Shelley Sunday: “Sister Rosa: A Ballad”

--SISTER ROSA: A BALLAD
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

1.
The death-bell beats!--
The mountain repeats
The echoing sound of the knell;
And the dark Monk now
Wraps the cowl round his brow,                                       _5
As he sits in his lonely cell.

2.
And the cold hand of death
Chills his shuddering breath,
As he lists to the fearful lay
Which the ghosts of the sky,                                         _10
As they sweep wildly by,
Sing to departed day.
And they sing of the hour
When the stern fates had power
To resolve Rosa's form to its clay.                                  _15

3.
But that hour is past;
And that hour was the last
Of peace to the dark Monk's brain.
Bitter tears, from his eyes, gushed silent and fast;
And he strove to suppress them in vain.                              _20

4.
Then his fair cross of gold he dashed on the floor,
When the death-knell struck on his ear.--
'Delight is in store
For her evermore;
But for me is fate, horror, and fear.'                               _25

5.
Then his eyes wildly rolled,
When the death-bell tolled,
And he raged in terrific woe.
And he stamped on the ground,--
But when ceased the sound,                                           _30
Tears again began to flow.

6.
And the ice of despair
Chilled the wild throb of care,
And he sate in mute agony still;
Till the night-stars shone through the cloudless air,                _35
And the pale moonbeam slept on the hill.

7.
Then he knelt in his cell:--
And the horrors of hell
Were delights to his agonized pain,
And he prayed to God to dissolve the spell,                          _40
Which else must for ever remain.

8.
And in fervent pray'r he knelt on the ground,
Till the abbey bell struck One:
His feverish blood ran chill at the sound:
A voice hollow and horrible murmured around--                        _45
'The term of thy penance is done!'

9.
Grew dark the night;
The moonbeam bright
Waxed faint on the mountain high;
And, from the black hill,                                            _50
Went a voice cold and still,--
'Monk! thou art free to die.'

10.
Then he rose on his feet,
And his heart loud did beat,
And his limbs they were palsied with dread;                          _55
Whilst the grave's clammy dew
O'er his pale forehead grew;
And he shuddered to sleep with the dead.

11.
And the wild midnight storm
Raved around his tall form,                                          _60
As he sought the chapel's gloom:
And the sunk grass did sigh
To the wind, bleak and high,
As he searched for the new-made tomb.

12.
And forms, dark and high,                                            _65
Seemed around him to fly,
And mingle their yells with the blast:
And on the dark wall
Half-seen shadows did fall,
As enhorrored he onward passed.                                      _70

13.
And the storm-fiends wild rave
O'er the new-made grave,
And dread shadows linger around.
The Monk called on God his soul to save,
And, in horror, sank on the ground.                                  _75

14.
Then despair nerved his arm
To dispel the charm,
And he burst Rosa's coffin asunder.
And the fierce storm did swell
More terrific and fell,                                              _80
And louder pealed the thunder.

15.
And laughed, in joy, the fiendish throng,
Mixed with ghosts of the mouldering dead:
And their grisly wings, as they floated along,
Whistled in murmurs dread.                                           _85

16.
And her skeleton form the dead Nun reared
Which dripped with the chill dew of hell.
In her half-eaten eyeballs two pale flames appeared,
And triumphant their gleam on the dark Monk glared,
As he stood within the cell.                                         _90

17.
And her lank hand lay on his shuddering brain;
But each power was nerved by fear.--
'I never, henceforth, may breathe again;
Death now ends mine anguished pain.--
The grave yawns,--we meet there.'                                    _95

18.
And her skeleton lungs did utter the sound,
So deadly, so lone, and so fell,
That in long vibrations shuddered the ground;
And as the stern notes floated around,
A deep groan was answered from hell.

NOTE:
3.--Sister Rosa: Ballad, 1811.

Image Source: Brandy Anderson. Shelley’s Window. Oxford University.

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