Helen Maria Williams
The Morai - Poem by Helen Maria Williams
FAIR OTAHEITE , fondly blest
By him who long was doom'd to brave
The fury of the Polar wave,
That fiercely mounts the frozen rock
Where the harsh sea-bird rears her nest,
And learns the raging surge to mock--
There Night, that loves eternal storm,
Deep and lengthened darkness throws,
And untried danger's doubtful form
Its half-seen horror shews!
While Nature, with a look so wild,
Leans on the cliffs, in chaos pil'd,
That here the aw'd, astonish'd mind
Forgets, in that o'erwhelming hour,
When her rude hands the storms unbind
In all the madness of her power,
That she who spreads the savage gloom,
That she can dress in melting grace,
In sportive Summer's lavish bloom,
The awful terrors of her face;
And wear the sweet perennial smile
That charms in OTAHEITE'S isle.
Yet, amid her fragrant bowers,
Where Spring, whose dewy fingers strew
O'er other lands some fleeting flowers,
Lives, in blossoms ever new;
Whence arose that shriek of pain?
Whence the tear that flows in vain?
Death! thy unrelenting hand
Bursts some transient, human band.
What art thou, Death?--terrific shade,
In unpierc'd gloom array'd!--
Oft will daring Fancy stray
Far in the central wastes, where night
Divides no cheering hour with day,
And unnam'd horrors meet her sight;
There thy form she dimly sees,
And round the shape unfinish'd throws
All her frantic vision shews,
When numbing fears her spirit freeze.
But can mortal voice declare,
If Fancy paints thee as thou art?--
Thy aspect may a terror wear
Her pencil never shall impart;
The eye that once on thee shall gaze
No more its stiffen'd orb can raise;
The lips that could thy power reveal,
Shall lasting silence instant seal.
In vain the icy hand we fold,
In vain the breast with tears we steep,
The heart that shar'd each pang is cold,
The vacant eye no more can weep.
Yet from the shore where Ganges rolls
His waves beneath the torrid ray,
To earth's chill verge, where o'er the poles
Falls the last beam of ling'ring day,
For ever sacred are the dead!
Sweet Fancy comes in sorrow's aid,
And bids the mourner lightly tread
Where th' insensate clay is laid;
Bids partial gloom the sod invest
By the mould'ring relics prest;
There lavish strews with sad delight,
Whate'er her consecrating power
Reveres, of herb or fruit, or flower,
And fondly weaves the various rite.
See! o'er OTAHEITE'S plain
Moves the long funereal train;
Slow the pallid corse they bear,
Oft they breathe the solemn prayer.
Where the Ocean bathes the land,
Thrice and thrice, with pious hand,
The priest, where high the billow springs,
From the wave unsullied, flings
Waters pure, that sprinkled near,
Sanctify the hallow'd bier;
But never may one drop profane
The relics with forbidden stain!
Now around the fun'ral shrine,
Led in mystic mazes, twine
Garlands, where the plantain weaves
With the palm's luxuriant leaves,
And o'er each sacred knot is spread
The plant devoted to the dead.
Five pale moons with trembling light
Shall gaze upon the lengthen'd rite;
Shall see distracted beauty tear
The tresses of her flowing hair;
Those graceful locks, no longer dear,
She wildly scatters o'er the bier,
And frantic gives the frequent wound
That purples with her blood the ground!
Where along the western sky
Day's reflected colours die,
And twilight rules the doubtful hour
Ere slow-pac'd night resumes her power,
Mark the cloud that lingers still
Darkly on the hanging hill:
There the disembodied mind
Hears, upon the hollow wind,
Low, in mournful cadence thrown,
Sorrow's oft repeated moan--
Still some human passions sway
The spirit, late immers'd in clay;
Still the hopeless sigh is dear,
Still belov'd the fruitless tear!
Five waning moons with wand'ring light
Have past the shadowy bound of night,
And mingled their departing ray
With the soft fires of early day;
Let the last sad rites be paid,
Grateful to the conscious shade.
Let the priest with pious care
Now the wasted relics bear,
Where the MORAI'S awful gloom
Shrouds the consecrated tomb.
Let the plantain lift its head;
Cherish'd emblem of the dead;
Slow, and solemn, o'er the grave
Let the twisted plumage wave,
Symbol hallow'd and divine
Of the god who guards the shrine.
Hark!--that shriek of strange despair
Never shall disturb the air;
Never, never shall it rise,
But for Nature's broken ties!--
Bright Crescent! that with lucid smile
Gild'st the MORAI'S lofty pile;
Whose broad lines of shadow throw
A gloomy horror far below,
Witness, O recording moon,
All the rites are duly done;
Be the faithful tribute o'er,
The hov'ring spirit asks no more!
Mortals, cease the pile to tread,
Leave to silence, leave the dead.
But where may she who loves to stray
'Mid shadows of funereal gloom,
And courts the sadness of the tomb,
Where may she seek that proud MORAI ,
Whose dear memorial points the place
Where fell the friend of human race?
Ye lonely Isles, on Ocean's bound,
Ye bloom'd thro' Time's long flight unknown,
Till Cook the untrack'd billow past!
Till he along the surges cast
Philanthropy's connecting zone,
And spread her loveliest blessings round!--
Not like that murd'rous band he came,
Who stain'd with blood the new-found West;
Nor as, with unrelenting breast,
From BRITAIN'S free, enlightened land,
Her sons now seek ANGOLA'S strand,*
The ties most sacred to unbind,--
To load with chains a brother's frame,
And plunge a dagger in the mind;
Mock the sharp anguish bleeding there
Of nature in her last despair!
Great COOK ! Ambition's lofty flame,
So oft directed to destroy,
Led thee to circle with thy name
The smile of love, and hope, and joy!
Those fires that lend the dang'rous blaze
The devious comet trails afar,
Might form the pure, benignant rays
That gild the morning's gentle star.
Sure, where the hero's ashes rest,
The nations late emerg'd from night
Still haste--with love's unwearied care,
That spot in lavish flowers is drest,
And fancy's dear, inventive rite
Still paid with fond observance there?--
Ah, no! around his fatal grave
No lavish flowers were ever strew'd,
No votive gift was ever laid--
His blood a savage shore bedew'd!
His mangled limbs, one hasty prayer,
One pious tear by friendship paid,
Were cast upon the raging wave!
Deep in the wild abyss he lies,
Far from the cherish'd scene of home;
Far, far from her whose faithful sighs
A husband's trackless course pursue;
Whose tender fancy loves to roam
With him o'er lands and oceans new;
And gilds with hope's deluding form
The gloomy pathway of the storm!
Yet, Cook! immortal wreathes are thine!
While Albion's grateful toil shall raise
The marble tomb, the trophied bust,
For ages faithful to its trust;
While, eager to record thy praise,
She bids the muse of history twine
The chaplet of undying fame,
And tell each polish'd land thy worth,
The ruder natives of the earth
Shall oft repeat thy honour'd name,
While infants catch the frequent sound,
And learn to lisp the oral tale,
Whose fond remembrance shall prevail
Till Time has reach'd her destin'd bound!
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