Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Paradise and the Peri
By Thomas Moore (1779–1852)
From ‘Lalla Rookh’

  ONE morn a Peri at the gate
  Of Eden stood disconsolate;
  And as she listened to the springs
    Of life within, like music flowing,
  And caught the light upon her wings        5
    Through the half-open portal glowing,
  She wept to think her recreant race
  Should e’er have lost that glorious place!
“How happy,” exclaimed this child of air,
“Are the holy spirits who wander there        10
  ’Mid flowers that never shall fade or fall:
Though mine are the gardens of earth and sea,
And the stars themselves have flowers for me,
  One blossom of heaven outblooms them all!
“Though sunny the lake of cool Cashmere,        15
With its plane-tree Isle reflected clear,
  And sweetly the founts of that valley fall;
Though bright are the waters of Sing-su-hay
And the golden floods that thitherward stray,
Yet—oh, ’tis only the blest can say        20
  How the waters of heaven outshine them all!
“Go, wing thy flight from star to star,
From world to luminous world, as far
  As the universe spreads its flaming wall;
Take all the pleasures of all the spheres,        25
And multiply each through endless years—
  One minute of heaven is worth them all!”
  The glorious angel who was keeping
  The gates of light beheld her weeping;
  And as he nearer drew, and listened        30
  To her sad song, a tear-drop glistened
  Within his eyelids, like the spray
    From Eden’s fountain when it lies
  On the blue flower which—Bramins say—
    Blooms nowhere but in Paradise.        35
  “Nymph of a fair but erring line!”
  Gently he said—“one hope is thine.
  ’Tis written in the Book of Fate,
    The Peri yet may be forgiven
  Who brings to this eternal gate        40
    The gift that is most dear to heaven!
  Go seek it, and redeem thy sin,—
  ’Tis sweet to let the pardoned in.”
Rapidly as comets run
To the embraces of the sun;        45
Fleeter than the starry brands
Flung at night from angel hands
At those dark and daring sprites
Who would climb the empyreal heights,—
Down the blue vault the Peri flies,        50
  And, lighted earthward by a glance
That just then broke from morning’s eyes,
  Hung hovering o’er our world’s expanse.
But whither shall the spirit go
To find this gift for heaven?—“I know        55
The wealth,” she cries, “of every urn
In which unnumbered rubies burn
Beneath the pillars of Chilminar;
I know where the Isles of Perfume are,
Many a fathom down in the sea,        60
To the south of sun-bright Araby;
I know too where the Genii hid
The jeweled cup of their King Jamshid,
With life’s elixir sparkling high,—
But gifts like these are not for the sky.        65
Where was there ever a gem that shone
Like the steps of Alla’s wonderful throne?
And the drops of life—oh! what would they be
In the boundless deep of eternity?”
While thus she mused, her pinions fanned        70
The air of that sweet Indian land
Whose air is balm; whose ocean spreads
O’er coral rocks and amber beds;
Whose mountains, pregnant by the beam
Of the warm sun, with diamonds teem;        75
Whose rivulets are like rich brides,
Lovely, with gold beneath their tides;
Whose sandal groves and bowers of spice
Might be a Peri’s Paradise!
But crimson now her rivers ran        80
  With human blood; the smell of death
    Came reeking from those spicy bowers,
And man the sacrifice of man
  Mingled his taint with every breath
    Upwafted from the innocent flowers.        85
Land of the sun! what foot invades
Thy Pagods and thy pillared shades,
Thy cavern shrines and idol stones,
Thy monarchs and their thousand thrones?
’Tis he of Gazna: fierce in wrath        90
  He comes, and India’s diadems
Lie scattered in his ruinous path.
  His bloodhounds he adorns with gems
Torn from the violated necks
  Of many a young and loved sultana;        95
  Maidens within their pure zenana,
  Priests in the very fane he slaughters,
And chokes up with the glittering wrecks
  Of golden shrines the sacred waters!
Downward the Peri turns her gaze,        100
And through the war-field’s bloody haze
Beholds a youthful warrior stand
  Alone beside his native river,
The red blade broken in his hand
  And the last arrow in his quiver.        105
“Live,” said the conqueror, “live to share
The trophies and the crowns I bear!”
Silent that youthful warrior stood;
Silent he pointed to the flood
All crimson with his country’s blood:        110
Then sent his last remaining dart,
For answer, to the invader’s heart.
False flew the shaft, though pointed well;
The tyrant lived, the hero fell!—
Yet marked the Peri where he lay,        115
  And when the rush of war was past,
Swiftly descending on a ray
  Of morning light, she caught the last,
Last glorious drop his heart had shed
Before its free-born spirit fled!        120
“Be this,” she cried, as she winged her flight,
“My welcome gift at the gates of light.
Though foul are the drops that oft distill
  On the field of warfare, blood like this
  For liberty shed so holy is,        125
It would not stain the purest rill
  That sparkles among the bowers of bliss!
Oh, if there be on this earthly sphere
A boon, an offering heaven holds dear,
’Tis the last libation Liberty draws        130
From the heart that bleeds and breaks in her cause!”
“Sweet,” said the angel, as she gave
  The gift into his radiant hand,
“Sweet is our welcome of the brave
  Who die thus for their native land;        135
But see—alas!—the crystal bar
Of Eden moves not: holier far
Than even this drop the boon must be
That opes the gates of heaven for thee!”
Her first fond hope of Eden blighted,        140
  Now among Afric’s lunar mountains
Far to the south the Peri lighted,
  And sleeked her plumage at the fountains
Of that Egyptian tide, whose birth
Is hidden from the sons of earth,        145
Deep in those solitary woods
Where oft the Genii of the floods
Dance round the cradle of their Nile
And hail the new-born giant’s smile.
Thence over Egypt’s palmy groves,        150
  Her grots, and sepulchres of kings,
The exiled spirit sighing roves,
And now hangs listening to the doves
In warm Rosetta’s vale; now loves
  To watch the moonlight on the wings        155
Of the white pelicans that break
The azure calm of Mœris’s lake.
’Twas a fair scene: a land more bright
  Never did mortal eye behold!
Who could have thought, that saw this night        160
  Those valleys and their fruits of gold
Basking in heaven’s serenest light;
Those groups of lovely date-trees bending
  Languidly their leaf-crowned heads,
Like youthful maids, when sleep descending        165
  Warns them to their silken beds;
Those virgin lilies all the night
  Bathing their beauties in the lake,
That they may rise more fresh and bright
  When their beloved sun’s awake;        170
Those ruined shrines and towers that seem
The relics of a splendid dream,
    Amid whose fairy loneliness
Naught but the lapwing’s cry is heard,
  Naught seen but (when the shadows flitting        175
Fast from the moon unsheath its gleam)
  Some purple-winged sultana sitting
    Upon a column motionless,
And glittering like an idol bird!—
Who could have thought that there, even there,        180
Amid those scenes so still and fair,
  The demon of the plague hath cast
  From his hot wing a deadlier blast,
More mortal far than ever came
From the red desert’s sands of flame!        185
So quick that every living thing
Of human shape touched by his wing,
  Like plants where the simoom hath past,
At once falls black and withering!
The sun went down on many a brow        190
  Which, full of bloom and freshness then,
Is rankling in the pest-house now,
  And ne’er will feel that sun again.
And oh! to see the unburied heaps
On which the lonely moonlight sleeps—        195
The very vultures turn away,
And sicken at so foul a prey!
Only the fierce hyena stalks
Throughout the city’s desolate walks
At midnight, and his carnage plies;—        200
  Woe to the half-dead wretch who meets
The glaring of those large blue eyes
  Amid the darkness of the streets!
“Poor race of men!” said the pitying Spirit,
  “Dearly ye pay for your primal fall:        205
Some flowerets of Eden ye still inherit,
  But the trail of the Serpent is over them all!”
She wept: the air grew pure and clear
  Around her as the bright drops ran;
For there’s a magic in each tear        210
  Such kindly spirits weep for man!
Just then beneath some orange-trees,
Whose fruit and blossoms in the breeze
Were wantoning together, free,
Like age at play with infancy,—        215
Beneath that fresh and springing bower,
  Close by the lake, she heard the moan
Of one who at this silent hour
  Had thither stolen to die alone:
One who in life, where’er he moved,        220
  Drew after him the hearts of many;
Yet now, as though he ne’er were loved,
  Dies here unseen, unwept by any!
None to watch near him; none to slake
  The fire that in his bosom lies        225
With even a sprinkle from that lake
  Which shines so cool before his eyes;
No voice well known through many a day
  To speak the last, the parting word,
Which when all other sounds decay        230
  Is still like distant music heard,—
That tender farewell on the shore
Of this rude world when all is o’er,
Which cheers the spirit ere its bark
Puts off into the unknown dark.        235
Deserted youth! one thought alone
  Shed joy around his soul in death:
That she whom he for years had known,
And loved, and might have called his own,
  Was safe from this foul midnight’s breath;        240
Safe in her father’s princely halls,
Where the cool airs from fountain falls,
Freshly perfumed by many a brand
Of the sweet wood from India’s land,
Were pure as she whose brow they fanned.        245
But see—who yonder comes by stealth
  This melancholy bower to seek,
Like a young envoy sent by Health
  With rosy gifts upon her cheek?
’Tis she: far off, through moonlight dim        250
  He knew his own betrothèd bride,—
She who would rather die with him
  Than live to gain the world beside!
Her arms are round her lover now,
  His livid cheek to hers she presses,        255
And dips, to bind his burning brow,
  In the cool lake her loosened tresses.
Ah! once, how little did he think
An hour would come when he should shrink
With horror from that dear embrace,        260
  Those gentle arms that were to him
Holy as is the cradling-place
  Of Eden’s infant cherubim!
And now he yields—now turns away,
Shuddering as if the venom lay        265
All in those proffered lips alone;
Those lips that then so fearless grown,
Never until that instant came
Near his unasked or without shame.
“Oh! let me only breathe the air,        270
  The blessed air, that’s breathed by thee,
And whether on its wings it bear
  Healing or death, ’tis sweet to me!
There—drink my tears while yet they fall;
  Would that my bosom’s blood were balm,        275
And well thou knowest I’d shed it all
  To give thy brow one minute’s calm.
Nay, turn not from me that dear face:
  Am I not thine—thy own loved bride—
The one, the chosen one, whose place        280
  In life or death is by thy side?
Think’st thou that she whose only light
  In this dim world from thee hath shone,
Could bear the long, the cheerless night
  That must be hers when thou art gone?        285
That I can live and let thee go,
Who art my life itself? No, no—
When the stem dies, the leaf that grew
Out of its heart must perish too!
Then turn to me, my own love, turn,        290
Before, like thee, I fade and burn;
Cling to these yet cool lips, and share
The last pure life that lingers there!”
She fails—she sinks; as dies the lamp
In charnel airs or cavern damp,        295
So quickly do his baleful sighs
Quench all the sweet light of her eyes.
One struggle; and his pain is past—
  Her lover is no longer living!
One kiss the maiden gives, one last        300
  Long kiss, which she expires in giving!
“Sleep,” said the Peri, as softly she stole
The farewell sigh of that vanishing soul,
As true as e’er warmed a woman’s breast,—
“Sleep on; in visions of odor rest;        305
In balmier airs than ever yet stirred
The enchanted pile of that lonely bird,
Who sings at the last his own death-lay
And in music and perfume dies away!”
Thus saying, from her lips she spread        310
  Unearthly breathings through the place,
And shook her sparkling wreath, and shed
  Such lustre o’er each paly face,
That like two lovely saints they seemed,
  Upon the eve of Doomsday taken        315
From their dim graves in odor sleeping;
  While that benevolent Peri beamed
Like their good angel calmly keeping
  Watch o’er them till their souls would waken.
But morn is blushing in the sky;        320
  Again the Peri soars above,
Bearing to heaven that precious sigh
  Of pure self-sacrificing love.
High throbbed her heart, with hope elate:
  The Elysian palm she soon shall win,        325
For the bright spirit at the gate
  Smiled as she gave that offering in;
And she already hears the trees
  Of Eden with their crystal bells
Ringing in that ambrosial breeze        330
  That from the throne of Alla swells;
And she can see the starry bowls
  That lie around that lucid lake
Upon whose banks admitted souls
  Their first sweet draught of glory take!        335
But ah! even Peris’ hopes are vain:
Again the fates forbade, again
The immortal barrier closed. “Not yet,”
The angel said, as with regret
He shut from her that glimpse of glory:        340
“True was the maiden, and her story,
Written in light o’er Alla’s head,
By seraph eyes shall long be read.
But, Peri, see—the crystal bar
Of Eden moves not: holier far        345
Than even this sigh the boon must be
That opes the gates of heaven for thee.”
  Now upon Syria’s land of roses
Softly the light of eve reposes,
And like a glory the broad sun        350
Hangs over sainted Lebanon,
Whose head in wintry grandeur towers
  And whitens with eternal sleet,
While summer in a vale of flowers
  Is sleeping rosy at his feet.        355
To one who looked from upper air
O’er all the enchanted regions there,
How beauteous must have been the glow,
The life, the sparkling from below!
Fair gardens, shining streams, with ranks        360
Of golden melons on their banks,
More golden where the sunlight falls;
Gay lizards, glittering on the walls
Of ruined shrines, busy and bright
As they were all alive with light;        365
And yet more splendid, numerous flocks
Of pigeons settling on the rocks,
With their rich restless wings that gleam
Variously in the crimson beam
Of the warm west,—as if inlaid        370
With brilliants from the mine, or made
Of tearless rainbows such as span
The unclouded skies of Peristan.
And then the mingling sounds that come,
Of shepherd’s ancient reed, with hum        375
Of the wild bees of Palestine,
  Banqueting through the flowery vales;
And, Jordan, those sweet banks of thine,
  And woods so full of nightingales.
But naught can charm the luckless Peri:        380
Her soul is sad, her wings are weary;
Joyless she sees the sun look down
On that great temple once his own,
Whose lonely columns stand sublime,
  Flinging their shadows from on high        385
Like dials which the wizard Time
  Had raised to count his ages by!
Yet haply there may lie concealed
  Beneath those chambers of the sun
Some amulet of gems, annealed        390
In upper fires, some tablet sealed
  With the great name of Solomon,
Which, spelled by her illumined eyes,
  May teach her where beneath the moon,
  In earth or ocean, lies the boon,        395
  The charm, that can restore so soon
An erring spirit to the skies.
Cheered by this hope, she bends her thither;—
  Still laughs the radiant eye of heaven,
  Nor have the golden bowers of even        400
In the rich west begun to wither;—
When, o’er the vale of Balbec winging,
  Slowly, she sees a child at play,
Among the rosy wild flowers singing,
  As rosy and as wild as they;        405
Chasing with eager hands and eyes
The beautiful blue damsel-flies,
That fluttered round the jasmine stems
Like wingèd flowers or flying gems:
And near the boy, who, tired with play,        410
Now nestling ’mid the roses lay,
She saw a wearied man dismount
  From his hot steed, and on the brink
Of a small imaret’s rustic fount,
  Impatient fling him down to drink.        415
Then swift his haggard brow he turned
  To the fair child, who fearless sat,
Though never yet hath day-beam burned
  Upon a brow more fierce than that:
Sullenly fierce—a mixture dire,        420
Like thunder-clouds, of gloom and fire;
In which the Peri’s eye could read
Dark tales of many a ruthless deed,—
The ruined maid, the shrine profaned,
Oaths broken, and the threshold stained        425
With blood of guests!—there written, all,
Black as the damning drops that fall
From the denouncing angel’s pen,
Ere mercy weeps them out again.
Yet tranquil now that man of crime        430
(As if the balmy evening-time
Softened his spirit) looked and lay,
Watching the rosy infant’s play;
Though still, whene’er his eye by chance
Fell on the boy’s, its lurid glance        435
  Met that unclouded, joyous gaze
As torches that have burnt all night,
Through some impure and godless rite,
  Encounter morning’s glorious rays.
But hark! the vesper call to prayer,        440
  As slow the orb of daylight sets,
Is rising sweetly on the air
  From Syria’s thousand minarets!
The boy has started from the bed
Of flowers where he had laid his head,        445
And down upon the fragrant sod
  Kneels with his forehead to the south,
Lisping the eternal name of God
  From purity’s own cherub mouth;
And looking, while his hands and eyes        450
Are lifted to the glowing skies,
Like a stray babe of Paradise
Just lighted on that flowery plain,
And seeking for its home again.
Oh! ’twas a sight,—that heaven, that child,—        455
A scene, which might have well beguiled
Even haughty Eblis of a sigh
For glories lost and peace gone by!
And how felt he, the wretched man
Reclining there, while memory ran        460
O’er many a year of guilt and strife,—
Flew o’er the dark flood of his life,
Nor found one sunny resting-place,
Nor brought him back one branch of grace.
“There was a time,” he said, in mild,        465
Heart-humbled tones, “thou blessed child!
When, young and haply pure as thou,
I looked and prayed like thee; but now—”
He hung his head; each nobler aim
  And hope and feeling, which had slept        470
From boyhood’s hour, that instant came
  Fresh o’er him, and he wept—he wept!
Blest tears of soul-felt penitence;
  In whose benign, redeeming flow
Is felt the first, the only sense        475
  Of guiltless joy that guilt can know.
“There’s a drop,” said the Peri, “that down from the moon
Falls through the withering airs of June
Upon Egypt’s land, of so healing a power,
So balmy a virtue, that even in the hour        480
That drop descends, contagion dies
And health reanimates earth and skies!
Oh, is it not thus, thou man of sin,
  The precious tears of repentance fall?
Though foul thy fiery plagues within,        485
  One heavenly drop hath dispelled them all!”
And now—behold him kneeling there
By the child’s side, in humble prayer,
While the same sunbeam shines upon
The guilty and the guiltless one,        490
And hymns of joy proclaim through heaven
The triumph of a soul forgiven!
’Twas when the golden orb had set,
While on their knees they lingered yet,
There fell a light more lovely far        495
Than ever came from sun or star,
Upon the tear that, warm and meek,
Dewed that repentant sinner’s cheek.
To mortal eye this light might seem
A northern flash or meteor beam;        500
But well the enraptured Peri knew
’Twas a bright smile the angel threw
From heaven’s gate, to hail that tear
Her harbinger of glory near!
“Joy, joy forever! my task is done—        505
The gates are passed, and heaven is won!
Oh! am I not happy? I am, I am—
  To thee, sweet Eden! how dark and sad
Are the diamond turrets of Shadukiam,
  And the fragrant bowers of Amberabad!        510
“Farewell, ye odors of earth, that die
Passing away like a lover’s sigh:
My feast is now of the Tooba Tree,
Whose scent is the breath of Eternity!
“Farewell, ye vanishing flowers that shone        515
  In my fairy wreath so bright and brief:
Oh! what are the brightest that e’er have blown
To the lote-tree springing by Alla’s throne,
  Whose flowers have a soul in every leaf.
Joy, joy forever! my task is done—        520
The gates are passed, and heaven is won!”

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