Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE ZENANA; AN EASTERN TALE, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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THE ZENANA; AN EASTERN TALE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: What is there that the world hath not
Last Line: Recalled this tale of ancient time.
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia
Subject(s): India


WHAT is there that the world hath not
Gathered in yon enchanted spot?
Where, pale, and with a languid eye,
The Fair Sultana listlessly
Leans on her silken couch, and dreams
Of mountain airs, and mountain streams.
Sweet though the music float around,
It wants the old familiar sound;
And fragrant though the flowers are breathing,
From far and near together wreathing,
They are not those she used to wear,
Upon the midnight of her hair. --

She's very young, and childhood's days
With all their old remembered ways,
The empire of her heart contest
With love, that is so new a guest;
When blushing with her Murad near,
Half timid bliss, half sweetest fear,
E'en the beloved past is dim,
Past, present, future, merge in him.
But he, the warrior and the chief,
His hours of happiness are brief;
And he must leave Nadira's side
To woo and win a ruder bride;
Sought, sword in hand and spur on heel,
The fame, that weds with blood and steel.
And while from Delhi far away,
His youthful bride pines through the day,
Weary and sad: thus when again
He seeks to bind love's loosen'd chain;
He finds the tears are scarcely dry
Upon a cheek whose bloom is faded,
The very flush of victory
Is, like the brow he watches, shaded.
A thousand thoughts are at her heart,
His image paramount o'er all,
Yet not all his, the tears that start,
As mournful memories recall
Scenes of another home, which yet
That fond young heart can not forget.
She thinks upon that place of pride,
Which frowned upon the mountain's side;
While round it spread the ancient plain,
Her steps will never cross again.
And near those mighty temples stand,
The miracles of mortal hand,
Where, hidden from the common eye,
The past's long buried secrets lie,
Those mysteries of the first great creed,
Whose mystic fancies were the seed
Of every wild and vain belief,
That held o'er man their empire brief,
And turned beneath a southern sky,
All that was faith to poetry.
Hence had the Grecian fables birth,
And wandered beautiful o'er carth;
Till every wood, and stream, and cave,
Shelter to some bright vision gave:
For all of terrible and strange,
That from those gloomy caverns sprung,
From Greece received a graceful change,
That spoke another sky and tongue,
A finer eye, a gentler hand,
Than in their native Hindoo land.

'Twas thence Nadira came, and still
Her memory kept that lofty hill;
The vale below, her place of birth,
That one charmed spot, her native earth.
Still haunted by that early love,
Which youth can feel, and youth alone;
An eager, ready, tenderness,
To all its after-life unknown.
When the full heart its magic flings;
Alike o'er rare and common things,
The dew of morning's earliest hour,
Which swells but once from leaf and flower,
From the pure life within supplied,
A sweet but soon exhausted tide.

There falls a shadow on the gloom,
There steals a light step through the room,
Gentle as love, that, though so near,
No sound hath caught the list'ning ear.
A moment's fond watch o'er her keeping,
Murad beholds Nadira weeping;
He who to win her lightest smile,
Had given his heart's best blood the while.
She turned -- a beautiful delight
Has flushed the pale one into rose,
Murad, her love, returned to-night,
Her tears, what recks she now of those?
Dried in the full heart's crimson ray,
Ere he can kiss those tears away --
And she is seated at his feet,
Too timid his dear eyes to meet;
But happy; for she knows whose brow
Is bending fondly o'er her now.
And cager, for his sake, to hear
The records red of sword and spear,
For his sake feels the colour rise,
His spirit kindle in her eyes,
Till her heart beating joins the cry
Of Murad, and of Victory.

City of glories now no more,
His camp extends by Bejapore,
Where the Mahratta's haughty race
Has won the Moslem conqueror's place;
A bolder prince now fills the throne,
And he will struggle for his own.
"And yet," he said, "when evening falls
Solemn above those mouldering walls,
Where the mosques cleave the starry air,
Deserted at their hour of prayer,
And rises Ibrahim's lonely tomb,
'Mid weed-grown shrines, and ruined towers,
All marked with that eternal gloom
Left by the past to present hours.
When human pride and human sway
Have run their circle of decay;
And, mocking -- the funereal stone,
Alone attests its builder gone.
Oh! vain such temple, o'er the sleep
Which none remain to watch or weep.
I could not choose but think how vain
The struggle fierce for worthless gain.
And calm and bright the moon looked down
O'er the white shrines of that fair town;
While heavily the cocoa-tree
Drooped o'er the walls its panoply,
A warrior proud, whose crested head
Bends mournful o'er the recent dead,
And shadows deep athwart the plain
Usurp the silver moonbeam's reign;
For every ruined building cast
Shadows, like memories of the past.
And not a sound the wind brought nigh,
Save the far jackal's wailing cry,
And that came from the field now red
With the fierce banquet I had spread:
Accursed and unnatural feast,
For worm, and fly, and bird, and beast;
While round me earth and heaven recorded
The folly of life's desperate game,
And the cold justice still awarded
By time, which makes all lots the same.
Slayer or slain, it matters not,
We struggle, perish, are forgot!
The earth grows green above the gone,
And the calm heaven looks sternly on.
'Twas folly this -- the gloomy night
Fled before morning's orient light;
City and river owned its power,
And I, too, gladdened with the hour;
I saw my own far tents extend
My own proud crescent o'er them bend;
I heard the trumpet's glorious voice
Summon the warriors of my choice.
Again impatient on to lead,
I sprang upon my raven steed,
Again I felt my father's blood
Pour through my veins its burning flood.
My scimetar around I swung,
Forth to the air its lightning sprung,
A beautiful and fiery light,
The meteor of the coming fight.

"I turned from each forgotten grave
To others, which the name they bear
Will long from old oblivion save,
The heroes of the race I share.
I thought upon the lonely isle
Where sleeps the lion-king the while,
Who looked on death, yet paused to die
Till comraded by Victory.
And he, the noblest of my line,
Whose tomb is now the warrior's shrine.
(Where I were well content to be,
So that such fame might live with me.)
The light of peace, the storm of war,
Lord of the earth, our proud Akbar.

"What though our passing day but be
A bubble on eternity;
Small though the circle is, yet still
'Tis ours to colour at our will.
Mine be that consciousness of life
Which has its energies from strife,
Which lives its utmost, knows its power,
Claims from the mind its utmost dower --
With fiery pulse, and ready hand,
That wills, and willing wins command --
That boldly takes from earth its best --
To whom the grave can be but rest.
Mine the fierce free existence spent
'Mid meeting ranks and armed tent: --
Save the few moments which I steal
At thy beloved feet to kneel --
And own the warrior's wild career
Has no such joy as waits him here --
When all that hope can dream is hung
Upon the music of thy tongue.
Ah! never is that cherished face
Banished from its accustomed place --
It shines upon my weariest night,
It leads me on in thickest fight:
All that seems most opposed to be
Is yet associate with thee --
Together life and thee depart,
Dream -- idol -- treasure of my heart."

Again, again Murad must wield
His scimetar in battle-field:
And must he leave his lonely flower
To pine in solitary bower?
Has power no aid -- has wealth no charm,
The weight of absence to disarm?
Alas! she will not touch her lute --
What! -- sing? -- and not for Murad's ear?
The echo of the heart is mute,
And that alone makes music dear.
In vain, in vain that royal hall
Is decked as for a festival.
The sunny birds, whose shining wings
Seem as if bathed in golden springs,
Though worth the gems they cost -- and fair
As those which knew her earlier care.
The flowers -- though there the rose expand
The sweetest depths wind ever fanned.
Ah! earth and sky have loveliest hues --
But none to match that dearest red,
Born of the heart, which still renews
The life that on itself is fed.
The maiden whom we love bestows
Her magic on the haunted rose.
Such was the colour -- when her check
Spoke what the lip might never speak.
The crimson flush which could confess
All that we hoped -- but dared not guess.
That blush which through the world is known
To love, and to the rose alone --
A sweet companionship, which never
The poet's dreaming eye may sever.
And there were tulips, whose rich leaves
The rainbow's dying light receives;
For only summer sun and skies
Could lend to earth such radiant dyes;
But still the earth will have its share,
The stem is green -- the foliage fair --
Those coronals of gems but glow
Over the withered heart below --
That one dark spot, like passion's fire,
Consuming with its own desire.
And pale, as one who dares not turn
Upon her inmost thoughts, and learn,
If it be love their depths conceal,
Love she alone is doomed to feel --
The jasmine droopeth mournfully
Over the bright anemone,
The summer's proud and sun-burnt child:
In vain, the queen is not beguiled,
They waste their bloom. Nadira's eye
Neglects them -- let them pine and die.
Ah! birds and flowers may not suffice
The heart that throbs with stronger ties.
Again, again Murad is gone,
Again his young bride weeps alone:
Seeks her old nurse, to win her ear
With magic stories once so dear,
And calls the Almas to her aid.
With graceful dance, and gentle singing,
And bells like those some desert home
Hears from the camel's neck far ringing.
Alas! she will not raise her brow;
Yet stay -- some spell hath caught her now:
That melody has touched her heart.
Oh, triumph of Zilara's art;
She listens to the mournful strain,
And bids her sing that song again.

SONG

"MY lonely lute, how can I ask
For music from thy silent strings?
It is too sorrowful a task,
When only swept by memory's wings:
Yet waken from thy charmed sleep,
Although I wake thee but to weep.

"Yet once I had a thousand songs,
As now I have but only one.
Ah, love, whate'er to thee belongs,
With all life's other links, has done;
And I can breathe no other words
Than thou hast left upon the chords.

"They say Camdeo's place of rest,
When floating down the Ganges' tide,
Is in the languid lotus breast,
Amid whose sweets he loves to hide.
Oh, false and cruel, though divine,
What dost thou in so fair a shrine?

"And such the hearts that thou dost choose,
As pure, as fair, to shelter thee;
Alas! they know not what they lose
Who chance thy dwelling-place to be.
For, never more in happy dream
Will they float down life's sunny stream.

"My gentle lute, repeat one name,
The very soul of love, and thine:
No; sleep in silence, let me frame
Some other love to image mine;
Steal sadness from another's tone,
I dare not trust me with my own.

"Thy chords will win their mournful way,
All treasured thoughts to them belong;
For things it were so hard to say
Are murmured easily in song --
It is for music to impart
The secrets of the burthened heart.

"Go, taught by misery and love,
And thou hast spells for every ear:
But the sweet skill each pulse to move,
Alas! hath bought its knowledge dear --
Bought by the wretchedness of years,
A whole life dedicate to tears.

The voice has ceased, the chords are mute,
The singer droops upon her lute;
But, oh, the fulness of each tone
Straight to Nadira's heart hath gone --
As if that mournful song revealed
Depths in that heart till then concealed,
A world of melancholy thought,
Then only into being brought;
Those tender mysteries of the soul,
Like words on an enchanted scroll,
Whose mystic meaning but appears
When washed and understood by tears.
She gazed upon the singer's face;
Deeply that young brow wore the trace
Of years that leave their stamp behind:
The wearied hope -- the fever'd mind --
The heart which on itself hath turned,
Worn out with feelings -- slighted -- spurned --
Till scarce one throb remained to show
What warm emotions slept below,
Never to be renewed again,
And known but by remembered pain.

Her cheek was pale -- impassioned pale --
Like ashes white with former fire,
Passion which might no more prevail,
The rose had been its own sweet pyre.
You gazed upon the large black eyes,
And felt what unshed tears were there;
Deep, gloomy, wild, like midnight skies,
When storms are heavy on the air --
And on the small red lip sat scorn,
Writhing from what the past had borne.
But far too proud to sigh -- the will,
Though crushed, subdued, was haughty still;
Last refuge of the spirit's pain,
Which finds endurance in disdain.
Others wore blossoms in their hair,
And golden bangles round the arm.
She took no pride in being fair,
The gay delight of youth to charm;
The softer wish of love to please,
What had she now to do with these?
She knew herself a bartered slave,
Whose only refuge was the grave.
Unsoftened now by those sweet notes,
Which half subdued the grief they told,
Her long black hair neglected floats
O'er that wan face, like marble cold;
And carelessly her listless hand
Wandered above her lute's command
But silently -- or just a tone
Woke into music, and was gone.

"Come hither, maiden, take thy seat,
Nadira said, "here at my feet."
And, with the sweetness of a child
Who smiles, and deems all else must smile,
She gave the blossoms which she held,
And praised the singer's skill the while;
Then started with a sad surprise,
For tears were in the stranger's eyes.
Ah, only those who rarely know
Kind words, can tell how sweet they seem.
Great God, that there are those below
To whom such words are like a dream.

"Come," said the young Sultana, "come
To our lone garden by the river,
Where summer hath its loveliest home,
And where Camdeo fills his quiver.
If, as thou sayest, 'tis stored with flowers,
Where will he find them fair as ours?
And the sweet songs which thou canst sing
Methinks might charm away his sting."
The evening banquet soon is spread --
There the pomegranate's rougher red
Was cloven, that it might disclose
A colour stolen from the rose --
The brown pistachio's glossy shell,
The citron where faint odours dwell;
And near the water-melon stands,
Fresh from the Jumna's shining sands;
And golden grapes, whose bloom and hue
Wear morning light and morning dew,
Or purple with the deepest dye
That flushes evening's farewell sky.
And in the slender vases glow --
Vases that seem like sculptured snow --
The rich sherbets are sparkling bright
With ruby and with amber light.
A fragrant mat the ground o'erspread,
With an old tamarind overhead,
With drooping bough of darkest green,
Forms for their feast a pleasant screen.

'Tis night, but such delicious time
Would seem like day in northern clime.
A pure and holy element,
Where light and shade, together blent,
Are like the mind's high atmosphere,
When hope is calm, and heaven is near.
The moon is young -- her crescent brow
Wears its ethereal beauty now,
Unconscious of the crime and care,
Which even her brief reign must know,
Till she will pine to be so fair,
With such a weary world below.
A tremulous and silvery beam
Melts over palace, garden, stream,
Each flower beneath that tranquil ray,
Wears other beauty than by day,
All pale as if with love, and lose
Their rich variety of hues --
But ah, that languid loveliness
Hath magic, to the noon unknown,
A deep and pensive tenderness,
The heart at once feels is its own --
How fragrant to these dewy hours,
The white magnolia lifts its urn
The very Araby of flowers,
Wherein all precious odours burn.
And when the wind disperses these,
The faint scent of the lemon trees
Mingles with that rich sigh which dwells
Within the baubool's golden bells.
The dark green peepul's glossy leaves,
Like mirrors each a ray receives,
While luminous the moonlight falls,
O'er pearl kiosk and marble walls,
Those graceful palaces that stand
Most like the work of peri-land.
And rippling to the lovely shore,
The river tremulous with light,
On its small waves, is covered o'er
With the sweet offerings of the night --
Heaps of that scented grass whose bands
Have all been wove by pious hands,
Or wreaths, where fragrantly combined,
Red and white lotus flowers are twined.
And on the deep blue waters float
Many a cocoa-nut's small boat,
Holding within the lamp which bears
The maiden's dearest hopes and prayers,
Watch'd far as ever eye can see,
A vain but tender augury.
Alas! this world is not his home,
And still love trusts that signs will come
From his own native world of bliss,
To guide him through the shades of this.
Dreams, omens, he delights in these,
For love is linked with fantasies.

But hark! upon the plaining wind
Zilara's music floats again;
That midnight breeze could never find
A meeter echo than that strain,
Sad as the sobbing gale that sweeps
The last sere leaf which autumn keeps,
Yet sweet as when the waters fall
And make some lone glade musical.

SONG

"LADY, sweet Lady, song of mine
Was never meant for thee,
I sing but from my heart, and thine --
It cannot beat with me.

"You have not knelt in vain despair,
Beneath a love as vain,
That desperate -- that devoted love,
Life never knows again.

"What know you of a weary hope,
The fatal and the fond,
That feels it has no home on earth,
Yet dares not look beyond?

"The bitterness of wasted youth,
Impatient of its tears;
The dreary days, the feverish nights,
The long account of years.

"The vain regret, the dream destroy'd,
The vacancy of heart,
When life's illusions, one by one,
First darken -- then depart.

"The vacant heart! ah, worse, -- a shrine
For one beloved name:
Kept, not a blessing, but a curse,
Amid remorse and shame.

"To know how deep, how pure, how true
Your early feelings were;
But mock'd, betray'd, disdain'd, and chang'd,
They have but left despair.

"And yet the happy and the young
Bear in their hearts a well
Of gentlest, kindliest sympathy,
Where tears unbidden dwell.

"Then, lady, listen to my lute;
As angels look below,
And e'en in heaven pause to weep
O'er grief they cannot know."

The song was o'er, but yet the strings
Made melancholy murmurings;
She wandered on from air to air,
Changeful as fancies when they bear

The impress of the various thought,
From memory's twilight caverns brought.
At length, one wild, peculiar chime
Recalled this tale of ancient time.





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