Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WREATH: TALE OF THE MOORISH BARD, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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THE WREATH: TALE OF THE MOORISH BARD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The earliest beauty of the rose
Last Line: Land of hearth and home, aught to liken to thee.
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia
Subject(s): Flowers


THE earliest beauty of the rose,
Waking from moonlight repose,
In morning air and dew to steep
The blush of her voluptuous sleep;
This was her cheek: and for her eye,
Gaze thou upon the midnight sky,
And choose its fairest star, the one
Thou deem'st most lovely and most lone:
Her lip, oh! never flower of spring
Had smile of such sweet blandishing.

Ay, beautiful she was as light
Descending on the darken'd sight;
But these were not the spells that gave
LEILA the heart for her charmed slave;
But all those sweetest gifts that win,
Like sunshine, instant entrance in;
Those gentle words and acts that bind
In love our nature with our kind.

She dwelt within a palace fair,
Such as in fairy gardens are;
There grew her father's cypress tree,
No other monument had he.
He bade that never funeral stone
Should tell of glory overthrown, --
What could it say, but foreign sky
Had seen the exile pine and die?

The maiden grew beside the tomb;
Perhaps 'twas that which touch'd her bloom
With somewhat of more mournful shade
Than seems for youth's first budding made.
It was her favourite haunt, she felt
As there her all of memory dwelt.
Alone, a stranger in the land
Which was her home, the only band
Between her and her native tongue
Was when her native songs she sung.

LEILA, thou wert not of our name;
Thy Christian creed, thy Spanish race,
To us were sorrow, guilt, and shame,
No earthly beauty might efface.
Yet, lovely Infidel, thou art
A treasure clinging to my heart:
A very boy, I yet recal
The dark light of thine eye's charm'd thrall;
Beneath thy worshipp'd cypress leant,
And flowers with thy breathing blent,
Less pure, less beautiful than thou,
I see thee; and I hear thee now
Singing sweet to the twilight dim --
Could it be sin? -- thy vesper-hymn.

Burnt a sweet light in that fair shrine,
At once too earthly, too divine;
The heart's vain struggle to create
An Eden not for mortal state.

Love, who shall say that thou art not
The dearest blessing of our lot?
Yet, not the less, who may deny
Life has no sorrow like thy sigh?
A fairy gift, and none may know
Or will it work to weal or woe.

Spite of the differing race and creed,
Their fathers had been friends in need;
And, all unconsciously at first,
Love in its infancy was nurst;
Companions from their earliest years,
Unknown the hopes, the doubts, the fears,
That haunt young passion's early hour,
Spared but to come with deadlier power,
With deeper sorrow, worse unrest,
When once love stood in both confest.

The ground she trod, the air she breathed,
The blossoms in her dark hair wreathed,
Her smile, her voice, to MIRZA'S eyes
More precious seem'd than Paradise.

Yet was the silence sweet unbroken
By vows in which young love is spoken.
But when the heart has but one dream
For midnight gloom or noontide beam,
And one, at least, knows well what power
Is ruling, words will find their hour;
Though after-growth of grief and pain,
May wish those words unsaid again.

'Twas sunset, and the glorious heaven
To LEILA'S cheek and eye seem'd given;
The one like evening crimson bright,
The other fill'd with such clear light,
That, as she bent her o'er the strings,
Catching music's wanderings,
Look'd she well some Peri fair,
Born and being of the air.
Waked the guitar beneath her hand
To ballad of her Spanish land;
Sad, but yet suiting twilight pale,
When surely tenderest thoughts prevail.

SONG.

MAIDEN, fling from thy braided hair
The red rosebud that is wreathed there;
For he who planted the parent tree
Is now what soon that blossom will be.

Maiden, fling from thy neck of snow
The chain where the Eastern rubies glow;
For he who gave thee that jewell'd chain
Lies in his wounds on the battle-plain.

Maiden, fling thou aside thy lute,
Be its chords, as thy own hopes, mute;
For he who first taught thy lips that strain
Never will listen its music again.

Give those roses to strew on his grave,
That chain for a mass for the soul of the brave,
And teach that lute, thou widow'd dove,
A dirge for the fall of thy warrior love.

"ALAS! that ever," LEILA said,
"The fond should mourn above the dead,
Thus all too early desolate,
Without one hope or wish from fate;
Save death, what can the maiden crave
Who weeps above her lover's grave?"
Darken'd her eyes with tearful dew,
Wore her soft cheek yet softer hue;
And MIRZA, who had lean'd the while,
Feeding upon her voice and smile,
Felt as if all that fate could bring
Were written on that moment's wing.
One moment he is at her knee,
"So, LEILA, wouldst thou weep for me?"
Started she, as at lightning gleam, --
"O MIRZA, this I did not dream!
Moslem and Moor, may Spanish maid
Hearken such words as thou hast said?
My father's blood, my father's creed,
Now help me in my hour of need!"

Still knelt he at the maiden's feet,
Still sought he those dear eyes to meet.
"Cruel, and is there nothing due
To love so fervid and so true?"
As with conflicting thought opprest,
She droop'd her head upon his breast;
Watch'd he the tears on her pale face,
When started she from that embrace.
"I know the weakness of my heart:
MIRZA, in vain, for we must part.
Farewell, and henceforth I will be
Vow'd to my God and prayers for thee."

He strove to speak, but she was gone,
He stood within the grove alone,
And from that hour they met no more:
But what to either might restore
Or peace or hope; the gulf between,
They must forget what they had been.
Forget -- oh! never yet hath love
Successfully with memory strove.
I then was MIRZA'S page; and strange
It was to me to watch the change
That over him like magic wrought.
Apart from all, in silent thought
He would pass hours; and then his mood,
As wearied of such solitude,
Alter'd to gaiety; that mirth,
Desperate as if it knew its birth,
Was like an earth-flame's sudden breath,
Sprung from the ruin'd soil beneath.

They had not met, since to the maid
His first rash vow of love was said;
But heard we how, by penance, prayer,
She strove to wash away the sin,
That ever Infidel had share
A Christian maiden's breast within;
And there perchance were other tears
Than those which flow'd from holy fears.
I know not what vain dream had sprung
In MIRZA. Is it that despair,
Ere the last veil aside is flung,
Unable its own words to bear,
Will borrow from hope's charmed tongue?
To her a wreath he bid me take,
Such as in our fair garden wake
Love's hopes and fears, -- oh! suiting well
Such gentle messages to tell.
That wreath I to the lady brought.
I found her in the hall alone,
So changed, your sculptors never wrought
A form in monumental stone
So cold, so pale. The large dark eye
Shone strangely o'er the marble cheek;
The lips were parted, yet no sigh
Seem'd there of breathing life to speak;
The picture at whose feet she knelt,
The Maiden Mother and her Child,
The hues which on that canvass dwelt,
With more of human likeness smiled.
Awful the face, however fair,
When death's dark call is written there.
I gave the wreath, I named his name,
One moment the heart's weakness came,
Written in crimson on her brow,
The very blossoms caught the glow;
Or grew they bright but from the fall
Of tears that lit their coronal?
The next, the dark eye's sudden rain,
The cheek's red colour pass'd again,
All earthly feelings with them died;
Slowly she laid the gift aside.
When will my soul forget the look
With which one single stem she took
From out the wreath? -- a tulip flower;
But, touch'd as by some withering power,
The painted leaves were drooping round
The rich but burning heart they bound.
She spoke, -- oh! never music's tone
Hath sadder, sweeter cadence known: --
"With jarring creed, and hostile line,
And heart with fate at enmity,
This wasting flower is emblem mine,
'Tis faded, it hath but to die."

I took those leaves of faded bloom
To MIRZA; 'twas of both the doom.
He died the first of the battle line,
When red blood dims the sabre's shine;
He died the early death of the brave,
And the place of the battle was that of his grave.
She died as dies a breath of song
Borne on the winds of evening along;
She fell as falls the rose in spring,
The fairest are ever most perishing.
Yet lingers that tale of sorrow and love,
Of the Christian maid and her Moslem love;
A tale to be told in the twilight hour,
For the beauty's tears in her lonely bower.

ROSE the last minstrel; he was one
Well the eye loves to look upon.
Slight but tall, the gallant knight
Had the martial step he had used in fight;
Dark and rich curl'd the auburn hair
O'er a brow, like the ocean by moonlight, fair;
His island colour was on his cheek,
Enough of youth in its health to speak;
But shaded it was with manly brown,
From much of toil and of peril known:
Frank was his courtesy, and sweet
The smile he wore at fair lady's feet;
Yet haughty his step, and his mien was high,
Half softness, half fire, his falcon eye.
England, fair England, hath earth or sea,
Land of hearth and home, aught to liken to thee.





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