The Spirit’s Blasted Tree
Derwen Ceubren yr Ellyll by the Reverend George Warrington
“Through Nannau’s Chase as Howel pass’d,
A chief esteem’d both brave and kind,
Far distant bore, the stag-hounds’ cry
Came murmuring on the hollow wind.
“Starting, he bent an eager ear,—
How should the sounds return again?
His hounds lay wearied from the chase,
And all at home his hunter train.
“Then sudden anger flash’d his eye,
And deep revenge he vow’d to take,
On that bold man who dared to force
His red-deer from the forest brake.
“Unhappy Chief! would naught avail,
No signs impress thy heart with fear,
Thy lady’s dark mysterious dream,
Thy warning from the hoary seer?
“Three ravens gave the note of deat,
As through mid air they wing’d their way;
Then o’er his head, in rapid flight,
They croak,—they scent their destined prey.
“Ill-omen’d bird! as legends say,
Who hast the wondrous power to know,
While health fills high the throbbing veins,
The fated hour when blood must flow.
“Blinded by rage, alone he pass’d
Nor sought his ready vassals’ aid:
But what his fate lay long unknown,
For many an anxious year delay’d.
“A peasant mark’d his angry eye,
He saw him reach the lake’s dark bourne,
He saw him near a Blasted Oak,
But never from that hour return.
“Three days pass’d o’er, no tidings came;—
Where should the Chief his steps delay?
With wild alarm the servants ran,
Yet knew not where to point their way.
“His vassals ranged the mountain’s height,
The covert close, the wide-spread plain;
But all in vain their eager search,
They ne’er must see their lord again.
“Yet Fancy, in a thousand shapes,
Bore to his home the Chief once more:
Some saw him on high Moal’s top,
Some saw him on the winding shore.
“With wonder fraught the tale went round,
Amazement chain’d the hearer’s tongue;
Each peasant felt his own sad loss,
Yet fondly o’er the story hung.
“Oft by the moon’s pale shadowy light,
His aged nurse and steward gray
Would lean to catch the storied sounds,
Or mark the flitting spirit stray.
“Pale lights on Cader’s rocks were seen,
And midnight voices heard to moan;
‘Twas even said the Blasted Oak,
Convulsive, heaved a hollow groan:
“And to this day the peasant still,
With cautious fear, avoids the ground;
In each wild branch a spectre sees,
And trembles at each rising sound.
“Ten annual suns had held their course,
In summer’s smile, or winter storm;
The lady shed a widow’d tear,
As oft she traced his manly form.
“Yet still to hope her heart would cling,
As o’er the mind illusions play,—
Of travel fond, perhaps her lord
To distant lands had steer’d his way.
“‘Twas now November’s cheerless hour,
Which drenching rains and clouds deface,
Dreary bleak Robell’s tract appear’d
And dull and dank each valley’s space.
“Loud o’er the weir the harse flood fell,
And dash’d the foaming spray on high;
The west wind bent the forest tops,
And angry frown’d the evening sky.
“A stranger pass’d Llanelltid’s bourne,
His dark-gray steed with sweat besprent,
Which, wearied with the lengthen’d way,
Could scarcely gain the hill’s ascent.
“The portal reach’d,—the iron bell
Loud sounded round the outward wall;
Quick sprang the warder to the gate,
To know what meant the clam’rous call.
“‘O! lead me to your lady soon;
Say,—it is my sad lot to tell,
To clear the fate of that brave knight,
She long has proved she loved so well.’
“The lady sat amidst her train;
A mellow’d sorrow mark’d her look:
Then asking what his mission meant,
The graceful stranger sigh’d and spke:—
“‘O could I spread one ray of hope,
One moment raise thy soul from woe,
Gladly my tongue would tell its tale,
My words at ease unfetter’d flow!
“‘Now, lady, give attention due,
The story claims thy full belief:
E’en in the worst events of life,
Suspense removed is some relief.
“‘Though worn by care, see Madoc here,
Great Glyndwr’s friend, thy kindred’s foe;
Ah, let his name no anger raise,
For now that mighty Chief lies low.
“‘E’en from the day, when, chain’d by fate,
By wizard’s dream, or potent spell,
Lingering from sad Salopia’s field,
‘Reft of his aid the Percy fell;—
“‘E’en from that day misfortune still,
As if for violated faith,
Pursued him with unwearied step;
Vindictive still for Hotspur’s death.
“‘Vanquish’d at length, the Glyndwr fled
Where winds the Wye her devious flood;
To find a casual shelter there,
In some lone cot, or desert wood.
“‘Clothed in a shepherd’s humble guise,
He gain’d by toil his scanty bread;
He who had Cambria’s sceptre borne,
And her brave sons to glory led!
“‘To penury extreme, and grief,
The Chieftain fell a lingering prey;
I heard his last few faltering words,
Such as with pain I now convey.
“‘To Sele’s sad widow bear the tale,
Nor let our horrid secret rest;
Give but his corse to sacred earth,
Then may my parting soul be blest.’—
“‘Dim wax’d the eye that fiercely shone,
And faint the tongue that proudly spoke,
And weak that arm, still raised to me,
Which oft had dealt the mortal stroke.
“‘How could I then his mandate bear?
Or how his last behest obey?
A rebel deem’d, with him I fled;
With him I shunn’d the light of day.
“‘Proscribed by Henry’s hostile rage,
My country lost, despil’d my land,
Desperate, I fled my native soil,
And fought on Syria’s distant strand.
“‘O, had thy long-lamented lord
The holy cross and banner view’d,
Died in the sacred cause! who fell
Sad victim of a private feud!
“‘Led by the ardour of the chase,
Far distant from his own domain,
From where Garthmaclan spreads her shades,
The Glyndwr sought the opening plain.
“‘With head aloft, and antlers wide,
A red buck roused then cross’d in view:
Stung with the sight, and wild with rage;
Swift from the wood fierce Howel flew.
“‘With bitter taunt, and keen reproach,
He, all impetuous, pour’d his rage,
Reviled the Chief as weak in arms,
And bade him loud the battle wage.
“‘Glyndwr for once restrain’d his sword,
And still averse, the fight delays;
But soften’d words, like oil to fire,
Mad anger more intensely blaze.
“‘They fought; and doubtful long the fray!
The Glyndwr gave the fatal wound!—
Still mournful must my tale proceed,
And its last act all dreadful sound.
“‘How could we hope for wish’d retreat,
His eagar vassals ranging wide,
His bloodhounds’ keen sagacious scent,
O’er many a trackless mountain tried?
“‘I mark’d a broad and Blasted Oak,
Scorch’d by the lightning’s livid glare;
Hollow its stem from branch to root,
And all its shrivell’d arms were bare.—
“‘Be this, I cried, his proper grave!—
(The thought in me was deadly sin,)
Aloft we raised the hapless Chief,
And dropp’d his bleeding corpse within.’
“A shriek from all the damsel’s burst,
That pierced the vaulted roots below;
While horror-struck the Lady stood,
A living form of sculptured wo.
“With stupid stare, and vacant gaze,
Full on his face her eyes were cast,
Absorb’d—she lost her present grief,
And faintly thought of things long past.
“Like wild-fire o’er a mossy heath,
The rumour through the hamlet ran;
The peasants crowd at morning dawn,
To hear the tale—behold the man.
“He led them near the Blasted Oak,
Then, conscious, from the scene withdrew:
The peasant’s work with trembling haste,
And lay the whiten’d bones to view!—
“Back they recoiled—the right hand still,
Contracted, grasp’d a rusty sword;
Which erst in many a battle gleam’d,
And proudly deck’d their slaughter’d lord.
“They bore the corze to Vener’s shrine,
With holy rites and prayers address’d;
Nine white-robed monks the last dirge sang,
And gave the angry spirit rest.”