Cumnor Hall

Original Text: 
Old Ballads, ed. Thomas Evans, 2nd edn. (London: T. Evans, 1784), IV. B-11 6274 Fisher Rare Book Library
2    The moone (sweete regente of the skye)
3Silver'd the walles of Cumnor Halle,
4    And manye an oake that grewe therebye.
5Nowe noughte was hearde beneath the skies,
6    (The soundes of busye lyfe were stille,)
7Save an unhappie ladie's sighes,
8    That issued from that lonelye pile.
9"Leicester," shee cried, "is thys thy love
10    That thou so oft has sworne to mee
11To leave mee in thys lonelye grove,
12    Immurr'd in shameful privitie?
13"No more thou com'st with lover's speede,
14    Thy once-beloved bryde to see;
15But bee shee alive, or bee shee deade,
16    I feare (sterne earle's) the same to thee.
17"Not so the usage I receiv'd,
18    When happye in my father's halle;
19No faithlesse husbande then me griev'd,
20    No chilling feares did mee appall.
21"I rose up with the chearful morne,
22    No lark more blith, no flow'r more gaye;
23And, like the birde that hauntes the thorne,
24    So merrylie sung the live-long daye.
25"If that my beautye is but smalle,
26    Among court ladies all despis'd;
27Why didst thou rend it from that halle,
28    Where (scorneful earle) it well was priz'de?
29"And when you first to mee made suite,
30    How fayre I was you oft would saye!
31And, proude of conquest--pluck'd the fruite,
32    Then lefte the blossom to decaye.
33"Yes, nowe neglected and despis'd,
34    The rose is pale--the lilly's deade--
35But hee that once their charmes so priz'd,
36    Is sure the cause those charms are fledde.
37"For knowe, when sick'ning griefe doth preye
38    And tender love's repay'd with scorne,
39The sweetest beautye will decaye--
40    What flow'ret can endure the storme?
41"At court I'm tolde is beauty's throne,
42    Where everye lady's passing rare;
43That eastern flow'rs, that shame the sun,
44    Are not so glowing, not soe fayre.
45"Then, earle, why didst thou leave the bedds
46    Where roses and where lillys vie,
47To seek a primrose, whose pale shades
49"'Mong rural beauties I was one,
50    Among the fields wild flow'rs are faire;
51Some countrye swayne might mee have won,
52    And thoughte my beautie passing rare.
53"But, Leicester, (or I much am wronge)
54    Or tis not beautye lures thy vowes;
55Rather ambition's gilded crowne
56    Makes thee forget thy humble spouse.
57"Then, Leicester, why, again I pleade,
58    (The injur'd surelye may repyne,)
59Why didst thou wed a countrye mayde,
60    When some fayre princesse might be thyne?
61"Why didst thou praise my humble charmes,
62    And, oh! then leave them to decaye?
63Why didst thou win me to thy armes,
64    Then leave me to mourne the live-long daye?
65"The village maidens of the plaine
66    Salute me lowly as they goe;
67Envious they marke my silken trayne,
68    Nor thinke a countesse can have woe.
69"The simple nymphs! they little knowe,
70    How farre more happy's their estate--
71To smile for joye--than sigh for woe--
72    To be contente--than to be greate.
73"Howe farre lesse bleste am I than them?
74    Dailye to pyne and waste with care!
75Like the poore plante, that from its stem
76    Divided--feeles the chilling ayre.
77"Nor (cruel earl!) can I enjoye
78    The humble charmes of solitude;
79Your minions proude my peace destroye,
80    By sullen frownes or pratings rude.
81"Laste nyghte, as sad I chanc'd to straye,
82    The village deathe-bell smote my eare;
83They wink'd asyde, and seem'd to saye,
84    Countesse, prepare--thy end is neare.
85"And nowe, while happye peasantes sleepe,
86    Here I set lonelye and forlorne;
87No one to soothe mee as I weepe,
89My spirits flag--my hopes decaye--
90    Still that dreade deathe-bell smites my eare;
91And many a boding seems to saye,
92    Countess, prepare--thy end is neare."
93Thus sore and sad that ladie griev'd,
94    In Cumnor Halle so lone and dreare;
95And manye a heartefelte sighe shee heav'd
96    And let falle manye a bitter teare.
97And ere the dawne of daye appear'd,
98    In Cumnor Hall so lone and dreare,
99Full manye a piercing screame was hearde,
100    And manye a crye of mortal feare.
101The death-belle thrice was hearde to ring,
102    An aërial voyce was hearde to call,
103And thrice the raven flapp'd its wyng
104    Arounde the tow'rs of Cumnor Hall.
105The mastiffe howl'd at village doore,
106    The oaks were shatter'd on the greene;
107Woe was the houre--for never more
108    That haplesse countesse e'er was seene.
109And in that manor now no more
110    Is chearful feaste and sprightly balle;
111For ever since that drearye houre
112    Have spirits haunted Cumnor Hall.
113The village maides, with fearful glance,
114    Avoid the antient mossgrowne walle;
115Nor ever leade the merrye dance,
116    Among the groves of Cumnor Halle.
117Full manye a travellor oft hath sigh'd,
118    And pensive wepte the countess' falle,
119As wand'ring onwards they've espied
120    The haunted tow'rs of Cumnor Halle.


1] Evans' Old Ballads was a collection like Percy's Reliques that contained not only genuine ballads but archaized imitations. These were inspired by the enormous popularity of Percy's book. The speaker in this poem is Amy Robsart, the wife of Lord Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. The latter was a favorite of Elizabeth I, and therefore was determined to keep the marriage secret. In 1560 he told his wife to go to Cumnor Place, where she was found lying dead. There is no conclusive evidence against Dudley, but there is no doubt that her death was in his interests. The story is the basis of Scott's Kenilworth, and Scott in his preface acknowledges the influence of this poem and quotes it in full. Back to Line
48] gaudes: showy ornaments. Back to Line
88] phylomel: the nightingale. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.759; RPO 1996-2000.