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THE IMPROVISATRICE: A MOORISH ROMANCE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Softly through the pomegranate groves
Last Line: I sang, but, as I sang, I wept.
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia

SOFTLY through the pomegranate groves
Came the gentle song of the doves;
Shone the fruit in the evening light,
Like Indian rubies, blood-red and bright;
Shook the date-trees each tufted head,
As the passing wind their green nuts shed;
And, like dark columns, amid the sky
The giant palms ascended on high:
And the mosque's gilded minaret
Glistened and glanced as the daylight set.
Over the town a crimson haze
Gathered and hung of the evening's rays;
And far beyond, like molten gold,
The burning sands of the desert rolled.
Far to the left, the sky and sea
Mingled their gray immensity;
And with flapping sail and idle prow
The vessels threw their shades below
Far down the beach where a cypress grove
Casts its shade round a little cove,
Darkling and green with just a space
For the stars to shine on the water's face,
A small bark lay, waiting for night
And its breeze to waft and hide its flight.
Sweet is the burthen, and lovely the freight,
For which those furled-up sails await,
To a garden, fair as those
Where the glory of the rose
Blushes, charmed from the decay
That wastes other blooms away;
Gardens of the fairy tale
Told, till the wood-fire grows pale,
By the Arab tribes, when night,
With its dim and lovely light,
And its silence, suiteth well
With the magic tales they tell.
Through that cypress avenue,
Such a garden meets the view,
Filled with flowers -- flowers that seem
Lighted up by the sunbeam;
Fruits of gold and gems, and leaves
Green as hope before it grieves
O'er the false and broken-hearted,
All with which its youth has parted,
Never to return again,
Save in memories of pain!

There is a white rose in yon bower,
But holds it a yet fairer flower:
And music from that cage is breathing,
Round which a jasmine braid is wreathing,
A low song from a lonely dove,
A song such exiles sing and love,
Breathing of fresh fields, summer skies, --
Not to be breathed of but in sighs!
But fairer smile and sweeter sigh
Are near when LEILA'S step is nigh!
With eyes dark as the midnight time,
Yet lighted like a summer clime
With sun-rays from within; yet now
Lingers a cloud upon that brow, --
Though never lovelier brow was given
To Houri of an Eastern heaven!
Her eye is dwelling on that bower,
As every leaf and every flower
Were being numbered in her heart; --
There are no looks like those which dwell
On long-remembered things, which soon
Must take our first and last farewell!

Day fades apace: another day,
That maiden will be far away,
A wanderer o'er the dark-blue sea,
And bound for lovely Italy,
Her mother's land! Hence, on her breast
The cross beneath a Moorish vest;
And hence those sweetest sounds, that seem
Like music murmuring in a dream,
When in our sleeping ear is ringing
The song the nightingale is singing;
When by that white and funeral stone,
Half-hidden by the cypress gloom,
The hymn the mother taught her child
Is sung each evening at her tomb.
But quick the twilight time has past,
Like one of those sweet calms that last
A moment and no more, to cheer
The turmoil of our pathway here.
The bark is waiting in the bay,
Night darkens round: -- LEILA, away!
Far, ere to-morrow, o'er the tide,
Or wait and be -- ABDALLA'S bride!

She touched her lute -- never again
Her car will listen to its strain!
She took her cage, first kissed the breast --
Then freed the white dove prisoned there:
It paused one moment on her hand,
Then spread its glad wings to the air.
She drank the breath, as it were health,
That sighed from every scented blossom;
And taking from each one a leaf,
Hid them, like spells, upon her bosom.
Then sought the sacred path again
She once before had traced, when lay
A Christian in her father's chain;
And gave him gold, and taught the way
To fly. She thought upon the night,
When, like an angel of the light,
She stood before the prisoner's sight,
And led him to the cypress grove,
And showed the bark and hidden cove;
And bade the wandering captive flee,
In words he knew from infancy!
And then she thought how for her love
He had braved slavery and death,
That he might only breathe the air
Made sweet and sacred by her breath.
She reached the grove of cypresses --
Another step is by her side:
Another moment, and the bark
Bears the fair Moor across the tide!

'Twas beautiful, by the pale moonlight,
To mark her eyes, -- now dark, now bright,
As now they met, now shrank away,
From the gaze that watched and worshipped their day.
They stood on the deck, and the midnight gale
Just waved the maiden's silver veil --
Just lifted a curl, as if to show
The cheek of rose that was burning below:
And never spread a sky of blue
More clear for the stars to wander through!
And never could their mirror be
A calmer or a lovelier sea!
For every wave was a diamond gleam:
And that light vessel well may seem
A fairy ship, and that graceful pair
Young Genii, whose home was of light and air!

Another evening came, but dark:
The storm clouds hovered round the bark
Of misery: -- they just could see
The distant shore of Italy,
As the dim moon through vapours shone --
A few short rays, her light was gone.
O'er head a sullen scream was heard,
As sought the land the white sea-bird,
Her pale wings like a meteor streaming.
Upon the waves a light is gleaming --
Ill-omened brightness, sent by Death
To light the night-black depths beneath.
The vessel rolled amid the surge;
The winds howled round it, like a dirge
Sung by some savage race. Then came
The rush of thunder and of flame:
It showed two forms upon the deck, --
One clasped around the other's neck,
As there she could not dream of fear --
In her lover's arms could danger be near?
He stood and watched her with the eye
Of fixed and silent agony.
The waves swept on: he felt her heart
Beat closer and closer yet to his!
They burst upon the ship! -- the sea
Has closed upon their dream of bliss!

Surely theirs is a pleasant sleep
Beneath that ancient cedar tree,
Whose solitary stem has stood
For years alone beside the sea!
The last of a most noble race,
That once had there their dwelling-place,
Long past away! Beneath its shade,
A soft green couch the turf had made: --
And glad the morning sun is shining
On those beneath the boughs reclining.
Nearer the fisher drew. He saw
The dark hair of the Moorish maid,
Like a veil, floating o'er the breast
Where tenderly her head was laid; --
And yet her lover's arm was placed
Clasping around the graceful waist;
But then he marked the youth's black curls
Were dripping wet with foam and blood;
And that the maiden's tresses dark
Were heavy with the briny flood!
Woe for the wind! -- woe for the wave!
They sleep the slumber of the grave!
They buried them beneath that tree;
It long had been a sacred spot.
Soon it was planted round with flowers
By many who had not forgot;
Or yet lived in those dreams of truth
The Eden birds of early youth,
That make the loveliness of love:
And called the place "THE MAIDEN'S COVE," --
That she who perished in the sea
Might thus be kept in memory.

FROM many a lip came sounds of praise,
Like music from sweet voices ringing;
For many a boat had gathered round,
To list the song I had been singing.
There are some moments in our fate
That stamp the colour of our days;
As, till then, life had not been felt, --
And mine was sealed in the slight gaze
Which fixed my eye, and fired my brain,
And bowed my heart beneath the chain.
'Twas a dark and flashing eye,
Shadows, too, that tenderly,
With almost female softness, came
O'er its mingled gloom and flame.
His cheek was pale; or toil, or care,
Or midnight study, had been there,
Making its young colours dull,
Yet leaving it most beautiful.
Raven curls their shadow threw,
Like the twilight's darkening hue,
O'er the pure and mountain snow
Of his high and haughty brow:
Lighted by a smile, whose spell
Words are powerless to tell.
Such a lip! -- oh, poured from thence
Lava floods of eloquence
Would come with fiery energy,
Like those words that cannot die.
Words the Grecian warrior spoke
When the Persian's chain he broke,
Or that low and honey tone,
Making woman's heart his own;
Such as should be heard at night,
In the dim and sweet starlight;
Sounds that haunt a beauty's sleep,
Treasures for her heart to keep.
Like the pine of summer tall;
Apollo, on his pedestal
In our own gallery, never bent
More graceful, more magnificent;
Ne'er look'd the hero, or the king,
More nobly than the youth who now,
As if soul-centered in my song,
Was leaning on a galley's prow.
He spoke not when the others spoke,
His heart was all too full for praise;
But his dark eyes kept fixed on mine,
Which sank beneath their burning gaze.
Mine sank -- but yet I felt the thrill
Of that look burning on me still.
I heard no word that others said --
Heard nothing, save one low-breathed sigh.
My hand kept wandering on my lute,
In music, but unconsciously
My pulses throbbed, my heart beat high,
A flush of dizzy ecstasy
Crimson'd my cheek; I felt warm tears
Dimming my sight, yet was it sweet,
My wild heart's most bewildering beat,
Consciousness, without hopes or fears,
Of a new power within me waking,
Like light before the morn's full breaking
I left the boat -- the crowd: my mood
Made my soul pant for solitude.

Amid my palace halls was one,
The most peculiarly my own:
The roof was blue and fretted gold,
The floor was of the Parian stone,
Shining like snow, as only meet
For the light tread of fairy feet;
And in the midst, beneath a shade
Of clustered rose, a fountain played,
Sprinkling its scented waters round,
With a sweet and lulling sound, --
O'er oranges, like Eastern gold,
Half hidden by the dark green fold
Of their large leaves; -- o'er hyacinth bells,
Where every summer odour dwells,
And, nestled in the midst, a pair
Of white wood-doves, whose home was there:
And like an echo to their song,
At times a murmur past along;
A dying tone, a plaining fall,
So sad, so wild, so musical --
As the wind swept across the wire,
And waked my lone AEolian lyre,
Which lay upon the casement, where
The lattice wooed the cold night air,
Half hidden by a bridal twine
Of jasmine with the emerald vine.
And ever as the curtains made
A varying light, a changeful shade,
As the breeze waved them to and fro,
Came on the eye the glorious show
Of pictured walls where landscape wild
Of wood, and stream, or mountain piled,
Or sunny vale, or twilight grove,
Or shapes whose every look was love;
Saints, whose diviner glance seemed caught
From Heaven, -- some whose earthlier thought
Was yet more lovely, -- shone like gleams
Of Beauty's spirit seen in dreams.
I threw me on a couch to rest,
Lossely I flung my long black hair;
It seemed to soothe my troubled breast
To drink the quiet evening air.
I looked upon the deep-blue sky,
And it was all hope and harmony.
Afar I could see the Arno's stream
Glorying in the clear moonbeam;
And the shadowy city met my gaze,
Like the dim memory of other days;
And the distant wood's black coronal
Was like oblivion, that covereth all.
I know not why my soul felt sad;
I touch'd my lute, -- it would not waken,
Save to old songs of sorrowing --
Of hope betrayed -- of hearts forsaken --
Each lay of lighter feeling slept,
I sang, but, as I sang, I wept.

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