Irmingard's Escape

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I am the Lady Irmingard, Born of a noble race and name! Many a wandering Suabian bard, Whose life was dreary and bleak and hard, Has found through me the way to fame. Brief and bright were those days, and the night Which followed was full of a lurid light. Love, that of every woman's heart Will have the whole, and not a part, That is to her, in Nature's plan, More than ambition is to man, Her light, her life, her very breath, With no alternative but death, Found me a maiden soft and young, Just from the convent's cloistered school, And seated on my lowly stool, Attentive while the minstrels sung.
Gallant, graceful, gentle, tall, Fairest, noblest, best of all, Was Walter of the Vogelweid; And, whatsoever may betide, Still I think of him with pride! His song was of the summer-time, The very birds sang in his rhyme; The sunshine, the delicious air, The fragrance of the flowers, were there; And I grew restless as I heard, Restless and buoyant as a bird, Down soft, aerial currents sailing, O'er blossomed orchards, and fields in bloom, And through the momentary gloom Of shadows o'er the landscape trailing, Yielding and borne I knew not where, But feeling resistance unavailing.
And thus, unnoticed and apart, And more by accident than choice, I listened to that single voice Until the chambers of my heart Were filled with it by night and day. One night—it was a night in May,— Within the garden, unawares, Under the blossoms in the gloom, I heard it utter my own name With protestations and wild prayers; And it rang through me, and became Like the archangel's trump of doom, Which the soul hears, and must obey; And mine arose as from a tomb. My former life now seemed to me Such as hereafter death may be, When in the great Eternity We shall awake and find it day.
It was a dream, and would not stay; A dream, that in a single night Faded and vanished out of sight. My father's anger followed fast This passion, as a freshening blast Seeks out and fans the fire, whose rage It may increase, but not assuage. And he exclaimed: "No wandering bard Shall win thy hand, O Irmingard! For which Prince Henry of Hoheneck By messenger and letter sues."
Gently, but firmly, I replied: "Henry of Hoheneck I discard! Never the hand of Irmingard Shall lie in his as the hand of a bride!" This said I, Walter, for thy sake; This said I, for I could not choose. After a pause, my father spake In that cold and deliberate tone Which turns the hearer into stone, And seems itself the act to be That follows with such dread certainty; "This, or the cloister and the veil!" No other words than these he said, But they were like a funeral wail; My life was ended, my heart was dead.
That night from the castle-gate went down, With silent, slow, and stealthy pace, Two shadows, mounted on shadowy steeds, Taking the narrow path that leads Into the forest dense and brown. In the leafy darkness of the place, One could not distinguish form nor face, Only a bulk without a shape, A darker shadow in the shade; One scarce could say it moved or stayed. Thus it was we made our escape! A foaming brook, with many a bound, Followed us like a playful hound; Then leaped before us, and in the hollow Paused, and waited for us to follow, And seemed impatient, and afraid That our tardy flight should be betrayed By the sound our horses' hoof-beats made. And when we reached the plain below, We paused a moment and drew rein To look back at the castle again; And we saw the windows all aglow With lights, that were passing to and fro; Our hearts with terror ceased to beat; The brook crept silent to our feet; We knew what most we feared to know.
Then suddenly horns began to blow; And we heard a shout, and a heavy tramp, And our horses snorted in the damp Night-air of the meadows green and wide, And in a moment, side by side, So close, they must have seemed but one, The shadows across the moonlight run, And another came, and swept behind, Like the shadow of clouds before the wind!
How I remember that breathless flight Across the moors, in the summer night! How under our feet the long, white road Backward like a river flowed, Sweeping with it fences and hedges, Whilst farther away, and overhead, Paler than I, with fear and dread, The moon fled with us, as we fled Along the forest's jagged edges!
All this I can remember well; But of what afterwards befell I nothing further can recall Than a blind, desperate, headlong fall; The rest is a blank and darkness all. When I awoke out of this swoon, The sun was shining, not the moon, Making a cross upon the wall With the bars of my windows narrow and tall; And I prayed to it, as I had been wont to pray, From early childhood, day by day, Each morning, as in bed I lay! I was lying again in my own room! And I thanked God, in my fever and pain, That those shadows on the midnight plain Were gone, and could not come again! I struggled no longer with my doom!