A Manx Legend
What is that sound so soft and sweet,
That like a Seraph’s music pours?
No echo can those tones repeat,
It dies along these rocky shores.
And what that form of beauteous mould,
So light it seems of woven air,
While flinging odours rich and rare,
From clustering locks of elfin gold
When shines the moon with placid beam
Amid her rays those ringlets stream,
That form, those eyes of azure light,
That fairy harp of witching tone,
To garish day are never known.
But ope, like modest flowers of night,
When all his ruddy beams are gone.
And many a knight of valour proved
Had heard that harp’s enchanting spell
Had seen that fairy form, and loved
And long pursued o’er heath and dell.
As still the lovely sorceress led,
Had followed to the murky cave,
Hand plunged amid the roaring wave,
That closed in darkness o’er his head.
And see, she bids the moonbeam rest
More softly on her snowy breast
And as she bathes in silver light,
She wakes a purer, loftier strain,
For lo! a victim comes again,
And well she knows the dauntless Knight
A princely game, nor lightly slain.
Yet came he not in Knightly pride —
His noble steed, his squires dismist,
His leashed hound is by his side,
His hooded falcon on his wrists.
He gazed not on those witching charms
Yet if a cautious glance he stole
Sir Gawaine’s was no icy soul,
His kindling frame her beauty warms,
Yet in the blue of that soft eye,
A frozen coldness seem’d to lie,
And he who nearer look’d might trace
Tears gathering there that scorn’d to flow,
Young anger in that heighten’d flow
Or see that more than mortal face
Pale with the throb of inward woe.
Again she tuned her lyre, again
Awakes its most resistless tone,
But lo! she hears an answering strain
Less sweet, but loftier than her own.
As Gawaine tunes the vocal reed,
Her lyre drops useless from her hands,
Vanquish’d and sad, awhile she stands,
Then bounds away with arrowy speed.
But, never conquer’d in the race,
Sir Gawaine urg’d no fruitless chace
He seized her by her flowing hair,
He casts her on the rugged heath
He draws his falchion from its sheath,
While pointed at her bosom bare
The lifted weapon threatens death.
It falls — but on no female breast,
Dilated was that phantom fair,
And now in glittering armour drest
A knight stands sternly frowning there.
And Gawaine’s unpolluted sword
That wept to shed a woman’s blood,
Now aids its master’s kindling mood
And thirsts to quell that form abhorr’d.
Fierce was the combat, and at length
Each panting own’d their failing strength
Tho’ parrying still each adverse blow.
But Gawaine summon’d all his might,
Resolved at once to end the fight,
He struck, but blood refused to flow,
Tho wounded sank the Elfin Knight.
He sunk, but soon a nimble deer,
Rose where the warrior seem’d to die
And launching forth in full career,
Oft tost his crested head on high.
One instant fixed in new surprize
Soon Gawaine’s hand the leash unbound
Forth springs his keen, his matchless hound
And on the fainting stag he flies.
Again his prey has vanish’d there,
An eagle wing’s the middle air
And soar’d so boldly, and so high,
It seem’d he flew to meet the sun,
Whose ruddy beams e’en now begun
To purple o’er the dark-blue sky
And clouds that veil’d the mountain’s dun.
But Gawaine’s Falcon swifter flies
Nor fears to grapple with his king,
In vain with anger-beaming eyes
And mighty beak, and flapping wing
And dreadful cries he threats his foe.
His wing th’intrepid Falcon tore
He falls, the kind of air no more.
Yet scarcely touch’d the ground below,
Ere all his spreading plumes were gone,
Forth flew a little wren alone,
Scarce seen amid the brightening sky.
But on a fir-tree pointed height,
She perches, half conceal’d from sight
And human voice and words surprize
From that small frame the listening Knight
Desist! — yon rising orb of gold
At once thy power and mine control’d,
For secret crimes in fairy-land
Condemn’d to roam this barren strand,
Alone, for many a weary year,
My joyless steps have lingered here.
One only pleasure glads my mind,
To work the woe of human kind.
And lead to death or endless shame
The race thro’ which my sorrow came.
Thou! thou alone has foil’d my wiles
Thou only scorn’d my fatal smiles
Compell’d in borrow’d shapes to flee,
My endless hatred waits on thee.
Love by your sovereign, heaped with wealth
With fame and fortune, youth and health
While England’s fairest maidens, all
Contend they hand to lead the ball
List thy soft converse, and decline
All coarser flattery than thine,
Unconquer’d still by mortal wight
In tourney or in fiercer fight
Thine shall be still a joyless heart
That shares no bliss thy words impart.
The smiles that on that gay brow that glow
Shall never gild the void below
Till one of fairy race shall join
Her fate by marriage bonds with thine1
Then must my power, may curse expire,
For fate controls my deathless ire.
For me! I know my fate to die
By thy accursed progeny.
This day that saw me vanquish’d lie
Must every year behold agen
On these bleak shores the fairy Wren,
While hundreds scour each barren heath
To work one helpless creature’s death.
Woe to the fate devoted bird,
Whose cry that luckless morn is heard,
And woe to me, whene’er the dart,
Of skilful Archer reach my heart”
Thus spoke the Wren, and more she tried,
But in her throat the accents died,
Sunk in a low and plaintive cry,
A short but pleasing melody.
She left her perch, and soaring high
Vanish’d amid the cloudless sky.
But her last accents left behind
A dreadful weight on Gawaine’s mind,
That fatal day, without relief
Gave him to Glory, but to Grief,
For scatheless, (tho’ he win the fight,)
No man may cope with Fairy might.
The chase of the Wren is still pursued in the Isle of Man on the anniversary of the day when the fairy is supposed to have taken refuge in that form, and numbers of unfortunate birds have fallen victims to the superstition.
Alluding to the old fairy tale of Sir Gawaine’s Marriage. ↩