The Eve of St. Mark
Upon a Sabbath day it fell; Twice holy was the Sabbath bell, That call'd the folk to evening prayer. The city streets were clean and fair From wholesome drench of April rains, And on the western window panes The chilly sunset faintly told Of anmatur'd green vallies cold, Of the green thorny bloomless hedge, Of rivers new with springtide sedge, Of primroses by shelter'd rills, And daisies on the anguish hills. Twice holy was the Sabbath bell; The silent streets were crowded well With staid and pious companies, Warm from their fireside orat'ries, And moving with demurest air To even song and vesper prayer. Each arched porch and entry low Was fill'd with patient folk and slow, With whispers hush and shuffling feet, While play'd the organs loud and sweet.
The bells had ceas'd, the prayers begun, And Bertha had not yet half done A curious volume, patch'd and torn, That all day long, from earliest morn, Had taken captive her two eyes Among its golden boundaries; Perplex'd her with a thousand things-- The stars of heaven, and angel's wings, Martyrs in a fiery blaze Azure saints mid silver rays, Aaron's breastplate, and the seven Candlesticks John saw in heaven, The winged Lion of St. Mark, And with the Covenantal Ark, With its many mysteries, Cherubim and golden mice.
Bertha was a maiden fair Dwelling in the old Minster Square; From her fireside she could see Sidelong its rich antiquity, Far as the bishop's garden wall, Where sycamores and elm trees tall, Full leav'd, the forest had outstript, By no sharp north wind ever nipt, So shelter'd by the mighty pile. Bertha arose and read awhile, With forehead 'gainst the window pane; Again she tried, and then again, Until the dusk eve left her dark Upon the legend of St. Mark. From pleated lawn-frill fine and thin She lifted up her soft warm chin, With aching neck and swimming eyes, And dazed with saintly imageries.
All was gloom, and silent all, Save now and then the still footfall Of one returning townwards late, Past the echoing minster gate. The clamorous daws, that all the day Above tree tops and towers play, Pair by pair had gone to rest, Each in its ancient belfry nest, Where asleep they fall betimes To music of the drowsy chimes.
All ws silent, all was gloom, Abroad and in the homely room; Down she sat, poor cheated soul, And struck a lamp from the dismal coal, Leaned forward, with bright drooping hair, And slant book full against the glare. Her shadow in uneasy guise Hover'd about, a giant size, On ceiling beam and old oak chair, The parrot's cage and pannel square, And the warm angled winter screen, On which were many monsters seen, Call'd doves of Siam, Lima mice, And legless birds of paradise, Macaw, and tender av'davat, And silken furr'd Angora cat. Untired she read; her shadow still Glower'd about as it would fill The room with wildest forms and shades, As though some ghostly queens of spades Had come to mock behind her back, And dance, and ruffle their garments black. Untir'd she read the legend page Of holy Mark from youth to age; On land, on seas, in pagan-chains, Rejoicing for his many pains. Sometimes the learned eremite, With golden star, or dagger bright, Referr'd to pious poesies Written in smallest crow-quill size Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme Was parcel'd out from time to time: --"Als writith he of swevenis Men han beforne they wake in bliss, Whanne thate hir friendes thinke hem bound In crimpid shrounde farre under grounde; And how a litling child mote be A saint er its nativitie, Gif thate the modre (God her blesse) Kepen in solitarinesse, And kissen devoute the holy croce. Of Goddis love and Sathan's force Her writith; and things many mo: Of swiche things I may not shew; Bot I must tellen verilie Somdel of Sainte Cicille; And chieflie what he auctorethe Of Sainte Markis life and death."
At length her constant eyelids come Upon the fervent martyrdom; Then lastly to his holy shrine, Exalt amid the tapers' shine At Venice