Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Isle of the Dead

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Robert Southey

In Finland there is a castle which is called the New Rock, moated about with a river of unfounded depth, the water black, and the fish therein very distasteful to the palate. In this are spectres often seen, which foreshew either the death of the Governor, or some prime officer belonging to the place; and most commonly it appeareth in the shape of an harper, sweetly singing and dallying and playing under the water.

It is reported of one Donica, that after she was dead, the Devil walked in her body for the space of two years, so that none suspected but that she was still alive; for she did both speak and eat, though very sparingly; only she had a deep paleness on her countenance, which was the only sign of death. At length a Magician coming by where she was then in the company of many other virgins, as soon as he beheld her he said, "fair Maids, why keep you company with the dead Virgin whom you suppose to be alive?" when taking away the magic charm which was tied under her arm, the body fell down lifeless and without motion.

The following Ballad is founded on these stories. They are to be found in the notes to "The Hierarchies of the blessed Angels," a poem by Thomas Heywood, printed in folio by Adam Islip, 1635.
[Southey's note]

- - - -

High on a rock, whose castled shade
    Darken'd the lake below,
In ancient strength majestic stood
    The towers of Arlinkow.

The fisher in the lake below
    Durst never cast his net,
Nor ever swallow in its waves
    Her passing wings would wet.

The cattle from its ominous banks
    In wild alarm would run,
Tho' parched with thirst and faint beneath
    The summer's scorching sun.

For sometimes when no passing breeze
    The long lank sedges waved,
All white with foam and heaving high
    Its deafening billows raved;

And when the tempest from its base
    The rooted pine would shake,
The powerless storm unruffling swept
    Across the calm dead lake.

And ever then when death drew near
    The house of Arlinkow,
Its dark unfathom'd depths did send
    Strange music from below.

The Lord of Arlinkow was old,
    One only child had he,
Donica was the Maiden's name
    As fair as fair might be.

A bloom as bright as opening morn
    Flush'd o'er her clear white cheek,
The music of her voice was mild,
    Her full dark eyes were meek.

Far was her beauty known, for none
    So fair could Finland boast,
Her parents loved the Maiden much,
    Young EBERHARD loved her most.

Together did they hope to tread
    The pleasant path of life,
For now the day drew near to make
    Donica Eberhard's wife.

The eve was fair, and mild the air,
    Along the lake they stray;
The eastern hill reflected bright
    The fading tints of day.

And brightly o'er the water stream'd
    The liquid radiance wide;
Donica's little dog ran on
    And gambol'd at her side.

Youth, health, and love bloom'd on her cheek,
    Her full dark eyes express
In many a glance to Eberhard
    Her soul's meek tenderness.

Nor sound was heard, nor passing gale
    Sigh'd thro' the long lank sedge,
The air was hushed; no little wave
    Dimpled the water's edge.

Sudden the unfathom'd lake sent forth
    Strange music from beneath,
And slowly o'er the waters sail'd
    The solemn sounds of death.

As the deep sounds of death arose,
    Donica's cheek grew pale,
And in the arms of Eberhard
    The senseless maiden fell.

Loudly the youth in terror shriek'd,
    And loud he call'd for aid,
And with a wild and eager look
    Gazed on the death-pale maid.

But soon again did better thoughts
    In Eberhard arise,
And he with trembling hope beheld
    The maiden raise her eyes.

And on his arm reclin'd she moved
    With feeble pace and slow,
And soon with strength recover'd, reach'd
    The towers of Arlinkow.

Yet never to Donica's cheek
    Return'd the lively hue,
Her cheeks were deathy white, and wan,
    Her lips a livid blue.

Her eyes so bright and black of yore
    Were now more black and bright,
And beam'd strange lustre in her face
    So deadly wan and white.

The dog that gambol'd by her side,
    And lov'd with her to stray,
Now at his alter'd mistress howl'd
    And fled in fear away.

Yet did the faithful Eberhard
    Not love the maid the less;
He gazed with sorrow, but he gazed
    With deeper tenderness.

And when he found her health unharm'd
    He would not brook delay,
But press'd the not unwilling maid
    To fix the bridal day.

And when at length it came, with joy
    They hail'd the bridal day,
And onward to the house of God
    They went their willing way.

And as they at the altar stood
    And heard the sacred rite,
The hallowed tapers dimly stream'd
    A pale sulphureous light.

And as the youth with holy warmth
    Her hand in his did hold,
Sudden he felt Donica's hand
    Grow deadly damp and cold.

And loudly did he shriek, for lo!
    A Spirit met his view,
And Eberhard in the angel form
    His own Donica knew.

That instant from her earthly frame
    Howling the dæmon fled,
And at the side of Eberhard
    The livid form fell dead.


(Illustration is Arnold Böcklin, The Isle of the Dead, 1883.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

''The Patron Saint of the Romantic School''

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Suppressed scene from Schiller's Die Räuber (1781):
FRANZ: I do not know, Maurice, if you have read Milton. He who could not endure that another should be above him, and who dared to challenge the Almighty to a duel, was he not an extraordinary genius? He had encountered the Invincible One, and although in defeat he exhausted all his forces, he was not humiliated; eternally, even to the present day, he makes new efforts.

From James Beattie, Dissertations Moral and Critical (1783):
Satan, as Milton has represented him in Paradise Lost, though there are no qualities that can be called good in a moral view…yet there is a grandeur of a ruined archangel; there is force able to contend with the most boisterous elements; and there is boldness which no power but what is Almighty can intimidate. These qualities are astonishing; and…we are often compelled to admire that very greatness by which we are confounded and terrified.

From William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790):
The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it.

From Maximilian Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (1931):
Satanism is not a part of Romanticism. It is Romanticism. It may well be said without any levity that Satan was the patron saint of the Romantic School.

(Illustration is John Martin, The Fallen Angels Entering Pandemonium, 1841.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

''The Three''

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Nikolaus Lenau

Three riders after harsh defeat,
How slowly, slowly they retreat!

From deep-cut gashes gushes blood,
The horses feel the unstanched flood.

From saddle drips the blood, from rein,
And washes foam off flank and mane.

The steeds' advance is gently slow,
For else too swift the blood's rich flow.

The dying horsemen, side by side,
Clasp one another as they ride.

In accents faint, disconsolate,
Each mourns that this should be his fate:

"A maid has promised me her hand--
Why must I die in foreign land?"

"Have home and farm and forest green,
And meet a death so unforeseen!"

"God gave me life, his only boon,
And yet I dread to die so soon."

And where they on their death-ride fare,
Three vultures follow through the air.

They share the men with piercing cry:
"Him you devour, him you, him I!"


-trans. Gerd Gillhoff
-German title: Die Drei.

(Illustration is Karl Friedrich Lessing, The Return of the Crusader, 1835.)

Monday, September 20, 2010


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Lord Byron

The scene of the Drama is amongst the Higher Alps — partly in the Castle of Manfred, and partly in the Mountains.

Act I Scene I

Manfred alone. — Scene, a Gothic Gallery. — Time, Midnight.

MANFRED: The lamp must be replenish'd, but even then
It will not burn so long as I must watch.
My slumbers — if I slumber — are not sleep,
But a continuance of enduring thought,
Which then I can resist not: in my heart
There is a vigil, and these eyes but close
To look within; and yet I live, and bear
The aspect and the form of breathing men.
But grief should be the instructor of the wise;
Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most
Must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth,
The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.
Philosophy and science, and the springs
Of wonder, and the wisdom of the world,
I have essay'd, and in my mind there is
A power to make these subject to itself—
But they avail not: I have done men good,
And I have met with good even among men—
But this avail'd not: I have had my foes,
And none have baffled, many fallen before me—
But this avail'd not: Good, or evil, life,
Powers, passions, all I see in other beings,
Have been to me as rain unto the sands,
Since that all-nameless hour. I have no dread,
And feel the curse to have no natural fear
Nor fluttering throb, that beats with hopes or wishes
Or lurking love of something on the earth.


Illustration is Carl Gustav Carus, Faust im Studierzimmer (Faust in His Study), c.1851.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

''The Old Woman of Berkeley''

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Robert Southey

"This story is also related by Olaus Magnus; and in the Nuremberg Chronicle." [Southey's note]

- - - -

The Raven croak'd as she sate at her meal,
      And the Old Woman knew what he said,
And she grew pale at the Raven's tale,
      And sicken'd and went to her bed.

"Now fetch me my children, and fetch them with speed,"
      The Old Woman of Berkeley said,
"The Monk my son, and my daughter the Nun,
      Bid them hasten or I shall be dead."

The Monk her son, and her daughter the Nun,
      Their way to Berkeley went,
And they have brought with pious thought
      The holy sacrament.

The Old Woman shriek'd as they enter'd her door,
      And she cried with a voice of despair,
"Now take away the sacrament,
      For its presence I cannot bear!"

Her lip it trembled with agony,
      The sweat ran down her brow,
"I have tortures in store for evermore,
      But spare me, my children, now!"

Away they sent the sacrament,
      The fit it left her weak,
She look's at her children with ghastly eyes,
      And faintly struggled to speak.

"All kind of sin have I rioted in,
      And the judgment now must be,
But I secured my children's souls,
      Oh! pray, my children, for me!

"I have 'nointed myself with infant's fat,
      The fiends have been my slaves,
From sleeping babes I have suck'd the breath,
And breaking by charms the sleep of death,
      I have call'd the dead from their graves.

"And the Devil will fetch me now in fire,
      My witchcrafts to atone;
And I who have troubled the dead man's grave
      Shall never have rest in my own.

"Bless, I entreat, my winding sheet,
      My children, I beg of you;
And with holy water sprinkle my shroud,
      And sprinkle my coffin, too.

"And let me be chain'd in my coffin of stone,
      And fasten it strong, I implore,
With iron bars, and with three chains,
      Chain it to the church floor.

"And bless the chains and sprinkle them,
      And let fifty Priests stand round,
Who night and day the mass may say
      Where I lie on the ground.

"And see that fifty Choristers
      Beside the bier attend me,
And day and night by the tapers' light,
      With holy hymns defend me.

"Let the church bells all, both great and small,
      Be toll'd by night and day,
To drive from thence the fiends who come
      To bear my body away.

"And ever have the church door barr'd
      After the even-song;
And I beseech you, children dear,
      Let the bars and bolts be strong.

"And let this be three days and nights
      My wretched corpse to save;
Till the fourth morning keep me safe,
      And then I may rest in my grave."

The Old Woman of Berkeley laid her down,
      And her eyes grew deadly dim,
Short came her breath, and the struggle of death
      Did loosen every limb.

They blest the old woman's winding sheet
      With rites and prayers due,
With holy water they sprinkled her shroud,
      And they sprinkled her coffin too.

And they chain'd her in her coffin of stone,
      And with iron barr'd it down,
And in the church with three strong chains
      The chain'd it to the ground.

And they blest the chains and sprinkled them,
      And fifty Priests stood round,
By night and day the mass to say
      Where she lay on the ground.

And fifty sacred Choristers
      Beside the bier attend her,
Who day and night by the taper's light
      Should with holy hymns defend her.

To see the Priests and Choristers
      It was a goodly sight,
Each holding, as it were a staff,
      A taper burning bright.

And the church bells all, both great and small,
      Did toll so loud and long;
And they have barr'd the church door hard,
      After the even-song.

And the first night the tapers' light
      Burnt steadily and clear,
But they without a hideous rout
      Of angry fiends could hear;

A hideous roar at the church door
      Like a long thunder peal;
And the Priests they pray'd, and the Choristers sung
      Louder in fearful zeal.

Loud toll'd the bell, the Priests pray'd well,
      The tapers they burnt bright,
The Monk her son, and her daughter the Nun,
      They told their beads all night.

The cock he crew, the Fiends they flew
      From the voice of the morning away;
Then undisturb'd the Choristers sing,
      And the fifty Priests they pray;
As they had sung and pray'd all night,
      They pray'd and sung all day.

The second night the tapers' light
      Burnt dismally and blue,
And every one saw his neighbour's face
      Like a dead man's face to view.

And yells and cries without arise
      That the stoutest heart might shock,
And a deafening roar like a cataract pouring
      Over a mountain rock.

The Monk and Nun they told their beads
      As fast as they could tell,
And aye as louder grew the noise
      The faster went the bell.

Louder and louder the Choristers sung
      As they trembled more and more,
And the Priests as they pray'd to heaven for aid,
      They smote their breasts full sore.

The cock he crew, the Fiends they flew
      From the voice of the morning away;
Then undisturb'd the Choristers sing,
      And the fifty Priests they pray;
As they had sung and pray'd all night,
      The pray'd and sung all day.

The third night came, and the tapers' flame
      A frightful stench did make;
And they burnt as though they had been dipt
      In the burning brimstone lake.

And the loud commotion, like the rushing of ocean,
      Grew momently more and more;
And strokes as of a battering ram
      Did shake the strong church door.

The bellmen, they for very fear
      Could toll the bell no longer;
And still as louder grew the strokes
      Their fear it grew the stronger.

The Monk and Nun forgot their beads,
      They fell on the ground in dismay;
There was not a single Saint in heaven
      To whom they did not pray.

And the Choristers' song, which late was so strong,
      Falter'd with consternation,
For the church did rock as an earthquake shock
      Uplifed its foundation.

And a sound was heard like the trumpet's blast,
      That shall one day wake the dead;
The strong church door could bear no more,
      And the bolts and the bars they fled;

And the tapers' light was extinguish'd quite,
      And the Choristers faintly sung,
And the Priests dismay'd, panted and pray'd,
And on all the Saints in heaven for aid
      They call'd with trembling tongue.

And in He came with eyes of flame,
      The Devil to fetch the dead,
And all the church with his presence glow'd
      Like a fiery furnace red.

He laid his hand on the iron chains,
      And like flax they moulder'd asunder,
And the coffin lid, which was barr'd so firm,
      He burst with his voice of thunder.

And he bade the Old Woman of Berkeley rise,
      And come with her Master away;
A cold sweat started on that cold corpse,
      At the voice she was forced to obey.

She rose on her feet in her winding sheet,
      Her dead flesh quiver'd with fear,
And a groan like that which the Old Woman gave
      Never did mortal hear.

She follow'd her Master to the church door,
      There stood a black horse there;
His breath was red like furnace smoke,
      His eyes like a meteor's glare.

The Devil he flung her on the horse,
      And he leapt up before,
And away like the lightning's speed they went,
      And she was seen no more.

They saw her no more, but her cries
      For four miles round they could hear,
And children at rest at their mothers' breast
      Started, and scream'd with fear.


(Illustration is John Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781.)