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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The minstrel's curse

THE MINSTREL’S CURSE.

(FROM THE GERMAN OF UHLAND.)

The Minstrel's Curse - Matthew James Lawless.png

In days of old a castle stood high and proud to view,
Over the landscape shining, far as the ocean blue,
Wreath’d all around with gardens, where ’mid the fragrant flowers,
The air was cool’d by fountains, sparkling in rainbow showers.

There sat a haughty monarch, in lands and conquests great,
Upon his throne, wan-visaged, he sat in sullen state;
His thoughts are all of horrors, his eyes are bright with rage;
His words they fall like scourges; he writes, blood stains the page.

Once came there to his castle a noble minstrel pair,
The locks of one were golden—silver the other’s hair;
With harp the old man journey’d, a stately horse astride,
His blooming comrade gaily walk’d by the horse’s side.

The old bespoke the younger: “Prepare, my son, make choice
Of all our songs the deepest—attune thy fullest voice—
Exert thy utmost power—of joy and sorrow sing:
Our aim must be to waken the hard heart of the king.”

Within the Hall of Columns now the two minstrels stand,
Upon his throne the monarch, his queen at his right hand;
The king all dread and stately—a blood red Northern Light,
The queen all sweet and gentle—a full moon shining bright.

The greybeard struck the harp-strings, he struck them wondrous well,
Upon the ear they sounded with rich and richer swell;
Then came the youth’s voice gushing—so heav’nly clear it rang,
And, like a spirit chorus, between the old man sang.

They sang of love and spring-time, of happy golden days,
Of truth and manly honour—they sang in freedom’s praise—
They sang of all things lofty, they sang of all things sweet,
That make men’s bosoms quiver, that make men’s hearts to beat.

Around, their sports forgetting, gather’d the courtier crowd:
The haughty warriors, humbled, before their Maker bow’d;
The queen herself was melted by tales of joys and woes,
And threw down to the singers, pluck’d from her breast, a rose.

“My folk you have enchanted: charm you my wife to boot?”
The monarch cried, with fury he shook from head to foot,
Then hurl’d his sword, that, flashing, the young man’s bosom tore,
Whence, ’stead of golden music, issued a stream of gore.

The list’ners all were scatter’d (as when a storm alarms),
The youth breathed out his spirit, clasp’d in his master’s arms;
The corpse within his mantle he wrapp’d, and bound it fast
Upright upon his palfrey, and from the castle pass’d.

Before the lofty portals the grey-hair’d minstrel stands,
His harp, of harps the treasure, he seizes in his hands,
And ’gainst a marble column he casts it with a cry
Through castle and through gardens that echoes awfully:

“Woe to you, halls so haughty! Never let music-strain
Re-echo through thy vaultings, nor harp nor song, again!
Let sighs and groanings only for ever bear the sway,
Until th’ avenging angel has crush’d you in decay!

“Woe to you, fragrant gardens, in golden light of May,
This dead man’s face disfigured I show to you this day:
That you at it may wither, that every well may dry,
That you from hence for ever a stony waste may lie!

“Woe to you, curs’d assassin! of minstrelsy the bane!
Be all thy blood-stain’d struggles for glory’s wreath in vain!
Thy name be it forgotten in night without an end,
And like a last death-rattle with empty vapour blend!”

The minstrel old had spoken, and heaven had heard his cry;
The halls are all in ruins, the walls all prostrate lie;
Witness of pride long vanish’d still stands one column tall
And this, already shatter’d, to-night to earth may fall.

Instead of fragrant gardens, a desert heather-land!
No tree gives shade, no fountain comes welling through the sand:
No songs, no hero-stories, the monarch’s name rehearse,
For ever lost, forgotten!—Such is the Minstrel’s Curse!