Poetry: Lord Byron - The bride of Abydos - A Turkish tale - Canto the first - Links to more LB

Posted by Ricardo Marcenaro | Posted in | Posted on 6:27



"Had we never loved so kindly,
Had we never loved so blindly,
Never met or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted." -- Burns



               THE BRIDE OF ABYDOS.


                 CANTO THE FIRST.


Know ye the land where cypress and myrtle
  Are emblems of deeds that are done in their clime,
Where the rage of the vulture, the love of the turtle,
  Now melt into sorrow, now madden to crime?
Know ye the land of the cedar and vine,
Where the flowers ever blossom, the beams ever shine;
Where the light wings of Zephyr, oppress'd with perfume,
Wax faint o'er the gardens of Gúl in her bloom; [1]
Where the citron and olive are fairest of fruit,
And the voice of the nightingale never is mute;
Where the tints of the earth, and the hues of the sky,
In colour though varied, in beauty may vie,
And the purple of Ocean is deepest in dye;
Where the virgins are soft as the roses they twine,
And all, save the spirit of man, is divine?
'Tis the clime of the East; 'tis the land of the Sun --
Can he smile on such deeds as his children have done? [2]
Oh! wild as the accents of lovers' farewell
Are the hearts which they bear, and the tales which they tell.


Begirt with many a gallant slave,
Apparell'd as becomes the brave,
Awaiting each his lord's behest
To guide his steps, or guard his rest,
Old Giaffir sate in his Divan:
  Deep thought was in his aged eye;
And though the face of Mussulman
  Not oft betrays to standers by
The mind within, well skill'd to hide
All but unconquerable pride,
His pensive cheek and pondering brow
Did more than he wont avow.


"Let the chamber be clear'd." -- The train disappear'd --
  "Now call me the chief of the Haram guard."
With Giaffir is none but his only son,
  And the Nubian awaiting the sire's award.
    "Haroun -- when all the crowd that wait
    Are pass'd beyond the outer gate,
    (Woe to the head whose eye beheld
    My child Zuleika's face unveil'd!)
    Hence, lead my daughter from her tower:
    Her fate is fix'd this very hour:
    Yet not to her repeat my thought;
    By me alone be duty taught!"
    "Pacha! to hear is to obey."
    No more must slave to despot say --
    Then to the tower had ta'en his way,
    But here young Selim silence brake,
      First lowly rendering reverence meet!
    And downcast look'd, and gently spake,
      Still standing at the Pacha's feet:
    For son of Moslem must expire,
    Ere dare to sit before his sire!

    "Father! for fear that thou shouldst chide
    My sister, or her sable guide,
    Know -- for the fault, if fault there be,
    Was mine -- then fall thy frowns on me --
    So lovelily the morning shone,
      That -- let the old and weary sleep --
    I could not; and to view alone
      The fairest scenes of land and deep,
    With none to listen and reply
    To thoughts with which my heart beat high
    Were irksome -- for whate'er my mood,
    In sooth I love not solitude;
    I on Zuleika's slumber broke,
      And as thou knowest that for me
      Soon turns the Haram's grating key,
    Before the guardian slaves awoke
    We to the cypress groves had flown,
    And made earth, main, and heaven our own!
    There linger'd we, beguil'd too long
    With Mejnoun's tale, or Sadi's song, [3]
    Till I, who heard the deep tambour [4]
    Beat thy Divan's approaching hour,
    To thee, and to my duty true,
    Warn'd by the sound, to greet thee flew:
    But there Zuleika wanders yet --
    Nay, father, rage not -- nor forget
    That none can pierce that secret bower
    But those who watch the women's tower."


"Son of a slave" -- the Pacha said --
"From unbelieving mother bred,
Vain were a father's hope to see
Aught that beseems a man in thee.
Thou, when thine arm should bend the bow,
  And hurl the dart, and curb the steed,
  Thou, Greek in soul if not in creed,
Must pore where babbling waters flow,
And watch unfolding roses blow.
Would that yon orb, whose matin glow
Thy listless eyes so much admire,
Would lend thee something of his fire!
Thou, who wouldst see this battlement
By Christian cannon piecemeal rent;
Nay, tamely view old Stamboul's wall
Before the dogs of Moscow fall,
Nor strike one stroke for life or death
Against the curs of Nazareth!
Go -- let thy less than woman's hand
Assume the distaff -- not the brand.
But, Haroun! -- to my daughter speed:
And hark -- of thine own head take heed --
If thus Zuleika oft takes wing --
Thou see'st yon bow -- it hath a string!"


No sound from Selim's lip was heard,
  At least that met old Giaffir's ear,
But every frown and every word
Pierced keener than a Christian's sword.
  "Son of a slave! -- reproach'd with fear!
  Those gibes had cost another dear.
Son of a slave! and who my sire?"
  Thus held his thoughts their dark career,
And glances ev'n of more than ire
  Flash forth, then faintly disappear.
Old Giaffir gazed upon his son
  And started; for within his eye
He read how much his wrath had done;
He saw rebellion there begun:
  "Come hither, boy -- what, no reply?
I mark thee -- and I know thee too;
But there be deeds thou dar'st not do:
But if thy beard had manlier length,
And if thy hand had skill and strength,
I'd joy to see thee break a lance,
Albeit against my own perchance."

As sneeringly these accents fell,
On Selim's eye he fiercely gazed:
  That eye return'd him glance for glance,
And proudly to his sire's was raised,
  Till Giaffir's quail'd and shrunk askance --
And why -- he felt, but durst not tell.
"Much I misdoubt this wayward boy
Will one day work me more annoy:
I never loved him from his birth,
And -- but his arm is little worth,
And scarcely in the chase could cope
With timid fawn or antelope,
Far less would venture into strife
Where man contends for fame and life --
I would not trust that look or tone:
No -- nor the blood so near my own.

That blood -- he hath not heard -- no more --
I'll watch him closer than before.
He is an Arab to my sight, [5]
Or Christian crouching in the fight --
But hark! -- I hear Zuleika's voice;
  Like Houris' hymn it meets mine ear:
She is the offspring of my choice;
  Oh! more than ev'n her mother dear,
With all to hope, and nought to fear --
My Peri! -- ever welcome here!
Sweet, as the desert fountain's wave,
To lips just cool'd in time to save --
  Such to my longing sight art thou;
Nor can they waft to Mecca's shrine
More thanks for life, than I for thine,
  Who blest thy birth, and bless thee now."


Fair, as the first that fell of womankind,
  When on that dread yet lovely serpent smiling,
Whose image then was stamp'd upon her mind --
  But once beguiled -- and evermore beguiling;
Dazzling, as that, oh! too transcendent vision
  To Sorrow's phantom-peopled slumber given,
When heart meets heart again in dreams Elysian,
  And paints the lost on Earth revived in Heaven;
Soft, as the memory of buried love;
Pure as the prayer which Childhood wafts above,
Was she -- the daughter of that rude old Chief,
Who met the maid with tears -- but not of grief.

Who hath not proved how feebly words essay
To fix one spark of Beauty's heavenly ray?
Who doth not feel, until his failing sight
Faints into dimness with its own delight,
His changing cheek, his sinking heart confess
The might -- the majesty of Loveliness?
Such was Zuleika -- such around her shone
The nameless charms unmark'd by her alone;
The light of love, the purity of grace,
The mind, the Music breathing from her face, [6]
The heart whose softness harmonised the whole --
And, oh! that eye was in itself a Soul!

Her graceful arms in meekness bending
  Across her gently-budding breast;
At one kind word those arms extending
  To clasp the neck of him who blest
  His child caressing and carest,
  Zuleika came -- Giaffir felt
  His purpose half within him melt;
  Not that against her fancied weal
  His heart though stern could ever feel;
  Affection chain'd her to that heart;
  Ambition tore the links apart.


"Zuleika! child of gentleness!
  How dear this very day must tell,
When I forget my own distress,
  In losing what I love so well,
  To bid thee with another dwell:
  Another! and a braver man
  Was never seen in battle's van.
We Moslems reck not much of blood;
  But yet the line of Carasman [7]
Unchanged, unchangeable, hath stood
  First of the bold Timariot bands
That won and well can keep their lands.
Enough that he who comes to woo
Is kinsman of the Bey Oglou:
His years need scarce a thought employ:
I would not have thee wed a boy.
And thou shalt have a noble dower:
And his and my united power
Will laugh to scorn the death-firman,
Which others tremble but to scan,
And teach the messenger what fate
The bearer of such boon may wait, [8]
And now thy know'st thy father's will;
  All that thy sex hath need to know:
'Twas mine to teach obedience still --
  The way to love, thy lord may show."


In silence bow'd the virgin's head;
  And if her eye was fill'd with tears
That stifled feeling dare not shed,
And changed her cheek to pale to red,
  And red to pale, as through her ears
Those winged words like arrows sped,
  What could such be but maiden fears?
So bright the tear in Beauty's eye,
Love half regrets to kiss it dry;
So sweet the blush of Bashfulness,
Even Pity scarce can wish it less!

Whate'er it was the sire forgot;
Or if remember'd, mark'd it not;
Thrice clapp'd his hands, and call'd his steed, [9]
  Resign'd his gem-adorn'd chibouque, [10]
And mounting featly for the mead,
  With Maugrabee [11] and Mamaluke,
  His way amid his Delis took, [12]
To witness many an active deed
With sabre keen, or blunt jerreed.
The Kislar only and his Moors
Watch well the Haram's massy doors.


His head was leant upon his hand,
  His eye look'd o'er the dark blue water
That swiftly glides and gently swells
Between the winding Dardanelles;
But yet he saw nor sea nor strand,
Nor even his Pacha's turban'd band
  Mix in the game of mimic slaughter,
Careering cleave the folded felt [13]
With sabre stroke right sharply dealt;
Nor mark'd the javelin-darting crowd,
Nor heard their Ollahs wild and loud [14] --
  He thought but of old Giaffir's daughter!


No word from Selim's bosom broke;
One sigh Zuleika's thought bespoke:
Still gazed he through the lattice grate,
Pale, mute, and mournfully sedate.
To him Zuleika's eye was turn'd,
But little from his aspect learn'd;
Equal her grief, yet not the same:
Her heart confess'd a gentler flame:
But yet that heart, alarm'd, or weak,
She knew not why, forbade to speak.
Yet speak she must -- but when essay?
"How strange he thus should turn away!
Not thus we e'er before have met;
Not thus shall be our parting yet."
Thrice paced she slowly through the room,
  And watched his eye -- it still was fix'd:
  She snatch'd the urn wherein was mix'd
The Persian Atar-gúl's perfume, [15]
And sprinkled all its odours o'er
The pictured roof and marble floor: [16]
The drops, that through his glittering vest
The playful girl's appeal address'd,
Unheeded o'er his bosom flew,
As if that breast were marble too.
"What sullen yet? it must not be --
Oh! gentle Selim, this from thee!"
She saw in curious order set
  The fairest flowers of Eastern land --
"He loved them once; may touch them yet
  If offer'd by Zuleika's hand."
The childish thought was hardly breathed
Before the Rose was pluck'd and wreathed;
The next fond moment saw her seat
Her fairy form at Selim's feet:
"This rose to calm my brother's cares
A message from the Bulbul bears; [17]
It says to-night he will prolong
For Selim's ear his sweetest song;
And though his note is somewhat sad,
He'll try for once a strain more glad,
With some faint hope his alter'd lay
May sing these gloomy thoughts away.


"What! not receive my foolish flower?
  Nay then I am indeed unblest:
On me can thus thy forehead lower?
  And know'st thou not who loves thee best?
Oh, Selim dear! oh, more than dearest!
Say is it me thou hat'st or fearest?
Come, lay thy head upon my breast,
And I will kiss thee into rest,
Since words of mine, and songs must fail
Ev'n from my fabled nightingale.
I knew our sire at times was stern,
But this from thee had yet to learn:
Too well I know he loves thee not;
But is Zuleika's love forgot?
Ah! deem I right? the Pacha's plan --
This kinsman Bey of Carasman
Perhaps may prove some foe of thine:
If so, I swear by Mecca's shrine,
If shrines that ne'er approach allow
To woman's step admit her vow,
Without thy free consent, command,
The Sultan should not have my hand!
Think'st though that I could bear to part
With thee, and learn to halve my heart?
Ah! were I sever'd from thy side,
Where were thy friend -- and who my guide?
Years have not seen, Time shall not see
The hour that tears my soul from thee:
Even Azrael, [18] from his deadly quiver
  When flies that shaft, and fly it must,
That parts all else, shall doom for ever
  Our hearts to undivided dust!"


He lived -- he breathed -- he moved -- he felt;
He raised the maid from where she knelt;
His trance was gone -- his keen eye shone
With thoughts that long in darkness dwelt;
With thoughts that burn -- in rays that melt.
As the streams late conceal'd
  By the fringe of its willows,
When it rushes reveal'd
  In the light of its billows;
As the bolt bursts on high
  From the black cloud that bound it,
Flash'd the soul of that eye
Through the long lashes round it.
A war-horse at the trumpet's sound,
A lion roused by heedless hound,
A tyrant waked to sudden strife
By graze of ill-directed knife,
Starts not to more convulsive life
Than he, who heard that vow, display'd,
And all, before repress'd, betray'd:

"Now thou art mine, for ever mine,
With life to keep, and scarce with life resign;
Now thou art mine, that sacred oath,
Though sworn by one, hath bound us both.
Yes, fondly, wisely hast thou done;
That vow hath saved more heads than one:
But blench not thou -- thy simplest tress
Claims more from me than tenderness;
I would not wrong the slenderest hair
That clusters round thy forehead fair,
For all the treasures buried far
Within the caves of Istakar. [19]
This morning clouds upon me lower'd,
Reproaches on my head were shower'd,
And Giaffir almost call'd me coward!
Now I have motive to be brave;
The son of his neglected slave --
Nay, start not, 'twas the term he gave --
May shew, though little apt to vaunt,
A heart his words nor deeds can daunt.
/His/ son, indeed! -- yet, thanks to thee,
Perchance I am, at least shall be!
But let our plighted secret vow
Be only known to us as now.
I know the wretch who dares demand
From Giaffir thy reluctant hand;
More ill-got wealth, a meaner soul
Holds not a Musselim's control: [20]
Was he not bred in Egripo? [21]
A viler race let Israel show!
But let that pass -- to none be told
Our oath; the rest let time unfold.
To me and mine leave Osman Bey;
I've partisans for peril's day:
Think not I am what I appear;
I've arms, and friends, and vengeance near."


"Think not thou art what thou appearest!
  My Selim, thou art sadly changed:
This morn I saw thee gentlest, dearest:
  But now thou'rt from thyself estranged.
My love thou surely knew'st before,
It ne'er was less, nor can be more.
To see thee, hear thee, near thee stay,
  And hate the night, I know not why,
Save that we meet not but by day;
  With thee to live, with thee to die,
  I dare not to my hope deny:
Thy cheek, thine eyes, thy lips to kiss,
Like this -- and this -- no more than this;
For, Allah! Sure thy lips are flame:
  What fever in thy veins is flushing?
My own have nearly caught the same,
  At least I feel my cheek too blushing.
To soothe thy sickness, watch thy health,
Partake, but never waste thy wealth,
Or stand with smiles unmurmuring by,
And lighten half thy poverty;
Do all but close thy dying eye,
For that I could not live to try;
To these alone my thoughts aspire:
More can I do? or thou require?
But, Selim, thou must answer why
We need so much of mystery?
The cause I cannot dream nor tell,
But be it, since thou say'st 'tis well;
Yet what thou mean'st by 'arms' and 'friends,'
Beyond my weaker sense extends.
I mean that Giaffir should have heard
  The very vow I plighted thee;
His wrath would not revoke my word:
  But surely he would leave me free.
  Can this fond wish seem strange in me,
To be what I have ever been?
What other hath Zuleika seen
From simple childhood's earliest hour?
  What other can she seek to see
Than thee, companion of her bower,
  The partner of her infancy?
These cherish'd thoughts with life begun,
  Say, why must I no more avow?
What change is wrought to make me shun
  The truth; my pride, and thine till now?
To meet the gaze of stranger's eyes
Our law, our creed, our God denies,
Nor shall one wandering thought of mine
At such, our Prophet's will, repine:
No! happier made by that decree!
He left me all in leaving thee.
Deep were my anguish, thus compell'd
To wed with one I ne'er beheld:
This wherefore should I not reveal?
Why wilt thou urge me to conceal!
I know the Pacha's haughty mood
To thee hath never boded good:
And he so often storms at naught,
Allah! forbid that e'er he ought!
And why I know not, but within
My heart concealment weighs like sin.
If then such secresy be crime,
  And such it feels while lurking here,
Oh, Selim! tell me yet in time,
  Nor leave me thus to thoughts of fear.
Ah! yonder see the Tchocadar, [22]
My father leaves the mimic war:
I tremble now to meet his eye --
Say, Selim, canst thou tell me why?"


"Zuleika -- to thy tower's retreat
Betake thee -- Giaffir I can greet:
And now with him I fain must prate
Of firmans, imposts, levies, state.
There's fearful news from Danube's banks,
Our Vizier nobly thins his ranks,
For which the Giaour may give him thanks!
Our sultan hath a shorter way
Such costly triumph to repay.
But, mark me, when the twilight drum
  Hath warn'd the troops to food and sleep,
Unto thy cell will Selim come:
  Then softly from the Haram creep
  Where we may wander by the deep:
  Our garden-battlements are steep;
Nor these will rash intruder climb
To list our words, or stint our time;
And if he doth, I want not steel
Which some have felt, and more may feel.
Then shalt thou learn of Selim more
Than thou hast heard or thought before:
Trust me, Zuleika -- fear not me!
Thou know'st I hold a Haram key."

  "Fear thee, my Selim! ne'er till now
Did word like this -- "
                        "Delay not thou;
I keep the key -- and Haroun's guard
Have /some,/ and hope of /more/ reward.
Tonight, Zuleika, thou shalt hear
My tale, my purpose, and my fear:
I am not, love! what I appear."

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Hebrew Melodies


The Vision Of Judgment

Heaven and Earth:


Poetry: Lord Byron - The bride of Abydos - A Turkish tale - Canto the first - Links to more LB

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