It really doesn’t matter. I mean, there are mistakes, and there are mistakes.
For letter B, I’m writing about another of my mistakes. It’s more of a mistake. But I can’t go right to the heart of the matter. There’s backstory to be dealt with. If you’ll be patient for just a little while, I’ll get there.
Set in 17th century England, the poem tells the story of Bessie, a young woman whose lover, Basil Underwood, has been imprisoned by the Puritans and sentenced to die that night at the sound of the curfew bell. Oliver Cromwell is expected to arrive that night, but after the bell has rung. Bessie begs the sexton not to ring the bell; he says he’s never failed to ring curfew and that he won’t fail to ring it tonight. But Bessie is determined to save her lover. The next lines describe her heroic actions.
Wild her eyes and pale her features, stern and white her thoughtful brow,
As within her secret bosom, Bessie made a solemn vow.
She had listened while the judges read, without a tear or sigh,
‘At the ringing of the curfew, Basil Underwood must die.’
And her breath came fast and faster, and her eyes grew large and bright;
One low murmur, faintly spoken. ‘Curfew must not ring tonight!’
She with quick step bounded forward, sprang within the old church-door,
Left the old man coming slowly, paths he’d trod so oft before.
Not one moment paused the maiden, But with eye and cheek aglow,
Staggered up the gloomy tower, where the bell swung to and fro;
As she climbed the slimy ladder, on which fell no ray of light,
Upward still, her pale lips saying, ‘Curfew shall not ring tonight!’
She has reached the topmost ladder, o’er her hangs the great dark bell;
Awful is the gloom beneath her, like the pathway down to hell.
See! the ponderous tongue is swinging; ’tis the hour of curfew now,
And the sight has chilled her bosom, stopped her breath, and paled her brow.
Shall she let it ring? No, never! Her eyes flash with sudden light,
As she springs, and grasps it firmly: ‘Curfew shall not ring tonight!’
Out she swung – far out. The city seemed a speck of light below ―
There twixt heaven and earth suspended, as the bell swung to and fro.
And the sexton at the bell-rope, old and deaf, heard not the bell,
Sadly thought that twilight curfew rang young Basil’s funeral knell.
Still the maiden, clinging firmly, quivering lip and fair face white,
Stilled her frightened heart’s wild throbbing: ‘Curfew shall not ring tonight!’
It was o’er, the bell ceased swaying; and the maiden stepped once more
Firmly on the damp old ladder, where, for hundred years before,
Human foot had not been planted. The brave deed that she had done
Should be told long ages after. As the rays of setting sun
Light the sky with golden beauty, aged sires, with heads of white,
Tell the children why the curfew did not ring that one sad night.
When Cromwell arrives, she tells him her story, and, touched by her heroism, he lets Basil live. Basil emerges from the prison expecting to die but instead finds Bessie holding his pardon. And—
In his brave, strong arms he clasped her, kissed the face upturned and white,
Whispered, ‘Darling, you have saved me, curfew will not ring tonight.’
For years, “Curfew” was exceedingly popular: A favorite of Queen Victoria, it provided inspiration for a play and and for three silent movies. It was recited by one of the characters in Anne of Green Gables. It also serves as the basis for chamber music composed by Richard Cohn for the Music & Magic Lantern Slides project. View a performance on Youtube.
Now. I know I haven’t gotten to Bowser and Bleh yet, but the hour is late, and I am tired, so I’m off to bed.
In other words, B Will Not Be Writ Tonight.