Eleanor in the Empty House: A Ballad Omitted From Percy's "Reliques"


SAD Eleanor sits in the lonely hall;
Silent as ever, she sits and sews,
Like a nun, for penance, at work on her pall,
Thinking the while on her sins and woes ;
She sighs, but sings not ; for all are gone,—
Ellen and Frances, Austin and John,—
And silently her hand works on.


Musing on many things,—God above,
And life and death and the burning lake,
And her work,—and everything but love,
For nothing her frozen heart can wake,—
She stabs with her needle, but never sings ;
For oft in her ears a shrill bell rings,
And she starts, as she heard an angel’s wings.


At nine o’ the clock comes the Abbot in,
And whispers, “ Eleanor, what hast thou there ? ”
“All day,” she answers, “ at work I have been
On a winding-sheet which I mean to wear,
And now I am busy, hemming my pall ;
For I heard, last night, the Death-Angel call,
And the grass will soon grow over us all.”


At ten, Brother William came from his room,
Saying, “Sister Eleanor, get thee to bed!”
And he walked up and down, with a face of gloom,
More heavy of heart than he was in his tread ;
For meagre he was, and worn in his looks,
With hunting for sense in difficult nooks,
And words in hid corners of Latin books.


Still, patient Eleanor never stirred,
But stitched away at the snow-white cloth,
And answered the Brother never a word :
Whereat the sullen friar was wroth,
And glided away, with his visage wan,
Silent and sober ; for all were gone ! —
Brother Austin, and Brother John.


He met the cat in the corridor,
And the lean thing rubbed against his leg ;
So he lifted the creature from the floor,
Saying, “ Poor puss, thou needst not beg ;
There’s nothing, — nor milk, nor fowl, nor flesh.
Not a smelt from the hook, nor a quail from the mesh,—
Nothing for thee, Tom, salt or fresh !


“ Not even a puny mouse in the wall,
Nor a cup of cream on an upper shelf ;
For these roofs are abandoned by mice and all,
And I am as friendless as thyself;
The chambers are empty, — the larder, too,
The grinders have ceased, they’ve grown so few,
And there’s no one to pray for but me and you! ”


Such is the way most houses are
In the summer-time which poets praise ;
Give me the glow behind the bar
Of a sea-coal fire; or the hickory’s blaze ;
And plenty of people up stairs and down
With smiling faces, and never a frown
Because there is nobody left in the town.