781. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 May 1803

781. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 May 1803 ⁠* 

Kehama. 2.


A moment, doubtful of the sound,
She listened till the sound was heard no more ..
Then – what a thrilling shriek! – she rushes on.
The darkness & the wood impede her way –
She lifts her voice again
“Laderlad!” .. & again –
A tone oerstrained to hoarseness. can he hear
And answer not that agonizing call?
‘Laderlad!’ – far away
Selfish in misery
He heard the call & faster sped his flight.

She leans against that tree whose jutting bough
Smote her so rudely. her poor heart
How audibly it pants!
Her breath how short & painful!
Hark! all is still around her –
And the night so utterly dark!
She opened her eyes & she closed them
And the blackness & blank were the same.

The howl of the Tyger wakened her
From that strange & deathy dreaminess,
She starts – & her head instinctively
Turnd to the terrible sound.
Far off the Tyger howld.
A nearer horror met the Maidens view.
There stood before her a dim form,
A human form amid the darkness shaped.
Dim-lighted like the haze
That sweeps athwart the sky
When the red moon looks ominous in heaven.

That spectre form had fixd
His eyes upon her full;
The light which shone in them
Was like a light from Hell,
And it grew deeper, kindling as they gazed.
She could not turn her looks
From that infernal gaze.
It fixd & fastened them, . .
It palsied ever power ..
Sense – memory – thought were gone –
She heard not now the Tygers louder howl –
She thought not on her father now –
Her cold hearts blood ran back –
Her hand lay senseless on the bough she claspd
Her feet were motionless,
Her fascinated eyes
Like the stone eyeballs of a statue fixd –
Yet conscious of the sight that blasted them.

The wind is abroad,
It scatters the clouds,
The darkness drives before it,
The stars shine out in their beauty,
And the moon is bright & full.
Distinct & darkening in her beams
That spectre form appears,
The moon light gives to view his form & face,
The living face & form of Arvalan,
His hands are spread to clasp her –
As if a lightning stroke
Had broke the spell of fear,
All franticly she flew.

By the way side there stood
An open Temple of the Travellers friend –
Thither she sped her flight,
And now upon the holy ground – [1] 
Yea even before the altar of the God
Hath Arvalan with arm of flesh
Seizd her for vengeance, even then
In her extremest agony
Did Kalyal feel his fleshly hold relax.
She tarried not to see
How Pollear the insulted had put forth
His angry power to save –
Breathless & faint her tottering feet run on –
They strike the root of yonder Manchineel
She falls beneath the poison tree.

Thus endeth the second Book


The Curse of Kehama.


The next book – that is as far as written, shall not be so long on its way.

I am making history, [2]  making verses, making lime & making water, all in very great abundance. I should be worth a Kings ransom to a besieged town where the cisterns had failed – or to supply a canal in a hot summer – or to furnish a spring tide extraordinary for launching an East Indiaman in the middle of the moon or to try the effect of irrigation upon the great Zahara. [3] 

Perhaps & probably I shall visit London next month, these Chronicles fascinate me to a great chair – & I ought to be all day upon my legs instead of my great chair.

The third book shall come soon for it will cast a strong light upon the story

God bless you –

R S.

Tuesday. May 9. 1803.


* Address: To/ G. C. Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Postmarks: BRISTOL/ MAY 9 1803; B/ MAY 11/ 1803
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (9). ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] A moment, doubtful … ground –: Verse written in double columns. An early draft of Book 2 of The Curse of Kehama. BACK

[2] Southey’s uncompleted ‘History of Portugal’. BACK

[3] The Sahara desert. BACK