567. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 February 1801

567. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 15 February 1801 ⁠* 

Thalaba. Book 11 –


It is – it is the Land!
For yonder are the rocks that rise
Dark in the reddening morn
For loud around their hollow base
The surges rage & roar.

The little boat rides rapidly,
And now with shorter toss it heaves
Upon the heavier swell.
And now so near, they see
The crags & shadows of the cliff,
And the low shelving rocks
Oer whose half-hidden heads
The shivering billows burst;
And now so near, they feel the breakers spray
Then spake the Damsel, “yonder is our path
“Beneath the cavern arch.
“Now is the ebb, & till the ocean-flow
“We cannot over-ride the rocks.
“Go thou & on the shore
“Perform thy last ablutions, & with prayer
“Strengthen thy heart – I too have need to pray.”

She held the helm with steady hand
Amid the stronger waves,
Thro surge & surf she drove,
The Adventurer leapt to land.


Book 12.


Then Thalaba drew off Abdaldars ring
And cast it in the sea & cried aloud
“Thou art my shield, my trust, my hope O God!
“Behold & guard me now,
“Thou who alone canst save!
“If from my childhood up I have looked on
“With exultation to my destiny.
“If in the hour of anguish I have felt
“The justice of the hand that chastened me,
“If, of all selfish passions purified
“I go to work thy will, & from the world
“Root up the ill-doing race,
“Lord! let not thou the weakness of my arm
“Make vain the enterprize!”

The Sun was rising all magnificent
Ocean & Heaven rejoicing in his beams.
And now had Thalaba
Performed his last ablutions, & he stood
And gazed upon the little boat
Riding the billows near.
Where like a sea-bird breasting the broad waves,
It rose & fell upon the surge.
Till from the glitterance of the sunny main
He turned his aching eyes,
And then upon the beach he laid him down
And watched the rising tide.
He did not pray, he was not calm for prayer,
His spirit troubled with tumultuous hope
Toiled with futurity;
His brain in busier workings felt
The roar & raving of the restless sea,
The boundless waves that rose & rolled & rocked,
The everlasting sound
Opprest him & the heaving infinite,
He closed his lids for rest.

Meantime with fuller reach & stronger swell
Wave after wave advanced;
Each following billow lifted the last foam
That trembled on the sand with rainbow hues,
The living flower, that, rooted to the rock
Late from the thinner element
Shrunk down within the purple stem to sleep,
Now feels the waters, & again
Awakening blossoms out
All its green anther-necks.

Was there a Spirit in the gale
That fluttered oer his cheek?
For it came on him, like a gentle Sun
That plays & dallies oer the night-closed flower
And woos it to unfold anew to joy;
For it came on him as the dews of eve
Descend with healing & with life
Upon the summer mead;
Or liker the first sound of seraph song
And angel hail! to him
Whose latest sense had shuddered at the groan
Of anguish, kneeling by his death-bed side.

He starts & gazes round to seek
The certain presence. “Thalaba!” exclaimed
The voice of the unseen, –
“Father of my Oneiza!” he replied
“And have thy years been numbered? art thou too
“Among the Angels?” “Thalaba!”
A second & a dearer voice repeats,
“Go in the favour of thy Lord,
“My Thalaba, go on!
“My Husband, I have drest our bower of bliss.
“Go & perform the work –
“Let me not longer suffer hope in Heaven.”

He turned an eager glance toward the sea,
“Come!” quoth the Damsel, & she drove
Her little boat to land.
Impatient thro the rising wave
He rushed to meet its way.
His eye was bright, his cheek inflamed with joy.
“Hast thou had comfort in thy prayers?” she cried
“Yea,” answered Thalaba
“A heavenly visitation.” “God be praised –
She uttered, “then I do not hope in vain!”
And her voice trembled & her lips
Quivered, & tears ran down.
“Stranger,” quoth she, “in years long past
“Was one who vowed himself
“The Champion of the Lord like thee
“Against the race of Hell.
“Young was he, like thyself, –
“Gentle – & yet so brave!
“A lion-hearted man.
“Shame on me Stranger! in the arms of love
“I held him from his calling, till the hour
“Was past, – & then the Angel who should else
“Have led him to his glory throne,
“Smote him in anger. years & years are gone
“And in his place of penance he awaits
“Thee the Deliverer – surely thou art he.
“It was my righteous punishment
“In the same youth unchanged, & changeless love
“And fresh affliction & keen penitence,
“To wait the written hour, when I should waft
“The doomed Destroyer here.
“Remember thou that thy success involves
“No single fate, no common misery.”

As thus she spake, the entrance of the cave
Darkened the boat below.
Around them from their nests,
Wondering at that strange shape
Yet unalarmed at sight of living man,
Unknowing of his sway & power misused,
The screaming sea birds fled;
The clamours of their young
Echoing in shriller yells
That rung in wild discordance round the rock.
And farther as they now advanced
The dim reflection of the darkened day
Grew fainter, & the dash
Of the out-breakers deadened; farther yet
And yet more faint the gleam
And there the waters at their utmost bound
Silently rippled on the rising floor.
They landed & advanced,
And deeper in two adamantine doors
Closed up the cavern way.

Reclining on the rock beside
Sate a grey-headed man
Watching an hour glass by.
To him the Damsel spake
“Is it the hour appointed?” the old man
Nor answered her awhile,
Nor lifted he his downward eye,
For now the glass ran low,
And like the days of age,
With speed perceivable,
The latter sands descend, –
And now the last are gone.
Then he looked up & raised his arm, & smote
The adamantine gates.

The gates of adamant
Unfolding at his stroke
Opened & gave the entrance. then she turned
To Thalaba & said,
“Go in the name of God!
“I cannot enter – I must wait the end
“In hope & agony.
“God & Mohammed prosper thee
“For thy sake – & for ours.”

He tarried not, he past
The threshold, over which was no return.
All earthly thoughts, all human hopes
And passions now put off,
He cast no backward glance
Towards the gleam of day.
There was a light within,
A yellow light, as when the autumnal sun
Thro travelling rain & mist
Shine on the evening hills.
Whether from central fires effused,
Or if the sunbeams day by day
From earliest generations there absorbed,
Were gathering for the wrath-flame. shade was none
In those portentous vaults,
Crag overhanging nor the column rock
Cast its dark outline there,
For with the hot & heavy atmosphere
The light incorporate, permeating all
Spread over all its equal yellowness.
There was no motion in the lifeless air,
He felt no stirring as he past
Adown the long descent,
He heard not his own footsteps on the rock
That thro the thick stagnation sent no sound.
How sweet it were, he thought
To feel the flowing wind,
With what a thirst of joy
He should breathe in the open gales of Heaven.

Downward & downward still & still the way
The long long way is safe.
Is there no secret wile
No lurking enemy?
His watchful eye is on the wall of rock,
And warily he marks the roof
And warily surveyed
The path that lay before
Downward & downward still, & still the way
The long long way is safe,
Rock only, the same light,
The same dead atmosphere,
And solitude & silence like the grave.

At length the long descent
Ends on a precipice,
No feeble ray entered that dreadful gulph,
For in the pit profound
Black Darkness, utter Night
Repelled the hostile gleam,
And oer the surface the light atmosphere
Floated & mingled not.
Above the depth four overawning wings,
Unplumed, & huge, & strong,
Bore up a little car.
Four living pinions, headless, bodyless,
Sprung from one stem that branched below
In four down-arching limbs,
And clenched the car-rings endlong & aside
With claws of griffin grasp.

But not on these, the depths so terrible,
The wonderous wings, fixed Thalaba his eye,
For there upon the brink
With fiery fetters fastened to the rock,
A man, a living man tormented lay,
The young Othatha; in the arms of love
He who had lingered out the auspicious hour
Forgetful of his call.
In shuddering pity Thalaba exclaimed,
“Servant of God, can I not succour thee?”
He groaned & answered, “Son of Man
“I sinned & am tormented, – I endure
“In patience & in hope.
“The hour that shall destroy the race of Hell
“That hour shall set me free.”

“Is it not come?” quoth Thalaba –
“Yea – by this omen!” & with fearless hand
He grasped the burning fetters,” in the name
“Of God!” & from the rock
Rooted the rivets, & adown the gulph
Hurled them. the rush of flames roared up,
For they had kindled in their fall
The deadly vapours of the pit profound,
And Thalaba bent on & looked below.
But vainly he explored
The deep abyss of flame
That sunk beyond the plunge of human eye,
Now all ablaze as if infernal fires
Illumed the world beneath.
Soon was the poison fuel spent,
The flame grew pale & dim,
And dimmer now it fades & now is quenched,
And all again is dark.
Save where the yellow air
Enters a little in & mingles slow.

Meantime the freed Othatha claspt his knees,
And cried “Deliverer” – struggling then
With joy & hope, “& where is she,” he cried
“Whose promised coming for so many a year ––”
“Go,” answered Thalaba,
“She waits thee at the gates.”
“And in the triumph,” he replied,
“There thou wilt join us?” – the Deliverers eye
Glanced on the abyss; way else was none,
The depth was unascendable.
“Await not me,” he cried,
“My way hath been appointed. go – embark –
“Return to life – live happy.
But thy name
That thro the nations we may blazon it, –
That we may bless thee.
Bless the Merciful.
Then Thalaba pronounced the name of God
And leapt into the car.
Down down it sunk – down – down –
He neither breathes nor sees.
His eyes are closed for giddiness,
His breath is sinking with the fall.
The air that yields beneath the car
Inflates the wings above.
Down – down – a mighty depth –
And was the Simorgh with the Powers of Ill
Associate to destroy?
And was that lovely mariner
A fiend as false as fair?
For still the car descends.
For still he sinks down down.
But ever the uprushing wind
Inflates the wings above,
And still the struggling wings
Repel the rushing wind.
Down – down, & now it strikes.

He stands & totters giddily,
All objects round awhile
Float dizzy on his eyes,
Collected soon he gazes for the way.
There was a distant light that led his search,
The torch a broader blaze,
The unpruned taper flares a longer flame.
But this was fierce as is the noontide sun
So in the glory of its rays intense
It quivered with green glow
Beyond was all unseen;
No eye could penetrate
That unendurable excess of light.
It veiled no friendly form thought Thalaba,
And wisely did he ween,
For at the threshold of the rocky door,
Hugest & fiercest of his kind accurst
A rebel Afreet lay.
Fit warden of the sorcery gate,
He scented the approach of human food
And hungry hope kindles his eye of flame.
Raising his hand to save the dazzled sense
Onward held Thalaba
And lifted still at times a rapid glance.
Till the due distance gained,
With head abased, he laid
The arrow in its rest.
With steady effort & knit forehead then
Full on the painful light
He fixed his aching eye, & loosed the bow.

An anguish yell ensued,
And sure no human voice had scope or power
For that prodigious shriek
Whose pealing echoes thundered up the rock.
Dim grew the dying light,
But Thalaba leapt onward to the doors
Now visible beyond,
And while the Afreet warden of the way
Was writhing with his death-pangs, over him
Sprung & smote the stony doors
And bade them in the name of God give way.

The dying Fiend beneath him, at that name
Tossed in worse agony
And the rocks shuddered & the rocky doors
Rent at his voice asunder. Lo! within
The Teraph & the Fire –
And Khawla, & in mail compleat
Mohareb for the strife.
But Thalaba with numbing force
Smites his raised arm & rushes by &c. [1] 


Will you inclose this to Mr Danvers. 9 St Jamess Place. Kingsdown. Bristol. lest the copy transmitted by the last packet for the press should by any accident have been lost.

You will I know not be displeased at the total omission of the Queen & Leoline [2]  – a bungling piece of botch work at which my own conscience & taste revolted very soon. I doubt not the next packet will bring your condemnation. this is well joined – & for the most part well written in my own judgement.

The Grave prologue I thought very good. [3]  – you do not enough praise the Eve of St Johns – which I think excellent. Lord Ronalds Coronach has the fault of obscurity – but I should judge well of the authors gen[MS obscured] from that alone. [4]  The last stanza of the Grim White Woman [5]  nauseates one – it stinks of Matthew Lewis the childish – or girlish impertinence of his Castle Spectre prologue. [6] 

About the wines I will enquire. Old Bucellas is to be had at no price. new with difficulty – it is the wine with which they mix the other white wines for exportation. but as you have cellars & can all[MS obscured] it age you had better have a quantity tho new – it is not good under six years & the o[MS obscured] the better always. as for the light red wines it is not advisable to venture them, because they will not keep long if good – & it is ten to one if they are good, you would perhaps pay the full tax for what would arrive half vinegar. God bless you – & me & my books also – for the French are coming – & if I am packed off in a transport without my books I shall die broken hearted on the voyage.

yrs truly

R Southey.                                                                         Feby 15. 180[MS obscured]


* Address: To/ C W. Williams Wynn Esqr M. P./ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn/ London
Postmark: FOREIGN OFFICE/ MR 2/ 1801
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4819E. ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] It is – it is ... rushes by &c: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[2] Central features of the early draft of Book 12 of Thalaba the Destroyer; see Southey to Wynn, 30-[31] December 1800, Letter 563. BACK

[3] Southey’s mention of the ‘Grave prologue’ is obscure. It almost certainly relates to a poem, or part of a poem, included in Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818; DNB), Tales of Wonder, but precisely which one is unclear. Southey might mean the parodic ballad ‘Giles Jollup the Grave, and Brown Sally Green’, Tales of Wonder, 2 vols (London, 1801), I, pp. 37-45. The editors thank Douglass H. Thomson for his assistance with this note. BACK

[4] Matthew Gregory Lewis, Tales of Wonder, 2 vols (London, 1801), I, pp. 116-129 (‘Glenfinlas, or Lord Ronald’s Coronach’, by Walter Scott); I, pp. 130-139 (‘The Eve of St John’, also by Scott). BACK

[5] Matthew Gregory Lewis, Tales of Wonder, 2 vols (London, 1801), I, pp. 152-173 (‘The Grim White Woman’, by Lewis). BACK

[6] Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Castle Spectre (London, 1798), pp. iii-iv, ‘Prologue Spoken by Mr Wroughton’. BACK

People mentioned

Places mentioned

Danvers’s, Kingsdown, Bristol (mentioned 1 time)