The Eve of St. Agnes
She danc’d along with vague, regardless eyes,
Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and short:
The hallow’d hour was near at hand: she sighs
Amid the timbrels, and the throng’d resort
Of whisperers in anger, or in sport;
‘Mid looks of love, defiance, hate, and scorn,
Hoodwink’d with faery fancy; all amort,
Save to St Agnes and her lambs unshorn,
And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.
So, purposing each moment to retire,
She linger’d still. Meantime, across the moors,
Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire
For Madeline. Beside the portal doors,
Buttress’d from moonlight, stands he, and implores
All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
But for one moment in the tedious hours,
That he might gaze and worship all unseen;
Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss–in sooth such things have been.
He ventures in: let no buzz’d whisper tell:
All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords
Will storm his heart, Love’s fev’rous citadel:
For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes,
Hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords,
Whose very dogs would execrations howl
Against his lineage: not one breast affords
Him any mercy, in that mansion foul,
Save one old beldame, weak in body and in soul.
Ah, happy chance! the aged creature came,
Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand,
To where he stood, hid from the torch’s flame,
Behind a broad hall-pillar, far beyond
The sound of merriment and chorus bland.
He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
And grasp’d his fingers in her palsied hand,
Saying, "Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place;
"They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race!
"Get hence! get hence! there’s dwarfish Hildebrand;
He had a fever late, and in the fit
He cursed thee and thine, both house and land:
Then there’s that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
More tame for his gray hairs–Alas me! flit!
Flit like a ghost away."–"Ah, gossip dear,
We’re safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
And tell me how"–"Good saints! not here, not here;
Follow me, child, or else these stones will be thy bier."
He follow’d through a lowly arched way,
Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume,
And as she mutter’d "Well-a–well-a-day!"
He found him in a little moonlight room,
Pale, lattic’d, chill, and silent as a tomb.
"Now tell me where is Madeline", said he,
"O tell me, Angela, by the holy loom
Which none but secret sisterhood may see,
"When they St Agnes’ wool are weaving piously."
"St Agnes! Ah! it is St Agnes’ Eve–
Yet men will murder upon holy days:
Thou must hold water in a witch’s sieve,
And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays
To venture so: it fills me with amaze
To see thee, Porphyro!–St Agnes’ Eve!
God’s help! my lady fair the conjuror plays
This very night: good angels her deceive!
But let me laugh awhile, I’ve mickle time to grieve."