Ballad of Sister Rosa
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
NOTE: This is a fragment from Chapter 2 of “St. Irvyne” [also found under the name “The Rosicrucian, A Romance”]
The death-bell beats!–
The mountain repeats
The echoing sound of the knell;
And the dark monk now
Wraps the cowl round his brow.
As he sits in his lonely cell.
And the cold hand of death
Chills his shuddering breath.
As he lists to the fearful lay
Which the ghosts of the sky.
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.
But that hour is past;
And that hour was the last
Of peace to the dark monk’s brain.
Bitter tears, from his eyes, gush’d silent and fast;
And he strove to suppress them in vain.
Then his fair cross of gold he dash’d 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.
Then his eyes wildly roll’d.
When the death-bell toll’d.
And he rag’d in terrific woe.
And he stamp’d on the ground,–
But when ceas’d the sound.
Tears again began to flow.
And the ice of despair
Chill’d the wild throb of care.
And he sate in mute agony still;
Till the night-stars shone through the cloudless air.
And the pale moon-beam slept on the hill.
Then he knelt in his cell:–
And the horrors of hell
Were delights to his agoniz’d pain.
And he pray’d to God to dissolve the spell.
Which else must for ever remain.
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 murmur’d around–
“The term of thy penance is done!”
Grew dark the night;
The moon-beam bright
Wax’d faint on the mountain high;
And, from the black hill.
Went a voice cold and still,–
“Monk! thou art free to die.”
Then he rose on his feet.
And his heart loud did beat.
And his limbs they were palsied with dread;
Whilst the grave’s clammy dew
O’er his pale forehead grew;
And he shudder’d to sleep with the dead.
And the wild midnight storm
Rav’d around his tall form.
As he sought the chapel’s gloom:
And the sunk grass did sigh
To the wind, bleak and high.
As he search’d for the new-made tomb.
And forms, dark and high.
Seem’d around him to fly.
And mingle their yells with the blast:
And on the dark wall
Half-seen shadows did fall.
As enhorror’d he onward pass’d.
And the storm-fiend’s wild rave
O’er the new-made grave.
And dread shadows, linger around.
The Monk call’d on God his soul to save.
And, in horror, sank on the ground.
Then despair nerv’d his arm
To dispel the charm.
And he burst Rosa’s coffin asunder.
And the fierce storm did swell
More terrific and fell.
And louder peal’d the thunder.
And laugh’d, in joy, the fiendish throng.
Mix’d with ghosts of the mouldering dead:
And their grisly wings, as they floated along.
Whistled in murmurs dread.
And her skeleton form the dead Nun rear’d.
Which dripp’d with the chill dew of hell.
In her half-eaten eyeballs two pale flames appear’d.
And triumphant their gleam on the dark Monk glar’d.
As he stood within the cell.
And her lank hand lay on his shuddering brain;
But each power was nerv’d by fear.–
“I never, henceforth, may breathe again;
Death now ends mine anguish’d pain.–
The grave yawns,–we meet there.”
And her skeleton lungs did utter the sound.
So deadly, so lone, and so fell.
That in long vibrations shudder’d the ground;
And as the stern notes floated around.
A deep groan was answer’d from hell.