Tales of Four Nations
2. The Swede
Thro’ dark Salzberist’s argent mine
New floods of sudden splendor shine;
Down the deep gulf the lighted bark
Comes gliding like a meteor-spark,
While thro’ the column’d cavern’s maze
A thousand lamps of silver blaze
’Midst slaves that grim in ghastly mirth
Toil like the restless gnomes of earth.
Slow thro’ their gaunt and livid throng
An awful stranger stalks along
The margin of the milky tide
Whose waves the silver halls divide.
Musing he starts — “Are seraphs near
To greet with songs a stranger’s ear?
In dens of slavery and death
Can mortals boast such tuneful breath?”
“Hid in the chambers of yon cave,
Far stretch’d beneath the frozen wave,
Where scarce a lonely cresset burns
Her wheel a gentle lady turns;
To cheer a wretched husband’s doom,
She lingers in our living tomb —
Her eyes are dimm’d — but well her lips
Repay those lovely eyes’ eclipse,
And while the sullen ore he smooths
Her tender song his labour soothes.
When Love is rash and Fortune kind
Fortune and Love, they say, are blind;
But Chance has veil’d her eyes to shew
That Beauty may be sightless too!”
“Is there such love,” the stranger cried,
On earth to feed a mortal’s pride?
Why wears he chains? — can faith so pure
The sordid touch of guilt endure?
Such strains of holy harmony
Stern Hatred’s self might hear and die.”
“Long since, upon the frozen bank
Of Mosko’s isle1 a shallop sank;
By Eric guided o’er the waste
A noble exile’s steps were trac’d,
But drops of curdled gore reveal’d
His doom by secret murder seal’d;
His dying deer and shatter’d sledge
Lay bloody on the torrent’s edge,
And scarce avenging pow’r could wrest
From Eric’s grasp his mangled vest
Where hidden lay the precious ring
Rich with the signet of a King —
Thou seest his doom!”
— With closer hold
The Stranger prest his ermine’s fold,
And turn’d his silent steps to find
Love in the cell of Woe enshrin’d.
She sleeps — her chamber’s secret shade
The Stranger’s stealing steps invade:
Swarth as a demon of the mines
Sad Eric at her feet reclines
And pausing with a lover’s sighs
Looks on her long-extinguish’d eyes,
Then breathes the tender thought which brings
Balm to the anguish whence it springs.
“’Tis true — the rose has left thy cheek,
Thine eye no longer shines,
And vulgar souls in vain may seek
The charm so priz’d by mine;
But there is one which loves to trace
Amidst the ruins of that face
Departed Beauty’s shrine;
There is an eye that could not dare
To lose the light still living there!
“Yet it is sad to think those eyes
Now dim and sightless grown,
Had once the light that loves supplies
And shone on me alone:
But sweeter ’tis to mourn thee blind,
Than from unclouded eyes to find
The spark of kindness flown —
O! it had been a pang too dire
To see that cherish’d spark retire!
“And thou are blest — for life’s decay
Thine eye shall never see,
Nor trace the chill and blighting sway
Of ruthless time in me:
Thou canst not watch my transient sleep,
Nor grieve while by thy side I weep,
For joys withheld from thee!
Thou seest not how I hate the light
Which brings no blessings to thy sight!
“Still those dim eyes a speech possess
Which beauty’s voice excels;
The pow’r of brightest eyes is less
Than in thy darkness dwells!
A light which asks no sunbeams’s aid,
Like stars that reign in midnight shade
Thy earthly gloom dispels;
Fate may thy mortal sight remove,
But gives thee still the eye of love!”
* * *
She wakes — and from her mossy seat
Springs his returning voice to meet,
Then scans with fingers soft and fair
His dewy brow and tangled hair —
“Cheerly, my love! — our board is spread
With spicy roes and honied bread —
See! — from the soft asbestos won,
My hands this downy web have spun,
Thy scorch’d and throbbing brow to veil
From fiery spark and burning gale:
But toil not thus! — my sightless eyes
Mourn not the loss of summer skies —
No winter in the clime can be,
Where Eric lives, and lives for me!”
“For thee, and only thee, my love!
Till ransom’d spirits meet above!
Sweet Amabel! — tho’ ev’ry breath
Is here a lengthen’d sigh for death,
There is no darkness on thy brow —
Thou still art faithful — none but thou!
But thou wert guiltless — ”
“Why that gasp?
Why shrinks thy cold hand from my clasp?”
He stiffens at her feet — his eyes
Have seen the dead before him rise!
“Eric, behold! — Gustavus calls!
For thee he seeks these dreary halls —
Nor Pain, nor Shame, nor Pow’r has wrung
His secret from his constant tongue!
He sank not in the wintry flood
Where bandit-traitors sought his blood;
Safe thro’ the whirling waves he drew
To light and land thy firm canoe.
My foes lie low in Treason’s grave,
In peace my rightful banners wave,
And he who to thy loyal breast
Came but a weak and wounded guest,
Returns a King! — Of Cimbria’s realm
Thy faithful hand shall aid the helm:
Come to my side, if Pow’r can prove
More rich in gifts than duteous Love!”
Then thrice his beck’ning hand he rais’d —
The sable crowd around him gazed;
“Norwegians, hear! — a royal Swede
First gives to faith its holy meed:
From you I claim my sceptre’s pride,
My bounteous host, my faithful guide!”
Shouts from the silver halls ascend,
Caves, rocks and gulfs their echoes blend —
But Amabel! — an instant light
Burst thro’ the film which veil’d her sight —
“And thou wert guiltless then!” she cried,
Clung to his conscious breast, and died.
* * *
There is no sound in Eric’s sigh,
No language in his tearless eye;
He feels the pang which passes speech,
The pang remembrance dare not reach;
Dumb, frozen as her deathful sleep,
Too deep to groan, to fierce to weep!
Avails it now above the mine
Rich in its burnish’d spoils to shine?
Pomp cannot rear a dome so fair
As Love, which built its temple there!
Near the malestrom. ↩