2204. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 14 January 1813 

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

2204. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 14 January 1813 ⁠* 

8 [1] 

Fain would Pelayo have that hour obeyed
The call, commencing his adventurous flight,
As one whose soul impatiently endur d
His countrys thraldom, & in daily prayer
Imploring her deliverance cried to Heaven
How long, O Lord, how long! But other thoughts
Curbing his spirit made him yet awhile
Sustain the weight of bondage. Here alone
Of all the Gothic baronage the Moors
Watchd with regard of wary policy,
Knowing his powerful name, his noble mind,
And how in him the old Iberian blood
Of royal & remotest ancestry,
From undisputed source, flowd undefiled;
His mother’s after guilt attaining not
The claim legitimate he derived from her,
Her first-born in her time of innocence.
He too of Chindasuintho’s regal line
Sole remnant now, drew after him the love
Of all true Goths, uniting in himself
Thus by this double right the general heart
Of Spain. For this the renegade crew,
Wretches in whom their conscious guilt & fear
Engendered cruellest hatred, still advised
The extinction of Pelayo’s house: but most,
The apostate Prelate, in iniquity
Witizas genuine brother as in blood,
Orpas, pursued his life. He never ceas’d
With busy zeal, true traitor, to infuse
His deadly rancour in the Moorish Chiefs;
Their only danger, ever he observed,
Was from Pelayo; root his lineage out
The Caliphs empire then would be secure,
And universal Spain, all hope of change
Being lost, receive the Prophets conquering law.
Then did the Archvillain urge the Moor at once
To cut off future perils, telling him
Death was a trusty keeper, & that none
Eer broke the prison of the grave. But here
Did malice overshoot its mark. The Moor
Who from the plunder of their native land
Had bought the recreant crew that joind his arms,
Or cheaplier with their own possessions bribed
Their sordid souls, saw thro the flimsy show
Of policy with which they sought to cloak
Of Old enmity, & selfish sins: he scornd
To let their private purposes incline
His counsels; & believing, Spain subdued:
Smiled in the pride of power & victory,
Disdainful at the thought of farther strife.
Howbeit he held Pelayo at his court,
And told him that until his country men
Submissively should lay their weapons down,
He from his children & paternal hearth
Apart fro must dwell, nor hope to see again
His native mountains & their vales beloved,
Till all the Austrian & Cantabrian Hills
Had bowed before the Caliph: Cordoba
Must be his nightly prison till that hour
This might be special favour from the Moor
Askd & vouchsafd, he past without the walls,
Keeping his yearly vigil; on this night
Therefore the princely Spaniard could not fly,
Being thus in strongest bonds by honour held.
Nor would he by his own escape expose
To stricter bondage, or belike to death
Count Pedro’s son: the ancient enmity
Of rival houses from Pelayo’s heart
Had, like a thing forgotten, past away.
He pitied child & parent, separated
By the stern mandate of unfeeling power,
And almost with a fathers eyes beheld
The boy, his fellow in captivity.
For young Alphonso was in truth an heir
Of natures largest patrimony; rich
In form & feature, growing strength of limb,
A gentle heart, a soul affectionate,
A joyous spirit filld with generous thoughts,
And genius heightening & ennobling all.
The blossom of all manly virtues made
His boyhood beautiful. Shield, gracious Heaven, –
In this ungenial season perilous,
(Thus would Pelayo often breathe in prayer
The aspirations of prophetic hope)
Shield the young blooming tree, kind Heaven, & let
This goodly promise for thy people’s sake
Yield its abundant fruitage!
When the Prince,
With hope & fear, & grief & shame disturbd,
And sad remembrance, & the shadowy light
Of days before him, thronging as in dreams,
Whose quick succession filld & overpowerd
Awhile, the unresisting faculty;
Could in the calm of troubled thoughts subued
Seek in his heart for counsel; his first care
Was for the boy; how best they might evade
The Moor, & renegades more watchful eye,
And leaving in some unsuspicious guise
The city, thro unfrequented track
Safeliest pursue with speed their dangerous way
Consumed in cares like these the fleeting hours
Went by; the lamps & tapers now grew pale,
And thro the eastern window slanting fell
The roseate ray of morn. Within those wells
Returning day restored no chearful sounds
Of {Or} joyous motions, of awakening life;
But in the stream of light the speckled motes,
As if in mimickry of insect play
Floated with mazy movement. Sloping down
Over the altar past the pillar’d beam,
And rested on the sinful womans grave,
As if it entered there, a light from Heaven
So be it, cried Pelayo, even so!
As in a momentary interval,
(When thought expelling thought, had left his mind
Open & passive to the influxes
Of outward sense) his vacant eye was there, –
So be it, heavenly Father, even so!
Thus may thy vivifying mercy shed
Forgiveness there; for let not thou the groans
Of dying penitence, nor my bitter prayers
Before thy judgement seat be heard in vain.
And thou poor soul, who in the dolorous house
Of weeping & of pain, dost look to me
To shorten & assuage thy penal term,
Pardon me that these hours in other thought
And other duties than this garb, this night
Enjoin, should thus have past, Our mother-land
Exacted of my heart the sacrifice;
And many a vigil must thy son perform
Henceforth, in woods & mountain fastnesses,
And tented fields, outwatching for her sake
The starry host, & ready for the work
Of day, before the Sun begins his course.

The noble mountaineer concluding then
With silent prayer, the service of the night,
Went forth. Without the porch awaiting him
He saw Alphonso, pacing to & fro
With patient step, & eyes reverted oft.
He springing forward when he heard the door
Move on its heavy hinges, ran to him
And welcomed him with smiles youthful love.
I have been watching yonder moon, quoth he,
How it grew pale & paler as the Sun
Scattered the flying shades. But woe is me,
For on his towers of Cordoba the while
That baleful crescent glittered in the moon,
And with its insolent triumph seemd to mock
The omen I had found. – Last night I dreamt
That thou wert in the field, in arms for Spain,
And I was by thy side. The infidels
Beset us round, but we with our good swords
Hewd out a way. Methought I stabbed a Moor
Who would have slain thee, & with that I woke
For joy, & wept to find it but a dream.

Thus as he spake, a livelier glow oerspread
His cheek, & starting tears again suffusd
The brightening lustre of his eyes. The Prince
Behel Regarded him a moment stedfastly
As if in quick resolve, then looking round
Aright aleft with keen & rapid glance,
Drew him within the Church. Alphonsos heart
Throbbd with a joyful boding, as he marked
The calmness of Pelayo’s countenance,
Kindled with solemn thought, expressing now
High purposes of resolute hope. He gazed
All eagerly to hear what most he wishd.
If, said the Prince, thy dream were verified
Thus far, that I were in the field in arms
For Spain, – wouldst thou indeed be at my side
Our countrys banner on our native hills,
Wouldst thou Alphonso share my dangerous flight
Dear boy – & can wilt thou take my lot with me
For death, or for deliverance?
Shall I swear
Replied the impatient boy, & laying hand
Upon the altar, on his knees he bent,
Looking toward Pelayo with such joy
Of reverential love, as if a God
Were present to receive the eager vow.
Nay, quoth Pelayo, what hath thou to do
With oaths? bright emanation as thou art
It were a wrong to thy unsullied soul
A sin to nature, were I to require
Promise or vow from thee! Enough for me
That thy heart answers to the stirring call
Alphonso follow thus in happy faith
Alway the indwelling voice that counsels thee
And then, let fall the issue as it may
Shall all thy paths be in the light of Heaven
The peace of Heaven be with thee in all hours.

How then, exclaimd the boy, shall I discharge
The burthen of this happiness; how ease
My overflowing soul. O gracious God,
Shall I behold my mothers face again,
My fathers hall, my native hills & vales
And hear the voices of their streams again
And free as I was born amid those scenes
Beloved, maintain my countrys freedom there
Or failing in the sacred enterprize,
Die, as becomes a Spaniard! Saying thus
He lifted up his hands & eyes toward
The image of the Crucified, & cried,
O thou who didst with thy most precious blood
Redeem us, Jesu help us while we seek
Earthly redemption from the yoke of shame
And misbelief & death!
The noble boy
Then rose & would have knelt again to clasp
Pelayo’s knees & by kiss his hand in act
Of homage; but the Prince preventing this
Bent over him in fatherly embrace,
And breath’d a fervent blessing on his head.

___

9

There sate a woman like a supplicant,
Muffled & cloak’d, before Pelayo’s gate,
Awaiting when he should return that morn.
She rose at his approach, & bowd her head,
And with a low & trembling utterance
Besought him to vouchsafe her speech within
In privacy. And when they were alone
And the door closd, she knelt & claspt his knees
Saying, a boon, a boon! This night O Prince
Hast thou kept vigil for thy mothers soul;
For her souls sake, & for the sake of him,
Whom in our {once in} happier days, of all mankind
Thou heldest for thy chosen bosom-friend, –
Oh for the sake of his poor suffering soul
Refuse me not!
How should I dare refuse,
Being thus abjur’d? he answerd. Thy request
Is granted woman, be it what it may.
So it be lawful, & within the bounds
Of possible atchievement; – ought unfit
Thou wouldst not with this adjuration seek.
But who thou art I marvel, that dost touch
Upon that string, & ask in Rodericks name.
She bared her face, & looking up replied,
Florinda. Shrinking then, with both her hands
She hid herself, & bowd her head abased
Upon her knee; as one who if the grave
Had oped beneath her, would have thrown herself
Even like a lover, in the arms of Death.

Pelayo stood confus’d: he had not seen
Count Julian’s daughter, since in Rodericks court,
Glittering in beauty & in innocence,
A radiant vision in her joy she moved,
More like a poets dream, or form divine
(So lovely was the presence) than a thing
Of earth, & perishable elements.
Now had he seen her in her winding sheet
Less painful would that spectacle have proved,
For peace is with the death, & piety
Bringeth a patient hope to those who mourn
For the departed: but this altered face
Bearing its deadly sorrow characterd,
Came to him like a ghost which in the grave
Could find no rest. He taking her cold hand
Raisd her, & would have spoken; but his tongue
Faild in its office, & could only speak
In under tones compassionate her name.
The voice of pity soothd & melted her,
And when the Prince bade her be comforted,
Proffering his zealous aid in whatsoeer
Might please her to appoint, a feeble smile
Past slowly over her pale countenance,
Like moonlight on a marble statue. Heaven
Requite thee, Prince! she answerd. All I ask
Is but a quiet resting place, wherein
A broken heart in prayer & humble hope
May wait for its deliverance, – even this
My most unhappy fate denies me here
Griefs which are known too widely & too well.
I need not now remember – I could bear
Privation of all Christian ordinances; –
The woe which kills hath saved me too, & made
A temple of this ruined tabernacle,
Wherein redeeming God doth not disdain
To let his presence shine. And I could bear
To see the turban on my fathers brow, –
Sorry beyond all sorrows – shame of shames! –
Yet to be borne, while I with tears of blood
And throes of agony in his behalf
Implore & wrestle with offended heaven,
This I have borne resigned; but other ills
And worse assail me now, the which to bear
If to avoid be possible, would draw
Damnation down. Orpas the perjurd Priest,
The apostate Orpas claims me for his bride.
Obdurate as he is, the wretch profanes
My sacred woe, & woos me to his bed,
The thing I am, – the living death thou seest!

Miscreant! exclaimd Pelayo. Might I meet
That renegado, sword to scymitar
In open field, never did man approach
The altar for the sacrifice in faith
More pure, than I should hew the villain down.
But how should Julian favour his demand, –
Julian, who hath so passionately lov’d
His child, so dreadfully revenged her wrongs?

Count Julian, she replied, hath none but me,
And it hath therefore been his hearts desire
To see his ancient line by me preserved.
This was their covenant when in fatal hour
For Spain & for themselves, in traiterous bond
Of union they combin’d. My father stung
To madness, only thought of how to make
His vengeance sure; the Prelate calm & cool;
When he renounced his outward faith in Christ,
Indulged at once his hatred of the King,
His inbred wickedness, & a haughty hope,
Versd as he was in treasons, to direct
The invader to his secret policy,
And at their head, aided by Julians power,
Reign as a Moor upon that throne to which
The priestly order else had barrd his way.
The African hath conquerd for himself;
But Orpas coveteth Count Julians lands,
And claims to have the covenant performd.
Friendless & worse than fatherless, I come
To thee for succour. Send me secretly
(For well I know all faithful hearts must be
At thy devotion) with a trusty guide
To guard me on the way, that I may reach
Some Christian land, where Christian rites are free,
And there discharge a vow, alas too long,
Too fatally delayed. And me in this
For Rodericks sake, Pelayo, & thy name
Shall be remembered in my latest prayer.

Be comforted, the Prince replied; but when
He spake of comfort, twice did he break off
The idle word, feeling that earth had done none
For grief so irremediable as hers.
At length he took her hand & pressing it;
And forcing thro involuntary tears
A mournful smile affectionate, he said,
Say not that thou art friendless while I live.
This very day prepare thyself, & soon
As darkness draws around me, meet me here.

________

I have nearly got thro the next book, which if it be well got thro might almost be called el impossible vencido. [2]  – I close this to go to it – being just at the most difficult point in the whole poem.

RS.

Jany 14. 1813.


Notes

* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ Bath/ Single Sheet/ {Lantony Abbey/ Abergavenny/ Monmouthshire/ Jany 20th }
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmarks: BATH/ JA 19/ 1813; BATH/ JA 20/ 1813
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/16–17. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] What follows is a draft of the eighth and ninth books of Roderick, the Last of the Goths (1814). BACK

[2] ‘Triumph over the impossible’. Manuel Larramendi (1690–1766), El Imposible Vencido (1729) was a grammar of the notoriously complex Basque language, no. 1606 in the sale catalogue of Southey’s library. BACK

Published @ RC

August 2013