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British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism 1793-1815, by Betty T. Bennet, Edited by Orianne Smith

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1801.14
The Widow
“T. M.”
The Morning Chronicle (December 28, 1801)
The Courier (December 30, 1801)

    The solemn midnight bell had toll'd,
From church-yard drear the owlet bird,
    Shriek'd in the blast that blew so cold,
Whilst the fast falling shower was heard,
    Though shud'ring at his hootings wild,
Yet to her anxious throbbing breast
    MATILDA clasp'd her lovely child,
And thus she sung it oft to rest—
    "Where is thy warrior father gone?
    "Why stays he in the field of death?
    "Why hears he not thy mother's moan?
    "Why thus increase her heartfelt grief?

    And now anon the hapless maid,
Saw shadows of the dead pass by,
    In visionary dreams betray'd,
Her piercing sad anxiety;
    She heard the warning death-watch near,
She'd fain the dying fire renew,
    But grasp'd by icy hand of fear,
She saw the fading lamp burn blue;
    She still the little infant press'd,
And wept and sung it off to rest:
    "Oh, should thy father not return,
    "We'll seek him through the live-long day,
    "And all the night will sit and mourn,
    "Where the unshrouded corpses lay."

    His head the day star scarce had rear'd,
When bending 'neath the weight of years,
    A broken soldier, maim'd and scar'd,
Before her cottage gate appears;
    His furrow'd cheeks were red and blue,
For he had travell'd all the night,
    And the big drops of morning dew,
Silver'd his snowy hair so bright;
    His tears, they eloquently told,
The fatal unexpected news,
    That WILLIAM'S body, dead and cold,
Return'd to dust the wild wind strews;
    Then did she kiss her sleeping child,
And sorrowing sung so sweetly wild;
    "Thy poor fond father never more,
    "Will hug his only infant boy,
    "For though the dreadful battle's o'er,
    "He comes not back with smiles and joy."

    "Alas, for him no more we wait,
"When homeward from the field he came,
    "At evening near the village gate,
"Nor thou blest babe the weary team
    "With sparkling eyes no more behold—
"And thou shalt look, and look in vain,
    "To kiss thy father's cheek so cold,
"And I his love, return again.
    "Oh, tell me! is the body found?
    "And is it pierc'd with many a wound?
    "And is it left awhile to bleed,
    "Where the slow flighted ravens feed?

    "Whether in holy ground he's laid,
"And where—Oh tell me—tell me true!
    "That I may wander and bedew,
"With hallow'd tears his lone grave bed!"

    "Yes, maiden fair—I'll tell most true,
"I saw him quietly inurn'd
    "And 'neath the aged gloomy yew,
"I heard his funeral rites perform'd;
    "But long and dreary is the way,
"Where his sad mould'ring relics lay;
    "In BERTRAM'S walls[1], by virtue blest,
"Thy WILLIAM'S honour'd ashes rest."

    Soon as the midnight bell had toll'd,
And fatal croak'd the raven bird,
    Although the wintry wind blew cold,
And scarce another sound was heard,
    She wander'd forth, to BERTRAM'S walls,
And through the hollow winding dale,
    Pac'd wearily her unknown way,
She heard the hungry owlet's call,
    She brav'd the piercing icy gale,
Whilst her lov'd boy in slumber lay,
    Frantic, she scoffs the wind that blows,
Whilst shiv'ring on the heath she stands,
    Imperious fate her life demands;
All cover'd o'er with falling snows,
    She looks in vain—no traveller comes or goes.

    She wander'd on mid shades of night,
She saw the trembling stars appear:
    No gipsey's fire nor cottage light,
No watch-dog told a village near;
    Fast fell her tears—her famish'd form
Now bent beneath the searching storm
    So dreary and so very cold!
Her little Babe upon her breast,
    Too weak to cry, had sunk to rest;
And, ere the morning bell had toll'd,
    Beneath the drifted snow she lay
A Corpse, upon the lone Heath's way!

Cambridge.


Notes

1. Bertram is a pellitory of Spain, a plant which grows upon or at the foot of walls, frequently around graveyards.

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Published @ RC

September 2004