784. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 20 May [1803]

784. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 20 May [1803] ⁠* 

The Curse of Kehama


Book 3.

Her face toward the earth,
Her arms extended at their length,
Cold as the dead & senseless as the dead
Lies Kalyal there beneath the manchineel.
What if the prowling Tyger now should snuff
The scent of human flesh?
Alas! Death needs not now his ministry
The baleful boughs hang over her,
The poison dews descend.

It was a night so beautiful
As might have calmd young gaiety to thought,
And given the wretched a delight in tears.
One of the Grenthuvers,
The loveliest race of all the tribes of heaven,
Was floating in the moonlight sky.
He saw the Maid where like a corpse she lay.
He stoops his flight & stands
And lifts her from the earth.
Her cheek is livid pale,
Her heavy lids half clos’d
Down hang her loose arms lifelessly.

With timely pity touchd for one so young
The gentle Grenthuver
Close holds her to his breast,
And bounds aloft & shakes his sinewy wings.
He bears her there where Hemacost,
The Holy Mountain, rising from mid earth
Shines like the Throne of Evening, in mid heaven.
He bears her to the blessed grove
Where dwells old Casyapa, the Sire of Gods.

The Father of the Immortals sate
Where underneath the Tree of Life
The fountain of the Sacred River rose.
The Father of the Immortals smild
Benignant on his son.
“Knowest thou Ereenia, whom thou bringest here
“A mortal to the blessed grove?

I found her in the groves of Earth
Beneath a poison-tree
Thus lifeless as thou seest her.
In pity have I bought her to these Bowers,
Not erring, Father! by that smile!
By that benignant eye.

What if the Maid be sinful? if her ways
Were ways of darkness, & her death predoomd
For the black hour of midnight, when the +Moon [1] 
Hath turnd her face away,
Unwilling to behold
The unhappy end of guilt?

Then what a lie my sire were written here
In these fair characters! – but she had died
Now – in the moonlight – in the eye of heaven
If I had left so fair a flower to fade
But thou – all knowing as thou art
Why askest thou of me?
O Father! eldest! holiest! wisest! best!
To whom all things are plain!
Why askest thou of me?

Knowest thou Kehama?

The Almighty Man!
Who knows not him & his tremendous power?
The Tyrant of the Earth,
The Enemy of Heaven!

Fearest thou the Rajah?

He is terrible!

Yea! he is terrible! such power hath he
That Hope hath entered Hell.
The Asoors & the Spirits of the Damnd
Acclaim their hero. Yamen with the might
Of Godhead scarce can quell
The rebel race accurst.
Half from their beds of torture they uprise,
And half uproot their chains.
Is there not fear in Heaven?
The Souls that are in bliss suspend their joy,
The danger hath disturbd
The calm of Deity,
And Brama fears, & Veeshnoo turns his face
In doubt to Seevas throne.

I have seen Indra shudder at his prayers,
His dreadful penances,
That claim & wrest from Seeva power so vast
Even Seeva cannot grant & be secure.

And darest thou Ereenia brave
The Mighty Tyrants power?

I?. Father!

Take her else again to Earth!
Cast her in the Tygers path,
Or where the death-dew-dropping-dropping Tree
May work Kehamas will!


Then meet his wrath! for he – even he
Hath set his wanton foot upon this worm!

I knew her nor, how wretched nor how fair
When here I wafted her: – poor Child of Earth
Shall I forsake thee seeing thee so fair.
So wretched? – o my father! let the Maid
Dwell in the sacred grove.

That, son, I dare not grant.
Evil would enter here . .
Ganga the holy stream which cleanses sin,
Would flow from hence polluted in its springs;
And they who gasp upon its banks in death
Feel no salvation. – piety & peace
And wisdom, these are mine, – but not the power
That could protect her from the Almighty Man,
Nor when the Spirit of dead Arvalan
Should persecute her here, to glut his rage.
To heap upon her yet more agony,
And ripen more damnation for himself

Dead Arvalan!

He hath his fathers power
To wake the Elements, until his days
Of wandering shall be numbered.

Look! She drinks xx
The gale of healing from the blessed groves!
She stirs! & lo – her hand
Hath touched the holy River in its source,
Who would have shrunk from all impurity.

The Maiden, of a truth, is pure from sin!

The Waters of the Holy Spring
Round the hand of Kalyal rise,
The Tree of Life hangs over her
Dropping dews of healing;
She breathes the unpolluted gale
That never yet hath swept the Earth.
And her heart blood at every breath
Freer flows & purer.
A life bloom reddens now her dark brown cheek.
And lo! her eyes unclose –
Dark as the depth of Gangas spring profound
When night hangs over it,
Bright as the moon beams where they fall
And quiver on the clear up-sparkling wave.

Soon she let fall her lids,
As one who waking from a dream of joy,
Would sink again to sleep, to dream again.
She moves not, fearful to disturb
The deep & full delight,
The feeling & the sense of life & health
That lived in every limb.
Anon in wonder fixd
She gazes silently,
Thinking her mortal pilgrimage was past.
And there were Gods before her.
Or spirits of the good.

Behold at Ereenias command
A Bark of the Suras comes down.
Where wouldst thou waft her? quoth the Sire of Gods.

To Indras Paradise,
To my own Bower of Bliss.
Here must she not abide, –
And bear her to the Earth again, exposed
To unrelenting vengeance – ? – never father!
That were a cruelty.
Would sink me to the black abyss of bali
For of her foe the Sorgon King
Will shield her in his realm.
In Indra fail for fear.
Weak as I am, even I
Stand forth in Seevas sight.

Trust thou in him, & stand thou fearless forth!
My blessing be upon thee O my son! [2] 

x x x x x x x

The other half shall come when you acknowledge this.

Bating the corrigenda minora [3]  – I like this book thus far. It gives a good sketch of the general state of the Universe in consequence of this Eastern Buonapartes [4]  proceedings. in my next you have Ereenias picture & you will not quarrelx with his Bats wings. I have not finished the Book.

I wait letters with commission from Lisbon before I make my expedition to London. my lime kiln is stopt at present & the crazy vessel is not quite so leaky, - the pump only throws out the proper bilge water. but it is but a crazy vessel. this damned Corsican [5]  mad scoundrel! I thought to have gone to Lisbon next year, to finish my history [6]  & renew the lease of my life!

– A Dios Amigo! [7] 

R S.                                                                                                                                                  May 20.


* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Postmarks: [partial] STOL/ 20 1803; B/ MAY 21/ 1803
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (10). ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] + they who died during the dark periods of the Moon had been wicked & were to be damned. [Southey’s note.] BACK

[2] Her face toward … my son!: Verse written in double columns. An early draft of Book 3 of The Curse of Kehama. BACK

[3] The Latin translates as ‘minor corrections’. BACK

[4] Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821, First Consul 1799-1804, Emperor of the French 1804-1814). BACK

[5] Napoleon Bonaparte. BACK

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

[7] The Spanish translates as ‘Good-bye Friend!’ BACK