738. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. 30 November 1802]

738. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, [c. 30 November 1802] ⁠* 

7. [1] 

With quick & angry step
Toward the pile he strode,
And then for silence raised his arm, & cried
Bring forth the Murderer!
Calmly at the Rajahs voice,
Like a man whom fear had stunn’d,
Obedient to the call Laderlad came.
But Kalyal started at the sound & shriekd
All wild with terror, & turnd back,
And rolled her eyes around
As if she lookd for aid where aid was none.
Near her on the rivers brink
Mariatales image stood,
Poor & rude & roughly hewn,
The Goddess of the poor.
To that she sprung to that she clung
On her own Goddess with close-clasping arms
For life the Maiden hung.
They seized the Maid, with eager grasp
They bruised her tender limbs, –
She nothing yielding with a frenzy-hold
Clings to that only hope,
She screams not now, she breathes not now
She forms no silent prayer
All feelings & all powers of life
In the one effort centered, wrathful they
Drag her with tug & strain, …
(Ah how shall she a gentle Maid)
(Resist their ruffian force?)

(A couplet added in transcription even now, & of no bonity, something of less trivial trickishness must be substituted – a grouping of the fellows – a bone & muscle exhibition to pause upon)

Didst thou O Mariatale see,
In pity didst thou see the suffering Maid?
Or was thine anger kindled that rude hands
Assailed thy holy image? – for it shakes!
The holy Image shakes!
Fools! with more violent & earnest strength
Impious, they strive & strain,
Deeming they felt the Maid
Relax her stubborn hold.
The rooted Image yields


The loose bank crumbles, & down the steep,
Precipitate, the Guards
The Maid, the Image, dash amid the stream.

She hath escaped my power, Kehama cried
She hath escaped, but thou art here
The worser criminal!
And on Laderlad full he fix’d
The terrors of his frown.
The strong reflection of the flame
Lit his dark lineaments,
Lit the protruded brow, the gathered front
The steady eye of wrath.
But while the dreadful silence yet endured
Laderlad summoned up his soul,
Ere yet the voice of destiny
That trembled on the Rajahs lips was loosed,
Eager he interposed
As if despair had wakened him to hope.
Mercy! o mercy! – only in defence –
Only to save my child I smote the Prince –
Mine was an instinct act – the crime was his –
King of the World be merciful!
Crush me – but torture not.

The Man Almighty deigned him no reply,
Still he was silent, in no human mood
Of mercy, in no hesitating doubt
Of stirring justice. at the length his brow
Relaxd, his lips unclosed,
And uttered from his heart
With the whole feeling of his soul enforced
Burst the collected vengeance.

“Earth! thy food for ever deny him!
Water know the murderer & fly him!
Let him never feel the winds that blow.
The comfort of sleep let him never know.
Nor let Death deliver him from his woe
While Kehama reigns below.
While Kehama holds his reign


Let thy burning curse remain
In every limb & in every vein,
Let it burn in his heart & burn in his brain.

There where the Curse had stricken him
There stood the miserable man.
There stood Laderlad with loose hanging arms
And eyes of idiot wandering.
Was it a dream? alas!
He heard the river flow
He heard the crumbling of the pile
He heard the wind that showered
The thin white ashes round:
There motionless he stood
As if he hoped it were a dream
And feard to move lest he should know
The natural misery,
And still at times he met Kehamas eye,
Kehamas eye that fastened on him still.

And now the rites proceed
The Rajah turnd him to the pile,
Anew the murmur of the crowd arose.
Laderlad starts. he looks around –
What seest thou – wretched man?
Ministrant Bramins, the long soldier train,
The vacant palanquins.
The dimly-fading fire!
But where is now thy child –
Thy best beloved Kalyal – where is she
The solace & the joy
Of years of widowhood?
Hath she too perished? art thou left alone
So utterly alone to bear thy curse?
He staggers from the place –
Whereer he moves the throng recede.
They shun him as a man
On whom was pestilence


He wanders on, he feels
A comfort in the change of circumstance –
He speeds with quickened step along the shore

By this the day had dawnd,
And now the emerging sun
Tipt with his ray aslant
The river wrinkles reddening in his light
Lo! what is yonder in the stream,
Down the slow current floating slow,
In distance indistinct?
The eye of the childless is there –
Belike it is a Tree by sudden storms
Uptorn, or from the bank
Swept by the silent flood:
But bough, nor twig, nor leaf
Appears above the stream.
And what is there that swells beside the trunk?
– Yea – it is Kalyal with a senseless grasp
Yet clinging to the Image, yet upborne
By that preserving power.

Headlong in hope & joy
Laderlad dashd in the waters.
The Water knew Kehamas curse
The Water shrunk before him.
Blind to the miracle
He treads the river depths
And now he clasps his child.

A shore of sand beyond
Rose gently from the stream.
Thither Laderlad bore her clasping still
The saviour Goddess; there upon the sand
He laid the senseless maid
And chafed her chilly breast.
Soon did his touch perceive,
Perceive or fancy there
The first faint motion of returning life.
He chafes her feet, he bares them to the sun


And now again upon her breast
Lays his hot hand & feels the stronger throb …
And her lips tremble now –
The breath comes palpably;
Her quavering lids unclose
Feebly & feebly fall.

So in her fathers arms
Languid & motionless
Even as the dead she lay,
And painfully & slowly writhed at fits,
At fits to short convulsive starts was stung.
Till when the struggle & strong agony
Had left her, quietly she lay.
Her eyes now resting on Laderlads face.
Relapsing now, & now again unclosed.
The look she fixed upon her fathers face
Had neither thought nor feeling, senselessly
Composed, as one who slept with open lids.

Long he leant over her
In silence & in fear.
Kalyal! at length he cried,
Kalyal! it was a voice as low
As by a childs sick bed
A mother ventures timidly,
Doubtful if still he sleeps.
My father! cried the Maid
Awakening them to life,
Thou here my father? & the past recurred
That dimly like a dream till now
Confused her troubled brain.
But hope revived her. hath he spared us then?
Half rising she exclaimed.
Hath the Almighty Man been merciful
That yet thou livest? – then Laderlad groand –
Oh! he hath laid a Curse upon my life,
Hath sent a fire into my heart & brain
A burning & consuming fire!
Air must not cool me, Water may not touch me,


Sleep never visit me, nor Death
Release me from the power.

This is a dream! quoth she, but with a fear
That in her larger eye was visible –
A dream! – she rose & laid her hand
Upon her fathers brow.
He could not bear the pressure there, – he shrunk.
He warded off her arm,
As it had been an enemys blow, he smote
His daughters arm away.
Her eye glanced down; she caught
His garment, she exclaimd,
O Misery! it is truth!
Didst thou not bear me from the river depths? –
His garment is not wet!


Explicit Liber primus [2] 

About enough of the second book is written for another letter. that shall speedily follow – & then perhaps my Brain will be parturient.



Write me your review regularly as per contract.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Postmarks: B/ DEC 1/ 1802; [partial] 122/ BRISTOL/ NOV 30
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (5). ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] What follows is a draft of the last part of Book 1 of the Curse of Kehama (1810). BACK

[2] The Latin translates as ‘Here ends the first book’. BACK