"Heidelberg" [poem]
HEIDELBERG.
NOW from the smiling afternoon
The rain had past away;
And glimmered forth the pallid moon,
Amid the heavens grey.
Brake, and bush, and mead, and flower
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Were glistening with the sunny shower;
Where, from the tangled, viny wreath,
The clustered grape looked out beneath,—
Climbing up the southern side
Of the round hillsʼ bosom wide,—
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Branches of the chain that bound
All the south horizon round.
Far towards the western day
Mannheimʼs towers softened lay.— 1
But a moment:—darkly down a
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Came the thunder, heavenʼs frown!
ʼMong the trees, a fitful shaking
Told the hoarse night‐wind was waking.
Grey upon his mountain throne,
Heidelberg his ruins lone
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Reared colossally;
All begirt with mighty trees,
Whistling with the evenʼs breeze,
Flapping faintly by. 2
It was morning:—from the height
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Cumbered with its ruins hoar,
All that lovely valley bright
We were looking oʼer,
With its silver river bending,—
Vineyards to its banks descending. 3
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Many a distant mountain chain
Girded round the mighty plain.
Here the sky was clear and bright;
But upon their distant height,
Like a monster oʼer his prey,
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Rain and tempest scowling lay;
Like a mighty ocean‐wave,
All along the horizon sweeping,
Flinging far its cloudy spray,
Oʼer the peaceful heaven beating.
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But climbed the cloud yet more and more,
Into the heaven dancing,
Till,—like the scouring bands before
Embattled armiesʼ path advancing,—
Circling the sun with mazy ring,
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They wildly on came scattering.
Then deeper, darker, heavier grew
The fitful light the red sun threw
On the gaunt ruinʼs ghostly wall;
And, coursing oʼer the sloping meadow,
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Strong was the light, and deep the shadow.
Till, rustling through the pine‐trees tall,
Came quick the sound of raindrop‐fall.
Fast increased, the leafy rattle
Spoke the coming tempest‐battle. b
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Enter then the chambers cold—
Cold and lifeless, bald and bare;
Though with banners decked of old,
Ivy tendrilsʼ flickering flare
Are the only banners there.
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Thou wouldst start to hear thy tread
Given back by echoes dead!
Thou wouldst look around to see
If a sprite were watching thee!
Yet a vision would come oʼer thee
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Of the scenes had past before thee;—
Of the time when many a guest
Blessed the baron for his feast;
When the peasant, homeward stealing,—
Dusky night the hills concealing—
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Heard the swell of wassail wild,
Cadence from the castle coming,
Mingling with the night‐breeze humming;
And, until the morning mild
Lightened upon wall and tower,
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Beacon‐light from hour to hour
Streaming from the windows tall
Of the baronsʼ ancient hall:
Where the shout around was ringing,
And the troubadour was singing
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Ancient air and ancient rhyme—
Legend of the ancient time:—
Of some knightʼs blood, nobly spilt
In the melée or the tilt;—
Of the deeds of some brave band,
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Oath‐bound in the Holy Land,
Such as iron Richard led,
Steeled without and steeled within,—
True in hand and heart and head,
Worthy foes of Saladin. 4
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Or, if pleased, a darker theme;—
Of spectres huge, at twilight seen
Above some battle‐field,
Mimicking with motion dread
Past combat of those lying dead
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Beneath their cloudy pinions spread—
Crested helm, and spear, and shield,
In the red cloud blazon├Ęd.
Thus with feast and revelry
Oft the huge halls rang with glee;
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All reckless of the withering woe
Reigned in their dungeons dank below,
Where, in the lone hoursʼ sullen flight,
The masked day mingled with the night;
Until the captiveʼs practised eye
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Could pierce the thick obscurity—
Could see his fetters glance, or tell
The stones which walled his narrow cell:
Till, at the time the warder came,
His dusky lampʼs half‐smothered flame
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Flashed on him like that sun whose ray,
And all the smile of lightsome day,
He has almost forgotten.