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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.

A Vision of Repentance

Charles Lamb (1775–1834)

I SAW a famous fountain in my dream,

Where shady pathways to a valley led;

A weeping willow lay upon that stream,

And all around the fountain brink were spread

Wide branching trees, with dark green leaf rich clad

Forming a doubtful twilight, desolate and sad.

The place was such, that whoso enter’d in

Disrobèd was of every earthly thought,

And straight became as one that knew not sin,

Or to the world’s first innocence was brought;

Enseem’d it now, he stood on holy ground,

In sweet and tender melancholy wrapt around.

A most strange calm stole o’er my soothèd sprite;

Long time I stood, and longer had I stayed,

When lo! I saw, saw by the sweet moonlight,

Which came in silence o’er that silent shade,

Where, near the fountain, Something like Despair

Made, of that weeping willow, garlands for her hair.

And eke with painful fingers she inwove

Many an uncouth stem of savage thorn—

‘The willow garland, that was for her love,

And these her bleeding temples would adorn.

With sighs her heart nigh burst,—salt tears fast fell,

As mournfully she bended o’er that sacred well.

To whom when I addrest myself to speak,

She lifted up her eyes, and nothing said;

The delicate red came mantling o’er her cheek,

And, gathering up her loose attire, she fled

To the dark covert of that woody shade,

And in her goings seem’d a timid gentle maid.

Revolving in my mind what this should mean,

And why that lovely lady plainèd so;

Perplexed in thought at that mysterious scene,

And doubting if ’twere best to stay or go,

I cast mine eyes in wistful gaze around,

When from the shades came slow a small and plaintive sound:

‘Psyche am I, who love to dwell

In these brown shades, this woody dell,

Where never busy mortal came,

Till now, to pry upon my shame.

‘At thy feet what thou dost see

The Waters of Repentance be,

Which, night and day, I must augment

With tears, like a true penitent,

‘If haply so my day of grace

Be not yet past; and this lone place,

O’ershadowy, dark, excludeth hence

All thoughts but grief and penitence.’

‘Why dost thou weep, thou gentle maid?

And wherefore in this barren shade

Thy hidden thoughts with sorrow feed?

Can thing so fair repentance need?’

‘O! I have done a deed of shame,

And tainted is my virgin fame,

And stained the beauteous maiden white

In which my bridal robes were dight.’

‘And who the promised spouse, declare,

And what those bridal garments were?’

‘Severe and saintly righteousness

Composed the clear white bridal dress;

Jesus, the son of Heaven’s high King,

Bought with His blood the marriage-ring.

‘A wretched sinful creature, I

Deemed lightly of that sacred tie,

Gave to a treacherous world my heart,

And play’d the foolish wanton’s part.

‘Soon to these murky shades I came,

To hide from the Sun’s light my shame.—

And still I haunt this woody dell,

And bathe me in that healing well,

Whose waters clear have influence

From sin’s foul stains the soul to cleanse;

And, night and day, I them augment

With tears, like a true penitent,

Until, due expiation made,

And fit atonement fully paid,

The Lord and Bridegroom me present,

Where in sweet strains of high consent,

God’s throne before, the Seraphim

Shall chaunt the ecstatic marriage hymn.’

‘Now Christ restore thee soon’—I said,

And thenceforth all my dream was fled.