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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Knight of St. John

ERE down yon blue Carpathian hills

The sun shall sink again,

Farewell to life and all its ills,

Farewell to cell and chain!

These prison shades are dark and cold,

But, darker far than they,

The shadow of a sorrow old

Is on my heart alway.

For since the day when Warkworth wood

Closed o’er my steed, and I,

An alien from my name and blood,

A weed cast out to die,—

When, looking back in sunset light,

I saw her turret gleam,

And from its casement, far and white,

Her sign of farewell stream,

Like one who, from some desert shore,

Doth home’s green isles descry,

And, vainly longing, gazes o’er

The waste of wave and sky;

So from the desert of my fate

I gaze across the past;

Forever on life’s dial-plate

The shade is backward cast!

I ’ve wandered wide from shore to shore,

I ’ve knelt at many a shrine;

And bowed me to the rocky floor

Where Bethlehem’s tapers shine;

And by the Holy Sepulchre

I ’ve pledged my knightly sword

To Christ, His blessed Church, and her,

The Mother of our Lord.

Oh, vain the vow, and vain the strife!

How vain do all things seem!

My soul is in the past, and life

To-day is but a dream!

In vain the penance strange and long,

And hard for flesh to bear;

The prayer, the fasting, and the thong,

And sackcloth shirt of hair.

The eyes of memory will not sleep,—

Its ears are open still;

And vigils with the past they keep

Against my feeble will.

And still the loves and joys of old

Do evermore uprise;

I see the flow of locks of gold,

The shine of loving eyes!

Ah me! upon another’s breast

Those golden locks recline;

I see upon another rest

The glance that once was mine.

“O faithless priest! O perjured knight!”

I hear the Master cry;

“Shut out the vision from thy sight,

Let Earth and Nature die.

“The Church of God is now thy spouse,

And thou the bridegroom art;

Then let the burden of thy vows

Crush down thy human heart!”

In vain! This heart its grief must know,

Till life itself hath ceased,

And falls beneath the self-same blow

The lover and the priest!

O pitying Mother! souls of light,

And saints and martyrs old!

Pray for a weak and sinful knight,

A suffering man uphold.

Then let the Paynim work his will,

And death unbind my chain,

Ere down yon blue Carpathian hill

The sun shall fall again.