Ambrose Hardinge Giffard 1791

By Sir A. Hardinge Giffard 1791

In the dark woods of Umberleigh
Lord Arthur leads his quiet life
Amongst his daughter’s children, free
From courtly care and courtly strife.

No other wish has he, and yet
Oft might a thought of lofty things
Visit the last Plantagenet,
Sprung from a race of mighty kings.

But well, I ween, the jealous mind
Of his hot nephew he has known,
Nor is his peaceful soul inclined
To seek the thorns that fill a throne.

He leaves to Courtenay and to Pole
The favours of that dangerous king
Who watches in his gloomy soul
The time to make his tiger spring.

There on the sylvan banks of Taw
One lovely daughter blessed his bed,
And twice her bridal rites he saw,
Though now he mourns that daughter dead.

In opening youth to Basset’s heir
Her not unwilling hand she gave,
But clouded was the prospect fair
When Basset filled an early grave.

But youth and grief will lightly part,
And Monk the heir of Potheridge came;
She yielded him her widowed heart,
And to his halls he bore the dame.

Their darling Margaret now is grown
The wonder of the Torridge side,
And good Lord Arthur deems that none
Deserves to claim her for his bride.

But the young heir of Halsbury
Tells his soft wish and wins her heart;
A bold and graceful youth is he,
And formed to play the lover’s part.

And Parkham bells have told the tale
That lovely Margaret is his bride,
And every village in the vale
Has to that joyous sound replied.

‘Come forth, my love’ the bridegroom said,
‘Come look upon the Severn Sea,
Yon cliff that proudly lifts his head
Shall be a seat for you and me.’

In sportive mood the cliff they gained,
The raptured pair the waters view’d,
And o’er the edge their sight they strained
To mark the wild waves fierce and rude.

And still to trace the rocky beach,
Mocking her husband’s anxious eye,
The giddy Margaret forth would stretch,
And still another look would try.

To lure her from this dangerous spot
He turns to point each neighbouring scene -
‘And look, my love, where Portledge Court
Smiles lovely o’er the level green.

‘And westward, dear, direct thine eyes
Where pendent like a sea-bird’s nest
In quiet calm Clovelly lies
Reposing on the cliff’s high breast.

‘See Hartland closing round the bay,
Glamorgan’s shadowy mountains view,
And Lundy, braving ocean’s away
And Dunster’s heights of distant blue.

‘Refrain, my dearest love, refrain,
Nor wildly tempt this dreadful height;
While o’er this giddy brink you strain,
The shock may blind your dazzled sight.’

Her footing fails - his powerful hand
Saves her - but for a sight of woe,
He sees her just securely stand,
And he himself is hurled below.

Oh, bear away that wretched bride
A dismal road to Halsbury Hall,
This morning saw her in her pride
And noontide see her reft of all.

Lord Arthur is a wretched man
To see that pale and lifeless child
Who, when this dismal day began,
In joy and health and beauty smiled.

And far and near he sends for aid
To every Leech of healing skill,
And well are his commands obeyed,
And soon that mourning hall they fill.

But as each remedy applied
Recalls her back to sense and life
‘Tis but to tell that wretched bride
That she no longer is a wife.

And now a murmur rises round,
His voice - his own loved voice - she hears;
She rushes to the well-known sound
And bathes him in her joyful tears.

‘Oh, where and how, my dearest best,
Restored to me and love and life;
What angel could that fate arrest
Sought by thy wretched, reckless wife?’

‘My humblest grateful thanks,’ he said,
‘To the All-merciful are due,
Whose arm has snatched me from the dead,
Restored to life and love and you.

‘For He, without Whose Will, no hair
Is idly from our temples shed,
Even as I fell in middle air
The means of safety round me spread.

‘Twas where of old a ragged oak,
That half-way down the cliff had grown
Forth from a crevice in the rock
Its old and tangled roots had thrown.

‘With wild convulsive grasp my hands
Upon that tangled root I flung,
And pendent o’er the stony strand,
In momentary safety hung.

‘A jutting stone, a gadding briar,
Were aids upon my perilous way,
(Small are the aids that we require
When love and life the prize display,)

‘And soon to many a wondering friend,
Lamenting my untimely doom,
Did I the lower cliff ascend
And hasten to this happy home.’

He ceased, and well you may suppose
The gratitude that Margaret felt,
When in that evening’s happy close,
To pour her fervent thanks she knelt.

Ages have pass’d and names are gone,
But living still in local lore -
Right well the ‘Giffard’s Leap’ is known
To those who tread that rocky shore.