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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

924. Robert Southey to William Taylor, [11] April [1804] ⁠* 

King Ramiro [1] 


The Alder-Trees grow thick, & close
To the waterside by St Joam de Foz;
From the Castle of Gaya the warden sees
The Water & the Alder-Trees,
But the Castle Warden little knows
But the Warden neither sees nor knows
The Gallies with green all covered oer,
Under the Alders by St Joam de Foz;
They have crept by night along the Shore
And they lie at anchor, now it is morn,
Awaiting the sound of Ramiros horn.

In travellers weeds Ramiro sate
By the fountain at the Castle-gate
But under the weeds was his breast-plate,
And the sword that was tried in so many fights
And the horn whose sound would ring around
And be known so well by his knights
From the gate Aldonzas damsels came
To fill her pitcher at the spring,
And she saw, but she knew not, her Master the King.
In the Moorish tongue Ramiro spake,
And beggd a draught for mercys sake,
That he his burning thirst might slake,
For worn by a long malady,
Not strength enow, he said, had he
To draw it from the spring.

She gave her pitcher to the King,
And from his mouth he dropt a ring,
Which he had with Aldonza broken, –
So in the water from the spring
Queen Aldonza found the token.
With that she bade her damsel bring
Secretly the stranger in, –
What leads thee hither, Ramiro? she cried.
The love of you, the King replied.
Nay! nay! it is not so! quoth she,
Ramiro say not this to me!
I know your Moorish concubine
Hath now the love which once was mine!
If you had loved me as you say,
You would never have stolen Ortiga away;
If you had never loved another
I had not been here in Gaya today,
The wife of Ortigas brother.
But hide thee here – a step I hear –
King Alboazar draweth near.

Behind the bed she bade him hide,
King Alboazar, my Lord, she cried
What woudslt thou do if at this hour,
King Ramiro were in thy power?
This would I do, the Moor replied,
I would hew him limb from limb, –
As he, I know, would deal by me,
So I would deal by him.
Alboazar, Queen Aldonza said,
Here I give him to thy will.
Thy foe is hid behind the bed, –
Now thy vengeance then fulfill.

With that upspake the Xtian King,
O Alboazar deal by me
As I would surely deal by thee,
If I were you, & you were Me!
Like a friend you guested me many a day,
Like a foe I stole your sister away,
The sin was great, – I felt its weight,
All joy by day the thought opprest
And all night long it troubled my rest,
Till I could not bear the weight of care
But told my Confessor in despair.
And he my sinful soul to save
This penance for atonement gave,
To yield myself your prisoner here,
If my repentance was sincere,
That I by your command might die
As shamefully as death can be.

King Alboazar this I would do,
If you were I & I were you.
I would give you a roasted capon first,
And a skinfull of wine to quench your thirst,
And after that would grant the thing
Which you came to me petitioning.
Now this O King is what I crave
That I my sinful soul may save.
Let me be led to your Bull-ring,
And call your sons & daughters all.
And assemble the people both great & small
And set me there upon a stone
Where by all the multitude I may be known,
And bid me then this horn to blow,
And I will blow a blast so strong,
And wind the horn so loud & so long
Till the breath in my body shall all be gone,
And I shall drop dead in the sight of the throng.
Thus the people a festival sight will have.
And your revenge O King will be brave,
If you grant the boon which I came to crave,
And I my precious soul shall save.
For this is the penance my Confessor gave.
King Alboazar this I would do
If you were I & I were you.

This man repents his sin be sure!
To Queen Aldonza said the Moor, –
He hath stolen my Sister away from me,
I have taken from him his Wife,
Shame then would it be when he comes to me,
And I his true repentance see,
If I for vengeance should take his life.

O Alboazar! then quoth she,
Weak of heart as weak can be!
Full of revenge & wiles x is he –
Look at those eyes beneath that brow
I know Ramiro better than thou –
Kill him – for thou hast him now,
He must die – be sure – or thou!
Hast thou not heard the history
How to the throne that he might rise,
He plucked out his brother Ordonos eyes?
And dost not remember his prowess in fight,
How often he met thee & put thee to flight,
And plundered thy country for many a day,
And how many Moors he has slain in the strife,
And how many more carried captive away?
How he came to show friendship, – & thou didst believe him?
How he ravished thy sister – & wouldst thou forgive him?
And hast thou forgotten that I am his Wife,
And that now by thy side I lie like a bride,
The worst shame that can ever a Xtian betide?
And cruel it were, when you see his despair,
To refuse him the boon he comes hither to crave,
For no other way his poor soul can he save,
Than by doing the penance his Confessor gave

As Queen Aldonza thus replies,
The Moor upon her fixed his eyes.
And he said in his heart, unhappy is he
Who putteth his trust in a woman.
Thou art King Ramiros wedded wife
And thus thou wouldst take away his life!
What cause have I to confide in thee?
I will put this woman away from me.
These were the thoughts that past in his breast,
But he calld to mind Ramiros might,
And he feard to meet him hereafter in fight,
And he granted the Kings request.
So he gave him a roasted capon first,
And a skinfull of wine to quench his thirst
And he called for his sons & daughters all.
And assembled the people both great & small,
And to the Bull-ring he led the King,
And he set him there upon a stone
That by all the multitude he might be known,
And he bade him blow thro his horn a blast,
As long as his breath & his life could last.

Oh then his horn Ramiro wound, –
The walls rebound the pealing sound
That far & wide rings echoing round.
Louder & louder Ramiro blows,
Farther & farther the blast it goes,
It reaches the gallies where they lie close
Under the Alders by St Joam de Foz,
It rousd his Knights from their repose,
And they & their merry men arose,
Away to Gaya they speed them straight,
They burst at once the city gate,
And they rush among the Moorish throng
And slaughter their Infidel foes.
Then his good sword Ramiro drew,
Upon the Moorish King he flew,
And he gave him one blow, for there needed not two,
They killd his sons & his daughters too,
Every Moorish soul they slew,
Not one escapd of the infidel crew,
Neither old, nor young, nor babe, nor mother,
And they left not one stone upon another.

They carried the wicked Queen abroad
And they took counsel what to do to her, –
They tied a mill-stone round her neck,
And overboard in the sea they threw her.
She had water enow in the sea I trow,
But glad would Queen Aldonza be,
Of one drop of water from that salt sea
To cool her where she lies now


You will see that this story is not of my making – nor indeed have I mended it – but merely tried tricks upon metre in relating it as I found it. It was believed five hundred years ago – & I give it to you from the Nobiliario of xx Conde D. Pedro, [2]  son of K Diniz, & from a Livro das Linhagens – perhaps the oldest book in the P. language. [3]  I have two or three other poems upon such subjects as have struck me, & may perhaps in the process of writing my history make up a little volume of them. Have you seen the Devil & Bishop Athendio? [4]  if not – I will send it.

You speak of Edmund Ironside [5]  in your letter. I wish to write an English Epic could I find a subject – but after beating over all the ground can start no game. by what you say (the Review I have not seen) [6]  I supp infer that you would dignify the story by making it the triumph of Xtianity over the religion of the Edda. [7]  I will examine Turner  [8]  & think about it – but my opinion is decidedly against all machinery in such poems. If any thing known to be historically true occurs, it stamps the machinery for falsehood & makes you feel the falsehood. – My dreams of future work are in this order – when Madoc is off my hands [9]  to finish the Curse of Kehama of which 2 ½ books are done. [10]  then to write a Persian Romance built on the Zendavesta, [11]  then a Runic one, & perhaps one upon what Pinkerton calls Schamanism [12]  – & lastly if I can find no better English hero, none to make the Personage of an heroic poem – to write a Romance in honour of Robin Hood. [13]  All this is much, yet if I have ten years of life & such comfort as I have hitherto had, I trust I shall accomplish this, & yet work hard for money meantime & finish a history of more labour than any Englishman has ever yet thought due to history before me. [14]  but I will never again write in blank verse, or in any regular rhymes. hexameters are far better, & Sayers’s metre best of all. Its varieties keep the poet awake as well as the reader. I can improve Thallaba (you shall have the two lls –) but I shall never exceed it.

It disappoints me that you do not go to London. I had reckoned upon it as the pleasantest circumstance of expectation. Rickman too will be disappointed. – this mention of a really great man who thinks & speaks of you as he ought reminds me of that booby Godwin, who told Coleridge, to his great amusement, that there was nothing at all in Wm Taylor. I remembered this in reviewing his Chaucer. [15] 

I have done with Hamilton. [16]  he ceased to send me books just as I should have dropt him – as having better pay from Longman. I shall close my account this journey – but tell him with a sort of civility due to the Review wherein I servd my apprenticeship – that I will at any time review for him any thing Spanish or Portugueze to make a show in his appendix. – Why do you not make up an article for the Iris [17]  from Thelwalls pamphlet against the Scotch Reviewers? [18]  he has done it very badly & yet with great effect. but if the real merits of the case were separated from the dross mixd with it, it would do good, by doing them a mischief. An able man might now crush them, they have laid themselves open by so many absurdities. – poor Turner is sadly hurt by them. [19]  he feels those things, & they dishearten him, which is an evil for he is really a valuable man, & one from whom much is to be expected. I respect him as the man of all others who has xxx made the best use of his Talent.

God bless you!


Wednesday April


* Address: To/ Mr Wm Taylor Junr./ Surry Street/ Norwich/ Single
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Endorsement: Ansd 20 May
MS: Huntington Library, HM 4845
Previously published: John Warden Robberds (ed.), A Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Late William Taylor of Norwich, 2 vols (London, 1843), I, pp. 498–501.
Dating note: dated thus in Robberds, with the pencil annotation of ‘Ap. 11 1804’ on fol. 1r. BACK

[1] ‘King Ramiro’ was published in the Morning Post on 9 September 1803. Southey also caused Taylor to print the poem in the newspaper he edited, The Iris; or, Norwich and Norfolk Weekly Advertiser on 12 May 1804. It later appeared, revised, in the Edinburgh Annual Register, for 1808, Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and in Poetical Works (1837–1838); see Southey to William Taylor, 23 November 1804, Letter 992. BACK

[2] Southey refers to Juan Bautista Lavaña (1550–1624), Nobiliario de D. Pedro Conde de Barcelos Hijo del Rey D. Dionis de Portugal (1640), no. 3571 in the sale catalogue of his library. BACK

[3] Of the three medieval books of Portuguese lineages to survive, the oldest is that compiled circa 1270, the second around 1340, and the third, known as the Livro de Linhagens do Conde D. Pedro de Barcelos, between 1340 and 1344. BACK

[4] A poem Southey first published in the Morning Post in early February 1803. It was retitled ‘A True Ballad of St Antidius, the Pope, and the Devil’ and revised for Minor Poems (1815 and 1823) and Poetical Works (1837–1838). He derived the story from Alfonso X of Castile (1221–1284; King of Castile 1252–1284), Chronica de Espana (Zamora, 1541), ff. 139–. BACK

[5] Edmund II (d. 1016; DNB): king of the southern part of England from 23 April to 30 November 1016 and known as ‘Edmund Ironside’ because of his defence of Wessex against the Viking invasion from the north. BACK

[6] In Taylor’s review of the third volume of Sharon Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799–1805), he suggests subjects for an English epic, stating that ‘the frank, the daring, the generous virtues of Edmund Ironside; the nationality and importance of his cause, fit him for a favourite hero’. See Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 220–223, 222. BACK

[7] The Edda comprises the Old Norse Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, transcribed in thirteenth-century Iceland. The Edda related the deeds of the Norse gods and heroes, some of the poems therein probably dating from the Viking era. BACK

[8] Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799–1805) deals with Saxon efforts to repel Viking attacks in its fourth book. BACK

[9] The poem Madoc, which Southey had written in 1797–1799 and since then had been intermittently revising. It was completed in October 1804 and published in 1805. BACK

[10] The Curse of Kehama was published by Longman in 1810. BACK

[11] Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil Du Perron (1731–1805), the French Orientalist, caused the sacred texts of the Parsis, the Avesta, to be translated into Persian by Brahmins when he resided in India. He then translated this translation into French, publishing it as Zend-Avesta in 1771, and thus introducing Zoroastrianism to Europe for the first time. Southey owned a copy of this book but did not carry out his plan. BACK

[12] John Pinkerton (1758–1826; DNB) attributed Shamanism to the ‘Eastern Tartars’ in Asiatic Russia and China, connecting it with Tibetan Buddhism, in Modern Geography, a Description of the Empires, States, and Colonies, with the Oceans, Seas and Islands in all parts of the World, 2 vols (London, 1802), II, chap. 1. BACK

[13] Southey began a poem on Robin Hood in 1823, as a collaborative effort with his future second wife Caroline Bowles’ (1786–1854; DNB). Unfinished at his death, it was published posthumously in 1847 in a volume entitled Robin Hood: A Fragment by the Late Robert Southey and Caroline Southey, with Other Fragments and Poems. BACK

[14] Southey’s planned, but never completed, ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[15] Southey reviewed William Godwin’s Chaucer ... Including Memoirs of ... John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; with Sketches of the Manners, Opinions, Arts and Literature of England in the Fourteenth Century (1803) in the Annual Review for 1803, 2 (1804), 462–473. BACK

[16] Samuel Hamilton (dates unknown), owner of the Critical Review 1799–1804. BACK

[17] The Iris; or, Norwich and Norfolk Weekly Advertiser was the Norwich newspaper edited by Taylor, from 1803–1804. BACK

[18] In 1804, Thelwall published a Letter to Francis Jeffrey on Certain Calumnies and Misrepresentations in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ accusing Francis Jeffrey of leading an attempt to break up his lecture in Edinburgh, and of misrepresenting his poetry in the Edinburgh Review, 3 (April 1803), 197–202. BACK

[19] The second part of Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons (1799–1805) was reviewed by Francis Jeffrey as evincing ‘proof of a feeble mind, and a vitiated taste’ in the Edinburgh Review, 3 (1804), 360–374 (372). BACK

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August 2013