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THE EVE OF ST. AGNES.

I.

St. AGNES' EVE—Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen

grass, And silent was the flock in woolly fold : Numb were the Beadsman's fingers while he

told His rosary, and while his frosted breath, Like pious incense from a censer old,

Seem'd taking flight for heaven without a death, Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer

he saith.

II.

His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man; Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his

knees, And back returneth, meagre, barefoot, wan, Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees :

The sculptured dead, on each side seem to

freeze, Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails : Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat’ries,

He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails To think how they may ache in icy hoods and

mails.

III.

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Northward he turneth through a little door,
And scarce three steps, ere Music's golden

tongue
Flatter'd to tears this aged man and poor ;
But no-already had his death-bell rung;
The joys of all his life were said and sung:
His was harsh penance on St. Agnes' Eve:
Another

way he went, and soon among Rough ashes sat he for his soul's reprieve, And all night kept awake, for sinner's sake to

grieve.

IV.

That ancient Beadsman heard the prelude soft ;
And so it chanced, for many a door was wide,
From hurry to and fro. Soon, up aloft,
The silver, snarling trumpets 'gan to chide
The level chambers, ready with their pride,
Were glowing to receive a thousand guests :
The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
Stared, where

their heads the cornice rests, With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise

upon

on their breasts.

a

y.

At length burst in the argent revelry,
With plume, tiara, and all rich array,
Numerous as shadows haunting fairily
The brain, new-stuff'd, in youth, with triumphs

gay
Of old romance.

These let us wish away,
And turn, sole-thoughted, to one Lady there,
Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,

On love, and wing’d St. Agnes’ saintly care, As she had heard old dames full many times declare.

VI.

They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve,
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the honey'd middle of the night,
If ceremonies due they did aright;
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white;

Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they

desire.

VII.

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Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline : h. The music, yearning like a God in pain,

She scarcely heard : her maiden eyes divine,
Fix'd on the floor, saw many a sweeping
Pass by-she heeded not at all : in vain
Came many a tiptoe, amorous cavalier,
And back retired; not cool'd by high disdain,

train

But she saw not: her heart was otherwhere ; She sigh’d for Agnes' dreams, the sweetest of the

year.

VIII.

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She danced along with vague, regardless eyes,
Anxious her lips, her breathing quick and

short:
The hallow'd hour was near at hand : she sighs

Amid the timbrels, and the throng'd resort h Of whisperers in anger, or in sport ;

'Mid looks of love, defiance, hate, and scorn,
Hoodwink'd with faery fancy; all amort,

Save to St. Agnes and her lambs unshorn,
And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.

IX.

So, purposing each moment to retire,
She linger'd still. Meantime, across the moors,
Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire
For Madeline. Beside the portal doors,
Buttress'd from moonlight, stands he, and im-

plores
All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
But for one moment in the tedious hours,

That he might gaze and worship all unseen ; Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss-in sooth

such things have been.

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