The Missionary. Canto Second.

A poem by William Lisle Bowles

Argument.

The Second Day.

Night, Spirit of the Andes, Valdivia, Lautaro, Missionary, The
Hermitage.

The night was still and clear, when, o'er the snows,
Andes! thy melancholy Spirit rose,
A shadow stern and sad: he stood alone,
Upon the topmost mountain's burning cone;
And whilst his eyes shone dim, through surging smoke,
Thus to the spirits of the fire he spoke:

Ye, who tread the hidden deeps,
Where the silent earthquake sleeps;
Ye, who track the sulphurous tide,
Or on hissing vapours ride,
Spirits, come!
From worlds of subterraneous night;
From fiery realms of lurid light;
From the ore's unfathomed bed;
From the lava's whirlpools red,
Spirits, come!
On Chili's foes rush with vindictive sway,
And sweep them from the light of living day!
Heard ye not the ravenous brood,
That flap their wings, and scream for blood?
On Peru's devoted shore
Their murderous beaks are red with gore;
Yet here, impatient for new prey,
The insatiate vultures track their way.
Let them perish! they, whose bands
Swept remote and peaceful lands!
Let them perish! on their head,
Descend the darkness of the dead!
Spirits, now your caves forsake:
Hark! ten thousand warriors wake!
Spirits, their high cause defend!
From your caves ascend! ascend!

As thus the Genius of the Andes spoke,
The trembling mountain heaved with darker smoke;
Lightnings, and phantom-forms, by fits appeared;
His mighty voice far off Osorno heard;
The caverned deeps shook through their vast profound,
And Chimborazzo's height rolled back the sound.
With lifted arm, and towering stature high,
And aspect frowning to the middle sky
(Its misty form dilated in the wind),
The phantom stood, till, less and less defined,
Into thin air it faded from the sight,
Lost in the ambient haze of slow-returning light.
Its feathery-seeming crown, its giant spear,
Its limbs of huge proportion, disappear;
And the bare mountains to the dawn disclose
The same long line of solitary snows.
The morning shines, the military train
Streams far and wide along the tented plain;
And plaited cuirasses, and helms of steel,
Throw back the sunbeams, as the horsemen wheel:
Thus, with arms glancing to the eastern light,
Pass, in review, proud steeds and cohorts bright;
For all the host, by break of morrow's gray,
Wind back their march to Penco's northern bay,
Valdivia, fearful lest confederate foes,
Ambushed and dark, his progress might oppose,
Marshals to-day the whole collected force,
File and artillery, cuirassier and horse:
Himself yet lingers ere he joins the train,
That moves, in ordered march, along the plain,
While troops, and Indian slaves beneath his eye,
The labours of the rising city ply:[1]
Wide glows the general toil; the mole extends,
The watch-tower o'er the desert surge ascends;
And battlements, and rising ramparts, shine
Above the ocean's blue and level line.
The sun ascended to meridian height,
And all the northern bastions shone in light;
With hoarse acclaim, the gong and trumpet rung,
The Moorish slaves aloft their cymbals swung,
When the proud victor, in triumphant state,
Rode forth, in arms, through the portcullis' gate.
With neck high-arching as he smote the ground,
And restless pawing to the trumpet's sound,
With mantling mane, o'er his broad shoulders spread,
And nostrils blowing, and dilated red,
The coal-black steed, in rich caparison
Far trailing to the ground, went proudly on.
Proudly he tramped, as conscious of his charge,
And turned around his eye-balls, bright and large,
And shook the frothy boss, as in disdain;
And tossed the flakes, indignant, off his mane;
And, with high-swelling veins, exulting pressed
Proudly against the barb his heaving breast.
The fate of empires glowing in his thought,
Thus armed, the tented field Valdivia sought.
On the left side his poised shield he bore,
With quaint devices richly blazoned o'er;
Above the plumes, upon his helmet's cone,
Castile's imperial crest illustrious shone;
Blue in the wind the escutcheoned mantle flowed,
O'er the chained mail, which tinkled as he rode.
The barred vizor raised, you might discern
His clime-changed countenance,[2] though pale, yet stern,
And resolute as death, whilst in his eye
Sat proud Assurance, Fame, and Victory.
Lautaro, now in manhood's rising pride,
Rode, with a lance, attendant at his side,
In Spanish mantle gracefully arrayed;
Upon his brow a tuft of feathers played:
His glossy locks, with dark and mantling grace,
Shaded the noonday sunbeams on his face.
Though passed in tears the dayspring of his youth,
Valdivia loved his gratitude and truth:
He, in Valdivia, owned a nobler friend;
Kind to protect, and mighty to defend.
So, on he rode; upon his youthful mien
A mild but sad intelligence was seen;
Courage was on his open brow, yet care
Seemed like a wandering shade to linger there;
And though his eye shone, as the eagle's, bright,
It beamed with humid, melancholy light
When now Valdivia saw the embattled line,
Helmets, and swords, and shields, and matchlocks, shine;
Now the long phalanx still and steady stand,
Fixed every eye, and motionless each hand;
Then slowly clustering, into columns wheel,
Each with the red-cross banners of Castile;
While trumps, and drums, and cymbals, to his ear
Made music such as soldiers love to hear;
While horsemen checked their steeds, or, bending low
With levelled lances, o'er the saddle-bow,
Rode gallantly at tilt; and thunders broke,
Instant involving van and rear in smoke,
Till winds the obscuring volume rolled away,
And the red file, stretched out in long array,
More radiant moved beneath the beams of day;
While ensigns, arms, and crosses, glittered bright,
Philip![3] he cried, seest thou the glorious sight?
And dost thou deem the tribes of this poor land
Can men, and arms, and steeds, like these, withstand?
Forgive! the youth replied, and checked a tear,
The land where my forefathers sleep is dear!
My native land! this spot of blessed earth,
The scene where I, and all I love, had birth!
What gratitude fidelity can give
Is yours, my lord! you shielded bade me live,
When, in the circuit of the world so wide,
I had but one, one only friend beside.
I bowed resigned to fate; I kissed the hand,
Red with the best blood of my father's land![4]
But mighty as thou art, Valdivia, know,
Though Cortes' desolating march laid low
The shrines of rich, voluptuous Mexico;
With carcases, though proud Pizarro strew
The Sun's imperial temple in Peru,
Yet the rude dwellers of this land are brave,
And the last spot they lose will be their grave!
A moment's crimson crossed Valdivia's cheek
Then o'er the plain he spurred, nor deigned to speak,
Waving the youth, at distance, to retire;
None saw the eye that shot terrific fire.
As their commander sternly rode along,
Troop after troop, halted the martial throng;
And all the pennoned trumps a louder blast
Blew, as the Southern World's great victor passed.
Lautaro turned, scarce heeding, from the view,
And from the noise of trumps and drums withdrew;
And now, while troubled thoughts his bosom swell,
Seeks the gray Missionary's humble cell.
Fronting the ocean, but beyond the ken
Of public view, and sounds of murmuring men,
Of unhewn roots composed, and gnarled wood,
A small and rustic oratory stood;
Upon its roof of reeds appeared a cross,
The porch within was lined with mantling moss;
A crucifix and hour-glass, on each side
One to admonish seemed, and one to guide;
This, to impress how soon life's race is o'er;
And that, to lift our hopes where time shall be no more.
O'er the rude porch, with wild and gadding stray,
The clustering copu weaved its trellis gay;
Two mossy pines, high bending, interwove
Their aged and fantastic arms above.
In front, amid the gay surrounding flowers,
A dial counted the departing hours,
On which the sweetest light of summer shone,
A rude and brief inscription marked the stone:
To count, with passing shade, the hours,
I placed the dial 'mid the flowers;
That, one by one, came forth, and died,
Blooming, and withering, round its side.
Mortal, let the sight impart
Its pensive moral to thy heart!
Just heard to trickle through a covert near,
And soothing, with perpetual lapse, the ear,
A fount, like rain-drops, filtered through the stone,
And, bright as amber, on the shallows shone.
Intent his fairy pastime to pursue,
And, gem-like, hovering o'er the violets blue,
The humming-bird, here, its unceasing song
Heedlessly murmured, all the summer long;
And when the winter came, retired to rest,
And from the myrtles hung its trembling nest.
No sounds of a conflicting world were near;
The noise of ocean faintly met the ear,
That seemed, as sunk to rest the noontide blast,
But dying sounds of passions that were past;
Or closing anthems, when, far off, expire
The lessening echoes of the distant choir.
Here, every human sorrow hushed to rest,
His pale hands meekly crossed upon his breast,
Anselmo sat: the sun, with westering ray,
Just touched his temples, and his locks of gray.
There was no worldly feeling in his eye;
The world to him was "as a thing gone by."
Now, all his features lit, he raised his look,
Then bent it thoughtful, and unclasped the book;
And whilst the hour-glass shed its silent sand,
A tame opossum[5] licked his withered hand.
That sweetest light of slow-declining day,
Which through the trellis poured its slanting ray,
Resting a moment on his few gray hairs,
Seemed light from heaven sent down to bless his prayers.
When the trump echoed to the quiet spot,
He thought upon the world, but mourned it not;
Enough if his meek wisdom could control,
And bend to mercy, one proud soldier's soul;
Enough, if, while these distant scenes he trod,
He led one erring Indian to his God.
Whence comes my son? with kind complacent look
He asked, and closed again the embossed book.
I come to thee for peace, the youth replied:
Oh, there is strife, and cruelty, and pride,
In this sad Christian world! My native land
Was happy, ere the soldier, with his band
Of fell destroyers, like a vulture, came,
And gave its peaceful scenes to blood and flame.
When will the turmoil of earth's tempests cease?
Father, I come to thee for peace, for peace!
Seek peace, the father cried, with God above:
In His good time, all will be peace and love.
We mourn, indeed, mourn that all sounds of ill,
Earth's fairest scenes with one deep murmur fill;
That yonder sun, when evening paints the sky,
Sinks, beauteous, on a world of misery;
The course of wide destruction to withstand,
We lift our feeble voice, our trembling hand;
But still, bowed low, or smitten to the dust,
Father of mercy, still in Thee we trust!
Through good or ill, in poverty or wealth,
In joy or woe, in sickness or in health,
Meek Piety thy awful hand surveys,
And the faint murmur turns to prayer and praise!
We know, whatever evils we deplore,
Thou hast permitted, and we know no more!
Behold, illustrious on the subject plain,
Some tow'r-crowned city of imperial Spain!
Hark! 'twas the earthquake![6] clouds of dust alone
Ascend from earth, where tower and temple shone!
Such is the conqueror's dread path: the grave
Yawns for its millions where his banners wave;
But shall vain man, whose life is but a sigh,
With sullen acquiescence gaze and die?
Alas, how little of the mighty maze
Of Providence our mortal ken surveys!
Heaven's awful Lord, pavilioned in the clouds,
Looks through the darkness that all nature shrouds;
And, far beyond the tempest and the night,
Bids man his course hold on to scenes of endless light.

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