Poem, 1833, ‘The Legend of Gelert’s Grave’

Anon, 1833 or earlier

THE heavy clouds which through the night
Have hung on Snowdon’s head,
Are changing now to fleecy white,
Now blushing rosy red;
The streaming lake, the dusky sea,
Sleep on in morn’s serenity.

What breaks the silence on the hill?
What wakes the starting hare?
The rustling copse, the splashing rill,
The pack’s release declare;
O’er heath and moss, through moor and brake,
Their deep-mouth’d tones the echoes wake.

Llewelyn, on his fiery steed,
Calls to him every hound;
And all obey the call with speed,
Save one, which ne’er was found
Till now neglectfully to scorn
Llewelyn’s voice, Llewelyn’s horn.

“Ah! where is faithful Gelert gone,
The fleetest of his race?
The high-prized gift of royal John,
The leader of the chace;
So bold, so stanch, so keenly true.”
Again his horn the monarch blew.

But Gelert came not. “Oh! away,
While yet the dews are sheen;
We’ll track the deer ere shines the day,
Through Glaslyn’s valley green.
On, on! ere Wyddfa’s peak is won,
Our eye shall greet the rising sun.”

Loud crack’d the whip, the shrill horn blew,
The eager steeds are champing;
The yelping dogs, the wild halloo
Of footmen stoutly tramping,
Awaken Nature from her dream,
The raven’s croak, the eagle’s scream.

[note:] The river Glaslyn, which runs through Beddgelert, rises in the lake upon Snowdon, called Glaslyn or Blue Lake.
Y Wyddfa, or The Conspicuous, is the name of the highest peak of Snowdon. [end of note]

From bracken couch up springs the deer;
Behold him stand to listen,
Shake his wet flanks, his antlers rear,
Which yet with dew-drops glisten.
Then bounding o’er the hills afar,
Vanish like meteoric star.

Meantime, with noses to the ground,
In silence through the glen;
The pack move on, the leading hound
Now marks the scent, and then
Gives tongue. Now bursts the joyous cry!
The hunter’s glorious minstrelsy!

Along Snowdonia’s gentler sweep,
Awhile at ease they run;
Now clamber up the rugged steep,
Just kindling in the sun;
And now they dash into the hollow,
Where neither horse nor man can follow.

Again rejoined, the lengthen’d train
Like magic-lantern pass,
In momentary shadowy chain,
O’er thy blue lake, Llynglas.
With nostrils wide, nerve, joint, and sinew strained,
Panting with toil, the high red ridge is gained.

Here on the dizzy height they pause,
To catch the fresh-blown air,
Terrific nature overawes
The boldest rider there.
From either hand a pebble hurl’d,
Would plunge into a lower world.

“Tis but another step to dare
Eryri’s loftiest peak!
Press on, my steed, the hounds are there!”
So did the chieftain speak.
His well-tried charger soon the point has won.
Llewelyn waves his cap—the chase is done.

For, far below, his piercing eye
Descries a mangled heap
Of broken limbs, still quivering, lie:
At one tremendous leap
The stag had dash’d through air with fearless bound,
And thus a death more merciful had found,
Than spearman’s murderous lance, or tooth of madden’d hound.

[note:] “The Red Ridge is a narrow terrace between the two highest peaks. Craig Eryri, the Eagle Crag, the name for Snowdon. [end of note]

Now slowly onward wend the weary train
Dismounted, on the arm the loosen’d rein.
In mute amaze they view the grand expanse
Of land and ocean. There a distant glance
Of Erin’s Isle—of Cumbria’s pale blue mountains,
Nearer, the Isle of Mona. Here the fountains
Springing through peat-moss, or in torrents gushing,
Widening to rivers, and to ocean rushing.
“How oft these deep ravines and mountains hoary
Have check’d the Saxon’s pride and echoed Cambria’s glory!
E’en the fierce Roman, the exulting foe,
Who “came, and saw, and conquer’d,” at a blow;
Whose matchless discipline and powerful legions
Had tamed the higher Alps of Southern regions,
Found in Snowdonia’s well-defended right,
Impenetrable strength that foiled his might.
Behold! that peak, crown’d with a heap of stones,
Carnedd Llewelyn. There are laid the bones
Of that dread champion, who with strength sublime,
Had killed so many giants in his time,
That of their beards he made a vesture hoary.”
Thus they beguiled the way with ancient story,
Unheeding that their prince had onward stole
For scenes and joys far dearer to his soul.
Oh! there is not on earth so transcendent a pleasure,
As a parent’s return to his dear infant treasure,
The guileless endearments of childhood are worth
All the pearls of the ocean or gems of the earth;
The innocent confidence, playful caresses,
They twine through the heart to its inmost recesses.
Then the wife’s welcome home with the smile of affection,
That seeks in one bosom her safest protection;
Be the dwelling a hut, or a glittering dome,
These blessings alone make an Eden of home.

Such was Llewelyn’s Paradise, all in a nook
Of emerald green, shelter’d by woods; the brook
Which long had push’d through rocks and tangled weeds,
Here wander’d pleasantly through verdant meads.
Courting the gaze of overhanging flowers,
Or glittering through the summer’s waving bowers.
A fairy ring of gentle hills inclosed
This happy vale, where Love and Peace reposed.

Perpetual calm is not for mortal man!
His bark is launch’d upon a stormy sea;
And if with rainbow promise he began,
The shower will follow, and the sunshine flee.
The hand of woe has mixed our cup of glee;
And while with joy we view the sparkling tip,
The fiend is mocking our hilarity,
And waits the hour to dash it from the lip;
Grief we may deeply drink, but Pleasure only sip.

Swift as the wind Llewelyn’s courser flies,
And safe his master to his home has brought;
The chieftain lifts the latch, and forward hies
To kiss the infant of his tender thought.
Twas ever thus the nursery first he sought;
And, though fatigued with toil of war or chase,
Or summer’s heat, or winter’s cold, he caught
From wife and children’s smile and lov’d embrace,
New life, that gave his soul refreshing resting-place.

His features all with glowing rapture bright,
Parental transport kindling in his eye;
His buoyant spirit dancing with delight,
He gently opes the door his babe to spy.—
But horror chills his frame,—pale agony
Makes to its source the curdling blood rebound.
When overturn’d he sees the cradle lie,
The clothes in loose confusion scatter’d round,
And with his jaws all gore beholds his favorite hound

“Gelert! hast thou devour’d my child?”
The frantic father cried;
Then drew his sword with anger wild,
And plung’d it in his side.

The faithful creature as he fell,
Lick’d his old master’s feet;
His heavy groans, his dying yell,
Rang through the whole retreat.

But what is that soul-thrilling noise,
That shrill awak’ning cry,
Like spirit from the dead?—a voice
That tells of bliss gone by!

Yet, hush !—again—it is my boy!
Where art thou, cherub ?—where?
He moves—he lives !—What joy! what joy!
My lost one, art thou there?

There, where the clothes were lightly thrown,
In slumber unmolested,
Till waked by Gelert’s dying groan,
The little babe had rested.

Llewelyn’s first high transport o’er,
He search’d with anxious care
The blood-stained heaps that strew’d the floor,
To find if aught were there

That could unveil the mystery;
When lo! beneath the bed,
With faws still grinning horribly,
A hideous wolf lay dead.

“Ah! faithful dog! too late I see
The tale of bloody strife.
Thy courage, thy fidelity,
Have saved my darling’s life.

And thine I’ve sacrificed in rage
That fired my soul to madness.
Time may roll on—’twill ne’er assuage
This heart’s remorseful sadness.

A pious monument I’ll rear
In mem’ry of the brave;
And passers-by will drop a tear
On faithful Gelert’s grave.

The Cambrian and Caledonian Quarterly Magazine and Celtic Repertory, vol. 5, (London: 1833), pp. 398-402

Edited versions also published in:

Anon, [Campbell, Mrs], Stories from the History of Wales for young persons (Shrewsbury, 1833), pp. 159-166 with illustration (frontispiece)

Hansard, G.A., Trout and salmon fishing in Wales (London, 1834), pp. 194-199

Campbell, Mrs, Tales about Wales: with a catechism of Welsh history (2nd edition, Edinburgh, 1837, edited by Captain Basil Hall), pp. 213-219 with illustration (frontispiece)