1825
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Tale of Paraguay. Canto II.

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

Robert Southey


Monnema bears a girl, Mooma, and the stricken family is cared for by Providence. Years pass as the family lives in Edenic solitude, not knowing human evil. Monnema teaches her children what traditionary lore she knows, which amounts to a short course in natural religion with an admixture of superstition. Among these stories is a prophecy of Christian missionaries who worship a Holy Virgin, a story evidently related by a renegade Spaniard.

Literary Chronicle: "The author, whose amiable domestic life is proverbial, seems to have poured forth his whole soul in song, and poets never write better than when they write from the heart. We are glad to see Mr. Southey return to the muses, for really, after his Vision of Judgment, he had some atonement to make and some reputation to regain, which he has done by the volume before us. Several notes, and two engravings by Heath, from designs by Westall, are added to the work, which is, however, somewhat dear at half a guinea" 7 (6 August 1825) 498.

John Wilson: "NORTH. Tickler, you think yourself a good reader — there is Southey's new Poem, The Tale of Paraguay. Spout. TICKLER. I read well — although hardly a John Kemble or a James Ballantyne. I do not read according to rules, but I follow my feelings, and they never mislead me. Accordingly, I never read the same composition in the same way, yet each way is the right one. But judge for yourself.... Give me Southey.... (Rises and reads.) ... NORTH. Very bad — very bad. TICKLER. I offer to read you for a rump and dozen. Sir, which of us call you bad — the poet or the spouter? NORTH. Both, both — bad, bald, mean and miserable. TICKLER. Bald! — Can't help that. Would you have me wear a wig?" Blackwood's Magazine (September 1825) in Noctes Ambrosianae (1857) 2:109-10.

John Wilson: "But true it is, and of verity, that Southey, among our living Poets, stands aloof and 'alone in his glory'; for he alone of them all has adventured to illustrate, in Poems of magnitude, the different characters, customs, and manners of nations. Joan of Arc is an English and French story; Thalaba, Arabian; Kehama, Indian; Madoc, Welsh and American; and Roderick, Spanish and Moorish: nor would it be easy to say (setting aside the first, which was a very youthful work) in which of these noble Poems Mr. Southey has most successfully performed an achievement entirely beyond the power of any but the highest genius" "An Hour's Talk About Poetry" in Recreations (1852) 76-77.

Joseph Devey: "In 'Thalaba,' however, there is hardly a line that bears any likeness to nature. Contrast, with this epic, the unpretending tale of 'Paraguay,' the only poem in which Southey kindles genuine pathos. Here the incidents, which are of the simplest kind, the poet details in the simplest manner, but with traits of character so life-like, and with scenic colouring so real, that we feel as keen a sympathy for the Indian family, as if we had been acquainted with the group in their prairie solitude, and saw them wither like pent-up plants in the atmosphere of refinement" A Comparative View of Modern English Poets (1873) 132.



O thou who listening to the Poet's song
Dost yield thy willing spirit to his sway,
Look not that I should painfully prolong
The sad narration of that fatal day
With tragic details: all too true the lay!
Nor is my purpose e'er to entertain
The heart with useless grief; but as I may,
Blend in my calm and meditative strain
Consolatory thoughts, the balm for real pain.

O Youth or Maiden, whosoe'er thou art,
Safe in my guidance may thy spirit be!
I wound not wantonly the tender heart:
And if sometimes a tear of sympathy
Should rise, it will from bitterness be free. . .
Yea, with a healing virtue be endued,
As thou in this true tale shalt hear from me
Of evils overcome, and grief subdued,
And virtues springing up like flowers in solitude.

The unhappy Monnema when thus bereft
Sunk not beneath the desolating blow.
Widow'd she was: but still her child was left;
For him must she sustain the weight of woe,
Which else would in that hour have laid her low.
Nor wish'd she now the work of death compleat:
Then only doth the soul of woman know
It's proper strength, when love and duty meet;
Invincible the heart wherein they have their seat.

The seamen who upon some coral reef
Are cast amid the interminable main,
Still cling to life, and hoping for relief
Drag on their days of wretchedness and pain.
In turtle shells they hoard the scanty rain,
And eat its flesh, sundried for lack of fire,
Till the weak body can no more sustain
Its wants, but sinks beneath its sufferings dire;
Most miserable man who sees the rest expire!

He lingers there while months and years go by:
And, holds his hope tho' months and years have past.
And still at morning round the farthest sky,
And still at eve his eagle glance is cast,
If there he may behold the far-off mast
Arise, for which he hath not ceased to pray.
And if perchance a ship should come at last,
And bear him from that dismal bank away,
He blesses God that he hath lived to see that day.

So strong a hold hath life upon the soul,
Which sees no dawning of eternal light,
But subject to this mortal frame's controul,
Forgetful of its origin and right,
Content in bondage dwells and utter night.
By worthier ties was this poor mother bound
To life; even while her grief was at the height,
Then in maternal love support she found
And in maternal cares a healing for her wound.

For now her hour is come: a girl is born,
Poor infant, all unconscious of its fate,
How passing strange, how utterly forlorn!
The genial season served to mitigate
In all it might their sorrowful estate,
Supplying to the mother at her door
From neighbouring trees which bent beneath their weight,
A full supply of fruitage now mature,
So in that time of need their sustenance was sure.

Nor then alone, but alway did the Eye
Of Mercy look upon that lonely bower.
Days past, and weeks; and months and years went by,
And never evil thing the while had power
To enter there. The boy in sun and shower
Rejoicing in his strength to youthhed grew;
And Mooma, that beloved girl, a dower
Of gentleness from bounteous nature drew,
With all that should the heart of womankind imbue.

The tears which o'er her infancy were shed
Profuse, resented not of grief alone:
Maternal love their bitterness allay'd,
And with a strength and virtue all its own
Sustain'd the breaking heart. A look, a tone,
A gesture of that innocent babe, in eyes
With saddest recollections overflown,
Would sometimes make a tender smile arise,
Like sunshine breaking thro' a shower in vernal skies.

No looks but those of tenderness were found
To turn upon that helpless infant dear;
And as her sense unfolded, never sound
Of wrath or discord brake upon her ear.
Her soul its native purity sincere
Possess'd, by no example here defiled;
From envious passions free, exempt from fear,
Unknowing of all ill, amid the wild
Beloving and beloved she grew, a happy child.

Yea, where that solitary bower was placed,
Tho' all unlike to Paradise the scene,
(A wide circumference of woodlands waste:)
Something of what in Eden might have been
Was shadowed there imperfectly, I ween,
In this fair creature: safe from all offence,
Expanding like a shelter'd plant serene,
Evils that fret and stain being far from thence,
Her heart in peace and joy retain'd its innocence.

At first the infant to Yeruti proved
A cause of wonder and disturbing joy.
A stronger tie than that of kindred moved
His inmost being, as the happy boy
Felt in his heart of hearts without alloy
The sense of kind: a fellow creature she,
In whom when now she ceased to be a toy
For tender sport, his soul rejoiced to see
Connatural powers expand, and growing sympathy.

For her he cull'd the fairest flowers, and sought
Throughout the woods the earliest fruits for her.
The cayman's eggs, the honeycomb he brought
To this beloved sister, . . . whatsoe'er,
To his poor thought, of delicate or rare
The wilds might yield, solicitous to find.
They who affirm all natural acts declare
Self-love to be the ruler of the mind,
Judge from their own mean hearts, and foully wrong mankind.

Three souls in whom no selfishness had place
Were here: three happy souls, which undefiled,
Albeit in darkness, still retain'd a trace
Of their celestial origin. The wild
Was as a sanctuary where Nature smiled
Upon these simple children of her own,
And cherishing whate'er was meek and mild,
Call'd forth the gentle virtues, such alone,
The evils which evoke the stronger being unknown.

What tho' at birth we bring with us the seed
Of sin, a mortal taint, . . . in heart and will
Too surely felt, too plainly shewn in deed, . . .
Our fatal heritage; yet are we still
The children of the All Merciful: and ill
They teach, who tell us that from hence must flow
God's wrath, and then his justice to fulfil,
Death everlasting, never-ending woe:
O miserable lot of man if it were so!

Falsely and impiously teach they who thus
Our heavenly Father's holy will misread!
In bounty hath the Lord created us,
In love redeem'd. From this authentic creed
Let no bewildering sophistry impede
The heart's entire assent, for God is good.
Hold firm this faith, and, in whatever need
Doubt not but thou wilt find thy soul endued
With all-sufficing strength of heavenly fortitude!

By nature peccable and frail are we,
Easily beguiled; to vice, to error prone;
But apt for virtue too. Humanity
Is not a field where tares and thorns alone
Are left to spring; good seed hath there been sown
With no unsparing hand. Sometimes the shoot
Is choked with weeds, or withers on a stone;
But in a kindly soil it strikes its root,
And flourisheth, and bringeth forth abundant fruit.

Love, duty, generous feeling, tenderness,
Spring in the uncontaminated mind;
And these were Mooma's natural dower. Nor less
Had liberal Nature to the boy assign'd.
Happier herein than if among mankind
Their lot had fallen, . . . oh, certes happier here!
That all things tended still more close to bind
Their earliest ties, and they from year to year
Retain'd a childish heart, fond, simple, and sincere.

They had no sad reflection to alloy
The calm contentment of the passing day,
No foresight to disturb the present joy.
Not so with Monnema; albeit the sway
Of time had reach'd her heart, and worn away,
At length, the grief so deeply seated there,
The future often, like a burthen, lay
Upon that heart, a cause of secret care
And melancholy thought; yet did she did not despair.

Chance from the fellowship of human kind
Had cut them off, and chance might reunite.
On this poor possibility her mind
Reposed; she did not for herself invite
The unlikely thought, and cherish with delight
The dream of what such change might haply bring;
Gladness with hope long since had taken flight
From her; she felt that life was on the wing,
And happiness like youth has here no second spring.

So were her feelings to her lot composed
That to herself all change had now been pain.
For Time upon her own desires had closed;
But in her children as she lived again,
For their dear sake she learnt to entertain
A wish for human intercourse renew'd;
And oftentimes, while they devour'd the strain,
Would she beguile their evening solitude
With stories strangely told and strangely understood.

Little she knew, for little had she seen,
And little of traditionary lore
Had reach'd her ear; and yet to them I ween
Their mother's knowledge seem'd a boundless store.
A world it opened to their thoughts, yea more, . . .
Another world beyond this mortal state.
Bereft of her they had indeed been poor,
Being left to animal sense, degenerate,
Mere creatures, they had sunk below the beasts' estate.

The human race, from her they understood,
Was not within that lonely hut confined,
But distant far beyond their world of wood
Were tribes and powerful nations of their kind;
And of the old observances which bind
People and chiefs, the ties of man and wife,
The laws of kin religiously assign'd,
Rites, customs, scenes of riotry and strife,
And all the strange vicissitudes of savage life.

Wondering they listen to the wonderous tale,
But no repining thought such tales excite:
Only a wish, if wishes might avail,
Was haply felt, with juvenile delight,
To mingle in the social dance at night,
Where the broad moonshine, level as a flood,
O'erspread the plain, and in the silver light,
Well-pleased, the placid elders sate and view'd
The sport, and seem'd therein to feel their youth renew'd.

But when the darker scenes their mother drew,
What crimes were wrought when drunken fury raged,
What miseries from their fatal discord grew
When horde with horde in deadly strife engaged:
The rancorous hate with which their wars they waged,
The more unnatural horrors which ensued
When, with inveterate vengeance unassuaged,
The victors round their slaughtered captives stood,
And babes were brought to dip their little hands in blood:

Horrent they heard; and with her hands the Maid
Prest her eyes close as if she strove to blot
The hateful image which her mind pourtray'd.
The Boy sate silently, intent in thought;
Then with a deep-drawn sigh, as if he sought
To heave the oppressive feeling from his breast,
Complacently compared their harmless lot
With such wild life, outrageous and unblest,
Securely thus to live, he said, was surely best.

On tales of blood they could not bear to dwell,
From such their hearts abhorrent shrunk in fear,
Better they liked that Monnema should tell
Of things unseen; what power had placed them here,
And whence the living spirit came, and where
It past, when parted from this mortal mold;
Of such mysterious themes with willing ear
They heard, devoutly listening while she told
Strangely-disfigured truths, and fables feign'd of old.

By the Great Spirit man was made, she said,
His voice it was which peal'd along the sky,
And shook the heavens and fill'd the earth with dread.
Alone and inaccessible, on high
He had his dwelling-place eternally;
And Father was his name. This all knew well:
But none had seen his face: and if his eye
Regarded what upon the earth befell,
Or if he cared for man, she knew not: . . . who could tell?

But this, she said, was sure, that after death
There was reward and there was punishment:
And that the evil doers, when the breath
Of their injurious lives at length was spent,
Into all noxious forms abhorr'd were sent,
Of beasts and reptiles; so retaining still
Their old propensities, on evil bent,
They work'd where'er they might their wicked will,
The natural foes of men, whom we pursue and kill.

Of better spirits, some there were who said
That in the grave they had their place of rest
Lightly they laid the earth upon the dead,
Lest in its narrow tenement the guest
Should suffer underneath such load opprest.
But that death surely set the spirit free,
Sad proof to them poor Monnema addrest,
Drawn from their father's fate; no grave had he
Wherein his soul might dwell. This therefore could not be.

Likelier they taught who said that to the Land
Of Souls the happy spirit took its flight,
A region underneath the sole command
Of the Good Power; by him for the upright
Appointed and replenish'd with delight;
A land where nothing evil ever came,
Sorrow, nor pain, nor peril, nor affright,
Nor change, nor death; but there the human frame,
Untouch'd by age or ill, continued still the same.

Winds would not pierce it there, nor heat and cold
Grieve, nor thirst parch and hunger pine; but there
The sun by day its even influence hold
With genial warmth, and thro' the unclouded air
The moon upon her nightly journey fare:
The lakes and fish-full streams are never dry,
Trees ever green perpetual fruitage bear;
And, wheresoe'er the hunter turns his eye,
Water and earth and heaven to him their stores supply.

And once there was a way to that good land,
For in mid-earth a wondrous Tree there grew,
By which the adventurer might with foot and hand
From branch to branch his upward course pursue;
An easy path, if what were said be true,
Albeit the ascent was long: and when the height
Was gain'd, that blissful region was in view,
Wherein the traveller safely might alight,
And roam abroad at will, and take his free delight,

O happy time, when ingress thus was given
To the upper world, and at their pleasure they
Whose hearts were strong might pass from earth to heaven
By their own act and choice! In evil day
Mishap had fatally cut off that way,
And none may now the Land of Spirits gain,
Till from its dear-loved tenement of clay,
Violence or age, infirmity and pain
Divorce the soul which there full gladly would remain.

Such grievous loss had by their own misdeed
Upon the unworthy race of men been brought,
An aged woman there who could not speed
In fishing, earnestly one day besought
Her countrymen, that they of what they caught
A portion would upon her wants bestow.
They set her hunger and her age at nought,
And still to her entreaties answered no,
And mock'd her, till they made her heart with rage o'erflow.

But that old woman by such wanton wrong
Inflamed, went hurrying down; and in the pride
Of magic power wherein the crone was strong,
Her human form infirm she laid aside.
Better the Capiguara's limbs supplied
A strength accordant to her fierce intent:
These she assumed, and, burrowing deep and wide
Beneath the Tree, with vicious will, she went,
To inflict upon mankind a lasting punishment.

Downward she wrought her way, and all around
Labouring, the solid earth she undermined
And loosen'd all the roots; then from the ground
Emerging, in her hatred of her kind,
Resumed her proper form, and breathed a wind
Which gather'd like a tempest round its head:
Eftsoon the lofty Tree its top inclined
Uptorn with horrible convulsion dread,
And over half the world its mighty wreck lay spread,

But never scion sprouted from that Tree,
Nor seed sprang up; and thus the easy way,
Which had till then for young and old been free,
Was closed upon the sons of men for aye.
The mighty ruin moulder'd where it lay
Till not a trace was left; and now in sooth
Almost had all remembrance past away.
This from the elders she had heard in youth;
Some said it was a tale, and some a very truth.

Nathless departed spirits at their will
Could from the land of souls pass to and fro;
They come to us in sleep when all is still
Sometimes to warn against the impending blow,
Alas! more oft to visit us in woe:
Tho' in their presence there was poor relief!
And this had sad experience made her know,
For when Quiara came, his stay was brief,
And waking then, she felt a freshen'd sense of grief.

Yet to behold his face again, and hear
His voice, tho' painful was a deep delight:
It was a joy to think that he was near,
To see him in the visions of the night, . . .
To know that the departed still requite
The love which to their memory still will cling:
And tho' he might not bless her waking sight
With his dear presence, 'twas a blessed thing
That sleep would thus sometimes his actual image bring.

Why comes he not to me? Yeruti cries:
And Mooma echoing with a sigh the thought,
Ask'd why it was that to her longing eyes
No dream the image of her father brought?
Nor Monnema to solve that question sought
In vain, content in ignorance to dwell;
Perhaps it was because they knew him not;
Perhaps . . . but sooth she could not answer well;
What the departed did, themselves alone could tell.

What one tribe held another disbelieved,
For all concerning this was dark, she said;
Uncertain all, and hard to be received.
The dreadful race, from whom their fathers fled,
Boasted that even the Country of the Dead
Was theirs, and where their Spirits chose to go,
The ghosts of other men retired in dread
Before the face of that victorious foe;
No better, then, the world above, than this below!

What then, alas! if this were true, was death?
Only a mournful change from ill to ill!
And some there were who said the living breath
Would ne'er be taken from us by the will
Of the Good Father, but continue still
To feed with life the mortal frame he gave,
Did not mischance or wicked witchcraft kill; . . .
Evils from which no care avail'd to save,
And whereby all were sent to fill the greedy grave.

In vain to counterwork the baleful charm
By spells of rival witchcraft was it sought,
Less potent was that art to help than harm.
No means of safety old experience brought:
Nor better fortune did they find who thought
From Death, as from some living foe, to fly:
For speed or subterfuge avail'd them nought,
But wheresoe'er they fled they found him nigh:
None ever could elude that unseen enemy.

Bootless the boast, and vain the proud intent
Of those who hoped, with arrogant display
Of arms and force, to scare him from their tent,
As if their threatful shouts and fierce array
Of war could drive the Invisible away!
Sometimes regardless of the sufferer's groan,
They dragg'd the dying out and as a prey
Exposed him, that content with him alone
Death might depart, and thus his fate avert their own.

Depart he might, . . . but only to return
In quest of other victims, soon or late;
When they who held this fond belief, would learn,
Each by his own inevitable fate,
That in the course of man's uncertain state
Death is the one and only certain thing.
Oh folly then to fly or deprecate
That which at last Time, ever on the wing,
Certain as day and night, to weary age must bring!

While thus the Matron spake, the youthful twain
Listen'd in deep attention, wistfully;
Whether with more of wonder or of pain
Uneath it were to tell. With steady eye
Intent they heard; and when she paused, a sigh
Their sorrowful foreboding seem'd to speak:
Questions to which she could not give reply
Yeruti ask'd; and for that Maiden meek, . . .
Involuntary tears ran down her quiet cheek.

A different sentiment within them stirr'd,
When Monnema recall'd to mind one day,
Imperfectly, what she had sometimes heard
In childhood, long ago, the Elders say:
Almost from memory had it past away, . . .
How there appear'd amid the woodlands men
Whom the Great Spirit sent there to convey
His gracious will: but little heed she then
Had given, and like a dream it now recurr'd again.

But these young questioners from time to time
Call'd up the long-forgotten theme anew.
Strange men they were, from some remotest clime
She said, of different speech, uncouth to view,
Having hair upon their face, and white in hue:
Across the world of waters wide they came
Devotedly the Father's work to do,
And seek the Red Men out, and in his name
His merciful laws, and love, and promises proclaim.

They served a Maid more beautiful than tongue
Could tell, or heart conceive. Of human race,
All heavenly as that Virgin was, she sprung;
But for her beauty and celestial grace,
Being one in whose pure elements no trace
Had e'er inhered of sin or mortal stain,
The highest Heaven was now her dwelling place;
There as a Queen divine she held her reign,
And there in endless joy for ever would remain.

Her feet upon the crescent Moon were set,
And, moving in their order round her head,
The stars compose her sparkling coronet.
There at her breast the Virgin Mother fed
A Babe divine, who was to judge the dead,
Such power the Spirit gave this aweful Child;
Severe he was, and in his anger dread,
Yet always at his Mother's will grew mild,
So well did he obey that Maiden undefiled.

Sometimes she had descended from above
To visit her true votaries, and requite
Such as had served her well. And for her love,
These bearded men, forsaking all delight,
With labour long and dangers infinite,
Across the great blue waters came, and sought
The Red-Men here, to win them, if they might,
From bloody ways, rejoiced to profit aught
Even when with their own lives the benefit was bought.

For trusting in this heavenly Maiden's grace,
It was for them a joyful thing to die,
As men who went to have their happy place
With her, and with that Holy Child, on high,
In fields of bliss above the starry sky,
In glory, at the Virgin Mother's feet:
And all who kept their lessons faithfully
An everlasting guerdon there would meet,
When Death had led their souls to that celestial seat.

On earth they offered, too, an easy life
To those who their mild lessons would obey,
Exempt from want, from danger, and from strife;
And from the forest leading them away,
They placed them underneath this Virgin's sway,
A numerous fellowship, in peace to dwell;
Their high and happy office there to pay
Devotions due, which she requited well,
Their heavenly Guardian she in whatsoe'er befell.

Thus, Monnema remember'd, it was told
By one who in his hot and headstrong youth
Had left her happy service; but when old
Lamented oft with unavailing ruth,
And thoughts which sharper than a serpent's tooth
Pierced him, that he had changed that peaceful place
For the fierce freedom and the ways uncouth
Of their wild life, and lost that Lady's grace,
Wherefore he had no hope to see in Heaven her face.

And she remember'd too when first they fled
For safety to the farthest solitude
Before their cruel foes, and lived in dread
That thither too their steps might be pursued
By those old enemies athirst for blood;
How some among them hoped to see the day
When these beloved messengers of good
To that lone hiding place might find the way,
And them to their abode of blessedness convey.

Such tales excited in Yeruti's heart
A stirring hope that haply he might meet
Some minister of Heaven; and many a part
Untrod before of that wild wood retreat,
Did he with indefatigable feet
Explore; yet ever from the fruitless quest
Return'd at evening to his native seat
By daily disappointment undeprest, . . .
So buoyant was the hope that fill'd his youthful breast.

At length the hour approach'd that should fulfil
His harmless heart's desire, when they shall see
Their fellow-kind, and take for good or ill
The fearful chance, for such it needs must be,
Of change from that entire simplicity.
Yet wherefore should the thought of change appal?
Grief it perhaps might bring, and injury,
And death; . . . but evil never can befall
The virtuous, for the Eye of Heaven is over all.

[pp. 45-74]

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