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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 4: 1810-1815

1970. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, [20 October 1811] ⁠* 

3. [1] 

Twas in the grey of morning; soon the sun,
Rising above Albardos, pourd his light
Over the forest, & with ray aslant
Entering its depth, illumed the branchless pines,
Brightend their bark, tinged with a redder hue
Its rusty stains, & cast along the floor
Long lines of shadow, where they rose erect
Like pillars of the temple. With slow foot
Roderick pursued his way, for penitence,
Remorse which gave no respite, & the long
And painful conflict of his troubled soul
Had worn him down: now brighter thoughts had risen,
And that triumphant vision floated still
Before his sight, with all her blazonry,
Her towered helm, & the victorious sword
Which flashd like lightning over the field of blood:
Thus musing as he went, the distant cry
Of horn, & hound, & huntsmans loud halloo,
Brake on his ear. Twas the first living voice
Of man which he had heard since he beheld
Romanos lips while blessing him, break off
The faltering prayer, & fall for ever fixd:
And started at the sound, his heart in fear
A moment stopt, then throbbd with quicker spring.
Nearer the clamour came, with louder shout,
And broader blast of horn, & deeper cry,
And tramp of thundering hoofs; anon the stag
Bursts full in view, the huntsmen close behind
Press on his flight, a turbaned company,
And lo the Moorish javelin gores his flank.
Yet a few paces with convulsive bound
He sprung, then dropt at Rodericks feet; his eyes
Were turnd on him, & at that look of death.
And at his dying sobs, as at a sound
Of human agony, the fallen Goth
Shuddered; to him they seem’d to speak reproach,
Stinging reproach & shame; & as he shrunk
And hid himself from sight within the wood.
“Caitiff!” his inward soul upbraided him,
“Wretch that thou art, the Misbelievers take
“This pastime in thy land! the innocent beast
“That bleeds beneath their spear accuseth thee!
“Yea all the blood,” – with that as if his heart
Had risen & shaken off that dreadful thought,
“These enemies O Lord! are thine,’ he cried
“Vengeance is thine! for thine own holy will;
“Thy own redeeming Law, & in thy good time
“Thou wilt deliver Spain; yea, I shall see
“The dawn of her deliverance, of her day
“Of glory, & my spirit ere I die,
“Shall taste of joy once more.”
Such hope sustaind
His heart when he drew near Leiria’s walls.
Twas evensong time, but not a Bell was heard;
Instead thereof in her polluted tower
Bidding the Moor to his unhallowed prayers
The cryer stood, & with his sonorous voice
Filld the delicious vale where Lena winds
Thro groves & pastoral meads. The sound, the sight
Of turban, girdle, robe, & scymitar
And tawny skins, arousd contending thoughts
Of shame & wrathful anguish in the Goth;
The unaccustomed face of humankind
Confusd him now, & thro the streets he went
With haggard mien, & countenance like one
Crazd or bewildered. All who met him turnd
And wondered as he past; One stopt him short
Put alms into his hand, & then desird
In broken Gothic speech, the moonstruck man
To bless him. With a look of vacancy
Roderick receivd the alms; his wandering eye
Fell on the money, & the fallen King,
Seeing his own royal impress on the piece,
Broke out into a quick convulsive voice
That seemd like laughter first, but indeed soon
In hollow groans supprest, the Musselman
Shrunk at the ghastly sound, & magnified
The name of Allah xx as he past along.
A Christian woman spinning at her door
Beheld him, & with sudden pity touchd
She laid her spindly by, & hastening in
Took bread, & following after, calld him back
And placing in his passive hands the loaf
She said, Christ Jesus for his mothers sake
Have mercy on thee; with a look which seemd
Like idiotcy he heard her, & stood still
Staring awhile, then bursting into tears
Wept like a child, & thus relievd his heart,
Full even to bursting else with struggling thoughts
So thro the streets & thro the northern gate
Did Roderick, restless of a resting place
With feeble, yet with hurried step pursue
His agitated way, & when he reachd
The open fields, & found himself alone
Beneath the starry canopy of heaven,
The sense of solitude so dreaded late
Was then repose & comfort. There he stopt
Beside a little rill, & broke the loaf,
And shedding oer that unaccustomed food
Painful but quiet tears, with grateful heart
He breathd thanksgiving forth then made his bed
On heath & myrtle.
But when he arose
At day break & pursued his way, his heart
Felt lighten’d that the shock of mingling first
Among his fellow-kind was overpast:
And journeying on he greeted whom he met
With such short interchange of benison
As each to other gentle travellers give,
Recovering thus the power of social speech
Which he had long disusd. When hunger prest
He askd for alms; slight supplication serv’d,
A countenance so pale & woe-begone
Movd all to pity, & the marks it bore
Of rigorous penance & austerest life,
With something too of majesty that still
Appeard amid the wreck, inspird a sense
Of reverence too. The Goatherd on the hills
Opened his scrip for him; the babe in arms
Affrighted at his visage, turned away,
And clinging to its mothers neck in tears,
Would yet again look up & then again
With cry renewd shrink back. The bolder imps
Who playd beside the way, at his approach
Break of their sport for wonder, & stood still
In silence, – some among them cried A Saint!
The village matron when she gave him food
Besought his prayers, & one intreated him
To lay his healing hands upon her child.
For with a sore & hopeless malady
Wasting it long had lain, & more, she said,
He was a Man of God.
Thus travelling on
He past the vale where wild Arunca pours
Its wintry torrents, & the happier site
Of old Conimbrica, whose ruined towers
Bore record of the fierce Alani’s wrath.
Mondego too he crost, not yet renownd
In poets amorous lay, & left behind
The walls at whose foundations pious hands
Of Priests & Monks & mitred Prelates toild
For so the insulting Arian gave command.
Those stately palaces & rich domains,
Were now the Moors, & many a weary age
Must Coimbra wear the Misbelievers yoke,
Before Fernandos banner thro her gates
Shall pass triumphant, & within the Mosque
Then purified {sanctified}, the hero of Bivar,
He who in happy hour was born, receive
The knighthood which he glorified so oft
In his victorious fields. Oh if the years
To come might then have risen on Rodericks soul
What joy! what joy would Douro’s stream have given
Doomd one day from its have to give name
To that heroic race whose lineage
And language oer the undiscovered West
Shall spread their reign, – what joy those Keltic walls
Where Mumadona one day shall erect
Her tower, her town, her convent, to become
The cradle of that famous monarchy,
What joy might these prophetic scenes have given,
What ample vengeance on the Musselman,
Driven out with foul defeat, & taught to feel
In Africa the wrongs he wrought to Spain,
And still pursued by that relentless sword
Even to the farthest Orient, where his power
Receivd its mortal wound.
O years of pride
In undiscoverable futurity
Yet unevolved, your destined glories lay
And all that Roderick in these fated scenes
Beheld, was grief & wretchedness, the waste
Of recent war, & the more mournful calm
Of joyless, helpless, hopeless servitude.
Twas not the ruined walls of church or tower
Cottage or convent, bleak with smouldering smoke
Twas not the unburied bones, which where the dogs
And crows had strewn them, lay amid the field
Bleaching in sun & shower, that wrung his heart
With keenest anguish; twas when he beheld
Some turbaned traitor show his shameless front
In the open eye of heaven, some renegade
On whose base brutal nature unredeemed,
Even black apostasy itself could stamp
No deeper reprobation, at the hour
Assignd, fall prostrate, & unite the names
Of God & the Blasphemer, – impious prayer,
Most impious when from unbelieving lips
The accursed utterance came || But when he saw         || see below
The daughters of the land, who as they went
With chearful step to church, were wont to shew
Their innocent faces to all passers eyes,
Freely, & free from sin as when they lookd
In adoration & in prayer to heaven,
Now maskd in Moorish mufflers, to the mosque
Holding uncompanied their jealous way,
His spirit seemd at that unhappy sight
To die away within him, & he too
Would fain have died, so death could bring with it
Entire oblivion.
Rent with thoughts like these
He reachd that city once the seat renownd
Of Suevi kings, where in contempt of Rome
Degenerate long, the North’s heroic sons
Raisd first a rival throne, now from its state
Of high regality debasd & fallen.
Still bounteous Nature oer the lovely vale
Where like a Queen august Bracara [MS illegible]
Pourd forth her gifts profuse; perennial springs
Flow’d for her habitants, & genial suns
With kindly showers to bless the happy clime

________

|| Insert –

––– Then Roderick’s heart
With indignation burnt, & then he longd
To be a King again, that so for Spain
Betrayd & his Redeemer thus renounced
He might inflict due punishment, & make
These wretches feel his wrath. But when he

Combin’d in vain their gentle influences
For patient servitude was there who bowd
His neck beneath the Moor, & silent grief
That eats into the soul; the Walls & Stones
Seemd to reproach their dwellers; stately piles
Yet undecayd, the mighty monuments
Of Roman pride, barbaric palaces,
And Gothic halls where haughty Barons late
Gladdend their faithful vassals with the feast
And flowing bowl, alike the spoilers now.
Leaving these captive scenes behind, he crost
Cavado’s silver current, & the banks
Of Lima, thro whose groves in after years,
Mournful yet sweet, Diogos amorous lute
Prolong’d its tuneful echoes. But when now
Beyond Arnoya’s tributary tide
He came where Minho rolls its ampler stream
By Aurias ancient walls, new horrors met
His startled view: for prostrate in the dust
Those walls were laid, & towers & temples stood
Tottering in frightful ruins, as the flame
Had left them black & bare; & thro the streets
All with the recent wreck of war bestrewn.
Helmet & turban, scymitar & sword,
Xtian & Moor in death promiscuous lay
Each where they fell; & blood-flakes parchd & crackd
Like the dry slime of some retreating flood,
And half-burnt bodies which allurd from far
The wolf & raven, & to impious food
Tempted the houseless dog.
A thrilling pang,
A sweat like death, a sickening of the soul
Came over Roderick. Soon they past away,
And admiration in their stead arose,
Stern joy & inextinguishable hope
With wrath & hate & sacred vengeance now
Indissolubly link’d. O valiant race,
O people excellently brave, he cried,
True Goths ye fell, & faithful to the last.
Tho overpowered unconquered, & in death
Triumphant. Holy be your memory,
Blessed & glorious now & evermore
Be your heroic names! – Thus as he spake
Aloud, led by the sound a woman came
Toward him from the ruins. For the love
Of Christ, she said, lend me a little while
Thy charitable aid. Her words, her voice,
Her look, more horror to his heart con transfusd
Than all the havock round; – for tho she spake
With the calm utterance of despair, in tones
Deep-breathd & low, yet never sweeter voice
Pourd forth its hymns in ecstasy to Heaven.
Her hands were bloody, & her garments staind
With blood, her face with blood & dust defiled.
Beauty & youth & grace & majesty
Had every charm of form & feature given
But now upon her rigid countenance
Severest anguish set a fixedness
Ghastlier than death. She led him thro the streets
A little way along, where four low walls
Heapt rudely from the ruins round, inclos’d
A narrow space; & there upon the ground
Four bodies decently compos’d were laid
Tho horrid all with wounds & clotted gore;
A venerable ancient, by his side
A comely matron, for whose middle age,
If ruthless slaughter had not intervend,
Nature it seem’d & gentle Time, might well
Have many a calm declining year in store;
The third an armed warrior, on his breast
An infant, over whom his hands were crost
There, with firm eye & steady countenance
Unflattering, she addressd him, – there they lie –
Child, Husband, Parents, – Adosinda’s all
I could not break the earth with these poor hands
Nor other tomb provide, – but let that pass
Auria itself is now but one wide grave
For all its x habitants. What better grave?
What worthier monument? – Oh cover not
Their blood, thou Earth! & ye, ye blessed Souls
Of heroes & of murdered innocents,
Oh never let your everlasting cries
Cease round the eternal throne, till the Most High
For all these unexampled wrongs hath given
Full & overflowing vengeance!
While she spake
She raisd her lofty hands to Heaven, as one
Who calls for justice on the judgement seat;
Then laid them on her eyes, & bending on leaning on
Bent oer the open sepulchre. But soon
With quiet mien collectedly, like one
Who from intense devotion, & the act
Of ardent prayer arising girds himself
For this worlds daily business, she arose
And said to Roderick, help me now to raise
The covering of the tomb. With half-burnt planks
Which she had gathered for this funeral use
They roof’d the vault; then laying stones above
They closd it down; last, rendering all secure
Stones upon stones they pil’d, till all appeard
A huge & shapeless heap. Enough, she cries
And taking Rodericks hands in both her own,
And wringing them with fervent thankfulness,
May God show mercy to thee, she exclaim’d,
When most thou needest mercy! Who thou art
I know not; not of Auria, – for of all
Her sons & daughters save the one who stands
Before thee, not a soul is left alive.
But thou hast rendered to me in my hour
Of need the only hope that man could give.
What else of consolation may be found
For one so utterly bereft, from Heaven,
And from myself must come. For deem not thou
That I shall sink beneath calamity!
This visitation like a lightning stroke
Hath scath’d the fruit & blossom of my youth,
One hour hath orphan’d me, & widowd me,
And made me childless. In this sepulchre
Lie buried all my earthward hopes & fears,
All human loves & natural charities,
All womanly tenderness, all gentle thoughts, –
All womanly weakness too I bury here,
Yea all my former nature. There remain
Revenge & death: the bitterness of death
Is past, & Heaven already hath vouchsafd
A fore taste of revenge.
Look here! she cried,
And drawing back held forth her bloody hands,
Tis Moorish! – In the hour of massacre
A captain of Alcamans murderous host
Reservd me from the slaughter. Not because {because}
My rank & station tempted him with thought
Of ransom, for amid the general waste
Of ruin all was lost – Nor yet because
That pity mov’d him, they who from this race
Accurst for pity look, such pity found
As ravenous wolves show the defenceless flock.
My husband at my feet had fallen, my babe
– O Jesus God – was on the spear, – & then –
Even then, – amid the throes of agony
Which rent my soul, which {when} if this solid earth
Had opened, & let out the central fire
Before whose all involving flames the {high} heaven x
Shall shrivel like a scroll, & be consum’d,
The universal wreck had been to me
Relief & comfort, – even then this Moor
Turn’d his libidinous eyes on me, & bade
His men reserve me safely for his an hour
Of dalliance, – me – me in my agonies.
But when I found for what this miscreant child
Of Hell had snatchd me from the massacre {butchery},
The very horror of that monstrous thought
Sav’d me from madness. I was calm at once, –
Yea comforted & reconciled to life, –
Hatred became to me the life of life;
Its purpose & its power.
The glutted Moors
At length broke up, this hell-dog turn’d aside.
Toward his home, we travelled fast & far,
Till by a forest edge at eve, he pitchd
His tents. I washd & ate at his command
Forcing revolted nature, – I composd
My garments, & bound up my scatterd hair,
And when he took my hand, & to his couch
Would fain have drawn me, gently I retird
From that abominable touch, & said
Forbear tonight I pray thee; for this day
A widow as thou seest me was I made,
Therefore according to our law, must watch
And pray to night. Tomorrow let my Lord
Deal with his captive as it pleaseth him.
The villain paus’d before with loathsome smile
He gave consent, then, laid him down to rest
While at the door of the pavilion, I
Knelt on the ground & bowd my face to earth
But when the neighbouring tents had ceasd their stir
The fires were out, & all were fast asleep
Then I arose; the blessed Moon from heaven
Lent me her holy light. I did not pray
For strength, for strength was given me, & I drew
The scymitar & standing oer the couch
Raisd it in both my hands with steady aim,
And smote his neck. Upward as from a spring
When newly opend by the husbandman,
The villainous life blood spoutd. Twice I struck
So making vengeance sure, then praising God
Retird amid the wood, & measurd back
My patient way to Auria, to perform
The duty which thou seest.
As thus she spake,
Roderick intently listening, had forgot
His crown, his kingdom, his calamities,
His crimes, so like a spell upon the Goth
Her powerful words prevaild. With open lips
And eager ears & eyes which while they watched
Her features caught the spirit which she breathed
Mute, & enrapt he stood, & motionless;
The vision rose before him, & the shout
Which like a thunderpeal victorious Spain
Sent thro the welkin, rung within his soul
Its deep prophetic echoes. On his brow
The pride & power of former majesty
Dawnd once again, but changed & purified
From all alloy of base & selfish thoughts
Vain glorious weakness & triumphant vice,
Duty, & high heroic purposes
Now hallowd it, & as with inward light
Illumd his meagre countenance austere.

A while in silence Adosinda stood
Reading his altered visage, & the thoughts
Which thus transfigurd him. Aye, she exclaimed
The tale hath mov’d thee. – It might move the dead
Quicken captivity’s dead soul, & rouse
This prostrate country from her mortal trance
Therefore I live to tell it. And for this
Hath the Lord God Almighty given to me
A spirit not mine own, & strength from Heaven
Dealing with me as in the days of old
With that Bethulian Matron, when she saved
His people from the spoiler. What remains
But that the life which he hath thus preservd
I consecrate to him; not veild & vowd
To pass my days in holiness & peace;
Nor yet between sepulchral walls immurd
Alive to penance alone; my rule
He hath himself prescribed, & hath infusd
A passion in this womans breast, wherein
All passions & all virtues are combin’d;
Love, hatred, joy & anguish, & despair
And hope & natural piety & faith,
Make up the mighty feeling. Call it not
Revenge, – thus sanctified & thus sublim’d
Tis duty, tis devotion. Like the grace
Of God it came & sav’d me, & in it
Spain must have her salvation. – In thy hands
Here, by the grave of all my family
I will make my vow.
She said & kneeling down
Placd within Rodericks palm her folded hands
This life, she cried, I dedicate to God
Therewith to do him service, in the way
Which he hath taught, to rouse the land against
This impious, this intolerable yoke,
To offer up the invaders hateful blood
This shall be my employ, my rule & rite,
Observances & sacrifice of faith,
For this I hold the life which he hath given
A sacred trust: for this when it shall suit
His service, joyfully will lay it down.
So deal with me as I fulfill the pledge
O Lord my God, my Saviour & my Judge.

Then rising from the earth she spread her arms,
And looking round with lifted eyes exclaim’d
Auria & Spain & Heaven, receive the vow!

_________


Notes

* MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/5–7
Unpublished.
Dating note: This is the ‘large portion of Pelayo’ referred to in Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 19 October 1811, Letter 1969. BACK

[1] This letter contains an early version of the third book of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013