Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight

I stumbled across this poem in my usual circuitous manner, looking up something completely unrelated, but as it’s a tale of love I thought it appropriate for the day. You can read more about the author, Rose Hartwick Thorpe, here and here.

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Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight
By Rose Hartwick Thorpe

Slowly England’s sun was setting o’er the hilltops far away,
Filling all the land with beauty at the close of one sad day;
And its last rays kissed the forehead of a man and maiden fair —
He with steps so slow and weary; she with sunny, floating hair;
He with bowed head, sad and thoughtful, she, with lips all cold and white,
Struggling to keep back the murmur, “Curfew must not ring tonight!”

“Sexton,” Bessie’s white lips faltered, pointing to the prison old,
With its walls tall and gloomy, moss-grown walls dark, damp and cold —
“I’ve a lover in the prison, doomed this very night to die
At the ringing of the curfew, and no earthly help is nigh.
Cromwell will not come till sunset;” and her lips grew strangely white,
As she spoke in husky whispers, “Curfew must not ring tonight!”

“Bessie,” calmly spoke the sexton (every word pierced her young heart
Like a gleaming death-winged arrow, like a deadly poisoned dart),
“Long, long years I’ve rung the curfew from that gloomy, shadowed tower;
Every evening, just at sunset, it has tolled the twilight hour.
I have done my duty ever, tried to do it just and right:
Now I’m old, I will not miss it. Curfew bell must ring tonight!”

Wild her eyes and pale her features, stern and white her thoughtful brow,
As within her secret bosom, Bessie made a solemn vow.
She had listened while the judges read, without a tear or sigh,
“At the ringing of the curfew, Basil Underwood must die.”
And her breath came fast and faster, and her eyes grew large and bright;
One low murmur, faintly spoken. “Curfew must not ring tonight!”

She with quick step bounded forward, sprang within the old church-door,
Left the old man coming slowly, paths he’d trod so oft before.
Not one moment paused the maiden, But with eye and cheek aglow,
Staggered up the gloomy tower, where the bell swung to and fro;
As she climbed the slimy ladder, on which fell no ray of light,
Upward still, her pale lips saying, “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

She has reached the topmost ladder, o’er her hangs the great dark bell;
Awful is the gloom beneath her, like the pathway down to hell.
See! the ponderous tongue is swinging; ’tis the hour of curfew now,
And the sight has chilled her bosom, stopped her breath, and paled her brow.
Shall she let it ring? No, never! Her eyes flash with sudden light,
As she springs, and grasps it firmly: “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

Out she swung — far out. The city seemed a speck of light below —
There twixt heaven and earth suspended, as the bell swung to and fro.
And the sexton at the bell-rope, old and deaf, heard not the bell,
Sadly thought that twilight curfew rang young Basil’s funeral knell.
Still the maiden, clinging firmly, quivering lip and fair face white,
Stilled her frightened heart’s wild throbbing: “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

It was o’er, the bell ceased swaying; and the maiden stepped once more
Firmly on the damp old ladder, where, for hundred years before,
Human foot had not been planted. The brave deed that she had done
Should be told long ages after. As the rays of setting sun
Light the sky with golden beauty, aged sires, with heads of white,
Tell the children why the curfew did not ring that one sad night.

O’er the distant hills comes Cromwell. Bessie sees him; and her brow,
Lately white with sickening horror, has no anxious traces now.
At his feet she tells her story, shows her hands, all bruised and torn;
And her sweet young face, still haggard, with the anguish it had worn,
Touched his heart with sudden pity, lit his eyes with misty light.
“Go! your lover lives,” said Cromwell. “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

Wide they flung the massive portals, led the prisoner forth to die,
All his bright young life before him. Neath the darkening English sky,
Bessie came, with flying footsteps, eyes aglow with lovelight sweet;
Kneeling on the turf beside him, laid his pardon at his feet.
In his brave, strong arms he clasped her, kissed the face upturned and white,
Whispered, “Darling, you have saved me, curfew will not ring tonight.”

Angels and Poetry

April being National (or is it International?) Poetry Month, I thought I’d contribute something. Don’t panic, I’m no poet and I know it (oops), so I’m going to share a poem by someone who actually is a good poet: William Blake. In keeping with my current interest obsession with angels, I thought this one was fitting.

Angel of Poetry

Angel of Poetry from the William Blake Tarot

From “Songs of Experience”

The Angel

I Dreamt a Dream! what can it mean?
And that I was a Maiden Queen
Guarded by an angel mild
Witless woe was ne’er begui’l’d!

And I wept both night and day,
And he wip’d my tears away,
And I wept both day and night,
And hid from him my heart’s delight.

So he took his wings and fled,
Then the morn blush’d rosy red;
I dried my tears & arm’d my fears,
With ten thousand shields and spears.

Soon my Angel came again;
I was arm’d, he came in vain;
For the time of youth was fled
And grey hairs were on my head.

In Celebration of Writers

As you guys know, I like to celebrate writers’ birthdays. Usually the dates sneak up on me and I end up putting together a very short blog post about them to commemorate their birth. I’ve looked online before for comprehensive lists of authors’ birthdays, but never managed to find one I liked. I was going to start one of my own, but a last search today finally brought up what I think is probably the best one I’ve found. Library Booklists and Bibliographies has an extensive listing of authors’ dates of birth, arranged by month, and then by day. They also have some other very intriguing lists: Fiction Set in Maine, Drowned Towns in Fiction, Golf in Crime Fiction, the amusing-sounding Murder By Toaster: Mysteries With Surprisingly Lethal Weapons, among others. Interestingly, I’ve been working on a short story that features a drowned town. Hopefully now I can do something for some of my favorite authors’ birthdays in time to write up slightly better tributes to them. Anyway, take a look. There’s lots of good information that could spark something.

As it happens, today is the birthday of not only Edward St. John Gorey, godfather of goth, with his Gashleycrumb Tinies, but also poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. In keeping with the sometimes ghoulish feel of my blog, I chose this poem of Ms. Millay’s to share with you:

The Little Ghost

I knew her for a little ghost
That in my garden walked;
The wall is high—higher than most—
And the green gate was locked.

And yet I did not think of that
Till after she was gone—
I knew her by the broad white hat,
All ruffled, she had on.

By the dear ruffles round her feet,
By her small hands that hung
In their lace mitts, austere and sweet,
Her gown’s white folds among.

I watched to see if she would stay,
What she would do—and oh!
She looked as if she liked the way
I let my garden grow!

She bent above my favourite mint
With conscious garden grace,
She smiled and smiled—there was no hint
Of sadness in her face.

She held her gown on either side
To let her slippers show,
And up the walk she went with pride,
The way great ladies go.

And where the wall is built in new
And is of ivy bare
She paused—then opened and passed through
A gate that once was there.