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Letitia Elizabeth Landon 1802 (Chelsea) – 1838 (Cape Coast)
Days pass, yet still Zilara’s song
_ Beguiled the regal beauty’s hours
As the wind bears some bird along
_ Over the haunted orange bowers.
’Twas as till then she had not known
How much her heart had for its own;
And Murad’s image seemed more dear,
_ These higher chords of feeling strung;
And love shone brighter for the shade
_ That others’ sorrows round it flung.
It was one sultry noon, yet sweet
_ The air which through the matted grass
Came cool—its breezes had to meet
_ A hundred plumes, ere it could pass;
The peacock’s shining feathers wave
From many a young and graceful slave;
Who silent kneel amid the gloom
Of that dim and perfumed room.
Beyond, the radiant sunbeams rest
On many a minaret’s glittering crest,
And white the dazzling tombs below,
Like masses sculptured of pure snow;
While round stands many a giant tree,
Like pillars of a sanctuary,
Whose glossy foliage, dark and bright,
Reflects, and yet excludes the light.
Oh sun, how glad thy rays are shed;
How canst thou glory o’er the dead?
Ah, folly this of human pride,
What are the dead to one like thee,
Whose mirror is the mighty tide,
Where time flows to eternity?
A single race, a single age,
What are they in thy pilgrimage?
The tent, the palace, and the tomb
Repeat the universal doom.
_ Man passes, but upon the plain
_ Still the sweet seasons hold their reign,
_ As if earth were their sole domain,
And man a toy and mockery thrown
Upon the world he deems his own.
_ All is so calm—the sunny air
Has not a current nor a shade;
_ The vivid green the rice-fields wear
Seems of one moveless emerald made;
The Ganges’ quiet waves are rolled
In one broad sheet of molten gold;
And in the tufted brakes beside,
The water-fowls and herons hide.
And the still earth might also seem
The strange creation of a dream.
Actual, breathless—dead, yet bright—
Unblest with life—yet mocked with light,
It mocks our nature’s fate and power,
When we look forth in such an hour,
_ And that repose in nature see,
The fond desire of every heart;
_ But, oh! thou inner world, to thee,
What outward world can e’er impart?
But turn we to that darkened hall,
Where the cool fountain’s pleasant fall
Wakens the odours yet unshed
From the blue hyacinth’s drooping head;
And on the crimson couch beside
Reclines the young and royal bride;
Not sleeping, though the water’s chime,
The lulling flowers, the languid time,
Might soothe her to the gentlest sleep,
O’er which the genii watchings keep,
And shed from their enchanted wings,
All loveliest imaginings:
No, there is murmuring in her ear,
A voice than sleep’s more soft and dear;
While that pale slave with drooping eye
Speaks mournfully of days gone by;
And every plaintive word is fraught
With music which the heart has taught,
A pleading and confiding tone,
To those mute lips so long unknown.
Ah! all in vain that she had said
To feeling, “slumber like the dead;”
Had bade each pang that might convulse
With fiery throb the beating pulse,
Each faded hope, each early dream,
Sleep as beneath a frozen stream;
Such as her native mountains bear,
The cold white hills around Jerdair;*
Heights clad with that eternal snow,
Which happier valleys never know.
Some star in that ungenial sky,
Might well shape such a destiny;
But till within the dark calm grave,
There yet will run an under-wave,
Which human sympathy can still
Excite and melt to tears at will;
No magic any spell affords,
Whose power is like a few kind words.
* JERDAIR is a small village situated amid the hills of Gurwall, within fifty miles of the Himalaya mountains.
’Twas strange the contrast in the pair,
_ That leant by that cool fountain’s side
Both very young, both very fair,
_ By nature, not by fate allied:
The one a darling and delight,
A creature like the morning bright:
Whose weeping is the sunny shower
Half light upon an April hour;
One who a long glad childhood past,
But left that happy home to ‘bide
Where love a deeper shadow cast,
A hero’s proud and treasured bride:
Who her light footstep more adored,
Than all the triumphs of his sword;
Whose kingdom at her feet the while,
Had seemed too little for a smile.
But that pale slave was as the tomb
Of her own youth, of her own bloom;
Enough remained to show how fair,
In other days those features were,
Still lingered delicate and fine,
The shadow of their pure outline;
The small curved lip, the glossy brow,
_ That melancholy beauty wore,
Whose spell is in the silent past,
_ Which saith to love and hope, “No more:”
No more, for hope hath long forsaken
_ Love, though at first its gentle guide
First lulled to sleep, then left to 'waken,
_ ’Mid tears and scorn, despair and pride,
And only those who know can tell,
What love is after hope’s farewell.
And first she spoke of childhood’s time,
Little, what childhood ought to be,
When tenderly the gentle child
Is cherished at its mother's knee,
Who deems that ne’er before, from heaven
So sweet a thing to earth was given.
But she an orphan had no share
In fond affection’s early care;
She knew not love until it came
Far other, though it bore that name.
“I felt,” she said, “all things grow bright!
Before the spirit’s inward light.
Earth was more lovely, night and day,
Conscious of some enchanted sway,
That flung around an atmosphere
I had not deemed could brighten here.
And I have gazed on Moohreeb’s face,
As exiles watch their native place;
I knew his step before it stirred
From its green nest the cautious bird.
I woke, till eye and cheek grew dim,
Then slept—it was to dream of him;
I lived for days upon a word
Less watchful ear had never heard:
And won from careless look or sign
A happiness too dearly mine.
He was my world—I wished to make
My heart a temple for his sake.
It matters not—such passionate love
Has only life and hope above;
A wanderer from its home on high,
Here it is sent to droop and die.
He loved me not—or but a day,
I was a flower upon his way:
A moment near his heart enshrined,
Then flung to perish on the wind.”
She hid her face within her hands—
_ Methinks the maiden well might weep;
The heart it has a weary task
_ Which unrequited love must keep;
At once a treasure and a curse,
The shadow on its universe.
Alas, for young and wasted years,
For long nights only spent in tears;
For hopes, like lamps in some dim urn,
That but for the departed burn.
Alas for her whose drooping brow
Scarce struggles with its sorrow now.
At first Nadira wept to see
That hopelessness of misery.
But, oh, she was too glad, too young,
To dream of an eternal grief;
A thousand thoughts within her sprung,
Of solace, promise, and relief.
Slowly Zilara raised her head,
Then, moved by some strong feeling, said,
“A boon, kind Princess, there is one
Which won by me, were heaven won;
Not wealth, not freedom—wealth to me
Is worthless, as all wealth must be;
When there are none its gifts to share:
For whom have I on earth to care?
None from whose head its golden shrine
May ward the ills that fell on mine.
And freedom—’tis a worthless boon
To one who will be free so soon;
And yet I have one prayer, so dear,
I dare not hope—I only fear.”
“Speak, trembler, be your wish confest,
And trust Nadira with the rest.”
“Lady, look forth on yonder tower,
There spend I morn and midnight's hour,
Beneath that lonely peepul tree— *
Well may its branches wave o’er me,
For their dark wreaths are ever shed,
The mournful tribute to the dead—
There sit I, in fond wish to cheer
A captive’s sad and lonely ear,
And strive his drooping hopes to raise,
With songs that breathe of happier days.
Lady, methinks I scarce need tell
The name that I have loved so well;
’Tis Moohreeb, captured by the sword
Of him, thy own unconquered lord.
Lady, one word—one look from thee,
And Murad sets that captive free.”
Bishop Heber mentions a picturesque custom prevalent in one of the Rajpoot tribes. The death of a warrior is only announced to his family by branches of the peepul-tree strewed before his door.
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"The Zenana - 9 and 10" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2022. Web. 27 May 2022. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/44776/the-zenana---9-and-10>.