Thomas Moore, from Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance

Thomas Moore (1779–1852) has a permanent place in literary history as the friend and biographer of Byron and as the preeminent "Irish melodist" (after his Irish Melodies, which went through scores of editions beginning in 1807). He was a best-selling author for most of his career, rivaling and sometimes outdistancing Byron in this respect. His major venture in Romantic Orientalism, Lalla Rookh (1817), earned him £3,000 from Longman even before it was well under way, at that time the largest sum ever offered for a single poem. It was a sound investment for the publisher, going through more than twenty editions during the author's lifetime.

The work consists of four highly imaginative tales told by a young Cashmerian poet named Feramorz, employed to entertain the Indian princess Lalla Rookh on her travels from Delhi to Cashmere to be married to the king of Bucharia (Bukhara, in what is now Uzbekistan). The tales are high melodrama, with roles that could have been played by Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres in early motion pictures like The Sheik. The frame of these stories, by contrast, becomes increasingly interesting as the emissary Fadladeen, one of Lalla Rookh's entourage on the journey, assumes the role of ill-tempered critic of Feramorz's tales in the manner of the Tory critics of Blackwood's and the Edinburgh Review (this was the year before they lambasted young Keats for the faults of Endymion) and as Lalla Rookh falls in love with the poet Feramorz, who at the end turns out to be the very king of Bucharia to whom she is betrothed.

The extract given here, three hundred lines from near the beginning of the third tale, "The Fire-Worshippers," establishes the principal characters of a kind of Romeo-and-Juliet plot of young (and ultimately tragic) love in a context of warring families and cultures. Hafed, the leader of the Persian Ghebers, falls in love with Hinda, daughter of his enemy, the Moslem emir al Hassan. "The overtones are unmistakably those of Irish rebellion, particularly the Robert Emmet episode," writes Howard Mumford Jones, in a still-useful biography of Moore published more than six decades ago (The Harp That Once — A Chronicle of the Life of Thomas Moore, 1937). "Moore hymns the doomed patriots and goes out of his way to excoriate the wretch who betrayed their cause. . . . [T]he suggestion that Hafed is a Persian Robert Emmet, Hinda the unfortunate Sarah Curran, and the traitor a composite portrait of government spies, is irresistible."

The Fire-Worshippers





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[Click on image to enlarge] Such is the maid who, at this hour,
      Hath risen from her restless sleep,
And sits alone in that high bower,
      Watching the still and shining deep.
Ah! 'twas not thus, — with tearful eyes
      And beating heart, — she used to gaze
On the magnificent earth and skies,
      In her own land, in happier days.
Why looks she now so anxious down
Among those rocks, whose rugged frown
      Blackens the mirror of the deep?
Whom waits she all this lonely night?
      Too rough the rocks, too bold the steep,
For man to scale that turret's height! —

So deem'd at least her thoughtful sire,
      When high, to catch the cool night-air,
After the day-beam's withering fire,
      He built her bower of freshness there,
And had it deck'd with costliest skill,
      And fondly thought it safe as fair: —
Think, reverend dreamer! think so still,
      Nor wake to learn what Love can dare; —
Love, all-defying Love, who sees
No charm in trophies won with ease;
Whose rarest, dearest fruits of bliss
Are pluck'd on Danger's precipice!
Bolder than they who dare not dive
      For pearls, but when the sea's at rest,
Love, in the tempest most alive,
      Hath ever held that pearl the best
He finds beneath the stormiest water.
Yes — ARABY'S unrivall'd daughter,
Though high that tower, that rock-way rude,
      There's one who, but to kiss thy cheek,
Would climb the untrodden solitude
      Of ARARAT'S tremendous peak,
And think its steeps, though dark and dread,
Heaven's pathways, if to thee they led!
Even now thou seest the flashing spray,
That lights his oar's impatient way; —
Even now thou hear'st the sudden shock
Of his swift bark against the rock,
And stretchest down thy arms of snow,
As if to lift him from below!
Like her, to whom at dead of night,
The bridegroom, with his locks of light,
Came, in the flush of love and pride,
And scal'd the terrace of his bride; —
When, as she saw him rashly spring,
And midway up in danger cling,
She flung him down her long black hair,
Exclaiming, breathless, "There, love, there!"
And scarce did manlier nerve uphold
      The hero ZAL in that fond hour,
Than wings the youth who, fleet and bold,
      Now climbs the rocks to HINDA'S bower.
See — light as up their granite steeps
      The rock-goats of ARABIA clamber,
Fearless from crag to crag he leaps,
      And now is in the maiden's chamber.

She loves — but knows not whom she loves,
      Nor what his race, nor whence he came; —
Like one who meets, in Indian groves,
      Some beauteous bird without a name,
Brought by the last ambrosial breeze,
From isles in the undiscover'd seas,
To show his plumage for a day
To wondering eyes, and wing away!
Will he thus fly — her nameless lover?
      ALLA forbid! 'twas by a moon
As fair as this, while singing over
      Some ditty to her soft Kanoon,
Alone, at this same witching hour,
      She first beheld his radiant eyes
Gleam through the lattice of the bower,
      Where nightly now they mix their sighs;
And thought some spirit of the air
(For what could waft a mortal there?)
Was pausing on his moonlit way
To listen to her lonely lay!
This fancy ne'er hath left her mind:
      And though, when terror's swoon had past,
She saw a youth, of mortal kind,
      Before her in obeisance cast,
Yet often since, when he hath spoken
Strange, awful words, — and gleams have broken
From his dark eyes, too bright to bear, —
      Oh! she hath fear'd her soul was given
To some unhallow'd child of air,
      Some erring Spirit cast from heaven,
Like those angelic youths of old,
Who burn'd for maids of mortal mould,
Bewilder'd left the glorious skies,
And lost their heaven for woman's eyes.
Fond girl! nor fiend nor angel he
Who woos thy young simplicity;
But one of earth's impassion'd sons,
      As warm in love, as fierce in ire,
As the best heart whose current runs
      Full of the Day-God's living fire.
But quench'd to-night that ardor seems,
      And pale his cheek, and sunk his brow; —
Never before, but in her dreams,
      Had she beheld him pale as now:
And those were dreams of troubled sleep,
From which 'twas joy to wake and weep;
Visions, that will not be forgot,
      But sadden every waking scene,
Like warning ghosts, that leave the spot
      All wither'd where they once have been.

"How sweetly," said the trembling maid,
Of her own gentle voice afraid,
So long had they in silence stood,
Looking upon that tranquil flood —
"How sweetly does the moonbeam smile
To-night upon yon leafy isle!
Oft, in my fancy's wanderings,
I've wish'd that little isle had wings,
And we, within its fairy bowers,
      Were wafted off to seas unknown
Where not a pulse should beat but ours,
      And we might live, love, die alone!
Far from the cruel and the cold, —
      Where the bright eyes of angels only
Should come around us, to behold
      A paradise so pure and lonely.
Would this be world enough for thee?" —
Playful she turn'd, that he might see
      The passing smile her cheek put on;
But when she mark'd how mournfully
      His eyes met hers, that smile was gone;
And, bursting into heartfelt tears,
"Yes, yes," she cried, "my hourly fears,
My dreams have boded all too right —
We part — forever part — to-night!
I knew, I knew it could not last —
'Twas bright, 'twas heavenly, but 'tis past!
Oh! ever thus, from childhood's hour,
      I've seen my fondest hopes decay;
I never lov'd a tree or flower,
      But 'twas the first to fade away.
I never nurs'd a dear gazelle,
      To glad me with its soft black eye,
But when it came to know me well,
      And love me, it was sure to die!
Now too — the joy most like divine
      Of all I ever dreamt or knew,
To see thee, hear thee, call thee mine, —
      Oh misery! must I lose that too?
Yet go — on peril's brink we meet; —
      Those frightful rocks — that treacherous sea —
No, never come again — though sweet,
      Though heaven, it may be death to thee.
Farewell — and blessings on thy way,
      Where'er thou goest, beloved stranger!
Better to sit and watch that ray,
And think thee safe, though far away,
      Than have thee near me, and in danger!"

"Danger! — oh, tempt me not to boast — "
The youth exclaim'd — "thou little know'st
What he can brave, who, born and nurst
In Danger's paths, has dar'd her worst;
Upon whose ear the signal word
      Of strife and death is hourly breaking;
Who sleeps with head upon the sword
      His fever'd hand must grasp in waking.
Danger! — "
            "Say on — thou fear'st not then,
And we may meet — oft meet again?"

"Oh! look not so — beneath the skies
I now fear nothing but those eyes.
If aught on earth could charm or force
My spirit from its destin'd course, —
If aught could make this soul forget
The bond to which its seal is set,
'Twould be those eyes; — they, only they,
Could melt that sacred seal away!
But no — 'tis fix'd — my awful doom
Is fix'd — on this side of the tomb
We meet no more; — why, why did Heaven
Mingle two souls that earth has riven,
Has rent asunder wide as ours?
O Arab maid, as soon the Powers
Of Light and Darkness may combine,
As I be link'd with thee or thine!
Thy Father — — "
            "Holy ALLA save
      His gray head from that lightning glance!
Thou know'st him not — he loves the brave;
      Nor lives there under heaven's expanse
One who would prize, would worship thee
And thy bold spirit, more than he.
Oft when, in childhood, I have play'd
      With the bright falchion by his side,
I've heard him swear his lisping maid
      In time should be a warrior's bride.
And still, whene'er at Haram hours
I take him cool sherbets and flowers,
He tells me, when in playful mood,
      A hero shall my bridegroom be,
Since maids are best in battle woo'd,
      And won with shouts of victory!
Nay, turn not from me — thou alone
Art form'd to make both hearts thy own.
Go — join his sacred ranks — thou know'st
      The unholy strife these Persians wage:
Good Heaven, that frown! — even now thou glow'st
      With more than mortal warrior's rage,
Haste to the camp by morning's light,
And when that sword is rais'd in fight,
Oh still remember, Love and I
Beneath its shadow trembling lie!
One victory o'er those Slaves of Fire,
Those impious Ghebers, whom my sire
Abhors — — "
            "Hold, hold — thy words are death — "
      The stranger cried, as wild he flung
His mantle back, and show'd beneath
      The Gheber belt that round him clung —
"Here, maiden, look — weep — blush to see
All that thy sire abhors in me!
Yes — I am of that impious race,
      Those Slaves of Fire, who, morn and even,
Hail their Creator's dwelling-place
      Among the living lights of heaven;
Yes — I am of that outcast few,
To IRAN and to vengeance true,
Who curse the hour your Arabs came
To desolate our shrines of flame,
And swear, before God's burning eye,
To break our country's chains, or die!
Thy bigot sire, — nay, tremble not, —
      He, who gave birth to those dear eyes,
With me is sacred as the spot
      From which our fires of worship rise!
But know — 'twas he I sought that night,
      When, from my watch-boat on the sea,
I caught this turret's glimmering light,
      And up the rude rocks desperately
Rush'd to my prey — thou know'st the rest —
I climb'd the gory vulture's nest,
And found a trembling dove within; —
Thine, thine the victory — thine the sin —
If Love hath made one thought his own,
That Vengeance claims first — last — alone!
Oh! had we never, never met,
Or could this heart e'en now forget
How link'd, how bless'd we might have been,
Had fate not frown'd so dark between!
Hadst thou been born a Persian maid,
In neighboring valleys had we dwelt,
Through the same fields in childhood play'd,
      At the same kindling altar knelt, —
Then, then, while all those nameless ties,
In which the charm of Country lies,
Had round our hearts been hourly spun,
Till IRAN'S cause and thine were one;
While in thy lute's awakening sigh
I heard the voice of days gone by,
And saw, in every smile of thine,
Returning hours of glory shine; —
While the wrong'd Spirit of our Land
      Liv'd, look'd, and spoke her wrongs through thee, —
God! who could then this sword withstand?
      Its very flash were victory!
But now — estrang'd, divorc'd forever,
Far as the grasp of Fate can sever;
Our only ties what love has wove, —
      In faith, friends, country, sunder'd wide;
And then, then only, true to love,
      When false to all that's dear beside!
Thy father, IRAN'S deadliest foe —
Thyself perhaps, even now — but no —
Hate never look'd so lovely yet!
      No — sacred to thy soul will be
The land of him who could forget
      All but that bleeding land for thee.
When other eyes shall see, unmov'd,
      Her widows mourn, her warriors fall,
Thou'lt think how well one Gheber lov'd,
      And for his sake thou'lt weep for all!
But look —"
            With sudden start he turn'd
      And pointed to the distant wave,
Where lights, like charnel meteors, burn'd
      Bluely, as o'er some seaman's grave;
And fiery darts, at intervals,
      Flew up all sparkling from the main,
As if each star that nightly falls
      Were shooting back to heaven again.
"My signal lights! — I must away —
Both, both are ruin'd, if I stay.
Farewell — sweet life! thou cling'st in vain —
Now, Vengeance, I am thine again!"
Fiercely he broke away, nor stopp'd,
Nor look'd — but from the lattice dropp'd
Down 'mid the pointed crags beneath,
As if he fled from love to death.
While pale and mute young HINDA stood;
Nor mov'd, till in the silent flood
A momentary plunge below
Startled her from her trance of woe; —
Shrieking she to the lattice flew,
      "I come — I come — if in that tide
Thou sleep'st to-night, I'll sleep there too,
      In death's cold wedlock, by thy side.
Oh! I would ask no happier bed
      Than the chill wave my love lies under: —
[Click on image to enlarge] Sweeter to rest together dead,
      Far sweeter, than to live asunder!"
But no — their hour is not yet come —
      Again she sees his pinnace fly,
Wafting him fleetly to his home,
      Where'er that ill-starr'd home may lie;
And calm and smooth it seem'd to win
      Its moonlit way before the wind,
As if it bore all peace within,
      Nor left one breaking heart behind!

                         * * *

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