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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Paradise and the Peri

By Thomas Moore (1779–1852)

From ‘Lalla Rookh’

ONE morn a Peri at the gate

Of Eden stood disconsolate;

And as she listened to the springs

Of life within, like music flowing,

And caught the light upon her wings

Through the half-open portal glowing,

She wept to think her recreant race

Should e’er have lost that glorious place!

“How happy,” exclaimed this child of air,

“Are the holy spirits who wander there

’Mid flowers that never shall fade or fall:

Though mine are the gardens of earth and sea,

And the stars themselves have flowers for me,

One blossom of heaven outblooms them all!

“Though sunny the lake of cool Cashmere,

With its plane-tree Isle reflected clear,

And sweetly the founts of that valley fall;

Though bright are the waters of Sing-su-hay

And the golden floods that thitherward stray,

Yet—oh, ’tis only the blest can say

How the waters of heaven outshine them all!

“Go, wing thy flight from star to star,

From world to luminous world, as far

As the universe spreads its flaming wall;

Take all the pleasures of all the spheres,

And multiply each through endless years—

One minute of heaven is worth them all!”

The glorious angel who was keeping

The gates of light beheld her weeping;

And as he nearer drew, and listened

To her sad song, a tear-drop glistened

Within his eyelids, like the spray

From Eden’s fountain when it lies

On the blue flower which—Bramins say—

Blooms nowhere but in Paradise.

“Nymph of a fair but erring line!”

Gently he said—“one hope is thine.

’Tis written in the Book of Fate,

The Peri yet may be forgiven

Who brings to this eternal gate

The gift that is most dear to heaven!

Go seek it, and redeem thy sin,—

’Tis sweet to let the pardoned in.”

Rapidly as comets run

To the embraces of the sun;

Fleeter than the starry brands

Flung at night from angel hands

At those dark and daring sprites

Who would climb the empyreal heights,—

Down the blue vault the Peri flies,

And, lighted earthward by a glance

That just then broke from morning’s eyes,

Hung hovering o’er our world’s expanse.

But whither shall the spirit go

To find this gift for heaven?—“I know

The wealth,” she cries, “of every urn

In which unnumbered rubies burn

Beneath the pillars of Chilminar;

I know where the Isles of Perfume are,

Many a fathom down in the sea,

To the south of sun-bright Araby;

I know too where the Genii hid

The jeweled cup of their King Jamshid,

With life’s elixir sparkling high,—

But gifts like these are not for the sky.

Where was there ever a gem that shone

Like the steps of Alla’s wonderful throne?

And the drops of life—oh! what would they be

In the boundless deep of eternity?”

While thus she mused, her pinions fanned

The air of that sweet Indian land

Whose air is balm; whose ocean spreads

O’er coral rocks and amber beds;

Whose mountains, pregnant by the beam

Of the warm sun, with diamonds teem;

Whose rivulets are like rich brides,

Lovely, with gold beneath their tides;

Whose sandal groves and bowers of spice

Might be a Peri’s Paradise!

But crimson now her rivers ran

With human blood; the smell of death

Came reeking from those spicy bowers,

And man the sacrifice of man

Mingled his taint with every breath

Upwafted from the innocent flowers.

Land of the sun! what foot invades

Thy Pagods and thy pillared shades,

Thy cavern shrines and idol stones,

Thy monarchs and their thousand thrones?

’Tis he of Gazna: fierce in wrath

He comes, and India’s diadems

Lie scattered in his ruinous path.

His bloodhounds he adorns with gems

Torn from the violated necks

Of many a young and loved sultana;

Maidens within their pure zenana,

Priests in the very fane he slaughters,

And chokes up with the glittering wrecks

Of golden shrines the sacred waters!

Downward the Peri turns her gaze,

And through the war-field’s bloody haze

Beholds a youthful warrior stand

Alone beside his native river,

The red blade broken in his hand

And the last arrow in his quiver.

“Live,” said the conqueror, “live to share

The trophies and the crowns I bear!”

Silent that youthful warrior stood;

Silent he pointed to the flood

All crimson with his country’s blood:

Then sent his last remaining dart,

For answer, to the invader’s heart.

False flew the shaft, though pointed well;

The tyrant lived, the hero fell!—

Yet marked the Peri where he lay,

And when the rush of war was past,

Swiftly descending on a ray

Of morning light, she caught the last,

Last glorious drop his heart had shed

Before its free-born spirit fled!

“Be this,” she cried, as she winged her flight,

“My welcome gift at the gates of light.

Though foul are the drops that oft distill

On the field of warfare, blood like this

For liberty shed so holy is,

It would not stain the purest rill

That sparkles among the bowers of bliss!

Oh, if there be on this earthly sphere

A boon, an offering heaven holds dear,

’Tis the last libation Liberty draws

From the heart that bleeds and breaks in her cause!”

“Sweet,” said the angel, as she gave

The gift into his radiant hand,

“Sweet is our welcome of the brave

Who die thus for their native land;

But see—alas!—the crystal bar

Of Eden moves not: holier far

Than even this drop the boon must be

That opes the gates of heaven for thee!”

Her first fond hope of Eden blighted,

Now among Afric’s lunar mountains

Far to the south the Peri lighted,

And sleeked her plumage at the fountains

Of that Egyptian tide, whose birth

Is hidden from the sons of earth,

Deep in those solitary woods

Where oft the Genii of the floods

Dance round the cradle of their Nile

And hail the new-born giant’s smile.

Thence over Egypt’s palmy groves,

Her grots, and sepulchres of kings,

The exiled spirit sighing roves,

And now hangs listening to the doves

In warm Rosetta’s vale; now loves

To watch the moonlight on the wings

Of the white pelicans that break

The azure calm of Mœris’s lake.

’Twas a fair scene: a land more bright

Never did mortal eye behold!

Who could have thought, that saw this night

Those valleys and their fruits of gold

Basking in heaven’s serenest light;

Those groups of lovely date-trees bending

Languidly their leaf-crowned heads,

Like youthful maids, when sleep descending

Warns them to their silken beds;

Those virgin lilies all the night

Bathing their beauties in the lake,

That they may rise more fresh and bright

When their beloved sun’s awake;

Those ruined shrines and towers that seem

The relics of a splendid dream,

Amid whose fairy loneliness

Naught but the lapwing’s cry is heard,

Naught seen but (when the shadows flitting

Fast from the moon unsheath its gleam)

Some purple-winged sultana sitting

Upon a column motionless,

And glittering like an idol bird!—

Who could have thought that there, even there,

Amid those scenes so still and fair,

The demon of the plague hath cast

From his hot wing a deadlier blast,

More mortal far than ever came

From the red desert’s sands of flame!

So quick that every living thing

Of human shape touched by his wing,

Like plants where the simoom hath past,

At once falls black and withering!

The sun went down on many a brow

Which, full of bloom and freshness then,

Is rankling in the pest-house now,

And ne’er will feel that sun again.

And oh! to see the unburied heaps

On which the lonely moonlight sleeps—

The very vultures turn away,

And sicken at so foul a prey!

Only the fierce hyena stalks

Throughout the city’s desolate walks

At midnight, and his carnage plies;—

Woe to the half-dead wretch who meets

The glaring of those large blue eyes

Amid the darkness of the streets!

“Poor race of men!” said the pitying Spirit,

“Dearly ye pay for your primal fall:

Some flowerets of Eden ye still inherit,

But the trail of the Serpent is over them all!”

She wept: the air grew pure and clear

Around her as the bright drops ran;

For there’s a magic in each tear

Such kindly spirits weep for man!

Just then beneath some orange-trees,

Whose fruit and blossoms in the breeze

Were wantoning together, free,

Like age at play with infancy,—

Beneath that fresh and springing bower,

Close by the lake, she heard the moan

Of one who at this silent hour

Had thither stolen to die alone:

One who in life, where’er he moved,

Drew after him the hearts of many;

Yet now, as though he ne’er were loved,

Dies here unseen, unwept by any!

None to watch near him; none to slake

The fire that in his bosom lies

With even a sprinkle from that lake

Which shines so cool before his eyes;

No voice well known through many a day

To speak the last, the parting word,

Which when all other sounds decay

Is still like distant music heard,—

That tender farewell on the shore

Of this rude world when all is o’er,

Which cheers the spirit ere its bark

Puts off into the unknown dark.

Deserted youth! one thought alone

Shed joy around his soul in death:

That she whom he for years had known,

And loved, and might have called his own,

Was safe from this foul midnight’s breath;

Safe in her father’s princely halls,

Where the cool airs from fountain falls,

Freshly perfumed by many a brand

Of the sweet wood from India’s land,

Were pure as she whose brow they fanned.

But see—who yonder comes by stealth

This melancholy bower to seek,

Like a young envoy sent by Health

With rosy gifts upon her cheek?

’Tis she: far off, through moonlight dim

He knew his own betrothèd bride,—

She who would rather die with him

Than live to gain the world beside!

Her arms are round her lover now,

His livid cheek to hers she presses,

And dips, to bind his burning brow,

In the cool lake her loosened tresses.

Ah! once, how little did he think

An hour would come when he should shrink

With horror from that dear embrace,

Those gentle arms that were to him

Holy as is the cradling-place

Of Eden’s infant cherubim!

And now he yields—now turns away,

Shuddering as if the venom lay

All in those proffered lips alone;

Those lips that then so fearless grown,

Never until that instant came

Near his unasked or without shame.

“Oh! let me only breathe the air,

The blessed air, that’s breathed by thee,

And whether on its wings it bear

Healing or death, ’tis sweet to me!

There—drink my tears while yet they fall;

Would that my bosom’s blood were balm,

And well thou knowest I’d shed it all

To give thy brow one minute’s calm.

Nay, turn not from me that dear face:

Am I not thine—thy own loved bride—

The one, the chosen one, whose place

In life or death is by thy side?

Think’st thou that she whose only light

In this dim world from thee hath shone,

Could bear the long, the cheerless night

That must be hers when thou art gone?

That I can live and let thee go,

Who art my life itself? No, no—

When the stem dies, the leaf that grew

Out of its heart must perish too!

Then turn to me, my own love, turn,

Before, like thee, I fade and burn;

Cling to these yet cool lips, and share

The last pure life that lingers there!”

She fails—she sinks; as dies the lamp

In charnel airs or cavern damp,

So quickly do his baleful sighs

Quench all the sweet light of her eyes.

One struggle; and his pain is past—

Her lover is no longer living!

One kiss the maiden gives, one last

Long kiss, which she expires in giving!

“Sleep,” said the Peri, as softly she stole

The farewell sigh of that vanishing soul,

As true as e’er warmed a woman’s breast,—

“Sleep on; in visions of odor rest;

In balmier airs than ever yet stirred

The enchanted pile of that lonely bird,

Who sings at the last his own death-lay

And in music and perfume dies away!”

Thus saying, from her lips she spread

Unearthly breathings through the place,

And shook her sparkling wreath, and shed

Such lustre o’er each paly face,

That like two lovely saints they seemed,

Upon the eve of Doomsday taken

From their dim graves in odor sleeping;

While that benevolent Peri beamed

Like their good angel calmly keeping

Watch o’er them till their souls would waken.

But morn is blushing in the sky;

Again the Peri soars above,

Bearing to heaven that precious sigh

Of pure self-sacrificing love.

High throbbed her heart, with hope elate:

The Elysian palm she soon shall win,

For the bright spirit at the gate

Smiled as she gave that offering in;

And she already hears the trees

Of Eden with their crystal bells

Ringing in that ambrosial breeze

That from the throne of Alla swells;

And she can see the starry bowls

That lie around that lucid lake

Upon whose banks admitted souls

Their first sweet draught of glory take!

But ah! even Peris’ hopes are vain:

Again the fates forbade, again

The immortal barrier closed. “Not yet,”

The angel said, as with regret

He shut from her that glimpse of glory:

“True was the maiden, and her story,

Written in light o’er Alla’s head,

By seraph eyes shall long be read.

But, Peri, see—the crystal bar

Of Eden moves not: holier far

Than even this sigh the boon must be

That opes the gates of heaven for thee.”

Now upon Syria’s land of roses

Softly the light of eve reposes,

And like a glory the broad sun

Hangs over sainted Lebanon,

Whose head in wintry grandeur towers

And whitens with eternal sleet,

While summer in a vale of flowers

Is sleeping rosy at his feet.

To one who looked from upper air

O’er all the enchanted regions there,

How beauteous must have been the glow,

The life, the sparkling from below!

Fair gardens, shining streams, with ranks

Of golden melons on their banks,

More golden where the sunlight falls;

Gay lizards, glittering on the walls

Of ruined shrines, busy and bright

As they were all alive with light;

And yet more splendid, numerous flocks

Of pigeons settling on the rocks,

With their rich restless wings that gleam

Variously in the crimson beam

Of the warm west,—as if inlaid

With brilliants from the mine, or made

Of tearless rainbows such as span

The unclouded skies of Peristan.

And then the mingling sounds that come,

Of shepherd’s ancient reed, with hum

Of the wild bees of Palestine,

Banqueting through the flowery vales;

And, Jordan, those sweet banks of thine,

And woods so full of nightingales.

But naught can charm the luckless Peri:

Her soul is sad, her wings are weary;

Joyless she sees the sun look down

On that great temple once his own,

Whose lonely columns stand sublime,

Flinging their shadows from on high

Like dials which the wizard Time

Had raised to count his ages by!

Yet haply there may lie concealed

Beneath those chambers of the sun

Some amulet of gems, annealed

In upper fires, some tablet sealed

With the great name of Solomon,

Which, spelled by her illumined eyes,

May teach her where beneath the moon,

In earth or ocean, lies the boon,

The charm, that can restore so soon

An erring spirit to the skies.

Cheered by this hope, she bends her thither;—

Still laughs the radiant eye of heaven,

Nor have the golden bowers of even

In the rich west begun to wither;—

When, o’er the vale of Balbec winging,

Slowly, she sees a child at play,

Among the rosy wild flowers singing,

As rosy and as wild as they;

Chasing with eager hands and eyes

The beautiful blue damsel-flies,

That fluttered round the jasmine stems

Like wingèd flowers or flying gems:

And near the boy, who, tired with play,

Now nestling ’mid the roses lay,

She saw a wearied man dismount

From his hot steed, and on the brink

Of a small imaret’s rustic fount,

Impatient fling him down to drink.

Then swift his haggard brow he turned

To the fair child, who fearless sat,

Though never yet hath day-beam burned

Upon a brow more fierce than that:

Sullenly fierce—a mixture dire,

Like thunder-clouds, of gloom and fire;

In which the Peri’s eye could read

Dark tales of many a ruthless deed,—

The ruined maid, the shrine profaned,

Oaths broken, and the threshold stained

With blood of guests!—there written, all,

Black as the damning drops that fall

From the denouncing angel’s pen,

Ere mercy weeps them out again.

Yet tranquil now that man of crime

(As if the balmy evening-time

Softened his spirit) looked and lay,

Watching the rosy infant’s play;

Though still, whene’er his eye by chance

Fell on the boy’s, its lurid glance

Met that unclouded, joyous gaze

As torches that have burnt all night,

Through some impure and godless rite,

Encounter morning’s glorious rays.

But hark! the vesper call to prayer,

As slow the orb of daylight sets,

Is rising sweetly on the air

From Syria’s thousand minarets!

The boy has started from the bed

Of flowers where he had laid his head,

And down upon the fragrant sod

Kneels with his forehead to the south,

Lisping the eternal name of God

From purity’s own cherub mouth;

And looking, while his hands and eyes

Are lifted to the glowing skies,

Like a stray babe of Paradise

Just lighted on that flowery plain,

And seeking for its home again.

Oh! ’twas a sight,—that heaven, that child,—

A scene, which might have well beguiled

Even haughty Eblis of a sigh

For glories lost and peace gone by!

And how felt he, the wretched man

Reclining there, while memory ran

O’er many a year of guilt and strife,—

Flew o’er the dark flood of his life,

Nor found one sunny resting-place,

Nor brought him back one branch of grace.

“There was a time,” he said, in mild,

Heart-humbled tones, “thou blessed child!

When, young and haply pure as thou,

I looked and prayed like thee; but now—”

He hung his head; each nobler aim

And hope and feeling, which had slept

From boyhood’s hour, that instant came

Fresh o’er him, and he wept—he wept!

Blest tears of soul-felt penitence;

In whose benign, redeeming flow

Is felt the first, the only sense

Of guiltless joy that guilt can know.

“There’s a drop,” said the Peri, “that down from the moon

Falls through the withering airs of June

Upon Egypt’s land, of so healing a power,

So balmy a virtue, that even in the hour

That drop descends, contagion dies

And health reanimates earth and skies!

Oh, is it not thus, thou man of sin,

The precious tears of repentance fall?

Though foul thy fiery plagues within,

One heavenly drop hath dispelled them all!”

And now—behold him kneeling there

By the child’s side, in humble prayer,

While the same sunbeam shines upon

The guilty and the guiltless one,

And hymns of joy proclaim through heaven

The triumph of a soul forgiven!

’Twas when the golden orb had set,

While on their knees they lingered yet,

There fell a light more lovely far

Than ever came from sun or star,

Upon the tear that, warm and meek,

Dewed that repentant sinner’s cheek.

To mortal eye this light might seem

A northern flash or meteor beam;

But well the enraptured Peri knew

’Twas a bright smile the angel threw

From heaven’s gate, to hail that tear

Her harbinger of glory near!

“Joy, joy forever! my task is done—

The gates are passed, and heaven is won!

Oh! am I not happy? I am, I am—

To thee, sweet Eden! how dark and sad

Are the diamond turrets of Shadukiam,

And the fragrant bowers of Amberabad!

“Farewell, ye odors of earth, that die

Passing away like a lover’s sigh:

My feast is now of the Tooba Tree,

Whose scent is the breath of Eternity!

“Farewell, ye vanishing flowers that shone

In my fairy wreath so bright and brief:

Oh! what are the brightest that e’er have blown

To the lote-tree springing by Alla’s throne,

Whose flowers have a soul in every leaf.

Joy, joy forever! my task is done—

The gates are passed, and heaven is won!”