A tale of Paraguay/Canto 4

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The bells rang blithely from St. Mary's tower
When in St. Joachin's the news was told
That Dobrizhoffer from his quest that hour
Drew nigh: the glad Guaranies young and old
Throng thro' the gate, rejoicing to behold
His face again; and all with heartfelt glee
Welcome the Pastor to his peaceful fold,
Where so beloved amid his flock was he
That this return was like a day of jubilee.


How more than strange, how marvellous a sight
To the new comers was this multitude!
Something like fear was mingled with affright
When they the busy scene of turmoil view'd.
Wonder itself the sense of joy subdued
And with its all-unwonted weight opprest
These children of the quiet solitude;
And now and then a sigh that heaved the breast
Unconsciously bewray'd their feeling of unrest.


Not more prodigious than that little town
Seem'd to these comers, were the pomp and power
To us, of ancient Rome in her renown;
Nor the elder Babylon, or e'er that hour
When her high gardens, and her cloud-capt tower,
And her broad walls before the Persian fell;
Nor those dread fanes on Nile's forsaken shore
Whose ruins yet their pristine grandeur tell.
Wherein the demon gods themselves might deign to dwell.


But if, all humble as it was, that scene
Possess'd a poor and uninstructed mind
With awe, the thoughtful spirit, well I ween,
Something to move its wonder there might find,
Something of consolation for its kind,
Some hope and earnest of a happier age,
When vain pursuits no more the heart shall blind,
But Faith the evils of this earth assuage,
And to all souls assure their heavenly heritage.


Yes; for in history's mournful map, the eye
On Paraguay, as on a sunny spot,
May rest complacent: to humanity,
There, and there only, hath a peaceful lot
Been granted, by Ambition troubled not,
By Avarice undebased, exempt from care,
By perilous passions undisturb'd. And what
If Glory never rear'd her standard there,
Nor with her clarion's blast awoke the slumbering air?


Content, and cheerful Piety were found
Within those humble walls. From youth to age
The simple dwellers paced their even round
Of duty, not desiring to engage
Upon the busy world's contentious stage,
Whose ways they wisely had been trained to dread:
Their inoffensive lives in pupilage
Perpetually, but peacefully they led,
From all temptation saved, and sure of daily bread.


They on the Jesuit, who was nothing loth,
Reposed alike their conscience and their cares;
And he, with equal faith, the trust of both
Accepted and discharged. The bliss is theirs
Of that entire dependence that prepares
Entire submission, let what may befall:
And his whole careful course of life declares
That for their good he holds them thus in thrall,
Their Father and their Friend, Priest, Ruler, all in all.


Food, raiment, shelter, safety, he provides;
No forecast, no anxieties have they;
The Jesuit governs, and instructs and guides;
Their part it is to honour and obey,
Like children under wise parental sway.
All thoughts and wishes are to him confest;
And when at length in life's last weary day
In sure and certain hope they sink to rest,
By him their eyes are closed, by him their burial blest.


Deem not their lives of happiness devoid,
Tho' thus the years their course obscurely fill;
In rural and in household arts employ'd,
And many a pleasing task of pliant skill,
For emulation here unmix'd with ill,
Sufficient scope was given. Each had assign'd
His proper part, which yet left free the will;
So well they knew to mould the ductile mind
By whom the scheme of that wise order was combined.


It was a land of priestcraft, but the priest
Believed himself the fables that he taught:
Corrupt their forms, and yet those forms at least
Preserved a salutary faith that wrought,
Maugre the alloy, the saving end it sought.
Benevolence had gain'd such empire there,
That even superstition had been brought
An aspect of humanity to wear,
And make the weal of man its first and only care.


Nor lack'd they store of innocent delight,
Music and song and dance and proud array,
Whate'er might win the ear, or charm the sight;
Banners and pageantry in rich display
Brought forth upon some Saint's high holyday,
The altar drest, the church with garlands hung,
Arches and floral bowers beside the way,
And festal tables spread for old and young,
Gladness in every heart, and mirth on every tongue.


Thou who despisest so debased a fate,
As in the pride of wisdom thou may'st call
These meek submissive Indians' low estate,
Look round the world, and see where over all
Injurious passions hold mankind in thrall!
How barbarous Force asserts a ruthless reign,
Or Mammon, o'er his portion of the ball,
Hath learn'd a baser empire to maintain,
Mammon, the god of all who give their rouls to gain.


Behold the fraudful arts, the covert strife,
The jarring interests that engross mankind;
The low pursuits, the selfish aims of life;
Studies that weary and contract the mind,
That bring no joy, and leave no peace behind;
And Death approaching to dissolve the spell!
The immortal soul, which hath so long been blind,
Recovers then clear sight, and sees too well
The error of its ways, when irretrievable.


Far happier the Guaranies humble race,
With whom in dutiful contentment wise,
The gentle virtues had their dwelling place.
With them the dear domestic charities
Sustain'd no blight from fortune; natural ties
There suffer'd no divorcement, save alone
That which in course of nature might arise;
No artificial wants and ills were known;
But there they dwelt as if the world were all their own.


Obedience in its laws that takes delight
Was theirs; simplicity that knows no art;
Love, friendship, grateful duty in its height;
Meekness and truth, that keep all strife apart,
And faith and hope which elevate the heart
Upon its heavenly heritage intent.
Poor, erring, self-tormentor that thou art;
O Man! and on thine own undoing bent,
Wherewith canst thou be blest, if not with these content?


Mild pupils, in submission's perfect school,
Two thousand souls were gather'd here, and here
Beneath the Jesuit's all-embracing rule
They dwelt, obeying him with love sincere,
That never knew distrust, nor felt a fear,
Nor anxious thought, which wears the heart away.
Sacred to them their laws, their Ruler dear;
Humbler or happier none could be than they
Who knew it for their good in all things to obey.


The Patron Saint, from whom their town was named,
Was that St. Joachin, who, legends say,
Unto the Saints in Limbo first proclaim'd
The Advent. Being permitted, on the day
That Death enlarged him from this mortal clay,
His daughter's high election to behold,
Thither his soul, glad herald, wing'd its way,
And to the Prophets and the Patriarchs old
The tidings of great joy and near deliverance told.


There on the altar was his image set,
The lamp before it burning night and day,
And there was incensed, when his votaries met
Before the sacred shrine, their beads to say,
And for his fancied intercession pray,
Devoutly as in faith they bent the knee.
Such adoration they were taught to pay.
Good man, how little had he ween'd that he
Should thus obtain a place in Rome's idolatry!


But chiefly there the Mother of our Lord,
His blessed daughter, by the multitude
Was for their special patroness adored.
Amid the square on high her image stood,
Clasping the Babe in her beatitude,
The Babe divine on whom she fix'd her sight;
And in their hearts, albe the work was rude,
It raised the thought of all-commanding might,
Combined with boundless love and mercy infinite.


To this great family the Jesuit brought
His new-found children now; for young and old
He deem'd alike his children while he wrought
For their salvation,—seeking to unfold
The saving mysteries in the creed enroll'd,
To their slow minds, that could but ill conceive
The import of the mighty truths he told.
But errors they have none to which they cleave,
And whatsoe'er he tells they willingly believe.


Safe from that pride of ignorance were they
That with small knowledge thinks itself full wise.
How at believing aught should these delay,
When every where new objects met their eyes
To fill the soul with wonder and surprize?
Not of itself, but by temptation bred,
In man doth impious unbelief arise;
It is our instinct to believe and dread,
God bids us love, and then our faith is perfected.


Quick to believe, and slow to comprehend,
Like children, unto all the teacher taught
Submissively an easy ear they lend:
And to the font at once he might have brought
These converts, if the Father had not thought
Theirs was a case for wise and safe delay,
Lest lightly learnt might lightly be forgot;
And meanwhile due instruction day by day
Would to their opening minds the sense of truth convey.


Of this they reck'd not whether soon or late;
For overpowering wonderment possest
Their faculties; and in this new estate
Strange sights and sounds and thoughts well nigh opprest
Their sense, and raised a turmoil in the breast
Resenting less of pleasure than of pain;
And sleep afforded them no natural rest,
But in their dreams, a mixed disordered train,
The busy scenes of day disturb'd their hearts again.


Even when the spirit to that secret wood
Return'd, slow Mondai's silent stream beside,
No longer there it found the solitude
Which late it left: strange faces were descried,
Voices, and sounds of music far and wide,
And buildings seem'd to tower amid the trees,
And forms of men and beasts on every side,
As ever-wakeful fancy hears and sees,
All things that it had heard, and seen, and more than these.


For in their sleep strange forms deform'd they saw
Of frightful fiends, their ghostly enemies:
And souls who must abide the rigorous law
Weltering in fire, and there, with dolorous cries
Blaspheming roll around their hopeless eyes;
And those who doom'd a shorter term to bear
In penal flames, look upward to the skies,
Seeking and finding consolation there,
And feel, like dew from Heaven, the precious aid of prayer.


And Angels who around their glorious Queen
In adoration bent their heads abased;
And infant faces in their dreams were seen
Hovering on cherub wings; and Spirits placed
To be their guards invisible, who chased
With fiery arms their fiendish foes away:
Such visions overheated fancy traced,
Peopling the night with a confused array
That made its hours of rest more restless than the day.


To all who from an old erratic course
Of life, within the Jesuit's fold were led,
The change was perilous. They felt the force
Of habit, when till then in forests bred,
A thick perpetual umbrage overhead,
They came to dwell in open hght and air.
This ill the Fathers long had learnt to dread,
And still devised such means as might prepare
The new-reclaim'd unhurt this total change to bear.


All thoughts and occupations to commute,
To change their air, their water, and their food,
And those old habits suddenly uproot
Conform'd to which the vital powers pursued
Their functions, such mutation is too rude
For man's fine frame unshaken to sustain.
And these poor children of the solitude
Began ere long to pay the bitter pain
That their new way of life brought with it in its train.


On Monnema the apprehended ill
Came first; the matron sunk beneath the weight
Of a strong malady, whose force no skill
In healing, might avert, or mitigate.
Yet happy in her children's safe estate
Her thankfulness for them she still exprest;
And yielding then complacently to fate,
With Christian rites her passing hour was blest,
And with a Christian's hope she was consign'd to rest.


They laid her in the Garden of the Dead.
Such as a Christian burial-place should be
Was that fair spot, where every grave was spread
With flowers, and not a weed to spring was free;
But the pure blossoms of the orange tree
Dropt like a shower of fragrance, on the bier;
And palms, the type of immortality,
Planted in stately colonnades, appear,
That all was verdant there throughout the unvarying year.


Nor ever did irreverent feet intrude
Within that sacred spot; nor sound of mirth,
Unseemly there, profane the solitude,
Where solemnly committed earth to earth,
Waiting the summons for their second birth,
Whole generations in Death's peaceful fold
Collected lay; green innocence, ripe worth,
Youth full of hope, and age whose days were told,
Compress'd alike into that mass of mortal mould.


Mortal, and yet at the Archangel's voice
To put on immortality. That call
Shall one day make the sentient dust rejoice;
These bodies then shall rise and cast off all
Corruption, with whate'er of earthly thrall
Had clogg'd the heavenly image, then set free.
How then should Death a Christian's heart appal?
Lo, Heaven for you is open;—enter ye
Children of God, and heirs of his eternity!


This hope supported Mooma, hand in hand
When with Yeruti at the grave she stood.
Less even now of death they understand
Than of the joys eternal that ensued;
The bliss of infinite beatitude
To them had been their teacher's favourite theme
Wherewith their hearts so fully were imbued
That it the sole reality might seem,
Life, death, and all things else, a shadow or a dream.


Yea, so possest with that best hope were they,
That if the heavens had opened overhead,
And the Archangel with his trump that day
To judgement had convoked the quick and dead,
They would have heard the summons not with dread
But in the joy of faith that knows no fear:
Come Lord! come quickly! would this pair have said,
And thou O Queen of men and Angels dear,
Lift us whom thou hast loved into thy happy sphere!


They wept not at the grave, tho' overwrought
With feelings there as if the heart would break.
Some haply might have deem'd they suffered not;
Yet they who look'd upon that Maiden meek
Might see what deep emotion blanched her cheek.
An inward light there was which fill'd her eyes,
And told, more forcibly than words could speak,
That this disruption of her earliest ties
Had shaken mind and frame in all their faculties.


It was not passion only that disturb'd
Her gentle nature thus; it was not grief;
Nor human feeling by the effort curb'd
Of some misdeeming duty, when relief
Were surely to be found, albeit brief,
If sorrow at its springs might freely flow;
Nor yet repining, stronger than belief
In its first force, that shook the Maiden so,
Tho' these alone might that frail fabric overthrow.


The seeds of death were in her at that hour.
Soon was their quickening and their growth display'd:
Thenceforth she droop'd and withered like a flower,
Which when it flourished in its native shade
Some child to his own garden hath convey'd,
And planted in the sun, to pine away.
Thus was the gentle Mooma seen to fade,
Not under sharp disease, but day by day
Losing the powers of life in visible decay.


The sunny hue that tinged her cheek was gone,
A deathy paleness settled in its stead;
The light of joy which in her eyes had shone,
Now like a lamp that is no longer fed
Grew dim: but when she raised her heavy head
Some proffered help of kindness to partake,
Those feeble eyes a languid lustre shed,
And her sad smile of thankfulness would wake
Grief even in callous hearts for that sweet sufferer's sake.


How had Yeruti borne to see her fade?
But he was spared the lamentable sight,
Himself upon the bed of sickness laid.
Joy of his heart, and of his eyes the light
Had Mooma been to him, his soul's delight,
On whom his mind for ever was intent,
His darling thought by day, his dream by night,
The playmate of his youth in mercy sent,
With whom his life had past in peacefullest content.


Well was it for the youth, and well for her,
As there in placid helplessness she lay,
He was not present with his love to stir
Emotions that might shake her feeble clay,
And rouse up in her heart a strong array
Of feelings, hurtful only when they bind
To earth the soul that soon must pass away.
But this was spared them; and no pain of mind
To trouble her had she, instinctively resigned.


Nor was there wanting to the sufferers aught
Of careful kindness to alleviate
The affliction; for the universal thought
In that poor town was of their sad estate,
And what might best relieve or mitigate
Their case, what help of nature or of art;
And many were the prayers compassionate
That the good Saints their healing would impart.
Breathed in that maid's behalf from many a tender heart.


And vows were made for her, if vows might save;
She for herself the while preferr'd no prayer;
For when she stood beside her Mother's grave,
Her earthly hopes and thoughts had ended there.
Her only longing now was, free as air
From this obstructive flesh to take her flight
For Paradise, and seek her Mother there,
And then regaining her beloved sight
Rest in the eternal sense of undisturb'd delight.


Her heart was there, and there she felt and knew
That soon full surely should her spirit be.
And who can tell what foretastes might ensue
To one, whose soul, from all earth's thraldom free,
Was waiting thus for immortality?
Sometimes she spake with short and hurried breath
As if some happy sight she seem'd to see,
While in the fulness of a perfect faith
Even with a lover's hope she lay and look'd for death.


I said that for herself the patient maid
Preferr'd no prayer; but oft her feeble tongue
And feebler breath a voice of praise essay'd;
And duly when the vesper bell was rung,
Her evening hymn in faint accord she sung
So piously, that they who gathered round
Awe-stricken on her heavenly accents hung,
As tho' they thought it were no mortal sound.
But that the place whereon they stood was holy ground.


At such an hour when Dobrizhoffer stood
Beside her bed, oh how unlike, he thought
This voice to that which ringing thro' the wood
Had led him to the secret bower he sought!
And was it then for this that he had brought
That harmless household from their native shade?
Death had already been the mother's lot;
And this fair Mooma, was she form'd to fade
So soon,—so soon must she in earth's cold lap be laid?


Yet he had no misgiving at the sight;
And wherefore should he? he had acted well,
And deeming of the ways of God aright,
Knew that to such as these, whate'er befell
Must needs for them be best. But who could dwell
Unmoved upon the fate of one so young,
So blithesome late? What marvel if tears fell,
From that good man as over her he hung,
And that the prayers he said came faltering from his tongue!


She saw him weep, and she could understand
The cause thus tremulously that made him speak.
By his emotion moved she took his hand;
A gleam of pleasure o'er her pallid cheek
Past, while she look'd at him with meaning meek,
And for a little while, as loth to part,
Detaining him, her fingers lank and weak,
Play'd with their hold; then letting him depart
She gave him a slow smile that touch'd him to the heart.


Mourn not for her! for what hath life to give
That should detain her ready spirit here?
Thinkest thou that it were worth a wish to live,
Could wishes hold her from her proper sphere?
That simple heart, that innocence sincere
The world would stain. Fitter she ne'er could be
For the great change; and now that change is near,
Oh who would keep her soul from being free!
Maiden beloved of Heaven, to die is best for thee!


She hath past away, and on her lips a smile
Hath settled, fix'd in death. Judged they aright,
Or suffered they their fancy to beguile
The reason, who believed that she had sight
Of Heaven before her spirit took its flight;
That Angels waited round her lowly bed;
And that in that last effort of delight,
When lifting up her dying arms, she said,
I come! a ray from Heaven upon her face was shed?


St. Joachin's had never seen a day
Of such profuse and general grief before,
As when with tapers, dirge, and long array
The Maiden's body to the grave they bore.
All eyes, all hearts, her early death deplore;
Yet wondering at the fortune they lament,
They the wise ways of Providence adore,
By whom the Pastor surely had been sent
When to the Mondai woods upon his quest he went.


This was, indeed, a chosen family.
For Heaven's especial favor mark'd, they said;
Shut out from all mankind they seem'd to be,
Yet mercifully there were visited,
That so within the fold they might be led,
Then call'd away to bliss. Already two
In their baptismal innocence were dead;
The third was on the bed of death they knew,
And in the appointed course must presently ensue.


They marvell'd, therefore, when the youth once more
Rose from his bed and walk'd abroad again;
Severe had been the malady, and sore
The trial, while life struggled to maintain
Its seat against the sharp assaults of pain:
But life in him was vigorous; long he lay
Ere it could its ascendancy regain:
Then when the natural powers resumed their sway
All trace of late disease past rapidly away.


The first enquiry when his mind was free,
Was for his sister. She was gone, they said,
Gone to her Mother, evermore to be
With her in Heaven. At this no tears he shed
Nor was he seen to sorrow for the dead;
But took the fatal tidings in such part
As if a dull unfeeling nature bred
His unconcern; for hard would seem the heart
To which a loss like his no suffering could impart.


How little do they see what is, who frame
Their hasty judgement upon that which seems!
Waters that babble on their way proclaim
All shallowness: but in their strength deep stream
Flow silently. Of death Yeruti deems
Not as an ill, but as the last great good,
Compared with which all other he esteems
Transient and void: how then should thought intrude
Of sorrow in his heart for their beatitude?


While dwelling in their sylvan solitude
Less had Yeruti learnt to entertain
A sense of age than death. He understood
Something of death from creatures he had slain;
But here the ills which follow in the train
Of age, had first to him been manifest,—
The shrunken form, the limbs that move with pain,
The failing sense, infirmity, unrest,—
That in his heart he said to die betimes was best.


Nor had he lost the dead: they were but gone
Before him, whither he should shortly go.
Their robes of glory they had first put on;
He, cumbered with mortality, below
Must yet abide awhile, content to know
He should not wait in long expectance here.
What cause then for repining, or for woe?
Soon shall he join them in their heavenly sphere,
And often, even now, he knew that they were near.


'Twas but hi open day to close his eyes,
And shut out the uprofitable view
Of all this weary world's realities,
And forthwith, even as if they lived anew,
The dead were with him: features, form and hue,
And looks and gestures were restored again:
Their actual presence in his heart he knew;
And when their converse was disturbed. Oh then
How flat and stale it was to mix with living men!


But not the less, whate'er was to be done,
With living men he took his part content,
At loom, in garden, or a-field, as one
Whose spirit wholly no obedience bent,
To every task its prompt attention lent.
Alert in labor he among the best;
And when to church the congregation went,
None more exact than he to cross his breast,
And kneel, or rise, and do in all things like the rest.


Cheerful he was, almost like one elate
With wine, before it hath disturb'd his power
Of reason. Yet he seem'd to feel the weight
Of time; for alway when from yonder tower
He heard the clock tell out the passing hour,
The sound appeared to give him some delight:
And when the evening shades began to lower,
Then was he seen to watch the fading light
As if his heart rejoiced at the return of night.


The old man to whom he had been given in care,
To Dobrizhoffer came one day and said,
The trouble which our youth was thought to bear,
With such indifference, hath deranged his head.
He says that he is nightly visited.
His Mother and his Sister come and say
That he must give this message from the dead
Not to defer his baptism, and delay
A soul upon the earth which should no longer stay.


A dream the Jesuit deem'd it; a deceit
Upon itself by feverish fancy wrought;
A mere delusion which it were not meet
To censure, lest the youth's distempered thought
Might thereby be to farther error brought;
But he himself its vanity would find,—
They argued thus,—if it were noticed not.
His baptism was in fitting time design'd
The father said, and then dismiss'd it from his mind.


But the old Indian came again ere long
With the same tale, and freely then confest
His doubt that he had done Yeruti wrong;
For something more than common seem'd imprest;
And now he thought that certes it were best
From the youth's lips his own account to hear,
Haply the Father then to his request
Might yield, regarding his desire sincere,
Nor wait for farther time if there were aught to fear.


Considerately the Jesuit heard and bade
The youth be called. Yeruti told his tale.
Nightly these blessed spirits came, he said,
To warn him he must come within the pale
Of Christ without delay; nor must he fail
This warning to their Pastor to repeat,
Till the renewed intreaty should prevail.
Life's business then for him would be complete,
And 'twas to tell him this they left their starry seat.


Came they to him in dreams?—He could not tell.
Sleeping or waking now small difference made;
For even while he slept he knew full well
That his dear Mother and that darling Maid
Both in the Garden of the Dead were laid:
And yet he saw them as in life, the same,
Save only that in radiant robes arrayed,
And round about their presence when they came
There shone an effluent light as of a harmless flame.


And where he was he knew, the time, the place,—
All circumstantial things to him were clear.
His own heart undisturb'd. His Mother's face
How could he chuse but know; or knowing, fear
Her presence and that Maid's, to him more dear
Than all that had been left him now below?
Their love had drawn them from their happy sphere;
That dearest love unchanged they came to show;
And he must be baptized, and then he too might go.


With searching ken the Jesuit while he spake
Perused him, if in countenance or tone
Aught might be found appearing to partake
Of madness. Mark of passion there was none;
None of derangement: in his eye alone,
As from a hidden fountain emanate,
Something of an unusual brightness shone:
But neither word nor look betrayed a state
Of wandering, and his speech, though earnest, was sedate.


Regular his pulse, from all disorder free;
The vital powers perform'd their part assign'd;
And to whate'er was ask'd, collectedly
He answer'd. Nothing troubled him in mind;
Why should it? Were not all around him kind?
Did not all love him with a love sincere,
And seem in serving him a joy to find?
He had no want, no pain, no grief, no fear:
But he must be baptized; he could not tarry here.


Thy will be done, Father in heaven who art!
The Pastor said, nor longer now denied;
But with a weight of awe upon his heart
Entered the Church, and there the font beside.
With holy water, chrism and salt applied,
Perform'd in all solemnity the rite.
His feeling was that hour with fear allied;
Yeruti's was a sense of pure delight.
And while he knelt his eyes seem'd larger and more bright.


His wish had been obtain'd, and this being done
His soul was to its full desire content.
The day in its accustomed course past on:
The Indian mark'd him ere to rest he went,
How o'er his beads, as he was wont, he bent,
And then, like one who casts all care aside,
Lay down. The old man fear'd no ill event,
When, "Ye are come for me!" Yeruti cried;
"Yes, I am ready now!" and instantly he died.