The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 1/Elegy on Newstead Abbey
ELEGY ON NEWSTEAD ABBEY.
"It is the voice of years, that are gone! they roll before me, with all their deeds."—Ossian.
Newstead! fast-falling, once-resplendent dome!
Religion's shrine! repentant Henry's pride!
Of Warriors, Monks, and Dames the cloister'd tomb,
Whose pensive shades around thy ruins glide,
Hail to thy pile! more honour'd in thy fall,
Than modern mansions, in their pillar'd state;
Proudly majestic frowns thy vaulted hall,
Scowling defiance on the blasts of fate.
Else might inspiring Fancy's magic eye
Retrace their progress, through the lapse of time;
Marking each ardent youth, ordain'd to die,
A votive pilgrim, in Judea's clime.
But not from thee, dark pile! departs the Chief;
His feudal realm in other regions lay:
In thee the wounded conscience courts relief,
Retiring from the garish blaze of day.
Yes! in thy gloomy cells and shades profound,
The monk abjur'd a world, he ne'er could view;
Or blood-stain'd Guilt repenting, solace found,
Or Innocence, from stern Oppression, flew.
A Monarch bade thee from that wild arise,
Where Sherwood's outlaws, once, were wont to prowl;
And Superstition's crimes, of various dyes,
Sought shelter in the Priest's protecting cowl.
Where, now, the grass exhales a murky dew,
The humid pall of life-extinguish'd clay,
In sainted fame, the sacred Fathers grew,
Nor raised their pious voices, but to pray.
Years roll on years; to ages, ages yield;
Abbots to Abbots, in a line, succeed:
Religion's charter, their protecting shield,
Till royal sacrilege their doom decreed.
One holy Henry rear'd the Gothic walls,
And bade the pious inmates rest in peace;
Another Henry the kind gift recalls,
And bids devotion's hallow'd echoes cease.
Vain is each threat, or supplicating prayer;
He drives them exiles from their blest abode,
To roam a dreary world, in deep despair—
No friend, no home, no refuge, but their God.
Hark! how the hall, resounding to the strain,
Shakes with the martial music's novel din!
The heralds of a warrior's haughty reign,
High crested banners wave thy walls within.
Of changing sentinels the distant hum,
The mirth of feasts, the clang of burnish'd arms,
The braying trumpet, and the hoarser drum,
Unite in concert with increas'd alarms.
An abbey once, a regal fortress now,
Encircled by insulting rebel powers;
War's dread machines o'erhang thy threat'ning brow,
And dart destruction, in sulphureous showers.
Ah! vain defence! the hostile traitor's siege,
Though oft repuls'd, by guile o'ercomes the brave;
His thronging foes oppress the faithful Liege,
Rebellion's reeking standards o'er him wave.
Not unaveng'd the raging Baron yields;
The blood of traitors smears the purple plain;
Unconquer'd still, his falchion there he wields,
And days of glory, yet, for him remain.
Still, in that hour, the warrior wish'd to strew
Self-gather'd laurels on a self-sought grave;
But Charles' protecting genius hither flew,
The monarch's friend, the monarch's hope, to save.
From thee, poor pile! to lawless plunder given,
While dying groans their painful requiem sound,
Far different incense, now, ascends to Heaven,
Such victims wallow on the gory ground.
There many a pale and ruthless Robber's corse,
Noisome and ghast, defiles thy sacred sod;
O'er mingling man, and horse commix'd with horse,
Corruption's heap, the savage spoilers trod.
Graves, long with rank and sighing weeds o'erspread,
Ransack'd resign, perforce, their mortal mould:
From ruffian fangs, escape not e'en the dead,
Racked from repose, in search for buried gold.
Hush'd is the harp, unstrung the warlike lyre,
The minstrel's palsied hand reclines in death;
No more he strikes the quivering chords with fire,
Or sings the glories of the martial wreath.
At length the sated murderers, gorged with prey,
Retire: the clamour of the fight is o'er;
Silence again resumes her awful sway,
And sable Horror guards the massy door.
Here, Desolation holds her dreary court:
What satellites declare her dismal reign!
Shrieking their dirge, ill-omen'd birds resort,
To flit their vigils, in the hoary fane.
Soon a new Morn's restoring beams dispel
The clouds of Anarchy from Britain's skies;
The fierce Usurper seeks his native hell,
And Nature triumphs, as the Tyrant dies.
With storms she welcomes his expiring groans;
Whirlwinds, responsive, greet his labouring breath;
Earth shudders, as her caves receive his bones,
Loathing the offering of so dark a death.
The legal Ruler now resumes the helm,
He guides through gentle seas, the prow of state;
Hope cheers, with wonted smiles, the peaceful realm,
And heals the bleeding wounds of wearied Hate.
The gloomy tenants, Newstead! of thy cells,
Howling, resign their violated nest;
Again, the Master on his tenure dwells,
Enjoy'd, from absence, with enraptured zest.
Vassals, within thy hospitable pale,
Loudly carousing, bless their Lord's return;
Culture, again, adorns the gladdening vale,
And matrons, once lamenting, cease to mourn.
A thousand songs, on tuneful echo, float,
Unwonted foliage mantles o'er the trees;
And, hark! the horns proclaim a mellow note,
The hunters' cry hangs lengthening on the breeze.
Beneath their coursers' hoofs the valleys shake;
What fears! what anxious hopes! attend the chase!
The dying stag seeks refuge in the lake;
Exulting shouts announce the finish'd race.
Ah happy days! too happy to endure!
Such simple sports our plain forefathers knew:
No splendid vices glitter'd to allure;
Their joys were many, as their cares were few.
From these descending, Sons to Sires succeed;
Time steals along, and Death uprears his dart;
Another Chief impels the foaming steed,
Another Crowd pursue the panting hart.
Newstead! what saddening change of scene is thine!
Thy yawning arch betokens slow decay;
The last and youngest of a noble line,
Now holds thy mouldering turrets in his sway.
Deserted now, he scans thy gray worn towers;
Thy vaults, where dead of feudal ages sleep;
Thy cloisters, pervious to the wintry showers;
These, these he views, and views them but to weep.
Yet are his tears no emblem of regret:
Cherish'd Affection only bids them flow;
Pride, Hope, and Love, forbid him to forget,
But warm his bosom, with impassion'd glow.
Yet he prefers thee, to the gilded domes,
Or gewgaw grottos, of the vainly great;
Yet lingers 'mid thy damp and mossy tombs,
Nor breathes a murmur 'gainst the will of Fate.
Haply thy sun, emerging, yet, may shine,
Thee to irradiate with meridian ray;
Hours, splendid as the past, may still be thine,
And bless thy future, as thy former day.
- As one poem on this subject is already printed, the author had, originally, no intention of inserting the following. It is now added at the particular request of some friends.
- Hours of Idleness.
- Henry II. founded Newstead soon after the murder of Thomas à Becket.
- This word is used by Walter Scott, in his poem, The Wild Huntsman as synonymous with "vassal."
- The red cross was the badge of the Crusaders.
- As "gloaming," the Scottish word for twilight, is far more poetical, and has been recommended by many eminent literary men, particularly by Dr. Moore in his Letters to Burns, I have ventured to use it on account of its harmony.
- Soon as the twilight winds a waning shade.—[P. on V. Occasions.]
- The priory was dedicated to the Virgin.—[Hours of Idleness.]
- At the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII. bestowed Newstead Abbey on Sir John Byron.
- [During the lifetime of Lord Byron's predecessor in the title there was found in the lake a large brass eagle, in the body of which were concealed a number of ancient deeds and documents. This eagle is supposed to have been thrown into the lake by the retreating monks.—Life, p. 2, note. It is now a lectern in Southwell Minster.]
- Newstead sustained a considerable siege in the war between Charles I. and his parliament.
- Lord Byron and his brother Sir William held high commands in the royal army. The former was general-in-chief in Ireland, lieutenant of the Tower, and governor to James, Duke of York, afterwards the unhappy James II.; the latter had a principal share in many actions. [Vide ante, p. 3, note 1.]
- Lucius Cary, Lord Viscount Falkland, the most accomplished man of his age, was killed at the Battle of Newbury, charging in the ranks of Lord Byron's regiment of cavalry.
- —— of the laurell'd wreath.—[P. on V. Occasions.]
- This is an historical fact. A violent tempest occurred immediately subsequent to the death or interment of Cromwell, which occasioned many disputes between his partisans and the cavaliers: both interpreted the circumstance into divine interposition; but whether as approbation or condemnation, we leave to the casuists of that age to decide. I have made such use of the occurrence as suited the subject of my poem.
- Charles II.
- Howling, forsake ——.—[P. on V. Occasions.]
- [An indication of Byron's feelings towards Newstead in his younger days will be found in his letter to his mother of March 6, 1809.]
- Fortune may smile upon a future line,
And heaven restore an ever-cloudless day.—[P. on V. Occasions. Hours of Idleness.]