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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Griffonner The PoetBay support member heart!
@ Lawrence Beck:
And current day ones I would venture.
Apart from the subject being almost taboo in English society until recently, maybe that is why? Now, you get bored by the TV adverts of 'easy' cremations - where the deceased is taken away and decently cremated without the pomp and ceremony of a church service or a congregation. Oh, and as the advertisers tell you, it costs about a quarter of a 'conventional' cremation! Jeez!

Lawrence Beck The PoetBay support member heart!
Why are so many nineteenth-century English language poems about death?