Edwin of Deira


Edwin of Deira. By ALEXANDER SMITH. London : Macmillan & Co. Boston : Ticknor & Fields. l6mo.
A THIRD volume of verse by Alexander Smith certainly claims a share of public attention. We should not be at all surprised, if this, his latest venture, turn out his most approved one. The volcanic lines in his earlier pieces drew upon him the wrath of Captain Stab and many younger officers of justice, till then innocent of inkshed, The old weapons will, no doubt, be drawn upon him profusely enough now. Suffice it for us, this month, if we send to the printer a taste of Alexander’s last feast and ask him to “hand it round.”


“ So, in the very depth of pleasaut May,
When every hedge was milky white, the lark
A speck against a cape of sunny cloud,
Yet heard o’er all the fields, and when his heart
Made all the world as happy as itself,—
Prince Edwin, with a score of lusty knights,
Rode forth a bridegroom to bring home his bride.
Brave sight it was to see them on their way,
Their long white mantles ruffling in the wind,
Their jewelled bridles, horses keen as flame
Crushing the flowers to fragrance as they moved!
Now flashed they past the solitary crag,
Now glimmered through the forest’s dewy gloom,
Now issued to the sun. The summer night
Hung o'er their tents, within the valley pitched,
Her transient pomp of stars. When that had paled,
And when the peaks of all the region stood
Like crimson islands in a sea of dawn,
They, yet in shadow, struck their canvas town;
For Love shook slumber from him as a foe,
And would not be delayed. At height of noon,
When, shining from the woods afar in front,
The Prince beheld the palace-gates, his heart
Was lost in its own beatings, like a sound
In echoes. When the cavalcade drew near,
To meet it, forth the princely brothers pranced,
In plume and golden scale; and when they met,
Sudden, from out the palace, trumpets rang
Gay weddingmusic. Bertha, ’mong her maids,
Upstarted, as she caught the happy sound,
Bright as a star that brightens ’gainst the night.
When forth she came, the summer day was dimmed;
For all its sunshine sank into her hair,
Its azure in her eyes. The princely man
Lord of a happiness unknown, unknown,
Which cannot all be known for years and years, —
Uncomprehended as the shapes of hills
When one stands in the midst! A week went by,
Deepening from feast to feast ; and at the close,
The gray priest lifted up his solemn hands,
And two fair lives were sweetty blent in one,
As stream in stream. Then once again the knights
W ere gathered fair as flowers upon the sward,
While in the distant chambers women wept,
And, crowding, blessed the little golden head,
So soon to lie upon a stranger’s breast,
And light that place no more. The gate stood wide:
Forth Edwin came enclothed with happiness;
She trembled at the murmur and the stir
That heaved around,— then, on a sudden, shrank,
When through the folds of downcast lids she felt
Burn on her face the wide and staring day,
And all the curious eyes. Her brothers cried,
When she was lifted on the milky steed,
‘ Ah! little one, ’t will soon be dark to-night!
A hundred times we ’ll miss thee in a day,
A hundred times we ’ll rise up to thy call,
And want and emptiness will come on us!
Now, at the last, our love would hold thee back!
Let this kiss snap the cord! Cheer up, my girl!
We 'll come and see thee when thou hast a boy
To toss up proudly to his father’s face,
To let him hear it crow! ’ Away they rode;
And still the brethren watched them from the door,
Till purple distance took them. How she wept,
When, looking back, she saw the things she knew —
The palace, streak of waterfall, the mead,
The gloomy belt of forest — fade away
Into the gray of mountains! With a chill
The wide strange world swept round her, and she clung
Close to her husband’s side. A silken tent
They spread for her, and for her tiring-girls,
Upon the hills at sunset All was hushed
Save Edwin ; for the thought that Bertha slept
In that wild place, — roofed by the moaning wind,
The black blue midnight with its fiery pulse,—
So good, so precious, woke a tenderness
In which there lived uneasily a fear
That kept him still awake. And now, high up,
There burned upon the mountain’s craggy top
Their journey’s rosy signal. On they went;
And as the day advanced, upon a ridge,
They saw their home o’ershadowed by a cloud;
And, hanging but a moment on the steep,
A sunbeam touched it into dusty rain;
And, lo, the town lay gleaming ’mong the woods,
And the wet shores were bright. As nigh they drew,
The town was emptied to its very babes,
And spread as thick as daisies o’er the fields.
The wind that swayed a thousand chestnut cones,
And sported in the surges of the rye,
Forgot its idle play, and, smit with love,
Dwelt in her fluttering robe. On every side
The people leaped like billows for a sight,
And closed behind, like waves behind a ship.
Yet, in the very hubbub of the joy,
A deepening hush went with her on her way;
She was a thing so exquisite, the hind
Felt his own rudeness; silent women blessed
The lady, as her beauty swam in eyes
Sweet with unwonted tears. Through crowds she passed,
Distributing a largess of her smiles;
And as she entered through the palace-gate,
The wondrous sunshine died from out the air,
And everything resumed its common look.
The sun dropped down into the golden west,
Evening drew on apace; and round the fire
The people sat and talked of her who came
That day to dwell amongst them, and they praised
Her sweet face, saying she was good as fair.
“ So, while the town hummed on as was its wont,
With mill, and wheel, and scythe, and lowing steer
In the green field, — while, round a hundred hearths,
Brown Labor boasted of the mighty deeds
Done in the meadow swaths, and Envy hissed
Its poison, that corroded all it touched,—
Rusting a neighbor’s gold, mildewing wheat,
And blistering the pure skin of chastest maid,—
Edwin and Bertha sat in marriage joy,
From all removed, as heavenly creatures winged,
Alit upon a hill-top near the sun,
When all the world is reft of man and town
By distance, and their hearts the silence fills.
Not long: for unto them, as unto all,
Down from love’s height unto the world of men
Occasion called with many a sordid voice.
So forth they fared with sweetness in their hearts,
That took the sense of sharpness from the thorn.
Sweet is love’s son within the heavens alone,
But not less sweet when tempered by a cloud
Of daily duties! Love’s elixir, drained
From out the pure and passionate cup of youth,
Is sweet; but better, providently used,
A few drops sprinkled in each common dish
Wherewith the human table is set forth,
Leavening all with heaven. Seated high
Among his people, on the lofty dais,
Dispensing judgment, — making woodlands ring
Behind a flying hart with hound and horn,—
Talking with workmen on the tawny sands,
’Mid skeletons of ships, how best the prow
May slice the big wave and shake off the foam,—
Edwin preserved a spirit calm, composed,
Still as a river at the full of tide;
And in his eye there gathered deeper blue,
And beamed a warmer summer. And when sprang
The angry blood, at sloth, or fraud, or wrong,
Something of Bertha touched him into peace
And swayed his voice. Among the people went
Queen Bertha, breathing gracious charities,
And saw but smiling faces; for the light Aye looks on brightened colors. Like the dawn
(Beloved of all the happy, often sought
In the slow east by hollow eyes that watch)
She seemed to husked and cìownish gratitude,
That could but kneel and thank. Of industry
She was the fair exemplar, as she span
Among her maids ; and every day she broke
Bread to the needy stranger at her gate.
All sloth and rudeness fled at her approach;
The women blushed and courtesied as she passed,
Preserving word and smile like precious gold;
And where on pillows clustered children’s heads,
A shape of light she floated through their dreams.”