Hart-leap Well



The Knight had ridden down from Wensley moor
With the slow motion of a summer’s cloud;
He turned aside towards a Vassal’s door,
And, “Bring another Horse!” he cried aloud.
“Another Horse!”—That shout the Vassal heard,5
And saddled his best steed, a comely gray;
Sir Walter mounted him; he was the third
Which he had mounted on that glorious day.
Joy sparkled in the prancing Courser’s eyes;10
The Horse and Horseman are a happy pair;
But, though Sir Walter like a falcon flies,
There is a doleful silence in the air.
A rout this morning left Sir Walter’s Hall,
That as they galloped made the echoes roar;15
But Horse and Man are vanished, one and all;
Such race, I think, was never seen before.
Sir Walter, restless as a veering wind,
Calls to the few tired Dogs that yet remain:
Brach, Swift, and Music, noblest of their kind,20
Follow, and up the weary mountain strain.
The Knight hallooed, he chid and cheered them on
With suppliant gestures and upbraidings stern;
But breath and eye-sight fail; and, one by one,
The Dogs are stretched among the mountain fern.25
Where is the throng, the tumult of the race?
The bugles that so joyfully were blown?
—This Chase it looks not like an earthly Chase;
Sir Walter and the Hart are left alone.
The poor Hart toils along the mountain side;30
I will not stop to tell how far he fled,
Nor will I mention by what death he died;
But now the Knight beholds him lying dead.
Dismounting then, he leaned against a thorn;
He had no follower, Dog, nor Man, nor Boy:35
He neither smacked his whip, nor blew his horn,
But gazed upon the spoil with silent joy.
Close to the thorn on which Sir Walter leaned,
Stood his dumb partner in this glorious act;
Weak as a lamb the hour that it is yeaned,40
And foaming like a mountain cataract.
Upon his side the Hart was lying stretched:
His nose half-touched a spring beneath a hill,
And with the last deep groan his breath had fetched
The waters of the spring were trembling still.45
And now, too happy for repose or rest,
(Was never man in such a joyful case!)
Sir Walter walked all round, north, south, and west,
And gazed and gazed upon that darling place.
And climbing up the hill—(it was at least50
Nine roods of sheer ascent) Sir Walter found
Three several hoof-marks which the hunted Beast
Had left imprinted on the verdant ground.
Sir Walter wiped his face and cried, “Till now
Such sight was never seen by living eyes:55
Three leaps have borne him from this lofty brow,
Down to the very fountain where he lies.
I’ll build a Pleasure-house upon this spot,
And a small Arbour, made for rural joy;
’Twill be the Traveller’s shed, the Pilgrim’s cot,60
A place of love for Damsels that are coy.
A cunning Artist will I have to frame
A bason for that Fountain in the dell;
And they who do make mention of the same
From this day forth, shall call it HART-LEAP WELL.65
And, gallant brute! to make thy praises known,
Another monument shall here be raised;
Three several Pillars, each a rough hewn Stone,
And planted where thy hoofs the turf have grazed.
And in the summer-time when days are long,70
I will come hither with my Paramour;
And with the Dancers, and the Minstrel’s song,
We will make merry in that pleasant Bower.
Till the foundations of the mountains fail
My Mansion with its Arbour shall endure;—75
The joy of them who till the fields of Swale,
And them who dwell among the woods of Ure!”
Then home he went, and left the Hart, stone-dead,
With breathless nostrils stretched above the spring.
And soon the Knight performed what he had said,80
The fame whereof through many a land did ring.
Ere thrice the moon into her port had steered,
A Cup of Stone received the living Well;
Three Pillars of rude stone Sir Walter reared,
And built a House of Pleasure in the dell.85
And near the fountain, flowers of stature tall
With trailing plants and trees were intertwined,
Which soon composed a little sylvan Hall,
A leafy shelter from the sun and wind.
And thither, when the summer days were long,90
Sir Walter journeyed with his Paramour;
And with the Dancers and the Minstrel’s song
Made merriment within that pleasant Bower.
The Knight, Sir Walter, died in course of time,
And his bones lie in his paternal vale.—95
But there is matter for a second rhyme,
And I to this would add another tale.


The moving accident is not my trade:
To freeze the blood I have no ready arts:
’Tis my delight, alone in summer shade,100
To pipe a simple song to thinking hearts.
As I from Hawes to Richmond did repair,
It chanced that I saw standing in a dell
Three Aspens at three corners of a square,
And one, not four yards distant, near a Well.105
What this imported I could ill divine:
And, pulling now the rein my horse to stop,
I saw three Pillars standing in a line,
The last Stone Pillar on a dark hill-top.
The trees were gray, with neither arms nor head;110
Half-wasted the square Mound of tawny green;
So that you just might say, as then I said,
“Here in old time the hand of man has been.”
I looked upon the hills both far and near,
More doleful place did never eye survey;115
It seemed as if the spring-time came not here,
And Nature here were willing to decay.
I stood in various thoughts and fancies lost,
When one, who was in Shepherd’s garb attired,
Came up the Hollow. Him did I accost,120
And what this place might be I then inquired.
The Shepherd stopped, and that same story told
Which in my former rhyme I have rehearsed.
“A jolly place,” said he, “in times of old!
But something ails it now; the spot is curst.125
You see these lifeless Stumps of aspen wood—
Some say that they are beeches, others elms—
These were the Bower; and here a Mansion stood,
The finest palace of a hundred realms!
The Arbour does its own condition tell;130
You see the Stones, the Fountain, and the Stream,
But as to the great Lodge! you might as well
Hunt half a day for a forgotten dream.
There’s neither dog nor heifer, horse nor sheep,
Will wet his lips within that Cup of Stone;135
And oftentimes, when all are fast asleep,
This water doth send forth a dolorous groan.
Some say that here a murder has been done,
And blood cries out for blood: but, for my part,
I’ve guessed, when I’ve been sitting in the sun,140
That it was all for that unhappy Hart.
What thoughts must through the creature’s brain have passed!
From the stone upon the summit of the steep
Are but three bounds—and look, Sir, at this last—
—O Master! it has been a cruel leap.145
For thirteen hours he ran a desperate race;
And in my simple mind we cannot tell
What cause the Hart might have to love this place,
And come and make his death-bed near the Well.
Here on the grass perhaps asleep he sank,150
Lulled by this Fountain in the summer-tide;
This water was perhaps the first he drank
When he had wandered from his mother’s side.
In April here beneath the scented thorn
He heard the birds their morning carols sing;155
And he, perhaps, for aught we know, was born
Not half a furlong from that self-same spring.
But now here’s neither grass nor pleasant shade;
The sun on drearier Hollow never shone:
So will it be, as I have often said,160
Till Trees, and Stones, and Fountain all are gone.”
“Gray-headed Shepherd, thou hast spoken well;
Small difference lies between thy creed and mine:
This Beast not unobserved by Nature fell;
His death was mourned by sympathy divine.165
The Being, that is in the clouds and air,
That is in the green leaves among the groves,
Maintains a deep and reverential care
For them the quiet creatures whom he loves.
The Pleasure-house is dust:—behind, before,170
This is no common waste, no common gloom;
But Nature, in due course of time, once more
Shall here put on her beauty and her bloom.
She leaves these objects to a slow decay,
That what we are, and have been, may be known;175
But, at the coming of the milder day,
These monuments shall all be overgrown.
One lesson, Shepherd, let us two divide,
Taught both by what she shows, and what conceals,
Never to blend our pleasure or our pride180
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.”