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"The Romaunt of the Page" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The following is the complete text of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "The Romaunt of the Page." Our presentation of this classic poem comes from The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1900). To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Visit these other works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"Bertha in the Lane"
"Christmas Gifts"
Short poems and sonnets
"The Complaint of Annelida to False Arcite"
"Crowned and Buried"
"The Dead Pan"
"Earth and her Praisers"
"An Island"
"The Lay of the Brown Rosary"
"A Lay of the Early Rose"

"The Lost Bower"
"Napoleon III in Italy"
"Night and the Merry Man"
"A Rhapsody of Life's Progress"
"Rhyme of the Duchess May"
"A Romance of the Ganges"
"The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point"
"The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus"
"A Vision of Poets"

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NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, obsolete footnotes, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"The Romaunt of the Page" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

First printed in Finden's Tableaux for 1839.


A knight of gallant deeds
And a young page at his side,
From the holy war in Palestine
Did slow and thoughtful ride,
As each were a palmer and told for beads
The dews of the eventide.


"O young page," said the knight,
"A noble page art thou!
Thou fearest not to steep in blood
The curls upon thy brow;
And once in the tent, and twice in the fight,
Didst ward me a mortal blow."


"O brave knight," said the page,
"Or ere we hither came,
We talked in tent, we talked in field,
Of the bloody battle-game;
But here, below this greenwood bough,
I cannot speak the same.


"Our troop is far behind,
The woodland calm is new;
Our steeds, with slow grass-muffled hoofs
Tread deep the shadows through;
And, in my mind, some blessing kind
Is dropping with the dew.


"The woodland calm is pure--
I cannot choose but have
A thought from these, o' the beechen-trees,
Which in our England wave,
And of the little finches fine
Which sang there while in Palestine
The warrior-hilt we drave.


"Methinks, a moment gone,
I heard my mother pray!
I heard, sir knight, the prayer for me
Wherein she passed away;
And I know the heavens are leaning down
To hear what I shall say."


The page spake calm and high,
As of no mean degree;
Perhaps he felt in nature's broad
Full heart, his own was free:
And the knight looked up to his lifted eye,
Then answered smilingly--


"Sir page, I pray your grace!
Certes, I meant not so
To cross your pastoral mood, sir page,
With the crook of the battle-bow;
But a knight may speak of a lady's face,
I ween, in any mood or place,
If the grasses die or grow.


"And this I meant to say--
My lady's face shall shine
As ladies' faces use, to greet
My page from Palestine;
Or, speak she fair or prank she gay,
She is no lady of mine.


"And this I meant to fear--
Her bower may suit thee ill;
For, sooth, in that same field and tent,
Thy talk was somewhat still:
And fitter thy hand for my knightly spear
Than thy tongue for my lady's will!"


Slowly and thankfully
The young page bowed his head;
His large eyes seemed to muse a smile,
Until he blushed instead,
And no lady in her bower, pardie,
Could blush more sudden red:
"Sir Knight,--thy lady's bower to me
Is suited well," he said.


Beati, beati, mortui!
From the convent on the sea,
One mile off, or scarce so nigh,
Swells the dirge as clear and high
As if that, over brake and lea,
Bodily the wind did carry
The great altar of Saint Mary,
And the fifty tapers burning o'er it,
And the Lady Abbess dead before it,
And the chanting nuns whom yesterweek
Her voice did charge and bless,--
Chanting steady, chanting meek,
Chanting with a solemn breath,
Because that they are thinking less
Upon the dead than upon death.
Beati, beati, mortui!
Now the vision in the sound
Wheeleth on the wind around;
Now it sweepeth back, away--
The uplands will not let it stay
To dark the western sun:
Mortui!--away at last,--
Or ere the page's blush is past!
And the knight heard all, and the page heard none.


"A boon, thou noble knight,
If ever I served thee!
Though thou art a knight and I am a page,
Now grant a boon to me;
And tell me sooth, if dark or bright,
If little loved or loved aright
Be the face of thy ladye."


Gloomily looked the knight--
"As a son thou hast served me,
And would to none I had granted boon
Except to only thee!
For haply then I should love aright,
For then I should know if dark or bright
Were the face of my ladye.


"Yet it ill suits my knightly tongue
To grudge that granted boon,
That heavy price from heart and life
I paid in silence down;
The hand that claimed it, cleared in fine
My father's fame: I swear by mine,
That price was nobly won!


"Earl Walter was a brave old earl,
He was my father's friend;
And while I rode the lists at court
And little guessed the end,
My noble father in his shroud
Against a slanderer lying loud,
He rose up to defend.


"Oh, calm below the marble gray
My father's dust was strown!
Oh, meek above the marble gray
His image prayed alone!
The slanderer lied: the wretch was brave:
For, looking up the minster-nave,
He saw my father's knightly glaive
Was changed from steel to stone.


"Earl Walter's glaive was steel,
With a brave old hand to wear it,
And dashed the lie back in the mouth
Which lied against the godly truth
And against the knightly merit:
The slanderer, 'neath the avenger's heel,
Struck up the dagger in appeal
From stealthy lie to brutal force--
And out upon the traitor's corse
Was yielded the true spirit.


"I would mine hand had fought that fight
And justified my father!
I would mine heart had caught that wound
And slept beside him rather!
I think it were a better thing
Than murdered friend and marriage ring
Forced on my life together.


"Wail shook Earl Walter's house;
His true wife shed no tear;
She lay upon her bed as mute
As the earl did on his bier:
Till--'Ride, ride fast,' she said at last,
'And bring the avenged's son anear!
Ride fast, ride free, as a dart can flee,
For white of blee with waiting for me
Is the corse in the next chambere.'


"I came, I knelt beside her bed;
Her calm was worse than strife:
'My husband, for thy father dear,
Gave freely when thou wast not here
His own and eke my life.
A boon! Of that sweet child we make
An orphan for thy father's sake,
Make thou, for ours, a wife.'


"I said, 'My steed neighs in the court,
My bark rocks on the brine,
And the warrior's vow I am under now
To free the pilgrim's shrine;
But fetch the ring and fetch the priest
And call that daughter of thine,
And rule she wide from my castle on Nyde
While I am in Palestine.'


"In the dark chambere, if the bride was fair,
Ye wis, I could not see,
But the steed thrice neighed, and the priest fast prayed,
And wedded fast were we.
Her mother smiled upon her bed
As at its side we knelt to wed,
And the bride rose from her knee
And kissed the smile of her mother dead,
Or ever she kissed me.


"My page, my page, what grieves thee so,
That the tears run down thy face?"--
"Alas, alas! mine own sister
Was in thy lady's case:
But she laid down the silks she wore
And followed him she wed before,
Disguised as his true servitor,
To the very battle-place."


And wept the page, but laughed the knight,
A careless laugh laughed he:
"Well done it were for thy sister,
But not for my ladye!
My love, so please you, shall requite
No woman, whether dark or bright,
Unwomaned if she be."


The page stopped weeping and smiled cold--
"Your wisdom may declare
That womanhood is proved the best
By golden brooch and glossy vest
The mincing ladies wear;
Yet is it proved, and was of old,
Anear as well, I dare to hold,
By truth, or by despair."


He smiled no more, he wept no more,
But passionate he spake--
"Oh, womanly she prayed in tent,
When none beside did wake!
Oh, womanly she paled in fight,
For one beloved's sake!--
And her little hand, defiled with blood,
Her tender tears of womanhood
Most woman-pure did make!"


--"Well done it were for thy sister,
Thou tellest well her tale!
But for my lady, she shall pray
I' the kirk of Nydesdale.
Not dread for me but love for me
Shall make my lady pale;
No casque shall hide her woman's tear--
It shall have room to trickle clear
Behind her woman's veil."


--"But what if she mistook thy mind
And followed thee to strife,
Then kneeling did entreat thy love
As Paynims ask for life?"
--"I would forgive, and evermore
Would love her as my servitor,
But little as my wife.


"Look up--there is a small bright cloud
Alone amid the skies!
So high, so pure, and so apart,
A woman's honor lies."
The page looked up--the cloud was sheen--
A sadder cloud did rush, I ween,
Betwixt it and his eyes.


Then dimly dropped his eyes away
From welkin unto hill--
Ha! who rides there?--the page is 'ware,
Though the cry at his heart is still:
And the page seeth all and the knight seeth none,
Though banner and spear do fleck the sun,
And the Saracens ride at will.


He speaketh calm, he speaketh low,--
"Ride fast, my master, ride,
Or ere within the broadening dark
The narrow shadows hide."
"Yea, fast, my page, I will do so,
And keep thou at my side."


"Now nay, now nay, ride on thy way,
Thy faithful page precede.
For I must loose on saddle-bow
My battle-casque that galls, I trow,
The shoulder of my steed;
And I must pray, as I did vow,
For one in bitter need.


"Ere night I shall be near to thee,--
Now ride, my master, ride!
Ere night, as parted spirits cleave
To mortals too beloved to leave,
I shall be at thy side."
The knight smiled free at the fantasy,
And adown the dell did ride.


Had the knight looked up to the page's face,
No smile the word had won;
Had the knight looked up to the page's face,
I ween he had never gone:
Had the knight looked back to the page's geste,
I ween he had turned anon,
For dread was the woe in the face so young,
And wild was the silent geste that flung
Casque, sword to earth, as the boy down-sprung
And stood--alone, alone.


He clenched his hands as if to hold
His soul's great agony--
"Have I renounced my womanhood,
For wifehood unto thee,
And is this the last, last look of thine
That ever I shall see?


"Yet God thee save, and mayst thou have
A lady to thy mind,
More woman-proud and half as true
As one thou leav'st behind!
And God me take with HIM to dwell--
For HIM I cannot love too well,
As I have loved my kind."


She looketh up, in earth's despair,
The hopeful heavens to seek;
That little cloud still floateth there,
Whereof her loved did speak:
How bright the little cloud appears!
Her eyelids fall upon the tears,
And the tears down either cheek.


The tramp of hoof, the flash of steel--
The Paynims round her coming!
The sound and sight have made her calm,--
False page, but truthful woman;
She stands amid them all unmoved:
A heart once broken by the loved
Is strong to meet the foeman.


"Ho, Christian page! art keeping sheep,
From pouring wine-cups resting?"--
"I keep my master's noble name,
For warring, not for feasting;
And if that here Sir Hubert were,
My master brave, my master dear,
Ye would not stay the questing."


"Where is thy master, scornful page,
That we may slay or bind him?"--
"Now search the lea and search the wood,
And see if ye can find him!
Nathless, as hath been often tried,
Your Paynim heroes faster ride
Before him than behind him."


"Give smoother answers, lying page,
Or perish in the lying!"--
"I trow that if the warrior brand
Beside my foot, were in my hand,
'T were better at replying!"
They cursed her deep, they smote her low,
They cleft her golden ringlets through;
The Loving is the Dying.


She felt the scimitar gleam down,
And met it from beneath
With smile more bright in victory
Than any sword from sheath,--
Which flashed across her lip serene,
Most like the spirit-light between
The darks of life and death.


Ingemisco, ingemisco!
From the convent on the sea,
Now it sweepeth solemnly,
As over wood and over lea
Bodily the wind did carry
The great altar of St. Mary,
And the fifty tapers paling o'er it,
And the Lady Abbess stark before it,
And the weary nuns with hearts that faintly
Beat along their voices saintly--
Ingemisco, ingemisco!
Dirge for abbess laid in shroud
Sweepeth o'er the shroudless dead,
Page or lady, as we said,
With the dews upon her head,
All as sad if not as loud.
Ingemisco, ingemisco!
Is ever a lament begun
By any mourner under sun,
Which, ere it endeth, suits but one?

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