Rudiger

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Rudiger
by Robert Southey

Bright on the mountain's heathy slope
The day's last splendours shine
And rich with many a radiant hue
Gleam gayly on the Rhine.

And many a one from Waldhurst's walls
Along the river stroll'd,
As ruffling o'er the pleasant stream
The evening gales came cold.

So as they stray'd a swan they saw
Sail stately up and strong,
And by a silver chain she drew
A little boat along,

Whose streamer to the gentle breeze
Long floating fluttered light,
Beneath whose crimson canopy
There lay reclin'd a knight.

With arching crest and swelling breast
On sail'd the stately swan
And lightly up the parting tide
The little boat came on.

And onward to the shore they drew
And leapt to land the knight,
And down the stream the swan-drawn boat
Fell soon beyond the sight.

Was never a Maid in Waldhurst's walls
Might match with Margaret,
Her cheek was fair, her eyes were dark,
Her silken locks like jet.

And many a rich and noble youth
Had strove to win the fair,
But never a rich or noble youth
Could rival Rudiger.

At every tilt and turney he
Still bore away the prize,
For knightly feats superior still
And knightly courtesies.

His gallant feats, his looks, his love,
Soon won the willing fair,
And soon did Margaret become
The wife of Rudiger.

Like morning dreams of happiness
Fast roll'd the months away,
For he was kind and she was kind
And who so blest as they?

Yet Rudiger would sometimes sit
Absorb'd in silent thought
And his dark downward eye would seem
With anxious meaning fraught;

But soon he rais'd his looks again
And smil'd his cares eway,
And mid the hall of gaiety
Was none like him so gay.

And onward roll'd the waining months,
The hour appointed came,
And Margaret her Rudiger
Hail'd with a father's name.

But silently did Rudiger
The little infant see,
And darkly on the babe he gaz'd
And very sad was he.

And when to bless the little babe
The holy Father came,
To cleanse the stains of sin away
In Christ's redeeming name,

Then did the cheek of Rudiger
Assume a death-pale hue,
And on his clammy forehead stood
The cold convulsive dew;

And faltering in his speech he bade
The Priest the rites delay,
Till he could, to right health restor'd,
Enjoy the festive day.

When o'er the many-tinted sky
He saw the day decline,
He called upon his Margaret
To walk beside the Rhine.

"And we will take the little babe,
"For soft the breeze that blows,
"And the wild murmurs of the stream
"Will lull him to repose."

So forth together did they go,
The evening breeze was mild,
And Rudiger upon his arm
Did pillow the sweet child.

And many a one from Waldhurst's walls
Along the banks did roam,
But soon the evening wind came cold,
And all betook them home.

Yet Rudiger in silent mood
Along the banks would roam,
Nor aught could Margaret prevail
To turn his footsteps home.

"Oh turn thee--turn thee Rudiger,
"The rising mists behold,
"The evening wind is damp and chill,
"The little babe is cold!"

"Now hush thee--hush thee Margaret,
"The mists will do no harm,
"And from the wind the little babe
"Lies sheltered on my arm."

"Oh turn thee--turn thee Rudiger,
"Why onward wilt thou roam?
"The moon is up, the night is cold,
"And we are far from home."

He answered not, for now he saw
A Swan come sailing strong,
And by a silver chain she drew
A little boat along.

To shore they came, and to the boat
Fast leapt he with the child,
And in leapt Margaret--breathless now
And pale with fear and wild.

With arching crest and swelling breast
On sail'd the stately swan,
And lightly down the rapid tide
The little boat went on.

The full-orb'd moon that beam'd around
Pale splendor thro' the night,
Cast through the crimson canopy
A dim-discoloured light.

And swiftly down the hurrying stream
In silence still they sail,
And the long streamer fluttering fast
Flapp'd to the heavy gale.

And he was mute in sullen thought
And she was mute with fear,
Nor sound but of the parting tide
Broke on the listening ear.

The little babe began to cry
And waked his mother's care,
"Now give to me the little babe
"For God's sake, Rudiger!"

"Now hush thee, hush thee Margaret!
"Nor my poor heart distress--
"I do but pay perforce the price
"Of former happiness.

"And hush thee too my little babe,
"Thy cries so feeble cease:
"Lie still, lie still;--a little while
"And thou shalt be at peace."

So as he spake to land they drew,
And swift he stept on shore,
And him behind did Margaret
Close follow evermore.

It was a place all desolate,
Nor house nor tree was there,
And there a rocky mountain rose
Barren, and bleak, and bare.

And at its base a cavern yawn'd,
No eye its depth might view,
For in the moon-beam shining round
That darkness darker grew.

Cold Horror crept thro' Margaret's blood,
Her heart it paus'd with fear,
When Rudiger approach'd the cave
And cried, "lo I am here!"

A deep sepulchral sound the cave
Return'd "lo I am here!"
And black from out the cavern gloom
Two giant arms appear.

And Rudiger approach'd and held
The little infant nigh;
Then Margaret shriek'd, and gather'd then
New powers from agony.

And round the baby fast and firm
Her trembling arms she folds,
And with a strong convulsive grasp
The little infant holds.

"Now help me, Jesus!" loud she cries.
And loud on God she calls;
Then from the grasp of Rudiger
The little infant falls.

And now he shriek'd, for now his frame
The huge black arms clasp'd round,
And dragg'd the wretched Rudiger
Adown the dark profound.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.