Albert Pike

(1809-1891 / USA)

Fragments From &Quot;The Brigand.&Quot; A Poem. Canto I - Poem by Albert Pike

'Bring the wine-cup, companions! and let it go round!
At its bottom good humor and mirth will be found;
Bring the cup—we'll drink deep to the spirit of wine,
The true inspiration and nectar divine.

Boy! take round a draught to the brave Lanmdor;
Ere another sun sets we his loss may deplore.
Pass not the Tuerto! His sword is as good
As the best, and has drunken as deeply of blood.

Take the cup to San Pablo! He seemeth to wink,—
His saintship has well earned a license to drink;
For his children, the priests, he has oft helped to heaven,
By many a penance and stripe he has given.

No offence to El Padre!—oh, no! for his hand
Is acceptable, armed with the cup or the brand:
Drink deep to his health! and whenever we die,
In the camp or the field, may El Padre be nigh!

One draught to ourselves! To the League of the Free!
To the band that is feared from the hills to the sea!
Let the proud Viceroy fume! we his thunders defy,
And his treasures we confiscate under his eye.

The panther-trod mountains encircle our camp,
We descend like the wind at our bold leader's stamp;
And who would exchange the free life that he leads,
For the patter of prayers, and the counting of heads!

Drink deep to our captain, the brave and the true!
To the heart that chill fear and weak parley ne'er knew!
To him whose black plume, and the flame of whose brand,
Are watchwords of terror and fear through the land.

Valverde! Valverde!—The pale cowards quake,
And the rock-wallen cities and fortresses shake,
When his name rings around like the roar of the sea;—
Valverde! Valverde! The Sword of the Free.'

Such was the song that foamed along the rocks,
And echoed from the thunder-rifted blocks,
In many tongues. Such was the festal song
Of the Bandits.

The ragged cliffs among
They had their camp. On every side uplifted
Precipitous mountains, hoary with white foam sifted
Eternally upon their barren crowns,
Forever braving the fierce Storm-God's frowns,
And the Sun's laugh. No foot, in all the time
Since the world's making, had essayed to climb
The mountains there, so steep and rough were they.
And here, encircled so on all sides, lay
Sleeping within, an oval, verdant vale,
From which descended but one narrow trail,
A rocky pass, leading to where, below,
The plains spread out;—and through that crooked pass,
Fed in the vale by fountains brimmed with grass
And golden flowers, a silver streamlet ran.
The mountain-breezes never failed to fan
That narrow pass, and that most fertile vale.

The sun was down; but heaven had not grown pale,
For over it there flushed the million hues,
In rainbow cradles, out of the misty dews.
Here, on the summits of far-reaching hills,
The snow was stained with all those sunset thrills;
And there, thick-shaded, had a dim and gray
And misty look, as though dusk Eve did stray
Before her time, out from her eastern cave.
Around the mountain-bases thick did wave
Funereal firs; and in the vale there stood
A haughty and magnificent old brood
Of giant pines.
Watch-fires around were built,
And here and there stood, leaning on the hilt
Of his good brand, a bearded sentinel,
Stern and immovable, while thickly fell
The shouts of revelry upon his ear.
Caution was there, although no sign of fear;
And if the eye glanced round among the crags,
It might perceive, behind projecting jags,
Dark forms, half-hidden, all along the pass,
Still as though portions of the mountain-mass.
Here stood a lance, there lay a spotted blade
Upon the sod,—plain emblems of the trade
Of those who revelled; each of whom yet wore
His pistols in his belt; while, close before
A watch-fire, stood some bulky stacks of arms,
Ready for grasping by the owners' palms.
Some, massive muskets of the Tower stamp,
And some the truer rifle. Through the camp,
There was an air of watchful discipline,
Most stern and strict; such as is rarely seen
With those who have no law but their own will.

Above, and where the narrow, flowering vale
Grew narrower, and where a shifting sail
Of mist was floating up among the rough
And rugged branches of the giant trees;
And where a tall, gray, overhanging bluff
Gave shelter to the dim obscurities,
That cowered beneath, dreading the evening breeze,
Sat the stern chief. A broad and gnarled root
Lent him a seat, where, at the mountain's foot,
He rested, hearing not the shouts below,
Wherewith the winds were burdened, that did blow,
Drowning the voice, murmuring and musical,
Of the swift brook and slender waterfall,
That babbled near him, fed by faithful springs,
And by cold waters, dropping from the wings
Of crystalled snow. He had let fall his head
Upon his hands, as though he sadly fed
His memory with almost forgotten dreams,
Or winged Hopes, wherewith the Fancy teems.
And so he kept, until the crimson flush
Had vanished, at the Night-God's westward rush,
And the still stars began to tread the sky,
With their white feet, desiring to espy
The gentle moon in the far orient.
Why was the chieftain, like an old man, bent?
Why shook his frame with many a stifled sigh?
Why paled still more that pallid face? His eye,
Why is it dimmed with tears that will not fall,
As if the tenderness that unto all
Will cling, though far within the deepest nook
And inmost chambers of the dark heart, shook
His form, and raised the warm dew from his heart
Into his eyes?
When night and day did part,
Lingeringly, on the occidental marge,
And the sweet moon her silver orb did charge
With the sun's love; and shyly lifting not
Her eye, as yet, up from the shadowy grot
Behind the mountains, still shot up her spirit
Over their crowns; and the fair Star of Love,
Like some ethereal boat, when angels steer it,
Beamed brilliantly through the tall, gloomy grove
Of graceful firs that crowned the western hill;
Like a clear beacon set upon blue waves
To lighten sailors' hearts that fear cold graves;
He seemed to wander in the tangled maze
Of his own thoughts, as in a wilderness,
And on the glories of the Heavens gaze,
Like one who looks at things, but nothing sees,
Mingling them all in one misshapen blot;
Or, if he sees them, making them a part
Of the one thought, on which the burning heart
Is all concentered, till it is all thought.

There is an old walled city standing near
The broad Pacific's curving, sandy verge;
Whose very walls are sometimes, by the surge,
Whitened with foam. Great palaces are there,
That glitter in the clear Peruvian air;
And grand cathedrals, with old towering spires,
Reflecting from gold ornaments the fires
Of the eternal sun. Along the streets
By day and night without cessation beats
The pulse of life, and flows the living tide,
Of pomp and poverty, and woe and pride.
There shaven monk and proud Hidalgo walk,
Or roll in state; and like the lamp-eyed flock
Of Houris that in Paradise are met
By all who truly worship Mahomet,
Fair women congregate, of pleasant eves,
When the bland sea-breeze stirs the orange leaves,
With delicate ankles, round, full, graceful forms,
And eyes as deeply black as midnight storms,
Lighted by lightning; and a gait that shames
Old Andalusiau's slender-footed dames.
On all sides of the city, far and near,
Tall mansions, rich with Spanish pomp, appear;
And promenades, o'erarched with flowering trees,
Dropping their blooms at every passing breeze,
Or bent with olives. All the air is sweet,
For the light sea-winds, with their fairy feet,
Go in and out the honeyed orange-blooms,
And through the thick pomegranates purple glooms,
Becoming partners with the thievish bees,
In bearing off rich odors.
Here was bora
Eamon Valverde. Ere his head had worn
The weight of seven summers, he was sent
To gain, upon the mother continent
An education from her ponderous tomes,
And giant intellects, amid the homes
Of his dead ancestors, in fair Seville.
His name was not Valverde then; he bore
A prouder name and title, now no more.
There passed some dozen years, while he did fill
His brain with knowledge, such as few obtain,
And then his father called him home again.
Just when his youth bordered on manhood, ere
One hope, one spark of confidence had fainted
In his young soul; while every sense was painted
With golden hues, he left Seville the fair,
And crossed the ocean to his native land,
Glad on the well-known shores once more to stand.
He stood there at the season when the soul
Is most impassioned; when the brilliant goal
Of hope looms up and seems within our reach;
Ere yet experience has begun to teach
His bitter lessons to the wounded heart:
Ere Time has chilled one feeling, in the mart
Of ruined hopes and shattered destinies.
Just at the time when that strange prism, romance,
Lures the glad soul to sunny reveries,
And makes life seem to youth's bold, ardent glance,
All happiness and joy: When Faith and Trust
Have lost not one of all their sunny plumes;
Before the generous nature has been cursed
With dark suspicion, or the frowning glooms
Of stern misanthropy.
Thus was Ramon:
And when he stepped his native shore upon,
His father was a bankrupt. Men whom he
Had trusted as true friends, had ruined him.
Alas! this friendship and this treachery!
How many an eye doth perjured friendship dim!—
It is the fortune of the honest man
To trust and be deceived. It almost seems
Wiser to float upon the troubled streams
Of the world alone, and give and ask no aid.
Who has not, at some season of his life,
Had hollow friends and false hearts to upbraid?—
Delayed by storms, Ramon did just arrive
In time to embrace his father while alive.
There was an age in that one parting grasp:
He watched his parent's last convulsive gasp,
And buried him, and mourned him many a day.
Thenceforth he struggled on his lonely way,
Friendless and poor. Men coldly looked him down:
For 'tis a virtue in the rich, to frown
Upon the poor, and keep him underneath:
It is beneficence to let him breathe
The same good air as they, and tread the soil
Which they tread daintily.
In constant toil
And wrestling with his fate, Ramon bore up
A year or two, nor murmured at the cup
Of bitterness. 'Twas very hard for one
Whose spring was brilliant with a cloudless sun,
Full of romance, high hopes and splendid dreams,
Proud, ardent feelings, generous impulses,
To be thus dealt with.

One starry night,
He told his love.

The young Ramon upon Antonia gazed,
As one might on an angel, that could give
Him immortality. He did not live
Beyond her presence; for his other life,
Out in the world, was but an evanescence,
A dream of pain and care, of toil and strife,
Lit with the image of that lovely presence,
That peopled his lone heart, and made its cold,
Dark desert once again a Paradise.
So gazing into her deep earnest eyes,
As I have said, his tale of love he told,
Weaving all thoughts, all wishes, all desire,
All hopes and passion into words of fire,
That fell upon her heart, with the intense
Appealing power of love's own eloquence,
And would have won her, had her heart not been
His own already.
There, amid the green
And living foliage of the sleeping trees,
Their faith was plighted. While the impassive stars,
With their eternal calm monotony,
Seemed the soul's echo, deeply, fervently,
They vowed to be each other's evermore;
A sacred vow, Heaven's primal shrine before.
How long and happy their sweet conference
Of loving words, or of that most intense
And eloquent silence which is only known
To Love and his young votaries! From her throne
The waxing moon had gone before they parted,
Each to delicious slumber, each light-hearted,
Buoyant with hope. Thence forward, day by day,
Their love grew more intense. When morning gray
Awoke, he found her at the window, reading,
And when pale Eve the flowers with dew was feeding,
She still was there, watching to see his form
Among the busy and incessant swarm
That filled the street. She lived in him alone;
He was her life, a twin-soul to her own:
And when to Heaven she kneeled at twilight dim
And sung her matin song or evening hymn,
To Mary Queen, be sure the words of it
Breathed from his soul, and by his pen were writ.

Too soon
This dream of hope and happiness was broken:
It would have been by far too great a boon,
For Alvarez, the wealthy, pious-spoken,
Proud Hijo d'algo, to have given to one,
Poor as Ramon, his daughter. For the son
Of an old noble wooed her, through her sire,
And had his promise. Then the latent fire
That slumbers in the meekest bosoms woke,
And a new spirit in Antonio spoke
In resolute accents. She declared her love,
And gloried in 't, and vowed by Him above,
That neither prayers nor force should make her wed,
Save with Ramon, to whom her faith was plighted,
While life remained, unless her reason fled,
And she became like one that gropes, benighted
Along the terror-peopled waste of senseless dreams.

Henceforth Ramon was persecuted. He
Was represented by the priests to be
A favoror of things heretical.
Stoutly they toiled, bribed to effect his fall,
And to the councils did accuse the youth,
As one who was no votary of the truth,
But loved strange doctrines, and had learned to hate
The true belief, endangering the State.
By perjury the miscreants gained their ends;
The poor have seldom very many friends;
And he was soon condemned.

They chained him there,
And gave him to their alguazils to bear
Into the mountains three-score leagues or so,
And leave him on the rocks or frozen snow,
Bound hand and foot, to live as best he might,
Or die and feed the wolves. So did they write
Their stern decree. It fell upon his ear,
But stirred no nerve. He shed no womanish tear,
When 'twas pronounced, or when, next day, he took,
Before they bore him off, his last long look
At the proud palace where his love was kept
As in a cloister; for his eyes had wept
Their last tear now. That was the hour that changed
His inmost nature. That short hour estranged
From him all tender feelings that before
Had fluttered in his heart. The blow that tore
His hopes away, gave him a heart of steel:
Thenceforth he hardly knew what 'twas to feel.
He had been gentle and affectionate,
Most bounteous, though but limited of late,
A shy and modest boy, a genial man:
And his warm blood, although it swiftly ran,
Still throbbed with sympathy, whene'er distress
Called for relief, or wrongs required redress.
But from that hour his heart became austere,
And cold and stern: no passion thence was dear,
Except revenge.

One windy afternoon
In chilly autumn, when the full red moon
Stood on the ramparts of the hills, to gaze
At the veiled sun, just setting in thick haze,
They flung Ramon down on the rocky slope
Of a bleak mountain, and rode swift away,
Leaving him, like a helpless clod, to cope
With death and his despair; and so he lay,
While they rode off with many a jeer and jibe,
The common fashion of the vulgar tribe.
And so he lay, silent and speechless, there,
On the wild sky fixing a steady stare
Of utter hopelessness. The sun dropped down,
As a torch is quenched. Night came with heavy frown,
And the gray haze grew thicker in the west,—
Sure indication that the restless ocean
Had sent forth tempest from his teeming breast,
To lash the winds and waters to commotion.
An hour or so the red moon labored through
The heavy masses of gray cloud that grew,
Weltering like billows, over the angry sky,
Until these surges, running mountain-high,
Broke over her, and hid her struggling form,
As when a vessel founders in a storm.
The winds awoke, and madly reeled about,
Shrieking amid the cedars, driving out
The hidden darkness from the deepest caves,
To cover the sky: like great engulfing waves,
The fir trees roared and rocked; blue lightning flashed,
Licking the dark crags with its fiery tongue,
And on the cliffs the awful thunder crashed,
And, echoing, to the precipices clung
With a moaning roar. And then the rain broke out,
The sharp white hail, and the great waterspout,
Hurling the rocks down. Swollen rivers bounded
Rejoicingly from crag to crag, surrounded
By crashing trees that fell in splinters there.
Yet he lay helpless. The electric glare
Blinded his eyes; the white hail cut to his bones;
The thunder mocked his agonized moans;
And the storm lulled only to rave again.
The seared wolves, issuing from cave and den,
Blinded with fear, howled loudly as they ran;
And eagles flew so low, their wings did fan
His wounded face. All night the mighty Storm
Haunted the mountains; but his eyeless form
Fled when the sun rose. Dimly, in a cloud
That veiled his brightness like a great, black shroud,
He rose; but soon his fiery, flashing rays
Melted the mist, and then his potent blaze
Became a torture;—so that, all that day,
And its chill night, Ramon despairing lay.
The next day came, with thirst, desire of death,
And restless dozing,—dreams of drinking seas,
Parched tongue, sharp headache, strained eyes, feverish breath,
And horrible pangs and spasms; and, by degrees,
Frenzy and madness. So that day crawled by,
And cold Night came with all her icy stars,
Radiant with freezing splendor in the sky,—
Dear to the sailor, when his shattered spars
Sweep by the Orkneys or bleak Hebrides,
Or where into mountains the salt waters freeze,
By the stormy Cape, or Straits of Magellan.
That night passed also. Morning came again,
And with it madness. Then he bruised and beat
His head against the rocks, and tried to eat
His wasted arms, and then would lie and smile
At his poor mangled limbs; and all the while
The hot sun scorched his maddened brain away.
Another night of frost! and then, as day
And suimse came again, his feeble breath
Flickered upon his lips, and, chilled by Death,
The current of his blood stood still, and he
Lost all sensation. There some robbers found
What seemed a lifeless body. Two or three
Passed on and left him; but a stifled sound,
A faint, low gasp, scarce heard, induced one young,
Compassionate novice, to whose soul still clung
Some feeling of humanity, to pour
Wine in his mouth; and then he ran, and bore
From a cold running spring a draught of water
In his broad hat. His eyes unclosed once more;
And, though their trade was robbery and slaughter,
They raised him, fed him, bore him to their camp.
Who shall say wherefore? Ruffians of their stamp
Will do such things at times. They thought, perchance,
Thus to atone for some of their huge crimes;
For, after they had plied the sword and lance,
They told their beads, and chanted pious rhymes.

So life's book opened at another leaf.
Of his preservers he became the chief:
And soon his energy increased the band,
For many joined Valverde the Brigand.
Woe to the priests that met him in the way!
Small time he gave them to repent or pray,
Until his name into a war-cry grew,
Known, hated, dreaded, throughout all Peru.
For four long years he had pursued this trade,
And still victorious shone his flashing blade;
Prompt to resolve, and fitted to command,
Ready to plan, and readier his quick hand;
Cautious and bold, and wakeful as a deer,
He ruled his subjects less by love than fear.

Love's white star was down
Behind the hills, when slowly he returned,
And reached the camp. The watchfires brightly burned,
Casting their flickering light upon the trees,—
Those great, grim giants,—and upon the seas,
Of darkness-haunted element above.
And still the sentries through the pillared grove
Paced their slow rounds. White tents the trees amid
Gleamed in the torchlight, half in shadow hid,
And brooding on the grass; and here and there
Were rows of huts, built of great limbs of pine;
And one huge tent blazed with the brilliant glare
Of a great light, where merriment and wine
Flashed into shout and song,—a canvass house,
Vast as a palace, where the band carouse.
Valverde was attracted by the din,
And, flinging back the folds, went calmly in.
From tree to tree the snowy canvass spread;
And silver lamps, swinging far overhead,
Fed with, perfume from Cathay and Cashmere,
Flooded with light the mountain-atmosphere.
Round one great table thronged a hundred faces,
Stamped with the characters of many races,
Dark-bearded visages, stern, resolute;
The stout old veteran, and the young recruit.
All was rude splendor: massive plates of gold,
Which hoarding monks long since had ceased to hold
Rich furniture of every costly wood,
Paid for with robber's price, the owner's blood;
Old tapestry of Spain; great gorgeous vases
Of lapis-lazuli and emerald made to hold
Old wine of Xeres; bottles of beaten gold,
Wrought by quaint hands, embellished with saints' faces;
Tall crucifixes gleaming with costly stones;
Great piles of cushions, softer than kings' thrones;
Casks of old wine, bought for the sacrament,
But lost upon the way; rich armor, sent
By curious artisans to holy shrines,
Now swinging from uncousecrated pines;
Chains of gold beads, taken from devotees,
Now ornamenting sacriligious trees;
Cups made of solid agate, for the lip
Of holy abbot, whence the robbers sip
The sacred vintage;—everything, in short,
Which art had made and ample wealth had bought,
Was heaped in strange confusion all around.

The wild, reckless rhyme,
With its quaint words of old Castilian,
That so Valverde chanted, hardly can
Be well translated in our rougher tongue; -
But something so it ran:

Up with the Crescent! Away to the hills!
We'll die, or save Granada,
The virgin moon her first horn fills,
Her purest light from heaven distills
On the city, as if to guard her.
Away! away! ere the bloody spray
Pour into our fastness by rock and crag;
Ere the fiery Cross its wild brilliance toss,
And blaze on our hills while inertly we lag,
At the ramparts of Granada.
Up, up with the Crescent! If we are to die,
To die, or save Granada,
Two .lives for one! be our battle-cry;
Each ounce of blood with a pound they shall buy;
We will fight, and die the harder.
Up, up, and on! Let the rising sun
See each a corse or a conqueror!
Up, spear and shield! The loud cymbal has pealed,
And 'tis time for Mahomet's sons to stir,
From the ramparts of Granada.

On, on with the Crescent! The Christians come,
They think to reach Granada;
And over the rocks to the beat of drum,
We hear their tramp and their busy hum;
Hush! silence! but on with ardor!
Now, sons of heaven, let their ranks be riven!
Revenge! Revenge! Do ye know the word?
Fight now like men, and the Crescent again,
Like the flap of the eagle's wing, shall be heard
From the ramparts of Granada.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, February 24, 2014

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