A Celebration of Women Writers

"Arabella Stuart" by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) Records of Woman: With Other Poems. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, & London: T. Cadell, 1828, second edition. pp. 3-20.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


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RECORDS OF WOMAN.


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ARABELLA STUART.


"THE LADY ARABELLA," as she has been frequently entitled, was descended from Margaret, eldest daughter of Henry VII., and consequently allied by birth to Elizabeth, as well as James I. This affinity to the throne proved the misfortune of her life, as the jealousies which it constantly excited in her royal relatives, who were anxious to prevent her marrying, shut her out from the enjoyment of that domestic happiness which her heart appears to have so fervently desired. By a secret, but early-discovered union with William Seymour, son of Lord Beauchamp, she alarmed the cabinet of James, and the wedded lovers were immediately placed in separate confinement. From this they found means to concert a romantic plan of escape; and having won over a female attendant, by whose assistance she was disguised in male attire, Arabella, though faint from recent sickness and suffering, stole out in the night, and at last reached an appointed spot, where a boat and servants were in waiting. She embarked; and, at break of day, a French vessel engaged to receive her, was discovered and gained. As Seymour, however, had not yet arrived, she was desirous that the vessel should lie at anchor for him; but this wish was overruled by her companions, who, [Page 4]  contrary to her entreaties, hoisted sail, "which," says D'Israeli, "occasioned so fatal a termination to this romantic adventure. Seymour, indeed, had escaped from the Tower;–he reached the wharf, and found his confidential man waiting with a boat, and arrived at Lee. The time passed; the waves were rising; Arabella was not there; but in the distance he descried a vessel. Hiring a fisherman to take him on board, he discovered, to his grief, on hailing it, that it was not the French ship charged with his Arabella; in despair and confusion he found another ship from Newcastle, which for a large sum altered its course, and landed him in Flanders."–Arabella, meantime, whilst imploring her attendants to linger, and earnestly looking out for the expected boat of her husband, was overtaken in Calais Roads by a vessel in the King's service, and brought back to a captivity, under the suffering of which her mind and constitution gradually sank.–"What passed in that dreadful imprisonment, cannot perhaps be recovered for authentic history,–but enough is known; that her mind grew impaired, that she finally lost her reason, and, if the duration of her imprisonment was short, that it was only terminated by her death. Some effusions, often begun and never ended, written and erased, incoherent and rational, yet remain among her papers." –D'ISRAELI's Curiosities of Literature.–The following poem, meant as some record of her fate, and the imagined fluctuations of her thoughts and feelings, is supposed to commence during the time of her first imprisonment, whilst her mind was yet buoyed up by the consciousness of Seymour's affection, and the cherished hope of eventual deliverance.


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ARABELLA STUART.


         And is not love in vain,
  Torture enough without a living tomb?
                                BYRON.

  Fermossi al fin il cor che balzò tanto.
                                PINDEMONTE.


I.

'TWAS but a dream!–I saw the stag leap free,
  Under the boughs where early birds were singing,
I stood, o'ershadowed by the greenwood tree,
  And heard, it seemed, a sudden bugle ringing
Far thro' a royal forest: then the fawn
Shot, like a gleam of light, from grassy lawn
To secret covert; and the smooth turf shook,
And lilies quiver'd by the glade's lone brook,

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And young leaves trembled, as, in fleet career,
A princely band, with horn, and hound, and spear,
Like a rich masque swept forth. I saw the dance
Of their white plumes, that bore a silvery glance
Into the deep wood's heart; and all pass'd by
Save one–I met the smile of one clear eye,
Flashing out joy to mine. Yes, thou wert there,
Seymour! a soft wind blew the clustering hair
Back from thy gallant brow, as thou didst rein
Thy courser, turning from that gorgeous train,
And fling, methought, thy hunting-spear away,
And, lightly graceful in thy green array,
Bound to my side; and we, that met and parted,
  Ever in dread of some dark watchful power,
Won back to childhood's trust, and fearless-hearted,
   Blent the glad fulness of our thoughts that hour,
Even like the mingling of sweet streams, beneath
Dim woven leaves, and midst the floating breath
Of hidden forest flowers.

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II.

                  'Tis past!–I wake,
  A captive, and alone, and far from thee,
My love and friend!–Yet fostering, for thy sake,
  A quenchless hope of happiness to be,
And feeling still my woman's spirit strong,
In the deep faith which lifts from earthly wrong
A heavenward glance. I know, I know our love
Shall yet call gentle angels from above,
By its undying fervour; and prevail,
Sending a breath, as of the spring's first gale,
Thro' hearts now cold; and, raising its bright face,
With a free gush of sunny tears, erase
The characters of anguish. In this trust,
I bear, I strive, I bow not to the dust,
That I may bring thee back no faded form,
No bosom chill'd and blighted by the storm,
But all my youth's first treasures, when we meet,
Making past sorrow, by communion, sweet.

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III.

And thou too art in bonds!–yet droop thou not,
Oh, my belov'd!–there is one hopeless lot,
But one, and that not ours. Beside the dead
There sits the grief that mantles up its head,
Loathing the laughter and proud pomp of light,
When darkness, from the vainly-doting sight,
Covers its beautiful! 1 If thou wert gone
  To the grave's bosom, with thy radiant brow,–
If thy deep-thrilling voice, with that low tone
  Of earnest tenderness, which now, ev'n now,
Seems floating thro' my soul, were music taken
For ever from this world,–oh! thus forsaken,
Could I bear on?–thou liv'st, thou liv'st, thou'rt mine!
–With this glad thought I make my heart a shrine,
And, by the lamp which quenchless there shall burn,
Sit, a lone watcher for the day's return.

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IV.

And lo! the joy that cometh with the morning,
  Brightly victorious o'er the hours of care!
I have not watch'd in vain, serenely scorning
  The wild and busy whispers of despair!
Thou hast sent tidings, as of heaven.–I wait
  The hour, the sign, for blessed flight to thee.
Oh! for the skylark's wing that seeks its mate
  As a star shoots!–but on the breezy sea
We shall meet soon.–To think of such an hour!
  Will not my heart, o'erburdened by its bliss,
Faint and give way within me, as a flower
  Borne down and perishing by noontide's kiss?
–Yet shall I fear that lot?–the perfect rest,
The full deep joy of dying on thy breast,
After long-suffering won? So rich a close
Too seldom crowns with peace affection's woes.

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V.

Sunset!–I tell each moment–from the skies
  The last red splendour floats along my wall,
Like a king's banner!–Now it melts, it dies!
  I see one star–I hear–'twas not the call,
Th' expected voice; my quick heart throbb'd too soon.
I must keep vigil till yon rising moon
Shower down less golden light. Beneath her beam
Thro' my lone lattice pour'd, I sit and dream
Of summer-lands afar, where holy love,
Under the vine or in the citron-grove,
May breathe from terror.

                     Now the night grows deep,
And silent as its clouds, and full of sleep.
I hear my veins beat.–Hark! a bell's slow chime.
My heart strikes with it.–Yet again–'tis time!
A step!–a voice!–or but a rising breeze?
–Hark! haste!–I come, to meet thee on the seas.

* * * * * * * *

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VI.

Now never more, oh! never, in the worth
Of its pure cause, let sorrowing love on earth
Trust fondly–never more!–the hope is crush'd
That lit my life, the voice within me hush'd
That spoke sweet oracles; and I return
To lay my youth, as in a burial-urn,
Where sunshine may not find it.–All is lost!
No tempest met our barks–no billow toss'd;
Yet were they sever'd, ev'n as we must be,
That so have lov'd, so striven our hearts to free
From their close-coiling fate! In vain–in vain!
The dark links meet, and clasp themselves again,
And press out life.–Upon the deck I stood,
And a white sail came gliding o'er the flood,
Like some proud bird of ocean; then mine eye
Strained out, one moment earlier to descry
The form it ached for, and the bark's career
Seem'd slow to that fond yearning: it drew near,

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Fraught with our foes!–What boots it to recall
The strife, the tears? Once more a prison-wall
Shuts the green hills and woodlands from my sight,
And joyous glance of waters to the light,
And thee, my Seymour, thee!

                    I will not sink!
  Thou, thou hast rent the heavy chain that bound thee;
And this shall be my strength–the joy to think
  That thou mayst wander with heaven's breath around thee;
And all the laughing sky! This thought shall yet
Shine o'er my heart, a radiant amulet,
Guarding it from despair. Thy bonds are broken,
And unto me, I know, thy true love's token
Shall one day be deliverance, tho' the years
Lie dim between, o'erhung with mists of tears.

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VII.

My friend! my friend! where art thou? Day by day,
Gliding, like some dark mournful stream, away,
My silent youth flows from me. Spring, the while,
  Comes and rains beauty on the kindling boughs
Round hall and hamlet; Summer, with her smile,
  Fills the green forest;–young hearts breathe their vows;
Brothers, long parted, meet; fair children rise
Round the glad board; Hope laughs from loving eyes;
–All this is in the world!–These joys lie sown,
The dew of every path. On one alone
Their freshness may not fall–the stricken deer,
Dying of thirst with all the waters near.

VIII.

Ye are from dingle and fresh glade, ye flowers!
  By some kind hand to cheer my dungeon sent;
O'er you the oak shed down the summer showers,
  And the lark's nest was where your bright cups bent,

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Quivering to breeze and rain-drop, like the sheen
Of twilight stars. On you Heaven's eye hath been,
Thro' the leaves pouring its dark sultry bIue
Into your glowing hearts; the bee to you
Hath murmur'd, and the rill.–My soul grows faint
With passionate yearning, as its quick dreams paint
Your haunts by dell and stream,–the green, the free,
The full of all sweet sound,–the shut from me!

IX.

There went a swift bird singing past my cell–
  O Love and Freedom! ye are lovely things!
With you the peasant on the hills may dwell,
  And by the streams; but I–the blood of kings,
A proud unmingling river, thro' my veins
Flows in lone brightness,–and its gifts are chains!
–Kings!–I had silent visions of deep bliss,
Leaving their thrones far distant, and for this

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I am cast under their triumphal car,
An insect to be crushed.–Oh! Heaven is far,–
Earth pitiless!

Dost thou forget me, Seymour? I am prov'd
So long, so sternly! Seymour, my belov'd!
There are such tales of holy marvels done
By strong affection, of deliverance won
Thro' its prevailing power! Are these things told
Till the young weep with rapture, and the old
Wonder, yet dare not doubt,–and thou, oh! thou,
  Dost thou forget me in my hope's decay?–
Thou canst not!–thro' the silent night, ev'n now,
  I, that need prayer so much, awake and pray
Still first for thee.–Oh! gentle, gentle friend!
How shall I bear this anguish to the end?

Aid!–comes there yet no aid?–the voice of blood
Passes Heaven's gate, ev'n ere the crimson flood

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Sinks thro' the greensward!–is there not a cry
From the wrung heart, of power, thro' agony,
To pierce the clouds? Hear, Mercy! hear me! None
That bleed and weep beneath the smiling sun,
Have heavier cause!–yet hear!–my soul grows dark–
Who hears the last shriek from the sinking bark,
On the mid seas, and with the storm alone,
And bearing to th' abyss, unseen, unknown,
Its freight of human hearts?–th' o'ermastering wave!
Who shall tell how it rush'd–and none to save?

Thou hast forsaken me! I feel, I know,
There would be rescue if this were not so.
Thou'rt at the chase, thou'rt at the festive board,
Thou'rt where the red wine free and high is pour'd,
Thou'rt where the dancers meet!–a magic glass
Is set within my soul, and proud shapes pass,
Flushing it o'er with pomp from bower and hall;–
I see one shadow, stateliest there of all–

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Thine! What dost thou amidst the bright and fair,
Whispering light words, and mocking my despair?
It is not welI of thee!–my love was more
Than fiery song may breathe, deep thought explore;
And there thou smilest while my heart is dying,
With all its blighted hopes around it lying;
Ev'n thou, on whom they hung their last green leaf–
Yet smile, smile on! too bright art thou for grief.

Death!–what, is death a lock'd and treasur'd thing,
Guarded by swords of fire? 2 a hidden spring,
A fabled fruit, that I should thus endure,
As if the world within me held no cure?
Wherefore not spread free wings–Heaven, Heaven! control
These thoughts–they rush–I look into my soul
As down a gulf, and tremble at th' array
Of fierce forms crowding it! Give strength to pray,
So shall their dark host pass.

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                    The storm is still'd.
  Father in Heaven! Thou, only thou, canst sound
The heart's great deep, with floods of anguish fill'd,
  For human line too fearfully profound.
Therefore, forgive, my Father! if Thy child,
Rock'd on its heaving darkness, hath grown wild,
And sinn'd in her despair! It well may be,
That Thou wouldst lead my spirit back to Thee–
By the crush'd hope too long on this world pour'd,
The stricken love which hath perchance ador'd
A mortal in Thy place! Now, let me strive
With Thy strong arm no more! Forgive, forgive!
Take me to peace!

                 And peace at last is nigh.
  A sign is on my brow, a token sent
Th' o'erwearied dust, from home: no breeze flits by,
  But calls me with a strange sweet whisper, blent
Of many mysteries.

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                Hark! the warning tone
Deepens–its word is Death. Alone, alone,
And sad in youth, but chasten'd, I depart,
Bowing to heaven. Yet, yet my woman's heart
Shall wake a spirit and a power to bless,
Ev'n in this hour's o'ershadowing fearfulness,
Thee, its first love!–oh! tender still, and true!
Be it forgotten if mine anguish threw
Drops from its bitter fountain on thy name,
Tho' but a moment.

              Now, with fainting frame,
With soul just lingering on the flight begun,
To bind for thee its last dim thoughts in one,
I bless thee! Peace be on thy noble head,
Years of bright fame, when I am with the dead!
I bid this prayer survive me, and retain
Its might, again to bless thee, and again!
Thou hast been gather'd into my dark fate
Too much; too long, for my sake, desolate

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Hath been thine exiled youth; but now take back,
From dying hands, thy freedom, and re-track
(After a few kind tears for her whose days
Went out in dreams of thee) the sunny ways
Of hope, and find thou happiness! Yet send,
Ev'n then, in silent hours, a thought, dear friend!
Down to my voiceless chamber; for thy love
Hath been to me all gifts of earth above,
Tho' bought with burning tears! It is the sting
Of death to leave that vainly-precious thing
In this cold world! What were it, then, if thou,
With thy fond eyes, wert gazing on me now?
Too keen a pang!–Farewell! and yet once more,
Farewell!–the passion of long years I pour
Into that word: thou hear'st not,–but the woe
And fervour of its tones may one day flow
To thy heart's holy place; there let them dwell–
We shall o'ersweep the grave to meet–Farewell!

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom