Thomas Bailey Aldrich
TO EDWIN BOOTH. MY DEAR BOOTH:
In offering these verses to you, I beg you to treat them (as you have many a time advised a certain lord chamberlain to treat the players) not according to their desert. “Use them after your own honor and dignity; the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.”
The motif of the story embodied in the following poem was crudely outlined in a brief sketch printed in an early collection of the authors verse, and subsequently cancelled for a purpose not until now accomplished. Wyndham Towers is not to be confused with this discarded sketch, the text of which has furnished only a phrase, or an indirect suggestion, here and there. That the writer’s method, when recasting the poem, was more or less influenced by the poets he had been studying—chiefly the dramatists of the Elizabethan era—will, he hopes, be obvious. It was part of his design, however far he may have fallen from it, to give his narrative something of the atmosphere and color of the period in which the action takes place, though the story is supposed to be told at a later date.
Before you reach the slender, high-arched bridge,
Like to a heron with one foot in stream,
The hamlet breaks upon you through green boughs—
A square stone church within a place of graves
Upon the slope; gray houses oddly grouped,
With plastered gables set with crossed oak-beams,
And roofs of yellow tile and purplish slate.
That is The Falcon, with the swinging sign
And rustic bench, an ancient hostelry;
Those leaden lattices were hung on hinge
In good Queen Bess’s time, so old it is.
On ridge-piece, gable-end, or dove-cot vane,
A gilded weathercock at intervals
Glimmers—an angel on the wing, most like,
Of local workmanship; for since the reign
Of pious Edward here have carvers thrived,
In saints’-heads skillful and winged cherubim
Meet for rich abbeys. From yon crumbling tower,
Whose brickwork base the cunning Romans laid—
And now of no use else except to train
The ivy of an idle legend on—
You see, such lens is this thin Devon air,
If it so chance no fog comes rolling in,
The Torridge where its branching crystal spreads
To join the Taw. Hard by from a chalk cliff
A torrent leaps: not lovelier Sappho was
Giving herself all silvery to the sea
From that Leucadian rock. Beneath your feet
Lie sand and surf in curving parallels.
Off shore, a buoy gleams like a dolphin’s back
Dripping with brine, and guards a sunken reef
Whose sharp incisors have gnawed many a keel;
There frets the sea and turns white at the lip,
And in ill-weather lets the ledge show fang.
A very pleasant nook in Devon, this,
Upon the height of old was Wyndham Towers,
Clinging to rock there, like an eagle’s nest,
With moat and drawbridge once, and good for siege;
Four towers it had to front the diverse winds:
Built God knows when, all record being lost,
Locked in the memories of forgotten men.
In Caesar’s day, a pagan temple; next
A monastery; then a feudal hold;
Later a manor, and at last a ruin.
Such knowledge have we of it, vaguely caught
Through whispers fallen from tradition’s lip.
This shattered tower, with crenellated top
And loops for archers, alone marks the spot,
Looming forlornly—a gigantic harp
Whereon the invisible fingers of the wind
Its fitful and mysterious dirges play.
Here dwelt, in the last Tudor’s virgin reign,
One Richard Wyndham, Knight and Gentleman,
(The son of Rawdon, slain near Calais wall
When Bloody Mary lost her grip on France,)
A lonely wight that no kith had nor kin
Save one, a brother—by ill-fortune’s spite
A brother, since ‘t were better to have none—
Of late not often seen at Wyndham Towers,
Where he in sooth but lenten welcome got
When to that gate his errant footstep strayed.
Yet held he dear those gray majestic walls,
Time-stained and crusted with the sea’s salt breath;
There first his eyes took color of the sea,
There did his heart stay when fate drove him thence,
And there at last—but that we tell anon.
Darrell they named him, for an ancestor
Whose bones were whitening in Holy Land,
The other Richard; a crusader name,
Yet it was Darrell had the lion-heart.
No love and little liking served this pair,
In look and word unpaired as white and black—
Of once rich bough the last unlucky fruit.
The one, for straightness like a Norland pine
Set on some precipice’s perilous edge,
Intrepid, handsome, little past blown youth,
Of all pure thought and brave deed amorous,
Moulded the court’s high atmosphere to breathe,
Yet liking well the camp’s more liberal air—
Poet, soldier, courtier, ‘t was the mode;
The other—as a glow-worm to a star—
Suspicious, morbid, passionate, self-involved,
The soul half eaten out with solitude,
Corroded, like a sword-blade left in sheath
Asleep and lost to action—in a word,
A misanthrope, a miser, a soured man,
One fortune loved not and looked at askance.