562. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 29 December 1800]

562. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [c. 29 December 1800] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

I send you the supplementary Thalaba. my brain has been at work for you, with a somewhat unlucky activity – as it has made a great outline & finished nothing. in fact I have mapped out my Hindoo Romance [1]  while only designing to furnish you with a fragment for a Xmas Tale. if you are disposed to see it in its Tadpole state it may fill part of my next letter. I would willingly get the first book ready for your budget – but that the egg cannot be hatchd before its time. – The Lady her Dog & Dolly [2]  I have never seen; the lines which made you suspect it to be mine, satisfy me that it is Coleridges. I have written no line of poetry here – save Thalaba. – whatever therefore looks like mine, you may believe to be his, as we have both improved we have more resembled each other. – but to Thalaba –

Book II – Simorghs speech.
Thus prepared ascend the sledge
God hath appointed all.
Be bold – be wary – seek & find!
The ancient Simorg then let fall his lids
Returning to repose.


from thence unaltered to

Beheld the youth beloved:
And lo! beneath yon lonely pine the sledge
And there they stand the harnessed dogs – &c.


omit the three lines “And he will meet with open eyes &c –

from thence as it stands to

Thy shattered flesh will harden in the frost. [3] 
Why howl the dogs so mournfully?
And wherefore does the blood flow fast,
All purple oer their sable hairs?
His arms are folded on his breast,
Nor scourge nor goad has he.
But piteously they moan & moan
And track their way with blood.

And lo! on yonder height
A giant Fiend aloft
Waits to thrust down the tottering Avalanch –
If Thalaba looks back – he dies, –
The motion of fear is death.
On – on – with swift & steady pace
Adown that dreadful way!
The youth is firm, the dogs are fleet
The sledge goes rapidly.
The thunder of the avalanch
Reechoes far behind.
On – on – with swift & steady pace
Adown that dreadful way!
The dogs are fleet – the way is steep
The sledge goes rapidly,
They reach the plain below.

A wide, wide, plain – all desolate –
Nor tree – nor bush – nor herb!
On go the dogs with rapid step
The sledge slides after rapidly
And now the Sun went down.
They stopt & lookd at Thalaba,
The youth performed his prayer.
They knelt beside him as he prayed
They turned their heads to Mecca
And tears ran down their cheeks.
Then down they laid them in the snow
As close as they could be,
They laid them down & slept.
And backward in the sledge
The adventurer laid him down,
And the Green Bird of Paradise
Lay in his bosom warm.

The dogs awoke him at the dawn
They knelt & wept again.
Then on they journeyed rapidly,
And still the plain was desolate
Nor tree, nor bush, nor herb.
And ever at the hour of prayer
They slept & knelt & wept.
And still that green & graceful bird
Was as a friend to him by day,
And ever when at night he slept
Lay in his bosom warm.
In this most utter solitude
It cheered his heart to hear
Her soft & soothing voice.
His voice was soft & sweet
It swelled not with the Blackbirds thrill,
Nor warbled rich like that dear Bird that holds
The solitary man
A loiterer in his thoughtful walk at eve.
But if no overflowing joy
Spake in its tones of tenderness,
They soothed the softened soul.
Her bill was not the beak of blood,
There was a human meaning in her eye,
Its mild affection fixed on Thalaba
Woke wonder while he gazed
And made her dearer for the mystery.

Oh joy! the signs of life appear, –
The first & single Fir.
That on the limits of the living world
Strikes in the ice its roots.
Another & another now –
And now the Larch that flings its arms
Down-arching like the falling wave,
And now the Aspens, scattered leaves
Grey-glitter on the moveless twig,
The Poplars varying verdure now,
And now the birch so beautiful,
Light as a Ladys plumes.
Oh joy! the signs of life! the Deer
Hath left his slot beside the way;
The little ermine now is seen
White wanderer of the snow;
And now from yonder pines they hear
The clatter of the Grouses wings,
And now the snowy Owl pursues
The Travellers sledge in hope of food,
And hark the rosy-breasted Bird
The Throstle of sweet song.
Joy – joy – the wintry wilds are left –
Green bushes now – & greener grass –
Red thickets here all berry-bright,
And here the lovely flowers.

When the last morning of his way arrived,
After the early prayer
A sad & supplicating eye
The Green Bird fixed on Thalaba,
And with a human voice she spake –
“Servant of God I leave thee now –
“If rightly I have guided thee
“Give me the boon I beg!”

“O gentle Bird!” quoth Thalaba –
“Guide & companion of my dangerous way –
“Friend & sole solace of my solitude,
“How can I pay thee benefits like these?
“Ask what thou wilt that I can give –
“O gentle Bird the poor return
“Will leave me debtor still.”

“Son of Hodeirah,” she replied,
“When thou shalt see an old man crushed beneath
“The burthen of his earthly punishment, –
“Forgive him Thalaba!
“Yea – send a prayer to God in his behalf.”

A flush oerspread the young Destroyers cheek –
He turned his eyes towards the Bird
As if in half repentance, for he thought
Of Okba, & his fathers dying groan
Came on his memory. the celestial Bird
Saw, & renewed her speech –
“O Thalaba! if she who in thine arms
“Received the dagger blow & died for thee
“Deserve one kind remembrance – save
“The Father that she loved from endless death!”

“Laila! & is it thou?” the Youth replied
“This is no time to harbour in my heart
“One evil thought. here I put off revenge –
“The last rebellious feeling. be it so!
“God grant to me the pardon that I need
“As I do pardon him.
“But who am I – that I should save
“The sinful soul alive?”

“Enough!” said Laila. “when the hour shall come
“Remember me! my task is done –
“We meet again in Paradise.
She said, & shook her wings, & up she soared
With arrow swiftness thro the heights of Heaven.
His aching eye pursued her path –
When starting forward went the dogs –
More rapidly they hurried on
In hope of near repose.
It was the early morning yet,
When by the well-head of a spring
They stopt, their journey done.
The spring was clear, the water deep,
A venturous man were he & rash,
That should have probed its depths,
For all its loosened bed below
Heaved strangely up & down,
And to & fro, from side to side
It heaved & waved & tost,
And yet the depths were clear,
And yet no ripple wrinked oer
The face of that fair well.

And on that well so strange & fair
A little boat there lay,
Without an oar, without a sail,
One only seat it had, one seat
As if for only Thalaba.
And at the helm a Damsel sat
A Damsel bright & bold of eye,
Yet did a maiden modesty
Adorn her fearless brow.
She seemed sorrowful, but sure
More beautiful for sorrow.
To her the Dogs looked wistful up
And then their tongues were loosed –
“Have we done well O Mistress dear? –
“And shall our sufferings end.

The gentle Damsel made reply
“Poor Servants of the God I serve,
“When all this witchery is destroyed
“Your woes will end with mine.
“A hope alas! how long unknown
“This new adventurer gives –
“Now God forbid that he like you
“Should perish for his fears!
“Poor Servants of the God I serve
“Wait ye the event in peace.”
A deep & total slumber as she spake
Seized them. Sleep on poor sufferers, be at rest!
Ye wake no more to anguish – ye have borne
The Chosen the Destroyer. Soon his hand
Shall strike the efficient blow.
Soon shaking off your penal forms shall ye
With songs of joy amid the Eden groves
Hymn the Deliverers praise.

Then did the Damsel say to Thalaba
“The morn is young, the Sun is fair
“And pleasantly thro pleasant banks
“The quiet brook flows on.
“Wilt thou embark with me? –
“Thou knowest not the waters way –
“Think stranger well! & night will come:
“Wilt thou embark with me?
“Stranger the oppressed ask thine aid –
“Thou wilt embark with me!”

She smiled in tears upon the Youth –
What heart were his who could gainsay
That melancholy smile? –
“Sail on! sail on!” quoth Thalaba –
“Sail on in Allahs name.”

He sate him on the single seat,
The little boat moved on.
The quiet brook went pleasantly
Thro pleasant banks its way –
Thro fragrant fir groves now it past
And now thro alder shores –
Thro green & fertile meadows now
It silently ran by.
The flag flower blossomed on its side;
The willow tresses waved,
The flowing current furrowed round
The water cresses floating leaf, –
The fly of green & gauzy wing
Fell sporting down its course
And grateful to the voyager
The freshness of the running stream,
The murmur round the keel.
The little boat falls rapidly
Adown the rapid brook.

But many a silent spring meantime
And many a little rivulet
Had swoln the growing brook –
And when the southern sun began
To wind the downward way of heaven,
It ran a river deep & wide
Thro banks that widened still.
Then once again the Damsel spake
“The stream is strong – the river broad –
“Wilt thou go with me?
“The day is fair but Night must come –
“Wilt thou go on with me?
“Far far away the Mourners eye
“Is watching for our little boat –
“Thou wilt go on with me!”
“Sail on – sail on–” quoth Thalaba –
“Sail on in Allahs name.”
The little boat falls rapidly
Adown the river stream.

A broader & a broader stream
That rocked the little boat –
The Cormorant stands upon its shoals
His black & dripping wings
Half open to the wind.
The sun goes down – the crescent Moon
Is brightening in the firmament –
And what is yonder roar –
That sinking now & swelling now,
But roaring roaring still
Still louder, louder, grows?
The little boats falls rapidly
Adown the rapid tide –
The Moon is bright above –
And the wide Ocean opens in their way.

Then did the Damsel speak again
“Wilt thou go on with me?
“The moon is bright – the Sea is calm –
“And I knows well the Ocean paths’ –
“Wilt thou go on with me?
“Deliverer! yes – thou dost not fear
“Thou wilt go on with me!”
“Sail on – sail on–” quoth Thalaba –
“Sail on in Allahs name.”

The Moon is bright the Sea is calm
The little Boat rides rapidly
Across the Ocean waves –
The line of moonlight on the deep
Still still follows as they voyage on –
The winds are motionless,
The gentle waters gently part
In murmurs round the keel,
He looks above – he looks around –
The boundless heaven – the boundless sea –
The crescent Moon – the little Boat –
Nought else above – below.

The Moon is sunk – a dusky grey
Spreads oer the eastern sky,
The stars grow pale & paler –
Oh beautiful! the godlike Sun
Is rising oer the sea.
Without an oar – without a sail
The little boat rides rapidly.
Is that a cloud that skirts the sea?
There is no cloud in Heaven –
And now nearer now, & darker now –
It is – it is the Land!
For loud upon the rocky coast
The surges leap & rage & roar, –
For yonder is the watch tower top
That overlooks the main.

The Watchman he is on the tower
And eagerly his aching eyes
Are gazing oer the deep.
The Watchman sees a moving speck –
And nearer now – & larger now –
And now the Damsel she stands up
And waves her lilly hand.
Hark! hark! it is the Watchmans horn
That blows the welcome blast –
Hark! hark! it is the shout of joy
That welcomes hope & her.

How dark they cluster on the shore –
And every face towards the sea
All wistfully is turned –
And each man shakes his neighbours hand
And every mother closer clasps
Her baby to her breast.

The little boat now rapidly
It drives thro surge & surf –
How eagerly they eye the youth –
And hark the bursting sobs of joy –
The murmur of their prayers.
The Damsel lands – the adventurer lands –
It is an old grey headed Man
That takes the word for all.

‘Wilt thou then venture in our cause
‘Thy life?’ said that old Man –
‘Yes I will venture in your cause
‘My life’ quoth Thalaba.
‘And wilt thou dare that mighty foe
‘That none have dared & lived?’
‘Yes I will meet that mighty foe
‘And Allah will defend the right –’
‘And wilt thou read that fatal stone
‘The remedy for all our woes,
‘On which the Fiends have laid a spell
‘That whoso reads shall die?’
‘Yes I will read that fatal stone
‘And Faith shall be mine amulet.’
‘Now God reward the gallant Youth!’
Exclaimed the grey old man –
‘Now God reward the gallant youth!’
Exclaimed the echoing multitude.
‘Come now before the face of God’
Said then the grey old man –
‘And there receive the holy rites
‘We yet have power to pay.’
They led him to the house of God –
They shrouded him – they coffined him –
They sung the dirge of death. [4] 


The new part of the last book shall follow by the next packet.


I have drawn on John May as before – that being the readier & usual way here. you have his direction I think – Richmond Green.

God bless you – yrs R. S.

Did I tell you that 17 nuns in one convent are about to lie in?


* Address: [deletions and readdress in another hand] To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr M.P./ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London <Wynnstay/ Wrexham/ N. W.>
Postmarks: CDE/ 29/ 1800; FOREIGN OFFICE/ DE/ 29/ 1800
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4819E. ALS; 6p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 12–15 contains the first ideas for The Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[2] ‘Imitation of Modern Poetry: An Attempt at the Simple’, Morning Post, 2 October 1800. It was by neither Coleridge nor Southey. BACK

[3] What follows is a draft of Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), Book 11, from line 216. BACK

[4] Book II ... dirge of death: Verse written in double columns. BACK

People mentioned

May, John (1775–1856) (mentioned 1 time)