Mazelli - Canto I.

A poem by George W. Sands

I.

"Stay, traveller, stay thy weary steed,
The sultry hour of noon is near,
Of rest thy way-worn limbs have need,
Stay, then, and, taste its sweetness here.
The mountain path which thou hast sped
Is steep, and difficult to tread,
And many a farther step 'twill cost,
Ere thou wilt find another host;
But if thou scorn'st not humble fare,
Such as the pilgrim loves to share, -
Not luxury's enfeebling spoil,
But bread secured by patient toil -
Then lend thine ear to my request,
And be the old man's welcome guest.
Thou seest yon aged willow tree,
In all its summer pomp arrayed,
'Tis near, wend thither, then, with me,
My cot is built beneath its shade;
And from its roots clear waters burst
To cool thy lip, and quench thy thirst: -
I love it, and if harm should, come
To it, I think that I should weep;
'Tis as a guardian of my home,
So faithfully it seems to keep
Its watch above the spot where I
Have lived so long, and mean to die.
Come, pardon me for prating thus,
But age, you know, is garrulous;
And in life's dim decline, we hold
Thrice dear whate'er we loved of old, -
The stream upon whose banks we played,
The forest through whose shades we strayed,
The spot to which from sober truth
We stole to dream the dreams of youth,
The single star of all Night's zone,
Which we have chosen as our own,
Each has its haunting memory
Of things which never more may be."

II.

Thus spake an aged man to one
Who manhood's race had just begun.
His form of manhood's noblest length
Was strung with manhood's stoutest strength,
And burned within his eagle eye
The blaze of tameless energy -
Not tameless but untamed - for life
Soon breaks the spirit with its strife
And they who in their souls have nursed
The brightest visions, are the first
To learn how Disappointment's blight
Strips life of its illusive light;
How dreams the heart has dearest held
Are ever first to be dispelled;
How hope, and power, and love, and fame,
Are each an idly sounding name,
A phantom, a deceit, a wile,
That woos and dazzles to beguile.
But time had not yet tutored him,
The youth of hardy heart and limb,
Who quickly drew his courser's bit;
For though too haughty to submit,
In strife for mastery with men,
Yet to a prayer, or a caress,
His soul became all gentleness, -
An infant's hand might lead him then:
So answered he, - "In sooth the way
My steed and I have passed to-day,
Is of such weary, winding length,
As sorely to have tried our strength,
And I will bless the bread and salt
Of him who kindly bids me halt."
Then springing lightly to the ground,
His girth and saddle he unbound,
And turning from the path aside,
The steed and guest, the host and guide,
Sought where the old man's friendly door
Stood ever open to the poor:
The poor - for seldom came the great,
Or rich, the apers of their state,
That simple, rude abode to see,
Or claim its hospitality.

III.

From where the hermit's cottage stood,
Beneath its huge old guardian tree,
The gazer's wand'ring eye might see,
Where, in its maze of field and wood,
And stretching many a league away,
A broad and smiling valley lay: -
Lay stilly calm, and sweetly fair,
As if Death had not entered there;
As if its flowers, so bright of bloom,
Its birds, so gay of song and wing,
Would never lose their soft perfume,
Would never, never cease to sing.
Fat flocks were in its glens at rest,
Pure waters wandered o'er its breast,
The sky was clear, the winds were still,
Rich harvests grew on every hill,
The sun in mid-day glory smiled,
And nature slumbered as a child.

IV.

And now, their rustic banquet done,
And sheltered from the noontide sun
By the old willow's pleasant shade,
The guest and host the scene surveyed;
Marked how the mountain's mighty base
The valley's course was seen to trace;
Marked how its graceful azure crest
Against the sky's blue arch was pressed,
And how its long and rocky chain
Was parted suddenly in twain,
Where through a chasm, wide and deep,
Potomac's rapid waters sweep,
While rocks that press the mountain's brow,
Nod o'er his waves far, far below;[1]
Marked how those waves, in one broad blaze,
Threw back the sun's meridian rays,
And, flashing as they rolled along,
Seemed all alive with light and song;
Marked how green bower and garden showed
Where rose the husbandman's abode,
And how the village walls were seen
To glimmer with a silvery sheen,
Such as the Spaniard saw, of yore,
Hang over Tenuchtitlan's walls,
When maddened with the lust of gore,
He came to desecrate her halls;
To fire her temples, towers, and thrones,
And turn her songs of peace to groans.
They gazed, till from the hermit's eye
A tear stole slow and silently;
A tear, which Memory's hand had taken
From a deep fountain long congealed;
A tear, which showed how strongly shaken
The heart must be, which thus revealed,
Through time's dim shadows, gathering fast,
Its recollections of the past;
Then, as a sigh escaped his breast,
Thus spake the hermit to his guest.

V.

"Thou seest how fair a scene is here;
It seems as if 'twere planned above,
And fashioned from some happier sphere,
To be the home of peace and love.
Yet man, too fond of strife, to dwell
In meek contentment's calm repose,
Will turn an Eden to a hell,
And triumph in his brother's woes!
And passion's lewd and lawless host,
Delight to rave and revel most
Where generous Nature stamps and strews
Her fairest forms, and brightest hues:
And Discord here has lit her brand,
And Hatred nursed her savage brood,
And stern Revenge, with crimson hand,
Has written his foul deeds in blood.
But those who loved and suffered then,
Have given place to other men:
Of all who live, to me alone
The story, of their fate is known;
Give heed, and I will tell it thee,
Tho' mournful must the story be.

VI.

I mind as if 'twere yesterday,
The hour when first I stood beside
The margin of yon rushing tide,
And watched its wild waves in their play;
These locks that now are thin and gray,
Then clustered thick and dark as thine,
And few had strength of arm like mine.
Thou seest how many a furrow now
Time's hand hath ploughed athwart my brow:
Well, then it was without a line; -
And I had other treasures too,
Of which 'tis useless now to vaunt;
Friends, who were kind, and warm, and true;
A heart, that danger could not daunt;
A soul, with wild dreams wildly stirred;
And hope that had not been deferred.
I cannot count how many years
Have since gone by, but toil and tears,
And the lone heart's deep agony,
I feel have sadly altered me; -
Yet mourn I not the change, for those
I loved or scorned, my friends or foes,
Have fallen and faded, one by one,
As time's swift current hurried by,
Till I, of all my kith alone,
Am left to wait, and wish to die.

VII.

How strong a hand hath Time! Man rears,
And names his work immortal; years
Go by. Behold! where dwelt his pride,
Stern Desolation's brood abide;
The owl within his bower sits,
The lone bat through his chamber flits;
Where bounded by the buoyant throng,
With measured step, and choral song,
The wily serpent winds along;
While the Destroyer stalketh by,
And smiles, as if in mockery.
How strong a band hath Time! Love weaves
His wreath of flowers and myrtle leaves,
[Methinks his fittest crown would be
A chaplet from the cypress tree;]
With hope his breast is swelling high,
And brightly beams his laughing eye;
But soon his hopes are mixed with fears,
And soon his smiles are quenched in tears:
Then Disappointment's blighting breath
Breathes o'er him, and he droops to death;
While the Destroyer glideth by,
And smiles, as if in mockery.
How strong a hand hath Time! Fame wins
The eager youth to her embrace;
With tameless ardour he begins,
And follows up the bootless race;
Ah! bootless - for, as on he hies,
With equal speed the phantom flies,
Till youth, and strength, and vigour gone,
He faints, and sinks, and dies unknown;
While the Destroyer passeth by,
And smiles, as if in mockery.
Gaze, stranger, on the scene below;
'Tis scarce a century ago,
Since here abode another race,
The men of tomahawk and bow,
The savage sons of war and chase;
Yet where, ah! where, abide they now?
Go search, and see if thou canst find,
One trace which they have left behind,
A single mound, or mossy grave,
That holds the ashes of the brave;
A single lettered stone to say
That they have lived, and passed away.
Men soon will cease to name their name,
Oblivion soon will quench their fame,
And the wild story of their fate,
Will yet be subject of debate,
'Twixt antiquarians sage and able,
Who doubt if it be truth or fable.

VIII.

I said I minded well the time,
When first beside yon stream I stood;
Then one interminable wood,
In its unbounded breadth sublime,
And in its loneliness profound,
Spread like a leafy sea around.
To one of foreign land and birth,
Nursed 'mid the loveliest scenes of earth,
But now from home and friends exiled,
Such wilderness were doubly wild; -
I thought it so, and scarce could I
My tears repress, when standing by
The river's brink, I thought of mine
Own native stream, the glorious Rhine!
For, near to it, with loving eye,
My mother watched my infancy;
Along its banks my childhood strayed,
With its strong waves my boyhood played.
And I could see, in memory, still
My father's cottage on the hill,
With green vines trailing round and o'er
Wall, roof and casement, porch and door:
Yet soon I learned yon stream to bless,
And love the wooded wilderness.
I could not then have told thee how
The change came o'er my heart, but now
I know full well the charm that wrought,
Into my soul, the spell of thought -
Of tender, pensive thought, which made
Me love the forest's deepest shade,
And listen, with delighted ear,
To the low voice of waters near,
As gliding, gushing, gurgling by,
They utter their sweet minstrelsy.
I scarce need give that charm a name;
Thy heart, I know, hath felt the same, -
Ah! where is mind, or heart, or soul,
That has not bowed to its control?

IX.

See, where yon towering, rocky ledge,
Hangs jutting o'er the river's edge,
There channelled dark, and dull, and deep,
The lazy, lagging waters sleep;
Thence follow, with thine eagle sight,
A double stone's cast to the right,
Mark where a white-walled cottage stands,
Devised and reared by cunning hands,
A stately pile, and fair to see!
The chisel's touch, and pencil's trace,
Have blent for it a goodly grace;
And yet, it much less pleaseth me,
Than did the simple rustic cot,
Which occupied of yore that spot.
For, 'neath its humble shelter, grew
The fairest flower that e'er drank dew;
A lone exotic of the wood,
The fairy of the solitude,
Who dwelt amid its loneliness
To brighten, beautify, and bless.
The summer sky's serenest blue,
Would best portray her eye's soft hue;
From her white brow were backward rolled
Long curls of mingled light and gold;
The flush upon her cheek of snow,
Had shamed the rose's harsher glow;
And haughty love had, haughtier grown,
To own her breast his fairest throne.
The eye that once behold her, ne'er
Could lose her image; - firm and bright,
All-beautiful, and pure, and clear,
'Twas stamped upon th' enamoured sight;
Unchangeable, for ever fair,
Above decay, it lingered there!
As it has lingered on mine own,
These many years, till it has grown,
In its mysterious strength, to be
A portion of my soul and me.

X.

Not in the peopled solitude
Of cities, does true love belong;
For it is of A thoughtful mood,
And thought abides not with the throng.
Nor is it won by glittering wealth,
By cunning, nor device of art,
Unheralded, by silent stealth,
It wins its way into the heart.
And once the soul has known its dream,
Thenceforth its empire is supreme,
For heart, and brain, and soul, and will,
Are bowed by its subduing thrill.
My love, alas! not born to bless,
Had birth in nature's loneliness;
And held, at first, as a sweet spell,
It grew in strength, till it became
A spirit, which I could not quell, -
A quenchless - a volcanic flame,
Which, without pause, or time of rest,
Must burn for ever in my breast.
Yet how ecstatically sweet,
Was its first soft tumultuous beat!
I little thought that beat could be
The harbinger of misery;
And daily, when the morning beam
Dawned earliest on wood and stream,
When, from each brake and bush were heard,
The hum of bee, and chirp of bird,
From these, earth's matin songs, my ear
Would turn, a sweeter voice to hear -
A voice, whose tones the very air
Seemed trembling with delight to bear;
From leafy wood, and misty stream,
From bush, and brake, and morning beam,
Would turn away my wandering eye,
A dearer object to descry,
Till voice so sweet, and form so bright,
Grew part of hearing and of sight.

XI.

Yet my fond love I never told,
But kept it, as the miser keeps,
In his rude hut, his hoarded heaps
Of gleaming gems, and glittering gold:
Gloating in secret o'er the prize,
He fears to show to other eyes;
And so passed many months away,
Till once I heard a comrade say: -
"To-morrow brings her bridal day;
Mazelli leaves the greenwood bower,
Where she has grown its fairest flower,
To bless, with her bright, sunny smile,
A stranger from a distant isle,
Whom love has lured across the sea,
O'er hill and glen, through wood and wild,
Far from his lordly home, to be
Lord of the forest's fairest child."
It was as when a thunder peal
Bursts, crashing from a cloudless sky,
It caused my brain and heart to reel
And throb, with speechless agony:
Yet, when wild Passion's trance was o'er,
And Thought resumed her sway once more,
I breathed a prayer that she might be
Saved from the pangs that tortured me;
That her young heart might never prove
The sting of unrequited love.
My task I then again began,
But ah! how much an altered man, -
A single hour, a few hot tears,
Had done the wasting work of years.

XII.

Nor was it I alone, to whom
Those words had been as words of doom,
By some malicious fiend rehearsed:
Another one was standing by,
With princely port, and piercing eye,
Of dusky cheek, and brow, and plume;
I thought his heaving heart would burst,
His labouring bosom's heave and swell,
So strongly, quickly, rose and fell!
A long, bright blade hung at his side,
Its keen and glittering edge he tried;
He bore a bow, and this he drew,
To see if still its spring were true;
But other sign could none be caught,
Of what he suffered, felt, or thought.
And then with firm and haughty stride,
He turned away, and left my side;
I watched him, as with rapid tread,
Along the river's marge he sped,
Till the still twilight's gathering gloom
Hid haughty form, and waving plume.

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