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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1688. Robert Southey to Walter Savage Landor, 30 September [1809] ⁠* 

20.

Down from the Heaven of Heavens Ereenia fell
Precipitate; yet imperceptible
His fall, nor had he cause nor thought of fear,
And when he came within this mundane sphere
And felt that earth was near
The Glendoveer his azure wings expanded,
And sloping down the sky
Toward the spot from whence he sprang on high,
There on the shore he landed.

Kalyal advanced to meet him,
Not moving now as she was wont to greet him,
Joy in her eye & in her eager face;
With a calm smile of melancholy pride
She met him now, & turning half aside,
Her warning hand repelld the dear embrace.
Strange things Ereenia have befallen us here
She said; the Almighty Man hath read
The lines which traced by Brama on my brain,
There to the gifted eye
Make all my fortune plain,
Mapping the mazes of futurity.
He sued for peace; for it is written there
That I with him the Amreeta cup must share.
Therefore he bade me come & by his side
Sit on the Swerga throne, his equal bride.
I need not tell thee what reply was given.
My heart, the sure interpreter of Heaven,
His impious words belied, –
Thou seest his poor revenge! – So having said
One look she glanced upon her leprous stain,
Indignantly, & shook
Her head in calm disdain.

O Maid of soul divine,
O more than ever dear,
And more than ever mine,
Replied the Glendoveer,
Be of good cheer! He hath not read the ways
Of Fate, – Almighty as he is, that maze
Hath mocked his fallible sight.
Said he the Amreeta Cup? so far aright
The Evil One hath seen, & Fate displays
Her hidden things in part, & part conceals,
Baffling the wicked eye
Alike with what she hides & what reveals,
When with unholy purpose it would pry
Into the secrets of Futurity.
So hath it been permitted him to see
Dimly the inscrutable decree,
For to the world below
Where Yamen guards the Amreeta we must go,
Thus Seeva hath his will exprest; even he
The Holiest, hath ordaind it; there he saith
All wrongs shall be redrest
By Yamen, by the righteous Power of Death

Forthwith the Father & the fated Maid,
And that heroic Spirit who for them
Such flight had late essayd,
The will of Heaven obeyd.
They went their way along the road
That leads to Yamens dread abode.

Many a day hath past away
Since they began their arduous way,
Their way of toil & pain,
And now their weary feet attain
The Earths extremest bound
Where outer Ocean girds it round.
But like other Oceans this;
Rather it seemd a drear abyss,
Upon whose brink they stood, –
Oh scene of fear! the travellers hear
The raging of the flood,
They hear how fearfully it roars,
But clouds of darker shade than night
For ever hovering round those shores
Fade all things from their sight
The Sun upon that darkness pours
His ineffectual light,
Nor ever moon or stars display
Thro the thick shade one guiding ray,
To show the perils of the way.

There in a creek a vessel lay,
Just on the confines of the day
It rode at anchor in its bay.
These venturous pilgrims to convey
Across the outer sea.
Strange vessel sure it seemed to be
And all unfit for such wild sea,
For thro its yawning side the wave
Was oozing in; the mast was frail
And old & torn its only sail.
How shall that crazy vessel brave
The billows that in wild commotion
For ever roar & rave?
How hope to cross the dreadful Ocean,
Oer which eternal shadows dwell,
Whose secrets none return to tell.

Well might the travellers fear to enter
But summond once on that adventure
For them was no retreat;
Nor boots it with reluctant feet
To linger on the strand.
Aboard! Aboard!
An aweful voice that left no choice,
Sent forth its stern command.
Aboard! Aboard!
The Travellers hear that voice in fear,
And breathe to Heaven an inward prayer,
And take their seats in silence there.

Self-hoisted then, behold the sail
Expands itself before the gale.
Hands which they cannot see let slip
The cable of that fated ship.
The land breeze sends her on her way
And lo! they leave the living light of day.

____

21.

___

Swift as an arrow in its flight
The Ship shot thro the incumbent night, –
And they have left behind
The raging billows & the roaring wind,
The storm, the darkness & all mortal fears.
And lo! another light
To guide their way appears,
The light of other spheres!

That instant from Ladurlads heart & brain
The Curse was gone; he feels again
Fresh as in youths fair morn, & lo! the Maid
Hath lost her leprous stain.
The Mighty One hath no dominion here,
Starting she cried, – Oh happy, happy hour!
We are beyond his power!
Then raising to the Glendoveer
With heavenly beauty bright her angel face,
Turnd not reluctant now & met his dear embrace.

Swift glides the Ship with gentle motion
Across that calm & quiet Ocean,
That glassy sea which seemd to be
The mirror of tranquillity.
Their pleasant passage soon was oer,
The Ship hath reachd its destind shore,
A level belt of ice which bound
As with an adamantine mound
The waters of the sleeping Ocean round
Strange forms were on the strand
Of earth-born spirits, slain before their time,
Who wandering over sea & sky & land
Had so fulfilld their term; & now were met
Upon this icy Belt, a motley band,
Waiting their summons at the appointed hour
When each before the Judgement Seat must stand
And hear his doom from Bali’s righteous power

Foul with habitual crimes a hideous crew
Were there, the race of rapine & of blood,
Now having overpast the mortal flood
Their own deformity they knew.
And knew the need that to their works was due
Therefore in fear & agony they stood,
Expecting when the Evil Messenger
Among them should appear. But with their fear
A hope was mingled now,
Oer the dark shade of guilt a deeper hue
It threw, & gave a fiercer character
To the wild eye & lip, & sinful brow.
They hoped that soon Kehama would subdue
The inexorable God & seize his throne
Reduce the Infernal World to his command
And with his irresistible right hand
Redeem them from the vaults of Padalon

Apart from these a milder company,
The victims of offences not their own,
Lookd when the appointed Messenger should come
Gatherd together some, & some alone
Brooding in silence on their future doom
Widows whom to their husbands funeral fire
Force or strong error led
To share the Pyre
As to their everlasting marriage bed,
And babes by sin unstained,
Whom erring parents vow’d
To Ganges, & the holy stream profand
With that strange sacrifice, rite unordained
By Law, by sacred Nature unallowd,
Others more hapless in their destiny
Scarce having first inhald the vital breath
Whose cradle from some tree
Unnatural hands suspended,
Then left till gentle Death
Coming like Sleep their feeble moanings ended,
Or for his prey the ravenous Kite descended,
Or marching like an army from their caves
The pismires blackened oer, then bleachd & bare
Left their unhardend bones to fall asunder there.

Innocent Souls, thus set so early free
From sun & sorrow & mortality,
Their spotless spirits all-creating Love
Received into its universal breast.
Yon blue serene above
Was their domain; clouds pillowed them to rest;
The Elements on them like nurses tended
And with their growth etherial substance blended,
Less pure than these is that strange Indian bird
Who never dips in earthly streams her bill,
But when the sound of coming showers is heard,
Looks up & from the clouds receives her fill.
Less pure the footless fowl of Heaven that never
Rest upon Earth, but on the wing for ever,
Hovering oer flowers their fragrant food inhale,
Drink the descending dew upon its way
And sleep aloft while floating on the gale.
And thus these innocents in yonder sky
Grow & are strengthened, while the allotted years
Perform their course; then hitherward they fly,
Being free from mortal taint, so free from pain.
A joyous band, expecting soon to soar
To Indras happy spheres,
And mingle with the blessed company
Of heavenly spirits there for ever more

A Gulph profound surrounded
This icy Belt; the opposite side
With highest rocks was bounded
But where their heads they hide
Or where their base is founded
None could espy. Above all reach of sight
They rose; the second Earth was on their height,
Their feet were fixd in everlasting night.

So deep the Gulph no eye
Could plum its dark profundity
Yet all its depth must try, for this the road
To Padalon & Yamens dread abode.
And from below, continually
Ministrant Demons rose & caught
The souls whose hour was come,
Then with their burthen fraught
Plungd down & bore them to receive their doom.

Then might be seen who went in hope & who
Trembled to meet the meed
Of many a foul misdeed, as wild they threw
Their arms retorted from the Demons grasp
And lookd around all eagerly to seek
For help, where help was none; & strove for aid
To clasp the nearest shade,
Yea with imploring looks & horrent shriek
Even from one Demon to another bending
With hands extending
This mercy they essayd.
Still from the verge they strain
And from the dreadful gulph avert their eyes
In vain, down plunge the Demons & their cries
Feebly, as down they sink, from that profound arise.

What heart of living man could undisturbd
Bear sight like this! what wonder there
If Kalyals lip were blanchd with inmost dread.
The chill which from that icey Belt
Struck upward was less keen than what she felt
With her hearts-blood thro every limb dispread.
Close to the Glendoveer she clung
And clasping round his neck her trembling hands
She closd her eyes, & there in silence hung

Then to Ladurlad said the Glendoveer,
These Demons, as thou seest, the Ministers
Of Yamen, wonder to behold us here.
But for the dead they come & not for us.
Therefore albeit they gaze upon thee thus
Have thou no fear.
A little while thou must be left alone.
Till I have borne thy daughter down,
And placed her safely by the throne
Of him who keeps the Gate of Padalon.

Then taking Kalyal in his arms he said,
Be of good heart Beloved! it is I
Who bear thee. Saying this his wings he spread
Sprung upward in the sky & poisd his flight
Then plunged in the Gulph & sought the world of Night.

Hactemus [1]  – Sept. 30.

__

I have a half written letter which shall follow tomorrow –  [2] 


Notes

* Address: To/ Walter Savage Landor Esqr/ South Parade/ Bath/ Single/ at Mrs Whitehalls Boarding House/ Hotwells/ Bristol/ Paid at Bath/ Rugeley/ Staffordshire/ {Warwick} [readdressed in various hands]
[in another hand] Walter Savage Lander Esq/ Rugeley/ Staffordshire/ Warwick
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298; BATH
Postmark: OCT 8
MS: Victoria and Albert Museum, National Art Library Manuscripts, MS Forster 48 G.31 1/24–25
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Southey’s The Curse of Kehama (1810), Books 20–21. BACK

[2] See Letter 1687. BACK

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August 2013