A Celebration of Women Writers

"Edith, A Tale of the Woods" by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) Records of Woman: With Other Poems. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, & London: T. Cadell, 1828, second edition. pp. 69-82.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


[Page 69] 

EDITH,
A TALE OF THE WOODS.*


Du Heilige! rufe dein Kind zurück!
Ich habe genossen das irdische Glück,
Ich habe gelebt und geliebet.
                                                WALLENSTEIN.


THE woods–oh! solemn are the boundless woods
  Of the great Western World, when day declines,
And louder sounds the roll of distant floods,
  More deep the rustling of the ancient pines;
When dimness gathers on the stilly air,
  And mystery seems o'er every leaf to brood,
Awful it is for human heart to bear
  The might and burden of the solitude!

[Page 70] 

Yet, in that hour, midst those green wastes, there sate
One young and fair,–and oh! how desolate!
But undismay'd; while sank the crimson light,
And the high cedars darken'd with the night,
Alone she sate; tho' many lay around,
They, pale and silent on the bloody ground,
Were sever'd from her need and from her wo,
  Far as Death severs Life. O'er that wild spot
Combat had rag'd, and brought the valiant low,
  And left them, with the history of their lot,
Unto the forest oaks. A fearful scene
For her whose home of other days had been
Midst the fair halls of England! but the love
  Which fill'd her soul was strong to cast out fear,
And by its might upborne all else above,
  She shrank not–mark'd not that the dead were near.

[Page 71] 

Of him alone she thought, whose languid head
  Faintly upon her wedded bosom fell;
Memory of aught but him on earth was fled,
  While heavily she felt his life-blood well
Fast o'er her garments forth, and vainly bound
With her torn robe and hair the streaming wound,
Yet hoped, still hoped!–Oh! from such hope how long
  Affection wooes the whispers that deceive,
Ev'n when the pressure of dismay grows strong,
  And we, that weep, watch, tremble, ne'er believe
The blow indeed can fall! So bow'd she there
Over the dying, while unconscious prayer
Fill'd all her soul. Now pour'd the moonlight down,
Veining the pine-stems thro' the foliage brown,
And fire-flies, kindling up the leafy place,
Cast fitful radiance o'er the warrior's face,
Whereby she caught its changes: to her eye,
  The eye that faded look'd through gathering haze,
Whence love, o'ermastering mortal agony,
  Lifted a long, deep, melancholy gaze,

[Page 72] 

When voice was not: that fond, sad meaning pass'd–
She knew the fulness of her wo at last!
One shriek the forests heard,–and mute she lay,
And cold; yet clasping still the precious clay
To her scarce-heaving breast. O Love and Death!
Ye have sad meetings on this changeful earth,
Many and sad! but airs of heavenly breath
Shall melt the links which bind you, for your birth
Is far apart.

                          Now light, of richer hue
Than the moon sheds, came flushing mist and dew;
The pines grew red with morning; fresh winds play'd,
Bright-colour'd birds with splendour cross'd the shade,
Flitting on flower-like wings; glad murmurs broke
  From reed, and spray, and leaf, the living strings
Of Earth's Eolian lyre, whose music woke
  Into young life and joy all happy things.
And she too woke from that long dreamless trance,
The widow'd Edith: fearfully her glance

[Page 73] 

Fell, as in doubt, on faces dark and strange,
And dusky forms. A sudden sense of change
Flash'd o'er her spirit, ev'n ere memory swept
The tide of anguish back with thoughts that slept;
Yet half instinctively she rose, and spread
Her arms, as 'twere for something lost or fled,
Then faintly sank again. The forest-bough,
With all its whispers, wav'd not o'er her now,–
Where was she? Midst the people of the wild,
  By the red hunter's fire: an aged chief,
Whose home look'd sad–for therein play'd no child–
  Had borne her, in the stillness of her grief,
To that lone cabin of the woods; and there,
Won by a form so desolately fair,
Or touch'd with thoughts from some past sorrow sprung,
O'er her low couch an Indian matron hung;
While in grave silence, yet with earnest eye,
The ancient warrior of the waste stood by,

[Page 74] 

Bending in watchfulness his proud grey head,
  And leaning on his bow.
                                  And life return'd,
Life, but with all its memories of the dead,
  To Edith's heart; and well the sufferer learn'd
Her task of meek endurance, well she wore
The chasten'd grief that humbly can adore,
Midst blinding tears. But unto that old pair,
Ev'n as a breath of spring's awakening air,
Her presence was; or as a sweet wild tune
Bringing back tender thoughts, which all too soon
Depart with childhood. Sadly they had seen
  A daughter to the land of spirits go,
And ever from that time her fading mien,
  And voice, like winds of summer, soft and low,
Had haunted their dim years; but Edith's face
Now look'd in holy sweetness from her place,
And they again seem'd parents. Oh! the joy,
The rich deep blessedness–tho' earth's alloy,

[Page 75] 

Fear, that still bodes, be there–of pouring forth
The heart's whole power of love, its wealth and worth
Of strong affection, in one healthful flow,
On something all its own!–that kindly glow,
Which to shut inward is consuming pain,
Gives the glad soul its flowering time again,
When, like the sunshine, freed.–And gentle cares
Th' adopted Edith meekly gave for theirs
Who lov'd her thus: her spirit dwelt the while,
With the departed, and her patient smile
Spoke of farewells to earth;–yet still she pray'd,
Ev'n o'er her soldier's lowly grave, for aid
One purpose to fulfil, to leave one trace
Brightly recording that her dwelling-place
Had been among the wilds; for well she knew
The secret whisper of her bosom true,
Which warn'd her hence.

[Page 76] 

                                    And now, by many a word
Link'd unto moments when the heart was stirr'd,
By the sweet mournfulness of many a hymn,
Sung when the woods at eve grew hush'd and dim,
By the persuasion of her fervent eye,
All eloquent with child-like piety,
By the still beauty of her life, she strove
To win for heaven, and heaven-born truth, the love
Pour'd out on her so freely.–Nor in vain
Was that soft-breathing influence to enchain
The soul in gentle bonds: by slow degrees
Light follow'd on, as when a summer breeze
Parts the deep masses of the forest shade
And lets the sunbeam through:–her voice was made
Ev'n such a breeze; and she, a lowly guide,
By faith and sorrow rais'd and purified,
So to the Cross her Indian fosterers led,
Until their prayers were one. When morning spread
O'er the blue lake, and when the sunset's glow
Touch'd into golden bronze the cypress-bough,

[Page 77] 

And when the quiet of the Sabbath time
Sank on her heart, tho' no melodious chime
Waken'd the wilderness, their prayers were one.
–Now might she pass in hope, her work was done!
And she was passing from the woods away;
The broken flower of England might not stay
Amidst those alien shades; her eye was bright
Ev'n yet with something of a starry light,
But her form wasted, and her fair young cheek
Wore oft and patiently a fatal streak,
A rose whose root was death. The parting sigh
Of autumn thro' the forests had gone by,
And the rich maple o'er her wanderings lone
Its crimson leaves in many a shower had strown,
Flushing the air; and winter's blast had been
Amidst the pines; and now a softer green
Fring'd their dark boughs; for spring again had come,
The sunny spring! but Edith to her home
Was journeying fast. Alas! we think it sad
To part with life, when all the earth looks glad

[Page 78] 

In her young lovely things, when voices break
Into sweet sounds, and leaves and blossoms wake:
Is it not brighter then, in that far clime
Where graves are not, nor blights of changeful time,
If here such glory dwell with passing blooms,
Such golden sunshine rest around the tombs?
So thought the dying one. 'Twas early day,
And sounds and odours with the breezes' play,
Whispering of spring-time, thro' the cabin-door,
Unto her couch life's farewell sweetness bore;
Then with a look where all her hope awoke,
"My father!"–to the grey-hair'd chief she spoke–
"Know'st thou that I depart?"–"I know, I know,"
He answer'd mournfully, "that thou must go
To thy belov'd, my daughter!"–"Sorrow not
  For me, kind mother!" with meek smiles once more
She murmur'd in low tones; "one happy lot
  Awaits us, friends! upon the better shore;
For we have pray'd together in one trust,
And lifted our frail spirits from the dust
To God, who gave them. Lay me by mine own,
Under the cedar-shade: where he is gone,
Thither I go. There will my sisters be,
And the dead parents, lisping at whose knee
My childhood's prayer was learn'd–the Saviour's prayer
Which now ye know–and I shall meet you there,
Father and gentle mother!–ye have bound
The bruised reed, and mercy shall be found
By Mercy's children."–From the matron's eye
Dropp'd tears, her sole and passionate reply;
But Edith felt them not; for now a sleep,
Solemnly beautiful, a stillness deep,
Fell on her settled face. Then, sad and slow,
And mantling up his stately head in wo,
"Thou'rt passing hence," he sang, that warrior old,
In sounds like those by plaintive waters roll'd.


[Page 80] 

  "Thou'rt passing from the lake's green side,
    And the hunter's hearth away;
  For the time of flowers, for the summer's pride,
    Daughter! thou canst not stay.

  Thou'rt journeying to thy spirit's home,
    Where the skies are ever clear!
  The corn-month's golden hours will come,
    But they shall not find thee here.

  And we shall miss thy voice, my bird!
    Under our whispering pine;
  Music shall midst the leaves be heard,
    But not a song like thine.

  A breeze that roves o'er stream and hill,
    Telling of winter gone,
  Hath such sweet falls–yet caught we still
    A farewell in its tone.

[Page 81] 

  But thou, my bright one! thou shalt be
    Where farewell sounds are o'er;
  Thou, in the eyes thou lov'st, shalt see
    No fear of parting more.

  The mossy grave thy tears have wet,
    And the wind's wild moanings by,
  Thou with thy kindred shalt forget,
    Midst flowers–not such as die.

  The shadow from thy brow shall melt,
    The sorrow from thy strain,
  But where thine earthly smile hath dwelt,
    Our hearts shall thirst in vain.

  Dim will our cabin be, and lone,
    When thou, its light, art fled;
  Yet hath thy step the pathway shown
    Unto the happy dead.

[Page 82] 

  And we will follow thee, our guide!
    And join that shining band;
  Thou'rt passing from the lake's green side–
    Go to the better land!"


The song had ceas'd–the listeners caught no breath,
That lovely sleep had melted into death.


[Page 69]

* Founded on incidents related in an American work, "Sketches of Connecticut."

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom