A SAD AND " O'ER TRUE TALE."
AGAIN, again, it is the passing bell,
Its mournful sound is borne across the wave ;
It is the long, it is the last farewell
Of some new tenant of the silent grave.
Alas, poor Mona! sorrow has once more
Found refuge there, and made her fatal stand ;
And o'er her mountains and rock-girded shore
Disease hath spread her pale and with'ring hand
Fell cholera is there, and hour by hour
That mournful bell proclaims its dreaded power.
In vain the mountains yield their fragrant breath,
In vain the fresh'ning breezes from the sea,
They bear, alas! but pale disease and death,
And to our lonely isle but misery !
The blast sweeps on-it spares nor youth or age-
Fair nature mourns in vain the sad decay ;
Nor wealth, nor beauty, may its power assuage,
All fall alike beneath its fearful sway
That, solemn sound, still borne upon the gale,
Breathes to the ear the sad heartrending tale.
Now through deserted streets are slowly borne
The dying victims, a pale sickly throng;
And friends, whose looks are haggard, pale, and worn,
Follow those cars that sadly pass along.
To yon rude hospital 1 those sufferers go
Till death's cold hand shall set their spirits free,
And bear them from that scene of pain and woe
To find, we trust, a blest eternity !
Still, still, that pealing bell is sounding loud,
Breathing its warning to a trembling crowd.
The stately hearse is hourly passing by,
Its horses decked with many a nodding plume,
And rich and poor alike must claim the sigh-
Alike the tenants of the silent tomb.
Sad are the scenes that daily meet our sight;
The happy hearth made desolate and cold ;
The dire disease falls like a with'ring blight,
And wraps all nature in its dreary fold
That bell tolls on, death's work is not yet done,
And earth seems scorched beneath the golden sun.
Look at that blacken'd heap-there once was seen
A humble cottage, yet with wild flowers fair,
And children played on that neglected green,
For peace had made her happy dwelling there.
Nor sin, or death, or misery had come
To cast on that fair scene its fatal blight
They had not found that wild sequester'd home-
It knew no shadow, all was gay and bright.
Unclouded joy on earth ! Oh! may it dwell ?
Hark to that answer-'tis the passing bell !
What place so fair, but sorrow may intrude ?
What heart so pure, that treachery may not stain
Those gentle children they were fair and good,
But are not all the heirs of sin and pain ?
Bright years roll'd on ; the certain hand of time
Open'd those blossoms, growing side by side,
Till now they stood in all their youthful prime,
And needed all a mother's care to guide.
Alas ! their beauty was her joy and care-
She lived but in her lovely children's smile;
But heeded not the cankerworm was there,
And would too soon her fairest flower defile,-
That vanity could ring as sure a knell,
To peace and joy, as that sad passing bell.
Deep in the heart of one fair girl it dwelt,
And soon it pierc'd the bosom where it grew;
Its scorpion sting too soon, alas ! was felt,
Ere the poor victim all its treachery knew.
The bland seducer came with winning art,
To outward seeming gentle, good, and kind
Poor Mary yielded her young simple heart,-
Oh, love ! how true it is that thou art blind.
And, in the darkness of the silent night,
She fled from home, once to her heart so dear
Her lover waits, together they take flight,
And soon embark from Douglas' noble pier;
And now to earthly hope she breathes farewell-
That step has rung of happiness the knell.
She bids adieu to her fair native isle,
While keen remorse drew forth the bitter tear ;
But still cheer'd on by her seducer's smile,
Who soothes her grief and lulls each anxious fear,
She tries to stay the throbbing of her heart,
Yet still weeps on for those she leaves behind
How can she from her gentle sister part,
That sweet companion, ever good and kind ?
The vessel bears her o'er the ocean wave,
The shore is fast receding from her sight.
Better, far better, had she found a grave
Beneath its billows, ever pure and bright ;
Better, oh ! better, had the village bell
Rang out for her its sad and last farewell.
For time, which once bore beauty on his wing,
Adding each day some new and soft'ning grace,
Would soon, alas ! but guilt and misery bring,
And cast its shadow o'er her lovely face
Poor and deserted, hapless and forlorn,
Sinking still lower in the dark abyss,
Exposed to want, and misery, and scorn,
Could guilt have deeper pangs in store than this ?
Yes, wretched wand'rer! thou hast yet to bear
A pang, to thy still tender heart far worse,
One that might well have driv'n thee to despair-
Thou had'st to meet a father's bitter curse !
That was indeed of happiness the knell,
A sound more awful than the tolling bell.
She sought once more her long deserted home,-
Oh! would it yield her but a peaceful grave
She ne'er again from that sweet shade will roam,-
With humbled heart again she crossed the wave.
Oh ! could a father turn his child away!
That gentle sister, must she plead in vain !
Unhappy parent, thy fell purpose stay ;
Oh ! take the outcast to thy heart again.
Stern Christian, think of Him whose blood was spilt
To free thy soul from sorrow and from sin
Had He thus turned from misery and guilt,
How could'st thou hope Heaven's glorious gates to win
When far and wide the trumpet's call shall swell,
On that last day, who then thy anguish tell !
Reckless and lost, now driv'n to despair,
The wand'rer turn'd to seek a distant shore ;
The soften'd mother breathed for her a prayer,
And gave with trembling hand her little store.
From that lov'd home she turn'd, she cared not where,
With aching heart poor Mary wildly flew,
For hopeless misery was settled there ;
Each well-known scene fresh tears of anguish drew-
A houseless wand'rer over hill and dale-
Gazed at with wonder and with pitying scorn.
At length she stopp'd, for now upon the gale
A bell was heard-it was a wedding morn
She pray'd it soon might ring her parting knell,
And she might breathe in peace her last farewell.
Upon that morn bright smiling love had twined
A wreath to place upon her sister's brow,
While she, poor penitent, all hope resigned,
Sought but a shelter for her guilt and woe.
Her gentle sister, on that day a bride,
Like her must leave their childhood's happy home;
But a beloved one would support and guide,
And watch her safely o'er the ocean's foam ;
Her aged parent's blessing would attend
Her steps where'er she went, and many a prayer ;
While she, alas! without a home or friend,
Was left a prey to wild and deep despair ;
When, sternly driven from that sister's side,
The bitter curse still ringing on her ear,
She prayed that she too might become a bride,
And death's embrace freeze every starting tear.
Alas, forlorn one ! she had none to tell
Her where to look, her anguish to dispel.
Sad years fled by, the sorrowing mother wept,
Still prayed for that poor lost one, sunk in shame,
For conscience whisper'd, had not duty slept,
Disgrace had never branded that lov'd name;
She felt how just the punishment now given,
And bowed submissive to an all-wise Power,-
Trusting she still should meet in yonder Heaven,
Unstain'd, unspotted, that now blighted flower.
But who may fathom Heaven's all-just decrees,
Oh! who a gracious Father's mercy know ;
His hand can reach far o'er the spreading seas,
Recal the wand'rer in the hour of woe ;
His voice sounds farther than the sounding bell-
His voice alone can human sorrows quell.
Sad rumours reach'd that wretched outcast's ear,
It found its way e'en to the abode of shame
It spoke of dread disease, of pain, and fear
In Mona's isle, blent with a mother's name.
In fear she listen'd-still that rumour spread-
Was not that heart with guilt yet harden'd ? No !
She heard with anguish of a mother dead,
Still deeper drank the bitter draught of woe ;
Each day now brought her a more dread account,
Till stunn'd, aghast, her eyes could weep no more,
Her frenzied grief had dried up sorrow's fount,
And once again she sought her native shore.
Alas ! the sound upon her ear that fell
In that fair isle-it was the passing bell !
In fever'd haste to her lov'd home she flies,
Ah! what a scene of misery met her there ;
Her ears were startled by a father's sighs,
For dire disease swept o'er that home so fair.
That sweet young sister, late a happy bride,
Had nars'd her mother with fond fatal care,
Now in the grave was sleeping, by her side,
And soon her husband join'd his lost one there.
The poor heartstricken wand'rer rais'd the head
Of the sole parent left her now to tend,
And, oh ! she felt before his spirit fled
That Heaven in mercy would that spirit bend.
Her prayer was granted ere he breathed his last-
A gleam of love on his pale features rest ;
And ere from earth his flitting soul had past,
He claspt the lost one to his throbbing breast ;
And gentle peace now shed its holy spell,
Soothing her spirit in that last farewell.
She too, dread Cholera, fell thy willing prey,
But sure in pity that last blow was given ;
And hope and mercy lent their cheering ray
To light that gentle penitent to Heaven !
No friend was near to soothe her last sad hour,
Not one was found to approach that fatal place,-
To bear to sacred ground that wither'd flower,
Or plead for her a blest Redeemer's grace.
Look at that ruin ! Is it time's decay ?2
He comes not with such rude and rapid strides
That home has been to fire's dread power a prey,
Stern desolation in that place abides.
Destructive element, thou aid'st full well
The dire disease ! Hark to the passing bell !
Look on yon churchyard-see the lengthened rows
Of new-made mounds, with each a small white stone,
Alas! they tell a tale of human woes,
Of youth and age alike from kindred flown;
No name, no eulogy,-the date alone
Is all on which the passer-by may look ;
But all their virtues, sorrows, sins, are known,
And register'd above in Heaven's own book.
Justice serene and calm that book indites,
While gentle Mercy the dread letters trace,
And oft the condemnation that she writes
Her tears of pity from the page efface.
The love that " bade the guilty sin no more,"
Breathing sweet words of comfort and of peace,
Will welcome to that bright eternal shore
Each wearied wand'rer,-where all griefs will cease.
There with rejoicing angels they will dwell,
While seraph's harps shall their glad anthems swell!
1 A temporary one built for the occasion.
2 This story is founded on fact. During the time of the cholera in the years 1834-5, a whole family, living in a cottage on one of its lonely mountains, fell its prey. The panic was so great that no person could be found to nurse the sick or bury the dead: they tended each other till the last died, who was, as related, a child who had been discarded for misconduct, and who only returned in time to nurse the sole remaining parent, and to sink under the disease. The cottage and furniture were burnt, and, it is said, the dead bodies of parent and child with them.
[see A.M. Hardy's article - it is possible that the basis for the poem was Joney Cringle]