Gebir - Book 6

ARGUMENT

Now to Aurora, borne by dappled steeds,
The sacred gate of orient pearl and gold,
Smitten with Lucifer's light silver wand,
Expanded slow to strains of harmony;
The waves beneath, in purpling rows, like doves
Glancing with wanton coyness tow'rd their queen,
Heav'd softly: thus the damsel's bosom heaves
When, from her sleeping lover's downy cheek,
To which so warily her own she brings
Each moment nearer, she perceives the warmth
(Blithe warmth!) of kisses fann'd by playful Dreams.
Ocean, and earth, and heaven, was jubilee.
For 'twas the morning, pointed out by Fate,
When an immortal maid and mortal man
Should share each other's nature, knit in bliss.
The brave Iberians far the beach o'erspread
Ere dawn, with distant awe: none hear the mew,
None mark the curlew, flapping o'er the field:
Silence held all, and fond expectancy.
Now suddenly the conch above the sea
Sounds, and goes sounding thro' the woods profound.
They, where they hear the echo, turn their eyes;
But nothing see they, save a purple mist
Roll from the distant mountain down the shore.
It rolls, it sails, it settles, it dissolves.
Now shines the Nymph to human eye reveal'd,
And leads her Tamar timorous o'er the waves.
Immortals, crowding round, congratulate
The shepherd; he shrinks back, of breath bereft
His vesture clinging closely round his limbs
Unfelt, while they the whole fair form admire,
He fears that he has lost it; then he fears
The wave has mov'd it; most to look he fears.
Scarce the sweet-flowing music he imbibes,
Or sees the peopled ocean: scarce he sees
Spio, with sparkling eyes, and Beroe
Demure, and young Ione, less renown'd,
Not less divine, mild-natured, Beauty form'd
Her face, her heart Fidelity; for Gods
Design'd, a mortal, too, Ione loved.
These were the Nymphs elected for the hour
Of Hesperus and Hymen; these had strewn
The bridal bed: these tuned afresh the shells,
Wiping the green that hoarsen'd them within:
These wove the chaplets; and at night resolved
To drive the dolphins from the wreathed door.
Gebir surveyed the concourse from the tents,
The Egyptian men around him; 'twas observ'd
By those below how wistfully he looked;
From what attention, with what earnestness
Now to his city, now to theirs, he waved
His hand, and held it, while they spake, outspread.
They tarried with him, and they shared the feast.
They stoop'd with trembling hand from heavy jars
The wines of Gades gurgling in the bowl,
Nor bent they homeward till the moon appear'd
To hang midway betwixt the earth and skies.
'Twas then that leaning o'er the boy beloved,
In Ocean's grot where Ocean was unheard,
" Tamar!" the Nymph said gently, " come, awake!
Enough to love, enough to sleep, is given,
Haste we away." This Tamar deem'd deceit,
Spoken so fondly, and he kist her lips;
Nor blushed he then, for he was then unseen.
But she arising bade the youth arise.
" What cause to fly," said Tamar; she replied
" Ask none for flight, and feign none for delay."
" O am I then deceiv'd! or am I cast
From dreams of pleasure to eternal sleep,
And, when I cease to shudder, cease to be!"
She held the downcast bridegroom to her breast,
Look'd in his face and charm'd away his fears.
She said not " wherefor have I then embraced
You, a poor shepherd, or at least, a man,
Myself a Nymph, that now I should deceive?"
She said not — Tamar did, and was ashamed.
Him overcome her serious voice bespake.
" Grief favours all who bear the gift of tears!
Mild at first sight, he meets his votaries,
And casts no shadow as he comes along:
But, after his embrace, the marble chills
The pausing foot, the closing door sounds loud,
The fiend in triumph strikes the vaulted roof,
The uplifted eye sinks from his lurid shade.
Tamar, depress thyself, and miseries
Darken and widen: yes, proud-hearted man!
The sea-bird rises as the billows rise;
Nor otherwise, when mountain floods descend,
Smiles the unsullied lotus glossy-hair'd;
Thou, claiming all things, leanest on thy claim,
Till overwhelm'd thro' incompliancy.
Tamar, some silent tempest gathers round!"
" Round whom," retorted Tamar; " thou describe
The danger, I will dare it."
" Who will dare
What is unseen?"
" The man that is unblest,"
" But wherefor thou? It threatens not thyself,
Nor me, but Gebir and the Gadite host."
" The more I know, the more a wretch am I,"
Groan'd deep the troubled youth, " still thou proceed."
" Oh seek not destin'd evils to divine,
Found out at last too soon! Oh cease the search,
'Tis vain, 'tis impious, 'tis no gift of mine:
I will impart far better, will impart
What makes, when Winter comes, the Sun to rest
So soon on Ocean's bed his paler brow,
And Night to tarry so at Spring's return.
And I will tell, sometimes, the fate of men
Who loos'd from drooping neck the restless arm,
Adventurous, ere long nights had satisfied
The sweet and honest avarice of love:
How whirlpools have absorb'd them, storms o'erwhelm'd,
And how amidst their struggles and their prayers
The big wave blacken'd o'er the mouth supine:
Then, when my Tamar trembles at the tale,
Kissing his lips, half-open with surprize,
Glance from the gloomy story, and with glee
Light on the fairer fables of the Gods.
Thus we may sport at leisure when we go
Where, loved by Neptune and the Naiad, loved
By pensive Dryad pale, and Oread,
The spritely Nymph whom constant Zephyr woos,
Rhine rolls his beryl-color'd wave: than Rhine
What River from the mountains ever came
More stately! most the simple crown adorns
Of rushes, and of willows, intertwined
With here and there a flower — his lofty brow,
Shaded with vines, and mistleto, and oak,
He rears; and mystic bards his fame resound.
Or gliding opposite, th' Illyrian gulph
Will harbour us from ill." While thus she spake,
She toucht his eye-lashes with libant lip
And breath'd ambrosial odours; o'er his cheek
Celestial warmth suffusing: grief dispersed,
And strength and pleasure beam'd upon his brow:
Then pointed she before him: first arose
To his astonisht and delighted view
The sacred isle that shrines the queen of love.
It stood so near him, so acute each sense,
That not the symphony of lutes alone,
Or coo serene or billing strife of doves,
But murmurs, whispers, nay, the very sighs
Which he himself had utter'd once, he heard.
Next, but long after, and far off, appear
The cloudlike cliffs and thousand towers of Crete:
Still further to the right, the Cyclades.
Phaebus had rais'd, and fixt them, to surround
His native Delos and airial fane.
He saw the land of Pelops, host of Gods;
Saw the steep ridge where Corinth after stood,
Beck'ning the serious with the smiling Arts
Into the sunbright bay: unborn the maid
That, to assure the bent-up hand unskill'd,
Look'd oft; but oft'ner fearing who might wake.
He heard the voice of rivers: he descried
Pindan Peneüs, and the slender Nymphs
That tread his banks, but fear the thundering tide:
These, and Amphrysos, and Apidanus,
And poplar-crowned Spercheios, and, reclined
On restless rocks, Enipeus, where the winds
Scatter'd above the weeds his hoary hair.
Then, with Pirene, and with Panope,
Evenus, troubled from paternal tears;
And last was Acheloüs, king of isles.
Zacynthus here, above rose Ithaca,
Like a blue bubble, floating in the bay.
Far onward, to the left, a glimm'ring light
Glanced out oblique; nor vanish'd; he inquired
Whence that arose: his consort thus replied.
" Behold the vast Eridanus! ere night
We shall again behold him, and rejoice.
Of noble rivers none with mightier force
Rolls his unwearied torrent to the main.
And now Sicanian Etna rose to view.
Darkness with light more horrid she confounds,
Baffles the breath, and dims the sight, of day.
Tamar grew giddy with astonishment,
And, looking up, held fast the bridal vest.
He heard the roar above him, heard the roar
Beneath, and felt it too, as he beheld,
Hurl, from Earth's base, rocks, mountains, to the skies.
Meanwhile the Nymph had fixt her eyes beyond,
As seeing somewhat; not intent on aught.
He, more amazed than ever, then exclaim'd
" Is there another flaming isle? or this
Illusion, thus past over unobserved?"
" Look yonder," cried the Nymph, without reply,
" Look yonder!" Tamar look'd, and saw two isles
Where the waves whiten'd on the desart shore.
Then she continued. " That which intervenes
Scarcely the Nymphs themselves have known from Fame:
But mark the furthest: there shall once arise,
From Tamar shall arise, 'tis Fate's decree,
A mortal man above all mortal praise.
Methinks already, tho' she threatens Heav'n,
Towering Trinacria to my Corsis yields."
Tamar, who listen'd still amidst amaze,
Had never thought of progeny: he clasped
His arms with extasy around his bride,
And pleasure freshen'd her prophetic lips.
He thought too of his ancestors and home.
When from amidst grey ocean first he caught
The heights of Calpe, sadden'd he exclaim'd
" Rock of Iberia! fixt by Jove, and hung
With all his thunder-bearing clouds, I hail
Thy ridges, rough and cheerless! what tho' Spring
Nor kiss thy brow, nor deck it with a flower,
Yet will I hail thee, hail thy flinty couch,
Where Valor and where Virtue have reposed."
The Nymph said, sweetly smiling, " Fickle Man
Would not be happy could he not regret!
And I confess how, looking back, a thought
Has touched and tuned, or rather, thrill'd my heart,
Too soft for sorrow, and too strong for joy.
Fond foolish maid, 'twas with mine own accord,
It sooth'd me, shook me, melted, drown'd, in tears.
But weep not thou; what cause hast thou to weep.
Weep not thy country: weep not caves abhorr'd,
Dungeons and portals that exclude the day.
Gebir — tho' generous, just, humane — inhaled
Rank venom from these mansions. Rest O King
In Egypt thou! nor, Tamar! pant for sway.
With horrid chorus, Pain, Diseases, Death,
Stamp on the slippery pavement of the great,
And ring their sounding emptiness thro' earth.
The Hour, in vain held back by War, arrives
When Justice shall unite the Iberian hinds,
And equal Egypt bid her shepherds reign.
The fairest land dry-lasht could I forego
Rather than crawl a subject; corals, pearls,
Confine me round, if Nymph can be confined,
'Twill not console me! Kindness prest by Power
Gives pride fresh tortures, and fresh bars constraint.
And guard me, Heaven! from that paternal care
Which beats and bruises me with iron rods,
Till I embrace them, and with tears protest
That I am happy! rather, when I sin,
Shut me from love and hide me in the deep."
Now disappear the Liparean isles
Behind, and forward hang th' Etrurian coasts,
Verdant with privet and with juniper.
Now faith is plighted: piled on every hearth,
Crackle the consecrated branches, heard
Propitious, and from vases rough-embost
Thro' the light ember falls the bubbling wine.
And now the chariot of the sun descends!
The waves rush hurried from the foaming steeds:
Smoke issues from their nostrils at the gate;
Which, when they enter, with huge golden bar
Atlas and Calpe close across the main.
They reach th' unfurrow'd Appennines — all hail
Clime of unbounded liberty and love! —
And deep beneath their feet, a river flow'd,
Of varied view; yet each variety
So charming, that their eyes could scarce admire
The many beauties that around them throng'd,
Successive as the wave: aspiring elms
O'er the wide water cast a mingled shade
Of tendrils green and grapes of rosy hue.
Among the branches thousand birds appear'd
To raise their little throats, with trilling song
Unwearied, but alas their trilling song,
Fast as it flow'd, the roaring torrent drown'd.
Some, unacquainted with the scene, unmoved
By love of tuneful mate, on timid wing
Fly from the eternal thunder of the waves;
But these, content with humid woods, that yield
The choicest moss to warm their callow young,
Brood over them, nor shudder at the damp
That falls for ever round each circled nest.
Here craggy rocks arise; the stream recoils
Struggling; but, hurried to the vast abyss
Abruptly, reascends in gloomy rain;
Bespangling in its way the scatter'd herbs
That cling around each lofty precipice,
Of wintry blasts regardless, and the reeds
Which never shall amuse with shrill essay
The valley or the grove, and tender flowers
On virgin bosom never to repose.
But all around them dart the wandering rays
In myriads, and amid the fresh festoons
Of pensile vines a hundred arches bend;
Rais'd by the hand of Phaebus and of Jove,
The seats of Iris. — Rise, Iberian Man!
Rise, maid of Ocean! I myself will rise.
Vigorous with youth, with soaring soul endued,
I feel not earth beneath me — lo I snatch
The sunbeam, scorn the thunder, climb the skies!
What force have you inform'd me with! what sight,
Piercing thro' darkness and futurity.
Yonder, where, sailing slow, the clouds retire,
How grand a prospect opens! Alps o'er Alps
Tower, to survey the triumphs that proceed.
There, while Garumna dances in the gloom
Of larches, mid her Naiads, or reclined
Leans on a broom-clad bank to watch the sports
Of some far-distant chamois silken-hair'd,
The chaste Pyrene, drying up her tears,
Finds, with your children, refuge: yonder, Rhine
Lays his imperial sceptre at their feet.
What hoary form so vigorous vast bends there?
Time, — Time himself throws off his motly garb
Figur'd with monstrous men and monstrous gods,
And in pure vesture enters their pure fanes,
A proud partaker of their festivals.
Captivity led captive, War o'erthrown,
They shall o'er Europe, shall o'er Earth extend
Empire that seas alone and skies confine,
And glory that shall strike the crystal stars.
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