Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
Extract from Roderick
By Robert Southey (1774–1843)
[The King is in disguise on his final mission to exterminate the Moors.]

                    ON foot they came,
Chieftains and men alike; the Oaken Cross,
Triumphant borne on high, precedes their march,
And broad and bright the argent banner shone.
Roderick, who dealing death from side to side,        5
Had through the Moorish army now made way,
Beheld it flash, and judging well what aid
Approach’d, with sudden impulse that way rode,
To tell of what had pass’d,.. lest in the strife
They should engage with Julian’s men, and mar        10
The mighty consummation. One ran on
To meet him fleet of foot, and having given
His tale to this swift messenger, the Goth
Halted awhile to let Orelio breathe.
Siverian, quoth Pelayo, if mine eyes        15
Deceive me not, yon horse, whose reeking sides
Are red with slaughter, is the same on whom
The apostate Orpas in his vauntery
Wont to parade the streets of Cordoba.
But thou shouldst know him best; regard him well:        20
Is ’t not Orelio?
                Either it is he,
The old man replied, or one so like to him,
Whom all thought matchless, that similitude
Would be the greater wonder. But behold,
What man is he who in that disarray        25
Doth with such power and majesty bestride
The noble steed, as if he felt himself
In his own proper seat? Look how he leans
To cherish him; and how the gallant horse
Curves up his stately neck, and bends his head,        30
As if again to court that gentle touch,
And answer to the voice which praises him.
Can it be Maccabee? rejoin’d the King,
Or are the secret wishes of my soul
Indeed fulfill’d, and hath the grave given up        35
Its dead?… So saying, on the old man he turn’d
Eyes full of wide astonishment, which told
The incipient thought that for incredible
He spake no farther. But enough had past;
For old Siverian started at the words        40
Like one who sees a spectre, and exclaim’d,
Blind that I was to know him not till now!
My Master, O my Master!
                        He meantime
With easy pace moved on to meet their march.
King, to Pelayo he began, this day        45
By means scarce less than miracle, thy throne
Is stablish’d, and the wrongs of Spain revenged.
Orpas the accursed, upon yonder field
Lies ready for the ravens. By the Moors
Treacherously slain, Count Julian will be found        50
Before Saint Peter’s altar; unto him
Grace was vouchsafed; and by that holy power
Which at Visonia from the Primate’s hand
Of his own proper act to me was given,
Unworthy as I am,.. yet sure I think        55
Not without mystery, as the event hath shown,..
Did I accept Count Julian’s penitence,
And reconcile the dying man to Heaven.
Beside him hath his daughter fallen asleep;
Deal honourably with his remains, and let        60
One grave with Christian rites receive them both.
Is it not written that as falls the Tree
So it shall lie?
                    In this and all things else,
Pelayo answered, looking wistfully
Upon the Goth, thy pleasure shall be done.        65
Then Roderick saw that he was known, and turn’d
His head away in silence. But the old man
Laid hold upon his bridle, and look’d up
In his master’s face, weeping and silently.
Thereat the Goth with fervent pressure took        70
His hand, and bending down toward him, said,
My good Siverian, go not thou this day
To war! I charge thee keep thyself from harm!
Thou art past the age for battles, and with whom
Hereafter should thy mistress talk of me        75
If thou wert gone?.. Thou seest I am unarm’d;
Thus disarray’d as thou beholdest me,
Clean through yon miscreant army have I cut
My way unhurt; but being once by Heaven
Preserved, I would not perish with the guilt        80
Of having wilfully provoked my death.
Give me thy helmet and thy cuirass!.. nay,..
Thou wert not wont to let me ask in vain,
Nor to gainsay me when my will was known!
To thee methinks I should be still the King….        85
  O who could tell what deeds were wrought that day,
Or who endure to hear the tale of rage,
Hatred, and madness, and despair, and fear,
Horror, and wounds, and agony, and death,
The cries, the blasphemies, the shrieks, and groans,        90
And prayers, which mingled with the din of arms
In one wild uproar of terrific sounds;
While over all predominant was heard,
Reiterate from the conquerors o’er the field,
Roderick the Goth! Roderick and Victory!        95
Roderick and Vengeance!…
  The evening darken’d, but the avenging sword
Turned not away its edge till night had closed
Upon the field of blood. The Chieftains then
Blew the recall, and from their perfect work        100
Return’d rejoicing, all but he for whom
All look’d with most expectance. He full sure
Had thought upon that field to find his end
Desired, and with Florinda in the grave
Rest, in indissoluble union joined.        105
But still where through the press of war he went
Half-arm’d, and like a lover seeking death,
The arrows past him by to right and left,
The spear-point pierced him not, the scymitar
Glanced from his helmet; he, when he beheld        110
The rout complete, saw that the shield of Heaven
Had been extended over him once more,
And bowed before its will. Upon the banks
Of Sella was Orelio found, his legs
And flanks incarnadined, his poitral smeared        115
With froth and foam and gore, his silver mane
Sprinkled with blood, which hung on every hair,
Aspersed like dew-drops; trembling there he stood
From the toil of battle, and at times sent forth
His tremulous voice far echoing loud and shrill,        120
A frequent anxious cry, with which he seem’d
To call the master whom he loved so well,
And who had thus again forsaken him.
Siverian’s helm and cuirass on the grass
Lay near; and Julian’s sword, its hilt and chain        125
Clotted with blood; but where was he whose hand
Had wielded it so well that glorious day?…
  Days, months, and years, and generations pass’d,
And centuries held their course, before, far off
Within a hermitage near Viseu’s walls        130
A humble tomb was found, which bore inscribed
In ancient characters King Roderick’s name.

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