Penna's Daughter: A Cornish Legend

I TOOK my baby to the sands,
Undid her coats and swaddling bands;
I held her tight in tender hands
And dipped her in the sea:
Ah me! how pink her fair face showed!
Her ivory body blushed and glowed,
Her dimpled legs my arm bestrode,
She screamed with baby glee.
That summer sea, how soft it laves
The long and lonely shore of graves!
Her eyes were bluer than its waves,
Her yellow curls flew free.
I looked at her with lips apart,
I kissed her with a hungry heart;
Out of my arms with sudden dart
She leapt into the sea.
My voice died out, I could not shriek,
My helpless hands hung cold and weak;
Before my stiffened lips could speak
The child came back to me!
Like any dancing spray of foam
That on the billows loves to roam,
She floated back to me and home,
This baby of the sea.
Oh is she mine, or is she thine?
The lapping water made no sign.
She grew like rose-trees straight and fine,
This creature from the sea.
Her hair was gay as golden thread;
From off her fair and haughty head,
Down to the ground it waved and spread,
As bright as sunbeams be.
She grew to be a dainty maid,
But never in the church she prayed,
And never in her home she stayed,
To rock the babes for me.
But night and day, and day and night,
When morn was red or stars were bright,
She strayed beside her sole delight,
The moaning, glittering sea.
Sometimes she smiled, sometimes she sung;
No laugh went rippling from her tongue;
As light from stone to stone she sprung
As plovers flit and flee;
Or on a rock, with hair outspread
And lips like coral wet and red,
She bent to see her shining head
Glassed in the shining sea.
Alas! alas! the day is long,
But dew-fall brings to even-song.
The squire’s young heir was tall and strong,
And well he loved the sea.
You saw his pinnace, when the gale
Went howling by through shroud and sail,
Fly o’er the billows fiery pale,
As over blooms the bee.
Where wild and white the breakers pour,
His cheery shout above the roar
Came ringing to the frighted shore
Like bells across the lea.
He saw my lass upon the beach,
He made good speed her side to reach,
He wiled her well with guileful speech,
He whispered like the sea.
Oh saddest heart! oh tale to tell!
My gold and milk-white lily-bell,
Before the blast it bowed and fell,
It fell and died by me.
Her father’s heart was hard and old,
Her lover’s lips were sneering cold;
I wrapped her shroud in fold on fold
And laid her by the sea.
Oh was she mine, or was she thine?
The awful water gave no sign.
I kissed the clay, my love was mine;
The child was child to me.
And he who killed her sailed away;
He stayed a year, he stayed a day, —
From God he could no longer stay,
Nor from the hungry sea.
The revel lights had long been out,
The revel songsters ceased to shout;
He lost his path, he strayed about,
And on the rock sat she.
Her long hair in the moonlight shone,
She called to him with piteous moan,
“Ah love! my love! I weep alone.
Come down beside the sea.”
She clasped him close, she clasped him tight,
She wrapped him in her tresses bright:
“My breast shall be thy bed to-night,
Thy curfew-bell the sea.
If Penna’s daughter drooped and died,
Her tale is told; behold thy bride.”
She clasped him to her icy side,
Nor sign nor sound made he.
When clouded red with blood and flame
The dawning day in tempest came,
In vain they called Lord Walter’s name;
From tower nor town came he:
At night he tossed, a broken thing,
Flapped by the screaming sea-bird’s wing,
Where sullen waters heave and swing,
Cast from the scornful sea.
Rose Terry Cooke