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William Blake (1757–1827). The Poetical Works. 1908.

Poetical Sketches

Fair Elenor

THE BELL struck one, and shook the silent tower;

The graves give up their dead: fair Elenor

Walk’d by the castle gate, and lookèd in.

A hollow groan ran thro’ the dreary vaults.

She shriek’d aloud, and sunk upon the steps,

On the cold stone her pale cheeks. Sickly smells

Of death issue as from a sepulchre,

And all is silent but the sighing vaults.

Chill Death withdraws his hand, and she revives;

Amaz’d, she finds herself upon her feet,

And, like a ghost, thro’ narrow passages

Walking, feeling the cold walls with her hands.

Fancy returns, and now she thinks of bones

And grinning skulls, and corruptible death

Wrapp’d in his shroud; and now fancies she hears

Deep sighs, and sees pale sickly ghosts gliding.

At length, no fancy but reality

Distracts her. A rushing sound, and the feet

Of one that fled, approaches.—Ellen stood

Like a dumb statue, froze to stone with fear.

The wretch approaches, crying: ‘The deed is done;

Take this, and send it by whom thou wilt send;

It is my life—send it to Elenor:—

He’s dead, and howling after me for blood!

‘Take this,’ he cried; and thrust into her arms

A wet napkin, wrapp’d about; then rush’d

Past, howling: she receiv’d into her arms

Pale death, and follow’d on the wings of fear.

They pass’d swift thro’ the outer gate; the wretch,

Howling, leap’d o’er the wall into the moat,

Stifling in mud. Fair Ellen pass’d the bridge,

And heard a gloomy voice cry ‘Is it done?’

As the deer wounded, Ellen flew over

The pathless plain; as the arrows that fly

By night, destruction flies, and strikes in darkness.

She fled from fear, till at her house arriv’d.

Her maids await her; on her bed she falls,

That bed of joy, where erst her lord hath press’d:

‘Ah, woman’s fear!’ she cried; ‘ah, cursèd duke!

Ah, my dear lord! ah, wretched Elenor!

‘My lord was like a flower upon the brows

Of lusty May! Ah, life as frail as flower!

O ghastly death! withdraw thy cruel hand,

Seek’st thou that flow’r to deck thy horrid temples?

‘My lord was like a star in highest heav’n

Drawn down to earth by spells and wickedness;

My lord was like the opening eyes of day

When western winds creep softly o’er the flowers;

‘But he is darken’d; like the summer’s noon

Clouded; fall’n like the stately tree, cut down;

The breath of heaven dwelt among his leaves.

O Elenor, weak woman, fill’d with woe!’

Thus having spoke, she raisèd up her head,

And saw the bloody napkin by her side,

Which in her arms she brought; and now, tenfold

More terrified, saw it unfold itself.

Her eyes were fix’d; the bloody cloth unfolds,

Disclosing to her sight the murder’d head

Of her dear lord, all ghastly pale, clotted

With gory blood; it groan’d, and thus it spake:

‘O Elenor, I am thy husband’s head,

Who, sleeping on the stones of yonder tower,

Was ’reft of life by the accursèd duke!

A hirèd villain turn’d my sleep to death!

‘O Elenor, beware the cursèd duke;

O give not him thy hand, now I am dead;

He seeks thy love; who, coward, in the night,

Hirèd a villain to bereave my life.’

She sat with dead cold limbs, stiffen’d to stone:

She took the gory head up in her arms;

She kiss’d the pale lips; she had no tears to shed;

She hugg’d it to her breast, and groan’d her last.