The Eve of St Agnes
Notes on The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats
St Agnes is the patron saint of young virgins, possibly martyred in the Diocletian persecution (c.304) at the age of 13; she vowed that her body be consecrated to Christ and rejected all her suitors. According to legend, virgins may see their future husbands in their dreams during the night of St Agnes' Eve (20th January)
'The Eve of St Agnes' is a narrative poem in which the narrative impulse repeatedly leads towards description. The poem is primarily noteable for its elaborate pictorial and musical effects. Its wealth of description meant that, like 'Isabella', the poem became a favorite with the Pre-Raphaelite artists of the 19th century. Keats' use of the Spenserian stanza formally encourages this tendancy towards descriptiveness. The stanza, containing eight lines of iambic pentameter and final alexandrine, a line of iambic hexameter, does not require the kind of compression associated with the ottava rima Keats used in 'Isabella'. Nevertheless, as a self-contained unit, it encourages the creation of tableaux (visual poem).
The story of the Eve of St Agnes goes as follows:
Beadsman in church watches preparation for festivities. (On Deaths Door)
Action switches to Madeline, who is oblivious to the festivities. Waiting for that night.
Switches again to Porphyro- waiting to see Madeline. Family Feud introduced.
Imagines the horrors that await him. Is he innocent or does he know he can take advantage of her.
Meets Angela who warns him off. (And tells him the legend)
Asks Angela to help him find Madeline.
Angela tells him whats supposed to happen to Madeline and laughs. Porphyro gets suspicious and has a go at her.
She complains and defends herself. He apologises and gives a woeful speech and Angela sympathises. She agrees to do what he wants.
Porphyro plans to spy on her. Angela goes to get Madeline's room ready. She collects Porphyro and hides him in the room. (He also prepares the room)
Madeline turns up and undresses and goes to sleep. (after looking at the nice things in the room)
Creepy guy Porphyro sneaks out of closet and him and Madeline 'do business'.
Madeline thinks he's a traitor but he wants her to be his bride and to run away with him.
They escape while everyone is still asleep. The Beadman dies..?
Semantic field of cold: "The owl, for all his feather, was a-cold,
They have limped trembling through the frozen grass"
plus: "numb", "frosted breath", "freeze", "icy"
contrasts with the warmth of the castle later on. Exterior vs Interior
There is also another contrast of age vs youth:
"old", "death", "weak spirit fails", "aged man" vs "sweet virgin" and "young"
Beadsman is isolated in a cold chapel- perhaps Keats is hinting at the inneffectivness of religion.
Religious imagery: "insense", "heaven", "sweet vigin's picture". Church is described with horrible images: "sculptured dead", "emprisoned in black". This hints that religion and faith cannot stop what is about to happen to Madeline. Failure of Christianity.
Beadsman decides not to join the feast. Symbolism of rejection of life's joys?
"The joys of his life were said and sung" - prefiguring death?
Music and sounds of celebration "music's golden tongue", "snarling trumpets". Illustrating human activity and animation.
"snarling"- sinister. showing perhaps all is not as it seems. Start to get hints of a dream vs reality concept in the poem. Transitional states. Negative capability? "shadows" - imagery of dreams and unreality. Silver and moonlight imagery runs throughout the poem, contrasting with vividly coloured images.
Beadsman: "saith", "meagre", "praying".= pathetic, decayed, weak.
Revelers: "hurry", "glowing", "burst", "wish" = action, livliness.
Answer these questions to help you with the poem annotation:
1. Stanzas I - III
Describe the beadman and his world. Identify specific words and phrases that create this atmosphere and tone.
2. IV - V
How does the atmosphere here compare? Why does Keats juxtapose the two?
Explain in your own words, the nature of St Agnes Eve, and analyse the language used here. What connotations do you find?
4. VII - VIII
Trace the development of this emotion.
Describe the effect of the way Keats has written the last line.
Comment on the effect of Keats' punctuation here.
7. XI - XII
Structurally, what are the benefits of these two stanzas?
8. XIII - XIV
Again thinking in terms of the form of the poem, why has Keats included such vigorous dialogue here?
9. XV - XVI
How does the semantic field of XV contrast with that of XVI, and to what effect?
10. XVI - XIX
Keats provides us here with a portrait of Porphyro. Track the different aspects of his character shown to us and express your own opinion of him.
Why "must (he) needs the lady wed"?
Which of the senses is Keats stimulating in this stanza? How does he do this?
Why the change of tense?
14. XXVI - XXVII
How does Keats dramatise this moment?
Where does Keats create the sense of Porphyro secretly spying on Madeline? Is his voyeurism justified by his marriage intentions?
What contrast does Keats create here?
17. XXX - XXXI
Choose 2 or 3 adjectives to describe the environment Porphyro creates here. How does Keats contrast the 2 characters?
18. Follow Porphryo's actions and then comment upon the effect of Keats' manipulation of pace, lines 294-7
Note how the Porphyro of reality doesn't quite match up to the figure of her dreams.
Based on a close reading, decide what is going on here.
21. XXXVII - XXXIX
Summarise the narratve in your own words. How does Keats bring it alive?
What is the effect of this medieval imagery?
Note and explain the change of tense.
24. Try to explain the sense and effect of the final stanza.
25. Keats definately meant for Porphyro to make love to Madeline, which is made clear in stanza XXXVI:
In September1819, Keats suggested alterations to the poem, including a rewrite of stanza XXXVI and the two proceeding lines:
See, while she speaks his arms encroaching slow,
Have zoned her, heart to heart, - loud, loud the dark winds blow!
For on the midnight came a tempest fell;
More sooth, for that his quick rejoinder flows
Into her burning ear; and still the spell
Unbroken guards her in serene repose.
With her wild dream he mingled, as a rose
Marrieth its odour to a violet.
Still, still she dreams, louder the frost wind blows.
However, this was rejected on the grounds that the changes made the poem too sexually explicit. Some have argued that one of the strengths of stanza XXXVI as printed- in which Porphyro becomes part of Madeline's dream and fulfils it- is that it can be read innocently.
26. Is this a story of idealistic love, in your opinion?
27. Read Keats' letter to Fanny Brawne, June 1820. Does this alter your impression of Porphyro?
Keats Essay By Stephanie Jerome
Keats believed that poetry should surprise by a fine excess. What evidence have you found in the Eve of St Agnes of ‘surprise’ and ‘fine excess’?
The Eve of St Agnes opens with the cold- we are immediately plunged into senses; a theme which continues through the rest of the poem. There is a semantic field of cold, for example, words such as ‘bitter chill’, ‘frozen grass’, ‘numb’, ‘frosted breath’ and ‘icy hoods’ all convey a sense of cold that surrounds the Beadsman at the start of the poem. We then move from the cold outside to the warmth inside where Madeline is, and the imagery changes to a place of activity from the slow, numb surroundings of the Beadsman. For example, the verbs change from ‘meagre’ and ‘saith’ to ‘hurry’, ‘burst’, and ‘winged’. This sudden juxtaposition has elements of both surprise and fine excess; the descriptions of the Beadsman and Madeline show much to do with senses- feelings in particular (the Beadsman’s numbness for example) and we also get the sense of surprise in the dramatic switch between cold and warmth.
The sounds of celebration (‘music’s gold tongue, silver, snarling trumpets’) introduce activity and earthly pleasures. Silver and moonlight imagery runs through the poem and contrasts with vividly coloured images. It gives a sense of excessive luxury and may prepare us for the extravagance of the feast near the end of the poem. For example, Stanza XXIV is rich with images of texture and colour; ‘of fruits and flowers’ and ‘thousand heraldries’, again providing the idea of excess. The stanza ends with the line: ‘A shielded scutcheon blushed with blood of queens and kings’. This refers to Madeline’s royal ancestry, but the shield suggests violence- the feud between Porphyro’s family and Madeline’s family. The red-blood and the blush introduce colour, and contrast with the cold light of the moon. Stanza XXV in turn contrasts this with color and warmth; ‘warm gules’, ‘rose-bloom’ and ‘silver cross soft amethyst,’ which suggests the sensuality of what’s happening.
When Porphyro gazes on her dreaming, the silver and cold and the colourful, warm images are again combined, with ‘dim, silver twilight’ and ‘wove crimson, gold, and jet’. This is another example of how Keats uses rich imagery to portray an idea of ‘fine excess’. In stanza XXX there is a hint of luxuriousness and sensuality in the description of Madeline’s bed linens- this and the excessiveness and eroticism of the feast prepare us for their sexual fulfillment.
In stanza XXX1, there is the idea of extravagance again; ‘these delicates he heaped with glowing hand’. However, the word ‘heaped’ gives the impression that Porphyro is careless- but we could also say that he puts extra in the room to make sure his plan works.
The phrase ‘fine excess’ could mean detailed descriptions throughout the poem, or it could mean the extravagance of the luxurious feast in Madeline’s room. The phrase itself is an oxymoron because ‘fine’ can mean a limited but refined portrayal and ‘excess’ can mean too much of one thing. Put together, we may understand this expression as a refined description of the excessive quality within the poem.
The idea of surprise appears in the poem frequently- the strongest example of this is how Porphyro takes advantage of Madeline. Keats creates a sense of Porphyro secretly spying on Madeline with the words: ‘Porphyro gazed upon her empty dress.’ We begin to feel uneasy at this stage because we don’t know if Porphyro will get his way- so the element of surprise comes in when we understand that he has managed to take advantage of her: ‘into her dream he melted’. This also brings in the question of whether the sex is to do with love or rape. It is debatable as to whether Porphyro knows about the legend of St Agnes and plans to take advantage of Madeline, or whether he is simply a man in love with her. It does seem sinister that Porphyro seems to plan what he’s going to do if he gets into Madeline’s room- and more surprise is apparent in the poem when the maid who is supposed to be protecting Madeline lets Porphyro through. Keats’ experience with women seemed to leave him confused and he didn’t trust them. In the poem, there is the sense that women can’t be trusted because of the maid, Angela, being so naïve, and letting Porphyro go to Madeline’s room. The reader may see Angela as a ‘pimp’ due to this action, also an idea of an untrustworthy person.
Another connotation of surprise is in stanza XXII where Keats appears to be talking to Porphyro in the poem; ‘Now prepare, Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed’. This is very sinister- it’s as though Keats is encouraging him to do this. The idea that the poet appears in the poem alone surprises us- the fact it has possible disturbing consequences surprises us even further. When the reader is led into Madeline’s room with Porphyro, there is a long, drawn out description of her undressing. It’s very detailed and we get the idea that Madeline is provocative and is perhaps seducing an imaginary husband. We may then question whether Madeline tempts Porphyro in this way, and isn’t as innocent as we think- again showing the idea of surprise.
There are contrasts throughout ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ and these binary opposites such as cold to warm and exterior to interior have an element of surprise. Near the start of the poem, there is a description of Madeline, and it includes a semantic field of youth e.g. ‘young virgins’ and ‘new-stuffed, in youth’ which opposes the semantic fields of age that surrounds the Beadsman and Angela the maid. For example: ‘That ancient Beadsman’ ‘aged crone’ and ‘aged creature’. Another example of these oppositions is Madeline’s innocence and Porphyro’s lustiness. In stanza VI, there is an image surrounding Madeline of vulnerability and virginity. The words ‘lily white’ give a sense of this purity, and the reader sees her as a subject of innocence and inexperience- naivety. This is conflicted by Porphyro’s lust-fuelled ambitions to take advantage of Madeline; ‘Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss’ The words get more mischievous as the line continues, so we see him as someone who wants to seduce Madeline gradually, but the way Keats presents him in stanza XXVIII illustrates him as a ‘creep’. This is due to words such as ‘hushed’, ‘crept and ‘peeped’- he seems too secretive and it creates a sense of discomfort. These contrasts are unexpected and present a degree of surprise.
The end of the poem is where much of the element of ‘surprise’ lies; it is when Porphyro takes advantage of Madeline and she wakes up to find him at her bedside. This is shocking to the reader because of its sexual explicitness- it was originally much more so, but the publishers wanted it to be edited. Therefore, it was very controversial as it was so erotic. This fact it is so shocking (and used to be more so) presents more evidence of ‘surprise’ in The Eve of St Agnes.
One of the most shocking lines in the poem is: ‘Into her dream he melted’. Here it is understood that Porphyro has made love to Madeline and it may also show that she is still asleep while this takes place, and doesn’t know what’s really happening. Therefore, this is very surprising and shocking to the reader. This also raises the question as to whether we can decide what is real and what isn’t; the idea of dream vs. reality. The start of the poem uses images that are very earthy and natural, and connote a feeling of pure reality; but also an acceptance of the nature of life. Later, however, we get a sense of idealistic dreams. There is a sense of luxury, anticipation and "rich" extravagance due to the lavishness of the feast. Again, this gives an element of surprise to the poem because of this contrast and the fact that we divert from the realism to the blurriness surrounding the description of Madeline still dreaming while Porphyro takes advantage of her.
Madeline is perhaps hoodwinked into thinking this is an idealistic fairytale romance because she is so unaware of what is really happening. The reader may be lured into the romantic illusion because of the elaborate language used, the idea of the legend of St Agnes, and the typical presentation of Porphyro as the ‘knight in shining armour’ and Madeline as the ‘damsel in distress’. Therefore, this fantastical, dreamy fairy story is shattered by the shocking portrayal of Madeline’s ‘rape’, and brings in the concept of surprise.
The Eve of St Agnes
St Agnes' Eve - Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith.
His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man;
Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees,
And back returneth, meagre, barefoot, wan,
Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees:
The sculptur'd dead, on each side, seem to freeze,
Emprison'd in black, purgatorial rails:
Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat'ries,
He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.
Northward he turneth through a little door,
And scarce three steps, ere Music's golden tongue
Flatter'd to tears this aged man and poor;
But no - already had his deathbell rung
The joys of all his life were said and sung:
His was harsh penance on St. Agnes' Eve:
Another way he went, and soon among
Rough ashes sat he for his soul's reprieve,
And all night kept awake, for sinners' sake to grieve.
That ancient Beadsman heard the prelude soft;
And so it chanc'd, for many a door was wide,
From hurry to and fro. Soon, up aloft,
The silver, snarling trumpets 'gan to chide:
The level chambers, ready with their pride,
Were glowing to receive a thousand guests:
The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
Star'd, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their breasts.
At length burst in the argent revelry,
With plume, tiara, and all rich array,
Numerous as shadows haunting fairily
The brain, new-stuff'd, in youth, with triumphs gay
Of old romance. These let us wish away,
And turn, sole-thoughted, to one lady there,
Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,
On love, and wing'd St Agnes' saintly care,
As she had heard old dames full rnany times declare.
They told her how, upon St Agnes' Eve,
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the honey'd middle of the night,
If ceremonies due they did aright;
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline:
The music, yearning like a God in pain,
She scarcely heard: her maiden eyes divine,
Fix'd on the floor, saw many a sweeping train
Pass by - she heeded not at all: in vain
Came many a tiptoe, amorous cavalier,
And back retir'd - not cool'd by high disdain,
But she saw not: her heart was otherwhere;
She sigh'd for Agnes' dreams, the sweetest of the year.
She danc'd along with vague, regardless eyes,
Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and short:
The hallow'd hour was near at hand: she sighs
Amid the timbrels, and the throng'd resort
Of whisperers in anger, or in sport;
'Mid looks of love, defiance, hate, and scorn,
Hoodwink'd with faery fancy - all amort,
Save to St Agnes and her lambs unshorn,
And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.
So, purposing each moment to retire,
She linger'd still. Meantime, across the moors,
Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire
For Madeline. Beside the portal doors,
Buttress'd from moonlight, stands he, and implores
All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
But for one moment in the tedious hours,
That he might gaze and worship all unseen;
Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss---in sooth such things have been.
He ventures in - let no buzz'd whisper tell:
All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords
Will storm his heart, Love's fev'rous citadel:
For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes,
Hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords,
Whose very dogs would execrations howl
Against his lineage: not one breast affords
Him any mercy, in that mansion foul,
Save one old beldame, weak in body and in soul.
Ah, happy chance! the aged creature came,
Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand,
To where he stood, hid from the torch's flame,
Behind a broad hall-pillar, far beyond
The sound of merriment and chorus bland.
He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
And grasp'd his fingers in her palsied hand,
Saying, "Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place;
"They are all here to-night, the whole blood-thirsty race!
"Get hence! get hence! there's dwarfish Hildebrand;
He had a fever late, and in the fit
He cursed thee and thine, both house and land:
Then there's that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
More tame for his gray hairs - Alas me! flit!
Flit like a ghost away." "Ah, gossip dear,
We're safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
And tell me how-" "Good saints! not here, not here;
Follow me, child, or else these stones will be thy bier."
He follow'd through a lowly arched way,
Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume,
And as she mutter'd "Well-a - well-a-day!"
He found him in a little moonlight room,
Pale, lattic'd, chill, and silent as a tomb.
"Now tell me where is Madeline", said he,
"O tell me, Angela, by the holy loom
Which none but secret sisterhood may see,
"When they St Agnes' wool are weaving piously."
"St Agnes! Ah! it is St Agnes' Eve -
Yet men will murder upon holy days:
Thou must hold water in a witch's sieve,
And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays
To venture so: it fills me with amaze
To see thee, Porphyro! - St Agnes' Eve!
God's help! my lady fair the conjuror plays
This very night: good angels her deceive!
But let me laugh awhile, I've mickle time to grieve."
Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon,
While Porphyro upon her face doth look,
Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone
Who keepeth clos'd a wondrous riddle-book,
As spectacled she sits in chimney nook.
But soon his eyes grew brilliant, when she told
His lady's purpose; and he scarce could brook
Tears, at the thought of those enchantments cold
And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.
Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
Flushing his brow, and in his pained heart
Made purple riot: then doth he propose
A stratagem, that makes the beldame start:
"A cruel man and impious thou art:
Sweet lady, let her pray, and sleep, and dream
Alone with her good angels, far apart
From wicked men like thee. Go, go! - I deem
Thou canst not surely be the same that thou didst seem."
"I will not harm her, by all saints I swear,"
Quoth Porphyro: "O may I ne'er find grace
When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,
If one of her soft ringlets I displace,
Or look with ruffian passion in her face:
Good Angela, believe me by these tears;
Or I will, even in a moment's space,
Awake, with horrid shout, my foemen's ears,
And beard them, though they be more fang'd than wolves and bears."
"Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?
A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,
Whose passing-bell may ere the midnight toll;
Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening,
Were never miss'd." Thus plaining, doth she bring
A gentler speech from burning Porphyro;
So woeful, and of such deep sorrowing,
That Angela gives promise she will do
Whatever he shall wish, betide her weal or woe.
Which was, to lead him, in close secrecy,
Even to Madeline's chamber, and there hide
Him in a closet, of such privacy
That he might see her beauty unespied,
And win perhaps that night a peerless bride,
While legion'd fairies pac'd the coverlet,
And pale enchantment held her sleepy-eyed.
Never on such a night have lovers met,
Since Merlin paid his Demon all the monstrous debt.
"It shall be as thou wishest," said the Dame:
"All cates and dainties shall be stored there
Quickly on this feast-night: by the tambour frame
Her own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare,
For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dare
On such a catering trust my dizzy head.
Wait here, my child, with patience; kneel in prayer
The while: Ah! thou must needs the lady wed,
Or may I never leave my grave among the dead."
So saying, she hobbled off with busy fear.
The lover's endless minutes slowly pass'd;
The Dame return'd, and whisper'd in his ear
To follow her; with aged eyes aghast
From fright of dim espial. Safe at last
Through many a dusky gallery, they gain
The maiden's chamber, silken, hush'd and chaste;
Where Porphyro took covert, pleas'd amain.
His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.
Her falt'ring hand upon the balustrade,
Old Angela was feeling for the stair,
When Madeline, St Agnes' charmed maid,
Rose, like a mission'd spirit, unaware:
With silver taper's light, and pious care,
She turn'd, and down the aged gossip led
To a safe level matting. Now prepare,
Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed;
She comes, she comes again, like dove fray'd and fled.
Out went the taper as she hurried in;
Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died:
She closed the door, she panted, all akin
To spirits of the air, and visions wide:
No utter'd syllable, or, woe betide!
But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
Paining with eloquence her balmy side;
As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.
A casement high and triple-arch'd there was,
All garlanded with carven imag'ries
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings;
And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings.
Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline's fair breast,
As down she knelt for heaven's grace and boon;
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory, like a saint:
She seem'd a splendid angel, newly drest,
Save wings, for heaven - Porphyro grew faint:
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.
Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
Loosens her fragrant bodice; by degrees
Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
In fancy, fair St Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.
Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex'd she lay,
Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress'd
Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away;
Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day;
Blissfully haven'd both from joy and pain;
Clasp'd like a missal where swart Paynims pray;
Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.
Stol'n to this paradise, and so entranced,
Porphyro gazed upon her empty dress,
And listen'd to her breathing, if it chanced
To wake into a slumbrous tenderness;
Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
And breath'd himself: then from the closet crept,
Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness,
And over the hush'd carpet, silent, stept,
And 'tween the curtains peep'd, where, lo! - how fast she slept!
Then by the bed-side, where the faded moon
Made a dim, silver twilight, soft he set
A table, and, half anguish'd, threw thereon
A doth of woven crimson, gold, and jet -
O for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion,
The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarinet,
Affray his ears, though but in dying tone;
The hall door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.
And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender'd,
While he from forth the closet brought a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr'd
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar'd Lebanon.
These delicates he heap'd with glowing hand
On golden dishes and in baskets bright
Of wreathed silver: sumptuous they stand
In the retired quiet of the night,
Filling the chilly room with perfume light.
"And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
Open thine eyes, for meek St Agnes' sake,
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache."
Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm
Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dream
By the dusk curtains - 'twas a midnight charm
Impossible to melt as iced stream:
The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;
Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies:
It seem'd he never, never could redeem
From such a stedfast spell his lady's eyes;
So mus'd awhile, entoil'd in woofed phantasies.
Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,
Tumultuous, and, in chords that tenderest be,
He play'd an ancient ditty, long since mute,
In Provence call'd, "La belle dame sans mercy:"
Close to her ear touching the melody -
Wherewith disturb'd, she utter'd a soft moan:
He ceased - she panted quick - and suddenly
Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.
Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep -
There was a painful change, that nigh expell'd
The blisses of her dream so pure and deep,
At which fair Madeline began to weep,
And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
Fearing to move or speak, she look'd so dreamingly.
"Ah, Porphyro!" said she, "but even now
Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
How chang'd thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
For if thou diest, my Love, I know not where to go."
Beyond a mortal man impassion'd far
At these voluptuous accents, he arose,
Ethereal, flush'd, and like a throbbing star
Seen mid the sapphire heaven's deep repose
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odour with the violet -
Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
Like Love's alarum pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window-panes; St Agnes' moon hath set.
Tis dark: quick pattereth the flaw-blown sleet:
"This is no dream, my bride, my Madeline!"
'Tis dark: the iced gusts still rave and beat.
"No dream, alas! alas! and woe is mine!
Porphyro will leave me here to fade and pine. -
Cruel! what traitor could thee hither bring?
I curse not, for my heart is lost in thine
Though thou forsakest a deceived thing -
A dove forlorn and lost with sick unpruned wing."
"My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!
Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?
Thy beauty's shield, heart-shap'd and vermeil dyed?
Ah, silver shrine, here will I take my rest
After so many hours of toil and quest,
A famish'd pilgrim - saved by miracle.
Though I have found, I will not rob thy nest
Saving of thy sweet self; if thou think'st well
To trust, fair Madeline, to no rude infidel.
"Hark! 'tis an elfin-storm from faery land,
Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed:
Arise - arise! the morning is at hand.
The bloated wassailers will never heed -
Let us away, my love, with happy speed -
There are no ears to hear, or eyes to see,
Drown'd all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead;
Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be,
For o'er the southern moors I have a home for thee."
She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
For there were sleeping dragons all around,
At glaring watch, perhaps, with ready spears -
Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found.
In all the house was heard no human sound.
A chain-droop'd lamp was flickering by each door;
The arras, rich with horseman, hawk, and hound,
Flutter'd in the besieging wind's uproar;
And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.
They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;
Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide;
Where lay the Porter, in uneasy sprawl,
With a huge empty flagon by his side:
The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide,
But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:
By one, and one, the bolts full easy slide -
The chains lie silent on the footworn stones -
The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.
And they are gone - ay, ages long ago
These lovers fled away into the storm.
That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe,
And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
Were long be-nightmar'd. Angela the old
Died palsy-twitch'd, with meagre face deform;
The Beadsman, after thousand aves told,
For aye unsought for slept among his ashes cold.