Walter Savage Landor.

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GEBIR


INTRODUCTION.


Walter Savage Landor was born on the 30th of January, 1775, and died
at the age of eighty-nine in September, 1864. He was the eldest son
of a physician at Warwick, and his second name, Savage, was the
family name of his mother, who owned two estates in Warwickshire -
Ipsley Court and Tachbrook - and had a reversionary interest in
Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire. To this property, worth 80,000
pounds, her eldest son was heir. That eldest son was born a poet,
had a generous nature, and an ardent impetuous temper. The temper,
with its obstinate claim of independence, was too much for the head
master of Rugby, who found in Landor the best writer of Latin verse
among his boys, but one ready to fight him over difference of
opinion about a Latin quantity. In 1793 Landor went to Trinity
College, Oxford. He had been got rid of at Rugby as unmanageable.
After two years at Oxford, he was rusticated; thereupon he gave up
his chambers, and refused to return. Landor's father, who had been
much tried by his unmanageable temper, then allowed him 150 pounds a
year to live with as he pleased, away from home. He lived in South
Wales - at Swansea, Tenby, or elsewhere - and he sometimes went home
to Warwick for short visits. In South Wales he gave himself to full
communion with the poets and with Nature, and he fastened with
particular enthusiasm upon Milton. Lord Aylmer, who lived near
Tenby, was among his friends. Rose Aylmer, whose name he has made
through death imperishable, by linking it with a few lines of
perfect music, {1} lent Landor "The Progress of Romance," a book
published in 1785, by Clara Reeve, in which he found the description
of an Arabian tale that suggested to him his poem of "Gebir."

Landor began "Gebir" in Latin, then turned it into English, and then
vigorously condensed what he had written. The poem was first
published at Warwick as a sixpenny pamphlet in the year 1798, when
Landor's age was twenty-three. Robert Southey was among the few who
bought it, and he first made known its power. In the best sense of
the phrase, "Gebir" was written in classical English, not with a
search for pompous words of classical origin to give false dignity
to style, but with strict endeavour to form terse English lines of
apt words well compacted. Many passages appear to have been half
thought out in Greek or Latin, some, as that on the sea-shell (on
page 19), were first written in Latin, and Landor re-issued "Gebir"
with a translation into Latin three or four years after its first
appearance.

"Gebir" was written nine years after the outbreak of the French
Revolution, and at a time when the victories of Napoleon were in
many minds associated with the hopes of man. In the first edition
of the poem there were, in the nuptial voyage of Tamar, prophetic
visions of the triumph of his race, in march of the French Republic
from the Garonne to the Rhine -


"How grand a prospect opens! Alps o'er Alps
Tower, to survey the triumphs that proceed.
Here, while Garumna dances in the gloom
Of larches, mid her naiads, or reclined
Leans on a broom-clad bank to watch the sports
Of some far-distant chamois silken haired,
The chaste Pyrene, drying up her tears,
Finds, with your children, refuge: yonder, Rhine
Lays his imperial sceptre at your feet."


The hope of the purer spirits in the years of revolution, expressed
by Wordsworth's


"War shall cease,
Did ye not hear, that conquest is abjured?"


was in the first design of "Gebir," and in those early years of hope
Landor joined to the vision of the future for the sons of Tamar
that,


"Captivity led captive, war o'erthrown,
They shall o'er Europe, shall o'er earth extend
Empire that seas alone and skies confine,
And glory that shall strike the crystal stars."


Landor was led by the failure of immediate expectation to revise his
poem and omit from the third and the sixth books about one hundred
and fifty lines, while adding fifty to heal over the wounds made by
excision. As the poem stands, it is a rebuke of tyrannous ambition
in the tale of Gebir, prince of Boetic Spain, from whom Gibraltar
took its name. Gebir, bound by a vow to his dying father in the
name of ancestral feud to invade Egypt, prepares invasion, but
yields in Egypt to the touch of love, seeks to rebuild the ruins of
the past, and learns what are the fruits of ambition. This he
learns in the purgatory of conquerors, where he sees the figures of
the Stuarts, of William the Deliverer, and of George the Third,
"with eyebrows white and slanting brow," intentionally confused with
Louis XVI. to avoid a charge of treason. But the strength of
Landor's sympathy with the French Revolution and of his contempt for
George III. was more evident in the first form of the poem.
Parallel with the quenching in Gebir of the conqueror's ambition,
and with the ruin of his life and its new hope by the destroying
powers that our misunderstandings of the better life bring into
play, runs that part of the poem which shows Tamar, his brother,
preparing to dwell with the sea nymph, the ideal, far away from all
the struggle of mankind.

Recognition of the great beauty of Lander's "Gebir" came first from
Southey in "The Critical Review." Southey found that the poem grew
upon him, and became afterwards Landor's lifelong friend. When
Shelley was at Oxford in 1811, there were times when he would read
nothing but "Gebir." His friend Hogg says that when he went to
Shelley's rooms one morning to tell him something of importance, he
could not draw his attention away from "Gebir." Hogg impatiently
threw the book out of window. It was brought back by a servant, and
Shelley immediately fastened upon it again.

At the close of 1805 Landor's father died, and the young poet became
a man of property. In 1808 Southey and Landor first met. Their
friendship remained unbroken. When Spain rose to throw off the yoke
of Napoleon, Landor's enthusiasm carried him to Corunna, where he
paid for the equipment of a thousand volunteers, and joined the
Spanish army of the North. After the Convention of Cintra he
returned to England. Then he bought a large Welsh estate - Llanthony
Priory - paid for it by selling other property, and began costly
improvements. But he lived chiefly at Bath, where he married, in
1811, when his age was thirty-six, a girl of twenty. It was then
that he began his tragedy of "Count Julian." The patriotic struggle
in Spain commended at the same time to Scott, Southey, and Landor
the story of Roderick, the last of the Gothic kings, against whom,
to avenge wrong done to his daughter, Count Julian called the Moors
in to invade his country. In 1810 Southey was working at his poem
of "Roderick the Last of the Goths," in fellowship with his friend
Landor, who was treating the same subject in his play. Scott's
"Roderick" was being printed so nearly at the same time with
Landor's play, that Landor wrote to Southey early in 1812 while the
proof-sheets were coming to him: "I am surprised that Upham has not
sent me Mr. Scott's poem yet. However, I am not sorry. I feel a
sort of satisfaction that mine is going to the press first, though
there is little danger that we should think on any subject alike, or
stumble on any one character in the same track." De Quincey spoke
of the hidden torture shown in Landor's play to be ever present in
the mind of Count Julian, the betrayer of his country, as greater
than the tortures inflicted in old Rome on generals who had
committed treason. De Quincey's admiration of this play was more
than once expressed. "Mr. Landor," he said, "who always rises with
his subject, and dilates like Satan into Teneriffe or Atlas when he
sees before him an antagonist worthy of his powers, is probably the
one man in Europe that has adequately conceived the situation, the
stern self-dependency, and the monumental misery of Count Julian.
That sublimity of penitential grief, which cannot accept consolation
from man, cannot bear external reproach, cannot condescend to notice
insult, cannot so much as SEE the curiosity of bystanders; that
awful carelessness of all but the troubled deeps within his own
heart, and of God's spirit brooding upon their surface and searching
their abysses; never was so majestically described."

H. M.


FIRST BOOK.


I sing the fates of Gebir. He had dwelt
Among those mountain-caverns which retain
His labours yet, vast halls and flowing wells,
Nor have forgotten their old master's name
Though severed from his people here, incensed
By meditating on primeval wrongs,
He blew his battle-horn, at which uprose
Whole nations; here, ten thousand of most might
He called aloud, and soon Charoba saw
His dark helm hover o'er the land of Nile,
What should the virgin do? should royal knees
Bend suppliant, or defenceless hands engage
Men of gigantic force, gigantic arms?
For 'twas reported that nor sword sufficed,
Nor shield immense nor coat of massive mail,
But that upon their towering heads they bore
Each a huge stone, refulgent as the stars.
This told she Dalica, then cried aloud:
"If on your bosom laying down my head
I sobbed away the sorrows of a child,
If I have always, and Heaven knows I have,
Next to a mother's held a nurse's name,
Succour this one distress, recall those days,
Love me, though 'twere because you loved me then."
But whether confident in magic rites
Or touched with sexual pride to stand implored,
Dalica smiled, then spake: "Away those fears.
Though stronger than the strongest of his kind,
He falls - on me devolve that charge; he falls.
Rather than fly him, stoop thou to allure;
Nay, journey to his tents: a city stood
Upon that coast, they say, by Sidad built,
Whose father Gad built Gadir; on this ground
Perhaps he sees an ample room for war.
Persuade him to restore the walls himself
In honour of his ancestors, persuade -
But wherefore this advice? young, unespoused,
Charoba want persuasions! and a queen!"
"O Dalica!" the shuddering maid exclaimed,
"Could I encounter that fierce, frightful man?
Could I speak? no, nor sigh!"
"And canst thou reign?"
Cried Dalica; "yield empire or comply."
Unfixed though seeming fixed, her eyes downcast,
The wonted buzz and bustle of the court
From far through sculptured galleries met her ear;
Then lifting up her head, the evening sun
Poured a fresh splendour on her burnished throne -
The fair Charoba, the young queen, complied.
But Gebir when he heard of her approach
Laid by his orbed shield, his vizor-helm,
His buckler and his corset he laid by,
And bade that none attend him; at his side
Two faithful dogs that urge the silent course,
Shaggy, deep-chested, crouched; the crocodile,
Crying, oft made them raise their flaccid ears
And push their heads within their master's hand.
There was a brightening paleness in his face,
Such as Diana rising o'er the rocks
Showered on the lonely Latmian; on his brow
Sorrow there was, yet nought was there severe.
But when the royal damsel first he saw,
Faint, hanging on her handmaids, and her knees
Tottering, as from the motion of the car,
His eyes looked earnest on her, and those eyes
Showed, if they had not, that they might have loved,
For there was pity in them at that hour.
With gentle speech, and more with gentle looks
He soothed her; but lest Pity go beyond,
And crossed Ambition lose her lofty aim,
Bending, he kissed her garment and retired.
He went, nor slumbered in the sultry noon
When viands, couches, generous wines persuade
And slumber most refreshes, nor at night,
When heavy dews are laden with disease,
And blindness waits not there for lingering age.
Ere morning dawned behind him, he arrived
At those rich meadows where young Tamar fed
The royal flocks entrusted to his care.
"Now," said he to himself, "will I repose
At least this burthen on a brother's breast."
His brother stood before him. He, amazed,
Reared suddenly his head, and thus began:
"Is it thou, brother! Tamar, is it thou!
Why, standing on the valley's utmost verge,
Lookest thou on that dull and dreary shore
Where many a league Nile blackens all the sand.
And why that sadness? when I passed our sheep
The dew-drops were not shaken off the bar;
Therefore if one be wanting 'tis untold."
"Yes, one is wanting, nor is that untold."
Said Tamar; "and this dull and dreary shore
Is neither dull nor dreary at all hours."
Whereon the tear stole silent down his cheek,
Silent, but not by Gebir unobserved:
Wondering he gazed awhile, and pitying spake:
"Let me approach thee; does the morning light
Scatter this wan suffusion o'er thy brow,
This faint blue lustre under both thine eyes?"
"O brother, is this pity or reproach?"
Cried Tamar; "cruel if it be reproach,
If pity, oh, how vain!"
"Whate'er it be
That grieves thee, I will pity: thou but speak
And I can tell thee, Tamar, pang for pang."
"Gebir! then more than brothers are we now!
Everything, take my hand, will I confess.
I neither feed the flock nor watch the fold;
How can I, lost in love? But, Gebir, why
That anger which has risen to your cheek?
Can other men? could you? - what, no reply!
And still more anger, and still worse concealed!
Are these your promises, your pity this?"
"Tamar, I well may pity what I feel -
Mark me aright - I feel for thee - proceed -
Relate me all."
"Then will I all relate,"
Said the young shepherd, gladdened from his heart.
"'Twas evening, though not sunset, and springtide
Level with these green meadows, seemed still higher.
'Twas pleasant; and I loosened from my neck
The pipe you gave me, and began to play.
Oh, that I ne'er had learnt the tuneful art!
It always brings us enemies or love!
Well, I was playing, when above the waves
Some swimmer's head methought I saw ascend;
I, sitting still, surveyed it, with my pipe
Awkwardly held before my lips half-closed.
Gebir! it was a nymph! a nymph divine!
I cannot wait describing how she came,
How I was sitting, how she first assumed
The sailor; of what happened there remains
Enough to say, and too much to forget.
The sweet deceiver stepped upon this bank
Before I was aware; for with surprise
Moments fly rapid as with love itself.
Stooping to tune afresh the hoarsened reed,
I heard a rustling, and where that arose
My glance first lighted on her nimble feet.
Her feet resembled those long shells explored
By him who to befriend his steed's dim sight
Would blow the pungent powder in the eye.
Her eyes too! O immortal gods! her eyes
Resembled - what could they resemble? what
Ever resemble those! E'en her attire
Was not of wonted woof nor vulgar art:
Her mantle showed the yellow samphire-pod,
Her girdle the dove-coloured wave serene.
'Shepherd,' said she, 'and will you wrestle now
And with the sailor's hardier race engage?'
I was rejoiced to hear it, and contrived
How to keep up contention; could I fail
By pressing not too strongly, yet to press?
'Whether a shepherd, as indeed you seem,
Or whether of the hardier race you boast,
I am not daunted, no; I will engage.
But first,' said she, 'what wager will you lay?'
'A sheep,' I answered; 'add whate'er you will.'
'I cannot,' she replied, 'make that return:
Our hided vessels in their pitchy round
Seldom, unless from rapine, hold a sheep.
But I have sinuous shells of pearly hue
Within, and they that lustre have imbibed
In the sun's palace porch, where when unyoked
His chariot-wheel stands midway in the wave:
Shake one and it awakens, then apply
Its polished lips to your attentive ear,
And it remembers its august abodes,
And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there.
And I have others given me by the nymphs,
Of sweeter sound than any pipe you have.
But we, by Neptune, for no pipe contend -
This time a sheep I win, a pipe the next.'
Now came she forward eager to engage,
But first her dress, her bosom then surveyed,
And heaved it, doubting if she could deceive.
Her bosom seemed, enclosed in haze like heaven,
To baffle touch, and rose forth undefined:
Above her knees she drew the robe succinct,
Above her breast, and just below her arms.
'This will preserve my breath when tightly bound,
If struggle and equal strength should so constrain.'
Thus, pulling hard to fasten it, she spake,
And, rushing at me, closed: I thrilled throughout
And seemed to lessen and shrink up with cold.
Again with violent impulse gushed my blood,
And hearing nought external, thus absorbed,
I heard it, rushing through each turbid vein,
Shake my unsteady swimming sight in air.
Yet with unyielding though uncertain arms
I clung around her neck; the vest beneath
Rustled against our slippery limbs entwined:
Often mine springing with eluded force
Started aside, and trembled till replaced:
And when I most succeeded, as I thought,
My bosom and my throat felt so compressed
That life was almost quivering on my lips,
Yet nothing was there painful! these are signs
Of secret arts and not of human might -
What arts I cannot tell - I only know
My eyes grew dizzy, and my strength decayed.
I was indeed o'ercome! with what regret,
And more, with what confusion, when I reached
The fold, and yielding up the sheep, she cried:
'This pays a shepherd to a conquering maid.'
She smiled, and more of pleasure than disdain
Was in her dimpled chin and liberal lip,
And eyes that languished, lengthening, just like love.
She went away; I on the wicker gate
Leant, and could follow with my eyes alone.
The sheep she carried easy as a cloak;
But when I heard its bleating, as I did,
And saw, she hastening on, its hinder feet
Struggle and from her snowy shoulder slip -
One shoulder its poor efforts had unveiled -
Then all my passions mingling fell in tears;
Restless then ran I to the highest ground
To watch her - she was gone - gone down the tide -
And the long moonbeam on the hard wet sand
Lay like a jasper column half-upreared."
"But, Tamar! tell me, will she not return?
"She will return, yet not before the moon
Again is at the full; she promised this,
Though when she promised I could not reply."
"By all the gods I pity thee! go on -
Fear not my anger, look not on my shame;
For when a lover only hears of love
He finds his folly out, and is ashamed.
Away with watchful nights and lonely days,
Contempt of earth and aspect up to heaven,
Within contemplation, with humility,
A tattered cloak that pride wears when deformed,
Away with all that hides me from myself,
Parts me from others, whispers I am wise -
From our own wisdom less is to be reaped
Than from the barest folly of our friend.
Tamar! thy pastures, large and rich, afford
Flowers to thy bees and herbage to thy sheep,
But, battened on too much, the poorest croft
Of thy poor neighbour yields what thine denies."
They hastened to the camp, and Gebir there
Resolved his native country to forego,
And ordered, from those ruins to the right
They forthwith raise a city: Tamar heard
With wonder, though in passing 'twas half-told,
His brother's love, and sighed upon his own.


SECOND BOOK.


The Gadite men the royal charge obey.
Now fragments weighed up from th' uneven streets
Leave the ground black beneath; again the sun
Shines into what were porches, and on steps
Once warm with frequentation - clients, friends,
All morning, satchelled idlers all mid-day,
Lying half-up and languid though at games.
Some raise the painted pavement, some on wheels
Draw slow its laminous length, some intersperse
Salt waters through the sordid heaps, and seize
The flowers and figures starting fresh to view.
Others rub hard large masses, and essay
To polish into white what they misdeem
The growing green of many trackless years.
Far off at intervals the axe resounds
With regular strong stroke, and nearer home
Dull falls the mallet with long labour fringed.
Here arches are discovered, there huge beams
Resist the hatchet, but in fresher air
Soon drop away: there spreads a marble squared
And smoothened; some high pillar for its base
Chose it, which now lies ruined in the dust.
Clearing the soil at bottom, they espy
A crevice: they, intent on treasure, strive
Strenuous, and groan, to move it: one exclaims,
"I hear the rusty metal grate; it moves!"
Now, overturning it, backward they start,
And stop again, and see a serpent pant,
See his throat thicken, and the crisped scales
Rise ruffled, while upon the middle fold
He keeps his wary head and blinking eye,
Curling more close and crouching ere he strike.
Go mighty men, invade far cities, go -
And be such treasure portions to your heirs.
Six days they laboured: on the seventh day
Returning, all their labours were destroyed.
'Twas not by mortal hand, or from their tents
'Twere visible; for these were now removed
Above, here neither noxious mist ascends
Nor the way wearies ere the work begin.
There Gebir, pierced with sorrow, spake these words:
"Ye men of Gades, armed with brazen shields,
And ye of near Tartessus, where the shore
Stoops to receive the tribute which all owe
To Boetis and his banks for their attire,
Ye too whom Durius bore on level meads,
Inherent in your hearts is bravery:
For earth contains no nation where abounds
The generous horse and not the warlike man.
But neither soldier now nor steed avails:
Nor steed nor soldier can oppose the gods:
Nor is there ought above like Jove himself;
Nor weighs against his purpose, when once fixed,
Aught but, with supplicating knee, the prayers.
Swifter than light are they, and every face,
Though different, glows with beauty; at the throne
Of mercy, when clouds shut it from mankind,
They fall bare-bosomed, and indignant Jove
Drops at the soothing sweetness of their voice
The thunder from his hand; let us arise
On these high places daily, beat our breast,
Prostrate ourselves and deprecate his wrath."
The people bowed their bodies and obeyed:
Nine mornings with white ashes on their heads,
Lamented they their toil each night o'erthrown.
And now the largest orbit of the year,
Leaning o'er black Mocattam's rubied brow,
Proceeded slow, majestic, and serene,
Now seemed not further than the nearest cliff,
And crimson light struck soft the phosphor wave.
Then Gebir spake to Tamar in these words:
"Tamar! I am thy elder and thy king,
But am thy brother too, nor ever said,
'Give me thy secret and become my slave:'
But haste thee not away; I will myself
Await the nymph, disguised in thy attire."
Then starting from attention Tamar cried:
"Brother! in sacred truth it cannot be!
My life is yours, my love must be my own:
Oh, surely he who seeks a second love
Never felt one, or 'tis not one I feel."
But Gebir with complacent smile replied:
"Go then, fond Tamar, go in happy hour -
But ere thou partest ponder in thy breast
And well bethink thee, lest thou part deceived,
Will she disclose to thee the mysteries
Of our calamity? and unconstrained?
When even her love thy strength had to disclose.
My heart indeed is full, but witness heaven!
My people, not my passion, fills my heart."
"Then let me kiss thy garment," said the youth,
"And heaven be with thee, and on me thy grace."
Him then the monarch thus once more addressed:
"Be of good courage: hast thou yet forgot
What chaplets languished round thy unburnt hair,
In colour like some tall smooth beech's leaves
Curled by autumnal suns?"
How flattery
Excites a pleasant, soothes a painful shame!
"These," amid stifled blushes Tamar said,
"Were of the flowering raspberry and vine:
But, ah! the seasons will not wait for love;
Seek out some other now."
They parted here:
And Gebir bending through the woodlands culled
The creeping vine and viscous raspberry,
Less green and less compliant than they were;
And twisted in those mossy tufts that grow
On brakes of roses when the roses fade:
And as he passes on, the little hinds
That shake for bristly herds the foodful bough,
Wonder, stand still, gaze, and trip satisfied;
Pleased more if chestnut, out of prickly husk
Shot from the sandal, roll along the glade.
And thus unnoticed went he, and untired
Stepped up the acclivity; and as he stepped,
And as the garlands nodded o'er his brow,
Sudden from under a close alder sprang
Th' expectant nymph, and seized him unaware.
He staggered at the shock; his feet at once
Slipped backward from the withered grass short-grazed;
But striking out one arm, though without aim,
Then grasping with his other, he enclosed
The struggler; she gained not one step's retreat,
Urging with open hands against his throat
Intense, now holding in her breath constrained,
Now pushing with quick impulse and by starts,
Till the dust blackened upon every pore.


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