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

2365. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 16 January 1814 ⁠* 

11. [1] 

Twelve weary days with unremitting speed,
Shunning frequented tracks, the travellers
Pursued their way; the mountain path they chose,
The forest, or the lonely heath wide spread,
Where cistus shrubs sole seen exhaled at noon
Their fine balsamic odour all around,
Strew d with their blossoms frail as beautiful
The thirsty soil at eve, & when the sun
Relumed the gladdened earth, opening anew
Their stores exuberant, prodigal as frail
Whitened again the wilderness. They left
The dark sierras skirts behind, & crost
The wilds where Ana in her native hills
Collects her sister springs & hurries on
Her course melodious amid happy glens
With forest, & with fruitage overbowerd.
These scenes profusely blest by Heaven they left,
Where oer the hazel & the quince the vine
Wide-mantling spreads, & clinging round the cork
And ilex hangs amid their dusky leaves
Garlands of brightest hue with reddening fruit
Pendant, or clusters rich of glassy green.
So holding on oer mountain & oer vale
Tagus they crost, where midland on his way
The King of rivers rolls his stately stream,
And rude Alverches wide & stony bed,
And Douro distant far, & many a field
Then all inglorious, but in future war
For bloody theatre of famous deeds
Foredoomd, & deserts where in years to come
Shall populous towns arise, & crested towers
And stately temples rear their heads on high.

Cautious with course circuitous they shunn’d
The embattled city which in eldest time
So fables say, thrice-greatest Hermes built,
Now subjugate, but fated to behold
Erelong the heroic prince, who passing now
Unknown & silently the dangerous track
Turns thither his regardant eye, come down
Victorious from the heights, & bear abroad
Her bannered Lion, symbol to the Moor
Of rout & death, thro many an age of blood.
Lo, there the Asturian hills! – far in the West
Huge Rabanal & Foncebadon huge
Pre eminent their giant bulk uplift,
Darkening with earliest shade the distant vales
Of Leon, & with evening premature.
Far in Cantabria eastward the long line
Extends beyond the reach of eagles eye,
When buoyant in mid heaven the bird of Jove
Soars at his loftiest pitch. In the North before
The travellers the Erbasian mountains rise
Bounding the land beloved, their native land.

How then, Alphonso, did thy eager soul
Chide the slow hours & painful way which seemd
Lengthening to grow before their lagging pace!
Youth of heroic thoughts & high desire,
Tis not the spur of arduous enterprize
That with unequal throbbings hurries now
The unquiet heart, then makes it die away;
Tis not impatient joy that this disturbs
In that young breast the healthful spring of life,
Joy & ambition have forsaken him
His soul is sick with hope: – So near his home,
So near his mothers arms, – alas, perchance
The long’d for meeting may be yet far off
As earth from heaven! sorrow in these long months
Of separation may have laid her low,
Or what if at his flight the bloody Moor
Had sent the ministers of slaughter forth,
And he himself should thus have brought the sword
Upon his fathers house! – Sure Hoya too
Feels the same dark presage, the fearful boy
Said in himself, – or wherefore is his brow
Thus overcast with heaviness, & why
Looks he thus anxiously in silence round.

Just then that faithful servant raisd his hand
And turning to Alphonso with a smile
He pointed where Count Pedros towers far off
Peer’d in the dell below: faint was the smile
And while it sate upon the lips, his eye
Return’d its troubled speculation still.
For long had he lookd wistfully in vain
Seeking where far or near he might espy
From whom to learn if time or chance had wrought
Change in his masters house; but on the hills
Nor goatherd could he see, nor traveller,
Nor huntsman early at his sport afield,
Nor angler following up the mountain glen
His lonely pastime: neither could he hear
Carol, or pipe, or shout of shepherds boy,
Nor woodmans axe, for not a human sound
Disturbd the silence of the solitude.
Is it the spoilers work? at yonder door
Behold the favourite kidling bleats unheard;
The next stands open, & the sparrows there
Boldly pass in & out. Thither he turnd
To seek what indications were within –
The chesnut-bread was on the shelf; the churn
As if in haste forsaken, full & fresh,
The recent fire had mouldered on the hearth;
And broken cobwebs markd the whiter space
Where from the wall the buckler & the sword
Had late been taken down. Wonder at first
Had mitigated fear, but Hoya now
Returnd to tell the signals of good hope,
And they pricked forward joyfully. Ere long
Perceptible above the ceaseless sound
Of yonder stream, a voice of multitudes
As if in loud acclaim was heard far off,
And nearer as they drew distincter shouts
Came from the dell, & at Count Pedro’s gate
The human swarm was seen; – a motley group,
Maids, mothers, helpless infancy, weak age,
And wondering children, & tumultuous boys,
Hot youth & resolute manhood, gathered there
In uproar all. Anon the moving mass
Fell in half circle back; a general cry
Burst forth, exultant arms are lifted up
And caps are thrown aloft, as thro the gate
Count Pedro’s banner came. – Alphonso shriekd
For joy, & smote his steed & galloped on.

Fronting the gate the Standard-bearer holds
His precious charge. Behind in ordered files
The men divide. Green boyhood presses there
And waning eld pleading a youthful soul
Intreats admission. All is ardour here,
Hope & brave purposes, & minds resolved.
Nor where the weaker sex is left apart
Doth aught of fear find utterance, tho perchance
Some paler cheeks might there be seen, some eyes
Dimmed with sad bodings, & some natural tears.
Count Pedro’s war horse in the vacant space
Strokes with impatient hoof the trodden turf;
And gazing round upon the martial show,
Proud of his stately trappings, flings his head
And snorts & champs the bits, & neighing shrill
Wakes the near echo with his voice of joy.
The page beside him holds his masters spear
And shield & helmet. In the Castle gate
Count Pedro stands, his countenance resolved
But mournful, for Favinia on his arm
Hung frantic with her fears, & drew him back.
Go not, she cried, with this deluded crew!
She hath not Pedro with her maddening words
Bereft thy faculty: she is crazed with grief,
And her delirium hath infected these, –
But Pedro, thou art calm; thou dost not share
The frenzy of the crowd; thy sober mind
Surveys the danger in its whole extent
And sees the certain ruin, for thou knowest
I know thou hast no hope! Unhappy man
Why then for this most desperate enterprize,
Wilt thou devote thy son, thy only child?
Not for myself I plead, – nor even for thee,
Thou art a soldier, & thou canst not fear
The face of death; & I should welcome it
As the best visitant whom Heaven could send.
Not for our lives I speak then, were they worth
The thought of preservation, – Nature soon
Must call for them, – the sword that should cut short
Sorrows slow work, were merciful to us.
But spare Alphonso! there is time & hope
In store for him; – oh thou who gavest him life
Seal not his death, his death & mine at once

Peace! he replied. Thou knowst there is no choice
I did not raise the storm, I cannot turn
Its course aside, – but where yon banner goes
Thy Lord must not be absent. Spare me then
Favinia! lest I hear thy honoured name,
Now first attainted with deserved reproach:
The boy is in Gods hand. He who of yore
Walkd with the sons of Judah in the fire
And from the Lions den brought Daniel forth
Unhurt, will save him, if it be his will.

Just as he spake the astonish troop set up
A shout of joy which rung thro all the hills
Alphonso heeds not how they break their ranks
And gather round to greet him; from his horse
Precipitate & panting off he springs
Pedro grew pale & trembled at his sight
Favinia claspt her hands, & looking up
To heaven as she embraced the boy, exclaimd
Lord God forgive me for my sinful fears,
Unworthy that I am! My son! my Son.

________

12.

Always I knew thee for a generous foe,
Pelayo! said the Count; & in our time
Of enmity, thou too I know, didst feel
The strife between us was that of the house
Not of the heart. Brethren in arms henceforth
We stand or fall together: nor will I
Look to the event with one misgiving thought.
That were to prove myself unworthy now
Of Heavens benignant providence, this hour
Scarcely by less than miracle displayd vouchsafed
I will believe that we have days in store
Of hope, now risen again as from the dead;
Of vengeance, – of portentous victory, –
Yea maugre all unlikelihoods, of peace.
Let us then here indissolubly knit
Our ancient houses, that those happy years
When they arrive, may find us more than friends
And bound by closer paternal ties.
Thou hast a daughter, Prince to whom my heart
Yearns now, as if in winning infancy
Her smiles had been its daily food of love
I need not tell thee what Alphonso is,
Thou knowest the boy!
Already had that hope
Replied Pelayo, risen within my soul.
O thou who in thy mercy from the house
Of Moorish bondage hast delivered us,
Fulfil the pious purposes for which
Here in thy presence thus we pledge our hands.

Strange hour to plight espousals! yielding half
To superstitious thoughts Favinia cried,
And these, strange witnesses! – The times are strange,
With thoughtful speech compos d her Lord replies,
And what thou seest accords with them. This day
Is wonderful; nor could auspicious Heaven
With fairer or with fitter omen gild
Our covenant, when strong in heart & hope,
We take the field, preparing thus for works
Of piety & love. Unwillingly
I yielded to my people’s general voice,
Thinking that she who with her powerful words
To this excess had rous’d & kindled them,
Spake from the spirit of her griefs alone,
Not with prophetic impulse. Be that sin
Forgiven me! & the calm & quiet faith
Which in the place of incredulity
Hath filld me, now that seeing I believe,
Doth give of happy end to righteous cause
A presage, not presumptuous but assured.

When Pedro told Pelayo how from vale
To vale the exalted Adosinda went, –
Exciting sire & son in holy war,
Conquering or dying, to secure their place
In Paradise: & how reluctantly
And murmuring for her child by his own act
Thus doomd to death, he bade with heavy heart
His banner be brought forth. Devoid alike
Of purpose & of hope himself, he meant
To march toward the western mountaineers,
Where Odoar by his counsils might direct
Their force conjoind. Now, said he, we must haste
To Cangas, there Pelayo to secure
With timely speed, I trust in God, thy house.

Then looking to his men, he cried, bring forth
The armour which in Wambas wars I wore –
Alphonso’s heart leapt at the auspicious words.
Count Pedro markd the rising glow of joy –
Doubly to thee Alphonso, he pursued,
This day above all other days is blest,
From whence as from a birth day thou wilt date
Thy life in arms.
Rejoicing in their task
The servants of the house with emulous love
Dispute the charge. One brings the cuirass, one
The buckler; this exultingly displays
The sword; his comrade lifts the helm on high:
The grieves, the gauntlets they divide; a spur
Seems now to dignify the officious hand
Which for such service bears it to their Lord
Greek artists in the imperial City forged
That splendid armour, perfect in their craft.
With curious skill they wrought it, framed alike
To shine amid the pageantry of war,
And for the proof of battle. Many a time
Alphonso from his nurses lap had stretchd
His infant hands toward it eagerly,
Where gleaming to the central fire it hung
High in the hall; & many a time had wishd
With boyish ardour that the day were come
When Pedro to his prayers would grant the boon
His dearest hearts desire. Count Pedro then
Would smile, & in his heart rejoice to see
The noble instinct manifest itself.
Then too Favinia with maternal pride
Would turn her eyes exulting to her Lord,
And in that silent language bid him mark
His spirit in his boy. all danger then
Was distant, & if secret forethought faint
Of manhoods perils, & the chance of war
Hateful to mothers past across her mind,
The ill remote gave to the present hour
A heightened feeling of secure delight.

No season this for old solemnities
For wassailry & sport; the bath, the bed
The vigil, all preparatory rites
Omitted now, here in the face of Heaven
Before the vassals of his fathers house, –
With them in instant peril to partake
The chance of life or death, the heroic boy
Dons his first arms; the coated scales of steel
Which oer the tunic to his knees depend,
The hose, the sleeves of mail; bareheaded then
He stood. But when Count Pedro took the spurs
And bent his knee in service to his son,
Alphonso from that gesture half drew back
Starting in reverence, & a deeper hue
Suffusd the glow of joy which flushd his cheeks.
Do thou the rest, Pelayo! said the Count
So shall the ceremony of this hour
Exceed in honour what in form it lacks.
The Prince from Hoya’s faithful hand receivd
The sword, he girt it round the youth, & drew
And placed it in his hand, unsheathing then
His own good falchion, with the burnishd blade
He touchd Alphonso’s neck, & with a kiss
Gave him his rank in arms.
Thus long the crowd
Had lookd intently on, in silence hushd.
Loud & continous now with one accord,
Shout following shout, their acclamations rose,
Blessings were breathd from every heart, & joy
Powerful alike in all, which as with force,
Of an inebriating cup inspird
The youthful, from the eye of age drew tears
The usurper died away when standing forth
Roderick with lifted hand besought a pause
For speech, & moved toward the youth. I too
Young Baron, he began, must do my part;
Not with prerogative of earthly power,
But as the servant of the living God,
The God of Hosts. This day thou promisest
To die when honour calls thee, for thy faith,
For thy liege Lord, & for thy native Land –
The duties which at birth we all contract,
Are by the high profession of this hour
Made thine especially. Thy noble blood
The thoughts with which thy infancy childhood hath been fed,
And thine own noble nature more than all,
Are sureties for thee. But these dreadful times
Demand a farther pledge, for it hath pleased
The Highest, as he tried his saints of old,
So in the fiery furnace of his wrath
To prove & purify the sons of Spain;
And they must knit their spirits to the proof,
Or sink for ever lost. Hold forth thy sword
Young Baron, & before thy people take
The vow which in Toledos sacred name,
Poor as these weeds bespeak me, I am here
To minister with delegated power.

With reverential awe was Roderick heard
By all, so well authority became
That mien, & voice & countenance austere.
Pelayo with complacent eye beheld
The unlook’d for interposal, & the Count
Bends toward Alphonso his approving head
The youth obedient loosened from his belt
The sword, & looking while his heart beat fast
To Roderick, reverently expectant stood.

O noble youth, the royal Goth pursued,
Thy country is in bonds: an impious foe
Oppresses her, he brings with him strange laws,
Strange language, evil customs & false faith
And forces them on Spain. Swear that thy soul
Will make no covenant with these accurst,
But that the sword shall be from this day forth
Thy children portion, to be handed down
From sire to son; a sacred heritage,
Thro every generation, till the work
Be done & this insulted land hath drunk
In sacrifice the last invaders blood.

Bear witness ancient mountains! cried the youth
And ye my native streams who hold your course
For ever, – this dear earth & yon blue sky
Be witness, – for myself I make the vow
And for my childrens children. Here I stand
Their sponsor, binding them in sight of Heaven
As by a new baptismal covenant sacrament
To wage hereditary holy war, –
Perpetual, patient, persevering war, –
Till not one living enemy pollute
The sacred soil of Spain.
So as he ceasd
While yet toward the clear blue firmament
His eyes were rais’d, he lifted to his lips
The sword; with reverent gesture bending then
Devoutly kissd its cross.
And ye? Exclaimd
Roderick, as turning to the assembled troop
He motiond with authoritative hand, –
Ye children of the hills, & sons of Spain?

Thro every heart the rapid feeling ran;
For us! they answered all with one accord;
And at the word they knelt, People & Prince,
The old & young & {old} the father & the son
At once they knelt; with one accord they cried
For us & for our seed! with one accord
They crost their fervent arms, & with bent head
Inclined toward that aweful voice from whence
The inspiring influence came. The royal Goth
Made answer, I receive your vow for Spain,
And for the Lord of Hosts! your cause is good,
Go forward in his spirit & his strength!

Neer in his happiest hours had Roderick
With such commanding majesty dispensed
His princely gifts, as dignified him now
When with slow movement xx solemnly upraisd
Toward his kneeling troop, he spread his arms;
As if the expanded soul diffused itself,
And carried to all spirits with the act
Its effluent inspiration. Silently
The people knelt; & when they rose, such awe
Held them in silence, that the eagles cry,
Who far above them at her highest flight
A speck scarce visible, wheeld round & round,
Was heard distinctly; & the mountain stream
Which from the distant glen sent forth its sound
Upon the passing wind, was audible
In that deep xxxx {hush} of feeling, like the voice
Of waters in the stillness of the night.

__________

Keswick. Jany. 16. 1814. Spitzbergenish weather [MS obscured] & colds & coughs within.

RS.


Notes

* Address: [deletion and readdress in another hand] To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqre/ Bath/ Single./ {Swansea/ Glamorganshire}
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: BATH/ JA 29/ 1814
MS: National Art Library, London, MS Forster 48 G.31 2/20–21
Unpublished. BACK

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

Published @ RC

August 2013