly up,
Said he, "See! here's the only lord that sets
His foot upon my shoulder." The man's heart
Scarce beats, I warrant, now the child is dead.

MONK.

And hath he master'd aught his sorrow now,
Or still rides passion curbless through his soul?

MORGAN.

Ah! there, good Father, lies the chiefest woe,
For in the slaying of the hound his rage
Quite spent its force, and now I fear me much
His mind bath lost its olden empery.

MONK.

Nay! Death smites passion still upon the mouth,
And its grim shade is silence--'Tis no sign.

MORGAN.

But in this one act all his fury pass'd;
And turning softly from the dead child there,
Suffering none to touch it where it lay,
He sat him down in awful calmness nigh,
And gazed forth blankly like a sculptured face;
And when we fain would pass to take the child,
A strange wild voice still warns us back again,
"Hush! for the boy is sleeping." It would seem
He will not think that Death hath struck the babe,
But blinds his willing soul, and deems it sleep.

MONK.

A longer sleep, whose waking is not here!
Poor soul! that, catching at the skirts of Truth.
Muffleth his eyes that he may see her not.

MORGAN.

Good Father! go thou to him, for this doubt
That lays its stony spell upon his heart,
Is sadder far than tears--

MONK.

It is mine office
Still to bear balm unto the bleeding heart;
Then lead on, friend, and let us trust in Heaven.

[They pass in.]


II. - In the Chamber.

[LLEWELLYN _and_ MONK.]


MONK.

Benedicite! my son;

LLEWELLYN.

Hush! speak low,
The child is sleeping.

MONK.

Ay! we should speak low
Where Death is, though no sound can ever wake
Those whom he cradles in his bony arms.

LLEWELLYN.

Who speaks of Death in presence of a child!

MONK.

Alas! my son, the bud though ne'er so close
It fold the fragrant treasure of its youth,
Is by the nip of Winter shorn betimes.

LLEWELLYN.

Though Death should grimly stalk into the house,
And stand beside the slumber of a child,
Think you that gazing on its mimic self,
Sleep, beautiful and wondrous, in the crib,
His owlish thoughts would not wing suddenly,
Through cycles of decay, back to the time
When he was one with Sleep, and passing fair;
Think you he would not sigh, "Sleep, on! sleep on!
Thou copy and thou counterfeit of me,
And teach the world that I was beautiful."
The child is sleeping.

MONK.

O my son! my son!
These are delusions that but wrong the soul,
And keep the aching thoughts from peace and Heaven.

LLEWELLYN.

Why, Father, if Death woke him as he lay,
The lad would look up at him with a smile,
And twist his little limbs in childish sport,
Until the angel, surfeited with fear,
Would love and spare the thing that fear'd him not.
No man could see his pretty ways and frown,--
And he was full of little childish tricks,
That won the very heart out of a man
In spite of him. There's Beowolf the Curst,
With ne'er a gentle word for man or child,
But cold and crusty as a northern hill--
Why this day sen'night did my master there,
Crawl up his knees without a Yea or Nay,
And toy'd him with his sword-hilt merrily,
Till the rough man, caught with his gamesome arts,
Swore that he had the making of a man;
And, for the maids, there's none but has a word,
Or kiss to bandy with the gainsome lad;
Ay! when he wakes you'll see how he will crow,
And fill the place with laughter--he's no girl,
Puking and mewling evermore--not he.

MONK.

Good lack! my son, your heart is too much set
Upon the child, to bow before Heav'n's will,
That turns your soul back to itself with stripes;
Oh! know you not, Sir, that the child is dead?

LLEWELLYN.

You all have conn'd the same wise tale by rote--
The child is sleeping; hush! and wake him not.

MONK.

Nay! doth your mind not stumble on the truth,
Here by this old hound lying at your feet,
With all his clotted blood in crimson pools
Curdling among the rushes on the floor?

LLEWELLYN.

The hound?--the hound--Poor Gelert! well-a-day!
It was ill-done of me--a wicked stroke,
A wicked stroke--and the boy, too, asleep.
And now I mind me how he loved the dog;
How many an hour he sported in the sun,
Twining his grisly neck with summer buds;
And how the dog was patient with the boy,
Yielding him gently to his little arms--
There was a lion's heart in the old hound!
The deed's accursed--accursed--the child will wake,
And call for Gelert with his merry voice;
And when the dog no more comes stalking nigh,
With great mild head to meet the outstretch'd hands,
The child will sob his heart out for his friend;
For, Sir, his nature is right full of love,
And generous affections, never slack
To let his soul have space and mastery--
A wicked stroke!

MONK.

Ah! would his voice could sound
Ever again among your silent halls;
But the sweet treble never more shall ring
Across the chambers to your wistful ear;
Then hear it now come floating down from heav'n,
Calling your lone and bleeding heart to God.

LLEWELLYN.

His voice was very sweet, a silvery stream
Of music, rippling softly through my life--
And ne'er to hear his little prattling tongue,
Stumbling upon the threshold steps of speech,
Catching quaint sounds and fragments of discourse,
And setting them to childish uses straight--
I've sat and heard him by the hour--you'd wonder
To hear his little saws and sentences,
And now to think I'll hear him never more--
Alack! alack!--but no, it is not true--
The child is sleeping--Ay! it must be so.
What know you, Father, of an infant's sleep?
You, in your stony cell 'mid shaven friars,
All crowding down the nether side of life,
Hearing no sweeter voice than matin-bells,
No speech, but grace in cold refectories;
Ay! thence it is--Oh fool! that I should doubt!
'Tis so--'tis so--I knew that I should pluck
The cowl from your delusion--Is't not so?

MONK.

Oh son, your woful faith moves all my heart.
'Tis pitiful! but see you not the blood
That hotly streaks your sleeping lily there?
See how it laces all his garments o'er,
And signs the grievous sentence of your joy.

LLEWELLYN.

Blood?--blood?--nay, how is this?--I--very like
The sun shines redly on him--I have seen
The sky look ruddy, as with all the blood
Of battle-fields, where no man cried for grace.
Blood? look, Sir; look again--I--something clouds
Mine eyes to-day--I see more thick than wont.

MONK.

Nay! lean on me--Come! look upon your child,
And Heav'n in ruth will smite your drouthy heart,
And send the balm of tears about your soul.


III. - In the heart of the Child.


There is a little dove that sits
Between the arches all alone,
Cut and carved in old grey stone,
And a spider o'er it flits:

Round and round his web is spun,
With the still bird looking through,
From among the beads of dew,
Set in glories of the sun.

So the bird looks out at morn
At the larks that mount the sky,
And it gazes, still and shy,
At the new moon's scanty horn.

And the owls, that fly by night,
Mock it from the ivied tower,
Hooting at the midnight hour
Down upon it from the height.

But the little dove sits on,
Calm between the arches there,
In the holy morning air,
When the owls with night are gone.

Then the bells for matins ring,
And the grey friars past it go,
Into church in double row,
And it hears the chaunts they sing.

And the incense stealing out
Through the chinks, and through the seams,
Floats among the dusty beams,
And wreathes all the bird about.

All the children as they pass
Turn to see the bird of stone,
'Twixt the arches all alone,
Wading to it through the grass.

Is the spider's pretty net,
Hung across the arches there,
But a frail and foolish snare
For the little stone bird set?

If the place should e'er decay,
And the tower be crumbled down,
And the arches overthrown,
Would the dove then fly away?

So that, seeking it around,
All some golden summer day,
'Mid the ruins as they lay,
It should never more be found?


IV. - In the Chamber.

[LLEWELLYN _and_ MONK.]


LLEWELLYN.

My little one! my joy! my hope! dead--dead--
I did not think to see this sorry sight.

MONK.

Holy St. David! is this death, or sleep?

LLEWELLYN.

Nay! Father, that is past--I am a man
Once more, and look at Sorrow in the eyes;
Let Truth e'en smite me with her two-edged blade,
But smite me, like a warrior, face to face.

MONK.

I stand all in amaze! or do I dream,
Or see I now the motion of a breath,
Ruffling the pouting lips that stand ajar?

LLEWELLYN.

Oh! Father, mock me not--I know that Death
Sits lightly on him as a dreamless sleep;
So dear a bud can never lose its sweets;
Oh! foolish heart! I thought to see him grow
In strength and beauty, like a sapling oak,
Spreading his stalwart shoots about the sky,
Till, when old age set burdens on my back,
In every bough my trembling hands should find
A staff to prop me onward to the grave;
And now--my heart is shaken somewhat sorely.

MONK.

Sir! This is wondrous--let me take the child,
For sure mine eyes do cheat me, or he lives.

LLEWELLYN.

Father, this is not well to mock me so;
My heart is sated with the draught of Hope,
And, loathing, turns from the delusive cup;
Nay! touch him not--'tis well that he should lie,
Calm and unquestion'd, on the breast of Heav'n;
Yet once again my lips must flutter his,
He may not be so distant, but that Love
May send its greeting flying on his track--
The lips are warm--my God! he lives! he lives!

[Takes the child, who awakes in his arms.]

MONK.

Faith! This is stranger than a gossip's tale!
My son! the wonderment o'ermasters you--
Nay! look not thus--let Nature have her way--
Give words to joy, and be your thanks first paid
To Heav'n, that sends you thus your child again.

LLEWELLYN.

The joy was almost more than man might bear!
And still my thoughts are lost in wild amaze--
The child unhurt--this blood--the hound--in troth,
The riddle passes my poor wits.

MONK.

Let's search
The chamber well--Heav'n shield us! what is this?

LLEWELLYN.

A wolf! and dead!--Ah! now I see it clear--
The hound kept worthy watch, and in my haste
I slew the saviour of my house and joy.
Poor Gelert! thou shalt have such recompense
As man may pay unto the dead--Thy name
Henceforth shall stand for Faithfulness, and men
For evermore shall speak thine epitaph.


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