We left our Hero in a trance,
Beneath the alders, near the river;
The Ass is by the river side,
And, where the feeble breezes glide,
Upon the stream the moon-beams quiver.
A happy respite!—but he wakes;—
And feels the glimmering of the moon—
And to stretch forth his hands is trying;—
Sure, when he knows where he is lying,
He'll sink into a second swoon.
He lifts his head—he sees his staff;
He touches—'tis to him a treasure!
Faint recollection seems to tell
That he is yet where mortals dwell—
A thought receiv'd with languid pleasure!
His head upon his elbow propp'd,
Becoming less and less perplex'd
Sky-ward he looks—to rock and wood—
And then—upon the placid flood
His wandering eye is fix'd.
Thought he, that is the face of one
In his last sleep securely bound!
So, faltering not in this intent,
He makes his staff an instrument
The river's depth to sound—
Now—like a tempest-shatter'd bark
That overwhelm'd and prostrate lies
And in a moment to the verge
Is lifted of a foaming surge—
Full suddenly the Ass doth rise!
His staring bones all shake with joy—
And close by Peter's side he stands:
While Peter o'er the river bends,
The little Ass his neck extends,
And fondly licks his hands.
Such life is in the Ass's eyes—
Such life is in his limbs and ears—
That Peter Bell, if he had been
The veriest coward ever seen,
Must now have thrown aside his fears.
The Ass looks on—and to his work
Is Peter quietly resign'd;
He touches here—he touches there—
And now among the dead man's hair
His sapling Peter has entwin'd.
He pulls—and looks—and pulls again,
And he whom the poor Ass had lost,
The man who had been four days dead,
Head foremost from the river's bed
Uprises—like a ghost!
And Peter draws him to dry land;
And through the brain of Peter pass
Some poignant twitches, fast and faster,
"No doubt," quoth he, "he is the master
"Of this poor miserable Ass!"
The meagre Shadow all this while—
What aim is his? what is he doing?
His sudden fit of joy is flown,—
He on his knees hath laid him down,
As if he were his grief renewing.
That Peter on his back should mount
He shows a wish, well as he can,
"I'll go, I'll go, whate'er betide—
"He to his home my way will guide,
"The cottage of the drowned man."
This utter'd, Peter mounts forthwith
Upon the pleas'd and thankful Ass;
And then, without a moment's stay,
The earnest creature turn'd away,
Leaving the body on the grass.
Intent upon his faithful watch
The beast four days and nights had pass'd;
A sweeter meadow ne'er was seen,
And there the Ass four days had been,
Nor ever once did break his fast!
Yet firm his step, and stout his heart;
The mead is cross'd—the quarry's mouth
Is reach'd—but there the trusty guide
Into a thicket turns aside,
And takes his way towards the south.
When hark, a burst of doleful sound!
And Peter honestly might say,
The like came never to his ears
Though he has been full thirty years
A rover night and day!
'Tis not a plover of the moors,
'Tis not a bittern of the fen;
Nor can it be a barking fox—
Nor night-bird chamber'd in the rocks—
Nor wild-cat in a woody glen!
The Ass is startled—and stops short
Right in the middle of the thicket;
And Peter, wont to whistle loud
Whether alone or in a crowd,
Is silent as a silent cricket.
What ails you now, my little Bess?
Well may you tremble and look grave!
This cry—that rings along the wood,
This cry—that floats adown the flood,
Comes from the entrance of a cave:
I see a blooming Wood-boy there,
And, if I had the power to say
How sorrowful the wanderer is,
Your heart would be as sad as his
Till you had kiss'd his tears away!
Holding a hawthorn branch in hand,
All bright with berries ripe and red;
Into the cavern's mouth he peeps—
Thence back into the moon-light creeps;
What seeks the boy?—the silent dead!
His father!—Him doth he require,
Whom he hath sought with fruitless pains,
Among the rocks, behind the trees,
Now creeping on his hands and knees,
Now running o'er the open plains.
And hither is he come at last,
When he through such a day has gone,
By this dark cave to be distrest
Like a poor bird—her plunder'd nest
Hovering around with dolorous moan!
Of that intense and piercing cry
The listening Ass doth rightly spell;
Wild as it is he there can read
Some intermingl'd notes that plead
With touches irresistible;
But Peter, when he saw the Ass
Not only stop but turn, and change
The cherish'd tenor of his pace
That lamentable noise to chase,
It wrought in him conviction strange;
A faith that, for the dead man's sake
And this poor slave who lov'd him well,
Vengeance upon his head will fall,
Some visitation worse than all
Which ever till this night befel.
Meanwhile the Ass to gain his end
Is striving stoutly as he may;
But, while he climbs the woody hill,
The cry grows weak—and weaker still,
And now at last it dies away!
So with his freight the creature turns
Into a gloomy grove of beech,
Along the shade with footstep true
Descending slowly, till the two
The open moonlight reach.
And there, along a narrow dell,
A fair smooth pathway you discern,
A length of green and open road—
As if it from a fountain flowed—
Winding away between the fern.
The rocks that tower on either side
Build up a wild fantastic scene;
Temples like those among the Hindoos,
And mosques, and spires, and abbey windows,
And castles all with ivy green!
And, while the Ass pursues his way,
Along this solitary dell,
As pensively his steps advance,
The mosques and spires change countenance,
And look at Peter Bell!
That unintelligible cry
Hath left him high in preparation,—
Convinced that he, or soon or late,
This very night, will meet his fate—
And so he sits in expectation!
The verdant pathway, in and out,
Winds upwards like a straggling chain;
And, when two toilsome miles are past,
Up through the rocks it leads at last
Into a high and open plain.
The strenuous animal hath clomb
With the green path,—and now he wends
Where, shining like the smoothest sea,
In undisturbed immensity
The level plain extends.
How blank!—but whence this rustling sound
Which, all too long, the pair hath chased!
—A dancing leaf is close behind,
Light plaything for the sportive wind
Upon that solitary waste.
When Peter spies the withered leaf,
It yields no cure to his distress—
"Where there is not a bush or tree,
"The very leaves they follow me—
"So huge hath been my wickedness!"
To a close lane they now are come,
Where, as before, the enduring Ass
Moves on without a moment's stop,
Nor once turns round his head to crop
A bramble leaf or blade of grass.
Between the hedges as they go
The white dust sleeps upon the lane;
And Peter, ever and anon
Back-looking, sees upon a stone
Or in the dust, a crimson stain.
A stain—as of a drop of blood
By moonlight made more faint and wan—
Ha! why this comfortless despair?
He knows not how the blood comes there,
And Peter is a wicked man.
At length he spies a bleeding wound,
Where he had struck the Ass's head;
He sees the blood, knows what it is,—
A glimpse of sudden joy was his,
But then it quickly fled;
Of him whom sudden death had seized
He thought,—of thee, O faithful Ass!
And once again those darting pains,
As meteors shoot through heaven's wide plains,