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


The Cell

By Robert Stephen Hawker (1803–1875)

HOW wildly sweet, by Hartland Tower,

The thrilling voice of prayer;

A seraph, from his cloudy bower,

Might lean to listen there.

For time and place and storied days

To that gray fane have given

Hues that might win an angel’s gaze,

Mid scenery of heaven.

Above, the ocean breezes sweep

With footsteps firm and free;

Around, the mountains guard the deep;

Beneath, the wide, wide sea.

Enter! the arching roofs expand,

Like vessels on the shore,

Inverted, when the fisher-band

Might tread their planks no more.

But reared on high in that stern form,

Lest faithless hearts forget

The men that braved the ancient storm

And hauled the early net.

The tracery of a quaint old time

Still weaves the chancel screen;

And tombs, with many a broken rhyme,

Suit well this simple scene.

A Saxon font, with baptism bright,

The womb of mystic birth;

An altar where, in angels’ sight,

Their Lord descends to earth.

Here glides the spirit of the psalm,

Here breathes the soul of prayer;

The awful church, so hushed, so calm,—

Ah! surely God is there.

And lives no legend on the wall?

No theme of former men?

A shape to rise at fancy’s call,

And sink in graves again?

Yes! there, through yonder portal stone,

With whispered words they tell,

How once the monk with name unknown

Prepared that silent cell.

He came with griefs that shunned the light,

With vows long breathed in vain:

Those arches heard, at dead of night,

The lash, the shriek, the pain,

The prayer that rose and fell in tears,

The sob, the bursting sigh:

Till woke with agony of years

The exceeding bitter cry.

This lasted long,—as life will wear,

E’en though in anguish nursed,—

Few think what human hearts can bear,

Before their sinews burst.

It lasted long, but not for aye;

The hour of freedom came:

In that dim niche the stranger lay,

A cold and silent frame.

What sorrows shook the strong man’s soul,

What guilt was rankling there,

We know not,—time may not unroll

The page of his despair.

He sleeps in yonder nameless ground,

A cross hath marked the stone:

Pray ye, his soul in death hath found

The peace to life unknown.

And if ye mourn that man of tears,

Take heed lest ye too fall;

A day may mar the rest, that years

Shall seek but not recall.

Nor think that deserts soothe despair,

Or shame in cells is screened;

For Thought, the demon, will be there,

And Memory, the fiend.

Then waft, ye winds, this tale of fear,

Breathe it in hall and bower,

Till reckless hearts grow hushed to hear

The Monk of Hartland Tower.