The embers glow and sparkle in the grate,
The night is dark and deep, the hour is late;
The figures four about the fire repose,
Each clad in port-stained doublet, coat and hose;
Thus purple velvet edged with golden thread,
Winds softly round from toe to noble head,
Upon which gentle meads, in gentle sport,
An hundred tipsy unicorns cavort.
Without the cottage walls, in nether gloom,
The winter forest, silent as the tomb,
Enfolds the hearth that lights the lonely dell:
Within the copse, there treads with padfoot fell,
The crimson doom of travellers forlorn —
The ravening wolf, ’pon whose obscure form
There breaks a moonlight glint of marble fang,
Whence sounds there baneful howls to chill the sang.
The ’questered friends draw nearer to the flames,
That lick with black’ning tongue their granite frame,
The massy Tudor arch, the fireplace bold,
Where leaps the kindling warmth, that shines as gold
Upon the figures four, who contemplate
The night so dark and deep, the hour so late.
Anon the parish bell strikes in the tow’r —
Twelve serpents’ kisses at the witching hour;
Into the hall the ancient door rebounds,
As five great blows upon the oak resound;
The argent orb from forth a cloud reveals
A favoured son, for she in splendour deals,
Wherein this soul is bounteously blessed,
So fine his visage is, and in his breast
There pulses fast a gen’rous, loving heart,
Survivor yet of melancholy’s dart.
His ebon’ hair in noble curls enfolds
A tender smile, as he the scene beholds;
He takes a mighty quaff from ancient bones,
(His skull cap at his touch in pleasure groans),
And in sepulchral notes this speech intones:
‘Byronists, though ye but four in number are,
Ye be my favoured sons and daughter far;
To Castle Combe ’mid winter’s gusts you came
To drink my health and celebrate my name,
Whilst idle tightfists chose to lie abedde,
Who to their ease and mortgages are wed:
In vengeance dire I will their offspring blight —
They shall be dense as mud and dull as night!
But thee, my votaries, shall know success;
The road to wisdom lies but through excess!
Steve as the Bach of Boston will be known —
Shall Profs and teenbabes for his motets moan;
And Chris’s hoard from futures keen shall vie
With loot from tomes for which all housewives sigh;
Alas! For Dan J can there be no hope,
Who’s clinkward bound — if he can ’scape the rope!
Stay true to me, and heed ye not the chase —
I’ll see you all below in any case!
Recall that on this day of frost and sun,
We owe it to ourselves to have some fun.’
His speech is done; the parish bell strikes five;
The cock’rel shrieks — to wake the dead he strives;
Just then, as if by secret vapours drawn,
The figure melted quite into the dawn;
The hall was still, and chill the morning air
Remained without, and dared not venture there;
The spellbound friends awake with wild surmise,
With faces wan, but fire within their eyes.