Richard Harris Barham

Here you will find the Long Poem The Lay of St. Odille of poet Richard Harris Barham

The Lay of St. Odille

Odille was a maid of a dignified race; 
Her father, Count Otto, was lord of Alsace; 
Such an air, such a grace, 
Such a form, such a face, 
All agreed 'twere a fruitless endeavour to trace 
In the Court, or within fifty miles of the place. 
Many ladies in Strasburg were beautiful, still 
They were beat all to sticks by the lovely Odille. 

But Odille was devout, and, before she was nine, 
Had 'experienced a call' she consider'd divine, 
To put on the veil at St. Ermengarde's shrine.-- 
Lords, Dukes, and Electors, and Counts Palatine 
Came to seek her in marriage from both sides the Rhine; 
But vain their design, 
They are all left to pine, 
Their oglings and smiles are all useless; in fine, 
Not one of these gentlefolks, try as they will, 
Can draw 'Ask my papa' from the cruel Odille. 

At length one of her suitors, a certain Count Herman, 
A highly respectable man as a German, 
Who smoked like a chimney, and drank like a merman, 
Paid his court to her father, conceiving his firman 
Would soon make her bend, 
And induce her to lend 
An ear to a love-tale in lieu of a sermon. 
He gained the old Count, who said, 'Come, Mynheer, fill!-- 
Here's luck to yourself and my daughter Odille!' 

The lady Odille was quite nervous with fear 
When a little bird whisper'd that toast in her ear; 
She murmur'd 'Oh, dear! 
My papa has got queer, 
I am sadly afraid, with that nasty strong beer! 
He's so very austere, and severe, that it's clear 
If he gets in his 'tantrums,' I can't remain here; 
But St. Ermengarde's convent is luckily near; 
It were folly to stay, 
Pour prendre congé, 
I shall put on my bonnet, and e'en run away!' 
-- She unlock'd the back door, and descended the hill, 
On whose crest stood the towers of the sire of Odille. 

When he found she'd levanted, the Count of Alsace 
At first turn'd remarkably red in the face; 
He anathematized, with much unction and grace, 
Every soul who came near, and consign'd the whole race 
Of runaway girls to a very warm place. 
With a frightful grimace 
He gave orders for chase. 
His vassals set off at a deuce of a pace, 
And of all whom they met, high or low, Jack or Jill, 
Ask'd, 'Pray, have you seen anything of Odille?'-- 

Now I think I've been told,-- for I'm no sporting man,-- 
That the 'knowing-ones' call this by far the best plan, 
'Take the lead and then keep it!'-- that is if you can.-- 
Odille thought so too, so she set off and ran; 
Put her best leg before, 
Starting at score, 
As I said some lines since, from that little back door, 
And not being missed until half after four, 
Had what hunters call 'law' for a good hour and more; 
Doing her best, 
Without stopping to rest, 
Like 'young Lochinvar who came out of the West,' 
''Tis done! I am gone!-- over briar, brook, and rill! 
They'll be sharp lads who catch me!' said young Miss Odille. 

But you've all read in Æsop, or Phædrus, or Gay, 
How a tortoise and hare ran together one day, 
How the hare, 'making play, 
Progress'd right slick away,' 
As 'them tarnation chaps' the Americans say; 
While the tortoise, whose figure is rather outré 
For racing, crawled straight on, without let or stay, 
Having no post-horse duty or turnpikes to pay, 
Till ere noon's ruddy ray 
Changed to eve's sober grey, 
Though her form and obesity caused some delay, 
Perseverance and patience brought up her lee-way, 
And she chased her fleet-footed 'praycursor,' until 
She o'ertook her at last;-- so it fared with Odille. 

For although, as I said, she ran gaily at first, 
And show'd no inclination to pause, if she durst; 
She at length felt opprest with the heat, and with thirst 
Its usual attendant; nor was that the worst, 
Her shoes went down at heel;-- at last one of them burst. 
Now a gentleman smiles 
At a trot of ten miles; 
But not so the Fair; then consider the stiles, 
And as then ladies seldom wore things with a frill 
Round the ancle, these stiles sadly bother'd Odille. 

Still, despite all the obstacles placed in her track, 
She kept steadily on, though the terrible crack 
In her shoe made of course her progression more slack, 
Till she reached the Swartz Forest (in English The Black); 
I cannot divine 
How the boundary line 
Was passed which is somewhere there formed by the Rhine. 
Perhaps she'd the knack 
To float o'er on her back. 
Or perhaps crossed the old bridge of boats at Brisach, 
(Which Vauban some years after secured from attack, 
By a bastion of stone which the Germans call 'Wacke,') 
All I know is she took not so much as a snack, 
Till hungry and worn, feeling wretchedly ill, 
On a mountain's brow sank down the weary Odille. 

I said on its 'brow,' but I should have said 'crown,'