Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant

MURDER OF A SPANISH LADY BY A PIRATE.

A sound is in the Pyrenees!
Whirling and dark, comes roaring down
A tide, as of a thousand seas,
Sweeping both cowl and crown.
On field and vineyard thick and red it stood.
Spain's streets and palaces are full of blood;
And wrath and terror shake, the land;
The peaks shine clear in watchfire lights;
Soon comes the tread of that stout band—
Bold Arthur and his knights.
Awake ye, Merlin! Hear the shout from Spain!
The spell is broke! Arthur is come again!
Too late for thee, thou young, fair bride;
The lips are cold, the brow is pale,
That thou didst kiss in love and pride.
He cannot hear thy wail,
Whom thou didst lull with fondly murmur'd sound—
His couch is cold and lonely in the ground.
He fell for Spain—her Spain no more;
For he was gone who made it dear;
And she would seek some distant shore,
At rest from strife and fear,
And wait amid her sorrows till the day
His voice of love should call her thence away.
Lee feign'd him grieved, and bow'd him low.
'Twould joy his heart could he but aid
So good a lady in her wo,
He meekly, smoothly said.
With wealth and servants she is soon aboard,
And that white steed she rode beside her lord.
Page  78
The sun goes down upon the sea;
The shadows gather round her home.
"How like a pall are ye to me!
My home, how like a tomb!
Oh! blow, ye flowers of Spain, above his head:
Ye will not blow o'er me when I am dead."
And now the stars are burning bright;
Yet still she looks towards the shore,
Beyond the waters black in night.
"I ne'er shall see thee more!
Ye're many, waves, yet lonely seems your flow,
And I'm alone—scarce know I where I go."
Sleep, sleep, thou sad one, on the sea!
The wash of waters lulls thee now;
His arm no more will pillow thee,
Thy hand upon his brow.
He is not near, to hush thee or to save.
The ground is his, the sea must be thy grave.
The moon comes up, the night goes on.
Why in the shadow of the mast,
Stands that dark, thoughtful man alone?
Thy pledge, man; keep it fast!
Bethink thee of her youth and sorrows, Lee:
Helpless alone—and then her trust in thee!
When told the hardships thou hadst borne,
Her words were to thee like a charm.
With uncheer'd grief her heart is worn.
Thou wilt not do her harm!
He looks out on the sea that sleeps in light,
And growls an oath: "It is too still to-night!"
He sleeps; but dreams of massy gold,
And heaps of pearl. He stretch'd his hands.
He hears a voice: "Ill man, withhold."
A pale one near him stands:
Her breath comes deathly cold upon his cheek;
Her touch is cold. He wakes with piercing shriek.
Page  79
He wakes; but no relentings wake
Within his angry, restless soul.
"What, shall a dream Matt's purpose shake?
The gold will make all whole.
Thy merchant trade had nigh unmann'd thee, lad!
What, balk thy chance because a woman's sad?"
He cannot look on her mild eye—
Her patient words his spirit quell.
Within that evil heart there lie
The hates and fears of hell.
His speech is short; he wears a surly brow.
There's none will hear her shriek. What fear ye now?
The workings of the soul ye fear;
Ye fear the power that goodness hath;
Ye fear the Unseen One, ever near,
Walking his ocean path.
From out the silent void there comes a cry:
"Vengeance is mine! Lost man, thy doom is nigh!"
Nor dread of ever-during wo,
Nor the sea's awful solitude,
Can make thee, wretch, thy crime forego.
Then, bloody hand—to blood!
The scud is driving wildly over head;
The stars burn dim; the ocean moans its dead.
Moan for the living—moan our sins—
The wrath of man, more fierce than thine.
Hark! still thy waves! The work begins:
He makes the deadly sign.
The crew glide down like shadows. Eye and hand
Speak fearful meanings through that silent band.
They're gone. The helmsman stands alone,
And one leans idly o'er the bow.
Still as a tomb the ship keeps on;
Nor sound nor stirring now.
Page  80
Hush, hark! as from the centre of the deep,
Shrieks! fiendish yells! They stab them in their sleep.
The scream of rage, the groan, the strife,
The blow, the gasp, the horrid cry,
The panting, stifled prayer for life,
The dying's heaving sigh,
The murderer's curse, the dead man's fix'd, still glare,
And Fear's, and Death's cold sweat—they all are there!
On pale, dead men, on burning cheek,
On quick, fierce eyes, brows hot and damp,
On hands that with the warm blood reek,
Shines the dim cabin lamp.
Lee look'd. "They sleep so sound," he laughing said,
"They'll scarcely wake for mistress or for maid."
A crash! They've forced the door; and then
One long, long, shrill, and piercing scream
Comes thrilling through the growl of men.
'Tis hers! Oh God, redeem
From worse than death thy suffering, helpless child!
That dreadful cry again—sharp, sharp, and wild!
It ceased. With speed o' th' lightning's flash,
A loose-robed form, with streaming hair,
Shoots by. A leap! a quick, short splash!
'Tis gone! There's nothing there!
The waves have swept away the bubbling tide.
Bright-crested waves, how proudly on ye ride:
She's sleeping in her silent cave,
Nor hears the stern, loud roar above,
Or strife of man on land or wave.
Young thing! thy home of love
Thou soon hast reach'd! Fair, unpolluted thing,
They harm'd thee not! Was dying suffering?
Page  81
Oh, no! To live when joy was dead;
To go with one, lone, pining thought—
To mournful love thy being wed—
Feeling what death had wrought;
To live the child of wo, yet shed no tear,
Bear kindness, and yet share no joy nor fear;
To look on man, and deem it strange
That he on things of earth should brood,
When all its throng'd and busy range
To thee was solitude—
Oh, this was bitterness! Death came and press'd
Thy wearied lids, and brought thy sick heart rest.