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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1522. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 18 October 1808 ⁠* 

7 [1] 

Then in the Ship of Heaven Ereenia laid
The waking, wondering Maid.
The Ship of Heaven, instinct with thought, display’d
Its living sail & glides along the sky.
On either side in wavy tide
The clouds of morn along its path divide; –
The Winds who swept in wild career on high
Before its presence check their charmed force; –
The Winds that loitering lagg’d along their course
Around the living Bark enamoured play,
Swell underneath the sail, & sing before its way.

That Bark in shape was like the furrowed shell
Wherein the Sea Nymphs to their parent King
On festal day, their duteous offerings bring.
It’s hue? – go watch the last green light
Ere Evening yields the western sky to Night;
Or fix upon the Sun thy strenuous sight
Till thou hast reachd its orb of chrysolite.
The sail, from end to end displayd
Bent like a rainbow oer the Maid.
An Angels head with visual eye
Thro trackless space directs its chosen way,
Nor aid of wing nor feet nor fin
Requires to voyage oer the obedient sky.
Smooth as the Swan when not a breeze at even
Disturbs the surface of the silver stream,
Thro air & sunshine sails the Ship of Heaven.

Recumbent there the Maiden glides along,
How swift she feels not, tho the swiftest wind
Had flaggd in flight behind x
She feared not
She felt no fear, for that etherial air
With such new life & joyaunce filled her heart
Fear could not enter there;
For sure, she deemd, her mortal part was oer,
And she was sailing to the heavenly shore,
And that angelic form who moved beside
Was some good Spirit sent to be her guide.

Eye hath not seen nor painters hand pourtrayd
Form so divine as floats beside the Maid.
His wings were plumeless from the neck displayd
Down to the ankle spread their long expanse.
In colour like the winters moonless sky,
When all the stars of midnights canopy
Shine forth, or like the azure deep at noon
Reflecting back to Heaven a brighter blue.
Thro the broad membrane branched a pliant bone
Whose veins like interwoven silver shone,
Or liker shells of lovelier pearly hue.
Now with strong stroke he smites the buoyant air.
Now on still wing expanded shoots along,
Careering on his rapid way
Swift as the chariot wheels of Day.

Thro air & sunshine sails the Ship of Heaven
Far far beneath them lies
The gross & heavy atmosphere of earth
Below all scope of sight, –
Kalyal inhales the Swerga-gales
And every breath infuses new delight.
And now towards its port the Ship of Heaven
Swift as a falling meteor slopes its flight, –
Yet gently as the dews of night that gem
And do not bend the hair-bells slenderest stem.
Daughter of Earth, Ereenia cried, alight.
Lo! this thy place of rest,
Lo! here my my bower of bliss.

He furls his azure wings. –
The happy Kalyal knew not where to gaze,
Her eyes in restless pleasure roam,
Now turnd upon the lovely Glendoveer
Now on his heavenly home.
Here rest in peace, Ereenia cried,
And I will guard thee, feeble as I am, –
I trust the Rajah shall not harm thee here.
Kalyal.
Alas thou fearest him!
Immortal as thou art thou fearest him! –
I thought that Death had saved me from his power,
Not even the dead are safe.
Ereenia.
Long years of life & happiness
O Maiden yet be thine.
From death I saved thee, from all enemies
Will save thee while the Swerga is secure.
Kalyal.
Not me alone, O gentle Deveta!
I have a father suffering upon earth,
A persecuted wretched – poor good man
For whose strange misery
There is no human help,
And none but I dare comfort him
Beneath Kehama’s curse.
O gentle Deveta, protect him too!

Ereenia
Didst thou not say beneath Kehamas curse? –
Come, – plead thyself to Indra! Words like thine
May win their way, – revigorate his heart,
And make him yet put forth his arm & wield
The thunder, while the thunder is his own.

Then to the garden of the Deity
Ereenia led the Maid.
In the mid-garden towered a giant Tree;
Rock-rooted on a mountain there it grew,
Reard its unrivalld head on high
And stretchd a thousand branches oer the sky,
Drinking with all its leaves celestial dew.
Adown the mountain-side.
A thousand torrents pour their glittering tides
And form an ample lake which spread below.
That giant Tree the wonderous well
From whence the torrents flow;
For still in one perpetual shower,
From every leaf of all its ample bower,
Like diamond drops etherial waters fell.
Forth winding from the Lake below
A thousand rivers watered Paradise.
Full to the brink yet never overflowing,
They coold the amorous gales which, ever blowing,
Oer their melodious surface loved to stray;
Then winging back their way,
Their load of vapour to the Tree convey;
And ending thus where they began,
And feeding thus the source from whence they came,
The eternal rivers of the Swerga ran
For ever renovate, yet still the same.

On that etherial lake whose waters lie
Blue & transpicuous, like another sky,
The Elements had reard their Kings abode.
A strong controlling power their strife suspended,
And there their hostile essences they blended
To form a Palace worthy of the God.
Built on the Lake, the waters were its floor;
And here its walls were water archd with fire,
And here were fire with water vaulted oer,
And here were lucid cloud with both embraced,
And here of rainbow interlaced
With water, cloud & flame.
And towers & pinnacles of fire
Round watry cupolas aspire:
And fiery domes on towers of rainbow rest;
And roofs of cloud are turreted around
With flame, & shafts of cloud with flame are bound,
And domes of water here with cloud are crownd
And tongues of flame on spires of water quiver.
Here too the Elements for ever change,
Fire climbs the watry cupolas, & round
The courts of cloud meanders like a river;
The watry cupolas descend
To bear on liquid walls the cope of fire;
And clouds roll down the flamy halls to floor,
And water rises up the rainbow tower
Pursued in love & thus in love pursuing
In circulating changes thus they roll,
For ever here their wondrous work renewing,
The parts all shifting, still unchanged the whole.
Even we on earth at intervals descry
Gleams of the glory, streaks of flowing light,
Openings of heaven, & streams
That flow at night along the northern sky.

Impatient of delay Ereenia caught
The Maid aloft, & spread his wings abroad,
And bore her to the presence of the God.
There Indra sate upon his throne reclin’d,
Where Devetas adore him,
The lute of Nared warbling in the wind,
All tones of magic harmony combin’d
To sooth his troubled mind,
While the dark-eyed Apsāras danced before him.
In vain the God Musician playd,
In vain the dark-eyed Nymphs of Heaven essayd
To charm him with their beauties in the dance,
And when he saw the mortal Maid appear,
Led by the heroic Glendoveer,
A deeper trouble filld his countenance.
What hast thou done, Ereenia? – said the God.
Bringing a mortal here! –
And while he spake his eye was on the Maid; –
The look he gave was solemn, not severe; –
No hope to Kalyal is conveyd,
And yet it struck no fear;
There was a sad displeasure in his air,
But pity too was there.

Ereenia.
Hear me O Indra! – On the lower earth
I found this child of man, by what mishap
I know not, lying in the lap of death.
Aloft I bore her to our fathers grove,
Not having other thought than, when the gales
Of bliss had heald her, upon earth again,
To leave its lovely daughter. Other thoughts
Rose, when from Casyapa I learnt her doom,
For she is one who groans beneath the power
Of the dread Rajah, terrible alike
To men & Gods. His son, dead Arvalan,
Armd with that portion Indra, of thy power
Already wrested from thee, persecutes
The Maid, – the helpless one, the innocent.
What then behoved me but to waft her here
To my own bower of bliss? – What other choice?
The accursed spirit of foul Arvalan
Who rules the lower elements, not yet
Hath the power to enter here, here thou art yet
Supreme, & yet the Swerga is thy own.
Indra.
No child of man, Ereenia, in the bower
Of bliss may sojourn, till he hath put off
His mortal part; for on mortality
Time & Infirmity & Death attend,
Close followers they, & in their mournful train
Sorrow & Pain & Mutability.
Did they find entrance here, we should behold
Our joys, like earthly summers, pass away.
Those joys perchance may pass! another hand
May seize my sceptre, & unparadise
The Swerga! … but Ereenia if we fall
Let it be irresistible Destiny
That lays us prostrate; let us not invite
The blow, nor bring ourselves the ruin on.
Ereenia.
Fear courts the blow. Fear brings the ruin on!
Needs must the chariot wheels of Destiny
Crush him who lays him down before their track,
Patient & prostrate!
Indra.
All may yet be well.
Who knows but Indra will Veeshnoo will descend {to save}
Once more incarnate?
Ereenia
Hope not thou for that!
Our father Casyapa hath said he looks
In doubt to Seeva, even as thou towards him.
Strive for thyself, & thou may’st nightly look
To higher powers for aid. – O that my arm
Could wield yon lightning which play idly there
In inoffensive radiance oer thy head! –
The Swerga should not need a champion now,
Nor earth implore deliverance still in vain.
Indra
Thinkest thou I want the will? – rash son of Heaven
What if this my arm be feeble as thy own
Against the dread Kehama? – He went on
Triumphant in his wide career of war.
Till his victorious car had measured earth
In its career, & all the Kings of men
Bowd to his yoke. Nor worse ambition yet
Possessd him, than to ride upon their necks,
And crown his conquests with the sacrifice
Which would proclaim him Master of the World,
Sole Rajah, the Omnipotent below.
The stream of that portentous sacrifice
Arose to Heaven. Then was the hour to strike,
Then in the consummation of his pride,
His height of glory, – then the thunder bold
Should have gone forth, & hurld him from his throne.
Down to the fiery floor of Padalon,
To everlasting burnings, agony
Eternal, & remorse that knows no end.
The hour went by: grown impious with success
By prayer & penances he wrested now
Such power from Fate, that soon, if Seeva turn not
His eyes on earth, & no Avatar save,
Soon will he seize the Swerga for his own,
Roll on thro Padalon his chariot wheels,
Tear up the adamantine bolts which lock
The accurst Asūras to its burning floor,
And force the drink of Immortality
From Yamens charge. Vain were it now to strive, –
My thunder cannot pierce the sphere of power
Wherewith as with a girdle he is bound
Kalyal.
Take me to Earth, O gentle Deveta!
Take me again to Earth! – There is no hope
In Heaven for me, – my father still must bear
His curse, – he shall not bear it all alone,
Take me again to earth to follow him,
I do not fear the Almighty Man, – the Gods
Are feeble here, – but there are other Powers
Who will not turn their eyes from wrongs like ours
Take me to Earth O gentle Deveta!

Saying thus she knelt & to his knees she clung
And bowd her head, in tears & silence praying.
Rising anon around his neck she flung
Her arms, & there with folded hands she hung,
And fixing on the guardian Glendoveer
Her eyes more eloquent than Angels tongue,
Again she cried, there is no comfort here!
I must be with my father in his pain; –
Take me to earth, O Deveta, again!

Indra with admiration heard the Maid,
O child of earth, he cried,
Already in thy spirit thus divine,
Whatever weal or woe betide,
Be that high sense of duty still thy guide,
And all good Powers will aid a soul like thine.
Then turning to Ereenia thus he said –
Take her where Ganges hath its second birth,
Below our sphere, & yet above the Earth,
There may Ladurlad rest beyond the power
Of the dread Rajah till the fated hour.

_________________

My dear Wynn

The previous story you know, & the continuation as far as it goes you shall have as soon as I can find leisure to transcribe it. During the last month I have made no progress on it, for because of lets & hindrances not worth particularizing. There are four more sections written making altogether a more than a third of the poem – when half is done I shall begin to work on fast in the hope of bringing it to an end.

At last Thalaba has reached the end of its seven years sale, & a second edition is to be printed by Ballantyne. The pages will be fuller, & the notes thrown together at the end of each book. I have made many minor xxxxxxxxx alterations, & struck out the conclusion of the ninth book. [2]  Slow & sure, – that Poem will {be} getting into good sale when my lease of copy-right will be run out, – a fourth part of it is gone already. – Surely it is a glorious injustice that literary property should not be upon the same footing as every other.

I am trying Lady Cunliffes [3]  recipe for the eyes. Have you got the Cid, & the reprinted Letters? [4]  – My operas now amount to 22 volumes in one size – besides this quarto.

God bless you

RS.

Tuesday. Oct 18 1808.


Notes

* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ Llangedwin/ Oswestry
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Location: National Library of Wales, MS 4819E
Unpublished. BACK

[1] For this, a manuscript draft of The Curse of Kehama, Book 7, ‘The Swerga’, see volume 4 of Robert Southey. Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

[2] The second edition of Thalaba the Destroyer was published in 1809. For the alterations that were made to the poem in this edition see volume three of Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793–1810, gen. ed. Lynda Pratt, 5 vols (London, 2004). BACK

[3] Wynn having married Mary Cunliffe (1785/6–1838) in 1806, Harriet, Lady Cunliffe (?-1830) was his mother-in-law. BACK

[4] Southey’s Chronicle of the Cid (1808) and the expanded edition of his Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797, 1798) published in 2 volumes as Letters Written During a Journey in Spain, and a Short Residence in Portugal (1808). BACK

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August 2013