I stood at dusk and looked around the garden small and dim;
the fountain dry was cracked, with dust and vines around the rim.
The roses dead were long and spare, the weeds were rising high;
then ghosts from ancient worlds arose and said that I would die.
In long and spectral robes they swept along the garden ways
and sang the songs no longer sung, the songs of distant days.
A Templar march I thought I heard, a troubadour's sad plea,
a hymn of love to loves long gone, a shanty rasped at sea.
Like breezes drifting, softly sped those tunes, like secret sigh.
And 'midst it all a whisper sang; it sang that I would die.
The darkness fell, it drifted down, a-float like falling shawl;
it settled over roses dead and draped across the wall.
I strained my ears to hear again that gently whispered word,
but silence through the darkness fell, so nothing then was heard,
and nothing felt by rising hairs, and nothing met my eye,
until at midnight down the way I heard that I would die.
A maiden walked like water's wave along the crumbling wall
and here and there an elegy from out her lips would fall.
A hint, a clue, a fragile thread, the song would drift my way
with meaning barely out of reach and sense just out of play,
but here and there it rose to reach the keen of sobbing cry,
and then no doubt remained at all: it said that I would die.
The moon was silver on the road, but stars were hid by clouds
that, dark and thunder-mutter-thick, were gathered up in crowds
like ghosts in endless number in some graveyard in the sky,
and somehow in the thunder's tones I heard that I would die.
On far and distant hills the wolves began to raise a howl
and down the moonlit road I saw a figure in a cowl
as black as night in color so that scarce could seeing see
where ended figure and the night; it clearly came for me,
and in its hand a scythe was held, that swept through air with ease,
and at its heels a hound did walk, as pale as death's disease.
The crows in murder raised their wings, all croaking out a cry,
and clear I heard it in their noise: they said that I would die.
The wind was blowing in the leaves and rustled roses dead
and mingled with the panic that was buzzing in my head,
till time itself with nausea was turned upon its ear
and death itself was manifest to brain enmeshed in fear.
I sought to turn, like trembling bird in pit I sought to fly,
but dizzy chills sped up my spine that said that I would die.
A hand was clamped upon my mouth; I could not scream or cry;
a voice was snarling in my ear and told me I would die.
The ghosts of the dead across land and sea
now wildly dash as they seek to be free.
Lenore in her bed is deeply disturbed
by nightmare-madness that shakes and unnerves,
by the terror of dream that ennervates souls,
the last horror, wanhope, that Pandora stole.
"Ah, Wilhelm," she says, in a sigh like a moan,
"have you no faith, or no strength, to come home?
Have you no means, or no will, to return,
when Ilium falls and Jerusalem burns?"
And the armies come home, the men and the boys;
the throngs of the soldiers return to their joys.
But never is Wilhelm found laughing with bliss,
arriving at home to catch Lenore's kiss.
Swiftly and often the maiden's bright eye
searches among the men who go by,
gladsome and glorious, uncaring at all
for Lenore's worried search or the name that she calls.
Her mother would ease her, as mothers will do:
"God is in heaven, His grace ever new;
seek mercy from him, and comfort you'll see."
"Mother, this God has no mercy for me."
"Her words are the words of a child distraught;
she knows not the sense of this wickedest thought!
Heaven, forgive her, and daughter, know this:
God's wisdom is endless, and mercy is his."
"Mother, my mother, your God does not care.
He who has mercy relieves all despair;
but pitiless God, he brings only night,
takes away Wilhelm, and shuts away light!"
"Heaven forgive you! The wine and the bread
show us a God who saves us from death.
The cup and the paten are mercy indeed:
reflect on their power; my daughter, take heed!"
"Mother, the lies of the wine and the bread
have no power to save or to raise from the dead;
no pity I find there, only the loss
of a man all forsaken and dead on the cross."
"And what if it's Wilhelm, not God, who's untrue?
What if your man another pursues
on some rugged mountain, on some distant plain?
Watch who you blame in your anguish and pain!"
"Mother, my mother, it all matters not
if his heart be made still or by someone else caught:
nothing at all can raise this sad head,
my life is for nothing, my place with the dead."
"Cease, my dear girl, all this moan and complaint!
Set your sweet heart on the goal of the saint:
seek you the vision of He who makes whole,
He who alone is fit groom to the soul."
"What is bliss, my sweet mother? Indeed, what is hell?
With Wilhelm is bliss, and without him I fell
down into darkness, down to the tomb.
He is my light, all else is but gloom.
Everything else God may coldly remove;
neither heaven nor hell should such providence prove.
But Wilhelm alone is my heaven and light:
she requires no other who is by his side."
The clack and the clatter of the hoof of the steed,
the clank of the steel and the voice Lenore needs,
waft through the door to meet Lenore's ear,
to bring her rejoicing and turn her to cheer.
"Are you waking or sleeping, Lenore, O my bride?
Come with me, come with me, off let us ride!
Off must we go, ere the dawn slays the night,
fast journey and far, to our wedded delights!"
"Wilhelm, my Wilhelm, eleven's the bell
that tolls in the churchyard and says all is well;
now rest you within till night turns retreat;
come inside, dearest, and whisper me sweet."
"No, my Lenore, before break of day
I have many a mile to mark on my way.
Swift, at dead gallop, through storm and through night,
through rain and through gusting, before morning's light."
Without pause and unwary she raced through the door
with kiss and caress no man could ignore;
but Wilhelm straightway did lift her beside,
and settled her down, and away they did ride.
The world like poured water in rush flurried by
as bridge blurred to bridge for the slow human eye
and trees of the forest became like a wall
that flickered and rose and behind them did fall.
And shimmers and shadows alone in the dark
rose to the eye like the fire and spark,
the shapes of grim warriors who died far away;
they rush to find solace before break of day.
"What ails you, my darling, my dearest, my bride?
Why do you shudder, your head turn aside?
Are they not lovely, the shades of the dead?"
Lenore answered not as she covered her head.
Soon to a gate born of iron and fire
they came, and there Wilhelm, as if in ire
threw back his hand, and the iron bolts bent,
and gently inside the two lovers went.
But see how the moonlight plays tricks on the eye!
See Wilhelm, how thin, like bones long laid by!
See now his head, like a skull reft of skin,
and how like he looks to the bones of dead men!
Now lie before them the tombs of the dead,
but Wilhelm still sings of the sweet nuptial bed,
and Lenore, who now struggles, is drawn ere she wist
into a dark grave, cold hand on her wrist.