A Celebration of Women Writers

"Pauline" by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) Records of Woman: With Other Poems. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, & London: T. Cadell, 1828, second edition. pp. 116-122.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


[Page 116] 

PAULINE.


To die for what we love!–Oh! there is power
In the true heart, and pride, and joy, for this;
It is to live without the vanish'd light
That strength is needed.
Così trapassa al trapassar d'un Giorno
Della vita mortal il fiore e'l verde.
                                                    TASSO.

ALONG the star-lit Seine went music swelling,
  Till the air thrill'd with its exulting mirth;
Proudly it floated, even as if no dwelling
  For cares or stricken hearts were found on earth;
And a glad sound the measure lightly beat,
A happy chime of many dancing feet.

[Page 117] 

For in a palace of the land that night,
  Lamps, and fresh roses, and green leaves were hung,
And from the painted walls a stream of light
  On flying forms beneath soft splendour flung:
But loveliest far amidst the revel's pride
Was one, the lady from the Danube-side. 7

Pauline, the meekly bright!–tho' now no more
  Her clear eye flash'd with youth's all tameless glee,
Yet something holier than its dayspring wore,
  There in soft rest lay beautiful to see;
A charm with graver, tenderer sweetness fraught–
The blending of deep love and matron thought.

Thro' the gay throng she moved, serenely fair,
  And such calm joy as fills a moonlight sky,
Sate on her brow beneath its graceful hair,
  As her young daughter in the dance went by,
With the fleet step of one that yet hath known
Smiles and kind voices in this world alone.

[Page 118] 

Lurk'd there no secret boding in her breast?
  Did no faint whisper warn of evil nigh?
Such oft awake when most the heart seems blest
  Midst the light laughter of festivity:–
Whence come those tones!–Alas! enough we know,
To mingle fear with all triumphal show!

Who spoke of evil, when young feet were flying
  In fairy-rings around the echoing hall?
Soft airs thro' braided locks in perfume sighing,
  Glad pulses beating unto music's call?
Silence!–the minstrels pause–and hark! a sound,
A strange quick rustling which their notes had drown'd!

And lo! a light upon the dancers breaking–
  Not such their clear and silvery lamps had shed!
From the gay dream of revelry awaking,
  One moment holds them still in breathless dread;

[Page 119] 

The wild fierce lustre grows–then bursts a cry–
Fire! thro' the hall and round it gathering–fly!

And forth they rush–as chased by sword and spear–
  To the green coverts of the garden-bowers;
A gorgeous masque of pageantry and fear,
  Startling the birds and trampling down the flowers:
While from the dome behind, red sparkles driven
Pierce the dark stillness of the midnight heaven.

And where is she, Pauline?–the hurrying throng
  Have swept her onward, as a stormy blast
Might sweep some faint o'erwearied bird along–
  Till now the threshold of that death is past,
And free she stands beneath the starry skies,
Calling her child–but no sweet voice replies.

[Page 120] 

"Bertha! where art thou?–Speak, oh! speak my own!"
  Alas! unconscious of her pangs the while,
The gentle girl, in fear's cold grasp alone,
  Powerless hath sunk within the blazing pile;
A young bright form, deck'd gloriously for death,
With flowers all shrinking from the flame's fierce breath!

But oh! thy strength, deep love!–there is no power
  To stay the mother from that rolling grave,
Tho' fast on high the fiery volumes tower,
  And forth, like banners, from each lattice wave.
Back, back she rushes thro' a host combined–
Mighty is anguish, with affection twined!

And what bold step may follow, midst the roar
  Of the red billows, o'er their prey that rise?
None!–Courage there stood still–and never more
  Did those fair forms emerge on human eyes!

[Page 121] 

Was one brief meeting theirs, one wild farewell?
And died they heart to heart?–Oh! who can tell?

Freshly and cloudlessly the morning broke
  On that sad palace, midst its pleasure-shades;
Its painted roofs had sunk–yet black with smoke
  And lonely stood its marble colonnades:
But yester-eve their shafts with wreaths were bound–
Now lay the scene one shrivell'd scroll around!

And bore the ruins no recording trace
  Of all that woman's heart had dared and done?
Yes! there were gems to mark its mortal place,
  That forth from dust and ashes dimly shone!
Those had the mother, on her gentle breast,
Worn round her child's fair image, there at rest.

[Page 122] 

And they were all!–the tender and the true
  Left this alone her sacrifice to prove,
Hallowing the spot where mirth once lightly flew,
  To deep, lone, chasten'd thoughts of grief and love.
–Oh! we have need of patient faith below,
To clear away the mysteries of such wo!

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom