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Gazing with calm indifference in their
Upon this place of human sacrifice, Round which was gathering fast the eager crowd, With clamor of voices dissonant and loud,
And every roof and window was alive With restless gazers, swarming like a hive.
The church-bells tolled, the chant of
monks drew near, Loud trumpets stammered forth their
notes of fear, A line of torches smoked along the
There was a stir, a rush, a tramp of feet, And, with its banners floating in the air, Slowly the long procession crossed the square,
And, to the statues of the Prophets bound,
The victims stood, with fagots piled around.
Then all the air a blast of trumpets shook,
And louder sang the monks with bell and book,
And the Hidalgo, lofty, stern, and proud,
Lifted his torch, and, bursting through
the crowd, Lighted in haste the fagots, and then
Lest those imploring eyes should strike him dead!
O pitiless skies ! why did your clouds retain
For peasants' fields their floods of hoarded rain?
O pitiless earth! why open no abyss
That night, a mingled column of fire
and smoke From the dark thickets of the forest
And, glaring o'er the landscape leagues away,
Made all the fields and hamlets bright as day.
Wrapped in a sheet of flame the castle blazed,
And as the villagers in terror gazed, They saw the figure of that cruel knight
Lean from a window in the turret's height,
His ghastly face illumined with the glare,
His hands upraised above his head in prayer,
Till the floor sank beneath him, and he fell
Down the black hollow of that burning well.
Three centuries and more above his bones
Have piled the oblivious years like funeral stones;
His name has perished with him, and no trace
Remains on earth of his afflicted race; But Torquemada's name, with clouds o'ercast,
Looms in the distant landscape of the Past,
Like a burnt tower upon a blackened heath,
Lit by the fires of burning woods beneath!
Thus closed the tale of guilt and gloom,
That cast upon each listener's face
His head was sunk upon his breast,
The student first the silence broke,
As one who long has lain in wait,
With purpose to retaliate,
And thus he dealt the avenging stroke.
"In such a company as this,
A tale so tragic seems amiss,
That by its terrible control
O'ermasters and drags down the soul
Into a fathomless abyss.
The Italian Tales that you disdain,
Some merry Night of Straparole,
Or Machiavelli's Belphagor,
Would cheer us and delight us more,
Give greater pleasure and less pain Than your grim tragedies of Spain!"
And here the Poet raised his hand, With such entreaty and command, It stopped discussion at its birth, And said: "The story I shall tell Has meaning in it, if not mirth; Listen, and hear what once befell The merry birds of Killingworth!"
THE POET'S TALE.
THE BIRDS OF KILLINGWORTH.
It was the season, when through all the land
The merle and mavis build, and building sing
-Those lovely lyrics, written by His hand, Whom Saxon Caedmon calls the Blitheheart Kmg;
When on the boughs the purple buds expand,
The banners of the vanguard of the
And rivulets, rejoicing, rush and leap, And wave their fluttering signals from the steep.
The robin and the bluebird, piping loud, Filled all the blossoming orchards
with their glee; The sparrows chirped as if they still were
Their race in Holy Writ should mentioned be; And hungry crows assembled in a crowd,
Clamored their piteous prayer incessantly,
Knowing who hears the ravens cry, and said:
"Give us, O Lord, this day our daily bread!"
Across the Sound the birds of passage sailed,
Speaking some unknown language
strange and sweet Of tropic isle remote, and passing hailed The village with the cheers of all their
Or quarrelling together, laughed and railed
Like foreign sailors, landed in the street
Of seaport town, and with outlandish
Of oaths and gibberish frightening girls and boys.
Thus came the jocund Spring in Killingworth,
In fabulous days, some hundred years ago;
And thrifty farmers, as they tilled the earth,
Heard with alarm the cawing of the crow,
That mingled with the universal mirth, Cassandra-like, prognosticating woe; They shook their heads, and doomed
with dreadful words To swift destruction the whole race of
And a town-meeting was convened straightway To set a price upon the guilty heads Of these marauders, who, in lieu of pay, Levied black-mail upon the garden beds
And cornfields, and beheld without dismay
The awful scarecrow, with his fluttering shreds; The skeleton that waited at their feast, Whereby their sinful pleasure was increased.
Then from his house, a temple painted white,
With fluted columns, and a roof of red, The Squire came forth, august and splendid sight! Slowly descending, with majestic tread, Three flights of steps, nor looking left nor right,
Down the long street he walked, as one who said, "A town that boasts inhabitants like me Can have no lack of good society!"
The Parson, too, appeared, a man austere,
The instinct of whose nature was to kill;
The wrath of God he preached from year to year,
And read, with fervor, Edwards on the Will;
His favorite pastime was to slay the deer In Summer on some Adiroudac hill;
E'en now, while walking down the rural lane,
He lopped the wayside lilies with his cane.
From the Academy, whose belfry crowned The hill of Science with its vane of brass,
Came the Preceptor, gazing idly round, Now at the clouds, and now at the green grass,
And all absorbed in reveries profound
Who was, as in a sonnet he had said,
As pure as water, and as good as bread.
And next the Deacon issued from his door,
In his voluminous neck-cloth, white as snow; A suit of sable bombazine he wore; His form was ponderous, and his step was slow; There never was so wise a man before; He seemed the incarnate "Well, I told you so!" And to perpetuate his great renown There was a street named after him in k town.
These came together in the new townhall,
With sundry farmers from the region round.
The Squire presided, dignified and tall, His air jmpressiye and his reasoning sound;
lll fared it with the birds, both great and small; Hardly a friend in all that crowd they found,
But enemies enough, who every one Charged them with all the crimes beneath the sun.
When they had ended, from his place apart,
Eose the Preceptor, to redress the wrong,
And, trembling like a steed before the - start,
Looked round bewildered on the expectant throng; Then thought of fair Almira, and took heart
To speak out what was in him, clear and strong,
Alike regardless of their smile or frown, And quite determined not to be laughed down.
'' Plato, anticipating the Reviewers, From his Republic banished without
The Poets; in this little town of yours, You put to death, by means of a Committee,
The ballad-singers and the Troubadours, The street-musicians of the heavenly city,
The birds, who make sweet music for us all
In our dark hours, as David did for Saul.
"The thrush that carols at the dawn of day
From the green steeples of the piny wood;
The oriole in the elm ; the noisy jay,
Jargoning like a foreigner at his food; The bluebird balanced on some topmost spray,
Flooding with melody the neighborhood;
Linnet and meadow-lark, and all the throng
That dwell in nests, and have the gift of song.
'' You slay them all! and wherefore? for the gain Of a scant handful more or less of wheat,
Or rye, or barley, or some other grain, Scratched up at random by industrious feet,
Searching for worm or weevil after rain!
Or a few cherries, that are not so sweet As are the songs these uninvited guests Sing at their feast with comfortable breasts.
"Do you ne'er think what wondrous beings these 1 Do you ne'er think who made them, and who taught The dialect they speak, where melodies Alone are the interpreters of thought? Whose household words are songs in many keys, Sweeter than instrument of man e'er caught!
Whose habitations in the tree-tops even Are half-way houseson the road to heaven!