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The Church of Brou
I. THE CASTLE DOWN the Savoy valleys sounding, Echoing round this castle old, Mid the distant mountain chalets, Hark! what bell for church is tolled? In the bright October morning Savoy’s Duke had left his bride, From the castle, past the drawbridge, Flowed the hunters’ merry tide. Steeds are neighing, gallants glittering; Gay, her smiling lord to greet, From her mullioned chamber casement Smiles the Duchess Marguerite. From Vienna, by the Danube, Here she came, a bride, in spring. Now the autumn crisps the forest; Hunters gather, bugles ring. Hounds are pulling, prickers swearing, Horses fret, and boar-spears glance; Off! they sweep the marshy forests, Westward, on the side of France. Hark! the game ’s on foot; they scatter;— Down the forest ridings lone, Furious, single horsemen gallop. Hark! a shout,—a crash,—a groan! Pale and breathless came the hunters; On the turf dead lies the boar: God! the Duke lies stretched beside him,— Senseless, weltering in his gore. * * * * * In the dull October evening, Down the leaf-strewn forest road, To the castle, past the drawbridge, Came the hunters with their load. In the hall, with sconces blazing, Ladies waiting round her seat, Clothed in smiles, beneath the dais Sate the Duchess Marguerite. Hark! below the gates unbarring! Tramp of men and quick commands! “’T is my lord come back from hunting,” And the Duchess claps her hands. Slow and tired came the hunters, Stopped in darkness in the court; “Ho, this way, ye laggard hunters! To the hall! what sport, what sport?” Slow they entered with their master; In the hall they laid him down. On his coat were leaves and blood-stains; On his brow an angry frown. Dead, her princely youthful husband Lay before his youthful wife; Bloody, ’neath the flaring sconces: And the sight froze all her life. In Vienna, by the Danube, Kings hold revel, gallants meet; Gay of old amid the gayest Was the Duchess Marguerite. In Vienna, by the Danube, Feast and dance her youth beguiled; Till that hour she never sorrowed; But from then she never smiled. Mid the Savoy mountain valleys, Far from town or haunt of man, Stands a lonely church, unfinished, Which the Duchess Maud began: Old, that Duchess stern began it, In gray age, with palsied hands; But she died as it was building, And the church unfinished stands; Stands as erst the builders left it, When she sunk into her grave. Mountain greensward paves the chancel, Harebells flower in the nave. “In my castle all is sorrow,” Said the Duchess Marguerite then; “Guide me, vassals, to the mountains! We will build the church again.” Sandalled palmers, faring homeward, Austrian knights from Syria came; “Austrian wanderers bring, O warders, Homage to your Austrian dame.” From the gate the warders answered: “Gone, O knights, is she you knew; Dead our Duke, and gone his Duchess; Seek her at the Church of Brou.” Austrian knights and march-worn palmers Climb the winding mountain way, Reach the valley, where the fabric Rises higher day by day. Stones are sawing, hammers ringing; On the work the bright sun shines: In the Savoy mountain meadows, By the stream, below the pines. On her palfrey white the Duchess Sate and watched her working train; Flemish carvers, Lombard gilders, German masons, smiths from Spain. Clad in black, on her white palfrey; Her old architect beside,— There they found her in the mountains, Morn and noon and eventide. There she sate, and watched the builders, Till the church was roofed and done; Last of all the builders reared her In the nave a tomb of stone. On the tomb two forms they sculptured Lifelike in the marble pale; One, the Duke in helm and armor; One, the Duchess in her veil. Round the tomb the carved stone fretwork Was at Eastertide put on; Then the Duchess closed her labors; And she died at the St. John. II. THE CHURCH UPON the glistening leaden roof Of the new pile the sunlight shines, The stream goes leaping by. The hills are clothed with pines sun-proof; Mid bright green fields, below the pines, Stands the church on high. What church is this, from men aloof? ’T is the Church of Brou. At sunrise, from their dewy lair Crossing the stream, the kine are seen Round the wall to stray; The churchyard wall that clips the square Of shaven hill-sward trim and green Where last year they lay. But all things now are ordered fair Round the Church of Brou. On Sundays, at the matin chime, The Alpine peasants, two and three, Climb up here to pray. Burghers and dames, at summer’s prime, Ride out to church from Chambery, Dight with mantles gay. But else it is a lonely time Round the Church of Brou. On Sundays, too, a priest doth come From the walled town beyond the pass, Down the mountain way; And then you hear the organ’s hum, You hear the white-robed priest say mass, And the people pray. But else the woods and fields are dumb Round the Church of Brou. And after church, when mass is done, The people to the nave repair Round the tomb to stray, And marvel at the forms of stone, And praise the chiselled broideries rare; Then they drop away. The princely pair are left alone In the Church of Brou. III. THE TOMB SO rest, forever rest, O princely pair! In your high church, mid the still mountain air, Where horn and hound and vassals never come. Only the blessed saints are smiling dumb From the rich painted windows of the nave On aisle and transept and your marble grave; Where thou, young Prince, shalt nevermore arise From the fringed mattress where thy Duchess lies, On autumn mornings, when the bugle sounds, And ride across the drawbridge with thy hounds To hunt the boar in the crisp woods till eve. And thou, O Princess, shalt no more receive, Thou and thy ladies, in the hall of state, The jaded hunters, with their bloody freight, Coming benighted to the castle gate. So sleep, forever sleep, O marble pair! And if ye wake, let it be then, when fair On the carved western front a flood of light Streams from the setting sun, and colors bright Prophets, transfigured saints, and martyrs brave, In the vast western window of the nave; And on the pavement round the tomb there glints A checker-work of glowing sapphire tints, And amethyst, and ruby;—then unclose Your eyelids on the stone where ye repose, And from your broidered pillows lift your heads, And rise upon your cold white marble beds, And looking down on the warm rosy tints That checker, at your feet, the illumined flints, Say, “What is this? we are in bliss,—forgiven,— Behold the pavement of the courts of Heaven!”— Or let it be on autumn nights, when rain Doth rustlingly above your heads complain On the smooth leaden roof, and on the walls Shedding her pensive light at intervals The moon through the clere-story windows shines, And the wind washes in the mountain pines. Then, gazing up through the dim pillars high, The foliaged marble forest where ye lie, “Hush,” ye will say, “it is eternity. This is the glimmering verge of heaven, and these The columns of the heavenly palaces.” And in the sweeping of the wind your ear The passage of the angels’ wings will hear, And on the lichen-crusted leads above The rustle of the eternal rain of love.
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