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The Works of Lord Byron Volume III Part 54

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Why heard no music, and received no guest?

All was not well, they deemed--but where the wrong?[271]

Some knew perchance--but 'twere a tale too long; 150 And such besides were too discreetly wise, To more than hint their knowledge in surmise; But if they would--they could"--around the board Thus Lara's va.s.sals prattled of their lord.

X.

It was the night--and Lara's gla.s.sy stream The stars are studding, each with imaged beam; So calm, the waters scarcely seem to stray, And yet they glide like Happiness away;[272]

Reflecting far and fairy-like from high The immortal lights that live along the sky: 160 Its banks are fringed with many a goodly tree, And flowers the fairest that may feast the bee; Such in her chaplet infant Dian wove, And Innocence would offer to her love.

These deck the sh.o.r.e; the waves their channel make In windings bright and mazy like the snake.

All was so still, so soft in earth and air, You scarce would start to meet a spirit there; Secure that nought of evil could delight To walk in such a scene, on such a night! 170 It was a moment only for the good: So Lara deemed, nor longer there he stood, But turned in silence to his castle-gate; Such scene his soul no more could contemplate: Such scene reminded him of other days, Of skies more cloudless, moons of purer blaze, Of nights more soft and frequent, hearts that now-- No--no--the storm may beat upon his brow, Unfelt, unsparing--but a night like this, A night of Beauty, mocked such breast as his. 180

XI.

He turned within his solitary hall, And his high shadow shot along the wall: There were the painted forms of other times,[273]

'Twas all they left of virtues or of crimes, Save vague tradition; and the gloomy vaults That hid their dust, their foibles, and their faults; And half a column of the pompous page, That speeds the specious tale from age to age; Where History's pen its praise or blame supplies, And lies like Truth, and still most truly lies. 190 He wandering mused, and as the moonbeam shone Through the dim lattice, o'er the floor of stone, And the high fretted roof, and saints, that there O'er Gothic windows knelt in pictured prayer,[jk]

Reflected in fantastic figures grew, Like life, but not like mortal life, to view; His bristling locks of sable, brow of gloom, And the wide waving of his shaken plume, Glanced like a spectre's attributes--and gave His aspect all that terror gives the grave.[jl] 200

XII.

'Twas midnight--all was slumber; the lone light Dimmed in the lamp, as both to break the night.

Hark! there be murmurs heard in Lara's hall-- A sound--a voice--a shriek--a fearful call!

A long, loud shriek--and silence--did they hear That frantic echo burst the sleeping ear?

They heard and rose, and, tremulously brave, Rush where the sound invoked their aid to save; They come with half-lit tapers in their hands, And s.n.a.t.c.hed in startled haste unbelted brands. 210

XIII.

Cold as the marble where his length was laid, Pale as the beam that o'er his features played, Was Lara stretched; his half-drawn sabre near, Dropped it should seem in more than Nature's fear; Yet he was firm, or had been firm till now, And still Defiance knit his gathered brow; Though mixed with terror, senseless as he lay, There lived upon his lip the wish to slay; Some half formed threat in utterance there had died, Some imprecation of despairing Pride; 220 His eye was almost sealed, but not forsook, Even in its trance, the gladiator's look, That oft awake his aspect could disclose, And now was fixed in horrible repose.

They raise him--bear him;--hush! he breathes, he speaks, The swarthy blush recolours in his cheeks, His lip resumes its red, his eye, though dim, Rolls wide and wild, each slowly quivering limb Recalls its function, but his words are strung In terms that seem not of his native tongue; 230 Distinct but strange, enough they understand To deem them accents of another land; And such they were, and meant to meet an ear That hears him not--alas! that cannot hear!

XIV.

His page approached, and he alone appeared To know the import of the words they heard; And, by the changes of his cheek and brow, They were not such as Lara should avow, Nor he interpret,--yet with less surprise Than those around their Chieftain's state he eyes, 240 But Lara's prostrate form he bent beside, And in that tongue which seemed his own replied; And Lara heeds those tones that gently seem To soothe away the horrors of his dream-- If dream it were, that thus could overthrow A breast that needed not ideal woe.

XV.

Whate'er his frenzy dreamed or eye beheld,-- If yet remembered ne'er to be revealed,-- Rests at his heart: the customed morning came, And breathed new vigour in his shaken frame; 250 And solace sought he none from priest nor leech, And soon the same in movement and in speech, As heretofore he filled the pa.s.sing hours, Nor less he smiles, nor more his forehead lowers, Than these were wont; and if the coming night Appeared less welcome now to Lara's sight, He to his marvelling va.s.sals showed it not, Whose shuddering proved _their_ fear was less forgot.

In trembling pairs (alone they dared not) crawl[jm]

The astonished slaves, and shun the fated hall; 260 The waving banner, and the clapping door, The rustling tapestry, and the echoing floor; The long dim shadows of surrounding trees, The flapping bat, the night song of the breeze; Aught they behold or hear their thought appals, As evening saddens o'er the dark grey walls.

XVI.

Vain thought! that hour of ne'er unravelled gloom Came not again, or Lara could a.s.sume A seeming of forgetfulness, that made His va.s.sals more amazed nor less afraid. 270 Had Memory vanished then with sense restored?

Since word, nor look, nor gesture of their lord Betrayed a feeling that recalled to these That fevered moment of his mind's disease.

Was it a dream? was his the voice that spoke Those strange wild accents; his the cry that broke Their slumber? his the oppressed, o'erlaboured heart That ceased to beat, the look that made them start?

Could he who thus had suffered so forget, When such as saw that suffering shudder yet? 280 Or did that silence prove his memory fixed Too deep for words, indelible, unmixed In that corroding secrecy which gnaws The heart to show the effect, but not the cause?

Not so in him; his breast had buried both, Nor common gazers could discern the growth Of thoughts that mortal lips must leave half told; They choke the feeble words that would unfold.

XVII.

In him inexplicably mixed appeared Much to be loved and hated, sought and feared; 290 Opinion varying o'er his hidden lot,[jn]

In praise or railing ne'er his name forgot: His silence formed a theme for others' prate-- They guessed--they gazed--they fain would know his fate.

What had he been? what was he, thus unknown, Who walked their world, his lineage only known?

A hater of his kind? yet some would say, With them he could seem gay amidst the gay;[jo]

But owned that smile, if oft observed and near, Waned in its mirth, and withered to a sneer; 300 That smile might reach his lip, but pa.s.sed not by, Nor e'er could trace its laughter to his eye: Yet there was softness too in his regard, At times, a heart as not by nature hard, But once perceived, his Spirit seemed to chide Such weakness, as unworthy of its pride, And steeled itself, as scorning to redeem One doubt from others' half withheld esteem; In self-inflicted penance of a breast Which Tenderness might once have wrung from Rest; 310 In vigilance of Grief that would compel The soul to hate for having loved too well.[274]

XVIII.

There was in him a vital scorn of all:[jp]

As if the worst had fallen which could befall, He stood a stranger in this breathing world, An erring Spirit from another hurled; A thing of dark imaginings, that shaped By choice the perils he by chance escaped; But 'scaped in vain, for in their memory yet His mind would half exult and half regret: 320 With more capacity for love than Earth Bestows on most of mortal mould and birth.

His early dreams of good outstripped the truth,[275]

And troubled Manhood followed baffled Youth; With thought of years in phantom chase misspent, And wasted powers for better purpose lent; And fiery pa.s.sions that had poured their wrath In hurried desolation o'er his path, And left the better feelings all at strife[jq]

In wild reflection o'er his stormy life; 330 But haughty still, and loth himself to blame, He called on Nature's self to share the shame, And charged all faults upon the fleshly form She gave to clog the soul, and feast the worm: Till he at last confounded good and ill, And half mistook for fate the acts of will:[jr][276]

Too high for common selfishness, he could At times resign his own for others' good, But not in pity--not because he ought, But in some strange perversity of thought, 340 That swayed him onward with a secret pride To do what few or none would do beside; And this same impulse would, in tempting time, Mislead his spirit equally to crime; So much he soared beyond, or sunk beneath, The men with whom he felt condemned to breathe, And longed by good or ill to separate Himself from all who shared his mortal state; His mind abhorring this had fixed her throne Far from the world, in regions of her own: 350 Thus coldly pa.s.sing all that pa.s.sed below, His blood in temperate seeming now would flow: Ah! happier if it ne'er with guilt had glowed, But ever in that icy smoothness flowed!

'Tis true, with other men their path he walked, And like the rest in seeming did and talked, Nor outraged Reason's rules by flaw nor start, His Madness was not of the head, but heart; And rarely wandered in his speech, or drew His thoughts so forth as to offend the view. 360

XIX.

With all that chilling mystery of mien, And seeming gladness to remain unseen, He had (if 'twere not nature's boon) an art Of fixing memory on another's heart: It was not love perchance--nor hate--nor aught That words can image to express the thought; But they who saw him did not see in vain, And once beheld--would ask of him again: And those to whom he spake remembered well, And on the words, however light, would dwell: 370 None knew, nor how, nor why, but he entwined Himself perforce around the hearer's mind;[js]

There he was stamped, in liking, or in hate, If greeted once; however brief the date That friendship, pity, or aversion knew,[jt]

Still there within the inmost thought he grew.

You could not penetrate his soul, but found, Despite your wonder, to your own he wound; His presence haunted still; and from the breast[ju]

He forced an all unwilling interest: 380 Vain was the struggle in that mental net-- His Spirit seemed to dare you to forget!

XX.

There is a festival, where knights and dames, And aught that wealth or lofty lineage claims, Appear--a high-born and a welcome guest To Otho's hall came Lara with the rest.

The long carousal shakes the illumined hall, Well speeds alike the banquet and the ball; And the gay dance of bounding Beauty's train Links grace and harmony in happiest chain: 390 Blest are the early hearts and gentle hands That mingle there in well according bands; It is a sight the careful brow might smooth, And make Age smile, and dream itself to youth, And Youth forget such hour was past on earth, So springs the exulting bosom to that mirth![jv]

XXI.

And Lara gazed on these, sedately glad, His brow belied him if his soul was sad; And his glance followed fast each fluttering fair, Whose steps of lightness woke no echo there: 400 He leaned against the lofty pillar nigh, With folded arms and long attentive eye, Nor marked a glance so sternly fixed on his-- Ill brooked high Lara scrutiny like this: At length he caught it--'tis a face unknown, But seems as searching his, and his alone; Prying and dark, a stranger's by his mien, Who still till now had gazed on him unseen: At length encountering meets the mutual gaze Of keen enquiry, and of mute amaze; 410 On Lara's glance emotion gathering grew, As if distrusting that the stranger threw; Along the stranger's aspect, fixed and stern, Flashed more than thence the vulgar eye could learn.

XXII.

"'Tis he!" the stranger cried, and those that heard Re-echoed fast and far the whispered word.

"'Tis he!"--"'Tis who?" they question far and near, Till louder accents rung on Lara's ear; So widely spread, few bosoms well could brook The general marvel, or that single look: 420 But Lara stirred not, changed not, the surprise That sprung at first to his arrested eyes Seemed now subsided--neither sunk nor raised Glanced his eye round, though still the stranger gazed; And drawing nigh, exclaimed, with haughty sneer, "'Tis he!--how came he thence?--what doth he here?"

XXIII.

It were too much for Lara to pa.s.s by Such questions, so repeated fierce and high;[jw]

With look collected, but with accent cold, More mildly firm than petulantly bold, 430 He turned, and met the inquisitorial tone-- "My name is Lara--when thine own is known, Doubt not my fitting answer to requite The unlooked for courtesy of such a knight.

'Tis Lara!--further wouldst thou mark or ask?

I shun no question, and I wear no mask."

"Thou _shunn'st_ no question! Ponder--is there none Thy heart must answer, though thine ear would shun?

And deem'st thou me unknown too? Gaze again!

At least thy memory was not given in vain. 440 Oh! never canst thou cancel half her debt-- Eternity forbids thee to forget."

With slow and searching glance upon his face Grew Lara's eyes, but nothing there could trace They knew, or chose to know--with dubious look He deigned no answer, but his head he shook, And half contemptuous turned to pa.s.s away; But the stern stranger motioned him to stay.

"A word!--I charge thee stay, and answer here To one, who, wert thou n.o.ble, were thy peer, 450 But as thou wast and art--nay, frown not, Lord, If false, 'tis easy to disprove the word-- But as thou wast and art, on thee looks down, Distrusts thy smiles, but shakes not at thy frown.

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The Works of Lord Byron Volume III Part 54 summary

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