Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Georgian Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Georgian Verse.  1909.
 
Lord William
By Robert Southey (1774–1843)
 
NO eye beheld when William plunged
  Young Edmund in the stream,
No human ear but William’s heard
  Young Edmund’s drowning scream.
 
Submissive, all the vassals own’d        5
  The murderer for their lord,
And he, as rightful heir, possess’d
  The house of Erlingford.
 
The ancient house of Erlingford
  Stood in a fair domain,        10
And Severn’s ample waters near
  Roll’d through the fertile plain;
 
And often the way-faring man
  Would love to linger there,
Forgetful of his onward road,        15
  To gaze on scenes so fair.
 
But never could Lord William dare
  To gaze on Severn’s stream;
In every wind that swept its waves
  He heard young Edmund scream!        20
 
In vain, at midnight’s silent hour
  Sleep closed the murderer’s eyes,
In every dream the murderer saw
  Young Edmund’s form arise:
 
In vain by restless conscience driven        25
  Lord William left his home,
Far from the scenes that saw his guilt,
  In pilgrimage to roam.
 
To other climes the pilgrim fled,
  But could not fly despair;        30
He sought his home again, but peace
  Was still a stranger there.
 
Slow were the passing hours, yet swift
  The months appeared to roll;
And now the day return’d that shook        35
  With terror William’s soul;—
 
A day that William never felt
  Return without dismay,
For well had conscience calendar’d
  Young Edmund’s dying day.        40
 
A fearful day was that! the rains
  Fell fast with tempest roar,
And the swoln tide of Severn spread
  Far on the level shore.
 
In vain Lord William sought the feast,        45
  In vain he quaff’d the bowl,
And strove with noisy mirth to drown
  The anguish of his soul;—
 
The tempest, as its sudden swell
  In gusty howlings came,        50
With cold and death-like feelings seem’d
  To thrill his shuddering frame.
 
Reluctant now, as night came on,
  His lonely couch he prest;
And, wearied out, he sunk to sleep,—        55
  To sleep—but not to rest.
 
Beside that couch his brother’s form,
  Lord Edmund, seem’d to stand,
Such, and so pale, as when in death
  He grasp’d his brother’s hand;        60
 
Such, and so pale his face, as when
  With faint and faltering tongue,
To William’s care, a dying charge,
  He left his orphan son.
 
‘I bade thee with a father’s love        65
  My orphan Edmund guard;—
Well, William, hast thou kept thy charge!
  Now take thy due reward.’
 
He started up, each limb convulsed
  With agonizing fear;        70
He only heard the storm of night,—
  ’Twas music to his ear!
 
When, lo! the voice of loud alarm
  His inmost soul appals;
‘What ho! Lord William, rise in haste!        75
  The water saps thy walls!’
 
He rose in haste,—beneath the walls
  He saw the flood appear;
It hemm’d him round,—’twas midnight now,
  No human aid was near.        80
 
He heard a shout of joy, for now
  A boat approach’d the wall,
And eager to the welcome aid
  They crowd for safety all.
 
‘My boat is small,’ the boatman cried,        85
  ‘’Twill bear but one away;
Come in, Lord William, and do ye
  In God’s protection stay.’
 
Strange feeling fill’d them at his voice,
  Even in that hour of woe,        90
That, save their lord, there was not one
  Who wished with him to go.
 
But William leapt into the boat,—
  His terror was so sore;
‘Thou shalt have half my gold,’ he cried,        95
  ‘Haste!—haste to yonder shore!’
 
The boatman plied the oar, the boat
  Went light along the stream;
Sudden Lord William heard a cry
  Like Edmund’s drowning scream!        100
 
The boatman paused, ‘Methought I heard
  A child’s distressful cry!’
‘’Twas but the howling wind of night,’
  Lord William made reply.
 
‘Haste!—haste!—ply swift and strong the oar;        105
  Haste!—haste across the stream!’
Again Lord William heard a cry
  Like Edmund’s drowning scream!
 
‘I heard a child’s distressful voice,’
  The boatman cried again.        110
‘Nay, hasten on!—the night is dark—
  And we should search in vain!’
 
‘O God! Lord William, dost thou know
  How dreadful ’tis to die?
And canst thou without pity hear        115
  A child’s expiring cry?
 
‘How horrible it is to sink
  Beneath the closing stream,
To stretch the powerless arms in vain,
  In vain for help to scream!’        120
 
The shriek again was heard: it came
  More deep, more piercing loud;
That instant o’er the flood the moon
  Shone through a broken cloud;
 
And near them they beheld a child;        125
  Upon a crag he stood,
A little crag, and all around
  Was spread the rising flood.
 
The boatman plied the oar, the boat
  Approach’d his resting-place;        130
The moon-beam shone upon the child,
  And show’d how pale his face.
 
‘Now reach thine hand!’ the boatman cried,
  ‘Lord William, reach and save!’
The child stretch’d forth his little hands        135
  To grasp the hand he gave!
 
Then William shriek’d; the hands he felt
  Were cold, and damp, and dead!
He held young Edmund in his arms
  A heavier weight than lead!        140
 
The boat sunk down, the murderer sunk
  Beneath the avenging stream;
He rose, he shriek’d, no human ear
  Heard William’s drowning scream!
 
 
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