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Poem by John Keats


The Eve of St. Mark


A Fragment

Upon a Sabbath-day it fell;
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell,
That calld the folks to evening prayer;
The city streets were clean and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains;
And, on the western window panes,
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmaturd green valleys cold,
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge,
Of primroses by shelterd rills,
And daisies on the aguish hills.
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell:
The silent streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies,
Warm from their fire-side oratries;
And moving, with demurest air,
To even-song, and vesper prayer.
Each arched porch, and entry low,
Was filld with patient folk and slow,
With whispers hush, and shuffling feet,
While playd the organ loud and sweet.

The bells had ceasd, the prayers begun,
And Bertha had not yet half done
A curious volume, patchd and torn,
That all day long, from earliest morn,
Had taken captive her two eyes,
Among its golden broideries;
Perplexd her with a thousand things,
The stars of Heaven, and angels wings,
Martyrs in a fiery blaze,
Azure saints and silver rays,
Moses breastplate, and the seven,
Candlesticks John saw in Heaven,
The winged Lion of St. Mark,
And the Covenantal Ark,
With its many mysteries,
Cherubim and golden mice.

Bertha was a maiden fair,
Dwelling in th old Minster-square;
From her fire-side she could see,
Sidelong, its rich antiquity,
Far as the Bishops garden-wall;
Where sycamores and elm-trees tall,
Full-leavd, the forest had outstript,
By no sharp north-wind ever nipt,
So shelterd by the mighty pile.
Bertha arose, and read awhile,
With forehead gainst the window-pane.
Again she tryd, and then again,
Until the dusk eve left her dark
Upon the legend of St. Mark.
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin,
She lifted up her soft warm chin.
With arching neck and swimming eyes,
And dazd with saintly imageries.

All was gloom, and silent all,
Save now and then the still foot-fall
Of one returning homewards late,
Past the echoing minster-gate.
The clamorous daws, that all the day
Above tree-tops and towers play,
Pair by pair had gone to rest,
Each in its ancient belfry nest,
Where asleep they fall betimes,
To music and the drowsy chimes.

All was silent, all was gloom,
Abroad and in the homely room:
Down she sat, poor cheated soul;
And struck a lamp from the dismal coal;
Leand forward, with bright drooping hair
And slant look, full against the glare.
Her shadow, in uneasy guise,
Hoverd about, a giant size,
On ceiling-beam and old oak chair,
The parrots cage, and panel square;
And the warm angled winter-screen,
On which were many monsters seen,
Calld doves of Siam, Lima mice,
And legless birds of Paradise,
Macaw, and tender Avadavat,
And silken-furrd Angora cat.
Untird she read, her shadow still
Glowerd about, as it would fill
The room with wildest forms and shades,
As though some ghostly Queen of spades
Had come to mock behind her back,
And dance, and ruffle her garments black.
Untird she read the legend page,
Of holy Mark, from youth to age,
On land, on sea, in pagan chains,
Rejoicing for his many pains.
Sometimes the learned eremite,
With golden star, or dagger bright,
Referrd to pious poesies
Written in smallest crow-quill size
Beneath the text: and thus the rhyme
Was parceld out from time to time:
Als writith he of swevenis,
Men han beforne they wake in bliss,
Whanne that hir friendes thinke him bound
In crimped shroude farre under grounde:
And how a litling childe mote be
A saint er its nativitie,
Gif that the modre (God her blesse!)
Kepen in solitarinesse,
And kissen devoute the holy croce,
Of Goddes love, and Sathans force,
He writith; and thinges many mo
Of swiche thinges I may not show.
Bot I must tellen verilie
Somdel of Saintè Cicilie,
And chieflie what he auctorethe
Of Saintè Markis life and dethe:
At length her constant eyelids come
Upon the fervent martyrdom;
Then lastly to his holy shrine,
Exalt amid the tapers shine
At Venice,



John Keats


John Keats's other poems:
  1. Specimen of Induction to a Poem
  2. Calidore
  3. To (Hadst Thou Livd in Days of Old)
  4. The Poet
  5. The Castle Builder


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