Ballads

Page 13

"Valley of mid-day shadows, valley of silent falls, Rua sang, and his voice went hollow about the walls, "Valley of shadow and rock, a doleful prison to me, What is the life you can give to a child of the sun and the sea?"

And Rua arose and came to the open mouth of the glen, Whence he beheld the woods, and the sea, and houses of men. Wide blew the riotous trade, and smelt in his nostrils good; It bowed the boats on the bay, and tore and divided the wood; It smote and sundered the groves as Moses smote with the rod, And the streamers of all the trees blew like banners abroad; And ever and on, in a lull, the trade wind brought him along A far-off patter of drums and a far-off whisper of song.

Swift as the swallow's wings, the diligent hands on the drum Fluttered and hurried and throbbed. "Ah, woe that I hear you come," Rua cried in his grief, "a sorrowful sound to me, Mounting far and faint from the resonant shore of the sea! Woe in the song! for the grave breathes in the singers' breath, And I hear in the tramp of the drums the beat of the heart of death. Home of my youth! no more, through all the length of the years, No more to the place of the echoes of early laughter and tears, No more shall Rua return; no more as the evening ends, To crowded eyes of welcome, to the reaching hands of friends."

All day long from the High-place the drums and the singing came, And the even fell, and the sun went down, a wheel of flame; And night came gleaning the shadows and hushing the sounds of the wood; And silence slept on all, where Rua sorrowed and stood. But still from the shore of the bay the sound of the festival rang, And still the crowd in the High-place danced and shouted and sang.

Now over all the isle terror was breathed abroad Of shadowy hands from the trees and shadowy snares in the sod; And before the nostrils of night, the shuddering hunter of men Hurried, with beard on shoulder, back to his lighted den. "Taheia, here to my side!"--"Rua, my Rua, you!" And cold from the clutch of terror, cold with the damp of the dew, Taheia, heavy of hair, leaped through the dark to his arms; Taheia leaped to his clasp, and was folded in from alarms.

"Rua, beloved, here, see what your love has brought; Coming--alas! returning--swift as the shuttle of thought; Returning, alas! for to-night, with the beaten drum and the voice, In the shine of many torches must the sleepless clan rejoice; And Taheia the well-descended, the daughter of chief and priest, Taheia must sit in her place in the crowded bench of the feast." So it was spoken; and she, girding her garment high, Fled and was swallowed of woods, swift as the sight of an eye.

Night over isle and sea rolled her curtain of stars, Then a trouble awoke in the air, the east was banded with bars; Dawn as yellow as sulphur leaped on the mountain height; Dawn, in the deepest glen, fell a wonder of light; High and clear stood the palms in the eye of the brightening east, And lo! from the sides of the sea the broken sound of the feast! As, when in days of summer, through open windows, the fly Swift as a breeze and loud as a trump goes by, But when frosts in the field have pinched the wintering mouse, Blindly noses and buzzes and hums in the firelit house: So the sound of the feast gallantly trampled at night, So it staggered and drooped, and droned in the morning light.

IV. THE RAID

It chanced that as Rua sat in the valley of silent falls, He heard a calling of doves from high on the cliffy walls. Fire had fashioned of yore, and time had broken, the rocks; There were rooting crannies for trees and nesting-places for flocks; And he saw on the top of the cliffs, looking up from the pit of the shade, A flicker of wings and sunshine, and trees that swung in the trade. "The trees swing in the trade," quoth Rua, doubtful of words, "And the sun stares from the sky, but what should trouble the birds?" Up from the shade he gazed, where high the parapet shone, And he was aware of a ledge and of things that moved thereon. "What manner of things are these? Are they spirits abroad by day? Or the foes of my clan that are come, bringing death by a perilous way?"

The valley was gouged like a vessel, and round like the vessel's lip, With a cape of the side of the hill thrust forth like the bows of a ship. On the top of the face of the cape a volley of sun struck fair, And the cape overhung like a chin a gulph of sunless air. "Silence, heart! What is that?--that, that flickered and shone, Into the sun for an instant, and in an instant gone? Was it a warrior's plume, a warrior's girdle of hair? Swung in the loop of a rope, is he making a bridge of the air?"

Once and again Rua saw, in the trenchant edge of the sky, The giddy conjuring done.

Ballads Page 14

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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