Rudiger - A Ballad

Robert Southey 1774 (Bristol) – 1843 (London)

Author Note: Divers Princes and Noblemen being assembled in a beautiful and fair
Palace, which was situate upon the river Rhine, they beheld a boat or
small barge make toward the shore, drawn by a Swan in a silver chain,
the one end fastened about her neck, the other to the vessel; and in it
an unknown soldier, a man of a comely personage and graceful presence,
who stept upon the shore; which done, the boat guided by the Swan left
him, and floated down the river. This man fell afterward in league with
a fair gentlewoman, married her, and by her had many children. After
some years, the same Swan came with the same barge into the same place;
the soldier entering into it, was carried thence the way he came, left
wife, children and family, and was never seen amongst them after.

Now who can judge this to be other than one of those spirits that are
named Incubi? says Thomas Heywood. I have adopted his story, but not his
solution, making the unknown soldier not an evil spirit, but one who had
purchased happiness of a malevolent being, by the promised sacrifice of
his first-born child.

.................

Bright on the mountain's heathy slope
 The day's last splendors shine
And rich with many a radiant hue
 Gleam gayly on the Rhine.

And many a one from Waldhurst's walls
 Along the river stroll'd,
As ruffling o'er the pleasant stream
 The evening gales came cold.

So as they stray'd a swan they saw
 Sail stately up and strong,
And by a silver chain she drew
 A little boat along,

Whose streamer to the gentle breeze
 Long floating fluttered light,
Beneath whose crimson canopy
 There lay reclin'd a knight.

With arching crest and swelling breast
 On sail'd the stately swan
And lightly up the parting tide
 The little boat came on.

And onward to the shore they drew
 And leapt to land the knight,
And down the stream the swan-drawn boat
 Fell soon beyond the sight.

Was never a Maid in Waldhurst's walls
 Might match with Margaret,
Her cheek was fair, her eyes were dark,
 Her silken locks like jet.

And many a rich and noble youth
 Had strove to win the fair,
But never a rich or noble youth
 Could rival Rudiger.

At every tilt and turney he
 Still bore away the prize,
For knightly feats superior still
 And knightly courtesies.

His gallant feats, his looks, his love,
 Soon won the willing fair,
And soon did Margaret become
 The wife of Rudiger.

Like morning dreams of happiness
 Fast roll'd the months away,
For he was kind and she was kind
 And who so blest as they?

Yet Rudiger would sometimes sit
 Absorb'd in silent thought
And his dark downward eye would seem
 With anxious meaning fraught;

But soon he rais'd his looks again
 And smil'd his cares eway,
And mid the hall of gaiety
 Was none like him so gay.

And onward roll'd the waining months,
 The hour appointed came,
And Margaret her Rudiger
 Hail'd with a father's name.

But silently did Rudiger
 The little infant see,
And darkly on the babe he gaz'd
 And very sad was he.

And when to bless the little babe
 The holy Father came,
To cleanse the stains of sin away
 In Christ's redeeming name,

Then did the cheek of Rudiger
 Assume a death-pale hue,
And on his clammy forehead stood
 The cold convulsive dew;

And faltering in his speech he bade
 The Priest the rites delay,
Till he could, to right health restor'd,
 Enjoy the festive day.

When o'er the many-tinted sky
 He saw the day decline,
He called upon his Margaret
 To walk beside the Rhine.

"And we will take the little babe,
 "For soft the breeze that blows,
"And the wild murmurs of the stream
 "Will lull him to repose."

So forth together did they go,
 The evening breeze was mild,
And Rudiger upon his arm
 Did pillow the sweet child.

And many a one from Waldhurst's walls
 Along the banks did roam,
But soon the evening wind came cold,
 And all betook them home.

Yet Rudiger in silent mood
 Along the banks would roam,
Nor aught could Margaret prevail
 To turn his footsteps home.

"Oh turn thee--turn thee Rudiger,
 "The rising mists behold,
"The evening wind is damp and chill,
 "The little babe is cold!"

"Now hush thee--hush thee Margaret,
 "The mists will do no harm,
"And from the wind the little babe
 "Lies sheltered on my arm."
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Robert Southey

Robert Southey was an English poet of the Romantic school, one of the so-called "Lake Poets", and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death in 1843. more…

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