The Escorial


There is a massy pile above the waste
Amongst Castilian barrens mountain-bound;
A sombre length of grey; four towers placed
At corners flank the stretching compass round;
A pious work with threefold purpose crown'd—
A cloister'd convent first, the proudest home
Of those who strove God's gospel to confound
With barren rigour and a frigid gloom—
Hard by a royal palace, and a royal tomb.


They tell its story thus; amidst the heat
Of battle once upon St. Lawrence' day
Philip took oath, while glory or defeat
Hung in the swaying of the fierce melée,
‘So I am victor now, I swear to pay
The richest gift St. Lawrence ever bore,
When chiefs and monarchs came their gifts to lay
Upon his altar, and with rarest store
To deck and make most lordly evermore.’


For that staunch saint still prais'd his Master's name
While his crack'd flesh lay hissing on the grate;
Then fail'd the tongue; the poor collapsing frame,
Hung like a wreck that flames not billows beat—
So, grown fantastic in his piety,
Philip, supposing that the gift most meet,
The sculptur'd image of such faith would be,
Uprais'd an emblem of that fiery constancy.


He rais'd the convent as a monstrous grate;
The cloisters cross'd with equal courts betwixt
Formed bars of stone; Beyond in stiffen'd state
The stretching palace lay as handle fix'd.
Then laver'd founts and postur'd stone he mix'd.
—Before the sepulchre there stood a gate,
A faithful guard of inner darkness fix'd—
But open'd twice, in life and death, to state,
To newborn prince, and royal corse inanimate.


While from the pulpit in a heretic land
Ranters scream'd rank rebellion, this should be
A fortress of true faith, and central stand
Whence with the scourge of ready piety
Legates might rush, zeal-rampant, fiery,
Upon the stubborn Fleming; and the rod
Of forc'd persuasion issue o'er the free.—
For, where the martyr's bones were thickest trod,
They shrive themselves and cry, ‘Good service to our God.’


No finish'd proof was this of Gothic grace
With flowing tracery engemming rays
Of colour in high casements face to face;
And foliag'd crownals (pointing how the ways
Of art best follow nature) in a maze
Of finish'd diapers, that fills the eye
And scarcely traces where one beauty strays
And melts amidst another; ciel'd on high
With blazoned groins, and crowned with hues of majesty.


This was no classic temple order'd round
With massy pillars of the Doric mood
Broad-fluted, nor with shafts acanthus-crown'd,
Pourtray'd along the frieze with Titan's brood
That battled Gods for heaven; brilliant-hued,
With golden fillets and rich blazonry,
Wherein beneath the cornice, horsemen rode
With form divine, a fiery chivalry—
Triumph of airy grace and perfect harmony.


Fair relics too the changeful Moor had left
Splendid with phantasies aerial,
Of mazy shape and hue, but now bereft
By conqu'rors rude of honor; and not all
Unmindful of their grace, the Escorial
Arose in gloom, a solemn mockery
Of those gilt webs that languish'd in a fall.
This to remotest ages was to be
The pride of faith, and home of sternest piety.


He rang'd long corridors and cornic'd halls,
And damasqu'd arms and foliag'd carving piled.—
With painting gleam'd the rich pilaster'd walls—.
Here play'd the virgin mother with her Child
In some broad palmy mead, and saintly smiled,
And held a cross of flowers, in purple bloom;
He, where the crownals droop'd, himself reviled
And bleeding saw.—Thus hung from room to room
The skill of dreamy Claude, and Titian's mellow gloom.


Here in some darken'd landscape Paris fair
Stretches the envied fruit with fatal smile
To golden-girdled Cypris;—Ceres there
Raves through Sicilian pastures many a mile;
But, hapless youth, Antinous the while
Gazes aslant his shoulder, viewing nigh
Where Phoebus weeps for him whom Zephyr's guile
Chang'd to a flower; and there, with placid eye
Apollo views the smitten Python writhe and die.


Then through the afternoon the summer beam
Slop'd on the galleries; upon the wall
Rich Titians faded; in the straying gleam
The motes in ceaseless eddy shine and fall
Into the cooling gloom; till slowly all
Dimm'd in the long accumulated dust;
Pendant in formal line from cornice tall
Blades of Milan in circles rang'd, grew rust
And silver damasqu'd plates obscur'd in age's crust.°


But from the mountain glens in autumn late
Adown the clattering gullies swept the rain;
The driving storm at hour of vespers beat
Upon the mould'ring terraces amain;
The Altar-tapers flar'd in gusts; in vain
Louder the monks dron'd out Gregorians slow;
Afar in corridors with painèd strain
Doors slamm'd to the blasts continuously; more low,°
Then pass'd the wind, and sobb'd with mountain-echo'd woe.


Next morn a peasant from the mountain side
Came midst the drizzle telling how last night
Two mazèd shepherds perish'd in the tide;
But further down the valley, left and right,
Down-splinter'd rocks crush'd cottages.—Drear sight—
An endless round of dead'ning solitude:
Till, (fearing ravage worse than in his flight,
What time the baffled Frank swept back pursu'd
Fell on the palace, and the lust of rabble rude,)


Since trampled Spain by royal discord torn
Lay bleeding, to Madrid the last they bore,
The choicest remnants thence;—such home forlorn
The monks left long ago: Since which no more
Eighth wonder of the earth, in size, in store
And art and beauty: Title now too null—
More wondrous to have borne such hope before
It seems; for grandeur barren left and dull
Than changeful pomp of courts is aye more wonderful.
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