RAY: A ROMANCE IN RHYME
Phantasy, from thy cave of cloud,
And spread thy purple wings!-
Now all thy figures are allowed,
And various shapes of things."
ALICE AT HOME.
The birds their love-notes warble
Among the blossomed trees;
The flowers are sighing forth their sweets
To wooing honey-bees;-
The glad brook o'er a pebbly floor
Goes dancing on its way,-
But not a thing is so like spring
As happy Alice Ray.
An only child was Alice,
And, like the blest above,
The gentle maid had ever breathed
An atmosphere of love;
Her father's smile like sunshine came,
Like dew her mother's kiss,
Their love and goodness made her home,
Like heaven, the place of bliss.
Beneath such tender training,
The joyous child had sprung
Like one bright flower, in wild-wood bower,
And gladness round her flung;
And all who met her blessed her,
And turned again to pray,
That grief and care might ever spare
The happy Alice Ray.
The gift that made her charming
Was not from Venus caught;
Nor was it, Pallas-like, derived
From majesty of thought;-
Her healthful cheek was tinged with brown,
Her hair without a curl;
But then her eyes were love-lit stars,
Her teeth as pure as pearl.
And when in merry laughter
Her sweet, clear voice was heard,
It welled from out her happy heart
Like carol of a bird;
And all who heard were moved to smiles,
As at some mirthful lay,
And, to the stranger's look, replied-
"'Tis that dear Alice Ray."
And so she came, like sunbeams
That bring the April green;
As type of nature's royalty,
They called her "Woodburn's Queen!"
A sweet, heart-lifting cheerfulness,
Like spring-time of the year,
Seemed ever on her steps to wait,-
No wonder she was dear.
Yet though with nature living,
And little taught by rules,
Her mind had often grasped a truth
Beyond the art of schools;-
No Sophist could have moved her faith,-
She knew her Bible true,
And thrice, ere sixteen springs she bloomed,
Had read the good Book through.
In sooth, books oft beguiled her
From work as well as play,
And in their dear companionship
She passed the live-long day-
Sweet Poesy and wild Romance,
Tales of the Wise and Good,
Poor Christian's weary Pilgrimage,
And "Sweetened Solitude."
And, with the Story-tellers,
What friendships had she made!
She pitied lonely Crusoe's lot,
And loved Scheherazade,-
But to the Bard of Avon turned
Her fancy and her heart,
Nor knew which most in him she loved-
The nature or the art.
Her world was ever joyous-
She thought of grief and pain
As giants in the olden time
That ne'er would come again;
The seasons all had charms for her;
She welcomed each with joy,-
The charm that in her spirit lived
No changes could destroy.
Her heart was like a fountain,
The waters always sweet,-
Her pony in the pasture,
The kitten at her feet,
The ruffling bird of June, and
The wren in the old wall-
Each knew her loving carefulness,
And came at her soft call.
Her love made all things lovely,
For in the heart must live
The feeling that imparts the charm-
We gain by what we give.
She never thought of ugliness
Unless with sin conjoined,-
How could dark Envy's shadow creep
On such a warm, pure mind?
And who could dream the future
Had ills for her in store?
Her cup of life seemed filled from springs
With pure joy brimming o'er-
And Piety, like living plant,
Beside the waters rose,
With healing leaves to shelter her
From every storm that blows.
And though, as years rolled onward,
Her parents might be gone,
Yet still the loving Alice
Would never be alone.
Was not young Arthur even now
For ever by her side?
They were too young to marry yet,
But she would be his bride:
So thought the town of Woodburn,
And all the gossips cried-
"A noble Bridegroom he will make!
And she a charming Bride!"
The son of good old Deacon Gray-
And vainly had you gone,
To find a youth like Arthur,
From Maine to Galveston.
He won the prize at college
And in the wrestler's ring;
Could shoot a squirrel in the eye,
Or woodcock on the wing;
He rode with grace and bearing high,
Like Cossack in command;
And his good steed would gently feed,
Like Arab's, from his hand;
And, when he called his dog or steed,
His tones were ever bland.
And he the Law was reading,
And all the neighbours said,-
"He'll make a Judge like Marshall,
With such a heart and head!"
Aunt Mary said the orphan
Would find a friend in him,
For when she told a moving tale,
His eyes with tears were dim.
The brave are ever gentle,
The good should be the gay,-
And Arthur was as bold of heart
As knight in tourney fray,-
His mind was always firm for truth
As rock 'mid ocean's spray;
And, though a restless daring will
At times he might display,
His wildest moods were calmed at once,
But mention Alice Ray.
And she-though when you talked of him,
She blushed and turned away-
Was still his partner in the dance
And in the dashing sleigh;
-They always searched together
For flowers the first of May;
And duly to the Sabbath School
On every holy day
She went-they both were Teachers there,-
She went with Arthur Gray.
Pale Zephyrus is yielding
His last and sweetest sighs,
And Autumn's mist-like veil is drawn
Athwart the summer skies,
A veil as for a Bride's fair face,
Which loveliness conceals,
And wakens Fancy more than all
That Summer's pride reveals.
What though the thick-leaved forest
Has lost its lustrous green;
And on the meadow's sobered breast
A shade of brown is seen;-
We greet, with double blessings,
The bright-eyed gipsy flowers,
That, from departing Summer's hand,
Seem sown in rainbow showers.
We watch the lights and shadows
That frolic o'er the hills,
And deeper sense of Beauty's power
The yearning spirit fills;-
If God through every change can keep
This earth so good and fair,
We raise our eyes towards heaven and say-
"What Beauty must be there!"
While thus the face of nature
Was beautiful to see,
Young Alice wept in sorrow
Beneath the old elm-tree;
A wild bird was above her head,
And by her side a flower,-
Oh how has nature o'er her heart
Thus lost its charm and power?
She has been to Saratoga,
Where crowds of Fashion press,
And her dear, cherished home no more
Has light and pleasantness;
But deadlier still the poison
That such deep suffering stirs-
The power of Beauty she has seen,
And felt it was not hers!
She has seen the fair Belinda,
-So exquisitely fair!-
Like alabaster flushed with life;
And then her glorious hair,
It clustered round her lovely neck
Like tendrils round a vine,-
And Alice sighed in bitterness-
"Oh, were such beauty mine!"
Yet not the pride of conquest
Her troubled bosom filled-
The fear she should not be beloved,
-'Twas this her being chilled;
"Even Arthur Gray," thus ran her thoughts,
"Some fairer girl may spy,-
Or leave me for Belinda;-
Oh, if I could but die!"
While thus her heart was wrestling
With its first crushing fear,
A Voice of stern command out-spoke,
Close to her startled ear,-
"Go, Maiden, to the Haunted Dell,
And in the 'Bloody Spring,'
Where the spotted toad sits drinking,
And the night-bat laves its wing,
And adder snakes are coiling,
Bathe thou thy face and hair-
Bathe thrice, not breathe a word or sound,
And then thou shalt be fair!"
She started from the Tempter!-
Her heart grew stony cold;
She knew such gossip stories-
There was a legend old,
How a maid of peerless beauty
Was murdered in that Dell
By wily, ruthless savages,-
And how her fair face fell
In a lone Spring, thence "Bloody" called,-
And those who found her there,
And drew her gently forth, their hands
Had all waxed wondrous fair.
Yet still she felt 'twas sinful
To try such awful spell,
'Twas plain that naught but evil
Could live in that lone dell;
No human foot approached it-
'Twas far, and wild the way;
How could she venture there alone,
This timid Alice Ray?
But still the wish was rising-
Oh, that she could be fair!
She looked towards the haunted dell,-
'Twas not such distance there;
The sun was still above the hill,
And she, before 'twas night,
Might go and come, and know her doom-
But then, would this be right?
She thought of all strange stories
That she had read or heard.
Of Cinderella's Fairy kind,
And of the "talking bird"-
Of "Undine" from her ocean home,
Wild Fancy's loveliest child,-
And then she thought of "water cures,"-
No dream could be more wild!
But yet she knew her Bible
Would never bid her go;
It could not be an angel
Was keeping watch below,
And, pitying her hopeless grief,
Was counselling its cure-
Oh, no, 'twas not an angel-
'Twas some foul demon sure!
Such demon as in olden times
Had lured young girls away,
In guise of gallant Troubadour,
Or holy Friar grey,
And now was lurking round her path,
Her precious soul to win;
And should she listen to his wiles,
And do this deadly sin?
She hurried to her chamber,
To 'scape the dreadful snare,-
The words of that commanding Voice
Seemed sounding even there,-
"Go, maiden, to the 'Bloody Spring,'
And bathe thy face and hair,
Bathe thrice, nor breathe a sound nor word,
-Thou shalt be wondrous fair."
THE HAUNTED DELL
When soft the gales are blowing,
And calm is ocean's wave,
So small the danger seemeth
That every heart is brave;-
But let the tempest rise in wrath,
The ocean flout the sky,-
The firmest shriek, in agony,
"Lord, save us, or we die!"
And while in peace abiding,
Within a sheltered home,
We feel as sin and evil
Could never, never come;-
But let the strong temptation rise,
As whirlwinds sweep the sea-
We find no strength to 'scape the wreck,
Save, pitying God, in Thee.
Wise men have worshipped Mammon,
And lost their souls for gold;
Pure women, for the pride of life,
Their priceless hearts have sold;
And for revenge, or power, or fame,
What deeds are done each day,-
And all by beings, guiltless once
As gentle Alice Ray!
Then blame not too severely
The wish of this young girl
To have a face as fair as day,
And hair of graceful curl!
She fondly trusts by Beauty's power
Her Lover's heart to bind,-
For this, for this she trembling goes
The "Bloody Spring" to find.
And she has crossed the brooklet,
And scaled the mountain steep,
And down, and downward winds her path,
Into a valley deep-
Above her crowd the fir trees,
Dark, motionless, and tall,
She hears no sound on that lone ground,
Save her own light foot-fall.
And thrice her step hath stumbled
O'er deadly hemlock roots;
And thrice the poison ivy
Hath clasped her with its shoots;
And thrice a white owl hooted,
Close to her throbbing ear,
And seemed to ask her conscience,
What dost thou, Maiden, here?
Still on-the Dell is entered,
And reached the "Bloody Spring,"
And here she nearly fainted-
She felt the night-bat's wing
Cold on her cheek-yet down she stooped
And bathed her face and hair;
And all around was lone and still
As Death were watching there!
Again, but very slowly,
She bends as with a load-
Well may she start and shudder-
She grasped the slimy toad;
-But cast it from her, like a stone,
And bathed her face and hair;
And all around was dark and still
As Death were listening there.
Again, but slow and slower,
She bendeth o'er the Spring,-
The bat is wheeling round and round,
She feels its clammy wing;-
The toad is creeping o'er her foot-
Yet mindful of the charm,
She bore her bravely till she felt
The snakes coil round her arm!
Oh! then she lost her footing,
And prone she would have sunk,
But for a black-thorn's ragged branch-
Sole branch from rotting trunk;
She grasped it in her agony,
The foul snakes dropped away,-
And with her arms all bleeding,
Fled fainting Alice Ray.
She reached her home scarce living,-
But when the morning shone,
And she her faithful mirror sought-
How fair her face had grown!
The freckles all had vanished,
Her cheek was like the dawn,
The blush half struggling through the light,
Like rose-leaf under lawn.
And then her hair was flowing,
And kept in curl so long;
How could she think the spell had been
So very, very wrong!
The treacherous heart will deem success
Has sanctified the deed;
The first step costs-but easy then
Sin's downward path will lead,-
This moral from her story learn,
-Of thy first step take heed.
For oh, what worldly passions
Were working in her breast!
What dreams of ball-room conquests
Now broke her pillowed rest!
Her pony whinnied as she passed-
She never seemed to hear;
Her birds came round-she strewed no seeds,
And they withdrew in fear;
Her books had lost their charm and power,
And even her Bible lay
Unopened near her toilet glass-
Wo! wo! for Alice Ray.
Then flatterers flocked around her,
In proud and rich array;
And every day her charms increased,
Like some rare flower of May,
That opened later than the rest,
The sooner will decay;-
Still she was true to Arthur,
And might have been alway;
But from the city's courtly ranks
A lover rich and gay,
Smit with her face and flowing curls,
His homage came to pay.
And princely in his port was he,
And winning in his way,
And versed in love's seductive wiles,
He knew just what to say,-
And so he won fair Alice-
How could she say him, "nay"!-
And she has left her dear, dear home,
Home of her infant play
And childhood's joy;-but there are ties
Which never can decay;
However dear new friends may be,
However far she stray,
She yet will see her Mother weep,
And hear her Father pray,-
Praying for her happiness,
Weeping in dismay,
That she, their dear and only child,
Must go so far away!-
She bade farewell to them, to all-
Farewell to Arthur Gray.
Around the sides of Etna
How fair the gardens grow,-
Yet burning Desolation
Is fierce and near below!-
While straying 'mid the vines and flowers,
We rarely pause to think,
How close this Beauty presses on
Destruction's awful brink!
And when the gay are flaunting,
Like flowers from hot-house brought,
We oft forget their blandest smile
Conceals some burning thought
Of pain, remorse or envy,
The surface hid beneath,-
Oh many wear the flowers without
Whose hearts are filled with death!
When all looks fair in seeming,
And outwardly serene,
We say "'tis good;"-but had we power
To lift the veil between,
And see how passion's lava
Is gathering in the breast,
While Justice, like a hidden stream
That cannot be suppressed,
Is wearing channels, day by day,
And coming nigh and nigher,-
How we should warn the world to flee
From sin's volcanic fire!
Ay, Justice, who evades her?
Her scales reach every heart;
The action and the motive,
She weigheth each apart;
And none who swerve from right or truth
Can 'scape her penalty;-
Oh! sore the Retribution,
Poor Alice, laid on thee.
Yet Alice had not broken
A law that men endite;
But still, in her own mind she saw
The Law in purer light;
Had she not pined for Beauty,
With Envy's selfish eye,
And wed a man she did not love
For wealth, and station high?
She knew she did not love him,
Not with that pure, heart-love,
A true wife for her husband feels,
Kindled from heaven above:-
To wed a man one does not love,
What suffering to incur!
But Alice had another grief-
Her husband loved not her:-
That is,-'twas not his nature
To love with constancy;
When dazzled by her beauty,
And she a novelty,
He loved,-but soon the holy charm
Had lost its light and power,
And he would leave her lone and sad
For some new toy or flower.
She felt the change as woman
Feels, with the deepest pain,
And often strove, by sweetest wiles,
To lure his heart again;-
She wore the colours he admired,
The jewels he had given,
And met him with a face of smiles
Even when her heart was riven.
When once she tried to tell him
How she her bird had freed,
And how it nestled in her neck-
He only cried-"Indeed!
Where is the paper? 'Tis the day
To learn whose racer wins;-
And then, tonight, with that new star,
The Opera begins."
Their souls were never mated,-
Hers centred in a home
Where all was truth and tenderness,
And none but dear ones come;
His joy was found on Pleasure's tide,
With gay companions nigh,
And should they sink, it mattered not,
If he but held a buoy;-
The motto graven on his seal
Was, "I-and only I."
What wonder that in sadness
The loving Alice pined;-
Had Heaven her lot appointed
She might have been resigned;
But 'twas the bitter chalice
Which she herself had filled,-
It was the deadly Upas plant-
Her Envy had distilled.
What cared she now for Beauty?
Her Husband marked it not,-
Her flowing hair might sweetly curl,
-Its colour he forgot;
Her face was like Belinda's fair,
And yet he turned away
And gazed, and praised some painted thing
That flaunted in the play.
Yet still the hoping Alice
Was so unused to grief,
She tried to think some good would come,
Some change would bring relief;
But days, weeks-months, are passing by,
And still her chains grow stronger;
She felt her sorrow was so great
She could not bear it longer.
And now kind thoughts of Arthur
Would with her dreamings come,
She strove to drive him from her mind-
But he was near her home,
And all she loved and sighed to see,-
As well forget her prayer
As him who often by her side
Had knelt that right to share.
And he had loved her truly,
And she to him was fair,
But now, with all her Beauty,
No one for her would care;
She felt the crisis coming,
Even her bright hopes had fled,
She wished but for her mother
To hold her throbbing head.
And when the blush of morning
Burst on the eastern sky,
The high roofs seemed like leaden weights
Upon her lifted eye,-
And when, as blesséd evening came,
She looked towards the west,
She felt as if the cold, hard walls
Were closing round her breast!
And dreadful was the struggle
Of the last dying scene,-
Oh, what despairing thoughts arose,
With tears and prayers between!
The last pang came-she gave one shriek,
As though her heart-strings broke,-
And then a hand clasped hers, and then
The breathless girl--awoke!
She woke, and there was Arthur,
Beneath that old elm tree,
With face of ashy pallor,
Beside her on his knee;-
"What ails thee, Alice, dearest?
Thy cry was strange and wild;"
She laid her head upon his breast,
And wept as weeps a child.
And ere she ceased her sobbing,
She told him all her woes,
From her Saratoga sorrows,
To that dark Vision's close:
She said-"My heart was wrong and weak,
How could I be so dull!
But now my dream has taught me this,
The loved are beautiful.
Forgive me, oh, forgive me,
My foolishness and pride!"
-He whispered he forgave her all-
And something more beside;
I could not hear distinctly,
For song began to flow,
The joyous bird was over-head,
And lovers speak so low.
But this I know-ere Autumn
Put on his Winter grey-
While yet the melted rainbow,
'Mid forest shadow lay,
And trees were flushed with glory
More rich than flowers of May-
Though very late the season
For such a grand array,
It seemed as Earth kept on her robes
For Festival display-
But on the Friday after
That bright Thanksgiving-Day,*
Had you in Woodburn village
Enquired for Alice Ray-
They would have smiled and said-"She now
Is Mrs. Arthur Gray!"
"Thou shalt keep a fast unto me, in the end of the year, when thou
hast gathered in thy labors out of the field," was the command of
God to his chosen people. The "Thanksgiving-Day," established
soon after the settlement of New England, by the Pilgrim Fathers, obeys
this requisition of joyful gratitude, and seems the natural out-pouring
of thankfulness for the abundance which in autumn is gathered into the
overflowing garners of America. From New England the custom has been gradually
extending itself, and last year the Thanksgiving-Day was kept in twenty-one,
out of the twenty-nine States. In a few more years, we hope and trust
the day will become a national Jubilee. Though the appointment must be
always made by the State authorities, yet this might be done in concert,
and a particular day-the last Thursday in November,-might be the day in
every State and Territory. Then, though the members of the same family
might be too far separated to meet around one festive board, they would
have the gratification of knowing that all were enjoying the blessings
of the day. From the St. Johns to the Rio Grande, from the Atlantic to
the Pacific border, the telegraph of human happiness would move every
heart to rejoice simultaneously, and render grateful thanks to God for
the blessings showered on our beloved country. [Hale's note.] (Note: Hale
campaigned through several presidencies for the establishment of a national
Thanksgiving Day; President Lincoln finally proclaimed the national holiday
a fable about a young American woman's struggle with the conflicting demands
of being a subject and being an aesthetic object, "Alice Ray"
is fascinating from several angles. One approach would be to see it as
a fable about fashion; as editor of Godey's Ladies' Book, Hale was an
arbiter of women's fashions, yet in "Alice Ray" she condemns
the fashionable world. As in "The Three Hours," Hale engages
with the problem of the relation between an ideal republican female subjectivity
and the traditions of aristocracy (here, in the form of bodily spectacle).
Alice Ray's struggle with beauty relates broadly to eighteenth-century
aesthetic theory (e.g. Burke, Kant), in which "the beautiful"
was associated with women's objecthood and social connection (as opposed
to "the sublime," male subjectivity, individualism). "Alice
Ray" thus offers a critique of terms of aesthetic value. Perhaps
most baffling in this fable is the "Bloody Spring" (a supernaturalized
figure of cosmetics?), its witching flora and fauna, and its origin in
the murder of a beautiful white woman by Indians. Intense racial anxieties
seem to be figured into the lore of the spring. -Janet Gray