William Leighton

Whitby Abbey

THOU relic of a bygone generation,
  Thou crumbling record of a vanished race,
Towering aloft in lonely desolation,
  Like the great guardian spirit of the place:

Thy walls with age are mouldering, gray and hoary,
  Where thy long transept lay the grass waves green;
And scarce a remnant of thy former glory
  Remains to tell us what thou once hast been.

Yet here in days of yore a royal maiden
  Has ministered upon the sacred shrine;
And knights and nobles with their symbols laden
  Have joined the orisons and rites divine.

Here images of saints in dark-niched spaces
  Have peered on black-cowled monks devoid of smiles;
And meek-eyed nuns, with fair and pensive faces,
  Have flitted through the solemn-whispering aisles.

Here oft the sweet strains of an Ave Mary
  Have stolen through the twilight, still and clear;
And the wild cadence of a Miserere
  Has struck upon the midnight’s startled ear.

And in the frequent pauses of devotion,
  When silence brooded o’er the prostrate band,
Was heard the deep-mouthed wailing of the ocean
  Beating forever on the rocky strand.

But all is changed!—no more the night-wind, stealing
  Through thy dim galleries and vacant nave,
Will catch the sound of music’s measured pealing
  And bear it far across the moonlit wave:

No more when morning gilds the eastern heaven
  Will early matins rise or organ swell;
And when the first stars gem the brow of even
  No more will sound the sweet-toned vesper bell.

Thy glory has gone by! and thou art standing
  In lonely pomp upon thy sea-washed hill,
Wearing in hoary age a mien commanding,
  And in thy desolation stately still!

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