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CANTO SECOND.

THE CONVENT.

The breeze, which swept away the smoke

Round Norham Castle roll'd,
When all the loud artillery spoke,
With lightning-flash, and thunder-stroke,

As Marmion left the Hold, -
It curl'd not Tweed alone, that breeze,
For, far upon Northumbrian seas,

It freshly blew, and strong,
Where, from high Whitby's cloister'd pile,
Bound to Saint Cuthbert's Holy Isle,

It bore a bark along.
Upon the gale she stoop'd her side,
And bounded o'er the swelling tide,

As she were dancing home ;
The merry seamen laugh'd, to see
Their gallant ship so lustily

Furrow the green sea-foam. Much joy'd they in their honour'd freight; For, on the deck, in chair of state, The Abbess of Saint Hilda placed, With five fair nuns, the galley graced.

II.

'Twas sweet to see these holy maids, Like birds escaped to green-wood shades,

Their first flight from the cage,

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How timid, and how curious too,
For all to them was strange and new,
And all the common sights they view,

Their wonderment engage.
One eyed the shrouds and swelling sail,

With many a benedicite;
One at the rippling surge grew pale,

And would for terror pray;
Then shriek’d, because the seadog, nigh,
His round black head, and sparkling eye,

Rear'd o'er the foaming spray;
And one would still adjust her veil,
Disorder'd by the summer gale,
Perchance lest some more worldly eye
Her dedicated charms might spy;
Perchance, because such action graced
Her fair-turn'd arm and slender waist.
Light was each simple bosom there,
Save two, who ill might pleasure share, -
The Abbess, and the Novice Clare.

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The Abbess was of noble blood,
But early took the veil and hood,
Ere upon life she cast a look,
Or knew the world that she forsook.
Fair too she was, and kind had been
As she was fair, but ne'er had seen
For her a timid lover sigh,
Nor knew the influence of her eye.
Love, to her ear, was but a name,
Combined with vanity and shame ;
Her hopes, her fears, her joys, were all
Bounded within the cloister wall :
The deadliest sin her mind could reach
Was of monastic rule the breach;
And her ambition's highest aim
To emulate Saint Hilda's fame.

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For this she gave her ample dower,
To raise the convent's eastern tower ;
For this, with carving rare and quaint,
She deck'd the chapel of the saint,
And gave the relic-shrine of cost,
With ivory and gems emboss'd.
The poor her Convent's bounty blest,
The pilgrim in its halls found rest.

IV.

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Black was her garb, her rigid rule
Reform'd on Benedictine school;
Her cheek was pale, her form was spare ;
Vigils, and penitence austere,
Had early quench'd the light of youth,
But gentle was the dame, in sooth;
Though, vain of her religious sway,
She loved to see her maids obey,
Yet nothing stern was she in cell,
And the nuns loved their Abbess well.
Sad was this voyage to the dame ;
Summond to Lindisfarne, she came,
There, with Saint Cuthbert's Abbot old,
And Tynemouth's Prioress, to hold
A chapter of Saint Benedict,
For inquisition stern and strict,
On two apostates from the faith,
And, if need were, to doom to death.

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V.

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Nought say I here of Sister Clare,
Save this, that she was young and fair ;
As yet a novice unprofess'd,
Lovely and gentle, but distress'd.
She was betroth'd to one now dead,
Or worse, who had dishonour'd fled.
Her kinsmen bade her give her hand
To one, who loved her for her land :

Herself, almost broken-hearted now,
Was bent to take the vestal vow,
And shroud, within Saint Hilda's gloom,
Her blasted hopes and wither'd bloom.

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VI.
She sate upon the galley's prow,
And seem'd to mark the waves below;
Nay, seem'd, so fix'd her look and eye,
To count them as they glided by.
She saw them not—'twas seeming all-
Far other scene her thoughts recall, —
A sun-scorch'd desert, waste and bare,
Nor waves, nor breezes, murmur'd there;
There saw she, where some careless hand
O’er a dead corpse had heap'd the sand,
To hide it till the jackals come,
To tear it from the scanty tomb.-
See what a woful look was given,
As she raised up her eyes to heaven !

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VII.
Lovely, and gentle, and distress'd-
These charms might tame the fiercest breast :
Harpers have sung, and poets told,
That he, in fury uncontrollid,
The shaggy monarch of the wood,
Before a virgin, fair and good,
Hath pacified his savage mood.
But passions in the human frame,
Oft put the lion's rage to shame:
And jealousy, by dark intrigue,
With sordid avarice in league,
Had practised with their bowl and knife,
Against the mourner's harmless life.
This crime was charged 'gainst those who lay
Prison'd in Cuthbert's islet grey.

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VIII.
And now the vessel skirts the strand
Of mountainous Northumberland ;
Towns, towers, and halls, successive rise,
And catch the nuns' delighted eyes.
Monk-Wearmouth soon behind them lay,
And Tynemouth's priory and bay ;
They mark’d, amid her trees, the hall
Of lofty Seaton-Delaval ;

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They saw the Blythe and Wansbeck floods
Rush to the sea through sounding woods;
They pass'd the tower of Widderington,
Mother of many a valiant son ;
At Coquet-isle their beads they tell

140 To the good Saint who own'd the cell ; Then did the Alne attention claim, And Warkworth, proud of Percy's name ; And next, they cross'd themselves, to hear The whitening breakers sound so near,

145 There, boiling through the rocks, they roar, On Dunstanborough's cavern'd shore; Thy tower, proud Bamborough, mark'd they there, King Ida's castle, huge and square, From its tall rock look grimly down,

150 And on the swelling ocean frown ; Then from the coast they bore away, And reach'd the Holy Island's bay.

IX.

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The tide did now its flood-mark gain,
And girdled in the Saint's domain :
For, with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle ;
Dry shod, o'er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day, the waves efface
Of staves and sandall'd feet the trace.

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