Home  »  The Book of Georgian Verse  »  Robert Southey (1774–1843)

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

Lord William

Robert Southey (1774–1843)

NO eye beheld when William plunged

Young Edmund in the stream,

No human ear but William’s heard

Young Edmund’s drowning scream.

Submissive, all the vassals own’d

The murderer for their lord,

And he, as rightful heir, possess’d

The house of Erlingford.

The ancient house of Erlingford

Stood in a fair domain,

And Severn’s ample waters near

Roll’d through the fertile plain;

And often the way-faring man

Would love to linger there,

Forgetful of his onward road,

To gaze on scenes so fair.

But never could Lord William dare

To gaze on Severn’s stream;

In every wind that swept its waves

He heard young Edmund scream!

In vain, at midnight’s silent hour

Sleep closed the murderer’s eyes,

In every dream the murderer saw

Young Edmund’s form arise:

In vain by restless conscience driven

Lord William left his home,

Far from the scenes that saw his guilt,

In pilgrimage to roam.

To other climes the pilgrim fled,

But could not fly despair;

He sought his home again, but peace

Was still a stranger there.

Slow were the passing hours, yet swift

The months appeared to roll;

And now the day return’d that shook

With terror William’s soul;—

A day that William never felt

Return without dismay,

For well had conscience calendar’d

Young Edmund’s dying day.

A fearful day was that! the rains

Fell fast with tempest roar,

And the swoln tide of Severn spread

Far on the level shore.

In vain Lord William sought the feast,

In vain he quaff’d the bowl,

And strove with noisy mirth to drown

The anguish of his soul;—

The tempest, as its sudden swell

In gusty howlings came,

With cold and death-like feelings seem’d

To thrill his shuddering frame.

Reluctant now, as night came on,

His lonely couch he prest;

And, wearied out, he sunk to sleep,—

To sleep—but not to rest.

Beside that couch his brother’s form,

Lord Edmund, seem’d to stand,

Such, and so pale, as when in death

He grasp’d his brother’s hand;

Such, and so pale his face, as when

With faint and faltering tongue,

To William’s care, a dying charge,

He left his orphan son.

‘I bade thee with a father’s love

My orphan Edmund guard;—

Well, William, hast thou kept thy charge!

Now take thy due reward.’

He started up, each limb convulsed

With agonizing fear;

He only heard the storm of night,—

’Twas music to his ear!

When, lo! the voice of loud alarm

His inmost soul appals;

‘What ho! Lord William, rise in haste!

The water saps thy walls!’

He rose in haste,—beneath the walls

He saw the flood appear;

It hemm’d him round,—’twas midnight now,

No human aid was near.

He heard a shout of joy, for now

A boat approach’d the wall,

And eager to the welcome aid

They crowd for safety all.

‘My boat is small,’ the boatman cried,

‘’Twill bear but one away;

Come in, Lord William, and do ye

In God’s protection stay.’

Strange feeling fill’d them at his voice,

Even in that hour of woe,

That, save their lord, there was not one

Who wished with him to go.

But William leapt into the boat,—

His terror was so sore;

‘Thou shalt have half my gold,’ he cried,

‘Haste!—haste to yonder shore!’

The boatman plied the oar, the boat

Went light along the stream;

Sudden Lord William heard a cry

Like Edmund’s drowning scream!

The boatman paused, ‘Methought I heard

A child’s distressful cry!’

‘’Twas but the howling wind of night,’

Lord William made reply.

‘Haste!—haste!—ply swift and strong the oar;

Haste!—haste across the stream!’

Again Lord William heard a cry

Like Edmund’s drowning scream!

‘I heard a child’s distressful voice,’

The boatman cried again.

‘Nay, hasten on!—the night is dark—

And we should search in vain!’

‘O God! Lord William, dost thou know

How dreadful ’tis to die?

And canst thou without pity hear

A child’s expiring cry?

‘How horrible it is to sink

Beneath the closing stream,

To stretch the powerless arms in vain,

In vain for help to scream!’

The shriek again was heard: it came

More deep, more piercing loud;

That instant o’er the flood the moon

Shone through a broken cloud;

And near them they beheld a child;

Upon a crag he stood,

A little crag, and all around

Was spread the rising flood.

The boatman plied the oar, the boat

Approach’d his resting-place;

The moon-beam shone upon the child,

And show’d how pale his face.

‘Now reach thine hand!’ the boatman cried,

‘Lord William, reach and save!’

The child stretch’d forth his little hands

To grasp the hand he gave!

Then William shriek’d; the hands he felt

Were cold, and damp, and dead!

He held young Edmund in his arms

A heavier weight than lead!

The boat sunk down, the murderer sunk

Beneath the avenging stream;

He rose, he shriek’d, no human ear

Heard William’s drowning scream!