The Vision of Don Roderick
Rearing their crests amid the cloudless skies,
And darkly clustering in the pale moonlight,
Toledo’s holy towers and spires arise,
As from a trembling lake of silver white.
Their mingled shadows intercept the sight
Of the broad burial-ground outstretched below,
And nought disturbs the silence of the night;
All sleeps in sullen shade, or silver glow,
All save the heavy swell of Teio’s ceaseless flow.
All save the rushing swell of Teio’s tide,
Or, distant heard, a courser’s neigh or tramp;
Their changing rounds as watchful horsemen ride,
To guard the limits of King Roderick’s camp.
For through the river’s night-fog rolling damp
Was many a proud pavilion dimly seen,
Which glimmered back, against the moon’s fair lamp,
Tissues of silk and silver twisted sheen,
And standards proudly pitched, and warders armed between.
But of their Monarch’s person keeping ward,
Since last the deep-mouthed bell of vespers tolled,
The chosen soldiers of the royal guard
The post beneath the proud Cathedral hold:
A band unlike their Gothic sires of old,
Who, for the cap of steel and iron mace,
Bear slender darts, and casques bedecked with gold,
While silver-studded belts their shoulders grace,
Where ivory quivers ring in the broad falchion’s place.
In the light language of an idle court,
They murmured at their master’s long delay,
And held his lengthened orisons in sport:-
“What! will Don Roderick here till morning stay,
To wear in shrift and prayer the night away?
And are his hours in such dull penance past,
For fair Florinda’s plundered charms to pay?”
Then to the east their weary eyes they cast,
And wished the lingering dawn would glimmer forth at last.
But, far within, Toledo’s Prelate lent
An ear of fearful wonder to the King;
The silver lamp a fitful lustre sent,
So long that sad confession witnessing:
For Roderick told of many a hidden thing,
Such as are lothly uttered to the air,
When Fear, Remorse, and Shame the bosom wring,
And Guilt his secret burden cannot bear,
And Conscience seeks in speech a respite from Despair.
Full on the Prelate’s face, and silver hair,
The stream of failing light was feebly rolled:
But Roderick’s visage, though his head was bare,
Was shadowed by his hand and mantle’s fold.
While of his hidden soul the sins he told,
Proud Alaric’s descendant could not brook,
That mortal man his bearing should behold,
Or boast that he had seen, when Conscience shook,
Fear tame a monarch’s brow, Remorse a warrior’s look.
The old man’s faded cheek waxed yet more pale,
As many a secret sad the King bewrayed;
As sign and glance eked out the unfinished tale,
When in the midst his faltering whisper stayed.
“Thus royal Witiza was slain,” - he said;
“Yet, holy Father, deem not it was I.”
Thus still Ambition strives her crimes to shade. -
“Oh, rather deem ’twas stern necessity!
Self-preservation bade, and I must kill or die.
“And if Florinda’s shrieks alarmed the air,
If she invoked her absent sire in vain,
And on her knees implored that I would spare,
Yet, reverend Priest, thy sentence rash refrain!
All is not as it seems - the female train
Know by their bearing to disguise their mood:”
But Conscience here, as if in high disdain,
Sent to the Monarch’s cheek the burning blood -
He stayed his speech abrupt - and up the Prelate stood.
“O hardened offspring of an iron race!
What of thy crimes, Don Roderick, shall I say?
What alms, or prayers, or penance can efface
Murder’s dark spot, wash treason’s stain away!
For the foul ravisher how shall I pray,
Who, scarce repentant, makes his crime his boast?
How hope Almighty vengeance shall delay,
Unless, in mercy to yon Christian host,
He spare the shepherd, lest the guiltless sheep be lost?”
Then kindled the dark tyrant in his mood,
And to his brow returned its dauntless gloom;
“And welcome then,” he cried, “be blood for blood,
For treason treachery, for dishonour doom!
Yet will I know whence come they, or by whom.
Show, for thou canst - give forth the fated key,
And guide me, Priest, to that mysterious room,
Where, if aught true in old tradition be,
His nation’s future fates a Spanish King shall see.”
“Ill-fated Prince! recall the desperate word,
Or pause ere yet the omen thou obey!
Bethink, yon spell-bound portal would afford
Never to former Monarch entrance-way;
Nor shall it ever ope, old records say,
Save to a King, the last of all his line,
What time his empire totters to decay,
And treason digs, beneath, her fatal mine,
And, high above, impends avenging wrath divine.” -
“Prelate! a Monarch’s fate brooks no delay;
Lead on!” - The ponderous key the old man took,
And held the winking lamp, and led the way,
By winding stair, dark aisle, and secret nook,
Then on an ancient gateway bent his look;
And, as the key the desperate King essayed,
Low muttered thunders the Cathedral shook,
And twice he stopped, and twice new effort made,
Till the huge bolts rolled back, and the loud hinges brayed.
Long, large, and lofty was that vaulted hall;
Roof, walls, and floor were all of marble stone,
Of polished marble, black as funeral pall,
Carved o’er with signs and characters unknown.
A paly light, as of the dawning, shone
Through the sad bounds, but whence they could not spy;
For window to the upper air was none;
Yet, by that light, Don Roderick could descry
Wonders that ne’er till then were seen by mortal eye.
Grim sentinels, against the upper wall,
Of molten bronze, two Statues held their place;
Massive their naked limbs, their stature tall,
Their frowning foreheads golden circles grace.
Moulded they seemed for kings of giant race,
That lived and sinned before the avenging flood;
This grasped a scythe, that rested on a mace;
This spread his wings for flight, that pondering stood,
Each stubborn seemed and stern, immutable of mood.
Fixed was the right-hand Giant’s brazen look
Upon his brother’s glass of shifting sand,
As if its ebb he measured by a book,
Whose iron volume loaded his huge hand;
In which was wrote of many a fallen land
Of empires lost, and kings to exile driven:
And o’er that pair their names in scroll expand -
“Lo, DESTINY and TIME! to whom by Heaven
The guidance of the earth is for a season given.” -
Even while they read, the sand-glass wastes away;
And, as the last and lagging grains did creep,
That right-hand Giant ’gan his club upsway,
As one that startles from a heavy sleep.
Full on the upper wall the mace’s sweep
At once descended with the force of thunder,
And hurtling down at once, in crumbled heap,
The marble boundary was rent asunder,
And gave to Roderick’s view new sights of fear and wonder.
For they might spy, beyond that mighty breach,
Realms as of Spain in visioned prospect laid,
Castles and towers, in due proportion each,
As by some skilful artist’s hand portrayed:
Here, crossed by many a wild Sierra’s shade,
And boundless plains that tire the traveller’s eye;
There, rich with vineyard and with olive glade,
Or deep-embrowned by forests huge and high,
Or washed by mighty streams, that slowly murmured by.
And here, as erst upon the antique stage
Passed forth the band of masquers trimly led,
In various forms, and various equipage,
While fitting strains the hearer’s fancy fed;
So, to sad Roderick’s eye in order spread,
Successive pageants filled that mystic scene,
Showing the fate of battles ere they bled,
And issue of events that had not been;
And, ever and anon, strange sounds were heard between.
First shrilled an unrepeated female shriek! -
It seemed as if Don Roderick knew the call,
For the bold blood was blanching in his cheek. -
Then answered kettle-drum and attabal,
Gong-peal and cymbal-clank the ear appal,
The Tecbir war-cry, and the Lelie’s yell,
Ring wildly dissonant along the hall.
Needs not to Roderick their dread import tell -
“The Moor!” he cried, “the Moor! - ring out the Tocsin bell!
“They come! they come!I see the groaning lands
White with the turbans of each Arab horde;
Swart Zaarah joins her misbelieving bands,
Alla and Mahomet their battle-word,
The choice they yield, the Koran or the Sword -
See how the Christians rush to arms amain! -
In yonder shout the voice of conflict roared,
The shadowy hosts are closing on the plain -
Now, God and Saint Iago strike, for the good cause of Spain!
“By Heaven, the Moors prevail! the Christians yield!
Their coward leader gives for flight the sign!
The sceptred craven mounts to quit the field -
Is not yon steed Orelio? - Yes, ’tis mine!
But never was she turned from battle-line:
Lo! where the recreant spurs o’er stock and stone! -
Curses pursue the slave, and wrath divine!
Rivers ingulph him!” - ”Hush,” in shuddering tone,
The Prelate said; “rash Prince, yon visioned form’s thine own.”
Just then, a torrent crossed the flier’s course;
The dangerous ford the Kingly Likeness tried;
But the deep eddies whelmed both man and horse,
Swept like benighted peasant down the tide;
And the proud Moslemah spread far and wide,
As numerous as their native locust band;
Berber and Ismael’s sons the spoils divide,
With naked scimitars mete out the land,
And for the bondsmen base the free-born natives brand.
Then rose the grated Harem, to enclose
The loveliest maidens of the Christian line;
Then, menials, to their misbelieving foes,
Castile’s young nobles held forbidden wine;
Then, too, the holy Cross, salvation’s sign,
By impious hands was from the altar thrown,
And the deep aisles of the polluted shrine
Echoed, for holy hymn and organ-tone,
The Santon’s frantic dance, the Fakir’s gibbering moan.
How fares Don Roderick? - E’en as one who spies
Flames dart their glare o’er midnight’s sable woof,
And hears around his children’s piercing cries,
And sees the pale assistants stand aloof;
While cruel Conscience brings him bitter proof,
His folly, or his crime, have caused his grief;
And while above him nods the crumbling roof,
He curses earth and Heaven - himself in chief -
Desperate of earthly aid, despairing Heaven’s relief!
That scythe-armed Giant turned his fatal glass
And twilight on the landscape closed her wings;
Far to Asturian hills the war-sounds pass,
And in their stead rebeck or timbrel rings;
And to the sound the bell-decked dancer springs,
Bazars resound as when their marts are met,
In tourney light the Moor his jerrid flings,
And on the land as evening seemed to set,
The Imaum’s chant was heard from mosque or minaret.
So passed that pageant.Ere another came,
The visionary scene was wrapped in smoke
Whose sulph’rous wreaths were crossed by sheets of flame;
With every flash a bolt explosive broke,
Till Roderick deemed the fiends had burst their yoke,
And waved ’gainst heaven the infernal gonfalone!
For War a new and dreadful language spoke,
Never by ancient warrior heard or known;
Lightning and smoke her breath, and thunder was her tone.
From the dim landscape rolled the clouds away -
The Christians have regained their heritage;
Before the Cross has waned the Crescent’s ray,
And many a monastery decks the stage,
And lofty church, and low-browed hermitage.
The land obeys a Hermit and a Knight, -
The Genii those of Spain for many an age;
This clad in sackcloth, that in armour bright,
And that was VALOUR named, this BIGOTRY was hight.
VALOUR was harnessed like a chief of old,
Armed at all points, and prompt for knightly gest;
His sword was tempered in the Ebro cold,
Morena’s eagle plume adorned his crest,
The spoils of Afric’s lion bound his breast.
Fierce he stepped forward and flung down his gage;
As if of mortal kind to brave the best.
Him followed his Companion, dark and sage,
As he, my Master, sung the dangerous Archimage.
Haughty of heart and brow the Warrior came,
In look and language proud as proud might be,
Vaunting his lordship, lineage, fights, and fame:
Yet was that barefoot Monk more proud than he:
And as the ivy climbs the tallest tree,
So round the loftiest soul his toils he wound,
And with his spells subdued the fierce and free,
Till ermined Age and Youth in arms renowned,
Honouring his scourge and haircloth, meekly kissed the ground.
And thus it chanced that VALOUR, peerless knight,
Who ne’er to King or Kaiser vailed his crest,
Victorious still in bull-feast or in fight,
Since first his limbs with mail he did invest,
Stooped ever to that Anchoret’s behest;
Nor reasoned of the right, nor of the wrong,
But at his bidding laid the lance in rest,
And wrought fell deeds the troubled world along,
For he was fierce as brave, and pitiless as strong.
Oft his proud galleys sought some new-found world,
That latest sees the sun, or first the morn;
Still at that Wizard’s feet their spoils he hurled, -
Ingots of ore from rich Potosi borne,
Crowns by Caciques, aigrettes by Omrahs worn,
Wrought of rare gems, but broken, rent, and foul;
Idols of gold from heathen temples torn,
Bedabbled all with blood. - With grisly scowl
The Hermit marked the stains, and smiled beneath his cowl.
Then did he bless the offering, and bade make
Tribute to Heaven of gratitude and praise;
And at his word the choral hymns awake,
And many a hand the silver censer sways,
But with the incense-breath these censers raise,
Mix steams from corpses smouldering in the fire;
The groans of prisoned victims mar the lays,
And shrieks of agony confound the quire;
While, ’mid the mingled sounds, the darkened scenes expire.
Preluding light, were strains of music heard,
As once again revolved that measured sand;
Such sounds as when, for silvan dance prepared,
Gay Xeres summons forth her vintage band;
When for the light bolero ready stand
The mozo blithe, with gay muchacha met,
He conscious of his broidered cap and band,
She of her netted locks and light corsette,
Each tiptoe perched to spring, and shake the castanet.
And well such strains the opening scene became;
For VALOUR had relaxed his ardent look,
And at a lady’s feet, like lion tame,
Lay stretched, full loath the weight of arms to brook;
And softened BIGOTRY, upon his book,
Pattered a task of little good or ill:
But the blithe peasant plied his pruning-hook,
Whistled the muleteer o’er vale and hill,
And rung from village-green the merry seguidille.
Grey Royalty, grown impotent of toil,
Let the grave sceptre slip his lazy hold;
And, careless, saw his rule become the spoil
Of a loose Female and her minion bold.
But peace was on the cottage and the fold,
From Court intrigue, from bickering faction far;
Beneath the chestnut-tree Love’s tale was told,
And to the tinkling of the light guitar,
Sweet stooped the western sun, sweet rose the evening star.
As that sea-cloud, in size like human hand,
When first from Carmel by the Tishbite seen,
Came slowly overshadowing Israel’s land,
A while, perchance, bedecked with colours sheen,
While yet the sunbeams on its skirts had been,
Limning with purple and with gold its shroud,
Till darker folds obscured the blue serene
And blotted heaven with one broad sable cloud,
Then sheeted rain burst down, and whirlwinds howled aloud:-
Even so, upon that peaceful scene was poured,
Like gathering clouds, full many a foreign band,
And HE, their Leader, wore in sheath his sword,
And offered peaceful front and open hand,
Veiling the perjured treachery he planned,
By friendship’s zeal and honour’s specious guise,
Until he won the passes of the land;
Then burst were honour’s oath and friendship’s ties!
He clutched his vulture grasp, and called fair Spain his prize.
An iron crown his anxious forehead bore;
And well such diadem his heart became,
Who ne’er his purpose for remorse gave o’er,
Or checked his course for piety or shame;
Who, trained a soldier, deemed a soldier’s fame
Might flourish in the wreath of battles won,
Though neither truth nor honour decked his name;
Who, placed by fortune on a Monarch’s throne,
Recked not of Monarch’s faith, or Mercy’s kingly tone.
From a rude isle his ruder lineage came,
The spark, that, from a suburb-hovel’s hearth
Ascending, wraps some capital in flame,
Hath not a meaner or more sordid birth.
And for the soul that bade him waste the earth -
The sable land-flood from some swamp obscure
That poisons the glad husband-field with dearth,
And by destruction bids its fame endure,
Hath not a source more sullen, stagnant, and impure.
Before that Leader strode a shadowy Form;
Her limbs like mist, her torch like meteor showed,
With which she beckoned him through fight and storm,
And all he crushed that crossed his desperate road,
Nor thought, nor feared, nor looked on what he trode.
Realms could not glut his pride, blood could not slake,
So oft as e’er she shook her torch abroad -
It was AMBITION bade her terrors wake,
Nor deigned she, as of yore, a milder form to take.
No longer now she spurned at mean revenge,
Or stayed her hand for conquered foeman’s moan;
As when, the fates of aged Rome to change,
By Cæsar’s side she crossed the Rubicon.
Nor joyed she to bestow the spoils she won,
As when the banded powers of Greece were tasked
To war beneath the Youth of Macedon:
No seemly veil her modern minion asked,
He saw her hideous face, and loved the fiend unmasked.
That Prelate marked his march - On banners blazed
With battles won in many a distant land,
On eagle-standards and on arms he gazed;
“And hopest thou, then,” he said, “thy power shall stand?
Oh! thou hast builded on the shifting sand,
And thou hast tempered it with slaughter’s flood;
And know, fell scourge in the Almighty’s hand,
Gore-moistened trees shall perish in the bud,
And by a bloody death shall die the Man of Blood!”
The ruthless Leader beckoned from his train
A wan fraternal Shade, and bade him kneel,
And paled his temples with the crown of Spain,
While trumpets rang, and heralds cried “Castile!”
Not that he loved him - No! - In no man’s weal,
Scarce in his own, e’er joyed that sullen heart;
Yet round that throne he bade his warriors wheel,
That the poor puppet might perform his part,
And be a sceptred slave, at his stern beck to start.
But on the Natives of that Land misused,
Not long the silence of amazement hung,
Nor brooked they long their friendly faith abused;
For, with a common shriek, the general tongue
Exclaimed, “To arms!” - and fast to arms they sprung.
And VALOUR woke, that Genius of the Land!
Pleasure, and ease, and sloth aside he flung,
As burst the awakening Nazarite his band,
When ’gainst his treacherous foes he clenched his dreadful hand.
That Mimic Monarch now cast anxious eye
Upon the Satraps that begirt him round,
Now doffed his royal robe in act to fly,
And from his brow the diadem unbound.
So oft, so near, the Patriot bugle wound,
From Tarik’s walls to Bilboa’s mountains blown,
These martial satellites hard labour found
To guard awhile his substituted throne -
Light recking of his cause, but battling for their own.
From Alpuhara’s peak that bugle rung,
And it was echoed from Corunna’s wall;
Stately Seville responsive war-shot flung,
Grenada caught it in her Moorish hall;
Galicia bade her children fight or fall,
Wild Biscay shook his mountain-coronet,
Valencia roused her at the battle-call,
And, foremost still where Valour’s sons are met,
First started to his gun each fiery Miquelet.
But unappalled, and burning for the fight,
The Invaders march, of victory secure;
Skilful their force to sever or unite,
And trained alike to vanquish or endure.
Nor skilful less, cheap conquest to ensure,
Discord to breathe, and jealousy to sow,
To quell by boasting, and by bribes to lure;
While nought against them bring the unpractised foe,
Save hearts for Freedom’s cause, and hands for Freedom’s blow.
Proudly they march - but, oh! they march not forth
By one hot field to crown a brief campaign,
As when their Eagles, sweeping through the North,
Destroyed at every stoop an ancient reign!
Far other fate had Heaven decreed for Spain;
In vain the steel, in vain the torch was plied,
New Patriot armies started from the slain,
High blazed the war, and long, and far, and wide,
And oft the God of Battles blest the righteous side.
Nor unatoned, where Freedom’s foes prevail,
Remained their savage waste.With blade and brand
By day the Invaders ravaged hill and dale,
But, with the darkness, the Guerilla band
Came like night’s tempest, and avenged the land,
And claimed for blood the retribution due,
Probed the hard heart, and lopped the murd’rous hand;
And Dawn, when o’er the scene her beams she threw
’Midst ruins they had made, the spoilers’ corpses knew.
What minstrel verse may sing, or tongue may tell,
Amid the visioned strife from sea to sea,
How oft the Patriot banners rose or fell,
Still honoured in defeat as victory!
For that sad pageant of events to be
Showed every form of fight by field and flood;
Slaughter and Ruin, shouting forth their glee,
Beheld, while riding on the tempest scud,
The waters choked with slain, the earth bedrenched with blood!
Then Zaragoza - blighted be the tongue
That names thy name without the honour due!
For never hath the harp of Minstrel rung,
Of faith so felly proved, so firmly true!
Mine, sap, and bomb thy shattered ruins knew,
Each art of war’s extremity had room,
Twice from thy half-sacked streets the foe withdrew,
And when at length stern fate decreed thy doom,
They won not Zaragoza, but her children’s bloody tomb.
Yet raise thy head, sad city!Though in chains,
Enthralled thou canst not be!Arise, and claim
Reverence from every heart where Freedom reigns,
For what thou worshippest! - thy sainted dame,
She of the Column, honoured be her name
By all, whate’er their creed, who honour love!
And like the sacred relics of the flame,
That gave some martyr to the blessed above,
To every loyal heart may thy sad embers prove!
Nor thine alone such wreck.Gerona fair!
Faithful to death thy heroes shall be sung,
Manning the towers, while o’er their heads the air
Swart as the smoke from raging furnace hung;
Now thicker darkening where the mine was sprung,
Now briefly lightened by the cannon’s flare,
Now arched with fire-sparks as the bomb was flung,
And reddening now with conflagration’s glare,
While by the fatal light the foes for storm prepare.
While all around was danger, strife, and fear,
While the earth shook, and darkened was the sky,
And wide Destruction stunned the listening ear,
Appalled the heart, and stupefied the eye, -
Afar was heard that thrice-repeated cry,
In which old Albion’s heart and tongue unite,
Whene’er her soul is up, and pulse beats high,
Whether it hail the wine-cup or the fight,
And bid each arm be strong, or bid each heart be light.
Don Roderick turned him as the shout grew loud -
A varied scene the changeful vision showed,
For, where the ocean mingled with the cloud,
A gallant navy stemmed the billows broad.
From mast and stern St. George’s symbol flowed,
Blent with the silver cross to Scotland dear;
Mottling the sea their landward barges rowed,
And flashed the sun on bayonet, brand, and spear,
And the wild beach returned the seamen’s jovial cheer.
It was a dread, yet spirit-stirring sight!
The billows foamed beneath a thousand oars,
Fast as they land the red-cross ranks unite,
Legions on legions bright’ning all the shores.
Then banners rise, and cannon-signal roars,
Then peals the warlike thunder of the drum,
Thrills the loud fife, the trumpet-flourish pours,
And patriot hopes awake, and doubts are dumb,
For, bold in Freedom’s cause, the bands of Ocean come!
A various host they came - whose ranks display
Each mode in which the warrior meets the fight,
The deep battalion locks its firm array,
And meditates his aim the marksman light;
Far glance the light of sabres flashing bright
Where mounted squadrons shake the echoing mead,
Lacks not artillery breathing flame and night,
Nor the fleet ordnance whirled by rapid steed,
That rivals lightning’s flash in ruin and in speed.
A various host - from kindred realms they came,
Brethren in arms, but rivals in renown -
For yon fair bands shall merry England claim,
And with their deeds of valour deck her crown.
Hers their bold port, and hers their martial frown,
And hers their scorn of death in freedom’s cause,
Their eyes of azure, and their locks of brown,
And the blunt speech that bursts without a pause,
And free-born thoughts which league the Soldier with the Laws.
And, oh! loved warriors of the Minstrel’s land!
Yonder your bonnets nod, your tartans wave!
The rugged form may mark the mountain band,
And harsher features, and a mien more grave;
But ne’er in battlefield throbbed heart so brave
As that which beats beneath the Scottish plaid;
And when the pibroch bids the battle rave,
And level for the charge your arms are laid,
Where lives the desperate foe that for such onset stayed!
Hark! from yon stately ranks what laughter rings,
Mingling wild mirth with war’s stern minstrelsy,
His jest while each blithe comrade round him flings,
And moves to death with military glee:
Boast, Erin, boast them! tameless, frank, and free,
In kindness warm, and fierce in danger known,
Rough Nature’s children, humorous as she:
And HE, yon Chieftain - strike the proudest tone
Of thy bold harp, green Isle! - the Hero is thine own.
Now on the scene Vimeira should be shown,
On Talavera’s fight should Roderick gaze,
And hear Corunna wail her battle won,
And see Busaco’s crest with lightning blaze:-
But shall fond fable mix with heroes’ praise?
Hath Fiction’s stage for Truth’s long triumphs room?
And dare her wild flowers mingle with the bays
That claim a long eternity to bloom
Around the warrior’s crest, and o’er the warrior’s tomb!
Or may I give adventurous Fancy scope,
And stretch a bold hand to the awful veil
That hides futurity from anxious hope,
Bidding beyond it scenes of glory hail,
And painting Europe rousing at the tale
Of Spain’s invaders from her confines hurled,
While kindling nations buckle on their mail,
And Fame, with clarion-blast and wings unfurled,
To Freedom and Revenge awakes an injured World!
O vain, though anxious, is the glance I cast,
Since Fate has marked futurity her own:
Yet Fate resigns to worth the glorious past,
The deeds recorded, and the laurels won.
Then, though the Vault of Destiny be gone,
King, Prelate, all the phantasms of my brain,
Melted away like mist-wreaths in the sun,
Yet grant for faith, for valour, and for Spain,
One note of pride and fire, a Patriot’s parting strain!