The Corsair (Byron, 1814)/CANTO II

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The Corsair (Byron, 1814) by George Gordon Byron
CANTO II

THE CORSAIR.


CANTO II.




"Conosceste i dubbiosi desiri?"
 Dante.




I.

"In Coron's bay floats many a galley light,
Through Coron's lattices the lamps are bright,
For Seyd, the Pacha, makes a feast to-night:
A feast for promised triumph yet to come,
When he shall drag the fettered Rovers home;
This hath he sworn by Allah and his sword, 610
And faithful to his firman and his word,
His summoned prows collect along the coast,
And great the gathering crews, and loud the boast;
Already shared the captives and the prize,
Though far the distant foe they thus despise;
'Tis but to sail—no doubt to-morrow's Sun
Will see the Pirates bound—their haven won!
Meantime the watch may slumber, if they will,
Nor only wake to war, but dreaming kill:
Though all, who can, disperse on shore and seek 620
To flesh their glowing valour on the Greek;
How well such deed becomes the turban’d brave—
To bare the sabre's edge before a slave!
Infest his dwelling—but forbear to slay,
Their arms are strong, yet merciful to-day,
And do not deign to smite because they may!
Unless some gay caprice suggests the blow,
To keep in practice for the coming foe.
Revel and rout the evening hours beguile,
And they who wish to wear a head must smile; 630
For Moslem mouths produce their choicest cheer,
And hoard their curses, till the coast is clear.


II.

High in his hall reclines the turban’d Seyd:
Around—the bearded chiefs he came to lead.
Removed the banquet, and the last pilaff—
Forbidden draughts, 'tis said, he dared to quaff,
Though to the rest the sober berry's juice,3
The slaves bear round for rigid Moslems' use;
The long Chibouque's4 dissolving cloud supply,
While dance the Almas5 to wild minstrelsy: 640
The rising morn will view the chiefs embark;
But waves are somewhat treacherous in the dark:
And revellers may more securely sleep
On silken couch than o'er the rugged deep;
Feast there who can—nor combat till they must,
And less to conquest than to Korans trust;
And yet the numbers crowded in his host
Might warrant more than even the Pacha's boast.


III.

With cautious reverence from the outer gate
Slow stalks the slave, whose office there to wait, 650
Bows his bent head—his hand salutes the floor,
Ere yet his tongue the trusted tidings bore:
"A captive Dervise, from the Pirate's nest
Escaped, is here—himself would tell the rest."
He took the sign from Seyd's assenting eye,
And led the holy man in silence nigh.
His arms were folded on his dark-green vest,
His step was feeble, and his look deprest;
Yet worn he seem'd of hardship more than years,
And pale his cheek with penance, not from fears, 660
Vow'd to his God—his sable locks he wore,
And these his lofty cap rose proudly o'er:
Around his form his loose long robe was thrown,
And wrapt a breast bestow'd on heaven alone;
Submissive, yet with self-possession mann'd,
He calmly met the curious eyes that scann'd;
And question of his coming fain would seek,
Before the Pacha's will allowed to speak.


IV.

"Whence com'st thou, Dervise?"
 "From the Outlaw's den, 670
"A fugitive—"
 "Thy capture where and when?"
"From Scalanova's port to Scio's isle.
"The Saick was bound; but Allah did not smile
"Upon our course—the Moslem merchant's gains
"The Rovers won; our limbs have worn their chains.
"I had no death to fear, nor wealth to boast,
"Beyond the wandering freedom which I lost;
"At length a fisher's humble boat by night
"Afforded hope, and offer'd chance of flight;
"I seized the hour, and find my safety here— 680
"With thee—most mighty Pacha! who can fear?"


"How speed the outlaws? stand they well prepared,
"Their plundered wealth, and robber's rock, to guard?
"Dream they of this our preparation, doom'd
"To view with fire their scorpion nest consumed?"


"Pacha! the fettered captive's mourning eye,
"That weeps for flight, but ill can play the spy;
"I only heard the reckless waters roar,
"Those waves that would not bear me from the shore;
"I only marked the glorious sun and sky, 690
"Too bright—too blue—for my captivity;
"And felt—that all which Freedom's bosom cheers
"Must break my chain before it dried my tears.
"This may'st thou judge, at least, from my escape,
"They little deem of aught in peril's shape;
"Else vainly had I prayed or sought the chance
"That leads me here—if eyed with vigilance:
"The careless guard that did not see me fly,
"May watch as idly when thy power is nigh.
"Pacha!—my limbs are faint—and nature craves 700
"Food for my hunger, rest from tossing waves:
"Permit my absence—peace be with thee! Peace
"With all around!—now grant repose—release."


"Stay, Dervise! I have more to question—stay,
"I do command thee—sit—dost hear?—obey!
"More I must ask, and food the slaves shall bring;
"Thou shalt not pine where all are banqueting:
"The supper done—prepare thee to reply,
"Clearly and full—I love not mystery."


'Twere vain to guess what shook the pious man, 710
Who look'd not lovingly on that Divan;
Nor show'd high relish for the banquet prest,
And less respect for every fellow guest.
'Twas but a moment's peevish hectic past
Along his cheek, and tranquillised as fast:
He sate him down in silence, and his look
Resumed the calmness which before forsook:
The feast was usher'd in—but sumptuous fare
He shunn'd as if some poison mingled there.
For one so long condemn'd to toil and fast, 720
Methinks he strangely spares the rich repast.
"What ails thee, Dervise? eat—dost thou suppose
"This feast a Christian's? or my friends thy foes?
"Why dost thou shun the salt? that sacred pledge,
"Which, once partaken, blunts the sabre's edge,
"Makes even contending tribes in peace unite,
"And hated hosts seem brethren to the sight!"


"Salt seasons dainties—and my food is still
"The humblest root, my drink the simplest rill;
"And my stern vow and order's6 laws oppose 730
"To break or mingle bread with friends or foes;
"It may seem strange—if there be aught to dread
"That peril rests upon my single head;
"But for thy sway—nay more—thy Sultan's throne,
"I taste nor bread nor banquet—save alone;
"Infringed our Order's rule, the Prophet's rage
"To Mecca's dome might bar my pilgrimage."


"Well—as thou wilt—ascetic as thou art—
"One question answer; then in peace depart.
"How many?—Ha! it cannot sure be day? 740
"What star—what sun is bursting on the bay?
"It shines a lake of fire!—away—away!
"Ho! treachery! my guards! my scimitar!
"The galleys feed the flames—and I afar!
"Accursed Dervise!—these thy tidings—thou
"Some villain spy—seize—cleave him—slay him now!"


Up rose the Dervise with that burst of light,
Nor less his change of form appall'd the sight:
Up rose that Dervise—not in saintly garb,
But like a warrior bounding from his barb, 750
Dash'd his high cap, and tore his robe away—
Shone his mail'd breast, and flash'd his sabre's ray!
His close but glittering casque, and sable plume,
More glittering eye, and black brow's sabler gloom,
Glared on the Moslems' eyes some Afrit Sprite,
Whose demon death-blow left no hope for fight.
The wild confusion, and the swarthy glow
Of flames on high, and torches from below;
The shriek of terror, and the mingling yell—
For swords began to clash, and shouts to swell— 760
Flung o'er that spot of earth the air of hell!
Distracted, to and fro, the flying slaves
Behold but bloody shore and fiery waves;
Nought heeded they the Pacha's angry cry,
They seize that Dervise!—seize on Zatanai!7
He saw their terror—check'd the first despair
That urged him but to stand and perish there,
Since far too early and too well obey'd,
The flame was kindled ere the signal made;
He saw their terror—from his baldric drew 770
His bugle—brief the blast—but shrilly blew;
'Tis answered—"Well ye speed, my gallant crew!
"Why did I doubt their quickness of career?
"And deem design had left me single here?"
Sweeps his long arm—that sabre's whirling sway
Sheds fast atonement for its first delay;
Completes his fury, what their fear begun,
And makes the many basely quail to one.
The cloven turbans o'er the chamber spread,
And scarce an arm dare rise to guard its head: 780
Even Seyd, convuls'd, o'erwhelm'd, with rage, surprise,
Retreats before him, though he still defies.
No craven he—and yet he dreads the blow,
So much Confusion magnifies his foe!
His blazing galleys still distract his sight,
He tore his beard, and foaming fled the fight;8
For now the pirates pass'd the Haram gate,
And burst within—and it were death to wait;
Where wild Amazement shrieking—kneeling—throws
The sword aside—in vain—the blood o'erflows! 790
The Corsairs pouring, haste to where within
Invited Conrad's bugle, and the din
Of groaning victims, and wild cries for life,
Proclaim'd how well he did the work of strife.
They shout to find him grim and lonely there,
A glutted tiger mangling in his lair!
But short their greeting, shorter his reply—
" 'Tis well—but Seyd escapes—and he must die.
"Much hath been done—but more remains to do—
"Their galleys blaze—why not their city too?" 800


V.

Quick at the word—they seized him each a torch,
And fire the dome from minaret to porch.
A stern delight was fixed in Conrad's eye,
But sudden sunk—for on his ear the cry
Of women struck, and like a deadly knell
Knocked at that heart unmoved by Battle's yell.
"Oh! burst the Haram—wrong not on your lives
"One female form—remember—we have wives.
"On them such outrage Vengeance will repay;
"Man is our foe, and such 'tis ours to slay: 810
"But still we spared—must spare the weaker prey.
"Oh! I forgot—but Heaven will not forgive
"If at my word the helpless cease to live;
"Follow who will—I go—we yet have time
"Our souls to lighten of at least a crime."
He climbs the crackling stair—he bursts the door,
Nor feels his feet glow scorching with the floor;
His breath choked gasping with the volumed smoke,
But still from room to room his way he broke:
They search—they find—they save: with lusty arms 820
Each bears a prize of unregarded charms;
Calm their loud fears; sustain their sinking frames
With all the care defenceless beauty claims:
So well could Conrad tame their fiercest mood,
And check the very hands with gore imbrued.
But who is she? whom Conrad's arms convey,
From reeking pile and combat's wreck—away—
Who but the love of him he dooms to bleed?
The Haram queen—but still the slave of Seyd!


VI.

Brief time had Conrad now to greet Gulnare,9 830
Few words to reassure the trembling fair;
For in that pause compassion snatched from war,
The foe before retiring, fast and far,
With wonder saw their footsteps unpursued,
First slowlier fled—then rallied—then withstood.
This Seyd perceives, then first perceives how few,
Compared with his, the Corsair's roving crew,
And blushes o'er his error, as he eyes
The ruin wrought by panic and surprize.
Alla il Alla! Vengeance swells the cry— 840
Shame mounts to rage that must atone or die!
And flame for flame and blood for blood must tell,
The tide of triumph ebbs that flowed too well—
When wrath returns to renovated strife,
And those who fought for conquest strike for life.
Conrad beheld the danger—he beheld
His followers faint by freshening foes repelled:
"One effort—one—to break the circling host!"
They form—unite—charge—waver—all is lost!
Within a narrower ring compress'd, beset, 850
Hopeless, not heartless, strive and struggle yet—
Ah! now they fight in firmest file no more,
Hemm'd in—cut off—cleft down—and trampled o'er;
But each strikes singly, silently, and home,
And sinks outwearied rather than o'ercome,
His last faint quittance rendering with his breath,
Till the blade glimmers in the grasp of death!


VII.

But first, ere came the rallying host to blows,
And rank to rank, and hand to hand oppose,
Gulnare and all her Haram handmaids freed, 860
Safe in the dome of one who held their creed,
By Conrad's mandate safely were bestow'd,
And dried those tears for life and fame that flow'd:
And when that dark-eyed lady, young Gulnare,
Recall'd those thoughts late wandering in despair,
Much did she marvel o'er the courtesy
That smooth'd his accents—soften'd in his eye.
'Twas strange—that robber thus with gore bedew'd,
Seem'd gentler then than Seyd in fondest mood.
The Pacha wooed as if he deem'd the slave 870
Must seem delighted with the heart he gave;
The Corsair vowed protection, sooth'd affright,
As if his homage were a woman's right.
"The wish is wrong—nay worse for female—vain:
"Yet much I long to view that chief again;
"If but to thank for, what my fear forgot,
"The life—my loving lord remembered not!"


VIII.

And him she saw, where thickest carnage spread,
But gathered breathing from the happier dead;
Far from his band, and battling with a host 880
That deem right dearly won the field he lost,
Fell'd—bleeding—baffled of the death he sought,
And snatch'd to expiate all the ills he wrought;
Preserved to linger and to live in vain,
While Vengeance ponder'd o'er new plans of pain,
And staunch'd the blood she saves to shed again—
But drop by drop, for Seyd's unglutted eye
Would doom him ever dying—ne'er to die!
Can this be he? triumphant late she saw,
When his red hand's wild gesture waved, a law! 890
'Tis he indeed—disarmed but undeprest,
His sole regret the life he still possest;
His wounds too slight, though taken with that will,
Which would have kissed the hand that then could kill.
Oh were there none, of all the many given,
To send his soul—he scarcely asked to heaven?
Must he alone of all retain his breath,
Who more than all had striv'n and struck for death?
He deeply felt—what mortal hearts must feel,
When thus revers'd on faithless fortune's wheel, 900
For crimes committed, and the victor's threat
Of lingering tortures to repay the debt
He deeply, darkly felt; but evil pride
That led to perpetrate—now serves to hide.
Still in his stern and self-collected mien
A conqueror's more than captive's air is seen,
Though faint with wasting toil and stiffening wound,
But few that saw—so calmly gaz’d around:
Though the far shouting of the distant crowd,
Their tremors o'er, rose insolently loud, 910
The better warriors who beheld him near,
Insulted not the foe who taught them fear—
And the grim guards that to his durance led,
In silence eyed him with a secret dread.


IX.

The Leech was sent—but not in mercy—there
To note how much the life yet left could bear;
He found enough to load with heaviest chain,
And promise feeling for the wrench of pain:
To-morrow—yea—to-morrow's evening sun
Will sinking see impalement's pangs begun, 920
And rising with the wonted blush of morn
Behold how well or ill those pangs are borne.
Of torments this the longest and the worst,
Which adds all other agony to thirst,
That day by day death still forbears to slake,
While famish'd vultures flit around the stake.
"Oh! water—water!"—smiling Hate denies
The victim's prayer—for if he drinks—he dies.
This was his doom;—the Leech, the guard, were gone,
And left proud Conrad fetter'd and alone. 930


X.

'Twere vain to paint to what his feelings grew—
It even were doubtful if their victim knew.
There is a war, a chaos of the mind,
When all its elements convuls'd—combined—
Lie dark and jarring with perturbed force,
And gnashing with impenitent Remorse;
That juggling fiend—who never spake before—
But cries "I warn'd thee!" when the deed is o'er.
Vain voice! the spirit burning but unbent,
May writhe—rebel—the weak alone repent! 940
Even in that lonely hour when most it feels,
And, to itself, all—all that self reveals,
No single passion, and no ruling thought
That leaves the rest as once, unseen, unsought,
But the wild prospect when the soul reviews—
All rushing through their thousand avenues—
Ambition's dreams expiring, love's regret,
Endanger'd glory, life itself beset;
The joy untasted, the contempt or hate
Gainst those who fain would triumph in our fate; 950
The hopeless past—the hasting future driven
Too quickly on to guess if hell or heaven;
Deeds, thoughts, and words, perhaps remembered not
So keenly till that hour, but ne'er forgot;
Things light or lovely in their acted time,
But now to stern reflection each a crime;
The withering sense of evil unreveal'd,
Not cankering less because the more conceal'd—
All—in a word—from which all eyes must start,
That opening sepulchre—the naked heart 960
Bares with its buried woes, till Pride awake,
To snatch the mirror from the soul—and break.
Aye,—Pride can veil, and Courage brave it all—
All—all—before—beyond—the deadliest fall:
Each hath some fear, and he who least betrays,
The only hypocrite deserving praise:
Not the loud recreant wretch who boasts and flies;
But he who looks on death—and silent dies:
So, steeled by pondering o'er his far career,
He half-way meets him should he menace near! 970


XI.

In the high chamber of his highest tower
Sate Conrad, fettered in the Pacha's power.
His palace perished in the flame—this fort
Contain'd at once his captive and his court.
Not much could Conrad of his sentence blame,
His foe, if vanquish'd, had but shared the same:—
Alone he sate—in solitude had scann'd
His guilty bosom, but that breast he mann'd:
One thought alone he could not—dared not meet—
"Oh, how these tidings will Medora greet?" 980
Then—only then—his clanking hands he raised,
And strained with rage the chain on which he gazed;
But soon he found—or feigned—or dreamed relief,
And smiled in self-derision of his grief,
"And now come torture when it will—or may—
"More need of rest to nerve me for the day!"
This said, with languor to his mat he crept,
And, whatso'er his visions, quickly slept.

'Twas hardly midnight when that fray begun,
For Conrad's plans matured, at once were done, 990
And Havoc loathes so much the waste of time,
She scarce had left an uncommitted crime.
One hour beheld him since the tide he stemmed—
Disguis'd—discover'd—conquering—ta'en—condemn'd—
A chief on land—an outlaw on the deep—
Destroying—saving—prison'd—and asleep!


XII.

He slept in calmest seeming—for his breath
Was hush'd so deep—Ah! happy if in death!
He slept—Who o'er his placid slumber bends?
His foes are gone—and here he hath no friends; 1000
Is it some seraph sent to grant him grace?
No, 'tis an earthly form with heavenly face!
Its white arm rais'd a lamp—yet gently hid,
Lest the ray flash abruptly on the lid
Of that clos'd eye, which opens but to pain,
And once unclosed—but once may close again.
That form, with eye so dark, and cheek so fair,
And auburn waves of gemm'd and braided hair;
With shape of fairy lightness—naked foot,
That shines like snow, and falls on earth as mute— 1010
Through guards and dunnest night how came it there?
Ah! rather ask what will not woman dare?
Whom youth and pity lead like thee, Gulnare!
She could not sleep—and while the Pacha's rest
In muttering dreams yet saw his pirate-guest,
She left his side—his signet-ring she bore,
Which oft in sport adorn'd her hand before—
And with it, scarcely question'd, won her way
Through drowsy guards that must that sign obey.
Worn out with toil, and tir'd with changing blows, 1020
Their eyes had envied Conrad his repose;
And chill and nodding at the turret door,
They stretch their listless limbs, and watch no more—
Just raised their heads to hail the signet-ring,
Nor ask or what or who the sign may bring.


XIII.

She gazed in wonder, "can he calmly sleep,
"While other eyes his fall or ravage weep?
"And mine in restlessness are wandering here—
"What sudden spell hath made this man so dear?
"True—'tis to him my life, and more, I owe, 1030
"And me and mine he spared from worse than woe:
"'Tis late to think—but soft—his slumber breaks—
"How heavily he sighs!—he starts—awakes!"


He raised his head—and dazzled with the light,
His eye seemed dubious if it saw aright:
He moved his hand—the grating of his chain
Too harshly told him that he lived again.
"What is that form? if not a shape of air,
"Methinks, my jailor's face shows wondrous fair!"


"Pirate! thou know'st me not—but I am one, 1040
"Grateful for deeds thou hast too rarely done;
"Look on me—and remember her, thy hand
"Snatched from the flames, and thy more fearful band.
"I come through darkness—and I scarce know why—
"Yet not to hurt—I would not see thee die."


"If so, kind lady! thine the only eye
"That would not here in that gay hope delight:
"Theirs is the chance—and let them use their right.
"But still I thank their courtesy or thine,
"That would confess me at so fair a shrine!" 1050


Strange though it seem—yet with extremest grief
Is link'd a mirth—it doth not bring relief—
That playfulness of Sorrow ne'er beguiles,
And smiles in bitterness—but still it smiles;
And sometimes with the wisest and the best,
Till even the scaffold10 echoes with their jest!
Yet not the joy to which it seems akin—
It may deceive all hearts, save that within.
Whate'er it was that flash'd on Conrad, now
A laughing wildness half unbent his brow: 1060
And these his accents had a sound of mirth,
As if the last he could enjoy on earth;
Yet 'gainst his nature—for through that short life,
Few thoughts had he to spare from gloom and strife.


XIV.

"Corsair! thy doom is named—but I have power
"To soothe the Pacha in his weaker hour.
"Thee would I spare—nay more—would save thee now,
"But this—time—hope—nor even thy strength allow;
"But all I can, I will: at least delay
"The sentence that remits thee scarce a day. 1070
"More now were ruin—even thyself were loth
"The vain attempt should bring but doom to both."


"Yes!—loth indeed:—my soul is nerved to all,
"Or fall'n too low to fear a further fall:
"Tempt not thyself with peril—me with hope,
"Of flight from foes with whom I could not cope;
"Unfit to vanquish—shall I meanly fly,
"The one of all my band that would not die?—
"Yet there is one—to whom my memory clings,
"Till to these eyes her own wild softness springs. 1080
"My sole resources in the path I trod
"Were these—my bark—my sword—my love—my God!
"The last I left in youth!—He leaves me now—
"And Man but works his will to lay me low.
"I have no thought to mock his throne with prayer
"Wrung from the coward crouching of despair,
"It is enough—I breathe—and I can bear.
"My sword is shaken from the worthless hand
"That might have better kept so true a brand;
"My bark is sunk or captive—but my love— 1090
"For her in sooth my voice would mount above:
"Oh! she is all that still to earth can bind—
"And this will break a heart so more than kind,
"And blight a form—till thine appeared, Gulnare!
"Mine eye ne'er asked if others were as fair."


"Thou lov'st another then?—but what to me
"Is this—'tis nothing—nothing e'er can be:
"But yet—thou lov'st—and—Oh! I envy those
"Whose hearts on hearts as faithful can repose,
"Who never feel the void—the wandering thought 1100
"That sighs o'er visions—such as mine hath wrought."

"Lady—methought thy love was his, for whom
"This arm redeem’d thee from a fiery tomb."


"My love stern Seyd's! Oh—No—No—not my love—
"Yet much this heart, that strives no more, once strove
"To meet his passion—but it would not be.
"I felt—I feel—love dwells with—with the free.
"I am a slave, a favoured slave at best,
"To share his splendour, and seem very blest!
"Oft must my soul the question undergo, 1110
"Of—'Dost thou love?' and burn to answer, 'No!'
"Oh! hard it is that fondness to sustain,
"And struggle not to feel averse in vain;
"But harder still the heart's recoil to bear,
"And hide from one—perhaps another there.
"He takes the hand I give not—nor withhold—
"Its pulse nor check’d—nor quicken’d—calmly cold:
"And when resigned, it drops a lifeless weight
"From one I never loved enough to hate.
"No warmth these lips return by his imprest, 1120
"And chilled Remembrance shudders o'er the rest.
"Yes—had I ever proved that passion's zeal,
"The change to hatred were at least to feel:
"But still—he goes unmourned—returns unsought—
"And oft when present—absent from my thought.
"Or when reflection comes—and come it must—
"I fear that henceforth 'twill but bring disgust;
"I am his slave—but, in despite of pride,
"'Twere worse than bondage to become his bride.
"Oh! that this dotage of his breast would cease! 1130
"Or seek another and give mine release,
"But yesterday—I could have said, to peace!
"Yes, if unwonted fondness now I feign,
"Remember—captive! 'tis to break thy chain;
"Repay the life that to thy hand I owe;
"To give thee back to all endear'd below,
"Who share such love as I can never know.
"Farewell—morn breaks—and I must now away:
"'Twill cost me dear—but dread no death to-day!"


XV.

She pressed his fettered fingers to her heart, 1140
And bowed her head, and turned her to depart,
And noiseless as a lovely dream is gone.
And was she here? and is he now alone?
What gem hath dropped and sparkles o'er his chain?
The tear most sacred—shed for others' pain—
That starts at once—bright—pure—from Pity's mine,
Already polish'd by the hand divine!


Oh! too convincing—dangerously dear—
In woman's eye the unanswerable tear!
That weapon of her weakness she can wield, 1150
To save—subdue—at once her spear and shield—
Avoid it—Virtue ebbs and Wisdom errs,
Too fondly gazing on that grief of hers
What lost a world, and bade a hero fly?
The timid tear in Cleopatra's eye.
Yet be the soft triumvir's fault forgiven,
By this—how many lose not earth—but heaven!
Consign their souls to man's eternal foe,
And seal their own to spare some wanton's woe!


XVI.

'Tis morn—and o'er his alter'd features play 1160
The beams—without the hope of yesterday.—
What shall he be ere night? perchance a thing
O'er which the raven flaps her funeral wing:
By his closed eye unheeded and unfelt,
While sets that sun, and dews of evening melt,
Chill—wet—and misty round each stiffened limb,
Refreshing earth—reviving all but him!—


END OF CANTO II.