The Corsair: Canto 01.
I. "O'er the glad waters of the dark blue sea, Our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free, Far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam, Survey our empire, and behold our home! These are our realms, no limits to their sway— Our flag the sceptre all who meet obey. Ours the wild life in tumult still to range From toil to rest, and joy in every change. Oh, who can tell? not thou, luxurious slave! Whose soul would sicken o'er the heaving wave; Not thou, vain lord of Wantonness and Ease! Whom Slumber soothes not—Pleasure cannot please— Oh, who can tell, save he whose heart hath tried, And danced in triumph o'er the waters wide, The exulting sense—the pulse's maddening play, That thrills the wanderer of that trackless way? That for itself can woo the approaching fight, And turn what some deem danger to delight; That seeks what cravens shun with more than zeal, And where the feebler faint can only feel— Feel—to the rising bosom's inmost core, Its hope awaken and its spirit soar? No dread of Death—if with us die our foes— Save that it seems even duller than repose; Come when it will—we snatch the life of Life— When lost—what recks it by disease or strife? Let him who crawls, enamoured of decay, Cling to his couch, and sicken years away; Heave his thick breath, and shake his palsied head; Ours the fresh turf, and not the feverish bed,— While gasp by gasp he falters forth his soul, Ours with one pang—one bound—escapes control. His corse may boast its urn and narrow cave, And they who loathed his life may gild his grave: Ours are the tears, though few, sincerely shed, When Ocean shrouds and sepulchres our dead. For us, even banquets fond regret supply In the red cup that crowns our memory; And the brief epitaph in Danger's day, When those who win at length divide the prey, And cry, Remembrance saddening o'er each brow, How had the brave who fell exulted now!" II. Such were the notes that from the Pirate's isle Around the kindling watch-fire rang the while: Such were the sounds that thrilled the rocks along, And unto ears as rugged seemed a song! In scattered groups upon the golden sand, They game—carouse—converse—or whet the brand; Select the arms—to each his blade assign, And careless eye the blood that dims its shine; Repair the boat, replace the helm or oar, While others straggling muse along the shore; For the wild bird the busy springes set, Or spread beneath the sun the dripping net: Gaze where some distant sail a speck supplies, With all the thirsting eye of Enterprise; Tell o'er the tales of many a night of toil, And marvel where they next shall seize a spoil: No matter where—their chief's allotment this; Theirs to believe no prey nor plan amiss. But who that Chief? his name on every shore Is famed and feared—they ask and know no more. With these he mingles not but to command; Few are his words, but keen his eye and hand. Ne'er seasons he with mirth their jovial mess, But they forgive his silence for success. Ne'er for his lip the purpling cup they fill, That goblet passes him untasted still— And for his fare—the rudest of his crew Would that, in turn, have passed untasted too; Earth's coarsest bread, the garden's homeliest roots, And scarce the summer luxury of fruits, His short repast in humbleness supply With all a hermit's board would scarce deny. But while he shuns the grosser joys of sense, His mind seems nourished by that abstinence. "Steer to that shore!"—they sail. "Do this!"—'tis done: "Now form and follow me!"—the spoil is won. Thus prompt his accents and his actions still, And all obey and few inquire his will; To such, brief answer and contemptuous eye Convey reproof, nor further deign reply. III. "A sail!—a sail!"—a promised prize to Hope! Her nation—flag—how speaks the telescope? No prize, alas! but yet a welcome sail: The blood-red signal glitters in the gale. Yes—she is ours—a home-returning bark— Blow fair, thou breeze!—she anchors ere the dark. Already doubled is the cape—our bay Receives that prow which proudly spurns the spray. How gloriously her gallant course she goes! Her white wings flying—never from her foes— She walks the waters like a thing of Life, And seems to dare the elements to strife. Who would not brave the battle-fire, the wreck, To move the monarch of her peopled deck! IV. Hoarse o'er her side the rustling cable rings: The sails are furled; and anchoring round she swings; And gathering loiterers on the land discern Her boat descending from the latticed stern. 'Tis manned—the oars keep concert to the strand, Till grates her keel upon the shallow sand. Hail to the welcome shout!—the friendly speech! When hand grasps hand uniting on the beach; The smile, the question, and the quick reply, And the Heart's promise of festivity! V. The tidings spread, and gathering grows the crowd: The hum of voices, and the laughter loud, And Woman's gentler anxious tone is heard— Friends'—husbands'—lovers' names in each dear word: "Oh! are they safe? we ask not of success— But shall we see them? will their accents bless? From where the battle roars, the billows chafe, They doubtless boldly did—but who are safe? Here let them haste to gladden and surprise, And kiss the doubt from these delighted eyes!" VI. "Where is our Chief? for him we bear report— And doubt that joy—which hails our coming—short; Yet thus sincere—'tis cheering, though so brief; But, Juan! instant guide us to our Chief: Our greeting paid, we'll feast on our return, And all shall hear what each may wish to learn." Ascending slowly by the rock-hewn way, To where his watch-tower beetles o'er the bay, By bushy brake, the wild flowers blossoming, And freshness breathing from each silver spring, Whose scattered streams from granite basins burst, Leap into life, and sparkling woo your thirst; From crag to cliff they mount—Near yonder cave, What lonely straggler looks along the wave? In pensive posture leaning on the brand, Not oft a resting-staff to that red hand? "'Tis he—'tis Conrad—here—as wont—alone; On—Juan!—on—and make our purpose known. The bark he views—and tell him we would greet His ear with tidings he must quickly meet: We dare not yet approach—thou know'st his mood, When strange or uninvited steps intrude." VII. Him Juan sought, and told of their intent;— He spake not, but a sign expressed assent, These Juan calls—they come—to their salute He bends him slightly, but his lips are mute. "These letters, Chief, are from the Greek—the spy, Who still proclaims our spoil or peril nigh: Whate'er his tidings, we can well report, Much that"—"Peace, peace!"—he cuts their prating short. Wondering they turn, abashed, while each to each Conjecture whispers in his muttering speech: They watch his glance with many a stealing look, To gather how that eye the tidings took; But, this as if he guessed, with head aside, Perchance from some emotion, doubt, or pride, He read the scroll—"My tablets, Juan, hark— Where is Gonsalvo?" "In the anchored bark." "There let him stay—to him this order bear— Back to your duty—for my course prepare: Myself this enterprise to-night will share." "To-night, Lord Conrad?" "Aye! at set of sun: The breeze will freshen when the day is done. My corslet—cloak—one hour and we are gone. Sling on thy bugle—see that free from rust My carbine-lock springs worthy of my trust; Be the edge sharpened of my boarding-brand, And give its guard more room to fit my hand. This let the Armourer with speed dispose; Last time, it more fatigued my arm than foes; Mark that the signal-gun be duly fired, To tell us when the hour of stay's expired." VIII. They make obeisance, and retire in haste, Too soon to seek again the watery waste: Yet they repine not—so that Conrad guides; And who dare question aught that he decides? That man of loneliness and mystery, Scarce seen to smile, and seldom heard to sigh; Whose name appals the fiercest of his crew, And tints each swarthy cheek with sallower hue; Still sways their souls with that commanding art That dazzles, leads, yet chills the vulgar heart. What is that spell, that thus his lawless train Confess and envy—yet oppose in vain? What should it be, that thus their faith can bind? The power of Thought—the magic of the Mind! Linked with success, assumed and kept with skill, That moulds another's weakness to its will; Wields with their hands, but, still to these unknown, Makes even their mightiest deeds appear his own. Such hath it been—shall be—beneath the Sun The many still must labour for the one! 'Tis Nature's doom—but let the wretch who toils, Accuse not—hate not—him who wears the spoils. Oh! if he knew the weight of splendid chains, How light the balance of his humbler pains! IX. Unlike the heroes of each ancient race, Demons in act, but Gods at least in face, In Conrad's form seems little to admire, Though his dark eyebrow shades a glance of fire: Robust but not Herculean—to the sight No giant frame sets forth his common height; Yet, in the whole, who paused to look again, Saw more than marks the crowd of vulgar men; They gaze and marvel how—and still confess That thus it is, but why they cannot guess. Sun-burnt his cheek, his forehead high and pale The sable curls in wild profusion veil; And oft perforce his rising lip reveals The haughtier thought it curbs, but scarce conceals. Though smooth his voice, and calm his general mien, Still seems there something he would not have seen: His features' deepening lines and varying hue At times attracted, yet perplexed the view, As if within that murkiness of mind Worked feelings fearful, and yet undefined; Such might it be—that none could truly tell— Too close inquiry his stern glance would quell. There breathe but few whose aspect might defy The full encounter of his searching eye; He had the skill, when Cunning's gaze would seek To probe his heart and watch his changing cheek, At once the observer's purpose to espy, And on himself roll back his scrutiny, Lest he to Conrad rather should betray Some secret thought, than drag that Chief's to day. There was a laughing Devil in his sneer, That raised emotions both of rage and fear; And where his frown of hatred darkly fell, Hope withering fled—and Mercy sighed farewell! X. Slight are the outward signs of evil thought, Within—within—'twas there the spirit wrought! Love shows all changes—Hate, Ambition, Guile, Betray no further than the bitter smile; The lip's least curl, the lightest paleness thrown Along the governed aspect, speak alone Of deeper passions; and to judge their mien, He, who would see, must be himself unseen. Then—with the hurried tread, the upward eye, The clenchéd hand, the pause of agony, That listens, starting, lest the step too near Approach intrusive on that mood of fear: Then—with each feature working from the heart, With feelings, loosed to strengthen—not depart, That rise—convulse—contend—that freeze or glow, Flush in the cheek, or damp upon the brow; Then—Stranger! if thou canst, and tremblest not, Behold his soul—the rest that soothes his lot! Mark how that lone and blighted bosom sears The scathing thought of execrated years! Behold—but who hath seen, or e'er shall see, Man as himself—the secret spirit free? XI. Yet was not Conrad thus by Nature sent To lead the guilty—Guilt's worst instrument— His soul was changed, before his deeds had driven Him forth to war with Man and forfeit Heaven. Warped by the world in Disappointment's school, In words too wise—in conduct there a fool; Too firm to yield, and far too proud to stoop, Doomed by his very virtues for a dupe, He cursed those virtues as the cause of ill, And not the traitors who betrayed him still; Nor deemed that gifts bestowed on better men Had left him joy, and means to give again. Feared—shunned—belied—ere Youth had lost her force, He hated Man too much to feel remorse, And thought the voice of Wrath a sacred call, To pay the injuries of some on all. He knew himself a villain—but he deemed The rest no better than the thing he seemed; And scorned the best as hypocrites who hid Those deeds the bolder spirit plainly did. He knew himself detested, but he knew The hearts that loathed him, crouched and dreaded too. Lone, wild, and strange, he stood alike exempt From all affection and from all contempt: His name could sadden, and his acts surprise; But they that feared him dared not to despise: Man spurns the worm, but pauses ere he wake The slumbering venom of the folded snake: The first may turn, but not avenge the blow; The last expires, but leaves no living foe; Fast to the doomed offender's form it clings, And he may crush—not conquer—still it stings! XII. None are all evil—quickening round his heart, One softer feeling would not yet depart; Oft could he sneer at others as beguiled By passions worthy of a fool or child; Yet 'gainst that passion vainly still he strove, And even in him it asks the name of Love! Yes, it was love—unchangeable—unchanged, Felt but for one from whom he never ranged; Though fairest captives daily met his eye, He shunned, nor sought, but coldly passed them by; Though many a beauty drooped in prisoned bower, None ever soothed his most unguarded hour. Yes—it was Love—if thoughts of tenderness, Tried in temptation, strengthened by distress, Unmoved by absence, firm in every clime, And yet—Oh more than all!—untired by Time; Which nor defeated hope, nor baffled wile, Could render sullen were She near to smile, Nor rage could fire, nor sickness fret to vent On her one murmur of his discontent; Which still would meet with joy, with calmness part, Lest that his look of grief should reach her heart; Which nought removed, nor menaced to remove— If there be Love in mortals—this was Love! He was a villain—aye, reproaches shower On him—but not the Passion, nor its power, Which only proved—all other virtues gone— Not Guilt itself could quench this loveliest one! XIII. He paused a moment—till his hastening men Passed the first winding downward to the glen. "Strange tidings!—many a peril have I passed, Nor know I why this next appears the last! Yet so my heart forebodes, but must not fear, Nor shall my followers find me falter here. 'Tis rash to meet—but surer death to wait Till here they hunt us to undoubted fate; And, if my plan but hold, and Fortune smile, We'll furnish mourners for our funeral pile. Aye, let them slumber—peaceful be their dreams! Morn ne'er awoke them with such brilliant beams As kindle high to-night (but blow, thou breeze!) To warm these slow avengers of the seas. Now to Medora—Oh! my sinking heart, Long may her own be lighter than thou art! Yet was I brave—mean boast where all are brave! Ev'n insects sting for aught they seek to save. This common courage which with brutes we share, That owes its deadliest efforts to Despair, Small merit claims—but 'twas my nobler hope To teach my few with numbers still to cope; Long have I led them—not to vainly bleed: No medium now—we perish or succeed! So let it be—it irks not me to die; But thus to urge them whence they cannot fly. My lot hath long had little of my care, But chafes my pride thus baffled in the snare: Is this my skill? my craft? to set at last Hope, Power and Life upon a single cast? Oh, Fate!—accuse thy folly—not thy fate; She may redeem thee still—nor yet too late." XIV. Thus with himself communion held he, till He reached the summit of his tower-crowned hill: There at the portal paused—for wild and soft He heard those accents never heard too oft! Through the high lattice far yet sweet they rung, And these the notes his Bird of Beauty sung: 1. "Deep in my soul that tender secret dwells, Lonely and lost to light for evermore, Save when to thine my heart responsive swells, Then trembles into silence as before. 2. "There, in its centre, a sepulchral lamp Burns the slow flame, eternal—but unseen; Which not the darkness of Despair can damp, Though vain its ray as it had never been. 3. "Remember me—Oh! pass not thou my grave Without one thought whose relics there recline: The only pang my bosom dare not brave Must be to find forgetfulness in thine. 4. "My fondest—faintest—latest accents hear— Grief for the dead not Virtue can reprove; Then give me all I ever asked—a tear, The first—last—sole reward of so much love!" He passed the portal, crossed the corridor, And reached the chamber as the strain gave o'er: "My own Medora! sure thy song is sad—" "In Conrad's absence would'st thou have it glad? Without thine ear to listen to my lay, Still must my song my thoughts, my soul betray: Still must each accent to my bosom suit, My heart unhushed—although my lips were mute! Oh! many a night on this lone couch reclined, My dreaming fear with storms hath winged the wind, And deemed the breath that faintly fanned thy sail The murmuring prelude of the ruder gale; Though soft—it seemed the low prophetic dirge, That mourned thee floating on the savage surge: Still would I rise to rouse the beacon fire, Lest spies less true should let the blaze expire; And many a restless hour outwatched each star, And morning came—and still thou wert afar. Oh! how the chill blast on my bosom blew, And day broke dreary on my troubled view, And still I gazed and gazed—and not a prow Was granted to my tears—my truth—my vow! At length—'twas noon—I hailed and blest the mast That met my sight—it neared—Alas! it passed! Another came—Oh God! 'twas thine at last! Would that those days were over! wilt thou ne'er, My Conrad! learn the joys of peace to share? Sure thou hast more than wealth, and many a home As bright as this invites us not to roam: Thou know'st it is not peril that I fear, I only tremble when thou art not here; Then not for mine, but that far dearer life, Which flies from love and languishes for strife— How strange that heart, to me so tender still, Should war with Nature and its better will!" "Yea, strange indeed—that heart hath long been changed; Worm-like 'twas trampled—adder-like avenged— Without one hope on earth beyond thy love, And scarce a glimpse of mercy from above. Yet the same feeling which thou dost condemn, My very love to thee is hate to them, So closely mingling here, that disentwined, I cease to love thee when I love Mankind: Yet dread not this—the proof of all the past Assures the future that my love will last; But—Oh, Medora! nerve thy gentler heart; This hour again—but not for long—we part." "This hour we part!—my heart foreboded this: Thus ever fade my fairy dreams of bliss. This hour—it cannot be—this hour away! Yon bark hath hardly anchored in the bay: Her consort still is absent, and her crew Have need of rest before they toil anew; My Love! thou mock'st my weakness; and wouldst steel My breast before the time when it must feel; But trifle now no more with my distress, Such mirth hath less of play than bitterness. Be silent, Conrad!—dearest! come and share The feast these hands delighted to prepare; Light toil! to cull and dress thy frugal fare! See, I have plucked the fruit that promised best, And where not sure, perplexed, but pleased, I guessed At such as seemed the fairest; thrice the hill My steps have wound to try the coolest rill; Yes! thy Sherbet to-night will sweetly flow, See how it sparkles in its vase of snow! The grape's gay juice thy bosom never cheers; Thou more than Moslem when the cup appears: Think not I mean to chide—for I rejoice What others deem a penance is thy choice. But come, the board is spread; our silver lamp Is trimmed, and heeds not the Sirocco's damp: Then shall my handmaids while the time along, And join with me the dance, or wake the song; Or my guitar, which still thou lov'st to hear, Shall soothe or lull—or, should it vex thine ear, We'll turn the tale, by Ariosto told, Of fair Olympia loved and left of old. Why, thou wert worse than he who broke his vow To that lost damsel, should thou leave me now— Or even that traitor chief—I've seen thee smile, When the clear sky showed Ariadne's Isle, Which I have pointed from these cliffs the while: And thus half sportive—half in fear—I said, Lest Time should raise that doubt to more than dread, Thus Conrad, too, will quit me for the main: And he deceived me—for—he came again!" "Again, again—and oft again—my Love! If there be life below, and hope above, He will return—but now, the moments bring The time of parting with redoubled wing: The why, the where—what boots it now to tell? Since all must end in that wild word—Farewell! Yet would I fain—did time allow—disclose— Fear not—these are no formidable foes! And here shall watch a more than wonted guard, For sudden siege and long defence prepared: Nor be thou lonely, though thy Lord's away, Our matrons and thy handmaids with thee stay; And this thy comfort—that, when next we meet, Security shall make repose more sweet. List!—'tis the bugle!"—Juan shrilly blew— "One kiss—one more—another—Oh! Adieu!" She rose—she sprung—she clung to his embrace, Till his heart heaved beneath her hidden face: He dared not raise to his that deep-blue eye, Which downcast drooped in tearless agony. Her long fair hair lay floating o'er his arms, In all the wildness of dishevelled charms; Scarce beat that bosom where his image dwelt So full—that feeling seem'd almost unfelt! Hark—peals the thunder of the signal-gun! It told 'twas sunset, and he cursed that sun. Again—again—that form he madly pressed, Which mutely clasped, imploringly caressed! And tottering to the couch his bride he bore, One moment gazed—as if to gaze no more; Felt that for him Earth held but her alone, Kissed her cold forehead—turned—is Conrad gone? XV. "And is he gone?"—on sudden solitude How oft that fearful question will intrude! "'Twas but an instant past, and here he stood! And now"—without the portal's porch she rushed, And then at length her tears in freedom gushed; Big, bright, and fast, unknown to her they fell; But still her lips refused to send—"Farewell!" For in that word—that fatal word—howe'er We promise—hope—believe—there breathes Despair. O'er every feature of that still, pale face, Had Sorrow fixed what Time can ne'er erase: The tender blue of that large loving eye Grew frozen with its gaze on vacancy, Till—Oh, how far!—it caught a glimpse of him, And then it flowed, and phrensied seemed to swim Through those long, dark, and glistening lashes dewed With drops of sadness oft to be renewed. "He's gone!"—against her heart that hand is driven, Convulsed and quick—then gently raised to Heaven: She looked and saw the heaving of the main; The white sail set—she dared not look again; But turned with sickening soul within the gate— "It is no dream—and I am desolate!" XVI. From crag to crag descending, swiftly sped Stern Conrad down, nor once he turned his head; But shrunk whene'er the windings of his way Forced on his eye what he would not survey, His lone, but lovely dwelling on the steep, That hailed him first when homeward from the deep: And she—the dim and melancholy Star, Whose ray of Beauty reached him from afar, On her he must not gaze, he must not think— There he might rest—but on Destruction's brink: Yet once almost he stopped—and nearly gave His fate to chance, his projects to the wave: But no—it must not be—a worthy chief May melt, but not betray to Woman's grief. He sees his bark, he notes how fair the wind, And sternly gathers all his might of mind: Again he hurries on—and as he hears The clang of tumult vibrate on his ears, The busy sounds, the bustle of the shore, The shout, the signal, and the dashing oar; As marks his eye the seaboy on the mast, The anchors rise, the sails unfurling fast, The waving kerchiefs of the crowd that urge That mute Adieu to those who stem the surge; And more than all, his blood-red flag aloft, He marvelled how his heart could seem so soft. Fire in his glance, and wildness in his breast, He feels of all his former self possest; He bounds—he flies—until his footsteps reach The verge where ends the cliff, begins the beach, There checks his speed; but pauses less to breathe The breezy freshness of the deep beneath, Than there his wonted statelier step renew; Nor rush, disturbed by haste, to vulgar view: For well had Conrad learned to curb the crowd, By arts that veil, and oft preserve the proud; His was the lofty port, the distant mien, That seems to shun the sight—and awes if seen: The solemn aspect, and the high-born eye, That checks low mirth, but lacks not courtesy; All these he wielded to command assent: But where he wished to win, so well unbent, That Kindness cancelled fear in those who heard, And others' gifts showed mean beside his word, When echoed to the heart as from his own His deep yet tender melody of tone: But such was foreign to his wonted mood, He cared not what he softened, but subdued; The evil passions of his youth had made Him value less who loved—than what obeyed. XVII. Around him mustering ranged his ready guard. Before him Juan stands—"Are all prepared?" "They are—nay more—embarked: the latest boat Waits but my chief——" "My sword, and my capote." Soon firmly girded on, and lightly slung, His belt and cloak were o'er his shoulders flung: "Call Pedro here!" He comes—and Conrad bends, With all the courtesy he deigned his friends; "Receive these tablets, and peruse with care, Words of high trust and truth are graven there; Double the guard, and when Anselmo's bark Arrives, let him alike these orders mark: In three days (serve the breeze) the sun shall shine On our return—till then all peace be thine!" This said, his brother Pirate's hand he wrung, Then to his boat with haughty gesture sprung. Flashed the dipt oars, and sparkling with the stroke, Around the waves' phosphoric brightness broke; They gain the vessel—on the deck he stands,— Shrieks the shrill whistle, ply the busy hands— He marks how well the ship her helm obeys, How gallant all her crew, and deigns to praise. His eyes of pride to young Gonsalvo turn— Why doth he start, and inly seem to mourn? Alas! those eyes beheld his rocky tower, And live a moment o'er the parting hour; She—his Medora—did she mark the prow? Ah! never loved he half so much as now! But much must yet be done ere dawn of day— Again he mans himself and turns away; Down to the cabin with Gonsalvo bends, And there unfolds his plan—his means, and ends; Before them burns the lamp, and spreads the chart, And all that speaks and aids the naval art; They to the midnight watch protract debate; To anxious eyes what hour is ever late? Meantime, the steady breeze serenely blew, And fast and falcon-like the vessel flew; Passed the high headlands of each clustering isle, To gain their port—long—long ere morning smile: And soon the night-glass through the narrow bay Discovers where the Pacha's galleys lay. Count they each sail, and mark how there supine The lights in vain o'er heedless Moslem shine. Secure, unnoted, Conrad's prow passed by, And anchored where his ambush meant to lie; Screened from espial by the jutting cape, That rears on high its rude fantastic shape. Then rose his band to duty—not from sleep— Equipped for deeds alike on land or deep; While leaned their Leader o'er the fretting flood, And calmly talked—and yet he talked of blood!