Page images
PDF
EPUB

foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in bloodand his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its rôle, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment, with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him—“who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements !”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly-for the Prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the Prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the Prince's person; and while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber

to the purple-through the purple to the green-through the green to the orange-through this again to the white and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry—and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask, which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flame of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

ISRAFEL

“And the angel Israfel, whose heart-strings are a lute, and who has the sweetest voice of all God's creatures.”Koran.

In Heaven a spirit doth dwell,

Whose heart-strings are a lute."
None sing so wildly well
As the angel Israfel,

And the giddy stars (so legends tell) Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell

Of his voice, all mute. Tottering above,

In her highest noon,

The enamoured moon
Blushes with love,

While, to listen the red leven
(With the rapid Pleiads, even,
Which were seven)
Pauses in Heaven.

And they say (the starry choir

And the other listening things)
That Israfeli's fire
Is owing to that lyre

By which he sits and sings, -
The trembling living wire

Of those unusual strings.

But the skies that angel trod,

Where deep thoughts are a dutyWhere Love's a grown-up God

Where the Houri glances are Imbued with all the beauty

Which we worship in a star.

Therefore thou art not wrong,

Israfeli, who despisest An unimpassioned song; To thee the laurels belong,

Best bard, because the wisest: Merrily live, and long !

The ecstasies above

With thy burning measures suit: Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love,

With the fervor of thy lute:
Well may the stars be mute!

Yes, Heaven is thine; but this

Is a world of sweets and sours;

Our flowers are merely-flowers,
And the shadow of thy perfect bliss

Is the sunshine of ours.
If I could dwell
Where Israfel

Hath dwelt, and he where I,
He might not sing so wildly well

A mortal melody,-
While a bolder note than this might swell

From my lyre within the sky. 5. William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), the patriarch of American poetry, was born in Massachusetts but, like Irving and Cooper, belongs to New York. He is our first great poet and is often called the American Wordsworth. He was a child prodigy, but in his case the child prodigy became the great literary artist and producer. At the age of seventeen he wrote Thanatopsis, a poem giving his ideas of death; at the age of seventy-three he began the translation of Homer into blank verse. “For faithfulness and majesty," says Professor Newcomer, "his translation ranks among the best that have been made.”

THE DEATH OF THE FLOWERS The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year, Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown

and sere. Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie

dead; They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit's tread. The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the

jay, And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the

gloomy day. Where are the flowers, the fair young flowers, that lately

sprang and stood In brighter light and softer airs, a beauteous sisterhood ?

Alas! They all are in their graves, the gentle race of

flowers Are lying in their lowly beds, with the fair and good of

ours.

The rain is falling where they lie, but the cold November

rain Calls not from out the gloomy earth the lovely ones again.

The wind-flower and the violet, they perished long ago, And the brier-rose and the orchis died amid the summer

glow; But on the hill the golden-rod, and the aster in the wood, And the yellow sun-flower by the brook, in autumn beauty

stood, Till fell the frost from the clear cold heaven, as falls the

plague on men, And the brightness of their smile was gone, from upland,

glade, and glen.

And now, when comes the calm mild day, as still such days

will come, To call the squirrel and the bee from out their winter

home; When the sound of dropping nuts is heard, though all the

trees are still, And twinkle in the smoky light the waters of the rill, The south wind searches for the flowers whose fragrance

late he bore, And sighs to find them in the wood and by the stream

no more.

And then I think of one who in her youthful beauty died, . The fair meek blossom that grew up and faded by my side. . In the cold moist earth we laid her, when the forest cast

the leaf, And we wept that one so lovely should have a life so brief: Yet not unmeet it was that one like that young friend of

ours, So gentle and so beautiful should perish with the flowers.

« PreviousContinue »