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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

November 5

Death of the Princess Charlotte

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

  • From “Childe Harold”
  • Only daughter of George IV. She died in childbirth on Nov. 5, 1817.

  • HARK! forth from the abyss a voice proceeds,

    A long low distant murmur of dread sound,

    Such as arises when a nation bleeds

    With some deep and immedicable wound;

    Through storm and darkness yawns the rending ground,

    The gulf is thick with phantoms, but the chief

    Seems royal still, though with her head discrown’d,

    And pale, but lovely, with maternal grief

    She clasps a babe, to whom her breast yields no relief.

    Scion of chiefs and monarchs, where art thou?

    Fond hope of many nations, art thou dead?

    Could not the grave forget thee, and lay low

    Some less majestic, less beloved head?

    In the sad midnight, while thy heart still bled,

    The mother of a moment, o’er thy boy,

    Death hush’d that pang for ever: with thee fled

    The present happiness and promised joy

    Which fill’d the imperial isles so full it seem’d to cloy.

    Peasants bring forth in safety.—Can it be,

    O thou that wert so happy, so adored!

    Those who weep not for kings shall weep for thee,

    And Freedom’s heart, grown heavy, cease to hoard,

    Her many griefs for ONE; for she had pour’d

    Her orisons for thee, and o’er thy head

    Beheld her Iris.—Thou, too, lonely lord,

    And desolate consort—vainly wert thou wed!

    The husband of a year! the father of the dead!

    Of sackcloth was thy wedding garment made;

    Thy bridal’s fruit is ashes: in the dust

    The fair-hair’d Daughter of the Isles is laid,

    The love of millions! How we did entrust

    Futurity to her! and, though it must

    Darken above our bones, yet fondly deem’d

    Our children should obey her child, and bless’d

    Her and her hoped-for seed, whose promise seem’d

    Like star to shepherds’ eyes:—’twas but a meteor beam’d.

    Woe unto us, not her; for she sleeps well:

    The fickle reek of popular breath, the tongue

    Of hollow counsel, the false oracle,

    Which from the birth of monarchy hath rung

    Its knell in princely ears, till the o’erstung

    Nations have arm’d in madness, the strange fate

    Which tumbles mightiest sovereigns, and hath flung

    Against their blind omnipotence a weight

    Within the opposing scale, which crushes soon or late,—

    These might have been her destiny; but no,

    Our hearts deny it: and so young, so fair,

    Good without effort, great without a foe;

    But now a bride and mother—and now there!

    How many ties did that stern moment tear!

    From thy Sire’s to his humblest subject’s breast

    Is link’d the electric chain of that despair,

    Whose shock was as an earthquake’s, and opprest

    The land which loved thee, so that none could love thee best.