Ermengarde

Ermengarde

It was the early summer time,
When Maidens stint their praying
To wander forth at morning's prime,
With happy hearts, a maying;
To wash their rosy cheeks with dew,
And roam the meadows over:
And ask the winds to tell them true
Of some far distant lover.

Then little Ermengarde, the while
To graver thoughts awaking,
Look'd sadly on St. Herbert's Isle
As morn was brightly breaking.
Some tapestry for his altar wrought
Beside her bed was lying;
Her beads, and little scroll for thought,
No conscious look descrying.

And now when might the gentle Saint
Be at his service bending;
His earnest life, without a taint
Of earth still heavenwards tending—
His silver voice, oft heard in prayer,
Or in direction pleading—
His manhood's bright angelic air—
Her thought too fond were feeding.

In little Ermengarde her love
With God the Saint divided.
Unknown even to herself she wove
The threads her passion guided.
And when she trembled on her knees
Confessing faith before him—
Ah! can this be but Man she sees,
So heart and soul adore him!

So little Ermengarde with pale
And thoughtful cheek sat sighing,
When rode an Elf-man down the vale
Her open lattice eyeing.
"Good morrow! May my Lady's thought,
This happy May-day, blossom;
And tenfold blessedness be wrought
Within that gentle bosom!"

"My tongue no thought or wish express'd"—
—"Yet, trust me, fairest Lady!"
"In Bowscale tarn, for thy behest,
The undying twain are ready.
Ask from their breasts two tiny scales
Of gold and pearly whiteness.
These on thy heart—fulfill'd prevails
Thy wish in all its brightness!"—

The stranger pass'd. Away she hies,
The mountain pathway keeping,
Where deep amid the silence lies
The gloomy water sleeping.
"Come, faithful fishes! give to me
Two little scales"—she chanted—
That in my bosom peace may be,
And all my wishes granted."—

They gave her from their pearly sides
Two little scales. She bore them
Down from the hill the Tarn that hides,
And in her bosom wore them.
The simple Cross her mother gave
Was on her neck, a token
Of that pure faith to which she clave;
But lo! the link was broken!

Down Greta's side with wild delight
The little Maiden wandered;
And on the Saint before her sight,
Her inmost sight, she pondered;
Now thinking—O that wed with mine
His holy heart were moving!
How shall we soar in thoughts divine,
How walk in pathways loving!

It was a festal day, and bands
Of youths and maids were trooping
With flowers and offerings in their hands,
And round the altar grouping.
And hark the little bell! it calls
To every heart how sweetly!
But most on Ermengarde's it falls
With joy that brings her fleetly.

But on the stony river's brim
A moment's space delaying,
To gaze—before she look'd on him—
On her own features playing
Within the mirror'd pool below—
Its broken link dissevering,
Her little Cross fell sinking slow
Beyond her vain endeavouring.

And from the stream two fin-like arms
Leapt up and snatch'd her wailing,
And dragg'd her down with all her charms
In anguish unavailing.
And down the rocks they bore her fast
With struggles unrelenting:
And Greta's roar mix'd in the blast
With Ermengarde's lamenting.

And far adown the rushing tide
Was dragg'd and whirled the Maiden;
And wildly mid the pools she cried
In accents horror-laden.
The streams dash'd on with furious roar;
No aid the rude rocks lent her;
Wild and more wild they gather'd o'er
The loud and lost lamenter.

So she whom Magic's wiles had driven,
And her own heart persuaded,
To tempt a Saint to turn from heaven,
Fell, snatch'd from life unaided.
Yet, not for ever lost, she roves
Amid the winding currents,
And utters to the hills and groves
Her wail above the torrents.

For yet some bard shall wander by
With harp and song so holy,
That they shall wrench the caves where lie
Her limbs in anguish lowly.
And free her for the blessed light
And air again to greet her
Awhile, before she takes her flight
To where the Saint shall meet her.

Even I, for little Ermengarde,
Would harp a life-long morrow,
But to reverse that doom so hard,
And lead her back from sorrow;
Mid happy thoughts again to beam,
All joyousness partaking;
But never more of Saints to dream
When summer morns are breaking.

Notes to "Ermengarde."

I.—St. Herbert's Isle, placed nearly in the centre of Derwent Lake, derives its name from a hermit who lived there in the seventh century, and had his cell on this island.

It contains about four acres of ground, is planted with firs and other trees, and has a curious octagonal cottage built with unhewn stones, and artificially mossed over and thatched. This was erected many years ago by the late Sir Wilfred Lawson, to whose representative the island at present belongs. A few yards from its site are the ruins of the hermitage formerly occupied by the recluse. These vestiges, being of stone and mortar, give the appearance of its having consisted of two apartments; an outer one, about twenty feet long and sixteen feet broad, which has probably been his chapel, and another, of narrower dimensions, his cell, with a little garden adjoining.

The scene around was well adapted to excite the most solemn emotions, and was in unison with the severity of his religious life. His plot of ground and the waters around him supplied his scanty fare; while the rocks and mountains inspired his meditations with the most sublime ideas of the might and majesty of the Creator. It is no wonder that "St. Herbert, a priest and confessor, to avoid the intercourse of man, and that nothing might withdraw his attention from unceasing meditation and prayer, chose this island for his abode."

There is no history of St. Herbert's life and actions to be met with, or any tradition of his works of piety or miracles, preserved by the inhabitants of the country. His contemporary existence with St. Cuthbert, and his equo-temporary death with him obtained by the prayers of the saint, at the time and in the manner related below, according to the old legends, is all that is known of him.

Bede, in his History of the Church of England, writes thus of the saint:—"There was a certain priest, revered for his uprightness and perfect life and manners, named Herberte, who had a long time been in union with the man of God (St. Cuthbert of Farn Isle) in the bond of spiritual love and friendship; for living a solitary life in the isle of that great and extended lake from whence proceeds the river Derwent, he used to visit St. Cuthbert every year, to receive from his lips the doctrines of eternal life. When this holy priest heard of St. Cuthbert's coming to Luguballea (Carlisle), he came, after his usual manner, desiring to be comforted more and more with the hopes of everlasting bliss by his divine exhortations. As they sat together, and enjoyed the hopes of heaven, among other things the Bishop said, 'Remember, brother Herberte, that whatsoever ye have to say and ask of me, you do it now, for after we depart hence, we shall not meet again, and see one another corporeally in this world, for I know well the time of my dissolution is at hand, and the laying aside of this earthly tabernacle draweth on apace.' When Herberte heard this, he fell down at his feet, and, with many sighs and tears, beseeched him, for the love of the Lord, that he would not forsake him, but to remember his faithful brother and associate, and make intercession with the gracious God, that they might depart hence into heaven together, to behold his grace and glory whom they had in unity of spirit served on earth; for you know I have ever studied and laboured to live according to your pious and virtuous instructions; and in whatsoever I offended through ignorance or frailty, I straightway used my earnest efforts to amend after your ghostly counsel, will, and judgment.'—At this earnest and affectionate request of Herberte's, the Bishop went to prayer, presently being certified in spirit that this petition to heaven would be granted—'Arise,' said he, 'my dear brother; weep not, but let your rejoicing be with exceeding gladness, for the great mercy of God hath granted to us our prayer.'—The truth of which promise and prophecy was well proved in that which ensued; for their separation was the last that befell them on earth; on the same day, which was the 19th day of March, their souls departed from their bodies, and were straight in union in the beatific sight and vision—and were transported hence to the kingdom of heaven by the service and hands of angels."

It is probable that the hermit's little oratory, or chapel, might be kept in repair after his death, as a particular veneration seems to have been paid by the religious of after ages to this retreat, and the memory of the Saint.

There is some variation in the account given by authors of the day of the Saint's death; Bede says the 19th day of March: other authors the 20th day of May, A. D., 687; and by a record given in Bishop Appleby's Register, it would appear that the 13th day of April was observed as the solemn anniversary.

But, however, in the year 1374, at the distance of almost seven centuries, we find this place resorted to in holy services and procession, and the hermit's memory celebrated in religious offices. The Vicar of Crosthwaite went to celebrate mass in his chapel on the island, on the day above mentioned, to the joint honour of St. Herbert and St. Cuthbert; to every attendant at which forty days' indulgence was granted as a reward for his devotion. "What a happy holiday must that have been for all these vales," says Southey; "and how joyous on a fine spring day must the lake have appeared, with the boats and banners from every chapelry; and how must the chapel have adorned that little isle, giving a human and religious character to the solitude!"

In the little church of St. John's in the Vale, which is one of the dependent chapelries of the church of Crosthwaite, is an old seat, with the date 1001 carved on the back of it, to which tradition assigns, that it was formerly in St. Herbert's Chapel, on the island in Derwent Lake.

These figures correspond with those on the bell in the Town Hall at Keswick, said to have been brought from Lord's Island.

II.—Bowscale Tarn is a small mountain lake, lying to the north-east of Blencathra. It is supposed by the country people in the neighbourhood, with whom it has long been a tradition, to contain two immortal fish; the same which held familiar intercourse with, and long did the bidding of, the Shepherd Lord when he studied the stars upon these mountains, and gathered that more mysterious knowledge, which, matured in the solitude of Barden Tower, has till this day associated his name with something of supernatural interest in this district, where he so long resided.[1]

From some lines of Martial (lib. iv. 30) it appears that there were some fishes in a lake at Baiæ in Campania consecrated to Domitian, and like the undying ones of Bowscale Tarn, they knew their master:—

"Sacris piscibus hæ natantur undæ,
Qui norunt dominum, manumque lambunt;
——— et ad magistri
Vocem quisquis sui venet citatus."

III.—It has been stated with reference to the river Greta, that its channel was formerly remarkable for the immense stones it contained; and that by their concussion in high floods were caused those loud and mournful noises which not inappropriately have gained for it the characteristic title of "Mourner." Mr. Southey has given the following description of it in his "Colloquies";—"Our Cumberland river Greta has a shorter course than even its Yorkshire namesake. St. John's Beck and the Glenderamakin take this name at their confluence, close by the bridge three miles east of Keswick on the Penrith road. The former issues from Leathes Water, in a beautiful sylvan spot, and proceeds by a not less beautiful course for some five miles through the vale from which it is called, to the place of junction. The latter receiving the stream from Bowscale and Threlkeld Tarns, brings with it the waters from the south side of Blencathra. The Greta then flows toward Keswick; receives first the small stream from Nathdale; next the Glenderaterra, which brings down the western waters of Blencathra and those from Skiddaw Forest, and making a wide sweep behind the town, joins the Derwent under Derwent Hill, about a quarter of a mile from the town, and perhaps half that distance from the place where that river flows out of the lake, but when swollen above its banks, it takes a shorter line, and enters Derwent Water.

"The Yorkshire stream was a favourite resort of Mason's, and has been celebrated by Sir Walter Scott. Nothing can be more picturesque, nothing more beautiful, than its course through the grounds at Rokeby, and its junction with the Tees;—and there is a satisfaction in knowing that the possessor of that beautiful place fully appreciates and feels its beauties, and is worthy to possess it. Our Greta is of a different character, and less known; no poet has brought it into notice, and the greater number of tourists seldom allow themselves time for seeing anything out of the beaten track. Yet the scenery upon this river, where it passes under the sunny side of Latrigg, is of the finest and most rememberable kind:

—Ambiguo lapsu, refluitque fluitque,
Occurrensque sibi venturas aspicit undas.

There is no English stream to which this truly Ovidian description can more accurately be applied. From a jutting isthmus, round which the tortuous river twists, you look over its manifold windings, up the water to Blencathra; down it, over a high and wooded middle ground, to the distant mountains of Newlands, Cawsey Pike, and Grizedale."

[1]Vide Notes to Sir Lancelot Threlkeld, for a notice of Lord Clifford the Shepherd.