[Page 255]

THE ELDEN TREE.

A BALLAD.

1 A FEAST was spread in the Baron's hall,
2 And loud was the merry sound,
3 As minstrels played at lady's call,
4 And the cup went sparkling round.
5 For gentle dames sat there, I trow,
6 By men of mickle might,
7 And many a chief with dark-red brow,
8 And many a burly knight.
9 Each had fought in war's grim ranks,
10 And some on the surgy sea,
11 And some on Jordan's sacred banks
12 For the cause of Christentie.
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13 But who thinks now of blood or strife,
14 Or Moor, or Paynim foe?
15 Their eyes beam bright with social life,
16 And their hearts with kindness glow.
17 "Gramercie, chieftain, on thy tale!
18 It smacks of thy merry mood. "
19 "Aye, monks are sly and women frail
20 Since rock and mountain stood."
21 "Fye, fye! sir knight, thy tongue is keen,
22 'Tis sharper than thy steel. "
23 "So, gentle lady, are thine een,
24 As we poor lovers feel. "
25 "Come pledge me well, my lady gay,
26 Come pledge me, noble frere;
27 Each cheerful mate on such a day,
28 Is friend or mistress dear."
[Page 257]
29 And louder still came jeer and boast,
30 As the flagons faster pour,
31 Till song and tale and laugh are lost
32 In a wildly mingled roar.
33 Aye, certes, 'tis an hour of glee,
34 For the Baron himself doth smile,
35 And nods his head right cheerily,
36 And quaffs his cup the while.
37 What recks he now of midnight fear,
38 Or the night-wind's dismal moan,
39 As it tosses the boughs of that Elden Tree,
40 Which he thinketh so oft upon?
41 Long years have passed since a deed was done,
42 By its doer only seen,
43 And there lives not a man beneath the sun,
44 Who wotteth that deed hath been.
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45 So gay was he, so gay were all,
46 They marked not the growing gloom;
47 Nor wist they how the darkening hall
48 Lowered like the close of doom.
49 Dull grew the goblet's sheen, and grim
50 The features of every guest,
51 And colourless banners aloft hung dim,
52 Like the clouds of the drizzly West.
53 Hath time passed then so swift of pace?
54 Is this the twilight grey?
55 A flash of light passed through the place
56 Like the glaring noon of day.
57 Fierce glanced the momentary blaze
58 O'er all the gallant train,
59 And each visage pale with dazzled gaze
60 Was seen and lost again.
[Page 259]
61 And the thunder's rolling peal, from far,
62 Then on and onward drew,
63 And varied its sound like the broil of war,
64 And loud and louder grew.
65 Still glares the lightning blue and pale,
66 And roars the astounding din;
67 And rattle the windows with bickering hail,
68 And the rafters ring within.
69 And cowering hounds the board beneath
70 Are howling with piteous moan,
71 While lords and dames sit still as death,
72 And words are uttered none.
73 At length, in the waning tempest's fall,
74 As light from the welkin broke,
75 A frightened man rushed through the hall,
76 And words to the baron spoke.
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77 "The thunder hath stricken your tree so fair;
78 Its roots on green-sward lie. "
79 "What tree?" "The Elden planted there,
80 Some thirty years gone by. "
81 "And wherefore starest thou on me so,
82 With a face so ghastly wild?"
83 "White bones are found in the mould below
84 Like the bones of a stripling child."
85 Pale he became as the shrouded dead,
86 And his eye-balls fixed as stone;
87 And down on his bosom dropped his head,
88 And he uttered a stifled groan.
89 Then from the board each guest, amazed,
90 Sprung up, and curiously
91 Upon his sudden misery gazed,
92 And wondered what might be.
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93 Out spoke the ancient seneschal,
94 "I pray ye stand apart,
95 Both gentle dames and nobles all,
96 His grief is at his heart.
97 "Go call Saint Cuthbert's monk with speed,
98 And let him be quickly shriven,
99 And fetch ye a leech for his body's need
100 To dight him for earth or heaven."
101 "No fetch me a priest," the Baron said,
102 In a voice that seemed uttered with pain;
103 And he shuddered and shrunk as he faintly bade
104 His noble guests remain.
105 "Heaven's eye each secret deed doth scan;
106 Heaven's justice all should fear;
107 What I confess to the holy man,
108 Both heaven and you shall hear."
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109 And soon Saint Cuthbert's monk stood by
110 With visage sad, but sweet,
111 And cast on the Baron a piteous eye,
112 And the Baron knelt low at his feet.
113 "O father! I have done a deed
114 Which God alone did know:
115 A brother's blood these hands have shed
116 With many a fiend-like blow.
117 "For fiends lent strength, like a powerful charm,
118 And my youthful breast impelled,
119 And I laughed to see, beneath my arm
120 The sickly stripling quelled.
121 "A mattock from its pit I took,
122 Dug deep for the Elden Tree,
123 And I tempted the youth therein to look
124 Some curious sight to see.
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125 "The woodmen to their meal were gone,
126 And ere they returned again,
127 I had planted that tree with my strength alone
128 O'er the body of the slain.
129 "Ah! gladly smiled my father then,
130 And seldom he smiled on me,
131 When he heard that my skill, like skill of men,
132 Had planted the Elden Tree.
133 "But where was his eldest son, so dear,
134 Who nearest his heart had been?
135 They sought him far, they sought him near,
136 But the boy no more was seen.
137 "And thus his life and lands he lost,
138 And his father's love beside;
139 The thought that ever rankled most
140 If this heart of secret pride.
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141 "Ah! could the partial parent wot
142 The cruel pang he gives
143 To the child, neglected and forgot,
144 Who under his cold eye lives!
145 "His elder rights did envy move,
146 These lands and their princely hall;
147 But it was our father's partial love
148 I envied him most of all.
149 "Now thirty years have o'er me past,
150 And, to the eye of man,
151 My lot was with the happy cast,
152 My heart it could not scan.
153 "Oh! I have heard in the dead of night
154 My murthered brother's groan,
155 And shuddered as the pale moon-light
156 On the mangled body shone!
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157 "My very miners, pent in gloom,
158 Whose toil my coffers stored,
159 And cursed, belike, their cheerless doom,
160 Were happier than their Lord.
161 "O holy man! my tale is told
162 With pain, with tears, with shame;
163 May penance hard, may alms of gold
164 Some ghostly favour claim?
165 "The knotted scourge shall drink my blood,
166 The earth my bed shall be,
167 And bitter tears my daily food,
168 To earn Heaven's grace for me."
169 Now, where that rueful deed was done,
170 Endowed with rights and lands,
171 Its sharp spires brightening in the sun,
172 A stately abbey stands.
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173 And the meekest monk whose life is there
174 Still spent on bended knee,
175 Is he who built that abbey fair,
176 And planted the Elden Tree.

NOTE.

The story of this ballad was told to me by the late Sir George Beaumont, as one he had heard from his mother, who said it was a tradition belonging to some castle in the North of England, where it was believed to have happened. It was recommended by him as a good subject for a ballad; and with such a recommendation I was easily tempted to endeavour, at least, to preserve its simple and striking circumstances, in that popular form. I have altered no part of the story, nor have I added any thing but the founding of the Abbey, and the Baron's becoming a Monk, in imitation of that exquisite ballad, "The Eve of St. John," where so much is implied in so few word, by the two last stanzas, which I have always particularly admired.

There is a nun in Dryburgh bower,
Ne'er looks upon the sun;
There is a Monk in Melrose Tower,
He speaketh word to none.
That nun who ne'er beholds the day,
That Monk who speaks to none,
That nun is Smaylho'mes Lady gay,
That Monk the bold Baron.

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Title (in Source Edition): THE ELDEN TREE. A BALLAD.
Themes:
Genres: ballad metre

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Source edition

Fugitive Verses. By Joanna Baillie, author of "Dramas on the Passions," etc. London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street. MDCCCXL., 1840, pp. 255-266. 

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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.

Other works by Joanna Baillie