A Tale of Paraguay. Canto III.

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

Robert Southey

The third canto begins with a description of the ills the Spaniards were inflicting on Paraguay. The Indians would have driven out the colonists, were it not for the pacific influence of the Jesuits among the tribes. One day the boy Yeruti is espied by a Spanish party, who send a renowned priest, Dobrizhoffer, to make inquiries. With his companions he braves the hardships of the forest, until their progress is arrested by a marvelous song. The voice is Mooma's, who with her family the priest easily persuades to return with him to human companionship.

Literary Gazette: "The Tale of Paraguay, by the Poet Laureate, is merely the version of a historical narrative, which seems to have interested him when he met with it in the Latin of Dobrizhoffer, during his researches for his work on Brazil. We confess that we do not think he has greatly improved its interest, and further, that in itself it does not possess any very obvious capability for poetical embellishment" (13 August 1825) 518.

Blackwood's Magazine: "We fear that Mr. Southey has greatly over-rated the merits of this poem, and that it is unworthy of his high genius and reputation.... For our own parts we have been pleased — considerably pleased with it — but our admiration of Mr. Southey's powers cannot blind us to that which the whole world, himself excepted, will speedily pronounce to be a somewhat melancholy truth — namely, that the Tale of Paraguay is, with many paltry, and a few fine passages, an exceedingly poor poem, feeble alike in design and execution" 18 (September 1825) 370.

Amid those marshy woodlands far and wide
Which spread beyond the soaring vulture's eye,
There grew on Empalado's southern side
Groves of that tree whose leaves adust supply
The Spaniards with their daily luxury;
A beverage whose salubrious use obtains
Thro' many a land of mines and slavery,
Even over all La Plata's sea-like plains,
And Chili's mountain realm, and proud Peru's domains.

But better for the injured Indian race
Had woods of manchineel the land o'erspread:
Yea in that tree so blest by Nature's grace
A direr curse had they inherited,
Than if the Upas there had rear'd its head
And sent its baleful scyons all around,
Blasting where'er its effluent force was shed,
In air and water, and the infected ground,
All things wherein the breath or sap of life is found.

The poor Guaranies dreamt of no such ill,
When for themselves in miserable hour,
The virtues of that leaf, with pure good will
They taught their unsuspected visitor,
New in the land as yet. They learnt his power
Too soon, which law nor conscience could restrain,
A fearless but inhuman conqueror,
Heart-hardened by the accursed lust of gain.
O fatal thirst of gold! O foul reproach for Spain!

For gold and silver had the Spaniards sought
Exploring Paraguay with desperate pains,
Their way thro' forests axe in hand they wrought;
Drench'd from above by unremitting rains
They waded over inundated plains,
Forward by hope of plunder still allured;
So they might one day count their golden gains,
They cared not at what cost of sin procured,
All dangers they defied, all sufferings they endured.

Barren alike of glory and of gold
That region proved to them; nor would the soil
Unto their unindustrious hands unfold
Harvests, the fruit of peace, . . . and wine and oil,
The treasures that repay contented toil
With health and weal; treasures that with them bring
No guilt for priest and penance to assoil,
Nor with their venom arm the awaken'd sting
Of conscience at that hour when life is vanishing.

But keen of eye in their pursuit of gain
The conquerors look'd for lucre in this tree:
An annual harvest there might they attain,
Without the cost of annual industry.
'Twas but to gather in what there grew free
And share Potosi's wealth. Nor thence alone,
But gold in glad exchange they soon should see
From all that once the Incas called their own,
Or where the Zippa's power or Zaque's laws were known.

For this, in fact tho' not in name a slave,
The Indian from his family was torn;
And droves on droves were sent to find a grave
In woods and swamps, by toil severe outworn,
No friend at hand to succour or to mourn,
In death unpitied, as in life unblest.
O miserable race, to slavery born!
Yet when we look beyond this world's unrest,
More miserable then the oppressors than the opprest.

Often had Kings essay'd to check the ill
By edicts not so well enforced as meant;
A present power was wanting to fulfil
Remote authority's sincere intent.
To Avarice, on its present purpose bent,
The voice of distant Justice spake in vain;
False magistrates and priests their influence lent
The accursed thing for lucre to maintain:
O fatal thirst of gold! O foul reproach for Spain!

O foul reproach! but not for Spain alone
But for all lands that bear the Christian name!
Where'er commercial slavery is known,
O shall not Justice trumpet-tongued proclaim
The foul reproach, the black offence the same?
Hear, guilty France! and thou, O England, hear!
Thou who hast half redeem'd thyself from shame,
When slavery from thy realms shall disappear,
Then from this guilt, and not till then, wilt thou be clear.

Uncheck'd in Paraguay it ran its course,
Till all the gentler children of the land
Well nigh had been consumed without remorse.
The bolder tribes meantime, whose skilful hand
Had tamed the horse, in many a warlike band
Kept the field well with bow and dreadful spear.
And now the Spaniards dared no more withstand
Their force, but in their towns grew pale with fear
If the Mocobio, or the Abipon drew near.

Bear witness, Chaco, thou, from thy domain
With Spanish blood, as erst with Indian, fed!
And Corrientes, by whose church the slain
Were piled in heaps, till for the gather'd dead
One common grave was dug, one service said!
Thou too, Parana, thy sad witness bear
From shores with many a mournful vestige spread,
And monumental crosses here and there
And monumental names that tell where dwellings were!

Nor would with all their power the Kings of Spain,
Austrian or Bourbon, have at last avail'd
This torrent of destruction to restrain,
And save a people every where assail'd
By men before whose face their courage quail'd,
But for the virtuous agency of those
Who with the Cross alone, when arms had fail'd,
Achiev'd a peaceful triumph o'er the foes,
And gave that weary land the blessings of repose.

For whensoe'er the Spaniards felt or fear'd.
An Indian enemy, they call'd for aid
Upon Loyola's sons, now long endear'd
To many a happy tribe, by them convey'd
From the open wilderness or woodland shade,
In towns of happiest polity to dwell.
Freely these faithful ministers essay'd
The arduous enterprize, contented well
If with success they sped, or if as martyrs fell.

And now it chanced some traders who had fell'd
The trees of precious foliage far and wide
On Empalado's shore, when they beheld
The inviting woodlands on its northern side,
Crost thither in their quest, and there espied
Yeruti's footsteps: searching then the shade
At length a lonely dwelling they descried,
And at the thought of hostile hordes dismay'd
To the nearest mission sped and ask'd the, Jesuit's aid.

That was a call which ne'er was made in vain
Upon Loyola's sons. In Paraguay
Much of injustice had they to complain,
Much of neglect; but faithful labourers they
In the Lord's vineyard, there was no delay
When summon'd to his work. A little band
Of converts made them ready for the way;
Their spiritual father took a cross in hand
To be his staff, and forth they went to search the land.

He was a man of rarest qualities,
Who to this barbarous region had confined
A spirit with the learned and the wise
Worthy to take its place, and from mankind
Receive their homage, to the immortal mind
Paid in its just inheritance of fame.
But he to humbler thoughts his heart inclined;
From Gratz amid the Styrian hills he came,
And Dobrizhoffer was the good man's honour'd name.

It was his evil fortune to behold
The labours of his painful life destroy'd;
His flock which he had brought within the fold
Dispersed; the work of ages render'd void,
And all of good that Paraguay enjoy'd
By blind and suicidal power o'erthrown.
So he the years of his old age employ'd,
A faithful chronicler in handing down
Names which he loved, and things well worthy to be known.

And thus when exiled from the dear-loved scene,
In proud Vienna he beguiled the pain
Of sad remembrance: and the Empress Queen,
That great Teresa, she did not disdain
In gracious mood sometimes to entertain
Discourse with him both pleasurable and sage;
And sure a willing ear she well might deign
To one whose tales may equally engage
The wondering mind of youth, the thoughtful heart of age.

But of his native speech because well nigh
Disuse in him forgetfulness had wrought,
In Latin he composed his history;
A garrulous, but a lively tale, and fraught
With matter of delight and food for thought.
And if he could in Merlin's glass have seen
By whom his tomes to speak our tongue were taught,
The old man would have felt as pleased, I ween,
As when he won the ear of that great Empress Queen.

Little he deem'd when with his Indian band
He thro' the wilds set forth upon his way
A Poet then unborn, and in a land
Which had proscribed his order, should one day
Take up from thence his moralizing lay,
And shape a song that, with no fiction drest,
Should to his worth its grateful tribute pay,
And sinking deep in many an English breast,
Foster that faith divine that keeps the heart at rest.

Behold him on his way! the breviary
Which from his girdle hangs, his only shield;
That well-known habit is his panoply,
That cross, the only weapon he will wield:
By day he bears it for his staff afield,
By night it is the pillar of his bed;
No other lodging these wild woods can yield
Than earth's hard lap, and rustling overhead
A canopy of deep and tangled boughs far spread.

Yet may they not without some cautious care
Take up their inn content upon the ground.
First it behoves to clear a circle there,
And trample down the grass and plantage round,
Where many a deadly reptile might be found,
Whom with its bright and comfortable heat
The flame would else allure: such plagues abound
In these thick woods, and therefore must they beat
The earth, and trample well the herbs beneath their feet.

And now they heap dry reeds and broken wood;
The spark is struck, the crackling faggots blaze,
And cheer that unaccustomed solitude.
Soon have they made their frugal meal of maize;
In grateful adoration then they raise
The evening hymn. How solemn in the wild
That sweet accordant strain wherewith they praise
The Queen of Angels, merciful and mild:
Hail, holiest Mary! Maid, and Mother undefiled.

Blame as thou mayest the Papist's erring creed,
But not their salutary rite of even!
The prayers that from a pious soul proceed,
Tho' misdirected, reach the ear of Heaven.
Us unto whom a purer faith is given,
As our best birthright it behoves to hold
The precious charge. But, oh, beware the leaven
Which makes the heart of charity grow cold!
We own one Shepherd, we shall be at last one fold.

Thinkest thou the little company who here
Pour forth their hymn devout at close of day,
Feel it no aid that those who hold them dear,
At the same hour the self-same homage pay,
Commending them to Heaven when far away?
That the sweet bells are heard in solemn chime
Thro' all the happy towns of Paraguay,
Where now their brethren in one point of time
Join in the general prayer, with sympathy sublime?

That to the glorious Mother of their Lord
Whole Christendom that hour its homage pays?
From court and cottage that with one accord
Ascends the universal strain of praise?
Amid the crouded city's restless ways,
One reverential thought pervades the throng;
The traveller on his lonely road obeys
The sacred hour, and as he fares along,
In spirit hears and joins his household's even-song.

What if they think that every prayer enroll'd
Shall one day in their good account appear;
That guardian Angels hover round and fold
Their wings in adoration while they hear;
Ministrant Spirits thro' the ethereal sphere
Waft it with joy, and to the grateful theme
Well pleased, the Mighty Mother bends her ear?
A vain delusion this we rightly deem:
Yet what they feel is not a mere illusive dream.

That prayer perform'd, around the fire reclined
Beneath the leafy canopy they lay
Their limbs: the Indians soon to sleep resign'd;
And the good Father with that toilsome day
Fatigued, full fain to sleep, . . . if sleep he may,
Whom all tormenting insects there assail;
More to be dreaded these than beasts of prey
Against whom strength may cope, or skill prevail,
But art of man against these enemies must fail.

Patience itself that should the sovereign cure
For ills that touch ourselves alone, supply,
Lends little aid to one who must endure
This plague: the small tormentors fill the sky,
And swarm about their prey; there he must lie
And suffer while the hours of darkness wear;
At times he utters with a deep drawn sigh
Some name adored, in accents of despair
Breathed sorrowfully forth, half murmur and half prayer.

Welcome to him the earliest gleam of light;
Welcome to him the earliest sound of day;
That from the sufferings of that weary night
Released, he may resume his willing way,
Well pleased again the perils to essay
Of that drear wilderness, with hope renew'd:
Success will all his labours overpay:
A quest like his is cheerfully pursued;
The heart is happy still that is intent on good.

And now where Empalado's waters creep
Through low and level shores of woodland wide
They come; prepared to cross the sluggish deep,
An ill-shaped coracle of hardest hide,
Ruder than ever Cambrian fisher plied
Where Towey and the salt sea-waters meet,
The Indians' launch; they steady it and guide,
Winning their way with arms and practised feet,
While in the tottering boat the Father keeps his seat.

For three long summer days on every side
They search in vain the sylvan solitude.
The fourth a human footstep is espied,
And through the mazes of the pathless wood
With hound-like skill and hawk-like eye pursued;
For keen upon their pious quest are they
As e'er were hunters on the track of blood.
Where softer ground or trodden herbs betray
The slightest mark of man, they there explore the way.

More cautious when more certain of the trace
In silence they proceed; not like a crew
Of jovial hunters, who the joyous chace
With hound and horn in open field pursue,
Cheering their way with jubilant halloo,
And hurrying forward to their spoil desired,
The panting game before them, full in view:
Humaner thoughts this little band inspired,
Yet with a hope as high their gentle hearts were fired.

Nor is their virtuous hope devoid of fear;
The perils of that enterprize they know;
Some savage horde may have its fastness here,
A race to whom a stranger is a foe;
Who not for friendly words, nor proffer'd show
Of gifts, will peace or parley entertain.
If by such hands their blameless blood should flow
To serve the Lamb who for their sins was slain,
Blessed indeed their lot, for so to die is gain!

Them thus pursuing where the track may lead,
A human voice arrests upon their way.
They stop, and thither whence the sounds proceed,
All eyes are turn'd in wonder, . . . not dismay,
For sure such sounds might charm all fear away.
No nightingale whose brooding mate is nigh,
From some sequester'd bower at close of day,
No lark rejoicing in the orient sky
Ever pour'd forth so wild a strain of melody.

The voice which through the ringing forest floats
Is one which having ne'er been taught the skill
Of marshalling sweet words to sweeter notes,
Utters all unpremeditate, at will,
A modulated sequence loud and shrill
Of inarticulate and long-breathed sound,
Varying its tones with rise and fall and trill,
Till all the solitary woods around
With that far-piercing power of melody resound.

In mute astonishment attent to hear,
As if by some enchantment held, they stood,
With bending head, fix'd eye, and eager ear,
And hand upraised in warning attitude
To check all speech or step that might intrude
On that sweet strain. Them leaving thus spellbound,
A little way alone into the wood
The Father gently moved toward the sound,
Treading with quiet feet upon the grassy ground.

Anon advancing thus the trees between,
He saw beside her bower the songstress wild,
Not distant far, himself the while unseen.
Mooma it was, that happy maiden mild,
Who in the sunshine, like a careless child
Of nature, in her joy was caroling.
A heavier heart than his it had beguiled
So to have heard so fair a creature sing
The strains which she had learnt from all sweet birds of spring.

For these had been her teachers, these alone;
And she in many an emulous essay,
At length into a descant of her own
Had blended all their notes, a wild display
Of sounds in rich irregular array;
And now as blithe as bird in vernal bower,
Pour'd in full flow the unexpressive lay,
Rejoicing in her consciousness of power,
But in the inborn sense of harmony yet more.

In joy had she begun the ambitious song,
With rapid interchange of sink and swell;
And sometimes high the note was raised, and long
Produced, with shake and effort sensible,
As if the voice exulted there to dwell;
But when she could no more that pitch sustain,
So thrillingly attuned the cadence fell,
That with the music of it's dying strain
She moved herself to tears of pleasurable pain.

It may be deem'd some dim presage possess'd
The virgin's soul; that some mysterious sense
Of change to come, upon her mind impress'd,
Had then call'd forth, ere she departed thence,
A requiem to their days of innocence.
For what thou losest in thy native shade
There is one change alone that may compense,
O Mooma, innocent and simple maid,
Only one change, and it will not be long delay'd!

When now the Father issued from the wood
Into that little glade in open sight,
Like one, entranced, beholding him, she stood;
Yet had she more of wonder than affright,
Yet less of wonder than of dread delight,
When thus the actual vision came in view;
For instantly the maiden read aright
Wherefore he came; his garb and beard she knew;
All that her mother heard had then indeed been true.

Nor was the Father filled with less surprize;
He too strange fancies well might entertain,
When this so fair a creature met his eyes.
He might have thought her not of mortal strain;
Rather, as bards of yore were wont to feign,
A nymph divine of Mondai's secret stream;
Or haply of Diana's woodland train:
For in her beauty Mooma such might seem,
Being less a child of earth than like a poet's dream.

No art of barbarous ornament had scarr'd
And stain'd her virgin limbs, or 'filed her face;
Nor ever yet had evil passion marr'd
In her sweet countenance the natural grace
Of innocence and youth; nor was there trace
Of sorrow, or of hardening want and care.
Strange was it in this wild and savage place,
Which seem'd to be for beasts a fitting lair,
Thus to behold a maid so gentle and so fair.

Across her shoulders was a hammock flung,
By night it was the maiden's bed, by day
Her only garment. Round her as it hung,.
In short unequal folds of loose array,
The open meshes, when she moves, display
Her form. She stood with fix'd and wondering eyes,
And trembling like a leaf upon the spray,
Even for excess of joy, with eager cries
She call'd her mother forth to share that glad surprize.

At that unwonted call with quickened pace
The matron hurried thither, half in fear.
How strange to Monnema a stranger's face
How strange it was a stranger's voice to hear,
How strangely to her disaccustomed ear
Came even the accents of her native tongue!
But when she saw her countrymen appear,
Tears for that unexpected blessing sprung,
And once again she felt as if her heart were young.

Soon was her melancholy story told,
And glad consent unto that Father good
Was given, that they to join his happy fold
Would leave with him their forest solitude.
Why comes not now Yeruti from the wood?
Why tarrieth he so late this blessed day?
They long to see their joy in his renew'd,
And look impatiently toward his way,
And think they hear his step, and chide his long delay.

He comes at length, a happy man, to find
His only dream of hope fulfill'd at last.
The sunshine of his all-believing mind
There is no doubt or fear to overcast;
No chilling forethought checks his bliss; the past
Leaves no regret for him, and all to come
Is change and wonder and delight. How fast
Hath busy fancy conjured up a sum
Of joys unknown, whereof the expectance makes him dumb!

O happy day, the Messenger of Heaven
Hath found them in their lonely dwelling place!
O happy day, to them it would be given
To share in that Eternal Mother's grace,
And one day see in heaven her glorious face
Where Angels round her mercy-throne adore!
Now shall they mingle with the human race,
Sequester'd from their fellow kind no more;
O joy of joys supreme! O bliss for them in store!

Full of such hopes this night they lie them down.
But not as they were wont, this night to rest.
Their old tranquillity of heart is gone;
The peace wherewith till now they have been blest
Hath taken its departure. In the breast
Fast following thoughts and busy fancies throng
Their sleep itself is feverish, and possest
With dreams that, to the wakeful mind belong;
To Mooma and the youth then first the night seem'd long.

Day comes, and now, a first and last farewell
To that flair bower within their native wood,
Their quiet nest till now. The bird may dwell
Henceforth in safety there, and rear her brood,
And beasts and reptiles undisturb'd intrude.
Reckless of this, the simple tenants go,
Emerging from their peaceful solitude,
To mingle with the world, . . . but not to know
Its crimes, nor to partake its cares, nor feel its woe.

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