Collected Poems of Henry Derozio: Preface by Manu Samriti Chander; Edited by Amardeep Singh

The Enchantress of the Cave: A Tale

      "-Love will find its way
   Through paths where wolves would fear to prey" 
      --The Giaour

   "Go where we will, this hand in thine.
   Those eyes before me smiling thus.
   Through good or ill. in storm or shine.
   The world's a world of love for us." 
      --Lalla Rookh

To ---- 

Though my neglected lyre I wake once more. 
And touch with untaught hand its strings again. 
And though but poor in "legendary lore," 
I strive to sing in legendary strain. 
My lyre and lay will not be woke m vain 
If thou but smile upon them—for thy claim 
In friendship's—and unpaid shall it remain — 
No—be my verse entwined with thy dear name. 
For me 'twill be enough—I seek no higher fame 
And if perchance on some dark, future day 
(For who can tell what Fate may yet decree?)
From thee and thine I wander far away 
In distant lands, or o'er th' eternal sea; 
Or in that land of darkness it may be 
Where they who travel ne'er to this return, 
If then my song awake one thought of me. 
And in thy heart the light of memory burn, 
Florio, 'tis all I wish—a good reward I'll earn 

----

   Bright shone Mehtab on many a hill 
Whose every dew-dipped leaf was still. 
There scarce was breeze enough to stir 
The silken, fragile gossamer; 
No prow was heard, riu shallop trim 
Was seen th' unbroken wave to skim, 
To youthful hearts the spreading sky 
Might seem a curtained canopy, 
A silent sentry every star 
That on them looked, and watched afar. 
With earth their couch of paradise — 
Such visions flit 'fore lovers' eyes! 
And all was silent, save whene'er 
The owlet's deathshriek cleft the air. 
Or when the jackall—troop made moan. 
And bay'd in loud complaining tone , 
Or when the bells of distant steer 
Rang welcome faintly on the ear. 
Or when the tramp and neigh of steeds 
Within the valley, told of deeds 
That must, ere sets to-morrow's sun. 
By armed bands be bravely done 
It was a lovely, soothing night. 
And all was beautiful and bright — 
The cold moon kept her pathless way 
'Mid stars of everlasting ray. 
Those worlds of quenchless light that shine 
As if their beams were all divine 
'Oh! I have watched them till methought
My brain with fancies was o'erwrought,
Wild, passing wild—and then I've wept
To think that thus my soul is kept
Confined in such a goal of clay.
When It were better far away ; 
And then upon the scene I've smil'd
With joy, like a delighted child. 
When pleasure sparkles in it's eye.
And still It smiles, scarce knowing why, 
Until too drunk with such delight
My brain has maddened at the sight,
And then I've thought to pierce the gloom
That darkens all beyond the tomb.
And then I've thought of what might be
When this existence * * * * * 

    Though fair the night, to-morrow's sun
Shall see a battle lost and won.
For Bramah's children must oppose
Their fell, invading, Moslem foes,
And strew their corses o'er the plains.
Or captive wear the victors' chains
The conflict will be desperate,
For either host is backed by hate—
The Moslem brings his turban'd band,
To win the peaceful golden land.
The crescent on his banner shines.
The watchword's "Alla" in his lines,
And on his blade the Koran verse
Bespeaks for every foe a curse. 
The Hindoo courts the bloody broil. 
To fight or fall for his parent soil,
And he must go forth in the battle to bleed
For all that is dear—country, kindred, and creed. 
But evil betide him and fair Hindoostan
If ever he yield to the proud Mussulman!
O! for the spirit of the past, 
Ere exiled Freedom looked her last 
On this delicious orient clime! 
O! for the men of fleeted time! 
O! for the heroic hearts of old 
To fire the souls that now are cold, 
To lead them on to deeds of worth. 
And raise their glory yet on earth! 
'Tis vain to wish—it will not be;— 
But since the spark of liberty 
Is quenched, that once did warmly glow 
In daring bosoms, long ago, 
O! for a life-inspiririg strain 
To fan it into light again! 

   "Where art thou, boy ?—Awake! Awake! 
"To-night to Mithra's cave I take"
(While rest our Kafir foes) my course — 
"Bestir thee now—lead forth my horse, 
“And reach me here my sabre bright, 
"I ween we're not too safe to-night. 
“Dost hear me, boy ?"—He turned him round. 
But caught the faint echo of his own sound, 
Forth from the tent he sped to see 
Where his attendant youth might be, 
He sought him full soon by the streamlet's side. 
But there two camels alone were tied, 
On the pasturage sweet in safety they browsed. 
But he their keepers from sleep aroused. 
Though nothing could they have told in sooth 
Of what had befallen his servant youth. 
Back to th' encampment then he came, 
Still calling the faithless slave by name, 
He went to the couch where the boy had lain 
As he thought that night—but he went in vain; 
He hastily looked on the pillow—'twas bare. 
No boy in slumber is resting him there. 
Around his waist a girdle is braced. 
And there are two pistols magnificent placed; 
A shawl of green on his shoulder he flung.
A match-lock and shield on his belt are slung, 
His arm is bare as it might be in war, 
And in his right hand is a bright scimitar, 
A gem-adorned turban has deck'd his head. 
To-morrow that turban with gore may be red— 
His charger caparisoned stands in high pride. 
To-morrow that charger may bleed by his side— 
Up he springs on that prancing steed. 
Urging him on to his utmost speed. 
Why seeks Nazim the Witch of the Cave, 
What is the boon he from her would crave? 
Does he wish to purchase a hallowed charm. 
To keep him free in the fray from harm? 
Out on the thought ! — that never can be. 
For foremost in peril and battle is he. 
Does he wish to curse his Infidel foe. 
And aided by powers unseen lay him low 
Out on the thought—he scorns all aid 
Beyond the power of his own good blade 
Does he seek to win a lady fair 
Whose heart is cold despite of his care 
"Oh no! —no lady needs he by his side. 
His love is away, far away with his bride — 
Then why seeks Nazim the Witch of the Cave 
And what is the boon he now would crave? 
He seeks the Witch to know if all 
Goes right and well in his distant hall; 
How fares his sire, and how his son, 
But chief the wife whom his heart doats on. 

   O'er many a hill he urged his horse 
Unchecked his speed, uncrossed his course; 
The rowel of his spur was red ; 
Away like lightning-shaft he sped, 
The hills rung with his clattering tread; 
Yet gallantly he urged him on. 
For the cave must be gained ere rise of sun, 
His course like a mountaineer's arrow he kept. 
Full forward he went—the ravine is leapt ; 
That milk-white barb now neighed aloud.
And toss'd on high his crest so proud, 
The white foam blanched his bridle rein, 
As wildly streamed his flowing mane; 
He champed the bit that galled him much, 
Then sprung to Nazim's spurring touch; 
Away he bounds—his speed might cope 
With flight of fleetest antelope; 
Now down the vale he wends, and now 
Has almost reached the lofty brow 
Of yonder hill—and when 'tis past 
He'll win the wished-for cave at last 
'Tis won—he's gone—no more I hear 
His charger's tramp ring on my ear. 
Its very echo now is still. 
And silent are the vale and hill!

* * * * * *

   His steed is tied to a withered tree. 
And now the cavern enters he; 
And who is the hag so wan and grim 
That sits there, all regardless of him? 
Her yellow skin is shrivelled and shrunk. 
Her locks are gray, and her eyes are sunk. 
And time has set on her brow, it appears. 
Perchance the seal of a hundred years, 
A hundred years of sorrow and care — 
Look, look on that brow—what paleness is there! 
And there's an unearthly flash in her eye, 
Wheh first it is fixed on a passer-by; 
Her lips are parched her jaws are lank. 
The cave that shields her is dreary and dank; 
A cauldron is seething in that lone cave 
Which yawns like a desolate, loathsome grave ; 
And she, the tenant who makes it her home, 
Looks like an Afrit escaped from the tomb! 
Around her in order unsightly are laid 
The tools and the toys of her mystical trade,
The scorpion, the lizard, the bull-frog most foul. 
The wings of the bat, and the beak of the owl. 
The dog's fearful fang, and the raven's red tongue. 
With a row of small sea-shells confusedly strung. 
In her hand is a staff of Ivory white. 
On her head is a hood of the black hue of night, 
And sandals are bound on her small shining feet. 
Which are spotless and fair as the fresh driven sleet — 
Why seem they so young, and so lovely to view. 
While nothing beside them looks beauteous or new? 
Mute with faintness and surprise, 
Nazim on her fixed his eyes , 
Hark! there is a voice on high! 
Whence proceeds that watching strain?
Is Israfil the angel nigh. 
To bind the soul with music's chain? 
He looks around—the silver sound 
Still thrills upon his listening ear—  
Or does it seem a faithless dream? 
No—the melodious voice is near 
One step he took, and paused again — 
Sure 'tis th' Enchantress wakes the strain!  

“Oh ' Chuhulmenar is far from me, 
"But there the treasures of ages be, 
"There wilt thou find great Jemshid's gem, 
"And Qian Ben Gian's bright diadem, 
"And the wealth of the Seventy-two is there-- 
   "But creature of clay!
   "They're far away — 
"Then why dost thou come to claim my care ? 
"The Seal of the fifth king can controul 
“Genius and Giant, and Ogre and Ghoul;
"By its power the tides of the sea are confined, 
“It quenches the fire, and it hushes the wind — 
"Say, dost thou seek this talisman true? 
"In its search there is many a peril to rue, 
"And ere it is won thou must wander far, 
"For buried it lies in Chuhulmenar. 

   "To-morrow the leaguermg cohorts assail 
"The Hindoo, and well know I who will prevail; 
"I ween by thy pistols, and sabre, and shield, 
"That thou art just come from the tented field, 
"But there is no charm, save the strength of thine arm, 
"To vanquish thy foeman, and keep thee from harm 
"The friendly Simurgh through th' ethereal path. 
"It was once said, bore Tahamurath, 
"The wonderful bird o'er the dark desert bore him, 
"Till all from Kaf to Kaf was before him, 
"He took from its bosom the plumes for his helm, 
"Then where was the power that he could not o'erwhelm ? 
"But fled's the Simurgh to the mountain that stands 
"On the stone that ne'er moves but when Alla commands. 

   "Mid noxious winds, and vapours damp 
“Love seldom flies to the warrior's camp; 
"Once Rustum and Zal loved well, 'tis true, 
"Since then, such faith has been proved by few 
"O! com'st thou here like the nightingale 
"That hath no young rose to list his tale? 
"Or does the Sultana of thy lone heart, 
"Forgetting thy pain, play the tyrant's part? 
"Or is she faithless, and hath she fled 
“To share with another her shame, and bed? 

   "There once was a charm in the opal stone 
"To make the false heart all thine own; 
"But the Pen-King came and stole the gem.
"And placed it in his own diadem; 
“Since then, it has lost the potent spell 
"To bind the frail and the faithless well. 
“In the cygnet's down there once was power 
"To blight the woe of an evil hour; 
"But ah! the swan with her crest of pride 
"Spurns the purple Jumna's tide. 
"They say ‘twas told to seers of old 
"That the faintest heart waxed warm and bold, 
   “If it could obtain,
   "Regardless of pain, 
"And reckless of all that it counted loss, 
"A plume from the wing of the albatross — 
"But that bird has poised him high in air, 
"And, alas! his resting place is there! 
“Every mystic spell and charm 
"That yielded bliss, or kept from harm, 
"Is fled, is fled like a dream of the night, 
"Save one that I must not bring to light, 
"Save one that to name I must not dare — 
   "Then say, Oh! say
   "Why, creature of clay, 
"Hither thou com'st to claim my care?" 

   "What to me is Jemshid's gem, 
"Or the King of the Peri's diadem 
"Chuhulmenar is a city fair, 
"But what to me is the wealth that's there? 
"The fifth King's seal on the wretch bestow 
“Whom slaves of Eblis have wrung with woe, 
"No victim am I of a spectre foul, 
"And why should I shrink from a hell-hound's howl? 
"I seek not to curb the chainless'sea, 
"And what are the winds and the waves to me? 
"Cold, cold on the sod at down I may lie, 
"But somewhat I seek to know ere I die — 
"'Tis not my doom—perchance that's sealed.
"And now too late to be repealed , 
"What'er it be, to heaven and it 
“With faith and patience I submit ; 
"But yet I could not brave the strife 
   “Without the fears which now I feel, 
“Fears—not, alas! for mine own life, 
  “From me that scarce a thought could steal 
“Thou may'st have seen the tendril twine 
“Around the green bough of the vine, — 
"How fresh and fair, how sweet and young, 
"It looked, as to the branch it clung ' 
“But when the bough was riven away 
"It ne'er survived the wreck a day 
“Thou may'st have seen in many a grove 
“The queen of spring, the Bulbul’s love! 
“How fair she smiled! her every leaf 
"Might give a glow to the cheek of grief, 
“And every odour that she shed 
“Imparted sweetness ere it fled, 
“Thou then perchance didst rudely tear 
“The flowret from its stalk, and wear 
"That fragile emblem of the fair 
"Upon thy breast—but it perished there! 
"So, like the tendril to its vine 
“Jumeeli's heart has clung to mine; 
"And as the rose from its own tree 
"Too soon she'd fade, if torn from me 
"And Oh! I could not calmly die 
   "Until I knew that all was well 
“With her who claims my latest sigh — 
   "If thou thus much to me canst tell, 
"If this thy dark, prophetic eye 
   “Can see—I seek nor sign nor spell." 

   "Turn thee to th' unruftled stream, 
"Gaze upon the lunar beam — 
“These are fitting types of her 
“Who is still thy worshipper ; 
"Pure as both, but ne'ertheless 
“Free from all their faithlessness!
‚Äč"She hath loved thee, loves thee still, 
"Come what may, or good or ill; 
"She will love thee well, till death 
"Seal her fondness and her faith. 
"She from home is far away — 
"Start not—she is true, I say — 
"O'er the mountain hath she been, 
"O'er the rolling waters sheen, 
"Through the gloomy forest hoar — 
"She hath heard the torrent roar, 
"She hath felt unnumbered fears, 
"Shed, in secret, thousand tears , — 
"Bare her breast was to the storm — 
"Unharmed was still her tender form, 
"Round her lightning madly leapt, 
"By her swift the tempest swept, 
"O'er her bolts of thunder burst, 
"Still she braved and bore the worst, 
"And though to her these ills befel, 
"Yet, Nazim ' fear not—she is well; 
"Her lot is blest, whate'er it be, 
"'Tis more then blest, while she's with thee!" 

   Back falls the hood, and in its stead 
What raven tresses deck her head! 
The dropping mask betrays her charms, — 
He flies with fond, extended arms. 
As in her eye the tear-drops start. 
And clasps Jumeeli to his heart!

* * * * * * 

There is a red streak in the east — 
   Of coming light it gives them warning. 
To glorious brightness now increaaid. 
   It shines upon the dews of morning! 
But where is Nazim, where his bride ? — 
To battle's red field, side by side.
They're gone.--

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