Helen Maria Williams
Peruvian Tales: Aciloe, Tale V - Poem by Helen Maria Williams
Character of ZAMOR , a bard--His passion for ACILOE , daughter of the Cazique who rules the valley--The Peruvian tribe prepare to defend themselves--A battle--The PERUVIANS are vanquished--ACILOE'S father is made a prisoner, and ZAMOR is supposed to have fallen in the engagement--ALPHONSO becomes enamoured of ACILOE --Offers to marry her--She rejects him--In revenge he puts her father to the torture--She appears to consent, in order to save him--Meets ZAMOR in a wood--LAS CASAS joins them--Leads the two lovers to ALPHONSO , and obtains their freedom--ZAMOR conducts ACILOE and her father to Chili--A reflection on the influence of Poetry over the human mind.
In this sweet scene, to all the virtues kind,
Mild ZAMOR own'd the richest gifts of mind;
For o'er his tuneful breast the heav'nly muse
Shed from her sacred spring inspiring dews;
She loves to breathe her hallow'd strain where art
Has never veil'd the soul, or warp'd the heart;
Where fancy glows with all her native fire,
And passion lives on the exulting lyre.
Nature, in terror rob'd or beauty dreast,
Could thrill with dear enchantment ZAMOR'S breast;
He lov'd the languid sigh the zephyr pours,
He lov'd the placid rill that feeds the flowers--
But more the hollow sound the wild winds form,
When black upon the billow hangs the storm;
The torrent rolling from the mountain steep,
Its white foam trembling on the darken'd deep--
And oft on Andes' heights with earnest gaze
He view'd the sinking sun's reflected rays
Glow like unnumber'd stars, that seem to rest
Sublime upon his ice-encircled breast.
Oft his wild warblings charm'd the festal hour,
Rose in the vale, and languish'd in the bower;
The heart's reponsive tones he well could move,
Whose song was nature, and whose theme was love.
ACILOE'S beauties his fond soul confest,
Yet more ACILOE'S virtues warm'd his breast.
Ah stay, ye tender hours of young delight,
Suspend, ye moments, your impatient flight;
Prolong the charm when passion's pure controul
Unfolds the first affections of the soul!
This gentle tribe ACILOE'S sire obey'd,
Who still in wisdom and in mercy sway'd.
From him the dear illusions long had fled
That o'er the morn of life enchantment shed;
But virtue's calm remembrance cheer'd his breast,
And life was joy serene, and death was rest:
Bright is the blushing Summer's glowing ray,
Yet not unlovely Autumn's temper'd day.
Now stern IBERIA'S ruthless sons advance,
Roll the fierce eye, and shake the pointed lance.
PERUVIA'S tribe behold the hostile throng
With desolating fury pour along;
The hoary chief to the dire conflict leads
His death-devoted train--the battle bleeds.
ACILOE'S searching eye can now no more
The form of ZAMOR or her sire explore;
While destin'd all the bitterness to prove
Of anxious duty and of mourning love,
Each name that's dearest wakes her bursting sigh,
Throbs at her soul, and trembles in her eye.
Now pierc'd by wounds, and breathless from the fight,
Her friend, the valiant OMAR , struck her sight:--
"OMAR ," she cried, "you bleed, unhappy youth!
And sure that look unfolds some fatal truth;
Speak, pitying speak, my frantic fears forgive,
Say, does my father, does my ZAMOR live?"--
"All, all is lost!" the dying OMAR said,
"And endless griefs are thine, dear, wretched maid;
I saw thy aged sire a captive bound,
I saw thy ZAMOR press the crimson ground!"--
He could no more, he yields his fleeting breath,
While all in vain she seeks repose in death.
But O, how far each other pang above
Throbs the wild agony of hopeless love!
That woe, for which in vain would comfort shed
Her healing balm, or time in pity spread
The veil that throws a shade o'er other care,
For here, and here alone, profound despair
Casts o'er the suff'ring soul a lasting gloom,
And slowly leads her victim to the tomb.
Now rude tumultuous sounds assail her ear,
And soon ALPHONSO'S victor train appear;
Then, as with ling'ring step he mov'd along,
She saw her father 'mid the captive throng;
She saw with dire dismay, she wildly flew,
Her snowy arms around his form she threw;--
"He bleeds!" she cries; "I hear his moan of pain!
My father will not bear the galling chain!
Cruel ALPHONSO , let not helpless age
Feel thy hard yoke, and meet thy barb'rous rage;
Or, O, if ever mercy mov'd thy soul,
If ever thou hast felt her blest controul,
Grant my sad heart's desire, and let me share
The fetters which a father ill can bear."
While the young warrior, as she falt'ring spoke,
With fix'd attention and with ardent look
Hung on her tender glance, that love inspires,
The rage of conquest yields to milder fires.
Yet as he gaz'd enraptur'd on her form,
Her virtues awe the heart her beauties warm;
And while impassion'd tones his love reveal,
He asks with holy rites his vows to seal.
"Hops't thou," she cried, "those sacred ties shall join
This bleeding heart, this trembling hand to thine?
To thine, whose ruthless heart has caus'd my pains,
Whose barb'rous hand the blood of ZAMOR stains!
Canst thou, the murd'rer of my peace, controul
The grief that swells, the pang that rends my soul?--
That pang shall death, shall death alone remove,
And cure the anguish of despairing love."
At length, to madness stung by fixed disdain,
ALPHONSO now to fury gives the rein;
And with relentless mandate dooms her sire,
Stretch'd on the bed of torture to expire;
But O, what form of language can impart
The frantic grief that wrung ACILOE'S heart!
When to the height of hopeless sorrow wrought,
The fainting spirit feels a pang of thought,
Which, never painted in the hues of speech,
Lives at the soul, and mocks expression's reach!
At length she falt'ring cried, "the conflict's o'er,
My heart, my breaking heart can bear no more!
Yet spare his feeble age--my vows receive,
And O, in mercy bid my father live!"
"Wilt thou be mine?" th' enamour'd chief replies--
"Yes, cruel!--see, he dies! my father dies!--
Save, save my father!"--"Dear, unhappy maid,"
The charm'd ALPHONSO cried, "be swift obey'd--
Unbind his chains--Ah, calm each anxious pain,
ACILOE'S voice no more shall plead in vain;
Plac'd near his child, thy aged sire shall share
Our joys, still cherished by thy tender care."--
"No more," she cried, "will fate that bliss allow;
Before my lips shall breathe the impartial vow,
Some faithful guide shall lead his aged feet
To distant scenes that yield a safe retreat;
Where some soft heart, some gentle hand will shed
The drops of comfort on his hoary head.
My ZAMOR , if thy spirit hovers near,
Forgive!"--she ceas'd, and shed no more a tear.
Now night descends, and steeps each weary breast,
Save sad ACILOE'S , in the balm of rest.
Her aged father's beauteous dwelling stood
Near the cool shelter of a waving wood;
But now the gales that bend its foliage die,
Soft on the silver turf its shadows lie;
While slowly wand'ring o'er the vale below,
The gazing moon look'd pale as silent woe.
The sacred shade, amid whose fragrant bowers
ZAMOR oft sooth'd with song the evening hours,
Pour'd to the lunar orb his magic lay,
More mild, more pensive than her musing ray,
That shade with trembling step the mourner sought,
And thus she breath'd her tender, plaintive thought:--
"Ah where, dear object of these piercing pains,
Where rests thy murder'd form, thy Lov'd remains?
On what sad spot, my ZAMOR , flow'd the wound
That purpled with thy streaming blood the ground?
O, had ACILOE in that hour been nigh,
Hadst thou but fix'd on me thy closing eye,--
Told with faint voice, 'twas death's worst pang to part,
And dropp'd thy last cold tear upon my heart!
A pang less bitter then would waste this breast,
That in the grave alone shall seek its rest.
Soon as some friendly hand in mercy leads
My aged father safe to Chili's meads,
Death shall for ever seal the nuptial tie,
The heart belov'd by thee is fix'd to die."--
She ceas'd, when dimly thro' her flowing tears
She sees her ZAMOR'S form, his voice she hears.
" 'Tis he!" she cries, "he moves upon the gale!
My ZAMOR'S sigh is deep---his look is pale--
I faint--" his arms receive her sinking frame,--
He calls his love by every tender name;
He stays her fleeting spirit--life anew
Warms her cold cheek--his tears her cheek bedew.
"Thy ZAMOR lives," he cried: "as on the ground
I senseless lay, some child of pity bound
My bleeding wounds, and bore me from the plain,--
But thou art lost, and I have liv'd in vain!"
"Forgive," she cried, in accents of despair,
ZAMOR , forgive thy wrongs, and O forbear,
The mild reproach that fills thy mournful eye,
The tear that wets thy cheek--I mean to die.
Could I behold my aged sire endure
The pains his wretched child had power to cure?
Still, still my father, stretch'd in death, I see,
His grey locks trembling while he gaz'd on me;
My ZAMOR , soft, breathe not so loud a sigh,
Some list'ning foe may pityless deny
This parting hour--hark, sure some step I hear,
ZAMOR again is lost--for now 'tis near."--
She paus'd, when sudden from the shelt'ring wood
A venerable form before them stood:
"Fear not, soft maid," he cried, "nor think I come
To seal with deeper miseries thy doom;
To bruise the broken heart that sorrow rends,
Ah, not for this LAS CASAS hither bends--
He comes to bid those rising sorrows cease,
To pour upon thy wounds the balm of peace.
I rov'd with dire ALMAGRO'S ruthless train,
Through scenes of death, to Chili's verdant plain;
Their wish to bathe that verdant plain in gore,
Then from its bosom drag the golden ore:
But mine to check the stream of human blood,
Or mingle drops of pity with the flood;
When from those fair, unconquered vales they fled
This languid frame was stretch'd upon the bed
Of pale disease; when, helpless and alone,
The Chilese 'spied their friend, the murd'rers gone,
With eager fondness round my couch they drew,
And my cold hand with gushing tears bedew;
By day they soothe my pains with sweet delight,
And give to watchings the dull hours of night;
For me their gen'rous bosoms joy to prove
The cares of pity, and the toils of love--
At length for me the pathless wild they trac'd,
And softly bore me o'er its dreary waste;
Then parting, at my feet they bend, and clasp
These aged knees--my soul yet feels their grasp!
Now o'er the vale with painful step I stray'd,
And reach this shelt'ring grove; here, hapless maid,
My list'ning ear has caught thy piercing wail,
My heart has trembled to thy moving tale."--
"And art thou he?" the mournful pair exclaim,
'"How dear to mis'ry's soul LAS CASAS ' name!
Spirit benign, who every grief can share,
Whose pity stoops to make the wretch its care,
Weep not for us--in vain thy tears shall flow
For cureless evils, and for hopeless woe!"--
"Come," he replied, "mild suff'rers, to the fane
Where rests ALPHONSO with his martial train;
My voice shall urge his soul to gen'rous deeds,
And bid him hear when truth and nature pleads."
While in meek tones LAS CASAS thus exprest
His pious purpose, o'er ACILOE'S breast
A dawning ray of cheering comfort streams,
But faint the hope that on her spirit beams;
Faint as when ebbing life must soon depart,
The pulse that trembles while it warms the heart.
Before ALPHONSO now the lovers stand,
The aged suff'rer joined the mournful band;
While, with the look that guardian seraphs wear,
When sent to calm the throbs of mortal care,
The story of their woes LAS CASAS told,
Then cried, "the wretched ZAMOR here behold--
Hop'st thou, fond man, a passion to controul
Fix'd in the breast, and woven in the soul?
Ah, know, mistaken youth, thy power in vain
Would bind thy victim in the nuptial chain;
That faithful heart will rend the galling tie,
That heart will break, that tender frame will die!
Then, by each sacred name to nature dear,
By faithful passion's agonizing tear,
By all the wasting pangs that tear her breast,
By the deep groan that gives the suff'rer rest,
Let mercy's pleading voice thy bosom move,
And fear to burst the bonds of plighted love!"
He paus'd--now ZAMOR'S moan ALPHONSO hears;
Now sees the cheek of age bedew'd with tears.
Pallid and motionless ACILOE stands,
Fix'd was her lifted eye, and clasp'd her hands;
Her heart was chill'd--her fainting heart--for there
Hope slowly sinks in cold and dark despair.
ALPHONSO'S soul was mov'd--"No more," he cried,
"My hapless flame shall hearts like yours divide.
Live, tender spirit, soft ACILOE live,
And all the wrongs of madd'ning rage forgive!
Go from this desolated region far,
These plains, where av'rice spreads the waste of war;
Go where pure pleasures gild the peaceful scene,
Go where mild virtue sheds her ray serene!"
In vain th' enraptur'd lovers would impart
The rising joy that swells, that pains the heart;
LAS CASAS ' feet in tears ACILOE steeps,
Looks on her sire and smiles, then turns and weeps;
Then smiles again, while her flush'd cheek reveals
The mingled tumult of delight she feels;--
So fall the crystal showers of fragrant Spring,
And o'er the pure, clear sky, soft-shadows fling;
Then paint the drooping clouds from which they flow
With the warm colours of the lucid bow.
Now o'er the barren desert ZAMOR leads
ACILOE and her sire to Chili's meads;
There many a wand'ring wretch, condemn'd to roam
By hard oppression, found a shelt'ring home:
ZAMOR to pity tun'd the vocal shell,
Bright'ning the tear of anguish as it fell.
Did e'er the human bosom throb with pain
The heav'nly muse has sought to soothe in vain?
She, who can still with harmony its sighs,
And wake the sound at which affection dies!
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