Dunstanburgh Castle – Sir Guy the Seeker.

Outline view in ink of part of the inside of Dunstanburgh Castle near Dunstan in Northumberland, built for Earl Thomas of Lancaster in the 14th century.
Public Domain

Ike those in the head of a man just dead
Are his eyes, and his beard’s like snow;
But when here he came, his glance was a flame,
And his locks seemed the plumes of the crow.

Since then are o’er forty summers and more;
Yet he still near the castle remains,
And pines for a sight of that lady bright,
Who wears the wizard’s chains.

Nor sun nor snow from the ruins go
Can force that aged wight;
And still the pile, hall, chapel and aisle,
He searches day and night.

But find can he ne’er the winding stair,
Which he past that beauty to see,
Whom spells enthrall in the haunted hall,
Where none but once may be.

That once, regret will not let him forget!
‘Twas night, and pelting showers
Did patter and splash, when the lightening’s flash
Showed Dunstanburgh’s grey towers.

Raised high on a mound that castle frowned
In ruined pagean-trie;
And where to the north did rocks jut forth,
It’s towers hung over the sea.

Proud they stood, and darkened the flood;
For the cliffs were so rugged and steep,
Had a plummet been dropt from their summit unstopt
That plummet had reached the deep.

Nor flower were grew; nor tree e’er drew
Its nurture from that ground;
Save a lovely yew, whose branches threw
Their baleful shade around.

Loud was the roar on that sounding shore;
Yet still could the Knight discern,
Louder than all, the swell and the fall
Of the bellowing Rumble Churn!

With strange turmoil did it bubble and broil,
And echo from place to place;
So strong was its dash, and so high did it splash,
That it washt the castle’s base.

The spray, as it broke, appeared like smoke
From a sea-volcano pouring;
And still did it rumble, and grumble, and tumble,
Rioting! Raging! Roaring!

Up the hill Sir Guy made his courser fly,
And hoped, from the wind and the rain,
That he there should find some refuge kind;
But he sought it long in vain.

For fast and hard each portal was barred,
And against his efforts proof;
Till at length he espied a porch spread awide
The shelter of its roof.

‘Gramercy, St. George!’ quoth glad Sir Guy,
And sought the porch with speed;
And fast to the yew, which near it grew,
He bound his Barbary stead;

And safety found on that shattered ground
From the sky’s increasing gloom;
From his brow he took his casque, and he shook
The rain off, that burthened its plume.

Then long he stood in mournful mood,
With listless sullen air,
Propt on his lance, and with indolent glance
Watcht the red lightning’s glare;

And sadly listened to the shower,
On the clattering roof that fell;
And counted twice the lonely hour,
Tolled by some distant bell.

But scare the bell could midnight tell,
When louder roared the thunder,
And the bolt so red whizzed by his head,
And burst the gates asunder.

And lo! Through the dark a glimmering spark
He espied of lurid blue;
Onward it came, and a form all flame
Soon struck his wondering view!

Twas an ancient man of visage wan,
Gigantic was his height;
And his breast below there was seen to flow
A beard of grizzled white.

And flames o’er spread his hairless head,
And down his beard they streamed;
And in his hand a radiant wand
Of burning iron gleamed.

Of darkest grain, with flowing train,
A wonderous robe he wore,
With many a charm, to work man’s harm,
In fire embroidered o’er;

And this robe was bound his waist around
With a triple chain red-hot!
And still came nigher that phantom of fire,
Till he reacht the self-same spot,

Where stood Sir Guy, while his hair bustled high,
And his breath he scarce could draw;
And he crost his breast, for, I wot, he guesst,
‘Twas Belzebub’s self that he saw!

And full on the Knight that ghastly wight
Fixt his green and glassy eyes;
And he clanked his chain, and he howled with pain,
Ere his words were heard to rise.

“Sir Knight, Sir Knight! If your heart be right,
And your nerves be firm and true,
Sir Knight, Sir Knight! A beauty bright
In durance waits for you.

But Sir Knight, Sir Knight! If you ever knew fright,
That Dame forbear to view;
Or, Sir Knight, Sir Knight! That you feasted your sight,
While you live, you’ll sorely rue!”

‘That mortal ne’er drew vital air,
Who witnessed fear in me:
Come what come will, come good, come ill,
Lead on! I’ll follow thee!’

And now they go both high and low,
Above and under ground,
And in and out, and about and about,
And round, and round, and round!

The storm is husht, and lets them hear
The owlet’s boding screech,
As now through many a passage drear
A winding stair they reach.

With beckoning hand, which flamed like a brand,
Still on the Wizard led;
And well could Sir Guy hear a sob and a sigh,
As up the first flight he sped!

While the second he past with footsteps fast,
He heard a death-bell toll!
While he climber the third, a whisper he heard,
‘God’s mercy on thy soul!’

And now at the top the wanderers stop
A brazen gate before
Of massive make; and a living snake
Was the bolt, which held the door.

In many a fold round the staple ‘twas rolld;
With venom its jaw ran o’er;
And that juice of hell, where-ever it fell,
To a cinder burnt the floor.

When the monster beheld Sir Guy, he swelled
With fury, and threw out his sting;
Sparks flasht from each eye, and he reared him on high,
And prepared on the Warrior to spring;

But the Wizard’s hand extended his wand ,
And the reptile drooped his crest,
Yet strove to bite, in impotent spite,
The ground which gave him rest!

And now the gate is heard to grate,
On its hinges turning slow;
Till on either side the valves yawn wide,
And the wanderers go in.

“Twas a spacious hall, whose sides were all
With sable hangings dight;
And whose echoing floor was diamonded o’er
With marble black and white;

And of marble black as the raven’s back
A hundred steeds stood round;
And of marble white, by each, a knight
Lay sleeping on the ground;

And a hundred shafts of laboured bronze
The fretted roof upheld;
And the ponderous gloom of that vaulted room
A hundred lights dispelled;

And a dead man’s arm by a magic charm
Each glimmering taper bore,
And where it was lopt, still dropt and drpot
Thick gouts of clotted gore.

Where ends the room, doth a crystal tomb
It’s towering front uphold;
And one on each hand two skeletons stand,
Which belonged to two giants of old;

That on the right holds a faulchion bright,
That on the left a horn;
And crowns of jet with jewels beset
Their eyeless skulls adorn:

And both these grim colossal kings
With fingers long and lean
Point towards the tomb, within whose womb
A captive Dame is seen.

A form more fair than that prisoner’s ne’er
Since the days of Eve was known;
Every glance that flew from her eyes of blue,
Was worth an Emperor’s throne,
And one sweet kiss from her roseate lips
Would have melted a bosom of stone.

Soon as Sir Guy had met her eye,
Knelt low that captive maid;
And her lips of love seemed fast to move,
But he heard not what she said.

Then her hands did she join in suppliant sign,
Her hands more white than snow;
And like dews that streak the rose’s cheek,
Her tears began to flow.

The Warrior felt his stout heart melt,
When he saw those fountains run:
‘Oh! What can I do,’ he cried, ‘for you?
What mortal can do, shall be done!’

Then our and speaks the Wizard;
Hollow his accents fall!
‘Was never a man, since the world began,
Could burst that crystal wall.

For the hand, which raised its magic frame,
Had oft claspt Satan’s own;
And the lid bears a name….Young Knight the same
Is stamp’d on Satan’s throne;

At its maker’s birth long tumbled the earth;
The skies dropt showers of gore;
And she, who the light gave the wonderous wight,
Had died seven years before;

And at Satan’s right hand while keeping his stand,
The foulest fiend of fire
Shrunk back with awe, when the babe he saw,
For it shockt its very sire!

But hark, Sir Knight! The riddle aright
The riddle I’ll riddle to thee;
Thou’lt learn a way without delay
To set yon damsel free.

Seest yonder sword, with jewels rare
Its dudgeon crusted o’er?
Seest yonder horn of ivory fair?
‘Twas Merlin’s horn of yore!

That horn to sound, or sword to draw,
Now, youth, your choice explain!
But that which you choose, beware how you lose,
For you never will find it again:

And that once lost, all hopes are crost,
Which now you fondly form;
And that once gone, the sun ne’er shone,
A sadder wight to warm:

But such keen woe, as never can know
Oblivion’s balmy power,
With fixed despair your soul will share,
Till comes your dying hour.

Your choice now make for yon Beauty’s sake;
To burst her bonds endeavour;
But that which you choose, beware how you lose;
Once lost, ‘tis lost for ever!’

In pensive mood awhile he stood
Sir Guy, and gazed around;
Now he turned his sight to the left, to the right,
Now he fixt it on the ground.

Now the faulchion’s blaze attracted his gaze;
On the hilt his fingers lay;
But he heard fear cry, – ‘you’re wrong Sir Guy!’
And he snatcht his hand away!

Now his steps he addrest towards the North and the West;
Now he turned towards the East and the South;
Till with desperate thought the horn he caught,
And prest it to his mouth.

Hark! The blast is a blast so strong and so shrill,
That the vaults like thunder ring;
And each marble horse stamps the floor with force,
And from sleep the Warriors spring!

And frightened stares each stony eye,
As now with ponderous tread
They rush on Sir Guy, poising on high
Their spears to strike him dead.

At this strange attack full swift sprung back,
I wot, the startled Knight!
Away he threw the horn, and drew
His faulchion keen and bright.

But soon as the horn his grasp forsook,
Was heard a cry of grief;
It seemed to yell of a soul in hell
Made desperate for relief!

And straight each light was extinguish quite
Save the flames of lurid-blue
On the Wizard’s brow, (whose flashing now
Assumed a bloody hue),
And those sparks of fire, which grief and ire
From his glaring eye-balls drew!

And he stampt with rage, and he laught in scorn,
While in thundering tone he roared,
‘Now shame on the coward who sounded the horn,
When he might have unsheathed the sword!’

He said, and from his mouth there came
A vapour blue and dank,
Whose poisonous breath seemed the kiss of death,
For the Warrior senseless sank.

Morning breaks! Again he wakes;
Lo! In the porch he lies,
And still in his heart, he feels the dart
Which shot from the captive’s eyes.

From the ground he springs! As if he had wings,
The ruin he wanders o’er,
And with prying look each cranny and nook,
His anxious eyes explore:

But find can he ne’er the winding stair,
Which he climbed that Dame to see,
Whom spells enthrall in the haunted hall,
Where none but once may be.

The earliest ray of dawning day
Beholds his search begun:
The evening star ascends his car,
Not yet his search is done:

Whence the neighbours all the Knight now call
By ‘Guy the Seeker’s’ name;
For never he knows one hour’s repose
From his wish to find the dame:

But still he seeks, and aye he seeks,
And seeks, and seeks in vain;
And still he repeats to all he meets,
‘Could I find the sword again!

Which words he follows with a groan,
As if his heart would break;
And oh! That groan has so strange a tone,
It makes all hearers quake!

The villagers round know well its sound,
And when they hear it poured,
‘Hark! Hark!’ they cry; ‘the Seeker Guy
Groans for the Wizard’s sword.’

Twice twenty springs on their fragrant wings
For his wound have brought no balm;
For still he’s found……But, hark! What sound
Disturbs the midnight calm?

Good peasants, tell, why rings the knell?
‘Tis the Seeker-Guy’s we toll;
His race is run; his search is done.’
God’s mercy on his soul!

Matthew Gregory Lewis. c.1808

Lewis. M. G. 1808. Sir Guy, The Seeker. In Moore. J. S. 1853. The Pictorial Book of Ancient Ballad Poetry of Great Britain: Historical, Traditional and Romantic. Henry Washbourne & Co.

Dunstanburgh Castle
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