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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.

Newstead Abbey

Newstead Abbey

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

(From Don Juan)

TO Norman Abbey whirled the noble pair,

An old, old monastery once, and now

Still older mansion, of a rich and rare

Mixed Gothic, such as artists all allow

Few specimens yet left us can compare

Withal: it lies perhaps a little low,

Because the monks preferred a hill behind,

To shelter their devotion from the wind.

It stood embosomed in a happy valley,

Crowned by high woodlands, where the Druid oak

Stood like Caractacus in act to rally

His host, with broad arms ’gainst the thunder-stroke;

And from beneath his boughs were seen to sally

The dappled foresters,—as day awoke,

The branching stag swept down with all his herd,

To quaff a brook which murmured like a bird.

Before the mansion lay a lucid lake,

Broad as transparent, deep, and freshly fed

By a river, which its softened way did take

In currents through the calmer water spread

Around; the wild-fowl nestled in the brake

And sedges, brooding in their liquid bed;

The woods sloped downwards to its brink, and stood

With their green faces fixed upon the flood.

Its outlet dashed into a deep cascade,

Sparkling with foam, until again subsiding

Its shriller echoes—like an infant made

Quiet—sank into softer ripples, gliding

Into a rivulet; and, thus allayed,

Pursued its course, now gleaming, and now hiding

Its windings through the woods; now clear, now blue,

According as the skies their shadows threw.

A glorious remnant of the Gothic pile

(While yet the church was Rome’s) stood half apart

In a grand arch, which once screened many an aisle.

These last had disappeared,—a loss to art:

The first yet frowned superbly o’er the soil,

And kindled feelings in the roughest heart,

Which mourned the power of time’s or tempest’s march,

In gazing on that venerable arch.

Within a niche, nigh to its pinnacle,

Twelve saints had once stood sanctified in stone;

But these had fallen, not when the friars fell,

But in the war which struck Charles from his throne,

When each house was a fortalice,—as tell

The annals of full many a line undone,—

The gallant cavaliers, who fought in vain

For those who knew not to resign or reign.

But in a higher niche, alone, but crowned,

The Virgin Mother of the God-born child,

With her son in her blessed arms, looked round,

Spared by some chance when all beside was spoiled;

She made the earth below seem holy ground.

This may be superstition, weak or wild,

But even the faintest relics of a shrine

Of any worship wake some thoughts divine.

A mighty window, hollow in the centre,

Shorn of its glass of thousand colorings,

Through which the deepened glories once could enter,

Streaming from off the sun like seraph’s wings,

Now yawns all desolate: now loud, now fainter,

The gale sweeps through its fretwork, and oft sings

The owl his anthem, where the silenced choir

Lie with their hallelujahs quenched like fire.

But in the noontide of the moon, and when

The wind is winged from one point of heaven,

There moans a strange unearthly sound, which then

Is musical,—a dying accent driven

Through the huge arch, which soars and sinks again.

Some deem it but the distant echo given

Back to the night-wind by the waterfall,

And harmonized by the old choral wall;

Others, that some original shape or form,

Shaped by decay perchance, hath given the power

(Though less than that of Memnon’s statue, warm

In Egypt’s rays, to harp at a fixed hour)

To this gray ruin, with a voice to charm.

Sad, but serene, it sweeps o’er tree or tower:

The cause I know not, nor can solve; but such

The fact;—I ’ve heard it,—once perhaps too much.

Amidst the court a Gothic fountain played,

Symmetrical, but decked with carvings quaint,—

Strange faces, like to men in masquerade,

And here perhaps a monster, there a saint:

The spring rushed through grim mouths, of granite made,

And sparkled into basins, where it spent

Its little torrent in a thousand bubbles,

Like man’s vain glory and his vainer troubles.

The mansion’s self was vast and venerable,

With more of the monastic than has been

Elsewhere preserved; the cloisters still were stable,

The cells too and refectory, I ween:

An exquisite small chapel had been able,

Still unimpaired, to decorate the scene;

The rest had been reformed, replaced, or sunk,

And spoke more of the baron than the monk.

Huge balls, long galleries, spacious chambers, joined

By no quite lawful marriage of the arts,

Might shock a connoisseur; but, when combined,

Formed a whole which, irregular in parts,

Yet left a grand impression on the mind,

At least of those whose eyes are in their hearts.

We gaze upon a giant for his stature,

Nor judge at first if all be true to nature.