The Poetry Corner

The Eve Of Saint Mark. A Fragment

By John Keats

Upon a Sabbath-day it fell; Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell That call'd the folk to evening prayer; The city streets were clean and fair From wholesome drench of April rains; And, on the western window panes, The chilly sunset faintly told Of unmatur'd green vallies cold, Of the green thorny bloomless hedge, Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge, Of primroses by shelter'd rills, And daisies on the aguish hills. Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell: The silent streets were crowded well With staid and pious companies, Warm from their fire-side orat'ries, And moving with demurest air To even-song and vesper prayer. Each arched porch and entry low Was fill'd with patient folk and slow, With whispers hush, and shuffling feet, While play'd the organ loud and sweet. The bells had ceas'd, the prayers begun, And Bertha had not yet half done A curious volume, patch'd and torn, That all day long, from earliest morn, Had taken captive her two eyes Among its golden broideries; Perplex'd her with a thousand things, The stars of Heaven, and angels' wings, Martyrs in a fiery blaze, Azure saints in silver rays, Moses' breastplate, and the seven Candlesticks John saw in Heaven, The winged Lion of Saint Mark, And the Covenantal Ark With its many mysteries, Cherubim and golden mice. Bertha was a maiden fair, Dwelling in the old Minster-square; From her fire-side she could see Sidelong its rich antiquity, Far as the Bishop's garden-wall; Where sycamores and elm-trees tall, Full-leav'd, the forest had outstript, By no sharp north-wind ever nipt, So shelter'd by the mighty pile. Bertha arose, and read awhile With forehead 'gainst the window-pane. Again she try'd, and then again, Until the dusk eve left her dark Upon the legend of St. Mark. From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin, She lifted up her soft warm chin, With aching neck and swimming eyes, And daz'd with saintly imageries. All was gloom, and silent all, Save now and then the still foot-fall Of one returning homewards late Past the echoing minster-gate. The clamorous daws, that all the day Above tree-tops and towers play, Pair by pair had gone to rest, Each in its ancient belfry-nest, Where asleep they fall betimes To music of the drowsy chimes. All was silent, all was gloom Abroad and in the homely room: Down she sat, poor cheated soul! And struck a lamp from the dismal coal; Lean'd forward with bright drooping hair And slant book full against the glare. Her shadow, in uneasy guise, hover'd about, a giant size, On ceiling-beam and old oak chair, The parrot's cage, and panel square; And the warm angled winter screen, On which were many monsters seen, Call'd doves of Siam, Lima mice, And legless birds of Paradise, Macaw, and tender Avadavat, And silken-furr'd Angora cat. Untir'd she read, her shadow still Glower'd about as it would fill The room with wildest forms and shades, As though some ghostly queen of spades Had come to mock behind her back, And dance, and ruffle her garments black. Untir'd she read the legend page Of holy Mark, from youth to age, On land, on sea, in pagan chains, Rejoicing for his many pains. Sometimes the learned Eremite With golden star, or dagger bright, Referr'd to pious poesies Written in smallest crow-quill size Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme Was parcell'd out from time to time: "Als writith he of swevenis, Men han beforne they wake in bliss, Whanne that hir friendes thinke him bound In crimped shroude farre under grounde; And how a litling child mote be A saint er its nativitie, Gif that the modre (God her blesse!) Kepen in solitarinesse, And kissen devoute the holy croce. Of Goddes love, and Sathan's force, He writith; and thinges many mo Of swiche thinges I may not show. Bot I must tellen verilie Somdel of Sainte Cicilie, And chieftie what he auctorethe Of Sainte Markis life and dethe:" At length her constant eyelids come Upon the fervent martyrdom; Then lastly to his holy shrine, Exalt amid the tapers' shine At Venice,