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FEAR death ?—to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
I am nearing the place,
The post of the foe;
Yet the strong man must go :
And the barriers fall,
The reward of it all.
The best and the last !
And bade me creep past.
The heroes of old,
Of pain, darkness and cold.
The black minute 's at end,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Then a light, then thy breast,
And with God be the rest !
“ CHILDE ROLAND TO THE DARK TOWER
(See Edgar's song in “LEAR.”)
My first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.
What else should he be set for, with his staff ?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there, And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like laugh Would break, what crutch 'gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,
If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
So much as gladness that some end might be.
For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
What with my search drawn out thro' years, my hope
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
My heart made, finding failure in its scope.
As when a sick man very near to death
Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears and takes the farewell of each friend, And hears one bid the other go, draw breath, Freelier outside, ("since all is o'er," he saith,
“And the blow fallen no grieving can amend ;")
While some discuss if near the other graves
Be room enough for this, and when a day
Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
not shame such tender love and stay.
Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,
66 The Band "—to wit, The knights who to the Dark Tower's search addressed Their steps—that just to fail as they, seemed best,
And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?
So, quiet as despair, I turned from him,
That hateful cripple, out of his highway
Into the path he pointed. All the day Had been a dreary one at best, and dim Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.
For mark ! no sooner was I fairly found
Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,
Than, pausing to throw backward a last view O'er the safe road, 't was gone; grey plain all round: Nothing but plain to the horizon's bound.
I might go on; nought else remained to do.
So, on I went. I think I never saw
Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve :
For flowers—as well expect a cedar grove ! But cockle, spurge, according to their law Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
You 'd think; a burr had been a treasure trove.
No! penury, inertness and grimace,
“Or shut your eyes," said Nature peevishly, “ It nothing skills : I cannot help my case: “'T is the Last Judgment's fire must cure this place,
“Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.”
If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to baulk All hope of greenness? 't is a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute's intents.
As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
In leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud
Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood. One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare, Stood stupefied, however he came there :
Thrust out past service from the devil's stud !
Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,
With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain,
And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane ; Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe; I never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.
I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
One taste of the old time sets all to rights.