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The Missionary - Canto Third

Come,--for the sun yet hangs above the bay,--
And whilst our time may brook a brief delay
With other thoughts, and, haply with a tear,
An old man's tale of sorrow thou shalt hear.
I wished not to reveal it;--thoughts that dwell
Deep in the lonely bosom's inmost cell
Unnoticed, and unknown, too painful wake,
And, like a tempest, the dark spirit shake,
When, starting from our slumberous apathy,
We gaze upon the scenes of days gone by.
Yet, if a moment's irritating flush,
Darkens thy cheek, as thoughts conflicting rush,
When I disclose my hidden griefs, the tale
May more than wisdom or reproof prevail.
Oh, may it teach thee, till all trials cease,
To hold thy course, though sorrowing, yet in peace;
Still looking up to Him, the soul's best stay,
Who Faith and Hope shall crown, when worlds are swept away!
Where fair Seville's Morisco turrets gleam
On Guadilquiver's gently-stealing stream;
Whose silent waters, seaward as they glide,
Reflect the wild-rose thickets on its side,
My youth was passed. Oh, days for ever gone!
How touched with Heaven's own light your mornings shone
Even now, when lonely and forlorn I bend,
My weary journey hastening to its end,
A drooping exile on a distant shore,
I mourn the hours of youth that are no more.
The tender thought amid my prayers has part,
And steals, at times, from Heaven my aged heart.
Forgive the cause, O God!--forgive the tear,
That flows, even now, o'er Leonora's bier;
For, 'midst the innocent and lovely, none
More beautiful than Leonora shone.
As by her widowed mother's side she knelt,
A sad and sacred sympathy I felt.
At Easter-tide, when the high mass was sung,
And, fuming high, the silver censer swung;
When rich-hued windows, from the arches' height,
Poured o'er the shrines a soft and yellow light;
From aisle to aisle, amid the service clear,
When 'Adoremus' swelled upon the ear.
(Such as to Heaven thy rapt attention drew
First in the Christian churches of Peru),
She seemed, methought, some spirit of the sky,
Descending to that holy harmony.
But wherefore tell, when life and hope were new,
How by degrees the soul's first passion grew!
I loved her, and I won her virgin heart;
But fortune whispered, we a while must part.
The minster tolled the middle hour of night,
When, waked to agony and wild affright,
I heard those words, words of appalling dread--
'The Holy Inquisition!'--from the bed
I started; snatched my dagger, and my cloak--
Who dare accuse me!--none, in answer, spoke.
The demons seized, in silence, on their prey,
And tore me from my dreams of bliss away.
How frightful was their silence, and their shade,
In torch-light, as their victim they conveyed,
By dark-inscribed, and massy-windowed walls,
Through the dim twilight of terrific halls;
(For thou hast heard me speak of that foul stain
Of pure religion, and the rights of Spain
Whilst the high windows shook to night's cold blast,
And echoed to the foot-fall as we passed!
They left me, faint and breathless with affright,
In a cold cell, to solitude and night;
Oh! think, what horror through the heart must thrill
When the last bolt was barred, and all at once was still!
Nor day nor night was here, but a deep gloom,
Sadder than darkness, wrapped the living tomb.
Some bread and water, nature to sustain,
Duly was brought when eve returned again;
And thus I knew, hoping it were the last,
Another day of lingering life was passed.
Five years immured in that deep den of night,
I never saw the sweet sun's blessed light.
Once as the grate, with sullen sound, was barred,
And to the bolts the inmost cavern jarred,
Methought I heard, as clanged the iron door,
A dull and hollow echo from the floor;
I stamped; the vault, and winding caves around,
Returned a long and melancholy sound.
With patient toil I raised a massy stone,
And looked into a depth of shade unknown;
The murky twilight of the lurid place
Helped me, at length, a secret way to trace:
I entered; step by step explored the road,
In darkness, from my desolate abode;
Till, winding through long passages of night,
I saw, at distance, a dim streak of light:--
It was the sun--the bright, the blessed beam
Of day! I knelt--I wept;--the glittering stream
Rolled on beneath me, as I left the cave,
Concealed in woods above the winding wave.
I rested on a verdant bank a while,
I saw around the summer landscape smile;
I gained a peasant's hut; nor dared to leave,
Till, with slow step, advanced the glimmering eve.
Remembering still affection's fondest hours,
I turned my footsteps to the city towers;
In pilgrim's dress, I traced the streets unknown:
No light in Leonora's lattice shone.
The morning came; the busy tumult swells;
Knolling to church, I heard the minster bells;
Involuntary to that scene I strayed,
Disguised, where first I saw my faithful maid.
I saw her, pallid, at the altar stand,
And yield, half-shrinking, her reluctant hand;
She turned her head; she saw my hollow eyes,
And knew me, wasted, wan, in my disguise;
She shrieked, and fell;--breathless, I left the fane
In agony--nor saw her form again;
And from that day her voice, her look were given,
Her name, her memory, to the winds of heaven.
Far off I bent my melancholy way,
Heart-sick and faint, and, in this gown of gray,
From every human eye my sorrows hid,
Unknown, amidst the tumult of Madrid.
Grief in my heart, despair upon my look,
With no companion save my beads and book,
My morsel with Affliction's sons to share,
To tend the sick and poor, my only care,
Forgotten, thus I lived; till day by day
Had worn nigh thirteen years of grief away.
One winter's night, when I had closed my cell,
And bid the labours of the day farewell,
An aged crone approached, with panting breath,
And bade me hasten to the house of death.
I came. With moving lips intent to pray,
A dying woman on a pallet lay;
Her lifted hands were wasted to the bone,
And ghastly on her look the lamp-light shone;
Beside the bed a pious daughter stands
Silent, and, weeping, kisses her pale hands.
Feebly she spoke, and raised her languid head,
Forgive, forgive!--they told me he was dead!--
But in the sunshine of that dreadful day,
That gave me to another's arms away,
I saw him, like a ghost, with deadly stare;
I saw his wasted eye-balls' ghastly glare;
I saw his lips (oh, hide them, God of love!)
I saw his livid lips, half-muttering, move,
To curse the maid--forgetful of her vow:--
Perhaps he lives to curse--to curse me now!
He lives to bless! I cried; and, drawing nigh,
Held up the crucifix; her heavy eye
She raised, and scarce pronounced--Does he yet live?
Can he his lost, his dying child forgive?
Will God forgive--the Lord who bled--will He?--
Ah, no, there is no mercy left for me!
Words were but vain, and colours all too faint,
That awful moment of despair to paint.
She knew me; her exhausted breath, with pain,
Drawing, she pressed my hand, and spoke again:
By a false guardian's cruel wiles deceived,
The tale of fraudful falsehood I believed,
And thought thee dead; he gave the stern command,
And bade me take the rich Antonio's hand.
I knelt, implored, embraced my guardian's knees;
Ruthless inquisitor, he held the keys
Of the dark torture-house. Trembling for life,
Yes, I became a sad, heart-broken wife!
Yet curse me not; of every human care
Already my full heart has had its share:
Abandoned, left in youth to want and woe,
Oh! let these tears, that agonising flow,
Witness how deep ev'n now my heart is rent!
Yet one is lovely--one is innocent!
Protect, protect, (and faint in death she smiled)
When I am dead, protect my orphan child!
The dreadful prison, that so long detained
My wasting life, her dying words explained.
The wretched priest, who wounded me by stealth,
Bartered her love, her innocence for wealth!
I laid her bones in earth; the chanted hymn
Echoed along the hollow cloister dim;
I heard, far off, the bell funereal toll,
And sorrowing said: Now peace be with her soul!
Far o'er the Western Ocean I conveyed,
And Indiana called the orphan maid;
Beneath my eye she grew, and, day by day,
Seemed, grateful, every kindness to repay.
Renouncing Spain, her cruelties and crimes,
Amid untutored tribes, in distant climes,
'Twas mine to spread the light of truth, or save
From stripes and torture the poor Indian slave.
I saw thee, young and innocent, alone,
Cast on the mercies of a race unknown;
I saw, in dark adversity's cold hour,
Thy virtues blooming, like a winter's flower;
From chains and slavery I redeemed thy youth,
Poured on thy mental sight the beams of truth;
By thy warm heart and mild demeanour won,
Called thee my other child--my age's son.
I need not tell the sequel;--not unmoved
Poor Indiana heard thy tale, and loved;
Some sympathy a kindred fate might claim;
Your years, your fortunes, and your friend the same;
Both early of a parent's care bereft,
Both strangers in a world of sadness left;
I marked each slowly-struggling thought; I shed
A tear of love paternal on each head;
And, while I saw her timid eyes incline,
Blessed the affection that had made her thine!
Here let the murmurs of despondence cease:
There is a God--believe--and part in peace!
Rich hues illumed the track of dying day
As the great sun sank in the western bay,
And only its last light yet lingering shone,
Upon the highest palm-tree's feathery cone;
When at a distance on the dewy plain,
In mingled group appeared an Indian train;
Men, women, children, round Anselmo press,
Farewell! they cried. He raised his hand to bless,
And said: My children, may the God above
Still lead you in the paths of peace and love;
To-morrow, we must part;--when I am gone,
Raise on this spot a cross, and place a stone,
That tribes unborn may some memorial have,
When I far off am mouldering in the grave,
Of that poor messenger, who tidings bore
Of Gospel-mercy to your distant shore.
The crowd retired; along the twilight gray,
The condor kept its solitary way,
The fire-flies shone, when to the hermit's cell
Who hastens but the minstrel Zarinel!
In foreign lands, far from his native home,
'Twas his, a gay, romantic youth, to roam,
With a light cittern o'er his shoulders slung,
Where'er he passed he played, and loved, and sung;
And thus accomplished, late had joined the train
Of gallant soldiers on the southern plain.
Father, he cried, uncertain of the fate
That may to-morrow's toilsome march await,
For long will be the road, I would confess
Some secret thoughts that on my bosom press.
They are of one I left, an Indian maid,
Whose trusting love my careless heart betrayed.
Say, may I speak?
Say on, the father cried,
Nor be to penitence all hope denied.
Then hear, Anselmo! From a very child
I loved all fancies marvellous and wild;
I turned from truth, to listen to the lore
Of many an old and fabling troubadour.
Thus, with impassioned heart, and wayward mind,
To dreams and shapes of shadowy things resigned,
I left my native vales and village home,
Wide o'er the world a minstrel boy to roam.
I never shall forget the day, the hour,
When, all my soul resigned to Fancy's power,
First, from the snowy Pyrenees, I cast
My labouring vision o'er the landscape vast,
And saw beneath my feet long vapours float,
Streams, mountains, woods, and ocean's mist remote.
There once I met a soldier, poor and old,
Who tales of Cortes and Bilboa told,
And this new world; he spoke of Indian maids,
Rivers like seas, and forests whose deep shades
Had never yet been pierced by morning ray,
And how the green bird mocked, and talked all day.
Imagination thus, in colours new,
This distant world presented to my view;
Young, and enchanted with the fancied scene,
I crossed the toiling seas that roared between,
And with ideal images impressed,
Stood on these unknown shores a wondering guest.
Still to romantic phantasies resigned,
I left Callao's crowded port behind,
And climbed the mountains which their shadow threw
Upon the lessening summits of Peru.
Some sheep the armed peasants drove before,
That all our food through the wild passes bore,
Had wandered in the frost-smoke of the morn,
Far from the track; I blew the signal horn--
But echo only answered: 'mid the snows,
Wildered and lost, I saw the evening close.
The sun was setting in the crimson west;
In all the earth I had no home of rest;
The last sad light upon the ice-hills shone;
I seemed forsaken in a world unknown;
How did my cold and sinking heart rejoice,
When, hark! methought I heard a human voice!
It might be some wild Indian's roving troop,
Or the dread echo of their distant whoop;
Still it was human, and I seemed to find
Again some commerce with remote mankind.
The voice comes nearer, rising through the shade--
Is it the song of some rude mountain-maid?
And now I heard the tread of hastening feet,
And, in the western glen, a Llama bleat.
I listened--all is still; but hark! again
Near and more near is heard the welcome strain;
It is a wild maid's carolling, who seeks
Her wandering Llama 'midst the snowy peaks:
Truant, she cried, thy lurking place is found!
With languid touch I waked the cittern's sound,
And soon a maid, by the pale light, I saw
Gaze breathless with astonishment and awe:
What instant terrors to her fancy rose,
Ha! is it not the Spirit of the snows!
But when she saw me, weary, cold, and weak,
Stretch forth my hand (for now I could not speak),
She pitied, raised me from the snows, and led
My faltering footsteps to her father's shed;
The Llama followed with her tinkling bell;
The dwelling rose within a craggy dell,
O'erhung with icy summits. To be brief,
She was the daughter of an aged chief;
He, by her gentle voice to pity won,
Showed mercy, for himself had lost a son.
The father spoke not; by the pine-wood blaze,
The daughter stood, and turned a cake of maize;
And then, as sudden shone the light, I saw
Such features as no artist hand might draw.
Her form, her face, her symmetry, her air,
Father! thy age must such recital spare:--
She saved my life; and kindness, if not love,
Might sure in time the coldest bosom move!
Mine was not cold; she loved to hear me sing,
And sometimes touched with playful hand the string;
And when I waked some melancholy strain,
She wept, and smiled, and bade me sing again.
So many a happy day, in this deep glen,
Far from the noise of life, and sounds of men,
Was passed! Nay, father, the sad sequel hear:
'Twas now the leafy spring-time of the year--
Ambition called me: true, I knew to part
Would break her generous, warm, and trusting heart;
True, I had vowed, but now estranged and cold,
She saw my look, and shuddered to behold:--
She would go with me, leave the lonely glade
Where she grew up, but my stern voice forbade;
She hid her face and wept: Go then away,
(Father, methinks, ev'n now, I hear her say)
Go to thy distant land, forget this tear,
Forget these rocks, forget I once was dear;
Fly to the world, o'er the wide ocean fly,
And leave me unremembered here to die!
Yet to my father should I all relate,
Death, instant death, would be a traitor's fate!
Nor fear, nor pity moved my stubborn mind,
I left her sorrows and the scene behind;
I sought Valdivia on the southern plain,
And joined the careless military train;
Oh! ere I sleep, thus, lowly on my knee,
Father, I absolution crave from thee!
Anselmo spoke, with look and voice severe:
Yes, thoughtless youth, my absolution hear.
First, by deep penitence the wrong atone,
Then absolution ask from God alone!
Yet stay, and to my warning voice attend,
And hear me as a father, and a friend.
Let Truth severe be wayward Fancy's guide,
Let stern-eyed Conscience o'er each thought preside;
The passions, that on noblest natures prey,
Oh! cast them, like corroding bonds, away!
Disdain to act mean falsehood's coward part,
And let religion dignify thine art.
If, by thy bed, thou seest at midnight stand
Pale Conscience, pointing, with terrific hand,
To deeds of darkness done, whilst, like a corse,
To shake thy soul, uprises dire Remorse;
Fly to God's mercy, fly, ere yet too late--
Perhaps one hour marks thy eternal fate;
Let the warm tear of deep contrition flow,
The heart obdurate melt, like softening snow,
The last vain follies of thy youth deplore,
Then go, in secret weep, and sin no more!
The stars innumerous in their watches shone--
Anselmo knelt before the cross alone.
Ten thousand glowing orbs their pomp displayed,
Whilst, looking up, thus silently he prayed:--
Oh! how oppressive to the aching sense,
How fearful were this vast magnificence,
This prodigality of glory, spread
Above a poor and dying emmet's head,
That toiled his transient hour upon the shore
Of mortal life, and then was seen no more;
If man beheld, on his terrific throne,
A dark, cold, distant Deity, alone!
Felt no relating, no endearing tie,
That Hope might upwards raise her glistening eye,
And think, with deep unutterable bliss,
In yonder radiant realm my kingdom is!
More glorious than those orbs that silent roll,
Shines Heaven's redeeming mercy on the soul--
Oh, pure effulgence of unbounded love!
In Thee, I think--I feel--I live--I move;
Yet when, O Thou, whose name is Love and Light,
When will thy Dayspring on these realms of night
Arise! Oh! when shall severed nations raise
One hallelujah of triumphant praise,
Tibet on Fars, Andes on Atlas call,
And 'roll the loud hosannah' round the ball!
Soon may Thy kingdom come, that love, and peace,
And charity, may bid earth's chidings cease!
Meantime, in life or death, through good or ill,
Thy poor and feeble servant, I fulfil,
As best I may, Thy high and holy will,
Till, weary, on the world my eyelids close,
And I enjoy my long and last repose!

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