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The Zenana - 4 and 5

The voice has ceased, the chords are mute,
The singer droops upon her lute;
But, oh, the fulness of each tone
Straight to Nadira’s heart hath gone—-
As if that mournful song revealed
Depths in that heart till then concealed,
A world of melancholy thought,
Then only into being brought;
Those tender mysteries of the soul,
Like words on an enchanted scroll,
Whose mystic meaning but appears
When washed and understood by tears.
She gazed upon the singer’s face;
Deeply that young brow wore the trace
Of years that leave their stamp behind:
The wearied hope—the fever'd mind—-
The heart which on itself hath turned,
Worn out with feelings—-slighted—-spurned—-
Till scarce one throb remained to show
What warm emotions slept below,
Never to be renewed again,
And known but by remembered pain.

Her cheek was pale—-impassioned pale—-
_    Like ashes white with former fire,
Passion which might no more prevail,
_    The rose had been its own sweet pyre.
You gazed upon the large black eyes,
_    And felt what unshed tears were there;
Deep, gloomy, wild, like midnight skies,
_    When storms are heavy on the air—-
And on the small red lip sat scorn,
Writhing from what the past had borne.
But far too proud to sigh—the will,
Though crushed, subdued, was haughty still;
Last refuge of the spirit’s pain,
Which finds endurance in disdain.
_    Others wore blossoms in their hair,
And golden bangles round the arm.
_    She took no pride in being fair,
The gay delight of youth to charm;
The softer wish of love to please,
What had she now to do with these?
She knew herself a bartered slave,
Whose only refuge was the grave.
_    Unsoftened now by those sweet notes,
Which half subdued the grief they told,
_    Her long black hair neglected floats
O’er that wan face, like marble cold;
And carelessly her listless hand
Wandered above her lute’s command
But silently—-or just a tone
Woke into music, and was gone.

“Come hither, maiden, take thy seat,”
Nadira said, “here at my feet.”
_ And, with the sweetness of a child
Who smiles, and deems all else must smile,
_ She gave the blossoms which she held,
And praised the singer’s skill the while;
Then started with a sad surprise,
For tears were in the stranger’s eyes.
Ah, only those who rarely know
_    Kind words, can tell how sweet they seem.
Great God, that there are those below
_    To whom such words are like a dream.

“Come,” said the young Sultana, “come
_    To our lone garden by the river,
Where summer hath its loveliest home,
_    And where Camdeo fills his quiver.
If, as thou sayest, ’tis stored with flowers,
Where will he find them fair as ours?
And the sweet songs which thou canst sing
Methinks might charm away his sting.”

The evening banquet soon is spread—-
There the pomegranate’s rougher red
Was cloven, that it might disclose
A colour stolen from the rose—-
The brown pistachio’s glossy shell,
The citron where faint odours dwell;
And near the watermelon stands,
Fresh from the Jumna’s shining sands;(Ruins on the Jumna)
And golden grapes, whose bloom and hue
Wear morning light and morning dew,
Or purple with the deepest dye
That flushes evening’s farewell sky.
And in the slender vases glow—-
Vases that seem like sculptured snow—-
The rich sherbets are sparkling bright
With ruby and with amber light.
A fragrant mat the ground o’erspread,
With an old tamarind overhead,
With drooping bough of darkest green,
Forms for their feast a pleasant screen.

’Tis night, but such delicious time
Would seem like day in northern clime.
A pure and holy element,
Where light and shade, together blent,
Are like the mind’s high atmosphere,
When hope is calm, and heaven is near.
The moon is young—-her crescent brow
Wears its ethereal beauty now,
_ Unconscious of the crime and care,
Which even her brief reign must know,
_ Till she will pine to be so fair,
With such a weary world below.
A tremulous and silvery beam
Melts over palace, garden, stream;
Each flower beneath that tranquil ray,
Wears other beauty than by day,
All pale as if with love, and lose
Their rich variety of hues—
_ But ah, that languid loveliness
Hath magic, to the noon unknown,
_ A deep and pensive tenderness,
The heart at once feels is its own—
How fragrant to these dewy hours,
_ The white magnolia lifts its urn
The very Araby of flowers,
_ Wherein all precious odours burn.
And when the wind disperses these,
The faint scent of the lemon trees
Mingles with that rich sigh which dwells
Within the baubool’s * golden bells.
The dark green peepul’s ** glossy leaves,
Like mirrors each a ray receives,
While luminous the moonlight falls,
O’er pearl kiosk and marble walls,
Those graceful palaces that stand
Most like the work of peri-land.
And rippling to the lovely shore,
_ The river tremulous with light,
On its small waves, is covered o’er
_ With the sweet offerings of the night—
Heaps of that scented grass whose bands
Have all been wove by pious hands,
Or wreaths, where fragrantly combined,
Red and white lotus flowers are twined.
And on the deep blue waters float
Many a cocoa-nut’s small boat,
Holding within the lamp which bears
The maiden’s dearest hopes and prayers,
Watch’d far as ever eye can see,
A vain but tender augury.
Alas! this world is not his home,
And still love trusts that signs will come
From his own native world of bliss,
To guide him through the shades of this.
Dreams, omens, he delights in these,
For love is linked with fantasies.

_ But hark! upon the plaining wind
Zilara’s music floats again;
_ That midnight breeze could never find
A meeter echo than that strain,
Sad as the sobbing gale that sweeps
The last sere leaf which autumn keeps,
Yet sweet as when the waters fall
And make some lone glade musical.


“Lady, sweet Lady, song of mine
_    Was never meant for thee,
I sing but from my heart, and thine—-
_    It cannot beat with me.

“You have not knelt in vain despair,
_    Beneath a love as vain,
That desperate—-that devoted love,
_    Life never knows again.

“What know you of a weary hope,
_    The fatal and the fond,
That feels it has no home on earth,
_    Yet dares not look beyond?

“The bitterness of wasted youth,
_    Impatient of its tears;
The dreary days, the feverish nights,
_    The long account of years.

“The vain regret, the dream destroy'd,
_    The vacancy of heart,
When life's illusions, one by one,
_   First darken—-then depart.

“The vacant heart! ah, worse, —-a shrine
_    For one beloved name:
Kept, not a blessing, but a curse,
_    Amid remorse and shame.

“To know how deep, how pure, how true
_    Your early feelings were;
But mock’d, betray’d, disdain’d, and chang’d,
_    They have but left despair.

“And yet the happy and the young
_    Bear in their hearts a well
Of gentlest, kindliest sympathy,
_    Where tears unbidden dwell.

“Then, lady, listen to my lute;
_    As angels look below,
And e’en in heaven pause to weep
_    O’er grief they cannot know.”

* baubool - a favourite Indian flower
** peepul - a tree usually planted by graves
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Submitted by Madeleine Quinn on May 16, 2016

6:04 min read

Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was an English poet. Born 14th August 1802 at 25 Hans Place, Chelsea, she lived through the most productive period of her life nearby, at No.22. A precocious child with a natural gift for poetry, she was driven by the financial needs of her family to become a professional writer and thus a target for malicious gossip (although her three children by William Jerdan were successfully hidden from the public). In 1838, she married George Maclean, governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast, whence she travelled, only to die a few months later (15th October) of a fatal heart condition. Behind her post-Romantic style of sentimentality lie preoccupations with art, decay and loss that give her poetry its characteristic intensity and in this vein she attempted to reinterpret some of the great male texts from a woman’s perspective. Her originality rapidly led to her being one of the most read authors of her day and her influence, commencing with Tennyson in England and Poe in America, was long-lasting. However, Victorian attitudes led to her poetry being misrepresented and she became excluded from the canon of English literature, where she belongs. more…

All Letitia Elizabeth Landon poems | Letitia Elizabeth Landon Books

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