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

2092. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, [before 7 or 8 May 1812] ⁠* 

5. [1] 

Between St Felix, & the stately towers
Of Cordoba where Alahor held his court,
Lay many a long day’s journey interpos’d
And many a mountain range hath Roderick crossd
And many a lovely vale, ere he beheld
Where Betis wandering thro the unbounded plain
Roll’d his majestic waters. There at eve
Entering an inn, he took his humble seat
With other travellers round the crackling hearth
Where heath & cistus gave their fragrant flame.
That flame no longer as in other times
Lit up the countenance of easy mirth
And light discourse; the talk which now went round
Was of the grief that hung at every heart,
Of Spain subdued; the sceptre of the Goths
Broken, their nation & their name effaced, –
Slaughter & Mourning which had left no house
Unvisited, & Shame which set its mark
On every Spaniards face. One who had seen
His sons fall bravely at his side, bewaild
The unhappy chance which rescuing him from death
Left him the last of all his family,
Yet he rejoiced to think that none who drew
Their blood from him, remaind to wear the yoke
Be at the miscreants’ beck, & propagate
A breed of slaves to serve them. Here sate one
Who told of fair possessions lost, & babes
To goodly fortune born, of all bereft.
Another for a virgin daughter mournd
The lewd barbarians prey: a fourth had seen
His only child forsake him in his age,
And for a Moor renounce her hope in Christ:
His was the heaviest grief of all, he said,
And clenching as he spake his hoary locks
He curst King Rodericks soul.
O curse him not!
Roderick exclaimd, all shuddering as he spake
{O for the love of Jesus, curse him not!}
Sufficient is the dreadful load of guilt
Which lies upon his miserable soul!
O brother do not curse the sinful soul
Which Jesus sufferd on the Cross to save!

But then an old man who had sate till now
A silent listener from his seat arose,
And moving round to Roderick took his hand;
Christ bless thee, brother, for that Xtian speech
He said, & shame on me that any tongue
Readier than mine was found to utter it! –
His own emotion filld him while he spake,
So that he did not feel how Rodericks hand
Shook like a palsied limb; & none could see
How at his well-known voice the countenance
Of that poor traveller suddenly was changed
And sunk with deadlier paleness; – for the flame
Was spent, & from behind him, on the wall
High-hung, the lamp with feeble glimmering playd

Oh! it is ever thus! the old man exclaim’d,
The crimes & woes of universal Spain
Are charged on him, & curses which should point
At living heads, pursue beyond the grave
His poor unhappy soul! As if his deeds
Had wrought the fall of our old monarchy,
As if the Musselmen in their career
Would neer have overleapd the strait which parts
Iberia from the Mauritanian shore
If Julian had not beckoned them! Alas
The evils which drew on our overthrow
Would soon by other means have wrought {workd} their end,
Tho Julians daughter should have lived & died
A Virgin vowd & veiled.
Touch not on that
Shrinking with inward shiverings at the thought,
The penitent exclaimd, Oh if thou lovest
The soul of Roderick, touch not on that deed!
God in his mercy may forgive it him,
But human tongue must never speak his name
Without reproach & utter infamy
For that abhorred act. Even thou, – But here
Siverian taking up the word, broke off
Unwittingly the incautious speech; Even I
Quoth he, who nurst him in his fathers hall
Even I can only for that deed of shame
Offer in agony my secret prayers
But Spain hath witnessd other crimes as foul
Have we not seen Favilas shameless wife
Thrond in Witiza’s ivory car parade
Our towns in regal pageantry, & bid
The adulterous tyrant in her husbands blood
Dip his accursed hands! Did we not see
Pelayo by that bloody kings pursuit,
And that unnatural mother, from the land
With open outcry like an outward thief
Hunted? – And saw ye not Theodofred
As through the streets I guided his dark steps
Roll mournfully toward the noon-day sun
His blank & senseless eye balls! Spain saw this
And suffered it. – I seek not to excuse
The sins of Roderick, – Jesu who beholds
The burning tears I shed in solitude
Knows how I plead for them in midnight prayer
But if when he victoriously revenged
The wrongs of Chindasuinthos house, his sword
Had not for mercy turnd aside its edge,
Oh what a day of glory had been seen
Upon the banks of Chrysus! Curse not him
Who in that fatal conflict to the last
So valiantly maintaind his countrys cause.
But if your sorrow needs will find its vent
In curses, let you imprecations strike
The caitiffs, who when Rodericks horned helm
Rose eminent amid the thickest fight,
Betraying him who spar’d & trusted them,
Forsook their King, their Country & their God,
And gave the Moor his conquest!
Aye, they said,
These were Witizas hateful progeny,
And in an evil hour the unhappy King
Had spar d the viperous brood. With that they talkd
How Sisibert & Ebba thro the land
Guided the foe, & Orpas who had cast
The mitre from his renegado brow,
Went with the armies of the Infidels.
And how in Hispalis, even where his hands
Had ministerd so oft the bread of life,
The circumcised apostate did now shame
To show in open day his turband head.

But Roderick while they communed this had ceased
To hear, such painfullest anxiety
The sight of that old venerable man
Awoke. A sickening thought came over him, –
The hope which led him from his hermitage
Seemd now for ever gone; for well he knew
Nothing but death might break the ties which bound
This faithful servant to his fathers house.
She then for whose forgiveness she he had yearned
Who in her blessing would have given & found
The peace of Heaven, she then was to the grave
Gone down disconsolate at last! in this
Of all the griefs {woes} of her unhappy life
Unhappiest that she did not live to see
God had vouchsafd repentance to her child.
But then a hope arose, – perchance she lived,
The weighty cause which led Siverian here
Might draw him from her side: – better to know
The worst than fear it. And with that he bent
Over the embers, & with a head half-raisd
Aslant, & shadowd by his hand, he said,
Where is King Rodericks mother, – lives she still?
God hath upheld her, the old man replied,
She bears this last & heaviest of her griefs
Not as she bore her husband wrongs, when hope
And her indignant heart supported her,
But patiently like one who finds from heaven
A comfort which this world can neither give
Nor take away, – Roderick enquired no more,
His breath a silent prayer in gratitude,
Then wrapt his cloak around him, & lay down
Where he might weep unseen.
When morning came,
Earliest of all the travellers he went forth
And lingered for Siverian by the way,
Beside a fountain where the constant fall
Of water its perpetual gurgling made,
To the way faring or the musing man
Sweetest of all sweet sounds. The Xtian hand
Whose general charity for man & beast
Built it in better times, had with a cross
Of well hewn stone crested the pious work,
Which now the misbelievers had cast down
And broken in the dust it lay defild.
Roderick beheld it lying at his feet,
And gathering reverently the fragments up
Placed them within the cistern, & restord
With careful collocation its dear form,
So might the waters like a chrystal shrine
Preserve it from pollution. Kneeling then,
Oer the memorial of redeeming love
He bent, & mingled with the fount his tears
And pourd his spirit to the Crucified.

A Moor came by & seeing him exclaimd
Ah Kaffer! Worshipper of wood & stone,
God’s curse confound thee! – & as Roderick turned
His face, the miscreant spurnd him with his foot
Between the eyes. The indignant King arose
And felld him to the earth. with that the knave
Drew forth his dagger, rising as he cried,
What, darest thou thou infidel & slave
Strike a believer? And he aimd a blow
At Rodericks breast. But Roderick caught his arm
And closd & wrenchd the dagger from his hold
(Such timely strength did those emaciate limbs
From indignation draw) & in his neck
With mortal stroke he drove the avenging steel
Hilt deep: – then as the thirsty sand drank in
The expiring miscreants blood, he lookd around
In sudden apprehension lest the Moors
Had seen them. But Siverian was in sight
The only traveller, & he smote his mule
And hastened up. Ah brother, said the old man,
Thine is a spirit of the ancient mold,
And would to God a thousand man like thee
Had fought at Rodericks side on that last day
When treason overpowerd him! Now alas
A manly Gothic heart doth ill accord
With these unhappy times. – Come let us hide
This carrion, while the favouring hour permits.

So saying he alighted. Soon they scoopd
Amid loose-lying sand a hasty grave
And levelld over it the easy soil.
Father, quoth Roderick, as they journeyd on
Let this thing be a seal & sacrament
Of truth between us. – Wherefore should there be
Concealment between two right Gothic hearts
In evil days like these? What thou hast seen
Is but the first fruit of the sacrifice
Which on this injured & polluted soil,
As on a bloody altar, I have sworn
To offer to insulted Heaven for Spain
Her vengeance & her expiation: this
Was but a hasty act by sudden wrong
Provoked, but I am bound for Cordoba
On weighty mission from Visonia sent,
To breathe into Pelayo’s ear a voice
Of spirit-stirring power, which like the trump
Of the Arch-Angel shall awake dead Spain.
The northern mountaineers are unsubdued,
They call upon Pelayo for their chief.
Odoar & Urban tell him that the hour
Is come. Thou too, I ween, old man art chargd
With no light errand, or thou wouldst not now
Have left the ruins of thy masters house

Who art thou, cried Siverian as he searchd
The wan & withered features of the King.
The face is of a stranger, but thy voice
Disturbs me like a dream.
Roderick replied
Thou seest me as I am, a stranger: one
Whose fortunes in the general wreck were lost,
His name & lineage utterly extinct,
Himself in mercy spard, surviving all:
In mercy . . that the bitter cup might heal
A soul diseas’d. Now having cast the slough
Of old offences, thou beholdest me
A man new-born, in second baptism named
Like those who in Judea bravely raisd
Against a Heathens impious tyranny
The banner of Jehovah, Maccabee.
So call me: in that name hath Urban laid
His consecrating hands upon my head.
And in that name have I myself for Spain
Devoted. Tell me now why thou art sent
To Cordoba, for sure thou goest not
An idle gazer to the Conquerors court.

Thou judgest well, the old man replied, I too
Seek the Cantabrian Prince, the hope of Spain,
With other tidings charged, for other end
Designd, yet such as well may work with thine.
My noble Mistress sends me to avert
The shame that threats his house. The renegade
Munuza, he who for the Infidels
Oppresses Gegio, insolently woos
His sister. Moulded in a wicked womb
The unworthy Guisla hath inherited
Her mothers leprous taint, & willingly
She to the circumcised & upstart slave,
Disdaining all admonishment, gives ear.
The Lady Gaudiosa saw in this,
With the quick foresight of maternal fear love
The impending danger to her husbands house,
Knowing his generous spirit neer will brook
The base alliance. Guisla lewdly sets
His will at nought; but that vile renegade
From hatred & from avarice & from fear
Will seek the extinction of Pelayos line.
This too my venerable Mistress sees,
Therefore these valiant & high-minded Dames
Send me to Cordoba, that if the Prince
Cannot by timely interdiction stop
The irrevocable act of infamy,
He may at least to his own safety look,
Being timely warn’d.
Thy Mistress sojourns then
With Gaudiosa in Pelayo’s hall?
Said Roderick. Tis her natural home rejoind
Siverian. Chindasuinthos royal bones
Hath ever shard one lot of weal or woe
And she who hath beheld her own fair shoot,
Struck by Heaven’s bolt, seeks shelter now beneath
The only branch of its majestic stem
That still survives the storm.
Thus they pursued
Their journey, each from other gathering store
For thought, with many a silent interval
Of mournful meditation, till they saw
The temples & the towers of Cordoba
Shining majestic in the light of eve.
Before them Betis rolld his glittering stream
In many a silvery winding traced afar
Amid the ample plain: behind the walls
And stately piles which crownd its margin, rich
With olives, & with sunny slope of vines,
And many a lovely hamlet interspers’d
Whose citron bowers were once the abode of peace
Height above height receding hills were seen
Imbued with evening hues; & over all
The summits of the dark sierra rose
Lifting their heads amid the silent sky.
The traveller who with a heart at ease
Had seen this goodly vision, would have loved
To linger, seeking with insatiate sight
To treasure up its image, deep impressd
A joy for years to come. O Cordoba
Exclaimd the old man, how princely are thy towers
How fair thy vales, thy hills how beautiful!
The Sun who sheds on thee his parting smiles
Sees not in all his wide career, a scene
Lovelier, nor more exuberantly blest
By bounteous earth & heaven! x the very gales
Of Eden waft not from the immortal bowers
Odours to sense more exquisite, than these
Which breathing from thy groves & gardens now
Recall in me such thoughts of bitterness!
The time has been when happy was their lot
Who had their birthright here, but happy now
Are they who to thy bosom are gone home,
Because they feel not in their graves the feet
That trample upon Spain. Tis well that age
Hath made me like a child that I can weep.
My heart would else have broken, overcharged
And I, false servant, should lie down to rest
Before my work is done.
Hard by their path
A little way without the walls they stood
An edifice, whereto as by a spell
Siverians heart was drawn. Brother, said he,
Tis like the urgency of our return
Will brook of no retardment, & this spot
It were a sin if I should pass & leave
Unvisited. Beseech you, turn with me
Just while I offer up one duteous prayer.

Roderick made no reply; he had not dar’d
To turn his face toward those walls, but now
He followed, where the old man led the way,
Lord! in his heart the silent sufferer said,
Forgive my feeble soul which would have shrunk
From this, – for what am I that I should put
The bitter cup aside! Oh let my shame
And anguish be accepted in thy sight!

__________


Notes

* MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/10–11
Unpublished.
Dating note: This draft of Roderick, the Last of the Goths was originally inclosed in Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [before 7 or 8 May 1812], Letter 2091. Bedford at some later point forwarded it to Landor, as Southey had requested. BACK

[1] This letter contains a draft of the fifth book of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

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August 2013