1825
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Tale of Paraguay: Proem.

A Tale of Paraguay. By Robert Southey, Esq. LL.D. Poet Laureate.

Robert Southey


After some comments on the Peninsular War, Robert Southey comments on Loyola and the sometimes large consequences of small events: "I love thus uncontroll'd, as in a dream, | To muse upon the course of human things; | Exploring sometimes the remotest springs, | Far as tradition lends one guiding gleam" p. 16. Southey had come across his story while doing research for his history of Brazil. The poem also contains a verse dedication to Edith May Southey.

John Taylor Coleridge: "It would be improper, however, to close our commendation without noticing the opening stanzas in which the volume is dedicated by the poet to his daughter. We would gladly have transferred them entire to our pages, if our limits had permitted us; but we cannot bring ourselves to injure their effect by partial citation. They appear to us to be in their kind among the most exquisite pieces of English poetry; the language and the rhythm are so happily adapted to the ideas, that there is scarcely a line or a word which we could wish to see altered; and the ideas have such a solemn tenderness, and stir up in us such feelings of affection for the living, and of pensive regret for the dead, that we have found it quite impossible to read them without being deeply moved" Quarterly Review 23 (October 1825) 466.



That was a memorable day for Spain,
When on Pamplona's towers, so basely won,
The Frenchmen stood, and saw upon the plain
Their long-expected succours hastening on:
Exultingly they mark'd the brave array,
And deem'd their leader should his purpose gain,
Tho' Wellington and England barr'd the way.
Anon the bayonets glitter'd in the sun,
And frequent cannon flash'd, whose lurid light
Redden'd thro' sulphurous smoke: fast vollying round
Roll'd the war-thunders, and with long rebound
Backward from many a rock and cloud-capt height
In answering peals Pyrene sent the sound.
Impatient for relief, toward the fight
The hungry garrison their eye-balls strain:
Vain was the Frenchman's skill, his valour vain;
And even then, when eager hope almost
Had moved their irreligious lips to prayer,
Averting from the fatal scene their sight,
They breathed the imprecations of despair.
For Wellesley's star hath risen ascendant there;
Once more he drove the host of France to flight,
And triumph'd once again for God and for the right.

That was a day, whose influence far and wide
The struggling nations felt; it was a joy
Wherewith all Europe rung from side to side.
Yet hath Pamplona seen in former time
A moment big with mightier consequence,
Affecting many an age and distant clime.
That day it was which saw in her defence,
Contending with the French before her wall,
A noble soldier of Guipuzcoa fall,
Sore hurt, but not to death. For when long care
Restored his shatter'd leg and set him free,
He would not brook a slight deformity,
As one who being gay and debonnair,
In courts conspicuous, as in camps must be:
So he forsooth a shapely boot must wear;
And the vain man, with peril of his life,
Laid the recovered limb again beneath the knife.

Long time upon the bed of pain he lay
Whiling with books the weary hours away;
And from that circumstance and this vain man
A train of long events their course began,
Whose term it is not given us yet to see.
Who hath not heard Loyola's sainted name,
Before whom Kings and Nations bow'd the knee?
Thy annals, Ethiopia, might proclaim
What deeds arose from that prolific day;
And of dark plots might shuddering Europe tell.
But Science too her trophies would display;
Faith give the martyrs of Japan their fame;
And Charity on works of love would dwell
In California's dolorous regions drear;
And where, amid a pathless world of wood,
Gathering a thousand rivers on his way,
Huge Orellana rolls his affluent flood;
And where the happier sons of Paraguay,
By gentleness and pious art subdued,
Bow'd their meek heads beneath the Jesuits' sway,
And lived and died in filial servitude.

I love thus uncontroll'd, as in a dream,
To muse upon the course of human things;
Exploring sometimes the remotest springs,
Far as tradition lends one guiding gleam;
Or following, upon Thought's audacious wings,
Into Futurity, the endless stream.
But now in quest of no ambitious height,
I go where truth and nature lead my way,
And ceasing here from desultory flight,
In measured strains I tell a Tale of Paraguay.

[pp. 13-16]