The Eve of St. Agnes

Verses 15-21

    Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon,
    While Porphyro upon her face doth look,
    Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone
    Who keepeth clos’d a wondrous riddle-book,
    As spectacled she sits in chimney nook.
    But soon his eyes grew brilliant, when she told
    His lady’s purpose; and he scarce could brook
    Tears, at the thought of those enchantments cold
And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.

    Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
    Flushing his brow, and in his pained heart
    Made purple riot: then doth he propose
    A stratagem, that makes the beldame start:
    "A cruel man and impious thou art:
    Sweet lady, let her pray, and sleep, and dream
    Alone with her good angels, far apart
    From wicked men like thee. Go, go!–I deem
Thou canst not surely be the same that thou didst seem."

    "I will not harm her, by all saints I swear,"
    Quoth Porphyro: "O may I ne’er find grace
    When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,
    If one of her soft ringlets I displace,
    Or look with ruffian passion in her face:
    Good Angela, believe me by these tears;
    Or I will, even in a moment’s space,
    Awake, with horrid shout, my foemen’s ears,
And beard them, though they be more fang’d than wolves and bears."

    "Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?
    A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,
    Whose passing-bell may ere the midnight toll;
    Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening,
    Were never miss’d." Thus plaining, doth she bring
    A gentler speech from burning Porphyro;
    So woeful, and of such deep sorrowing,
    That Angela gives promise she will do
Whatever he shall wish, betide her weal or woe.

    Which was, to lead him, in close secrecy,
    Even to Madeline’s chamber, and there hide
    Him in a closet, of such privacy
    That he might see her beauty unespied,
    And win perhaps that night a peerless bride,
    While legion’d fairies pac’d the coverlet,
    And pale enchantment held her sleepy-eyed.
    Never on such a night have lovers met,
Since Merlin paid his Demon all the monstrous debt.

    "It shall be as thou wishest," said the Dame:
    "All cates and dainties shall be stored there
    Quickly on this feast-night: by the tambour frame
    Her own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare,
    For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dare
    On such a catering trust my dizzy head.
    Wait here, my child, with patience; kneel in prayer
    The while: Ah! thou must needs the lady wed,
Or may I never leave my grave among the dead."

    So saying, she hobbled off with busy fear.
    The lover’s endless minutes slowly pass’d;
    The Dame return’d, and whisper’d in his ear
    To follow her; with aged eyes aghast
    From fright of dim espial. Safe at last
    Through many a dusky gallery, they gain
    The maiden’s chamber, silken, hush’d and chaste;
    Where Porphyro took covert, pleas’d amain.
His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.

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