Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE IMPROVISATRICE: THE INDIAN BRIDE, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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THE IMPROVISATRICE: THE INDIAN BRIDE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: She has lighted her lamp, and crowned it with flowers
Last Line: With words that love wrung from despair.
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia


SHE has lighted her lamp, and crowned it with flowers,
The sweetest that breathed of the summer hours;
Red and white roses linked in a band,
Like a maiden's blush, or a maiden's hand;
Jasmines, -- some like silver spray,
Some like gold in the morning ray;
Fragrant stars, -- and favourites they,
When Indian girls on a festival-day,
Braid their dark tresses: and over all weaves
The rosy-bower of lotus leaves --
Canopy suiting the lamp-lighted bark,
Love's own flowers, and Love's own ark.
She watched the sky, the sunset grew dim;
She raised to CAMDEO her evening hymn.
The scent of the night-flowers came on the air;
And then, like a bird escaped from the snare,
She flew to the river -- (no moon was bright,
But the stars and the fire-flies gave her their light;)
She stood beneath the mangoes' shade,
Half delighted and half afraid;
She trimmed the lamp, and breathed on each bloom,
(Oh, that breath was sweeter than all their perfume!)
Threw spices and oil on the spire of flame,
Called thrice on her absent lover's name;
And every pulse throbbed as she gave
Her little boat to the Ganges' wave.

There are a thousand fanciful things
Linked round the young heart's imaginings.
In its first love-dream, a leaf or a flower
Is gifted then with a spell and a power:
A shade is an omen, a dream is a sign,
From which the maiden can well divine
Passion's whole history. Those only can tell
Who have loved as young hearts can love so well,
How the pulses will beat, and the cheek will be dyed
When they have some love-augury tried.
Oh, it is not for those whose feelings are cold,
Withered by care, or blunted by gold;
Whose brows have darkened with many years,
To feel again youth's hopes and fears --
What they now might blush to confess,
Yet what made their spring-day's happiness!

ZAIDE watched her flower-built vessel glide,
Mirrored beneath on the deep-blue tide;
Lovely and lonely, scented and bright,
Like Hope's own bark, all bloom and light.
There's not one breath of wind on the air,
The heavens are cloudless, the waters are fair,
No dew is falling: yet woe to that shade!
The maiden is weeping -- her lamp has decayed.

Hark to the ring of the cymetar!
It tells that the soldier returns from afar.
Down from the mountains the warriors come:
Hark to the thunder-roll of the drum! --
To the startling voice of the trumpet's call! --
To the cymbal's clash! -- to the atabal!
The banners of crimson float in the sun,
The warfare is ended, the battle is won.
The mother hath taken the child from her breast,
And raised it to look on its father's crest.
The pathway is lined, as the bands pass along,
With maidens, who meet them with flowers and song,
And ZAIDE hath forgotten in AZIM'S arms
All her so false lamp's falser alarms.

This looks not a bridal, -- the singers are mute,
Still is the mandore, and breathless the lute;
Yet there the bride sits. Her dark hair is bound,
And the robe of her marriage floats white on the ground.
Oh! where is the lover, the bridegroom? -- oh! where?
Look under yon black pall -- the bridegroom is there!
Yet the guests are all bidden, the feast is the same,
And the bride plights her troth amid smoke and 'mid flame!
They have raised the death-pyre of sweet-scented wood,
And sprinkled it o'er with the sacred flood
Of the Ganges. The priests are assembled: -- their song
Sinks deep on the ear as they bear her along,
That bride of the dead. Ay, is not this love? --
That one pure, wild feeling all others above:
Vowed to the living, and kept to the tomb! --
The same in its blight as it was in its bloom.
With no tear in her eye, and no change in her smile,
Young ZAIDE had come nigh to the funeral pile.
The bells of the dancing-girls ceased from their sound;
Silent they stood by that holiest mound.
From a crowd like the sea-waves there came not a breath,
When the maiden stood by the place of death!
One moment was given -- the last she might spare!
To the mother, who stood in her weeping there.
She took the jewels that shone on her hand;
She took from her dark hair its flowery band,
And scattered them round. At once they raise
The hymn of rejoicing and love in her praise.
A prayer is muttered, a blessing said, --
Her torch is raised! -- she is by the dead.
She has fired the pile! At once there came
A mingled rush of smoke and of flame:
The wind swept it off. They saw the bride, --
Laid by her AZIM, side by side.
The breeze had spread the long curls of her hair:
Like a banner of fire they played on the air.
The smoke and the flame gathered round as before,
Then cleared; -- but the bride was seen no more.

I HEARD the words of praise, but not
The one voice that I paused to hear;
And other sounds to me were like
A tale poured in a sleeper's ear.
Where was LORENZO? -- He had stood
Spell-bound; but when I closed the lay,
As if the charm ceased with the song,
He darted hurriedly away.
I masqued again, and wandered on
Through many a gay and gorgeous room;
What with sweet waters, sweeter flowers,
The air was heavy with perfume,
The harp was echoing the lute,
Soft voices answered to the flute,
And, like rills in the noontide clear,
Beneath the flame-hung gondolier,
Shone mirrors peopled with the shades
Of stately youths and radiant maids;
And on the ear in whispers came
Those winged words of soul and flame,
Breathed in the dark-eyed beauty's ear
By some young love-touched cavalier;
Or mixed at times some sound more gay,
Of dance, or laugh, or roundelay.
Oh, it is sickness at the heart
To bear in revelry its part,
And yet feel bursting: -- not one thing
Which has part in its suffering, --
The laugh, step, and glance, and song,
The song as sweet, the glance as bright;
As the laugh, step, and glance, and song,
Did to young happiness belong.

I turned me from the crowd, and reached
A spot which seemed unsought by all --
An alcove filled with shrubs and flowers,
But lighted by the distant hall,
With one or two fair statues placed,
Like deities of the sweet shrine.
That human heart should ever frame
Such shapes so utterly divine!
A deep sigh breathed, -- I knew the tone;
My cheek blushed warm, my heart beat high; --
One moment more I too was known, --
I shrank before LORENZO'S eye.
He leant beside a pedestal.
The glorious brow, of Parian stone,
Of the Antinous, by his side,
Was not more noble than his own!
They were alike: he had the same
Thick-clustering curls the Roman wore --
The fixed and melancholy eye --
The smile which passed like lightning o'er
The curved lip. We did not speak,
But the heart breathed upon each cheek;
We looked round with those wandering looks,
Which seek some object for their gaze,
As if each other's glance was like
The too much light of morning's rays.
I saw a youth beside me kneel;
I heard my name in music steal;
I felt my hand trembling in his; --
Another moment, and his kiss
Had burnt upon it; when, like thought,
So swift it past, my hand was thrown
Away, as if in sudden pain.
LORENZO like a dream had flown!
We did not meet again: -- he seemed
To shun each spot where I might be:
And, it was said, another claimed
The heart -- more than the world to me!

I loved him as young Genius loves,
When its own wild and radiant heaven
Of starry thought burns with the light,
The love, the life, by passion given.
I loved him, too, as woman loves --
Reckless of sorrow, sin, or scorn:
Life had no evil destiny
That, with him, I could not have borne!
I had been nurst in palaces;
Yet earth had not a spot so drear,
That I should not have thought a home,
In paradise, had he been near!
How sweet it would have been to dwell,
Apart from all, in some green dell
Of sunny beauty, leaves and flowers;
And nestling birds to sing the hours!
Our home beneath some chestnut shade,
But of the woven branches made:
Our vesper hymn, the low, lone wail
The rose hears from the nightingale;
And waked at morning by the call
Of music from a waterfall.
But not alone in dreams like this,
Breathed in the very hope of bliss,
I loved: my love had been the same
In hushed despair, in open shame.
I would have rather been a slave,
In tears, in bondage, by his side,
Than shared in all, if wanting him,
This world had power to give beside!
My heart was withered, -- and my heart
Had ever been the world to me;
And love had been the first fond dream,
Whose life was in reality.
I had sprung from my solitude
Like a young bird upon the wing
To meet the arrow; so I met
My poisoned shaft of suffering.
And as that bird, with drooping crest
And broken wing, will seek his nest,
But seek in vain; so vain I sought
My pleasant home of song and thought.
There was one spell upon my brain,
Upon my pencil, on my strain;
But one face to my colours came;
My chords replied but to one name --
LORENZO! -- all seemed vowed to thee,
To passion, and to misery!
I had no interest in the things
That once had been like life, or light;
No tale was pleasant to mine ear,
No song was sweet, no picture bright.
I was wild with my great distress,
My lone, my utter hopelessness!
I would sit hours by the side
Of some clear rill, and mark it glide,
Bearing my tears along till night
Came with dark hours; and soft starlight
Watch o'er its shadowy beauty keeping,
Till I grew calm: -- then I would take
The lute, which had all day been sleeping
Upon a cypress tree, and wake
The echoes of the midnight air
With words that love wrung from despair.





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