Category Archives: Lord Byron


Lord Byron: “The Star of The Legion of Honour”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

The only peace agreed to between France and England during the Napoleonic wars was that known as the “Peace of Amiens,” which lasted from March, 1802, until May, 1803. During the existence of that peace the whole world, as it were, rushed to Paris, to catch a glimpse of the man who had wrought such mighty changes in so short a time. The obscure Corsican had become the greatest man of the times. Emperor of France, in all but name, his Court began to take on all the trappings and ceremonies of royalty. Holding the reins of power absolutely within the grasp of his own hands, he tolerated no interference, either by his colleagues or by the people.

In peace, as in war, he rested not, but laboured incessantly for the advancement of his country, whose needs he seemed to comprehend fully. Society was reorganised for the better; judicial reforms were perfected, and the Code pushed forward towards completion; the educational system of the nation was thoroughly revised and improved; the relations between church and state were settled by the signing of the Concordat in the spring of 1802: the finances were brought up to a flourishing condition; magnificent roads and bridges were built; everything, in fact, that could enhance the greatness and glory of France was thought of and carried out by this tireless mind.

It was at this time the Legion of Honour was established.

a-depiction-of-napoleon-making-some-of-the-first-awards-of-the-legion-of-honour-at-a-camp-near-boulogne-on-16-august-1804

Premiere ‘Légion d’honneur’ by Charles Étienne Pierre Motte

A depiction of Napoleon making some of the first awards of the Legion of Honour, at a camp near Boulogne on 16 August 1804

How many a gallant soldier rushed to his death in hopes of winning a place in that legion, and how many a dying hero was made happy by being presented with its badge before he answered the last roll-call. When the “Star” no longer led the Legion on to victory, Byron gave us the following lines.

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Chevalier Légion d’honneur

Lord Byron: “The Battle of Talavera”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte:A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

battle-talavera-l

While Napoleon was winning victory after victory against Austria and the coalition in the north, everything was going wrong in the Peninsula.  Joseph Bonaparte was in no sense a soldier.  The art of war was a mystery to him, and of its wants and necessities he knew nothing.

So little confidence had the marshals, sent by Napoleon to fight his battles in Spain and Portugal, in the military operations of Joseph that they paid no attention to his orders; on the contrary, they seemed to think that it was proper to act each for himself, totally disregarding the good of the service, and the commands of the king.  Personal comfort and aggrandizement were sought after.

Spite and jealousy prevailed among these veteran generals like among a band of schoolboys.  There was no concert of action; no willing aid lent each other.  The whole campaign went wrong from beginning to end.  The French soldiers fought with their accustomed bravery; but, with quarrelsome leaders, against British valour and guerilla warfare, their efforts were unavailing.

The battle of Talavera, fought on 28th July, 1809, resulted in a defeat of the French army, and a most significant victory for the Duke of Wellington, then Sir Arthur Wellesley.  Alternate victory and defeat attended until the 21st June, 1813, when Napoleon’s enterprise in Spain met its Waterloo at the battle of Vittoria.

Battle-of-talavera-28th-july-1809-william-heath

Battle of Talavera

Awake, ye sons of Spain! Awake! Advance!

Lo! Chivalry, your ancient goddess cries;

But wields not, as of old, her thirsty lance,

Nor shakes her crimson plumage in the skies:

Now on the smoke of blazing bolts she flies,

And speaks in thunder through your engine’s roar!

In every peal she calls, “Awake! Arise!”

Say, is her voice more feeble than of yore,

When her war-song was heard on Andalusia’s shore?

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Hark! Heard you not those hoofs of dreadful note?

Sounds not the clang of conflict on the heath?

Nor saved your brethren ere they sank beneath

Tyrants and tyrants’ slaves?—the fires of death,

The bale-fires flash on high : from rock to rock

Each volley tells that thousand cease to breathe;

Death rides upon the sulphury Siroc,

Red Battle stamps his foot, and nations feel the shock.

 .

Lo! Where the Giant on the mountain stands,

His blood-red tresses deepening in the sun,

With death-shot glowering in his fiery hands,

And eye that scorcheth all it glares upon!

Restless it rolls, now fixed, and now anon

Flashing afar—and at his iron feet

Destruction cowers, to mark what deeds are done;

For on this morn three potent nations meet,

To shed before his shrine the blood he deems most sweet.

 .

By Heaven! It is a splendid sight to see

(For one who hath no friend, no brother there)

Their rival scarfs of mixed embroidery,

Their various arms that glitter in the air!

What gallant war-hounds rose them from their lair,

And gnash their fangs, loud yelling for the prey!

All join the chase, but few the triumph share:

The Grave shall bear the chiefest prize away,

And Havoc scarce for joy can number their array.

 .

Three hosts combine to offer sacrifice;

Three tongues prefer strange orisons on high;

Three gaudy standards flout the pale blue skies:

The shouts are France, Spain, Albion, Victory!

The foe, the victim, and the fond ally

That fights for all, but every fights in vain,

Are met—as if at home they could not die—

To feed the crow on Talavera’s plain,

And fertilise the field that each pretends to gain.

 .

There shall they rot—Ambition’s honored fools!

Yes, honour decks the turf that wraps their clay!

Vain Sophistry! In these behold the tools,

The broken tools, that tyrants cast away

By myriads, when they dare to pave their way

With human heart—to what?—a dream alone.

Can despots compass aught that hails their sway?

Or call with truth one span of earth their own,

Save that wherein at last they crumble bone by bone?

 .

43rd-light

Lord Byron: “Lara” 3/3

Excerpt, “The Life and Works of Lord Byron: Notes and Illustrations.” John Murray, London: 1833.

the death of lara - delacroix

The Death of Lara

 

 IX.

Throughout that clime the feudal chiefs had gain’d
Such sway, their infant monarch hardly reign’d;
Now was the hour for faction’s rebel growth,
The serfs contemn’d the one, and hated both:
They waited but a leader, and they found
One to their cause inseparably bound;
By circumstance compell’d to plunge again,
In self-defence, amidst the strife of men.
Cut off by some mysterious fate from those
Whom birth and nature meant not for his foes,
Had Lara from that night, to him accurst,
Prepared to meet, but not alone, the worst:
Some reason urged, whate’er it was, to shun
Inquiry into deeds at distance done;
By mingling with his own the cause of all,
E’en if he fail’d, he still delay’d his fall.
The sullen calm that long his bosom kept,
The storm that once had spent itself and slept,
Roused by events that seem’d foredoom’d to urge
His gloomy fortunes to their utmost verge,
Burst forth, and made him all he once had been,
And is again; he only changed the scene.
Light care had he for life, and less for fame,
But not less fitted for the desperate game:
He deem’d himself mark’d out for others’ hate,
And mock’d at ruin, so they shared his fate.
What cared he for the freedom of the crowd?
He raised the humble but to bend the proud.
He had hoped quiet in his sullen lair,
But man and destiny beset him there:
Inured to hunters, he was found at bay;
And they must kill, they cannot snare the prey.
Stern, unambitious, silent he had been
Henceforth a calm spectator of life’s scene;
But dragg’d again upon the arena, stood
A leader not unequal to the feud;
In voice — mien — gesture — savage nature spoke,
And from his eye the gladiator broke.

X.

What boots the oft-repeated tale of strife,
The feast of vultures, and the waste of life?
The varying fortune of each separate field,
The fierce that vanquish, and the faint that yield?
The smoking ruin, and the crumbled wall?
In this the struggle was the same with all;
Save that distemper’d passions lent their force
In bitterness that banish’d all remorse.
None sued, for Mercy know her cry was vain,
The captive died upon the battle-slain:
In either cause, one rage alone possess’d
The empire of the alternate victor’s breast;
And they that smote for freedom or for sway,
Deem’d few were slain, while more remain’d to slay.
It was too late to check the wasting brand,
And Desolation reap’d the famish’d land;
The torch was lighted, and the flame was spread,
And Carnage smiled upon her daily bread.

XI.

Fresh with the nerve the new-born impulse strung,
The first success to Lara’s numbers clung:
But that vain victory hath ruin’d all;
They form no longer to their leader’s call:
In blind confusion on the foe they press,
And think to snatch is to secure success.
The lust of booty, and the thirst of hate,
Lure on the broken brigands to their fate:
In vain he doth whate’er a chief may do,
To check the headlong fury of that crew,
In vain their stubborn ardour he would tame,
The hand that kindles cannot quench the flame.
The wary foe alone hath turn’d their mood,
And shewn their rashness to that erring brood:
The feign’d retreat, the nightly ambuscade,
The daily harass, and the fight delay’d,
The long privation of the hoped supply,
The tentless rest beneath the humid sky,
The stubborn wall that mocks the leaguer’s art,
And palls the patience of his baffled heart,
Of these they had not deem’d: the battle-day
They could encounter as a veteran may;
But more preferr’d the fury of the strife,
And present death, to hourly suffering life:
And famine wrings, and fever sweeps away
His numbers melting fast from their array;
Intemperate triumph fades to discontent,
And Lara’s soul alone seems still unbent:
But few remain to aid his voice and hand,
And thousands dwindled to a scanty band:
Desperate, though few, the last and best remain’d
To mourn the discipline they late disdain’d.
One hope survives, the frontier is not far,
And thence they may escape from native war;
And bear within them to the neighbouring state
An exile’s sorrows, or an outlaw’s hate:
Hard is the task their fatherland to quit,
But harder still to perish or submit.

XII.

It is resolved — they march — consenting Night
Guides with her star their dim and torchless flight;
Already they perceive its tranquil beam
Sleep on the surface of the barrier stream;
Already they descry — Is yon the bank?
Away! ’tis lined with many a hostile rank.
Return or fly! — What glitters in the rear?
‘Tis Otho’s banner — the pursuer’s spear!
Are those the shepherds’ fires upon the height?
Alas! they blaze too widely for the flight:
Cut off from hope, and compass’d in the toil,
Less blood, perchance, hath bought a richer spoil!

XIII.

A moment’s pause — ’tis but to breathe their band
Or shall they onward press, or here withstand?
It matters little — if they charge the foes
Who by their border-stream their march oppose,
Some few, perchance, may break and pass the line,
However link’d to baffle such design.
“The charge be ours! to wait for their assault
Were fate well worthy of a coward’s halt.”
Forth flies each sabre, rein’d is every steed,
And the next word shall scarce outstrip the deed:
In the next tone of Lara’s gathering breath
How many shall but hear the voice of death!

XIV.

His blade is bared — in him there is an air
As deep, but far too tranquil for despair;
A something of indifference more than then
Becomes the bravest, if they feel for men.
He turn’d his eye on Kaled, ever near,
And still too faithful to betray one fear;
Perchance ’twas but the moon’s dim twilight threw
Along his aspect an unwonted hue
Of mournful paleness, whose deep tint express’d
The truth, and not the terror of his breast.
This Lara mark’d, and laid his hand on his:
It trembled not in such an hour as this;
His lip was silent, scarcely beat his heart,
His eye alone proclaim’d —
“We will not part!
Thy band may perish, or thy friends may flee,
Farewell to life, but not adieu to thee!”

The word hath pass’d his lips, and onward driven,
Pours the link’d band through ranks asunder riven;
Well has each steed obey’d the armed heel,
And flash the scimitars, and rings the steel;
Outnumber’d, not outbraved, they still oppose
Despair to daring, and a front to foes;
And blood is mingled with the dashing stream,
Which runs all redly till the morning beam.

XV.

Commanding, aiding, animating all,
Where foe appear’d to press, or friend to fall,
Cheers Lara’s voice, and waves or strikes his steel,
Inspiring hope himself had ceased to feel.
None fled, for well they knew that flight were vain,
But those that waver turn to smite again,
While yet they find the firmest of the foe
Recoil before their leader’s look and blow;
Now girt with numbers, now almost alone,
He foils their ranks, or reunites his own;
Himself he spared not — once they seem’d to fly —
Now was the time, he waved his hand on high,
And shook — Why sudden droops that plumed crest?
The shaft is sped — the arrow’s in his breast!
That fatal gesture left the unguarded side,
And Death hath stricken down yon arm of pride.
The word of triumph fainted from his tongue;
That hand, so raised, how droopingly it hung!
But yet the sword instinctively retains,
Though from its fellow shrink the falling reins;
These Kaled snatches: dizzy with the blow,
And senseless bending o’er his saddle-bow
Perceives not Lara that his anxious page
Beguiles his charger from the combat’s rage:
Meantime his followers charge and charge again;
Too mix’d the slayers now to heed the slain!

XVI.

Day glimmers on the dying and the dead,
The cloven cuirass, and the helmless head;
The war-horse masterless is on the earth,
And that last gasp hath burst his bloody girth:
And near, yet quivering with what life remain’d,
The heel that urged him, and the hand that rein’d:
And some too near that rolling torrent lie,
Whose waters mock the lip of those that die;
That panting thirst which scorches in the breath
Of those that die the soldier’s fiery death,
In vain impels the burning mouth to crave
One drop — the last — to cool it for the grave;
With feeble and convulsive effort swept
Their limbs along the crimson’d turf have crept:
The faint remains of life such struggles waste,
But yet they reach the stream, and bend to taste:
They feel its freshness, and almost partake —
Why pause? — No further thirst have they to slake —
It is unquench’d, and yet they feel it not —
It was an agony — but now forgot!

XVII.

Beneath a lime, remoter from the scene,
Where but for him that strife had never been,
A breathing but devoted warrior lay:
‘Twas Lara bleeding fast from life away.
His follower once, and now his only guide,
Kneels Kaled watchful o’er his welling side,
And with his scarf would stanch the tides that rush
With each convulsion in a blacker gush;
And then, as his faint breathing waxes low,
In feebler, not less fatal tricklings flow:
He scarce can speak, but motions him ’tis vain,
And merely adds another throb to pain.
He clasps the hand that pang which would assuage,
And sadly smiles his thanks to that dark page,
Who nothing fears, nor feels, nor heeds, nor sees,
Save that damp brow which rests upon his knees;
Save that pale aspect, where the eye, though dim,
Held all the light that shone on earth for him.

XVIII.

The foe arrives, who long had search’d the field,
Their triumph nought till Lara too should yield;
They would remove him, but they see ’twere vain,
And he regards them with a calm disdain,
That rose to reconcile him with his fate,
And that escape to death from living hate:
And Otho comes, and leaping from his steed,
Looks on the bleeding foe that made him bleed,
And questions of his state; he answers not,
Scarce glances on him as on one forgot,
And turns to Kaled: — each remaining word,
They understood not, if distinctly heard;
His dying tones are in that other tongue,
To which some strange remembrance wildly clung.
They spake of other scenes, but what — is known
To Kaled, whom their meaning reach’d alone;
And he replied, though faintly, to their sound,
While gazed the rest in dumb amazement round:
They seem’d even then — that twain — unto the last
To half forget the present in the past;
To share between themselves some separate fate,
Whose darkness none beside should penetrate.

XIX.

Their words though faint were many — from the tone
Their import those who heard could judge alone;
From this, you might have deem’d young Kaled’s death
More near than Lara’s by his voice and breath,
So sad, so deep, and hesitating broke
The accents his scarce-moving pale lips spoke;
But Lara’s voice, though low, at first was clear
And calm, till murmuring death gasp’d hoarsely near:
But from his visage little could we guess,
So unrepentant, dark, and passionless,
Save that when struggling nearer to his last,
Upon that page his eye was kindly cast;
And once, as Kaled’s answering accents ceased,
Rose Lara’s hand, and pointed to the East:
Whether (as then the breaking sun from high
Roll’d back the clouds) the morrow caught his eye,
Or that ’twas chance, or some remember’d scene
That raised his arm to point where such had been,
Scarce Kaled seem’d to know, but turn’d away,
As if his heart abhorr’d that coming day,
And shrunk his glance before that morning light
To look on Lara’s brow — where all grew night.
Yet sense seem’d left, though better were its loss;
For when one near display’d the absolving cross,
And proffer’d to his touch the holy bead,
Of which his parting soul might own the need,
He look’d upon it with an eye profane,
And smiled — Heaven pardon! if ’twere with disdain;
And Kaled, though he spoke not, nor withdrew
From Lara’s face his fix’d despairing view,
With brow repulsive, and with gesture swift,
Flung back the hand which held the sacred gift,
As if such but disturb’d the expiring man,
Nor seem’d to know his life but then began,
The life immortal infinite, secure,
To all for whom that cross hath made it sure!

XX.

But gasping heaved the breath that Lara drew,
And dull the film along his dim eye grew;
His limbs stretch’d fluttering, and his head droop’d o’er
The weak yet still untiring knee that bore:
He press’d the hand he held upon his heart —
It beats no more, but Kaled will not part
With the cold grasp, but feels, and feels in vain,
For that faint throb which answers not again.
“It beats!” — Away, thou dreamer! he is gone —
It once was Lara which thou look’st upon.

XXI.

He gazed, as if not yet had pass’d away
The haughty spirit of that humble clay;
And those around have roused him from his trance,
But cannot tear from thence his fixed glance;
And when in raising him from where he bore
Within his arms the form that felt no more,
He saw the head his breast would still sustain,
Roll down like earth to earth upon the plain;
He did not dash himself thereby, nor tear
The glossy tendrils of his raven hair,
But strove to stand and gaze, but reel’d and fell,
Scarce breathing more than that he loved so well.
Than that he lov’d! Oh! never yet beneath
The breast of man such trusty love may breathe!
That trying moment hath at once reveal’d
The secret long and yet but half conceal’d;
In baring to revive that lifeless breast,
Its grief seem’d ended, but the sex confess’d;
And life return’d, and Kaled felt no shame —
What now to her was Womanhood or Fame?

XXII.

And Lara sleeps not where his fathers sleep,
But where he died his grave was dug as deep;
Nor is his mortal slumber less profound,
Though priest nor bless’d, nor marble deck’d the mound;
And he was mourn’d by one whose quiet grief,
Less loud, outlasts a people’s for their chief.
Vain was all question ask’d her of the past,
And vain e’en menace — silent to the last;
She told nor whence nor why she left behind
Her all for one who seem’d but little kind.
Why did she love him? Curious fool! — be still —
Is human love the growth of human will?
To her he might be gentleness; the stern
Have deeper thoughts than your dull eyes discern,
And when they love, your smilers guess not how
Beats the strong heart, though less the lips avow.
They were not common links that form’d the chain
That bound to Lara Kaled’s heart and brain;
But that wild tale she brook’d not to unfold,
And seal’d is now each lip that could have told.

XXIII.

They laid him in the earth, and on his breast,
Besides the wound that sent his soul to rest,
They found the scattered dints of many a scar
Which were not planted there in recent war:
Where’er had pass’d his summer years of life,
It seems they vanish’d in a land of strife;
But all unknown his glory or his guilt,
These only told that somewhere blood was spilt.
And Ezzelin, who might have spoke the past,
Return’d no more — that night appear’d his last.

XXIV.

Upon that night (a peasant’s is the tale)
A Serf that cross’d the intervening vale,
When Cynthia’s light almost gave way to morn,
And nearly veil’d in mist her waning horn;
A Serf, that rose betimes to thread the wood,
And hew the bough that bought his children’s food,
Pass’d by the river that divides the plain
Of Otho’s lands and Lara’s broad domain:
He heard a tramp — a horse and horseman broke
From out the wood — before him was a cloak
Wrapt round some burthen at his saddle-bow,
Bent was his head, and hidden was his brow.
Roused by the sudden sight at such a time,
And some foreboding that it might be crime,
Himself unheeded watch’d the stranger’s course,
Who reach’d the river, bounded from his horse,
And lifting thence the burthen which he bore,
Heaved up the bank, and dash’d it from the shore,
Then paused, and look’d, and turn’d, and seem’d to watch,
And still another hurried glance would snatch,
And follow with his step the stream that flow’d,
As if even yet too much its surface show’d:
At once he started, stoop’d, around him strewn
The winter floods had scatter’d heaps of stone;
Of these the heaviest thence he gather’d there,
And slung them with a more than common care.
Meantime the Serf had crept to where unseen
Himself might safely mark what this might mean.
He caught a glimpse, as of a floating breast,
And something glitter’d starlike on the vest,
But ere he well could mark the buoyant trunk,
A massy fragment smote it, and it sunk:
It rose again, but indistinct to view,
And left the waters of a purple hue,
Then deeply disappear’d: the horseman gazed
Till ebb’d the latest eddy it had raised;
Then turning, vaulted on his pawing steed,
And instant spurr’d him into panting speed.
His face was mask’d — the features of the dead,
If dead it were, escaped the observer’s dread;
But if in sooth a star its bosom bore,
Such is the badge that knighthood ever wore,
And such ’tis known Sir Ezzelin had worn
Upon the night that led to such a morn.
If thus he perish’d, Heaven receive his soul!
His undiscover’d limbs to ocean roll;
And charity upon the hope would dwell
It was not Lara’s hand by which he fell.

XXV.

And Kaled — Lara — Ezzelin, are gone,
Alike without their monumental stone!
The first, all efforts vainly strove to wean
From lingering where her chieftain’s blood had been.
Grief had so tamed a spirit once too proud,
Her tears were few, her wailing never loud;
But furious would you tear her from the spot
Where yet she scarce believed that he was not,
Her eye shot forth with all the living fire
That haunts the tigress in her whelpless ire;
But left to waste her weary moments there,
She talk’d all idly unto shapes of air,
Such as the busy brain of Sorrow paints,
And woos to listen to her fond complaints;
And she would sit beneath the very tree,
Where lay his drooping head upon her knee;
And in that posture where she saw him fall,
His words, his looks, his dying grasp recall;
And she had shorn, but saved her raven hair,
And oft would snatch it from her bosom there,
And fold and press it gently to the ground,
As if she stanch’d anew some phantom’s wound.
Herself would question, and for him reply;
Then rising, start, and beckon him to fly
From some imagined spectre in pursuit;
Then seat her down upon some linden’s root,
And hide her visage with her meagre hand,
Or trace strange characters along the sand. —
This could not last — she lies by him she loved;
Her tale untold — her truth too dearly proved.


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Lord Byron: “Lara” 2/3

Excerpt, “The Life and Works of Lord Byron: Notes and Illustrations.” John Murray, London: 1833.

kaled lara

Kaled

XXIII.

It were too much for Lara to pass by
Such question, so repeated fierce and high;
With look collected, but with accent cold,
More mildly firm than petulantly bold,
He turn’d, and met the inquisitorial tone —
“My name is Lara! — when thine own is known,
Doubt not my fitting answer to requite
The unlook’d for courtesy of such a knight.
‘Tis Lara! — further wouldst thou mark or ask?
I shun no question, and I wear no mask.”
“Thou shunn’st no question! Ponder — is there none
Thy heart must answer, though thine ear would shun?
And deem’st thou me unknown too? Gaze again!
At least thy memory was not given in vain.
Oh! never canst thou cancel half her debt,
Eternity forbids thee to forget.”
With slow and searching glance upon his face
Grew Lara’s eyes, but nothing there could trace
They knew, or chose to know — with dubious look
He deign’d no answer, but his head he shook,
And half contemptuous turn’d to pass away;
But the stern stranger motion’d him to stay.
“A word! — I charge thee stay, and answer here
To one, who, wert thou noble, were thy peer,
But as thou wast and art — nay, frown not, lord,
If false, ’tis easy to disprove the word —
But as thou wast and art, on thee looks down,
Distrusts thy smiles, but shakes not at thy frown.
Art thou not he? whose deeds — “

“Whate’er I be,
Words wild as these, accusers like to thee,
I list no further; those with whom they weigh
May hear the rest, nor venture to gainsay
The wondrous tale no doubt thy tongue can tell,
Which thus begins courteously and well.
Let Otho cherish here his polish’d guest,
To him my thanks and thoughts shall be express’d.”
And here their wondering host hath interposed —
“Whate’er there be between you undisclosed,
This is no time nor fitting place to mar
The mirthful meeting with a wordy war.
If thou, Sir Ezzelin, hast ought to show
Which it befits Count Lara’s ear to know,
To-morrow, here, or elsewhere, as may best
Beseem your mutual judgment, speak the rest;
I pledge myself for thee, as not unknown,
Though, like Count Lara, now return’d alone
From other lands, almost a stranger grown;
And if from Lara’s blood and gentle birth
I augur right of courage and of worth,
He will not that untainted line belie,
Nor aught that knighthood may accord deny.”
“To-morrow be it,” Ezzelin replied,
“And here our several worth and truth be tried:
I gage my life, my falchion to attest
My words, so may I mingle with the blest!”

What answers Lara? to its centre shrunk
His soul, in deep abstraction sudden sunk;
The words of many, and the eyes of all
That there were gather’d, seem’d on him to fall;
But his were silent, his appear’d to stray
In far forgetfulness away — away —
Alas! that heedlessness of all around
Bespoke remembrance only too profound.

XXIV.

“To-morrow! — ay, to-morrow!” — further word
Than those repeated none from Lara heard;
Upon his brow no outward passion spoke,
From his large eye no flashing anger broke;
Yet there was something fix’d in that low tone
Which shew’d resolve, determined, though unknown.
He seized his cloak — his head he slightly bow’d,
And passing Ezzelin he left the crowd;
And as he pass’d him, smiling met the frown
With which that chieftain’s brow would bear him down:
It was nor smile of mirth, nor struggling pride
That curbs to scorn the wrath it cannot hide;
But that of one in his own heart secure
Of all that he would do, or could endure.
Could this mean peace? the calmness of the good?
Or guilt grown old in desperate hardihood?
Alas! too like in confidence are each
For man to trust to mortal look or speech;
From deeds, and deeds alone, may he discern
Truths which it wrings the unpractised heart to learn.

XXV.

And Lara call’d his page, and went his way —
Well could that stripling word or sign obey:
His only follower from those climes afar
Where the soul glows beneath a brighter star;
For Lara left the shore from whence he sprung,
In duty patient, and sedate though young;
Silent as him he served, his fate appears
Above his station, and beyond his years.
Though not unknown the tongue of Lara’s land,
In such from him he rarely heard command;
But fleet his step, and clear his tones would come,
When Lara’s lip breathed forth the words of home:
Those accents, as his native mountains dear,
Awake their absent echoes in his ear,
Friends’, kindreds’, parents’, wonted voice recall,
Now lost, abjured, for one — his friend, his all:
For him earth now disclosed no other guide;
What marvel then he rarely left his side?

XXVI.

Light was his form, and darkly delicate
That brow whereon his native sun had sate,
But had not marr’d, though in his beams he grew,
The cheek where oft the unbidden blush shone through;
Yet not such blush as mounts when health would show
All the heart’s hue in that delighted glow;
But ’twas a hectic tint of secret care
That for a burning moment fever’d there;
And the wild sparkle of his eye seem’d caught
From high, and lighten’d with electric thought,
Though its black orb those long low lashes’ fringe
Had temper’d with a melancholy tinge;
Yet less of sorrow than of pride was there,
Or, if ’twere grief, a grief that none should share:
And pleased not him the sports that please his age,
The tricks of youth, the frolics of the page;
For hours on Lara he would fix his glance,
As all-forgotten in that watchful trance;
And from his chief withdrawn, he wander’d lone,
Brief were his answers, and his questions none;
His walk the wood, his sport some foreign book;
His resting-place the bank that curbs the brook;
He seem’d, like him he served, to live apart
From all that lures the eye, and fills the heart;
To know no brotherhood; and take from earth
No gift beyond that bitter boon — our birth.

XXVII.

If aught he loved, ’twas Lara; but was shown
His faith in reverence and in deeds alone;
In mute attention; and his care, which guess’d
Each wish, fulfill’d it ere the tongue express’d.
Still there was haughtiness in all he did,
A spirit deep that brook’d not to be chid;
His zeal, though more than that of servile hands,
In act alone obeys, his air commands;
As if ’twas Lara’s less than his desire
That thus he served, but surely not for hire.
Slight were the tasks enjoin’d him by his lord,
To hold the stirrup, or to bear the sword;
To tune his lute, or, if he will’d it more,
On tomes of other times and tongues to pore;
But ne’er to mingle with the menial train,
To whom he shew’d not deference nor disdain,
But that well-worn reserve which proved he knew
No sympathy with that familiar crew:
His soul, whate’er his station or his stem,
Could bow to Lara, not descend to them.
Of higher birth he seem’d, and better days,
Nor mark of vulgar toil that hand betrays,
So femininely white it might bespeak
Another sex, when match’d with that smooth cheek,
But for his garb, and something in his gaze,
More wild and high than woman’s eye betrays;
A latent fierceness that far more became
His fiery climate than his tender frame:
True, in his words it broke not from his breast,
But from his aspect might be more than guess’d.
Kaled his name, though rumour said he bore
Another ere he left his mountain shore;
For sometimes he would hear, however nigh,
That name repeated loud without reply,
As unfamiliar, or, if roused again,
Start to the sound, as but remember’d then;
Unless ’twas Lara’s wonted voice that spake,
For then, ear, eyes, and heart would all awake.

XXVIII.

He had look’d down upon the festive hall,
And mark’d that sudden strife so mark’d of all;
And when the crowd around and near him told
Their wonder at the calmness of the bold,
Their marvel how the high-born Lara bore
Such insult from a stranger, doubly sore,
The colour of young Kaled went and came,
The lip of ashes, and the cheek of flame;
And o’er his brow the dampening heart-drops threw
The sickening iciness of that cold dew
That rises as the busy bosom sinks
With heavy thoughts from which reflection shrinks.
Yes — there be things which we must dream and dare
And execute ere thought be half aware:
Whate’er might Kaled’s be, it was enow
To seal his lip, but agonise his brow.
He gazed on Ezzelin till Lara cast
That sidelong smile upon on the knight he pass’d;
When Kaled saw that smile his visage fell,
As if on something recognised right well;
His memory read in such a meaning more
Than Lara’s aspect unto others wore.
Forward he sprung — a moment, both were gone,
And all within that hall seem’d left alone;
Each had so fix’d his eye on Lara’s mien,
All had so mix’d their feelings with that scene,
That when his long dark shadow through the porch
No more relieves the glare of yon high torch,
Each pulse beats quicker, and all bosoms seem
To bound as doubting from too black a dream,
Such as we know is false, yet dread in sooth,
Because the worst is ever nearest truth.
And they are gone — but Ezzelin is there,
With thoughtful visage and imperious air;
But long remain’d not; ere an hour expired
He waved his hand to Otho, and retired.

XXIX.

The crowd are gone, the revellers at rest;
The courteous host, and all-approving guest,
Again to that accustom’d couch must creep
Where joy subsides, and sorrow sighs to sleep,
And man, o’erlabour’d with his being’s strife,
Shrinks to that sweet forgetfulness of life:
There lie love’s feverish hope. and cunning’s guile,
Hate’s working brain and lull’d ambition’s wile;
O’er each vain eye oblivion’s pinions wave,
And quench’d existence crouches in a grave.
What better name may slumber’s bed become?
Night’s sepulchre, the universal home,
Where weakness, strength, vice, virtue, sunk supine,
Alike in naked helplessness recline;
Glad for awhile to heave unconscious breath,
Yet wake to wrestle with the dread of death,
And shun, though day but dawn on ills increased,
That sleep, the loveliest, since it dreams the least.

______

CANTO THE SECOND.

I.

Night wanes — the vapours round the mountains curl’d,
Melt into morn, and Light awakes the world.
Man has another day to swell the past,
And lead him near to little, but his last;
But mighty Nature bounds as from her birth,
The sun is in the heavens, and life on earth;
Flowers in the valley, splendour in the beam,
Health on the gale, and freshness in the stream.
Immortal man! behold her glories shine,
And cry, exulting inly, “They are thine!”
Gaze on, while yet thy gladden’d eye may see,
A morrow comes when they are not for thee;
And grieve what may above thy senseless bier,
Nor earth nor sky will yield a single tear;
Nor cloud shall gather more, nor leaf shall fall,
Nor gale breathe forth one sigh for thee, for all;
But creeping things shall revel in their spoil,
And fit thy clay to fertilise the soil.

II.

‘Tis morn — ’tis noon — assembled in the hall,
The gather’d chieftains come to Otho’s call:
‘Tis now the promised hour, that must proclaim
The life or death of Lara’s future fame;
When Ezzelin his charge may here unfold,
And whatsoe’er the tale, it must be told.
His faith was pledged, and Lara’s promise given,
To meet it in the eye of man and Heaven.
Why comes he not? Such truths to be divulged,
Methinks the accuser’s rest is long indulged.

III.

The hour is past, and Lara too is there,
With self-confiding, coldly patient air;
Why comes not Ezzelin? The hour is past,
And murmurs rise, and Otho’s brow’s o’ercast,
“I know my friend! his faith I cannot fear,
If yet he be on earth, expect him here;
The roof that held him in the valley stands
Between my own and noble Lara’s lands;
My halls from such a guest had honour gain’d,
Nor had Sir Ezzelin his host disdain’d,
But that some previous proof forbade his stay,
And urged him to prepare against to-day;
The word I pledge for his I pledge again,
Or will myself redeem his knighthood’s stain.”

He ceased — and Lara answer’d, “I am here
To lend at thy demand a listening ear,
To tales of evil from a stranger’s tongue,
Whose words already might my heart have wrung,
But that I deem’d him scarcely less than mad,
Or, at the worst, a foe ignobly bad.
I know him not — but me it seems he knew
In lands where — but I must not trifle too:
Produce this babbler — or redeem the pledge;
Here in thy hold, and with thy falchion’s edge.”

Proud Otho on the instant, reddening, threw
His glove on earth, and forth his sabre flew.
“The last alternative befits me best,
And thus I answer for mine absent guest.”

With cheek unchanging from its sallow gloom,
However near his own or other’s tomb;
With hand, whose almost careless coolness spoke
Its grasp well-used to deal the sabre-stroke;
With eye, though calm, determined not to spare,
Did Lara too his willing weapon bare.
In vain the circling chieftains round them closed,
For Otho’s frenzy would not be opposed;
And from his lip those words of insult fell —
His sword is good who can maintain them well.

IV.

Short was the conflict; furious, blindly rash,
Vain Otho gave his bosom to the gash:
He bled, and fell; but not with deadly wound,
Stretch’d by a dextrous sleight along the ground.
“Demand thy life!” He answer’d not: and then
From that red floor he ne’er had risen again,
For Lara’s brow upon the moment grew
Almost to blackness in its demon hue;
And fiercer shook his angry falchion now
Than when his foe’s was levell’d at his brow;
Then all was stern collectedness and art,
Now rose the unleaven’d hatred of his heart;
So little sparing to the foe he fell’d,
That when the approaching crowd his arm withheld
He almost turn’d the thirsty point on those
Who thus for mercy dared to interpose;
But to a moment’s thought that purpose bent;
Yet look’d he on him still with eye intent,
As if he loathed the ineffectual strife
That left a foe, howe’er o’erthrown, with life;
As if to search how far the wound he gave
Had sent its victim onward to his grave.

V.

They raised the bleeding Otho, and the Leech
Forbade all present question, sign, and speech;
The others met within a neighbouring hall,
And he, incensed and heedless of them all,
The cause and conqueror in this sudden fray,
In haughty silence slowly strode away;
He back’d his steed, his homeward path he took,
Nor cast on Otho’s tower a single look.

VI.

But where was he? that meteor of a night,
Who menaced but to disappear with light.
Where was this Ezzelin? who came and went
To leave no other trace of his intent.
He left the dome of Otho long ere morn,
In darkness, yet so well the path was worn
He could not miss it: near his dwelling lay;
But there he was not, and with coming day
Came fast inquiry, which unfolded nought
Except the absence of the chief it sought.
A chamber tenantless, a steed at rest,
His host alarm’d, his murmuring squires distress’d:
Their search extends along, around the path,
In dread to met the marks of prowlers’ wrath:
But none are there, and not a brake hath borne
Nor gout of blood, nor shred of mantle torn;
Nor fall nor struggle hath defaced the grass,
Which still retains a mark where murder was;
Nor dabbling fingers left to tell the tale,
The bitter print of each convulsive nail,
When agonised hands that cease to guard,
Wound in that pang the smoothness of the sward.
Some such had been, if here a life was reft,
But these were not; and doubting hope is left;
And strange suspicion, whispering Lara’s name,
Now daily mutters o’er his blacken’d fame;
Then sudden silent when his form appear’d,
Awaits the absence of the thing it fear’d;
Again its wonted wondering to renew,
And dye conjecture with a darker hue.

VII.

Days roll along, and Otho’s wounds are heal’d,
But not his pride; and hate no more conceal’d:
He was a man of power, and Lara’s foe,
The friend of all who sought to work him woe,
And from his country’s justice now demands
Account of Ezzelin at Lara’s hands.
Who else than Lara could have cause to fear
His presence? who had made him disappear,
If not the man on whom his menaced charge
Had sate too deeply were he left at large?
The general rumour ignorantly loud,
The mystery dearest to the curious crowd;
The seeming friendlessness of him who strove
To win no confidence, and wake no love;
The sweeping fierceness which his soul betray’d,
The skill with which he wielded his keen blade;
Where had his arm unwarlike caught that art?
Where had that fierceness grown upon his heart?
For it was not the blind capricious rage
A word can kindle and a word assuage;
But the deep working of a soul unmix’d
With aught of pity where its wrath had fix’d;
Such as long power and overgorged success
Concentrates into all that’s merciless:
These, link’d with that desire which ever sways
Mankind, the rather to condemn than praise,
‘Gainst Lara gathering raised at length a storm,
Such as himself might fear, and foes would form,
And he must answer for the absent head
Of one that haunts him still, alive or dead.

VIII.

Within that land was many a malcontent,
Who cursed the tyranny to which he bent;
That soil full many a wringing despot saw,
Who work’d his wantonness in form of law;
Long war without and frequent broil within
Had made a path for blood and giant sin,
That waited but a signal to begin
New havoc, such as civil discord blends,
Which knows no neuter, owns but foes or friends;
Fix’d in his feudal fortress each was lord,
In word and deed obey’d, in soul abhorr’d.
Thus Lara had inherited his lands,
And with them pining hearts and sluggish hands;
But that long absence from his native clime
Had left him stainless of oppression’s crime,
And now, diverted by his milder sway,
All dread by slow degrees had worn away;
The menials felt their usual awe alone,
But more for him than them that fear was grown;
They deem’d him now unhappy, though at first
Their evil judgment augur’d of the worst,
And each long restless night, and silent mood,
Was traced to sickness, fed by solitude:
And though his lonely habits threw of late
Gloom o’er his chamber, cheerful was his gate;
For thence the wretched ne’er unsoothed withdrew,
For them, at least, his soul compassion knew.
Cold to the great, contemptuous to the high,
The humble pass’d not his unheeding eye;
Much he would speak not, but beneath his roof
They found asylum oft, and ne’er reproof.
And they who watch’d might mark that, day by day,
Some new retainers gather’d to his sway;
But most of late, since Ezzelin was lost,
He play’d the courteous lord and bounteous host:
Perchance his strife with Otho made him dread
Some snare prepared for his obnoxious head;
Whate’er his view, his favour more obtains
With these, the people, than his fellow thanes.
If this were policy, so far ’twas sound,
The million judged but of him as they found;
From him by sterner chiefs to exile driven
They but required a shelter, and ’twas given.
By him no peasant mourn’d his rifled cot,
And scarce the serf could murmur o’er his lot;
With him old avarice found its hoard secure,
With him contempt forbore to mock the poor;
Youth present cheer and promised recompense
Detain’d, till all too late to part from thence:
To hate he offer’d, with the coming change,
The deep reversion of delay’d revenge;
To love, long baffled by the unequal match,
The well-won charms success was sure to snatch.
All now was ripe, he waits but to proclaim
That slavery nothing which was still a name.
The moment came, the hour when Otho thought
Secure at last the vengeance which he sought
His summons found the destined criminal
Begirt by thousands in his swarming hall,
Fresh from their feudal fetters newly riven,
Defying earth, and confident of heaven.
That morning he had freed the soil-bound slaves
Who dig no land for tyrants but their graves!
Such is their cry — some watchword for the fight
Must vindicate the wrong, and warp the right;
Religion — freedom — vengeance — what you will,
A word’s enough to raise mankind to kill;
Some factious phrase by cunning caught and spread,
That guilt may reign, and wolves and worms be fed!

To be continued…

.

.

Lord Byron: “Lara” 1/3

Byron’s Notes: The reader of “Lara” may probably regard it as a sequel to a poem that recently appeared: whether the cast of the hero’s character, the turn of his adventures, and the general outline and colouring of the story, may not encourage such a supposition, shall be left to his determination. [The poem is “The Corsair.”]

 

byron


CANTO THE FIRST.

I.

The Serfs are glad through Lara’s wide domain,
And slavery half forgets her feudal chain;
He, their unhoped, but unforgotten lord —
The long self-exiled chieftain is restored:
There be bright faces in the busy hall,
Bowls on the board, and banners on the wall;
Far chequering o’er the pictured window, plays
The unwonted fagots’ hospitable blaze;
And gay retainers gather round the hearth,
With tongues all loudness, and with eyes all mirth.

II.

The chief of Lara is return’d again:
And why had Lara cross’d the bounding main?
Left by his sire, too young such loss to know,
Lord of himself; — that heritage of woe,
That fearful empire which the human breast
But holds to rob the heart within of rest! —
With none to check, and few to point in time
The thousand paths that slope the way to crime;
Then, when he most required commandment, then
Had Lara’s daring boyhood govern’d men.
It skills not, boots not, step by step to trace
His youth through all the mazes of its race;
Short was the course his restlessness had run,
But long enough to leave him half undone.

III.

And Lara left in youth his fatherland;
But from the hour he waved his parting hand
Each trace wax’d fainter of his course, till all
Had nearly ceased his memory to recall.
His sire was dust, his vassals could declare,
‘Twas all they knew, that Lara was not there;
Nor sent, nor came he, till conjecture grew
Cold in the many, anxious in the few.
His hall scarce echoes with his wonted name,
His portrait darkens in its fading frame,
Another chief consoled his destined bride,
The young forgot him, and the old had died;
“Yet doth he live!” exclaims the impatient heir,
And sighs for sables which he must not wear.
A hundred scutcheons deck with gloomy grace
The Laras’ last and longest dwelling-place;
But one is absent from the mouldering file,
That now were welcome to that Gothic pile.

IV.

He comes at last in sudden loneliness,
And whence they know not, why they need not guess;
They more might marvel, when the greeting’s o’er,
Not that he came, but came not long before:
No train is his beyond a single page,
Of foreign aspect, and of tender age.
Years had roll’d on, and fast they speed away
To those that wander as to those that stay;
But lack of tidings from another clime
Had lent a flagging wing to weary Time.
They see, they recognise, yet almost deem
The present dubious, or the past a dream.

He lives, nor yet is past his manhood’s prime,
Though sear’d by toil, and something touch’d by time;
His faults, whate’er they were, if scarce forgot,
Might be untaught him by his varied lot;
Nor good nor ill of late were known, his name
Might yet uphold his patrimonial fame.
His soul in youth was haughty, but his sins
No more than pleasure from the stripling wins;
And such, if not yet harden’d in their course,
Might be redeem’d, nor ask a long remorse.

V.

And they indeed were changed — ’tis quickly seen,
Whate’er he be, ’twas not what he had been:
That brow in furrow’d lines had fix’d at last,
And spake of passions, but of passion past;
The pride, but not the fire, of early days,
Coldness of mien, and carelessness of praise;
A high demeanour, and a glance that took
Their thoughts from others by a single look;
And that sarcastic levity of tongue,
The stinging of a heart the world hath stung,
That darts in seeming playfulness around,
And makes those feel that will not own the wound:
All these seem’d his, and something more beneath
Than glance could well reveal, or accent breathe.
Ambition, glory, love, the common aim
That some can conquer, and that all would claim,
Within his breast appear’d no more to strive,
Yet seem’d as lately they had been alive;
And some deep feeling it were vain to trace
At moments lighten’d o’er his livid face.

VI.

Not much he loved long question of the past,
Nor told of wondrous wilds, and deserts vast,
In those far lands where he had wander’d lone,
And — as himself would have it seem — unknown:
Yet these in vain his eye could scarcely scan,
Nor glean experience from his fellow-man;
But what he had beheld he shunn’d to show,
As hardly worth a stranger’s care to know;
If still more prying such inquiry grew,
His brow fell darker, and his words more few.

VII.

Not unrejoiced to see him once again,
Warm was his welcome to the haunts of men;
Born of high lineage, link’d in high command,
He mingled with the magnates of his land;
Join’d the carousals of the great and gay,
And saw them smile or sigh their hours away;
But still he only saw, and did not share
The common pleasure or the general care;
He did not follow what they all pursued,
With hope still baffled, still to be renew’d;
Nor shadowy honour, nor substantial gain,
Nor beauty’s preference, and the rival’s pain:
Around him some mysterious circle thrown
Repell’d approach, and showed him still alone;
Upon his eye sate something of reproof,
That kept at least frivolity aloof;
And things more timid that beheld him near,
In silence gazed, or whisper’d mutual fear;
And they the wiser, friendlier few confess’d
They deem’d him better than his air express’d.

VIII.

‘Twas strange — in youth all action and all life,
Burning for pleasure, not averse from strife;
Woman — the field — the ocean — all that gave
Promise of gladness, peril of a grave,
In turn he tried — he ransack’d all below,
And found his recompence in joy or woe,
No tame, trite medium; for his feelings sought
In that intenseness an escape from thought:
The tempest of his heart in scorn had gazed
On that the feebler elements hath raised;
The rapture of his heart had look’d on high,
And ask’d if greater dwelt beyond the sky:
Chain’d to excess, the slave of each extreme,
How woke he from the wildness of that dream?
Alas! he told not — but he did awake
To curse the wither’d heart that would not break.

IX.

Books, for his volume heretofore was Man,
With eye more curious he appear’d to scan,
And oft, in sudden mood, for many a day
From all communion he would start away:
And then, his rarely call’d attendants said,
Through night’s long hours would sound his hurried tread
O’er the dark gallery, where his fathers frown’d
In rude but antique portraiture around.
They heard, but whisper’d — “that must not be known —
The sound of words less earthly than his own.
Yes, they who chose might smile, but some had seen
They scarce knew what, but more than should have been.
Why gazed he so upon the ghastly head
Which hands profane had gather’d from the dead,
That still beside his open’d volume lay,
As if to startle all save him away?
Why slept he not when others were at rest?
Why heard no music, and received no guest?
All was not well, they deem’d — but where the wrong?
Some knew perchance — but ’twere a tale too long;
And such besides were too discreetly wise,
To more than hint their knowledge in surmise;
But if they would — they could” — around the board,
Thus Lara’s vassals prattled of their lord.

X.

It was the night — and Lara’s glassy stream
The stars are studding, each with imaged beam:
So calm, the waters scarcely seem to stray,
And yet they glide like happiness away;
Reflecting far and fairy-like from high
The immortal lights that live along the sky:
Its banks are fringed with many a goodly tree,
And flowers the fairest that may feast the bee;
Such in her chaplet infant Dian wove,
And Innocence would offer to her love.
These deck the shore; the waves their channel make
In windings bright and mazy like the snake.
All was so still, so soft in earth and air,
You scarce would start to meet a spirit there;
Secure that nought of evil could delight
To walk in such a scene, on such a night!
It was a moment only for the good:
So Lara deem’d, nor longer there he stood,
But turn’d in silence to his castle-gate;
Such scene his soul no more could contemplate.
Such scene reminded him of other days,
Of skies more cloudless, moons of purer blaze,
Of nights more soft and frequent, hearts that now —
No — no — the storm may beat upon his brow,
Unfelt — unsparing — but a night like this,
A night of beauty mock’d such breast as his.

XI.

He turn’d within his solitary hall,
And his high shadow shot along the wall;
There were the painted forms of other times,
‘Twas all they left of virtues or of crimes,
Save vague tradition; and the gloomy vaults
That hid their dust, their foibles, and their faults;
And half a column of the pompous page,
That speeds the specious tale from age to age:
When history’s pen its praise or blame supplies,
And lies like truth, and still most truly lies.
He wandering mused, and as the moonbeam shone
Through the dim lattice o’er the floor of stone,
And the high fretted roof, and saints, that there
O’er Gothic windows knelt in pictured prayer,
Reflected in fantastic figures grew,
Like life, but not like mortal life, to view;
His bristling locks of sable, brow of gloom,
And the wide waving of his shaken plume,
Glanced like a spectre’s attributes, and gave
His aspect all that terror gives the grave.

XII.

‘Twas midnight — all was slumber; the lone light
Dimm’d in the lamp, as loth to break the night.
Hark! there be murmurs heard in Lara’s hall —
A sound — voice — a shriek — a fearful call!
A long, loud shriek — and silence — did they hear
That frantic echo burst the sleeping ear?
They heard and rose, and tremulously brave
Rush where the sound invoked their aid to save;
They come with half-lit tapers in their hands,
And snatch’d in startled haste unbelted brands.

XIII.

Cold as the marble where his length was laid,
Pale as the beam that o’er his features play’d,
Was Lara stretch’d; his half-drawn sabre near,
Dropp’d it should seem in more than nature’s fear;
Yet he was firm, or had been firm till now,
And still defiance knit his gather’d brow;
Though mix’d with terror, senseless as he lay,
There lived upon his lip the wish to slay;
Some half-form’d threat in utterance there had died,
Some imprecation of despairing pride;
His eye was almost seal’d, but not forsook
Even in its trance the gladiator’s look,
That oft awake his aspect could disclose,
And now was fix’d in horrible repose.
They raise him — bear him: hush! he breathes, he speaks!
The swarthy blush recolours in his cheeks,
His lip resumes its red, his eye, though dim,
Rolls wide and wild, each slowly quivering limb
Recalls its function, but his words are strung
In terms that seem not of his native tongue;
Distinct but strange, enough they understand
To deem them accents of another land,
And such they were, and meant to meet an ear
That hears him not — alas! that cannot hear!

XIV.

His page approach’d, and he alone appear’d
To know the import of the words they heard;
And by the changes of his cheek and brow
They were not such as Lara should avow,
Nor he interpret, yet with less surprise
Than those around their chieftain’s state he eyes,
But Lara’s prostrate form he bent beside,
And in that tongue which seem’d his own replied,
And Lara heeds those tones that gently seem
To soothe away the horrors of his dream;
If dream it were, that thus could overthrow
A breast that needed not ideal woe.

XV.

Whate’er his frenzy dream’d or eye beheld,
If yet remember’d ne’er to be reveal’d,
Rests at his heart: the custom’d morning came,
And breathed new vigour in his shaking frame;
And solace sought he none from priest nor leech,
And soon the same in movement and in speech
As heretofore he fill’d the passing hours,
Nor less he smiles, nor more his forehead lours
Than these were wont; and if the coming night
Appear’d less welcome now to Lara’s sight,
He to his marvelling vassals shew’d it not,
Whose shuddering proved their fear was less forgot.
In trembling pairs (alone they dared not) crawl
The astonish’d slaves, and shun the fated hall;
The waving banner, and the clapping door;
The rustling tapestry, and the echoing floor;
The long dim shadows of surrounding trees,
The flapping bat, the night song of the breeze;
Aught they behold or hear their thought appals
As evening saddens o’er the dark gray walls.

XVI.

Vain thought! that hour of ne’er unravell’d gloom
Came not again, or Lara could assume
A seeming of forgetfulness that made
His vassals more amazed nor less afraid —
Had memory vanish’d then with sense restored?
Since word, nor look, nor gesture of their lord
Betray’d a feeling that recall’d to these
That fever’d moment of his mind’s disease.
Was it a dream? was his the voice that spoke
Those strange wild accents; his the cry that broke
Their slumber? his the oppress’d o’er-labour’d heart
That ceased to beat, the look that made them start?
Could he who thus had suffer’d, so forget
When such as saw that suffering shudder yet?
Or did that silence prove his memory fix’d
Too deep for words, indelible, unmix’d
In that corroding secresy which gnaws
The heart to shew the effect, but not the cause?
Not so in him; his breast had buried both,
Nor common gazers could discern the growth
Of thoughts that mortal lips must leave half told;
They choke the feeble words that would unfold.

XVII.

In him inexplicably mix’d appear’d
Much to be loved and hated, sought and fear’d;
Opinion varying o’er his hidden lot,
In praise or railing ne’er his name forgot;
His silence form’d a theme for others’ prate —
They guess’d — they gazed — they fain would know his fate.
What had he been? what was he, thus unknown,
Who walk’d their world, his lineage only known?
A hater of his kind? yet some would say,
With them he could seem gay amidst the gay;
But own’d that smile, if oft observed and near,
Waned in its mirth and wither’d to a sneer;
That smile might reach his lip, but pass’d not by,
None e’er could trace its laughter to his eye:
Yet there was softness too in his regard,
At times, a heart as not by nature hard,
But once perceived, his spirit seem’d to chide
Such weakness, as unworthy of its pride,
And steel’d itself, as scorning to redeem
One doubt from others’ half withheld esteem;
In self-inflicted penance of a breast
Which tenderness might once have wrung from rest;
In vigilance of grief that would compel
The soul to hate for having loved too well.

XVIII.

There was in him a vital scorn of all:
As if the worst had fall’n which could befall,
He stood a stranger in this breathing world,
An erring spirit from another hurled;
A thing of dark imaginings, that shaped
By choice the perils he by chance escaped;
But ‘scaped in vain, for in their memory yet
His mind would half exult and half regret:
With more capacity for love than earth
Bestows on most of mortal mould and birth,
His early dreams of good outstripp’d the truth,
And troubled manhood follow’d baffled youth;
With thought of years in phantom chase misspent,
And wasted powers for better purpose lent;
And fiery passions that had pour’d their wrath
In hurried desolation o’er his path,
And left the better feelings all at strife
In wild reflection o’er his stormy life;
But haughty still, and loth himself to blame,
He call’d on Nature’s self to share the shame,
And charged all faults upon the fleshly form
She gave to clog the soul, and feast the worm;
‘Till he at last confounded good and ill,
And half mistook for fate the acts of will:
Too high for common selfishness, he could
At times resign his own for others’ good,
But not in pity, not because he ought,
But in some strange perversity of thought,
That sway’d him onward with a secret pride
To do what few or none would do beside;
And this same impulse would, in tempting time,
Mislead his spirit equally to crime;
So much he soar’d beyond, or sunk beneath
The men with whom he felt condemn’d to breathe,
And long’d by good or ill to separate
Himself from all who shared his mortal state;
His mind abhorring this had fix’d her throne
Far from the world, in regions of her own;
Thus coldly passing all that pass’d below,
His blood in temperate seeming now would flow:
Ah! happier if it ne’er with guilt had glow’d,
But ever in that icy smoothness flow’d:
‘Tis true, with other men their path he walk’d,
And like the rest in seeming did and talk’d,
Nor outraged Reason’s rules by flaw nor start,
His madness was not of the head, but heart;
And rarely wander’d in his speech, or drew
His thoughts so forth as to offend the view.

XIX.

With all that chilling mystery of mien,
And seeming gladness to remain unseen,
He had (if ’twere not nature’s boon) an art
Of fixing memory on another’s heart:
It was not love, perchance — nor hate — nor aught
That words can image to express the thought;
But they who saw him did not see in vain,
And once beheld, would ask of him again:
And those to whom he spake remember’d well,
And on the words, however light, would dwell.
None knew nor how, nor why, but he entwined
Himself perforce around the hearer’s mind;
There he was stamp’d, in liking, or in hate,
If greeted once; however brief the date
That friendship, pity, or aversion knew,
Still there within the inmost thought he grew.
You could not penetrate his soul, but found
Despite your wonder, to your own he wound.
His presence haunted still; and from the breast
He forced an all-unwilling interest;
Vain was the struggle in that mental net,
His spirit seem’d to dare you to forget!

XX.

There is a festival, where knights and dames,
And aught that wealth or lofty lineage claims,
Appear — a high-born and a welcomed guest
To Otho’s hall came Lara with the rest.
The long carousal shakes the illumined hall,
Well speeds alike the banquet and the ball;
And the gay dance of bounding Beauty’s train
Links grace and harmony in happiest chain:
Blest are the early hearts and gentle hands
That mingle there in well according bands;
It is a sight the careful brow might smooth,
And make Age smile, and dream itself to youth,
And Youth forget such hour was pass’d on earth,
So springs the exulting bosom to that mirth!

XXI.

And Lara gazed on these sedately glad,
His brow belied him if his soul was sad,
And his glance follow’d fast each fluttering fair,
Whose steps of lightness woke no echo there:
He lean’d against the lofty pillar nigh
With folded arms and long attentive eye,
Nor mark’d a glance so sternly fix’d on his,
Ill brook’d high Lara scrutiny like this:
At length he caught it, ’tis a face unknown,
But seems as searching his, and his alone;
Prying and dark, a stranger’s by his mien,
Who still till now had gazed on him unseen;
At length encountering meets the mutual gaze
Of keen inquiry, and of mute amaze;
On Lara’s glance emotion gathering grew,
As if distrusting that the stranger threw;
Along the stranger’s aspect fix’d and stern
Flash’d more than thence the vulgar eye could learn.

XXII.

“‘Tis he!” the stranger cried, and those that heard
Re-echo’d fast and far the whisper’d word.
“‘Tis he!” — “‘Tis who?” they question far and near,
Till louder accents rang on Lara’s ear;
So widely spread, few bosoms well could brook
The general marvel, or that single look;
But Lara stirr’d not, changed not, the surprise
That sprung at first to his arrested eyes
Seem’d now subsided, neither sunk nor raised
Glanced his eye round, though still the stranger gazed;
And drawing nigh, exclaim’d, with haughty sneer,
“‘Tis he! — how came he thence? — what doth he here?”


To be continued…

Lord Byron: Parisina 2

 

Castle of Ferrara

Castle of Ferrara

XI.

And he for her had also wept,

But for the eyes that on him gazed:

His sorrow, if he felt it, slept;

Stern and erect his brow was raised.

What’er the grief his soul avowed,

He would not shrink before the crowd;

But yet he dared not look on her:

Remembrance of the hours that were —

His guilt — his love — his present state —

His father’s wrath — all good men’s hate —

His earthly, his eternal fate —

And hers, — oh, hers ! — he dared not throw

One look upon that death-like brow !

Else had his rising heart betrayed

Remorse for all the wreck it made.

XII.

And Azo spake: — “But yesterday

“I gloried in a wife and son;

“That dream this morning pass’d away;

“Ere day declines, I shall have none.

“My life must linger on alone;

“Well, — let that pass, — there breathes not one

“Who would not do as I have done:

“Those ties are broken — not by me;

“Let that too pass; — the doom’s prepared !

“Hugo, the priest awaits on thee,

“And then — thy crime’s reward !

“Away ! address thy prayers to Heaven,

“Before its evening stars are met —

“Learn if thou there canst be forgiven;

“It’s mercy may absolve thee yet.

“But here, upon the earth beneath,

“There is no spot where thou and I

“Together, for an hour, could breathe:

“Farewell ! I will not see thee die —

“But thou, frail thing ! shall view his head —

“Away ! I cannot speak the rest:

“Go ! woman of the wanton breast;

“Not I, but thou his blood dost shed:

“Go ! if that sight thou canst outlive,

“And joy thee in the life I give.”

XIII.

And here stern Azo hid his face —

For on his brow the swelling vein

Throbbed as if back upon his brain

The hot blood ebbed and flowed again;

And therefore bowed he for a space,

And passed his shaking hand along

His eye, to veil it from the throng;

While Hugo raise his chained hands,

And for a brief delay demands

His father’s ear: the silent sire

Forbids not what his words require.

ugo.jpg

“It is not that I dread the death —

“For thou hast seen me by thy side

“All redly through the battle ride,

“And that not once a useless brand

“Thy slaves have wrested from my hand,

“Hath shed more blood in cause of thine,

“Than e’er can stain the axe of mine:

“Thou gav’st, and may’st resume my breath,

“A gift for which I thank thee not;

“Nor are my mother’s wrongs forgot,

“Her slighted love and ruined name,

“Her offspring’s heritage of shame;

“But she is in the grave, where he,

“Her son, thy rival, soon shall be.

“Her broken heart — my severed head —

“Shall witness for thee from the dead

“How trusty and how tender were

“Thy youthful love — paternal care.

” ‘Tis true that I have done thee wrong —

“But wrong for wrong — this deemed thy bride,

“The other victim of thy pride,

“Thou know’st for me was destined long.

“Thou saw’st, and coveted’st her charms —

“And with thy very crime — my birth,

“Thou taunted’st me — as little worth;

“A match ignoble for her arms,

“Because, forsooth, I could not claim

“The lawful heirship of thy name,

“Nor sit on Este’s lineal throne;

“Yet, were a few short summers mine,

“My name should more than Este’s shine

“With honours all my own.

“I had a sword — and have a breast

“That should have won as haught a crest

“As ever waved along the line

“Of all these sovereign sires of thine.

“Not always knightly spurs are worn

“The brightest by the better born;

“And mine have lanced my courser’s flank

“Before proud chiefs of princely rank,

“When charging to the cheering cry

“Of ‘Este and of Victory ! ‘ “

“I will not plead the cause of crime,

“Nor sue thee to redeem from time

“A few brief hours or days that must

“At length roll o’er my reckless dust; —

“Such maddening moments as my past,

“They could not, and they did not, last —

“Albeit, my birth and name be base,

“And thy nobility of race

“Disdained to deck a thing like me —

“Yet in my lineaments they trace

“Some features of my father’s face,

“And in my spirit — all of thee.

“From thee this tamelessness of heart —

“From thee — nay, wherefore dost thou start? —

“From thee in all their vigour came

“My arm of strength, my soul of flame —

“Thou didst not give me life alone,

“But all that made me more thine own.

“See what thy guilty love hath done !

“Repaid thee with too like a son !

“I am no bastard in my soul,

“For that, like thine, abhorred controul:

“And for by breath, that hasty boon

“Thou gav’st and wilt resume so soon,

“I valued it no more than thou,

“When rose thy casque above thy brow,

“And we, all side by side, have striven,

“And o’er the dead our coursers driven:

“The past is nothing — and at last

“The future can but be the past;

“Yet would I that I then had died;

“For though thou work’dst my mother’s ill,

“And made thy own my destined bride,

“I feel thou art may father still:

“And harsh, as sounds thy hard decree,

” ‘Tis not unjust, although from thee.

“Begot in sin, to die in shame,

“My life begun and ends the same:

“As erred the sire, so erred the son,

“And thou must punish both in one.

“My crime seems worst to human view,

“But God must judge between us too !

XIV.

He ceased — and stood with folded arms,

On which the circling fetters sounded;

And not an ear but felt as wounded,

Of all the chiefs that there were ranked

When those dull chains in meeting clanked:

Till Parisina’s fatal charms

Again attracted every eye —

Would she thus hear him doomed to die !

She stood, I said, all pale and still,

The living cause of Hugo’s ill:

Her eyes unmoved, but full and wide,

Not once had turned to either side —

Nor once did those sweet eyelids close,

Or shade the glance o’er which they rose,

But round their orbs of deepest blue

The circling white dilated grew —

And there with glassy gaze she stood

As ice were in her curdled blood;

But every now and then a tear

So large and slowly gathered slid

From the long dark fringe of that fair lid,

It was a thing to see, not hear !

And those who saw, it did surprise,

Such drops could fall from human eyes.

To speak she thought — the imperfect note

Was choked within her swelling throat,

Yet seemed in that low hollow groan

Her whole heart gushing in the tone.

It ceased — again she thought to speak,

Then burst her voice in one long shriek,

And to the earth she fell like stone

Or statue from its base o’erthrown,

More like a thing that ne’er had life, —

A monument of Azo‘s wife, —

Than her, that living guilty thing,

Whose every passion was a sting,

Which urged to guilt, but could not bear

That guilt’s detection and despair.

But yet she lived — and all too soon

Recovered from that death-like swoon —

But scarce to reason — every sense

Had been o’erstrung by pangs intense;

And each frail fibre of her brain

( As bow-strings, when relaxed by rain,

The erring arrow launch aside )

Sent forth her thoughts all wild and wide —

The past a blank, the future black,

With glimpses of a dreary track,

Like lightning on the desert path,

When midnight storms are mustering wrath.

She feared — she felt that something ill

Lay on her soul, so deep and chill —

That there was sin and shame she knew;

That some one was to die — but who?

She had forgotten: — did she breathe?

Could this be still the earth beneath?

The sky above, and men around;

Or were they fiends who now so frowned

On one, before whose eyes each eye

Till then and smiled in sympathy?

All was confused and undefined

To her all-jarred and wandering mind;

A chaos of wild hopes and fears:

And now in laughter, now in tears,

But madly still in each extreme,

She strove with that convulsive dream;

For so it seemed on her to break:

Oh ! vainly must she strive to wake !

XV.

The Convent bells are ringing,

But mournfully and slow;

In the grey square turret swinging,

With a deep sound, to and fro,

Heavily to the heart they go !

Hark ! the hymn is singing —

The song for the dead below,

Or the living who shortly shall be so !

For a departing being’s soul

The death-hymn peals and the hollow bells knoll:

He is near his mortal goal;

Kneeling at the Friar’s knee;

Sad to hear — and piteous to see —

Kneeling on the bare, cold ground,

With the block before and the guards around —

And the headsman with his bare arm ready,

That the blow may be both swift and steady,

Feels if the axe be sharp and true —

Since he set its edge anew:

While the crowd in a speechless circle gather

To see the Son fall by the doom of the Father.

XVI.

It is a lovely hour as yet

Before the summer sun shall set,

Which rose upon that heavy day,

And mocked it with his steadiest ray;

And his evening beams are shed

Full on Hugo’s fated head,

As his last confession pouring

To the monk, his doom deploring

In penitential holiness,

He bends to hear his accents bless

With absolution such as may

Wipe our mortal stains away.

That high sun on his head did glisten

As he there did bow and listen —

And the rings of chestnut hair

Curled half down his neck so bare;

But brighter still the beam was thrown

Upon the axe which near him shone

With a clear and ghastly glitter —

Oh ! that parting hour was bitter !

Even the stern stood chilled with awe:

Dark the crime, and just the law —

Yet they shuddered as they saw.

XVII.

The parting prayers are said and over

Of that false son — and daring lover !

His beads and sins are all recounted,

His hours to their last minute mounted —

His mantling cloak before was stripped,

His bright brown locks must now be clipped

‘Tis done — all closely are they shorn —

The vest which till this moment worn —

The scarf which Parisina gave —

Must not adorn him to the grave.

Even that must now be thrown aside,

And o’er his eyes the kerchief tied;

But no — that last indignity

Shall ne’er approach his haughty eye.

All feelings seemingly subdued,

In deep disdain were half renewed,

When headsman’s hands prepared to bind

Those eyes which would not brook such blind;

As if they dared not look on death.

“No — yours my forfeit blood and breath —

“These hands are chained — but let me die

“At least with an unshackled eye —

“Strike:”— and as the word he said,

Upon the block he bowed his head;

These the last accents Hugo spoke:

“Strike” — and flashing fell the stroke —

Rolled the head — and gushing, sunk

Back the stained and heaving trunk,

In the dust, which each deep vein

Slaked with its ensanguined rain;

His eyes and lips a moment quiver,

Convulsed and quick — then fix for ever.

He died, as erring man should die,

Without display, without parade;

Meekly had he bowed and prayed,

As not disdaining priestly aid,

Nor desperate of all hope on high.

And while before the Prior kneeling,

His heart was weaned from earthly feeling;

His wrathful sire — his paramour —

What were they in such an hour?

No more reproach — no more despair

No thought but heaven — no word but prayer —

Save the few which from him broke,

When, bared to meet the headsman’s stroke,

He claimed to die with eyes unbound,

His sole adieu to those around.

XVIII.

Still as the lips that closed in death,

Each gazer’s bosom held his breath:

But yet, afar, from man to man,

A cold electric shiver ran,

As down the deadly blow descended

On him whose life and love thus ended;

And with a hushing sound comprest,

A sigh shrunk back on every breast;

But no more thrilling noise rose there,

Beyond the blow that to the block

Pierced through with forced and sullen shock,

Save one: — what cleaves the silent air

So madly shrill — so passing wild?

That, as a mother’s o’er her child,

Done to death by sudden blow,

To the sky these accents go,

Like a soul’s in endless woe.

Through Azo’s palace-lattice driven,

That horrid voice ascends to heaven,

And every eye is turned thereon;

But sound and sight alike are gone !

It was a woman’s shriek — and ne’er

In madlier accents rose despair;

And those who heard it, as it past,

In mercy wished it were the last.

XIX.

Hugo is fallen; and, from that hour,

No more in palace, hall, or bower,

Was Parisina heard or seen:

Her name — as if she ne’er had been —

Was banish’d from each lip and ear,

Like words of wantoness or fear;

And from Prince Azo’s voice, by none

Was mention heard of wife or son;

No tomb — no memory had they;

Theirs was unconsecrated clay;

At least the knight’s who died that day.

But Parisina’s fate lies hid:

Like dust beneath the coffin lid:

Whether in convent she abode,

And won to heaven her dreary road,

By blighted and remorseful years

Of scourge, and fast, and sleepless tears:

Or if she fell by bowl or steel,

For that dark love she dared to feel;

Or if, upon the moment smote,

She died by tortures less remote;

Like him she saw upon the block,

With heart that shared the headsman’s shock,

In quickened brokenness that came,

In pity, o’er her shattered frame,

None knew — and none can ever know:

But whatso’er its end below,

Her life began and closed in woe !

XX.

And Azo found another bride,

And goodly sons grew by his side;

But none so lovely and so brave

As him who withered in the grave;

Or if they were — on his cold eye

Their growth but glanced unheeded by,

Or noticed with a smothered sigh.

But never tear his cheek descended,

And never smile his brow unbended;

And o’er that fair broad brow were wrought

The intersected lines of thought;

Those furrows which the burning share

Of Sorrow ploughs untimely there;

Scars of the lacerating mind

Which the Soul’s war doth leave behind,

He was past all mirth or woe:

Nothing more remained below

But sleepless nights and heavy days,

A mind all dead to scorn or praise,

A heart which shunned itself — and yet

That would not yield — nor could forget,

Which when it least appeared to melt,

Intently thought — intensely felt:

The deepest ice which ever froze

Can only o’er the surface close —

The living stream lies quick below,

And flows — and cannot cease to flow.

Still was his sealed-up bosom haunted

By thoughts which Nature hath implanted;

Too deeply rooted thence to vanish,

Howe’er our stifled tears we banish;

When, struggling as they rise to start,

We check those waters of the heart,

They are not dried — those tears unshed

But flow back to the fountain head,

And resting in their spring more pure,

For ever in its depth endure,

Unseen, unwept, but uncongealed,

And cherished most where least revealed.

With inward starts of feeling left,

To throb o’er those of life bereft,

Without the power to fill again

The desart gap which made his pain;

Without the hope to meet them where

United souls shall gladness share,

With all the consciousness that he

Had only passed a just decree;

That they had wrought their doom of ill,

Yet Azo’s age was wretched still.

The tainted branches of the tree,

If lopped with care, a strength may give,

By which the rest shall bloom and live

All greenly fresh and wildly free,

But if the lightning, in its wrath,

The waving boughs with fury scathe,

The massy trunk the ruin feels.

And never more a leaf reveals.

 

 

 

Parisina Malatesta

Parisina Malatesta

Lord Byron: Parisina

This poem is based on a true story . . . with a few changes by Byron. He noted these differences in a letter, dated July 20, 1819, upon learning more of its history on a visit to Ferrara, Italy a few years after the publication of Parisina.Byron’s tale is close enough to the real tragedy of Ugo of the House of Este and Parisina Malatesta of Rimini, that his version is certainly worth reading.
The following poem is grounded on a circumstance mentioned in Gibbon’s “Antiquities of the House of Brunswick.”— I am aware, that in modern times the delicacy or fastidiousness of the reader may deem such subjects unfit for the purposes of poetry. The Greek dramatists, and some of the best of our old English writers, were of a different opinion: as Alfieri and Schiller have also been, more recently, upon the Continent. The following extract will explain the facts on which the story is founded. The name of Azo is substituted for Nicholas, as more metrical.

“Under the reign of Nicholas III. Ferrara was polluted with a domestic tragedy. By the testimony of an attendant, and his own observation, the Marquis of Este discovered the incestuous loves of his wife Parisina, and Hugo his bastard son, a beautiful and valiant youth. They were beheaded in the castle by the sentence of a father and husband, who published his shame, and survived their execution. He was unfortunate, if they were guilty; if they were innocent, he was still more unfortunate; nor is there any possible situation in which I can sincerely approve the last act of the justice of a parent.” — Gibbon’s Miscellaneous Works, vol. 3d. p. 470, new edition.

bc.jpg

I.

It is the hour when from the boughs

The nightingale’s high note is heard;

It is the hour when lovers’ vows

Seem sweet in every whisper’d word;

And gentle winds, and waters near,

Make music to the lonely ear.

Each flower the dews have lightly wet,

And in the sky the stars are met,

And on the wave is deeper blue,

And on the leaf a browner hue,

And in the heaven that clear obscure,

So softly dark, and darkly pure,

Which follows the decline of day,

As twilight melts beneath the moon away.

II.

But it is not to list to the waterfall

That Parisina leaves her hall,

And it is not to gaze on the heavenly light

That the lady walks in the shadow of night;

And if she sits in Este’s bower,

‘Tis not for the sake of its full-blown flower —

She listens — but not for the nightingale —

Though her ear expects as soft a tale.

There glides a step through the foliage thick,

And her cheek grows pale — and her heart beats quick.

There whispers a voice through the rustling leaves,

And her blush returns, and her bosom heaves:

A moment more — and they shall meet —

‘Tis past — her lover’s at her feet.

III.

And what unto them is the world beside

With all its change of time and tide?

Its living things — its earth and sky —

Are nothing to their mind and eye.

And heedless as the dead are they

Of aught around, above, beneath;

As if all else had passed away,

They only for each other breathe;

Their very sighs are full of joy

So deep, that did it not decay,

That happy madness would destroy

The hearts which feel its fiery sway:

Of guilt, of peril, do they deem

In that tumultuous tender dream?

Who that have felt that passion’s power,

Or paused, or feared in such an hour?

Or thought how brief such moments last:

But yet — they are already past !

Alas ! we must awake before

We know such vision comes no more.

IV.

With many a lingering look they leave

The spot of guilty gladness past;

And though they hope, and vow, they grieve,

As if that parting were the last.

The frequent sigh — the long embrace —

The lip that there would cling for ever,

While gleams on Parisina’s face

The Heaven she fears will not forgive her,

As if each calmly conscious star

Beheld her frailty from afar —

The frequent sigh, the long embrace,

Yet binds them to their trysting-place.

But it must come, and they must part

In fearful heaviness of heart,

With all the deep and shuddering chill

Which follows fast the deeds of ill.

V.

And Hugo is gone to his lonely bed,

To covet there another’s bride;

But she must lay her conscious head

A husband’s trusting heart beside.

But fevered in her sleep she seems,

And red her cheek with troubled dreams,

And mutters she in her unrest

A name she dare not breathe by day,

And clasps her lord unto the breast

Which pants for one away:

And he to that embrace awakes,

And, happy in the thought, mistakes

That dreaming sigh, and warm caress,

For such as he was wont to bless;

And could in very fondness weep

O’er her who loves him even in sleep.

VI.

He clasped her sleeping to his heart,

And listened to each broken word:

He hears — Why doth Prince Azo start,

As if the Archangel’s voice he heard?

And well he may — a deeper doom

Could scarcely thunder o’er his tomb,

When he shall wake to sleep no more,

And stand the eternal throne before.

And well he may — his earthly peace

Upon that sound is doomed to cease.

That sleeping whisper of a name

Bespeaks her guilt and Azo’s shame.

And whose that name? that o’er his pillow

Sounds fearful as the breaking billow,

Which rolls the plank upon the shore,

And dashes on the pointed rock

The wretch who sinks to rise no more, —

So came upon his soul the shock.

And whose that name? ’tis Hugo’s, — his —

In sooth he had not deem’d of this !

‘Tis Hugo’s, — he, the child of one

He loved — his own all-evil son —

The offspring of his wayward youth,

When he betrayed Bianca’s truth,

The maid whose folly could confide

In him who made her not his bride.

VII.

He plucked his poignard in its sheath,

But sheathed it ere the point was bare —

Howe’er unworthy now to breathe,

He could not slay a thing so fair —

At least, not smiling — sleeping — there —

Nay more: — he did not wake her then,

But gazed upon her with a glance

Which, had she roused her from her trance,

Had frozen her sense to sleep again —

And o’er his brow the burning lamp

Gleamed on the dew-drops big and damp.

She spake no more — but still she slumberd —

While, in his thought, her days are numbered.

VIII.

And with the morn he sought, and found,

In many a tale from those around,

The proof of all he feared to know,

Their present guilt, his future woe;

The long-conniving damsels seek

To save themselves, and would transfer

The guilt — the shame — the doom — to her:

Concealment is no more — they speak

All circumstance which may compel

Full credence to the tale they tell:

And Azo’s tortured heart and ear

Have nothing more to feel or hear.

IX.

He was not one who brooked delay:

Within the chamber of his state,

The chief of Este’s ancient sway

Upon his throne of judgment sate;

His nobles and his guards are there, —

Before him is the sinful pair;

Both young, — and one how passing fair !

With swordless belt, and fettered hand,

Oh, Christ ! that thus a son should stand

Before a father’s face !

Yet thus must Hugo meet his sire,

And hear the sentence of his ire,

The tale of his disgrace !

And yet he seems not overcome,

Although, as yet, his voice be dumb.

X.

And still, and pale, and silently

Did Parisina wait her doom;

How changed since last her speaking eye

Glanced gladness round the glittering room,

Where high-born men were proud to wait —

Where Beauty watched to imitate

Her gentle voice — her lovely mien —

And gather from her air and gait

The graces of it’s queen:

Then, — had her eye in sorrow wept,

A thousand warriors forth had leapt,

A thousand swords had sheathless shone,

And made her quarrel all their own.

Now, — what is she? And what are they?

Can she command, or these obey?

All silent and unheeding now,

With downcast eyes and knitting brow,

And folded arms, and freezing air,

And lips that scarce their scorn forbear,

Her knights and dames, her court — is there:

And he, the chosen one, whose lance

Had yet been couched before her glance,

Who — were his arms a moment free —

Had died or gained her liberty;

The minion of his father’s bride, —

He, too, is fettered by her side;

Nor sees her swoln and full eye swim

Less for her own despair than him:

Those lids o’er which the violet vein —

Wandering, leaves a tender stain,

Shining through the smoothest white

That e’er did softest kiss invite —

Now seemed with hot and livid glow

To press, not shade, the orbs below;

Which glance so heavily, and fill,

As tear on tear grows gathering still.

To be continued…

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Lord Byron: “The Dream”

I

Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality,
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off waking toils,
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity;
They pass like spirits of the past – they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power –
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
They make us what we were not – what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows – Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow? – What are they?
Creations of the mind? – The mind can make
Substances, and people planets of its own
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.
I would recall a vision which I dreamed
Perchance in sleep – for in itself a thought,
A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
And curdles a long life into one hour.

 

byronthedream.jpg

 

I saw two beings in the hues of youth
Standing upon a hill, a gentle hill,
Green and of mild declivity, the last
As ’twere the cape of a long ridge of such,
Save that there was no sea to lave its base,
But a most living landscape, and the wave
Of woods and corn-fields, and the abodes of men
Scattered at intervals, and wreathing smoke
Arising from such rustic roofs: the hill
Was crowned with a peculiar diadem
Of trees, in circular array, so fixed,
Not by the sport of nature, but of man:
These two, a maiden and a youth, were there
Gazing -the one on all that was beneath
Fair as herself – but the boy gazed on her;
And both were young, and one was beautiful:
And both were young – yet not alike in youth.
As the sweet moon on the horizon’s verge,
The maid was on the eve of womanhood;
The boy had fewer summers, but his heart
Had far outgrown his years, and to his eye
There was but one beloved face on earth,
And that was shining on him; he had looked
Upon it till it could not pass away;
He had no breath, no being, but in hers:
She was his voice; he did not speak to her,
But trembled on her words; she was his sight,
For his eye followed hers, and saw with hers,
Which coloured all his objects; – he had ceased
To live within himself: she was his life,
The ocean to the river of his thoughts,
Which terminated all; upon a tone,
A touch of hers, his blood would ebb and flow,
And his cheek change tempestuously – his heart
Unknowing of its cause of agony.
But she in these fond feelings had no share:
Her sighs were not for him; to her he was
Even as a brother – but no more; ’twas much,
For brotherless she was, save in the name
Her infant friendship had bestowed on him;
Herself the solitary scion left
Of a time-honoured race. – It was a name
Which pleased him, and yet pleased him not – and why?
Time taught him a deep answer – when she loved
Another; even now she loved another,
And on the summit of that hill she stood
Looking afar if yet her lover’s steed
Kept pace with her expectancy, and flew.

 

III

 

A change came o’er the spirit of my dream.
There was an ancient mansion, and before
Its walls there was a steed caparisoned:
Within an antique Oratory stood
The Boy of whom I spake; – he was alone,
And pale, and pacing to and fro: anon
He sate him down, and seized a pen, and traced
Words which I could not guess of; then he leaned
His bowed head on his hands and shook, as ’twere
With a convulsion – then rose again,
And with his teeth and quivering hands did tear
What he had written, but he shed no tears.
And he did calm himself, and fix his brow
Into a kind of quiet: as he paused,
The Lady of his love re-entered there;
She was serene and smiling then, and yet
She knew she was by him beloved; she knew –
For quickly comes such knowledge – that his heart
Was darkened with her shadow, and she saw
That he was wretched, but she saw not all.
He rose, and with a cold and gentle grasp
He took her hand; a moment o’er his face
A tablet of unutterable thoughts
Was traced, and then it faded, as it came;
He dropped the hand he held, and with slow steps
Retired, but not as bidding her adieu,
For they did part with mutual smiles; he passed
From out the massy gate of that old Hall,
And mounting on his steed he went his way;
And ne’er repassed that hoary threshold more.

 

IV

 

A change came o’er the spirit of my dream.
The Boy was sprung to manhood: in the wilds
Of fiery climes he made himself a home,
And his Soul drank their sunbeams; he was girt
With strange and dusky aspects; he was not
Himself like what he had been; on the sea
And on the shore he was a wanderer;
There was a mass of many images
Crowded like waves upon me, but he was
A part of all; and in the last he lay
Reposing from the noontide sultriness,
Couched among fallen columns, in the shade
Of ruined walls that had survived the names
Of those who reared them; by his sleeping side
Stood camels grazing, and some goodly steeds
Were fastened near a fountain; and a man,
Clad in a flowing garb, did watch the while,
While many of his tribe slumbered around:
And they were canopied by the blue sky,
So cloudless, clear, and purely beautiful,
That God alone was to be seen in heaven.

 

V

 

A change came o’er the spirit of my dream.
The Lady of his love was wed with One
Who did not love her better: in her home,
A thousand leagues from his, – her native home,
She dwelt, begirt with growing Infancy,
Daughters and sons of Beauty, – but behold!
Upon her face there was a tint of grief,
The settled shadow of an inward strife,
And an unquiet drooping of the eye,
As if its lid were charged with unshed tears.
What could her grief be? – she had all she loved,
And he who had so loved her was not there
To trouble with bad hopes, or evil wish,
Or ill-repressed affliction, her pure thoughts.
What could her grief be? – she had loved him not,
Nor given him cause to deem himself beloved,
Nor could he be a part of that which preyed
Upon her mind – a spectre of the past.

 

VI

 

A change came o’er the spirit of my dream.
The Wanderer was returned. – I saw him stand
Before an altar – with a gentle bride;
Her face was fair, but was not that which made
The Starlight of his Boyhood; – as he stood
Even at the altar, o’er his brow there came
The selfsame aspect and the quivering shock
That in the antique Oratory shook
His bosom in its solitude; and then –
As in that hour – a moment o’er his face
The tablet of unutterable thoughts
Was traced – and then it faded as it came,
And he stood calm and quiet, and he spoke
The fitting vows, but heard not his own words,
And all things reeled around him; he could see
Not that which was, nor that which should have been –
But the old mansion, and the accustomed hall,
And the remembered chambers, and the place,
The day, the hour, the sunshine, and the shade,
All things pertaining to that place and hour,
And her who was his destiny, came back
And thrust themselves between him and the light;
What business had they there at such a time?

 

VII

 

A change came o’er the spirit of my dream.
The Lady of his love; – Oh! she was changed,
As by the sickness of the soul; her mind
Had wandered from its dwelling, and her eyes,
They had not their own lustre, but the look
Which is not of the earth; she was become
The queen of a fantastic realm; her thoughts
Were combinations of disjointed things;
And forms impalpable and unperceived
Of others’ sight familiar were to hers.
And this the world calls frenzy; but the wise
Have a far deeper madness, and the glance
Of melancholy is a fearful gift;
What is it but the telescope of truth?
Which strips the distance of its fantasies,
And brings life near in utter nakedness,
Making the cold reality too real!

 

VIII

 

A change came o’er the spirit of my dream.
The Wanderer was alone as heretofore,
The beings which surrounded him were gone,
Or were at war with him; he was a mark
For blight and desolation, compassed round
With Hatred and Contention; Pain was mixed
In all which was served up to him, until,
Like to the Pontic monarch of old days,
He fed on poisons, and they had no power,
But were a kind of nutriment; he lived
Through that which had been death to many men,
And made him friends of mountains; with the stars
And the quick Spirit of the Universe
He held his dialogues: and they did teach
To him the magic of their mysteries;
To him the book of Night was opened wide,
And voices from the deep abyss revealed
A marvel and a secret. – Be it so.

 

IX

 

My dream is past; it had no further change.
It was of a strange order, that the doom
Of these two creatures should be thus traced out
Almost like a reality – the one
To end in madness – both in misery.

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Lord Byron’s Dream, 1827
By Sir Charles Lock Eastlake (1793-1865)