A Celebration of Women Writers

"Imelda" by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) Records of Woman: With Other Poems. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, & London: T. Cadell, 1828, second edition. pp. 61-68.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


[Page 61] 

IMELDA.


                            –Sometimes
The young forgot the lessons they had learnt,
And lov'd when they should hate,–like thee, Imelda! 4
                                                                 Italy, a Poem.

Passa la bella Donna, e par che dorma.
                                                                 TASSO.


WE have the myrtle's breath around us here,
   Amidst the fallen pillars;–this hath been
Some Naiad's fane of old. How brightly clear,
   Flinging a vein of silver o'er the scene,
Up thro' the shadowy grass, the fountain wells,
   And music with it, gushing from beneath
The ivy'd altar!–that sweet murmur tells
   The rich wild-flowers no tale of wo or death;

[Page 62] 

Yet once the wave was darken'd, and a stain
Lay deep, and heavy drops–but not of rain–
On the dim violets by its marble bed,
And the pale shining water-lily's head.

Sad is that legend's truth.–A fair girl met
   One whom she lov'd, by this lone temple's spring,
Just as the sun behind the pine-grove set,
   And eve's low voice in whispers woke, to bring
All wanderers home. They stood, that gentle pair
   With the blue heaven of Italy above,
And citron-odours dying on the air,
And light leaves trembling round, and early love
Deep in each breast.–What reck'd their souls of strife
Between their fathers? Unto them young life
Spread out the treasures of its vernal years;
And if they wept, they wept far other tears

[Page 63] 

Than the cold world wrings forth. They stood, that hour,
Speaking of hope, while tree, and fount, and flower,
And star, just gleaming thro' the cypress boughs,
Seem'd holy things, as records of their vows.

But change came o'er the scene. A hurrying tread
   Broke on the whispery shades. Imelda knew
The footstep of her brother's wrath, and fled
   Up where the cedars make yon avenue
Dim with green twilight: pausing there, she caught–
Was it the clash of swords?–a swift dark thought
   Struck down her lip's rich crimson as it pass'd,
And from her eye the sunny sparkle took
One moment with its fearfulness, and shook
   Her slight frame fiercely, as a stormy blast
Might rock the rose. Once more, and yet once more,
She still'd her heart to listen–all was o'er;
Sweet summer winds alone were heard to sigh,
Bearing the nightingale's deep spirit by.

[Page 64] 

That night Imelda's voice was in the song,
Lovely it floated thro' the festive throng
Peopling her father's halls. That fatal night
Her eye look'd starry in its dazzling light,
And her cheek glow'd with beauty's flushing dyes,
Like a rich cloud of eve in southern skies,
A burning, ruby cloud. There were, whose gaze
Follow'd her form beneath the clear lamp's blaze,
And marvell'd at its radiance. But a few
Beheld the brightness of that feverish hue,
With something of dim fear; and in that glance
   Found strange and sudden tokens of unrest,
Startling to meet amidst the mazy dance,
   Where thought, if present, an unbidden guest,
Comes not unmask'd. Howe'er this were, the time
Sped as it speeds with joy, and grief, and crime
Alike: and when the banquet's hall was left
Unto its garlands of their bloom bereft,
When trembling stars look'd silvery in their wane,
And heavy flowers yet slumber'd, once again

[Page 65] 

There stole a footstep, fleet, and light, and lone,
Thro' the dim cedar shade; the step of one
That started at a leaf, of one that fled,
Of one that panted with some secret dread:–
What did Imelda there? She sought the scene
Where love so late with youth and hope had been;
Bodings were on her soul–a shuddering thrill
Ran thro' each vein, when first the Naiad's rill
Met her with melody–sweet sounds and low;
We hear them yet–they live along its flow–
Her voice is music lost! The fountain-side
She gain'd–the wave flash'd forth–'twas darkly dyed
Ev'n as from warrior-hearts; and on its edge,
   Amidst the fern, and flowers, and moss-tufts deep,
There lay, as lull'd by stream and rustling sedge,
   A youth, a graceful youth. "Oh! dost thou sleep,
Azzo?" she cried, "my Azzo! is this rest?"
–But then her low tones falter'd:–"On thy breast

[Page 66] 

Is the stain–yes, 'tis blood!–and that cold cheek–
That moveless lip!–thou dost not slumber?–speak,
Speak, Azzo, my belov'd–no sound–no breath–
What hath come thus between our spirits?–Death!
Death?–I but dream–I dream!"–and there she stood,
A faint, frail trembler, gazing first on blood,
With her fair arm around yon cypress thrown,
Her form sustain'd by that dark stem alone,
And fading fast, like spell-struck maid of old,
Into white waves dissolving, clear and cold;
When from the grass her dimm'd eye caught a gleam–
'Twas where a sword lay shiver'd by the stream,–
Her brother's sword!–she knew it; and she knew
'Twas with a venom'd point that weapon slew!
Wo for young love! But love is strong. There came
Strength upon woman's fragile heart and frame,

[Page 67] 

There came swift courage! On the dewy ground
She knelt, with all her dark hair floating round,
Like a long silken stole; she knelt, and press'd
Her lips of glowing life to Azzo's breast,
Drawing the poison forth. A strange, sad sight!
Pale death, and fearless love, and solemn night!–
So the moon saw them last.
                            The Morn came singing
   Thro' the green forests of the Appenines,
With all her joyous birds their free flight winging,
   And steps and voices out amongst the vines.
What found that day-spring here? Two fair forms laid
Like sculptured sleepers; from the myrtle shade
Casting a gleam of beauty o'er the wave,
Still, mournful, sweet. Were such things for the grave?
Could it be so indeed? That radiant girl,
Deck'd as for bridal hours!–long braids of pearl

[Page 68] 

Amidst her shadowy locks were faintly shining,
   As tears might shine, with melancholy light;
And there was gold her slender waist entwining;
   And her pale graceful arms–how sadly bright!
And fiery gems upon her breast were lying,
And round her marble brow red roses dying.–
But she died first!–the violet's hue had spread
   O'er her sweet eyelids with repose oppress'd,
She had bow'd heavily her gentle head,
   And on the youth's hush'd bosom sunk to rest.
So slept they well!–the poison's work was done;
Love with true heart had striven–but Death had won.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom