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O HAPPY time of youthful lovers (thus My story may begin) O balmy time, In which a love-knot on a lady’s brow Is fairer than the fairest star in heaven! To such inheritance of blessed fancy (Fancy that sports more desperately with minds Than ever fortune hath been known to do) The high-born Vaudracour was brought, by years Whose progress had a little overstepped His stripling prime. A town of small repute, 10 Among the vine-clad mountains of Auvergne, Was the Youth’s birth-place. There he wooed a Maid Who heard the heart-felt music of his suit With answering vows. Plebeian was the stock, Plebeian, though ingenuous, the stock, From which her graces and her honours sprung: And hence the father of the enamoured Youth, With haughty indignation, spurned the thought Of such alliance.–From their cradles up, With but a step between their several homes, 20 Twins had they been in pleasure; after strife And petty quarrels, had grown fond again; Each other’s advocate, each other’s stay; And, in their happiest moments, not content, If more divided than a sportive pair Of sea-fowl, conscious both that they are hovering Within the eddy of a common blast, Or hidden only by the concave depth Of neighbouring billows from each other’s sight. Thus, not without concurrence of an age 30 Unknown to memory, was an earnest given By ready nature for a life of love, For endless constancy, and placid truth; But whatsoe’er of such rare treasure lay Reserved, had fate permitted, for support Of their maturer years, his present mind Was under fascination;–he beheld A vision, and adored the thing he saw. Arabian fiction never filled the world With half the wonders that were wrought for him. 40 Earth breathed in one great presence of the spring; Life turned the meanest of her implements, Before his eyes, to price above all gold; The house she dwelt in was a sainted shrine; Her chamber-window did surpass in glory The portals of the dawn; all paradise Could, by the simple opening of a door, Let itself in upon him:–pathways, walks, Swarmed with enchantment, till his spirit sank, Surcharged, within him, overblest to move 50 Beneath a sun that wakes a weary world To its dull round of ordinary cares; A man too happy for mortality! So passed the time, till whether through effect Of some unguarded moment that dissolved Virtuous restraint–ah, speak it, think it, not! Deem rather that the fervent Youth, who saw So many bars between his present state And the dear haven where he wished to be In honourable wedlock with his Love, 60 Was in his judgment tempted to decline To perilous weakness, and entrust his cause To nature for a happy end of all; Deem that by such fond hope the Youth was swayed, And bear with their transgression, when I add That Julia, wanting yet the name of wife, Carried about her for a secret grief The promise of a mother. To conceal The threatened shame, the parents of the Maid Found means to hurry her away by night, 70 And unforewarned, that in some distant spot She might remain shrouded in privacy, Until the babe was born. When morning came The Lover, thus bereft, stung with his loss, And all uncertain whither he should turn, Chafed like a wild beast in the toils; but soon Discovering traces of the fugitives, Their steps he followed to the Maid’s retreat. Easily may the sequel be divined– Walks to and fro–watchings at every hour; 80 And the fair Captive, who, whene’er she may, Is busy at her casement as the swallow Fluttering its pinions, almost within reach, About the pendent nest, did thus espy Her Lover!–thence a stolen interview, Accomplished under friendly shade of night. I pass the raptures of the pair;–such theme Is, by innumerable poets, touched In more delightful verse than skill of mine Could fashion; chiefly by that darling bard 90 Who told of Juliet and her Romeo, And of the lark’s note heard before its time, And of the streaks that laced the severing clouds In the unrelenting east.–Through all her courts The vacant city slept; the busy winds, That keep no certain intervals of rest, Moved not; meanwhile the galaxy displayed Her fires, that like mysterious pulses beat Aloft;–momentous but uneasy bliss! To their full hearts the universe seemed hung 100 On that brief meeting’s slender filament! They parted; and the generous Vaudracour Reached speedily the native threshold, bent On making (so the Lovers had agreed) A sacrifice of birthright to attain A final portion from his father’s hand; Which granted, Bride and Bridegroom then would flee To some remote and solitary place, Shady as night, and beautiful as heaven, Where they may live, with no one to behold 110 Their happiness, or to disturb their love. But ‘now’ of this no whisper; not the less, If ever an obtrusive word were dropped Touching the matter of his passion, still, In his stern father’s hearing, Vaudracour Persisted openly that death alone Should abrogate his human privilege Divine, of swearing everlasting truth, Upon the altar, to the Maid he loved. “You shall be baffled in your mad intent 120 If there be justice in the court of France,” Muttered the Father.–From these words the Youth Conceived a terror; and, by night or day, Stirred nowhere without weapons, that full soon Found dreadful provocation: for at night When to his chamber he retired, attempt Was made to seize him by three armed men, Acting, in furtherance of the father’s will, Under a private signet of the State. One the rash Youth’s ungovernable hand 130 Slew, and as quickly to a second gave A perilous wound–he shuddered to behold The breathless corse; then peacefully resigned His person to the law, was lodged in prison, And wore the fetters of a criminal. Have you observed a tuft of winged seed That, from the dandelion’s naked stalk, Mounted aloft, is suffered not to use Its natural gifts for purposes of rest, Driven by the autumnal whirlwind to and fro 140 Through the wide element? or have you marked The heavier substance of a leaf-clad bough, Within the vortex of a foaming flood, Tormented? by such aid you may conceive The perturbation that ensued;–ah, no! Desperate the Maid–the Youth is stained with blood; Unmatchable on earth is their disquiet! Yet as the troubled seed and tortured bough Is Man, subjected to despotic sway. For him, by private influence with the Court, 150 Was pardon gained, and liberty procured; But not without exaction of a pledge, Which liberty and love dispersed in air. He flew to her from whom they would divide him– He clove to her who could not give him peace– Yea, his first word of greeting was,–“All right Is gone from me; my lately-towering hopes, To the least fibre of their lowest root, Are withered; thou no longer canst be mine, I thine–the conscience-stricken must not woo 160 The unruffled Innocent,–I see thy face, Behold thee, and my misery is complete!” “One, are we not?” exclaimed the Maiden–“One, For innocence and youth, for weal and woe?” Then with the father’s name she coupled words Of vehement indignation; but the Youth Checked her with filial meekness; for no thought Uncharitable crossed his mind, no sense Of hasty anger rising in the eclipse Of true domestic loyalty, did e’er 170 Find place within his bosom.–Once again The persevering wedge of tyranny Achieved their separation: and once more Were they united,–to be yet again Disparted, pitiable lot! But here A portion of the tale may well be left In silence, though my memory could add Much how the Youth, in scanty space of time, Was traversed from without; much, too, of thoughts That occupied his days in solitude 180 Under privation and restraint; and what, Through dark and shapeless fear of things to come, And what, through strong compunction for the past, He suffered–breaking down in heart and mind! Doomed to a third and last captivity, His freedom he recovered on the eve Of Julia’s travail. When the babe was born, Its presence tempted him to cherish schemes Of future happiness. “You shall return, Julia,” said he, “and to your father’s house 190 Go with the child.–You have been wretched; yet The silver shower, whose reckless burthen weighs Too heavily upon the lily’s head, Oft leaves a saving moisture at its root. Malice, beholding you, will melt away. Go!–’tis a town where both of us were born; None will reproach you, for our truth is known; And if, amid those once-bright bowers, our fate Remain unpitied, pity is not in man. With ornaments–the prettiest, nature yields 200 Or art can fashion, shall you deck our boy, And feed his countenance with your own sweet looks Till no one can resist him.–Now, even now, I see him sporting on the sunny lawn; My father from the window sees him too; Startled, as if some new-created thing Enriched the earth, or Faery of the woods Bounded before him;–but the unweeting Child Shall by his beauty win his grandsire’s heart So that it shall be softened, and our loves 210 End happily, as they began!” These gleams Appeared but seldom; oftener was he seen Propping a pale and melancholy face Upon the Mother’s bosom; resting thus His head upon one breast, while from the other The Babe was drawing in its quiet food. –That pillow is no longer to be thine, Fond Youth! that mournful solace now must pass Into the list of things that cannot be! Unwedded Julia, terror-smitten, hears 220 The sentence, by her mother’s lip pronounced, That dooms her to a convent.–Who shall tell, Who dares report, the tidings to the lord Of her affections? so they blindly asked Who knew not to what quiet depths a weight Of agony had pressed the Sufferer down: The word, by others dreaded, he can hear Composed and silent, without visible sign Of even the least emotion. Noting this, When the impatient object of his love 230 Upbraided him with slackness, he returned No answer, only took the mother’s hand And kissed it; seemingly devoid of pain, Or care, that what so tenderly he pressed, Was a dependant on the obdurate heart Of one who came to disunite their lives For ever–sad alternative! preferred, By the unbending Parents of the Maid, To secret ‘spousals meanly disavowed. –So be it! In the city he remained 240 A season after Julia had withdrawn To those religious walls. He, too, departs– Who with him?–even the senseless Little-one. With that sole charge he passed the city-gates, For the last time, attendant by the side Of a close chair, a litter, or sedan, In which the Babe was carried. To a hill, That rose a brief league distant from the town, The dwellers in that house where he had lodged Accompanied his steps, by anxious love 250 Impelled;–they parted from him there, and stood Watching below till he had disappeared On the hill top. His eyes he scarcely took, Throughout that journey, from the vehicle (Slow-moving ark of all his hopes!) that veiled The tender infant: and, at every inn, And under every hospitable tree At which the bearers halted or reposed, Laid him with timid care upon his knees, And looked, as mothers ne’er were known to look, 260 Upon the nursling which his arms embraced. This was the manner in which Vaudracour Departed with his infant; and thus reached His father’s house, where to the innocent child Admittance was denied. The young man spake No word of indignation or reproof, But of his father begged, a last request, That a retreat might be assigned to him Where in forgotten quiet he might dwell, With such allowance as his wants required; 270 For wishes he had none. To a lodge that stood Deep in a forest, with leave given, at the age Of four-and-twenty summers he withdrew; And thither took with him his motherless Babe, And one domestic for their common needs, An aged woman. It consoled him here To attend upon the orphan, and perform Obsequious service to the precious child, Which, after a short time, by some mistake Or indiscretion of the Father, died.– 280 The Tale I follow to its last recess Of suffering or of peace, I know not which: Theirs be the blame who caused the woe, not mine! From this time forth he never shared a smile With mortal creature. An Inhabitant Of that same town, in which the pair had left So lively a remembrance of their griefs, By chance of business, coming within reach Of his retirement, to the forest lodge Repaired, but only found the matron there, 290 Who told him that his pains were thrown away, For that her Master never uttered word To living thing–not even to her.–Behold! While they were speaking, Vaudracour approached; But, seeing some one near, as on the latch Of the garden-gate his hand was laid, he shrunk– And, like a shadow, glided out of view. Shocked at his savage aspect, from the place The visitor retired. Thus lived the Youth Cut off from all intelligence with man, 300 And shunning even the light of common day; Nor could the voice of Freedom, which through France Full speedily resounded, public hope, Or personal memory of his own deep wrongs, Rouse him: but in those solitary shades His days he wasted, an imbecile mind! 1805.