VERSE: A LEGEND OF PROVENCE
The lights extinguished, by the hearth I leant,Half weary with a listless discontent.The flickering giant-shadows, gathering near,Closed round me with a dim and silent fear.All dull, all dark; save when the leaping flame,Glancing, lit up a Picture’s ancient frame.Above the hearth it hung. Perhaps the night,My foolish tremors, or the gleaming light,Lent power to that Portrait dark and quaint—A Portrait such as Rembrandt loved to paint—The likeness of a Nun. I seemed to traceA world of sorrow in the patient face,In the thin hands folded across her breast—Its own and the room’s shadow hid the rest.I gazed and dreamed, and the dull embers stirred,Till an old legend that I once had heardCame back to me; linked to the mystic gloomOf that dark Picture in the ghostly room.In the far south, where clustering vines are hung;Where first the old chivalric lays were sung,Where earliest smiled that gracious child of France,Angel and knight and fairy, called Romance,I stood one day. The warm blue June was spreadUpon the earth; blue summer overhead,Without a cloud to fleck its radiant glare,Without a breath to stir its sultry air.All still, all silent, save the sobbing rushOf rippling waves, that lapsed in silver hushUpon the beach; where, glittering towards the strand,The purple Mediterranean kissed the land.
All still, all peaceful; when a convent chimeBroke on the mid-day silence for a time,Then trembling into quiet, seemed to cease,In deeper silence and more utter peace.So as I turned to gaze, where gleaming white,Half hid by shadowy trees from passers’ sight,The Convent lay, one who had dwelt for longIn that fair home of ancient tale and song,Who knew the story of each cave and hill,And every haunting fancy lingering stillWithin the land, spake thus to me, and toldThe Convent’s treasured Legend, quaint and old:
Long years ago, a dense and flowering wood,Still more concealed where the white convent stood,Borne on its perfumed wings the title came:“Our Lady of the Hawthorns” is its name.Then did that bell, which still rings out to-day,Bid all the country rise, or eat, or pray.Before that convent shrine, the haughty knightPassed the lone vigil of his perilous fight;For humbler cottage strife or village brawl,The Abbess listened, prayed, and settled all.Young hearts that came, weighed down by love or wrong,Left her kind presence comforted and strong.Each passing pilgrim, and each beggar’s rightWas food, and rest, and shelter for the night.But, more than this, the Nuns could well impartThe deepest mysteries of the healing art;Their store of herbs and simples was renowned,And held in wondering faith for miles around.Thus strife, love, sorrow, good and evil fate,Found help and blessing at the convent gate.
Of all the nuns, no heart was half so light,No eyelids veiling glances half as bright,No step that glided with such noiseless feet,No face that looked so tender or so sweet,No voice that rose in choir so pure, so clear,No heart to all the others half so dear,So surely touched by others’ pain or woe,(Guessing the grief her young life could not know,)No soul in childlike faith so undefiled,As Sister Angela’s, the “Convent Child.”For thus they loved to call her. She had knownNo home, no love, no kindred, save their own....