’Tis a stern and startling thing to think
How often mortality stands on the brink
Of its grave without any misgiving:
And yet in this slippery world of strife,
In the stir of human bustle so rife,
There are daily sounds to tell us that Life
Is dying, and Death is living!
Ay, Beauty the Girl, and Love the Boy,
Bright as they are with hope and joy,
How their souls would sadden instanter,
To remember that one of those wedding bells,
Which ring so merrily through the dells,
Is the same that knells
Our last farewells,
Only broken into a canter!
But breath and blood set doom at nought—
How little the wretched Countess thought,
When at night she unloosed her sandal,
That the Fates had woven her burial-cloth,
And that Death, in the shape of a Death’s Head Moth,
Was fluttering round her candle!
As she look’d at her clock of or-molu,
For the hours she had gone so wearily through
At the end of a day of trial—
How little she saw in her pride of prime
The dart of Death in the Hand of Time—
That hand which moved on the dial!
As she went with her taper up the stair,
How little her swollen eye was aware
That the Shadow which followed was double!
Or when she closed her chamber door,
It was shutting out, and forevermore,
The world—and its worldly trouble.
Little she dreamt, as she laid aside
Her jewels—after one glance of pride—
They were solemn bequests to Vanity—
Or when her robes she began to doff,
That she stood so near to the putting off
Of the flesh that clothes humanity.
And when she quench’d the taper’s light,
How little she thought as the smoke took flight,
That her day was done—and merged in a night
Of dreams and duration uncertain—
Or along with her own,
That a Hand of Bone
Was closing mortality’s curtain!
But life is sweet, and mortality blind,
And youth is hopeful, and Fate is kind
In concealing the day of sorrow;
And enough is the present tense of toil—
For this world is, to all, a stiffish soil—
And the mind flies back with a glad recoil
From the debts not due till to-morrow.
Wherefore else does the Spirit fly
And bid its daily cares good-bye,
Along with its daily clothing?
Just as the felon condemn’d to die—
With a very natural loathing—
Leaving the Sheriff to dream of ropes,
From his gloomy cell in a vision elopes,
To a caper on sunny gleams and slopes,
Instead of a dance upon nothing.
Thus, even thus, the Countess slept,
While Death still nearer and nearer crept,
Like the Thane who smote the sleeping—
But her mind was busy with early joys,
Her golden treasures and golden toys;
That flash’d a bright
And golden light
Under lids still red with weeping.
The golden doll that she used to hug!
Her coral of gold, and the golden mug!
Her godfather’s golden presents!
The golden service she had at her meals,
The golden watch, and chain, and seals,
Her golden scissors, and thread, and reels,
And her golden fishes and pheasants!
The golden guineas in silken purse—
And the Golden Legends she heard from her nurse
Of the Mayor in his gilded carriage—
And London streets that were paved with gold—
And the Golden Eggs that were laid of old—
With each golden thing
To the golden ring
At her own auriferous Marriage!
And still the golden light of the sun
Through her golden dream appear’d to run,
Though the night, that roared without, was one
To terrify seamen or gypsies—
While the moon, as if in malicious mirth,
Kept peeping down at the ruffled earth,
As though she enjoy’d the tempest’s birth,
In revenge of her old eclipses.
But vainly, vainly, the thunder fell,
For the soul of the Sleeper was under a spell
That time had lately embitter’d—
The Count, as once at her foot he knelt—
That foot, which now he wanted to melt!
But—hush!—’twas a stir at her pillow she felt—
And some object before her glitter’d.
’Twas the Golden Leg!—she knew its gleam!
And up she started and tried to scream,—
But ev’n in the moment she started
Down came the limb with a frightful smash,
And, lost in the universal flash
That her eyeballs made at so mortal a crash,
The Spark, call’d Vital, departed!
* * * * *
Gold, still gold! hard, yellow, and cold,
For gold she had lived, and she died for gold—
By a golden weapon—not oaken;
In the morning they found her all alone—
Stiff, and bloody, and cold as stone—
But her Leg, the Golden Leg, was gone,
And the “Golden Bowl was broken!”
Gold—still gold! it haunted her yet—
At the Golden Lion the Inquest met—
Its foreman, a carver and gilder—
And the Jury debated from twelve till three
What the Verdict ought to be,
And they brought it in as Felo de Se,
“Because her own Leg had kill’d her!”