Lord Byron: “Lara” 2/3
Excerpt, “The Life and Works of Lord Byron: Notes and Illustrations.” John Murray, London: 1833.
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.
“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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…