POEMS FROM OTHER SOURCES - 10
JOHN MARDON, MARINER:
HIS STRANGE ADVENTURES IN EL DORADO.*
BY THE AUTHOR OF “ST. ABE.”
IN TWO PARTS.
JOHN MARDON, IN HIS LAST SICKNESS, BEGINNETH HIS STRANGE
WHITE Marie with the drooping eyes!
San Joseph with the hoarie haire!
Keep greene one spot beneath the Skies,
Keep it right greene and bright and faire,
And soon or later waft me there!
For this is Hell that round me lies,
And this is Hell that round me cries,
Round me and in me Hell doth rise,
With breath to burne and teeth to teare!
White Marie with the drooping eyes,
Keep greene one spot beneath the Skies,
And waft my Soul before it flies,
One little moment, there!
Say, who is he, on bended knee
There kneeling? Woman, answer me!
A Priest? Fiends seize his hungrie Soul—
I see his lewd Eyes burne and rolle,
I feel his burning breath;—
A Snake, a Snake! scourge him away—
White Marie shrive my Soul this day—
A Snake, a Snake, lean, gaunt and gray,
Whose bloodie lips drink death!
Woman, tho’ blacken’d be thy skin,
I know thy heart is true within,
But drive him hence, the Serpent then,
Nor heark to what he saith.
Hold my hand, Woman, hold my hand!
Poor wretch of an accursëd land,
Thou meanest well, I wis!
And yet, O God, that I should die
Here underneath this burning Skie,
* South America, 16—.
With only thee to watch and crie,
To close my eyes and kiss!
Alack, my bones will never lie
In such a Land as this!
Hold me, and listen! None shall catch
My last wild words but thou alone—
Close fast the door, shut Bolt and Latch,
Against the Priests; I hear them groane;—
White Marie strike them into stone!
Come closer, wet my lips! come near—
And tremble not,—why shouldst thou fear
The feeble Worme that struggles here,
Dark Bird of the bright Zone?
Poor Bird! yet thou hast cause enew
To crie aloud and hide thy head,—
For I am of that bloodie crew
Whose skins are white, whose hands are red;
Stranger am I, stain’d thro’ and thro’
With blood of thine own duskie hue,
And all thy harmless kin are dead—
Tho’ thou hast laine upon my breast,
Oft hast thou started in thy rest,
Thy hands upon thy wild heart prest,
Thy bright eyes great with dread.
Woman, ’twere little blame in thee
If thou from the curara-tree
Hadst drawne the juice to poison me,
Or stabb’d me in my bed.
Like Vultures on thy shore we came;
Wild Birds of Preye too fierce to tame,
Shrieking for carrion, eyes aflame,
Throats ready, down we pour’d;
Before our feet ye sped in flight.
Legions of creatures black as night,
Yet gentle, shrieking in affright
At our accursëd Horde.
I was young then . . . and I had driven
Long years before the Winds of Heaven.
Had stain’d me black with guilt,
And yet I had my graine of good,
That made me sick at sight of Blood
So pitilesslie spilt.
But Drinke drown’d all; with dizzie brain
I saw the black Babe hack’d in twaine,
The Virgin wasted, stabb’d, and slaine,
The red Fire passionate and faine
Rising to our fierce crie;
Old Lopez led us, imp of Cain,
And all my mates were men of Spaine,
Bloody and blacke and slie.
But I was born ’mid Mist and Rain,
In a Greene Isle amid the Maine,—
Old England! . . . O to see it plaine,
The Woods, the Vales, where peace doth reign,
One moment, ere I die!
Old England! . . . O to sit and draine
One cup of Ale in a greene lane,
And see the gentle village Vane
Gleame on the cool gray Skie!
At first, it seem’d a wondrous Land
Strange as a dreame; for bright as gold
The great Skie gleam’d; o’er silvern sand
Great Rivers marvellously roll’d ;
And luminous Birds from out the brakes
Rose like a crimson Cloud and cried,
And in the waves the Water-Snakes
Swam gleaming diamond-eyed;
And on the banks were forest bowers,
Lit with great Lamps of burning Flowers,
Where heavenly Fruits rain’d down in showers,
And happy Monkies cried.
All was right pleasant to the eye,
The Rivers bright, the golden Skie,
The Jaye and Parrot darting by,
The Flowers on every side.
And yet I tell thee, weary one,
That all these things beneath the Sun
Were treacherous when tried.
I minde me how, when mad with drinke,
Two of our Crewe stript on the brinke
And plunged into the tide,
One wild shriek rose, I saw them sinke,—
Suck’d down, they bled and died!
And in the bright pool of the blood,
Seeking for morsels of the food,
Flew Caribs thick as flies,
While gaping hideous from the mud
Huge Caymans rose, and on the flood
Leered with their slimie Eyes—
Nay, while beneath the Skie we slept,
Small Worms with poison’d stings upcrept,
And slew both man and beast;
And when thro’ the green Brake we stept,
Out with a shriek the Puma leapt
With white teethe for the feast;
And if one pluck’d a branch of wood,
Wherewith to spit our wretched food,
The Doome came foul and fleet,—
For oft we pluck’d that branch of dread,
The Guaxamax, and they fell dead
Who tasted of the meate.
Yea, Woman, ’twas a golden land,
But cold Death crawl’d on every hand
With countless Eyes, and slew,
And whom the Reptile and the Flower
Spared, perish’d ere the evening hour
By plague and poison-dew.
Like wither’d leaves in a black bower,
Tho’ the gay Sun shines bright in power,
Did we the dark Earth strewe! . . .
But in the Land where I was born,
’Tis true and gentle night and morn,
Tho’ somewhat sad to view.
Old England! O for that gay scene!
To smell the fields where I have been,
To see the Folk upon the Greene
In crimson cloaks so bright and cleane,
A merrie-hearted crewe.
And the bells ringing up on high,
And the Rooks cawing while they flie
Against the breezie Blue!
And yet again to thee I crie,
The Fever-flower, the spotted Snake,
The bloodie things in bush and brake,
The murtherous things that crawl and flie,
Were fairer far beneath the Skie,
More fair and true, than those who spake
This human tongue of shame;
The bloodiest mouth, the fiercest eye,
Belonged to those who kill and lye
In Jesus Christ His name.
I tell thee that in yonder air
Strange Saints shook down their golden hair,
And shuddering look’d with blind sick stare
On bloody Fanes and Temples where,
O’er Doom’s wild mouth of fire,
Vile priests of Baal, more monstrous far
Than Caribo or Juguar,
Allay’d their lewd desire.
I tell thee, woman, night and day
Christ’s picture on the Altar lay,
Yea, also Saintes mild-eyed and gray,
And the Apostles all.
And thro’ the painted pane the ray
Of Heaven did mildly fall.
All was as peaceful to the sight
As was the scene outside!
And yet those Shrines, tho’ strangely bright,
Were treacherous when tried.
Treacherous! lecherous! black! accurst!
Where Monsters of the Death were nurst
To hideous human guise.
Where snake-like Guile and tigerish Crime
Crawl’d battening in the Church’s slime,
Waiting with craftie eyes.
White Marie, are these Monsters thine?
O strike them with thy gaze divine!
How long out of thy vestal shrine
Shall their foul breath arise?
O let me haste before I fail
To tell thee what hath brought me low.
It seems like a wild Dreame, a Tale
Told to mad music, long ago.
Tho’ many perish’d of our band,
We ate our way into the Land,
And gather’d thy black broode
Like fruit; some held within the hand,
Some shed upon the grass and sand,
For we were used to blood.
And when two hundred head like Sheep
Were driven together, to the deep,
Flogging them on we fled . . . .
But hearken! one dark summer Night
I sicken’d of a Serpent’s bite,
And I was left for dead.
A sleepe of death, a dreamless sleepe,
Long held me! When I woke I heard
A strange Voice singing like a Bird;
A wild Voice musical and deep,
Whereby my heart was stirred!
Upon a Balsam Bed I lay
In a dark Hut of gentle shade;
And at the door in one rich ray
Of golden sheen a naked Maide,
Whose soft skin gleamed with amber light,
Stood singing. Like a Fountain bright
Rose that soft melodie.
I lay and listened in strange bliss.
I look’d, and dream’d. She was, I wis,
A Maiden fair to see.
Not like our Women over there,
With their bright ways and golden haire,
But dark as Dream, yea wildly faire
As is a Torch burnt low.
Her bright skin changed like fire, her Face
Kindled and glistened in its place:
She had the soft skin of thy race,
And the mild looks alsoe;
A foolish thing with large round Eyes!
As harmless as a Deer that flies
To lick the hunter’s hand.
Yea, she licked mine! Nay more, O God!
Had she not found me on the sod,
Dying in a strange Land?
Had she not bared my Side anon,
And marking two dark pricks thereon,
With her lips red and warm
Suck’d out the Juice, and brewed a Drink
Of Indian herbs, that from Death’s brink
Woo’d back my wasted Forme?
All this, God knoweth, she had done
For joy of her sweet power,
And there she stood, and in the Sun
Sang, shining like a flower.
Let the World stand! Let my Sands run
In silence! The thread spun
. . . Hush! there she bleeds, poor little one,
Before me at this hour!
HOW JOHN MARDON FARED FORTH TO SEEK TREASURE, AND THE
MARVELLOUS ADVENTURES THAT ENSUED.
. . LONG days and nights that gentle Maide
Did nurse me in that Place of Shade.
Cool Drinks she brought to soothe my drouth,
And bright Fruits melting in the mouth,
And Dewe in dark greene Leaves;
I sat and strengthened hour by hour,
Feeling the stillness like a shower
Sink to my Soul, while Fruite and Flower
Hung golden down the Eaves.
I wis, it was a peaceful Dreame;
Oft her dark beauty like a Beame
Lay basking on the ground,
And in mine Eyes her own would gleame,
And fascinated she would seeme,
Lost to all life around;
And with a wild imploring grace
The Maide would look into my Face
And in the wont of thy wild Race
Steal nearer with no sound,
And seize my Hand with Fingers light
And lay it on her Bosom bright,
To feel the bright heart bound!
I watch’d her, as some Master might
His dark and duteous hound!
I mark’d her, as some lower thing,
Beaste of the brake or Bird on wing,
I saw her shine, I heard her sing,
And loved the Light and Song,
But only as we love in Spring,
In a Greene Grove a-wandering,
To mark the Lambkins gambolling,
And Hear the Woodland Throng.
And with her, while I stronger grew,
Her Father came, white-hair’d and tall:
Lean was this Wight and dark of hue,
Dried skin of Snake, parch’d bone and thew,
And hollow-cheek’d withal;
Like to a Skeleton came he,
Or Idols gaunt hewn hideouslie,
And crawling near with blearëd ee
Would watch my Face and grin.
Yea, oft at Midnight I could see
His Bodie gliding close to me
Like to a Spectre thin.
I fear’d him, though I tried to smile,
I fear’d some hidden Indian guile,
And chill’d when he was near—
Poor harmless Worm—he never stung!
There was no Poison in his tongue;
I had no cause for feare!
Under the Vijao-eaves I lay
One morn, still weak, and white, and frail,
And watch’d a Town long leagues away
Gleame, in a fissure of the Vale,—
A Town, ’mid jungle, brake, and fens,
Where round a Church with Roof and Tower,
Cluster’d the loathsome Indian Dens
Deep hid in Fruit and Flowers.
Afar it lay amid the heat
Glistening like salt below my feet,
But where I sat the Air was sweet
With Breezes of the Height;
For ’mid a dark greene Mountain-Crest
The Hut hung like an Eagle’s Neste
Far hid from human sight,—
And Torrents, white as a gull’s breast,
Flash’d round it Day and Night.
There, hearkening to the Condor’s cries,
Watching the bridle-path below,
I saw a lonely Rider rise,
Along the chasms crawling slow—
Now seen, now hidden from the eyes,
First, far away, of pigmy size,
But ledge by ledge I saw him grow—
Till thro’ the Pine Wood, to the door
One rode, with wary pace and sure,
Upon a jet-black Beaste. . .
I knew him White Man by his Skin;
And by his Garb and shaven Chin
I knew him for a Priest.
With courteous bow and easy style,
He spake me, in the Spanish tongue.
Mild was his Face, ungloom’d by guile,
A dark mild Face no longer young.
Alighting with a nod and smile,
The bridle to my Host he flung,
And he . . the Old Man gaunt and gray . .
Still grinning led the Beaste away,
While, with a sharper scrutiny,
The Stranger turned his Eyes on me.
Whence came I? Country? Name? and why
In such a secret Spot I stayed?
Questions I answer’d, or put by,
Still covering with some specious Lie
The truth of my black trade.
Friendly, as Equals, there we talked,
And I was charm’d to meet a Man,
While in the Sun beside us walked
That maiden Indian.
O let me haste, for Time speeds quick,
My breath fails and my Soul is sick!
That Day passed by and many more
Follow’d, and daily to the door
He came, and daily we sat there,
Drinking the keen wild mountain air;
And daily far beneath us glowed
The gleaming City whence he rode;
And daily with her Eyes of fire
Around us moved the Indian Maide,
While crouching on his hams her Sire
Sat Sphinx-like in the Shade.
Then, by degrees, and day by day,
The Priest his marvellous Story told,
Of how amid the Hills there lay
Strange Caverns, where the Incas-gray
Had buried deep their Gold—
Treasure on treasure, Store enew
To make old Barabbas the Jew
(I’ the play) go crazy at the view,
Tho’ sick to death and cold,—
Ingots and Gems, and Bars and Rings,
Beyond the Mind’s Imaginings,
Worth all the Riches of Earth’s Kings,
A hundred thousand fold.
And “See!” said Vascar (so the Priest
Was styled), and gript me by the Wriste—
“See! yonder, crouching like a Beast,
With eyes that burn as Amethyste,
Sits Guayi. How his gaunt Jaw gleams!
Tho’ dead as lead the Idiot seems,
His feet have bathed in golden Streams,
His bloodless Lips have kissed
The Ingots! He is dumb as stone,
Yet unto him, and him alone,
Is the immortal Secret known
Which, tho’ a thousand Years have flown,
All mortal Men have missed!”
O curst is Gold! and who that worst
Of Poisons toucheth is accurst!
He filled my Blood with raging thirst,
He made my Head swim round.—
All night I dreamed of golden Bars,
Of glittering Gems and showering Stars,
Fierce Fever seized me, such as mars
The Spirit’s peace profound.
Then, later when I would have sought
To force the Secret wonder-fraught
Out of the Old Man’s Braine,
He, craftier, stayed me, quick as thought:
And “Often,” said he, “have I sought
To snatch it, but in vaine!
He knows not feare, and can be bought
By no mere Greede of Gaine—
And what ye seek he well divines,
Albeit he stares with mindless face,
For well I know by many signs
He knows the wonderous Place;
Love and not Feare must win it forth;
Dearer to him than all the earth
Is Ala here his Child!” . .
She stood beside us; at the word,
Her name, she brightened,—yea, she heard,
And looked at me, and smiled!
“Already hast thou stirred strange Fire
Within her passionate Breast—
Still feed it! fan the fierce desire!
Then through the Daughter gain the Sire,
And leave to Fate the rest!”
I watched her face with thoughtful brow. . .
Creeping up close (I see her now!)
My fatal hand she prest.
O ’twas a fire that needed nought
Save one soft loving Breath from me,
And lo! it rose to Heaven and caught
Brightness and Gladness, and flamed free!
Backward I gaze, and sicken! Yea,
In a bright Silence night and daye,
I lured her, till one passionate Raye
Struck to mine own wild Soul:
Her Beauty wafted me away,
And by her side I loved to stray
Where the white Waters roll—
O Days! O Dreams! they pass me by,
Like Storm-clouds drifting o’er the Skye!
Soul struck to Soul, Eye spake to Eye,
And I was loved indeede.
White Mary shrive me, now I die!
For half my loving was a lie,
And deepe within me Thou did spye
The glittering yellow Greede!
Something of Spanish speech she spake,—
Enough (when love had thaw’d her Feare)
To ease her eager Spirit’s ache,
And tell me . . that she held me deare:
Deare, verily, as Beasts that run,
On the greene Lea and Sea-Sands dun
Hold their strong Mates; and verily
She for the time was deare to me
As aught beneath the Sun.
Pleasant was Love, for Love’s sake: still
I hungering sought with eager will
The visionary Gleame;
And as we sat beyond Man’s reach
In narrowing circles drew my Speech
Unto the cherished theme;
And carelesslie at last, I told
Of these strange Tales of hidden Gold
Left, by the murder’d Tribes of old,
Beyond all guess or dreame.
Pass over that! pass over more!
Shame sickens me to the Heart’s core!
So cunningly I wrought,
That in the end she vowed, forsooth,
To conjure from her Sire’s grim Mouth
The Secret that I sought.
Days passed . . we waited . . and each day,
Vascar the Priest rode past that way,
And question’d with his Eye. . .
More days . . I watch’d the Old Man’s face. . .
Strange trouble there I seemed to trace. . .
The dull Smile faded . . in its place
A Frown rose, dark and slye.
One Sunset, while the Hills were roll’d
In one broad blaze of dizzie gold,
And ’neath the eaves we White Men stood
Watching the Crags afire,
Feeling deepe down within our blood
The dark and dread Desire,
On noiseless footsteps from the flood
Of sunshine stole the Sire,
Not smiling as of old, but now
With Mysterie upon his brow!
In his own Indian language he
Accosted Vascar rapidlie,
Who hearken’d, bound as by a spell,
And Vascar, turning Eyes on me,
Cried with a gleame of secret glee,
“Confession! All is well!”
My Head reeled round . . my Eyes swam bright
And dizzie in the golden Light,
On Guayi’s face I strain’d my sight
As if to read his heart. . .
While near us, searching mine for praise,
Stood Ala in the golden haze,
Her Face in shade, her Limbs ablaze—
Her happy Lips apart.
Then swiftly, while that Face I read
So dark, so strange, with crafty feare,
He spake; the Priest interpreted;
And I half swoon’d to hear . .
Long years had Guayi, he alone
Of all things living, seen and known,
The secret of the Cave,
Yet dared not, being one so meane,
Touch the wild Glories he had seen,
Too vast for such a Slave;
Long years had passed since, hurled by fate,
He reached those Regions desolate,
And saw within the Earth-seams great
The wondrous Treasure shine
Sun-shrouded; and tho’ ne’er since then
His Feet had wandered back again,
He had fixed the Track upon his ken,
Each Landmark and each Sign.—
Enough!—’Twas ours . . if we would dare
The long and dreadful Journie there,
But first I by his Gods must swear
Ne’er to forsake his Childe. . .
But if we fled to some far Strand
To bear them with us from that Land . . .
I sware aloud . . she kissed my hand . .
’Twas done . . and Vascar smiled!
The Days broke by like Waves, the Nights
Swoon’d by like Clouds, as on the heights
In silence we prepared.
Nought further I remember plain . .
At Midnight, amid blinding Rain,
In silence, forth we fared.
Four. Guayi barefoot, who did leade
The leathern bridle of the Steede
Which bare the Maide and me,
I in the saddle, with mine arm
Wrapt tight around her clinging form;
Behind us, on his Mule, wrapt warm,
Priest Vascar watch’d the Three.
Four. In the rainy Midnight-tide
Silent and blind and haggard-eyed,
Forth, with that Skeleton for guide,
We sallied, silentlie.
All night against the Wind and Raine,
Wild fever flashing in the Braine,
Baffled and beaten, faint and faine,
We struggled, Beaste and Man—
Day broke—alone on a great Plaine
Where one Vast River to the Maine
With many a greene and slimy staine
Thro’ the deep Marish ran—
No sign of Life rose anywhere,
And thro’ the dark and dreadful air
The Sun streamed white and wan.
Night came; we slept on beds of mud,
Stung by fierce insects to the blood,
Around the Watch-fires’ glare:
One watching—Guayi, wide awake,
Lest the fell Tigress or the Snake
Should take us unaware:
One happy—Ala, sound at rest,
With dark Cheeke pillowed on my Breast;
Bright as a Bird in its warm Nest,
Tired out, without a care!
Dawne. Blazing gold of Heaven above,
A gold-paved Earth, a golden Air
For breathing. Onward did we move
Thro’ the bright blinding Glare.
That day the fatal Snake whose back
Is marked with Crosses,* o’er our track
Slipt hideouslie and fled;
And then into a Forest vast
Built on a mighty Swamp, we passed,
It quaked beneath our tread.
And mighty Trees with bright green cones,
Where Snakes with eyes like precious Stones
Swung twining, rose o’erhead;
The Parrots and the Monkies cried,
The Wood-doves coo’d from every side,
Poor Ala listen’d happy-eyed,
Singing an answer, while our Guide
Swift as a Serpent led—
Dense grew the Brake with luminous Flowers,
And glorious Fruit swam down in showers,
Gold, yellow, blue, and red—
And then we came to a greene Pass
Deepe to the breast in yellowe Grass,
And in the golden haze
Myriads of milk-white Butterflies
Cover’d the Swamp and hid the Skies,
And in the bright Sun’s rayes
Swam with a silent fall and slow,
Making a visionary Snowe
To cheat the blinded gaze.
Yet this was curst; for, hear me swear,
In the bright centre of the Glare
I saw the Poison Spiders there,
Weaving their silvern wire;
And thrice the Equis hissed at me,
And thrice I saw the Puma flee;
At night I could not close an ee,
But watched the Woods a-fire
With glittering Worms and luminous Flies,
And heark’d the Arrendajo’s cries,
And shiver’d thro’ and thro’,—
For thick as Raine from the chill Skies
Dript down the drenching Dewe.
The next day to a Land of Streams
Again we came. On every hand
They twisted in the morning Beams,
With stagnant Pools made slimy Gleams
O’er graves of Mud and Sand:
Now slowly Guayi pick’d his way,
Slow as a Snail doth creep,
Watching the treacherous ground for aye
For Pits and Quagmires deepe.
Thro’ Stream on Stream our course did leade,
Some reached the Bellie of our Steede,
And some he swam with desperate speede,
While Guayi swimming led;
And when they reached the further shore
Their lips with pain were foaming o’er,
And Man and Beaste were speckled sore
With Water Lice blood-red.
That Night was as a Night in Hell!
Thy Soul would sicken did I tell
Of Toads and Bats and Scorpions fell,
And speckled Spiders that did dwell
All round our slimie Bed.
At last we saw, with famished eyes,
The cloudless Cordilleras rise,
Fringéd with Forests dark;
Against the burning azure Skies,
Peak after Peak of giant size,
As far as Eye could mark.
The sight of the vast Mountains lent
New passion to our pale intent,
And on with swifter Feet we went,
Albeit the Ways were dire;
For o’er the Vale where we did fare
Cataracts like Snakes sprang everywhere,
Twisting like Lightning down the bare
Crags with a fierce desire,
Till on the low Lagoons they swam
With Rock and Tree and bleating Lamb
Hurl’d downward, foaming o’er each Dam
Of Boulder deep in mire.
Where’er we trod our path was barred
With scatter’d Trees and Rocks;
Above our heads Crags, seam’d and scarr’d,
Shook to the Torrent-shocks;
So swift all round the Waters roll’d
The Braine swoon’d round to see;
Yet still the Sun blazed bright as gold,
And still our Hearts were burning bold,
And still our Feet fell free. . .
Then thro’ a Forest such as span
The fabled river Stygian,
We crawl’d our loathsome way,
And issuing thence our Path began
Thro’ crags where seldom foot of Man
Had come before that day.
And o’er aërial passages,
O’er bridges made of mighty Trees
Up-rooted by the Blast,
Guayi still leading, swift as flees
A Phantom, we with quaking knees
Behind, all swiftly passed;
Nor ever, as we sped so fleet,
To the Abysses at our feet
Our fearful Eyes were cast,
For ’neath our tread the Bridge did quake
With thunders of the Falls that break
Deepe down, one far-off foamy flake
Down the Abysses vast!
Ere this the Mule was dead, poor Beaste,
And, gloomie-brow’d, on trudged the Priest
A-foot with lips drawn tight,
Save when I walked, and on my Steede,
That never shook or slacken’d speed,
He rode; while swift and bright
Ala before us, like a freed
Wild Bird, took happy flight;
She sang above us sweet and loud,
Like a Larke singing in a cloud,
While sunshine, shimmering thro’ a shroud
Of Waters snowy white,
Made Rainbows round her overhead;
And up and on with fearless tread,
Suspended in the air, she sped,
And sang from Height to Height.
Yet how we fared, and how unscarr’d
We passed thro’ Regions such as these,
By golden Days and Midnights starr’d
With golden Orbs as thick as bees
Thick shining thro’ the Crags and Trees,
I wis not; but old Guayi knew
Where cool Springs rose and pure Fruits grew,
And how to snare the Crag-birds blue,
Whose flesh is dainty fare;
And onward Day by Day we grew,
Still onward unaware.
At last, out of the Scenes where surged
The loosen’d Cataracts, we emerged
Upon a Lande of Plaines
High up in air,—an emerald Lande
Of Grass and Flowers, by sweet Winds fann’d,
And cool’d by pleasant Raines.
Here strange-shaped Sheepe as huge as Kine*
Fed in vast Flocks, with Woole as fine
As is the thread the Silk-Wormes twine,
And here were strange sweet Birds.
And here we rested well and long,
And felt renew’d and glad and strong,
Yea seem’d as Shepherds, free from wrong,
Who sit with Crooks and sing a song,
And watch their peaceful Herds.
THENCE, forward-faring, fortified
By that deep draught of Peace,
Thro’ grassie Table-lands we hied,
Where naked Shepherds, gentle-eyed,
Wash’d white the woolly Fleece
In golden Streames; and lo! one Morn
We saw new Mountains rise,
And in the midst a Peak forlorn,
Snow-white on purple Skies;
Around about the Mountains’ feet
The Air was rich, the Grass was sweet,
And scented Shrubs there grew;
Yea, Song-birds sang in the great heat;
And to the song our Hearts did beat,
And our glad Thoughts grew newe.
But swiftlie (even as men that leap
Into a still and dreamless deepe)
Amid the Mountains’ Shade
We plunged refresh’d; and Steep by Steep,
Terrace by Terrace, we did creep
Upward, still unafraid.
And as we reach’d each dizzy ledge,
And saw each Prospect strange,
By Torrents riven and black Gulfs’ edge
The Flowers and Shrubs did change:
Paler and smaller still they grew,
As upward still rose we,
Till wan they were and weak of hue,
As weary Weedlings that bestrewe
The Shores o’ the Frozen Sea.
And now our breath was drawn in paine,
While sharp as needles thro’ the Braine
Ran the thin chillie air;
And our fierce mirth began to wane,
And silentlie we sought (in vaine)
To toil away our care.
Above us on the Mountain’s brow
A Wild Wind flapt its wings; and now
All blacken’d to the night,
Like to an Ethiop’s face; and lo!
The dark mists grew, the winds wail’d woe,
And strange birds shriek’d affright.
Thrice have I driven round Cape Horne
With shatter’d Bulwarks and Shroudes torne,
But ne’er before, I wis,
Had I been driven, night or morn,
Thro’ such a Storm as this!
Sight, Hearing, Speech, were choked and drown’d
In the black rush of wind.
We clung together with no sound,
We clutch’d and clung, heads whirling round,
Mad, gasping, sick, and blind.
In the chill breath the Tempest cast,
Our hair froze and our teeth set fast;
But now and then we saw aghast
The Whirlwind raise its wings,
Showing the Gulfs whereby we past—
The air-hung Heights where Crosses vast,
Deep-rooted, struggled in the blast,
And shriek’d like human things!
Yea, further, shuddering we descried
Dark traces of the Dead:
The Mule and Rider side by side,
In the Crag’s shelter where they died,
Their white-bleach’d bones bespread,
And mournfullie the Condor cried,
The Blastes went by, with lulls between
Of crystal air and weak,
When far above our Path was seen,
Snow-white against the azure sheen,
The glimmering frozen Peak!
Not thither clomb we; but we crept
Around the cold Peak’s base of stone,
Past the fierce Circles tempest-swept,
Beyond the Paths where Whirlwinds groan,
And creeping to a Vale below,
Screen’d from all Rains and Winds that blow,
We rested with their moan.
For far above us, where the Wind
Still howl’d around those pathways blind,
Our great-boned Steede lay dead;
And we were footsore, faint, and frail,
Driven forth like Storm-wrack from the gale,
God’s curse upon our head!
’Twas night. Behind rose, cold and dire,
Peaks where eternal Frost doth dwell;
But far before us, Smoke and Fire
Belch’d, like the Mouth of Hell.
That night I prayed, who had not prayed
For many a year before that night;
Push’d from my breast the shivering Maide,
While Vascar, fainting and afraid,
Shriek’d at the far-off Light.
And when Dawn came, we saw a land
Most desolate, alas!
All livid rock, with Ashes and Sand
Instead of Flowers and Grass,
Blighted and wither’d, burnt and bann’d,
Scorch’d by the touch of God’s red Hand—
Ashes and Sand, Ashes and Sand,
And Stones of mighty Mass.
Then Guayi sprung up eagerlie,
Pointing; and lo! with haggard eyes
We saw, as shipwreck’d men might see,
A Mountain black as Ebony,
Alone in the sad Skies.
O God, it was a solemn sight!
I shake as Memory burns it back!
Behind, that Peak of Spotless White,
Beyond, that Peak of Black:
Like two vast angels, one of Light
And one of Darkness, on the sight
Their mighty shapes they raised,
One clad with Dawn, one capp’d with Night,
They on each other gazed!
Then my Soul sicken’d, tho’ I knew
The Place was nigh; for God’s cold Ban
Seem’d with us; and no green thing grew
Upon the Path we did pursue,
But Sand and Ashes wan.
All was burnt up with fire from Hell!
No Tree, no Shrub; no living one;
No Beast, no Bird; no Thing to tell
Of Sunlight, and no Sun;
Only the dim and lowering glare
Of that black Angel standing there,
Only the soot-flakes in the air,
Instead of the sweet Dewe!
Only Death’s silence everywhere.
But far behind us, bright and bare,
The Snowy-Angel, deathly fair
Against its own cold Blue.
Pass on! Pass o’er! ’Tis as a dream,
Horrible, wild, remember’d ill.
Thro’ Sand and Ashes my soul doth seem
Toiling and struggling still.
I see the face of Ala grow
Thinner and wanner as we go,
I see her large eyes shine.
I grow to loathe her for the woe
Her Soul hath shed on mine.
Before us flies the Ghost her Sire,
Behind, the spent Priest groans.
Night. Roof’d with Smoke and crimson Fire,
We rest our burning bones.
The next day Dread as deepe as Death
Falls on us; Dread and dark Surprise;
For the fierce Sulphur fills our breath,
The black Smoke fills our eyes.
And Vascar shrieks, and one by one
Calls on his many Saints, but none
Make answer to his cries.
When suddenly before our track
We see a Torrent flash,
Around that Mountain’s base jet-black,
Drawn in one livid gash;
And Guayi calls in his own tongue,
“Be of good cheer—behold the place!”
And his eye kindles and grows young,
And fiery Hunger lights his face.
Then in that moment’s glistening Greede
All is forgotten, and with speede,
With Eyes that burn and Hearts that bleede,
We follow our swift Guide.
I turn to Ala smilinglie,
She brightens, smiles, and springs to me,
I kiss her, clasp her, in mad glee
We follow, side by side.
Dismal as Death, before our Eyes,
A mighty Cliff block’d up our path,
Seam’d by the Torrent, that with cries
And flake o’ foam leapt from the Skies
In pallid rage and wrath.
But down below where now we stood,
Like a tamed beast without a sound,
In one vast pool the slumbering Flood
Whirl’d softly round and round.
On the dark crags to left and right
The Condors perch’d stone-still,
Illumed phantasmie every night
By fierce reflections from the light
Of the far-flaming Hill.
Then round the pool with soft footfall
Stole Guayi, till he took his stand
Close to the flashing of the Fall,
With lean uplifted hand,
And bent his frame and bow’d his head,
And like a Bird on stormy ways,
Plunged at the waters, struggled, fled,
And vanish’d from our gaze!
We cried, we shook, but Ala set
Her finger on her lips; and lo!
Forth flash’d the Phantom, dripping wet,
Out of the Torrent’s Snow,
And beckon’d!—Lightly as a Bird
Fled Ala, silent; for no word
Could in that roar of Floods be heard,
Though Man should shriek till sore.
She led, I follow’d, and behind
Came Vascar; tottering, dumb and blind,
We join’d the Sire, and swift as wind
He leapt and plunged once more.
Then, smiling, flashing, like a dove,
With one glad kiss of burning love,
Ala bow’d down her limbs, and clove
The flood with arm-sweep brave.
She led, we follow’d; dizzy, drown’d,
One moment surged we, then we found
Strong fingers clutch us round and round,
And drag us from the grave—
And firm we stood on solid ground
Within a mightie Cave . . .
Dark, black, as Death, and faintly fed
With sick sad air fit for things dead,
Its Mouth closed up and curtainëd
By the pale Torrent’s base;
Sad, silent, shivering, cold with dread
We waited. Suddenly was shed
A flickering Ray of flaming red
Around the clammie place.
’Twas Guayi, and he gript a torch
Of resinous dreadful glare,
And (like a fiend Hell’s Cinders scorch)
Loom’d in the midnight air;
And we were conscious of strange things,
Quick slimy Worms, and Shapes with wings,
Struck from their slimie slumberings
By the fierce Torch’s Flare.
Then . . . we grew mad; for by that light
The Treasure rose upon our sight;
Tho’ mildewed, slimy, black as night,
Worth a King’s wealth thrice told!
Yea, Bars of price, and Urns abrim
With Gems and Rings bestain’d and dim;
Yea Golden Idols—Head, Trunk, Limb—
One blacken’d Mass of Gold—
Ingots and Gems and Rings and Bars,
Yea Sapphires, numberless as Stars,
And Rubies manifold!
And there beside the Hoard divine
Were Torches laid, and Gourds of Wine
Hundreds of summers old.
Nay further, ’mid the Treasure set
A Heathen God with locks of jet,
And round his neck an Amulet
Of glistening Pearls of price;
And for his Eyes were crimson Stones,
Worth laden Ships in plenteous Zones,
And round his seat dead bleachen Bones
Were scatter’d cold as Ice.
A Woman with the large soft eyes!
So like to Hers! as mild, as good!
The rest for woman’s weary sighs,
And man’s deep curse, is food!
That night I tell thee, our strange Guide,
Old Guayi, shrivell’d up and died
Without one warning word:
Some fierce disease of his black Flock
Had struck him, rent him as a rock,
And there he lay, nor stirr’d.
And Ala with a wild desire
Bent o’er the body of her Sire,
Calling his name with tears of fire,
Moaning to Gods unknown.
And the Cave echoed back her cry,
And dark things flapt and flitted by,
And the black Idol made reply,
But in no human tone.
Alack, that night! I soothed her fears,
I kiss’d her, led her from the place,
Outside the Cavern, with no tears
She sat and prayed with shining face;
I drew her fondly to my breast,
I soothed her spirit into rest,
And in mine arms as in a nest
She slept a little space . . .
Bright in my brain like sparks of flame
The wild thoughts throbb’d and rose and came,
And changed and would not cease;
For tho’ my watchful eyes were set
Hungrie upon the Cavern, yet
My Soul had little Peace.
And Vascar? By our side he crouch’d,
Blinking his eyne like a strange beast,
Strange, still, and subtle, with lips pouch’d,
And flickering smile that seldom ceased;
And once he whisper’d to me slow,
“One dead! one less!” and laugh’d full low,
And in his features seem’d to show
A vacant Mind and wild—
His wits seem’d worn and wandering weak,
His Eyes looked hueless, and his Cheek
Did twitch whenever he did speak,
And evermore he smiled.
’Twas night. We slept. Stretch’d there full sound,
In the warm air, on the warm ground,
And ere I slept the Maide had wound
Her arms about me tight . . .
I dream’d of Gold . . . I revel kept
In golden Hoards . . . when as I slept
A shrill Cry woke me, and I leapt
Up in a fierce affright.
I was alone . . . the Maide was fled . . .
I heard no Voice, no human Tread . . .
I call’d aloud . . . nought answerëd . . .
And softly breathed the Night . . .
When lo! before me ere I knew,
His face and cheeks of ghastlie hue,
Priest Vascar smiling stood,
And waved aloft against the Blue
A bright Blade dripping Blood.
Yea, on the Face I watch’d aghast,
Heark’ning the words he said,
The Fiend of the Volcano cast
Strange radiance fiery-red.
“Courage!” he cried, with pale blue eyne,
Gleaming full vacantlie on mine,
“Courage! for now ’tis done—
No living mouth can hence breathe forth
To Priest or Paramour on Earth
The secret we have won!”
I gazed upon him silentlie,
Soul-sick and dumb, and I could see
His evil wits were gone!
Yet as a Wild Beast springs I sprang
To grip him, but with laugh that rang
He plunged into the Cave.
I would have follow’d fierce and fleet,
But something clung around my feet,
Like cold Hands from the grave!
I stoop’d, I listen’d, and, O God!
I sicken’d as I gazed—
’Twas Ala—bleeding on the sod—
With her large eyes upraised.
O dark-skinn’d Lamb! O gentle Dove!
She smiled in Death, smiled as she bled.
Her luminous eyes were large with Love.
She clasp’d me close, and kiss’d, and said
Such words as said again might move
A spirit in things Dead!
She named her Gods by names most mild,
And blest me by them! Sweet slain Childe!
And last (as flames a burnt-out Brand)
Just at the end, with quick sharp cry,
She rose a space, with one dark hand,
Even as a flame-point, held on high,
Calling her Gods; then on the sand
Sank slowly, and did dye!
Then . . . mark me! for by Heaven I swear
These dreadful things have been!—
That instant thro’ the dreadful air
The Fire-Fiend, with flaming hair,
Smiled lurid on the Scene.
And swift as Death the hollow Ground
Shook to still subterranean Sound,
Shook, shriek’d, was riven, and all around
The great Crags chatter’d like teeth!
As if the Judgment Hour were near,
Earth, Heaven, and Air did quake for fear,
And there was Darkness deep and drear,
Above, around, beneath.
I lay and waited for Death’s blow,
And tried to pray, but swoon’d for dread;
And when I stirr’d, and waken’d, lo!
I saw the Cavern, crimson-red,
Torn open like a Mouth; and there,
Amid the centre of the glare,
One moment, stood the Priest;—
Girt by the Gold I saw him sink,
Shrieking upon the Earthquake’s brink,
. . . And with his shriek, I ceased.
* * * * * * * *
Snow? Is that Snow?
Is that the falling Snow
All round me as I lie?
Are those the Christmas bells I hear,
A-ringing round me loud and clear
Under the English Skye?
Is this the falling Snow
In a Village that I know?
I see the children come and go
With Hollie-berries red;
I see them thro’ the frosty pane;
I see the white Church with its vane;
I hear the Church-bells plain;
I hear them from my bed.
Who holds me? Hush! Still! . . . ’Twas a Dreame!
I slept; my Soul was far away;
So sweet was all, and I did seeme
In England, and ’twas Christ His Day.
Againe I wake to the wild Gleame
That on my burning Brow doth streame
And round my sick Soul play.
How God from out that dreadful Land
Did pluck me living with his Hand
I know not, but ’twas so!
I lived; but now I die; my Sand
Is running Deathlie low.
White Mary with the drooping eyes!
San Joseph with the hoary hair!
Keep greene one spot beneath the skies,
Tho’ I may never wander there;
O keep old England bright and faire!
For this strange Land that round me lies,
Where the bright Gold-gleame never dies,
Is treacherous, sick with care.
Yea, all is deathlie and not good,
Death crawls on Mountain and in Wood,
Death lurks beneath the smiling Flood,
And crawls in every Flower;
And here are Snakes and Snake-like Men;
And blacklie ever and again
Old Earthquake, crawling from her Den,
Doth wither and Devour.
The golden Gleam! the gleaming Gold!
All treacherously bright!
My Sand is run, my Tale is told,
The Skeleton with touch so cold
Shakes hands with me this night.
O lay me downe beside the Sea,
And bid them when they bury me,
Above my Bones unblest
Write thus: “John Mardon, Marinere,
A sinful Englishman, lies here;
God give his dark Soul Rest!”
John Mardon, Mariner: his Strange Adventures in El Dorado was published in The Saint Paul’s Magazine (July, 1872, pp. 41-46, September, 1872, pp. 283-293, October, 1872, pp.450-460.)
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