De Wyrhale: A Tale of Dean Forest
By P.J. Ducarel, Esq.
The Newland Oak
“There was a day of strife in History’s page
Deep noted, and its dark detail of crime ;
Brother with brother then learn’d war to wage
Ev’n to the death in his gentle clime ;
Parent, and child in arms, with fiendlike rage
For rugged onslaught met at that fell time ;
It was an age of horror, and the stain,
Whilst England yet survives shall remain.
But thence I seek my theme ; and will resort,
Where crimes amidst, shall virtue blaze more clear,
Embellish’d with sweet lore, in that report
The muse pours forth to win the listening ear :
So graced with flowers from Fancy’s fairy court,
That even Lucilla may not dread to hear
When Inspiration ranges fair to view,
And robes the deeds of eld with her warm hue.
Oh ! ‘t was an awful hour for Albion’s weal,
When the Red rose, and rival White arrayed
Her hosts for slaughter, and to hateful steel
High mettled knight by kindred ties unstayed,
Unchecked by keen remorse, made fierce appeal,
And couched the lance, and brandished the sharp blade.
Ye, who despise not dulcet song, survey
The scene with me come listen to my lay.
Dire was the clang of arms ; each rival king
Sent forth his myriads, where the battle fray
Was fierce and sharp, and War was his full swing
Of carnage held his unrelenting sway ;
And shout was heard of hosts re-echoing,
And glancing steel flashed back the bright sun-ray :
The gorged earth steamed hot with recent flood
Shed by her children, of her children’s blood.
For Glory called, and Honour, laurel wreathed,
Greedy of high report,—and youthful eyes
Ardent with Hope, that o’er the bosom breathed
Contempt of death, strained at the high emprize ;
And grasping hand the sword for death unsheathed,
And bade heaped high the pile of slaughter rise,
Where thousands rushed to swell the page of story,
The crimsoned page of honour and glory.
Oh honour!—what is honour? glory what ?
Twin phantoms, aye pursued with murderous skill—
Marring of peaceful souls the feebler lot,
Urging alas ! to ravage, rend, and kill,
With demon rage to senseless fury wrought,
And spurn Compassion’s touch, and Pity’s thrill.
Man wades to fame through blood ; the unreasoning beast
Bounds on his prey that he may gorge a feast,
That he may stain the paws, which mature first
Taught him to tinge with purple gore, and thrive
On carnage ; that, as instinct prompts, his thirst
He slake in blood ; that he may quaff and live.
But sated, he is disarmed : in sleep immersed,
His slumbers to the weak a respite give.
Such is not glory’s pretext, honour’s plea—
Twin idols, worshipped of humanity.
With dazzled eyes by fair and specious charm
Of fascination undefined, see led
From fond parental care to deathful harm
The youth, o’er whom a thousand tears are shed
The long and watchful night : nerved is his arm
For foul remorseless slaughter far bespread
Where rival monarchs strive, whose angry mood
Shall be appeased alone in rival blood.
And heedless of the heart-consuming pang
That tender mothers feel, or pure arms
Of sisters, who with fond endearment hang
Upon his neck with tears, War’s loud alarms,
Keen weapon-glare, and soul inspiring clang
Fire all his fancy with a thousand charms ;
His bosom pants, his heart throbs quick, his eye
Is fixed where Fame has reared her fane on high.
Ah! cursed was He, dire origin of strife,
Who, awful hour ! first armed, and raised his hand
With envy fired to madness ‘gainst the life
Of his own fellow ! Hence the rancorous brand
Hath fleshed its vengeance, and with murders rife
And ruthless, deep empurpled all the land—
Alas that laurel wreaths alone should bloom
Where myriads rush to glut the greedy tomb !
Cease here thy wandering, Muse—for thou the tale
Must now recount of fair-haired Rosabelle,
And in sad strains her mourneful lot unveil,
And what herself and her true Knight befel :
And if that heart their hapless fate bewail,
And that dear bosom with a soft sigh swell,
Whose sympathy and loved applause I seek,
And a bright drop of pity dew her cheek,
I ask no more.—‘T is the sweet balmy hour
Of waking nature ; the light vapour creeps
Along the mountain’s side, which a softer shower
Of dew late sprinkled, such as cold Night weeps,
When no dull clouds in the clear welkin lower,
And solemnly her sober state she keeps
And silently ; twilight, day’s harbinger,
Hath bid her speed her noiseless wheels afar.
For lo! each luminous gem hath, one by one,
In heaven’s wide concave lost, retired from sight,
Warned by the faint read streak that eastward shone
And of their glory robbed, as, dazzling bright,
Their sovereign lord prepares his course to run,
And robe the hemisphere with warmth and light.
Ah! wonder ye, if erst in worship bowed
Mankind entic’d hath kissed the hand, and vowed,
And reared an altar, as the boundless blaze
Of that uprising first his eye surveyed,
Ere Revelation’s high and hallowed rays
Her far more glorious torch from high displayed ?
If yon effulgence, hymned in strains of praise,
The Sabian in God’s attributes arrayed
And with rich offerings decked the golden fane,
Whence gods innumerous their impious reign
Spread far and wide ? See all around the scene
Is forest vast, umbrageous ; mighty oak
And beech point heavenward, and of soberest green
And shade, dark yew, which the stout woodman’s stroke
Almost defies ; there heard, but oft unseen
Pours the rough torrent, or the rippling brook ;
And there, amid the woodland, to the glade
With fern and mingled heather wildly clad,
From the close covert creeping, oft the deer,
Timorous and fleet of foot, would safely stray ;
And high and haught the stately stag uprear
His branching antlers, gaily tossed in play ;
Or ruminating lend attentive ear
To every sound that Zephyr’s wings convey,
Fearing th’insidious bolt of lurking foe,—
But death decreed were he should deal the blow
Should do him scathe—sole prey of royale sport :—
For when no more the combat’s rude alarms
To the red field of hot contention court,
For luck of stirring strife and deathful harms,
In mimic warfare here oft made resort
Fair England’s kings equiped with sylvan arms;
In woodcraft skilled they chased of flight and fear
The dappled slaves, or roused the hour with spear,
Or tracked the wolf ferocious, who with care
By nature taught, her secret den within
Provides her couch of moss, deposing there
Her helpless young, secluded from the keen
And pitiless hunter, and the treacherous glare
Of daylight, whom she rears, and schools unseen ;
Till their fierce lesson conned, to seek their food,
She sends them forth for rapine ripe, and blood.
But now these tracts of varied hill and dale,
Mountain and mighty rock, had long been found
For beasts a still retreat, nor swelled the gale
The horn, and full-tongued bay of the dread hound :
For civil jars the mourning land assail,
And sighs and groans alone are heard around ;
And Britain’s sons at loftier quarry strain
In steel arrayed—their prey alas ! is Man.—
Hah ? who is he, that form of hoary eld,
Crept from within yon grot of moss-clad stone
From curious eyes secluded, and concealed
With yew, and with holly overgrown ?
Long has he bowed his head and suppliant kneeled
With tearful eye and penitential groan,
Before the ragged Cross his pious care
Hath rudely framed, and hallowed, and placed there.—
Nature hath formed his temple ; far extend
The chestnut’s branches o’er him, and afford
O’ershadowing voute high arched, and darkly lend
A sober dignity where heaven’s high lord
May deign to dwell, and pilgrims lowly bend,
Who come to list that holy hermit’s word,
Fraught with Devotion’s pure and hallowed flame ,
And seek for peace in Jesu’s sacred name.
Hark ! as the good prays, a rustling near
Precedes th’approach of footfall — see, o see,
He heeds it not, he hath not sense to hear,
Or will to rise from his yet bended knee ; —
His thought is fled beyond this humbler sphere.
A sylphid form is standing silently
Behind the prostrate suppliant, and her look
Is upwards cast, as she that prayer partook.
And in her eye a liquid crystal glows,
Pure as the spring from whence its gems drew birth ;
Which with succession quick of pearls o’erflows,
Bright as Morn’s tears, which spangle the green earth ;
Whilst fair to view her every feature shews
A meek display of gentleness and worth,
And with harmonious tone and fervent strain,
Her opening lips breathe sweetly forth, Amen.
It is a lovely sight that face to see
It is a boon conferred that voice to hear ;
Calm as o’erhead the heaven’s blue canopy,
Sweet as the ascending lark, when skies are clear,
Pours forth her notes of grateful melody
Upon the silence of the listening sphere,
As far on high upon wing upborn,
She pays the tribute of her praise at morn.
The prayer is o’er, the well known voice is heard,
The man of God arising hastes to meet
His beauteous visitant with gentle word
And smile benignant :—“Seek’st thou this retreat,
Fair Rosabelle, e’er yet the wakeful bird
(God's mother guard thee!) hath aroused to greet
The day’s first streak across the welkin borne—
Say for what cause thou bravest the briar and thorn
To be continued . . .