Poem by Mary Gardiner Horsford (1824-1855)
Madeline. A Legend of the Mohawk
Where the waters of the Mohawk
Through a quiet valley glide,
From the brown church to her dwelling
She that morning passed a bride.
In the mild light of October
Beautiful the forest stood,
As the temple on Mount Zion
When God filled its solitude.
Very quietly the red leaves,
On the languid zephyr's breath,
Fluttered to the mossy hillocks
Where their sisters slept in death:
And the white mist of the Autumn
Hung o'er mountain-top and dale,
Soft and filmy, as the foldings
Of the passing bridal veil.
From the field of Saratoga
At the last night's eventide,
Rode the groom, - a gallant soldier
Flushed with victory and pride,
Seeking, as a priceless guerdon
From the dark-eyed Madeline,
Leave to lead her to the altar
When the morrow's sun should shine.
All the children of the village,
Decked with garland's white and red,
All the young men and the maidens,
Had been forth to see her wed;
And the aged people, seated
In the doorways 'neath the vine,
Thought of their own youth and blessed her,
As she left the house divine.
Pale she was, but very lovely,
With a brow so calm and fair,
When she passed, the benediction
Seemed still falling on the air.
Strangers whispered they had never
Seen who could with her compare,
And the maidens looked with envy
On her wealth of raven hair.
In the glen beside the river
In the shadow of the wood,
With wide-open doors for welcome
Gamble-roofed the cottage stood;
Where the festal board was waiting,
For the bridal guests prepared,
Laden with a feast, the humblest
In the little village shared.
Every hour was winged with gladness
While the sun went down the west,
Till the chiming of the church-bell
Told to all the hour for rest:
Then the merry guests departed,
Some a camp's rude couch to bide,
Some to bright homes, - each invoking
Blessings on the gentle bride.
Tranquilly the morning sunbeam
Over field and hamlet stole,
Wove a glory round each red leaf,
Then effaced the Frost-king's scroll:
Eyes responded to its greeting
As a lake's still waters shine,
Young hearts bounded, - and a gay group
Sought the home of Madeline.
Bird-like voices 'neath the casement
Chanted in the hazy air,
A sweet orison for wakening, -
Half thanksgiving and half prayer.
But no white hand drew the curtain
From the vine-clad panes before,
No light form, with buoyant footstep,
Hastened to fling wide the door.
Moments numbered hours in passing
'Mid that silence, till a fear
Of some unseen ill crept slowly
Through the trembling minstrels near,
Then with many a dark foreboding,
They, the threshold hastened o'er,
Paused not where a stain of crimson
Curdled on the oaken floor;
But sought out the bridal chamber.
God in Heaven! could it be
Madeline who knelt before them
In that trance of agony?
Cold, inanimate beside her,
By the ruthless Cow-boys slain
In the night-time whilst defenceless,
He she loved so well was lain;
O'er her bridal dress were scattered,
Stains of fearful, fearful dye,
And the soul's light beamed no longer
From her tearless, vacant eye.
Round her slight form hung the tresses
Braided oft with pride and care,
Silvered by that night of madness
With its anguish and despair.
She lived on to see the roses
Of another summer wane,
But the light of reason never
Shone in her sweet eyes again.
Once where blue and sparkling waters
Through a quiet valley run,
Fertilizing field and garden,
Wandered I at set of sun;
Twilight as a silver shadow
O'er the softened landscape lay,
When amid a straggling village
Paused I in my rambling way.
Plain and brown the church before me
In the little graveyard stood,
And the laborer's axe resounded
Faintly, from the neighboring wood.
Through the low, half-open wicket
Deeply worn, a pathway led:
Silently I paced its windings
Till I stood among the dead.
Passing by the grave memorials
Of departed worth and fame,
Long I paused before a record
That no pomp of words could claim:
Simple was the slab and lowly,
Shaded by a fragrant vine,
And the single name recorded,
Plainly writ, was "Madeline."
But beneath it through the clusters
Of the jessamine I read,
"Spes," engraved in bolder letters, -
This was all the marble said.
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Written on 2022-01-24 at 00:00
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