764. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 March 1803

764. Robert Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 9 March 1803 ⁠* 

The Curse of Kehama


Book 2.


Against a Cocoa trunk
Laderlad lay reclin’d,
And Kalyal hid her face
Upon her fathers knees.
The boatman as he saild along
With envious eye beheld them where they lay.
For every herb & every tree
Was fresh & fragrant with the gleamy dew,
Sweet sung the birds above.
And the cool morning gale, that now
Rolld ruffling up the stream,
Swept oer the moistened sand & raisd no shower
He did not marvel that they lingered there
Amid their tale of love.

But now the Sun hath climbd the heights of heavn
The little songsters of the sky
Sit silent in the sultry hour.
They pant & palpitate with pain
Their bills are open languidly
To catch the passing air,
They hear it not, they feel it not,
It murmurs not, it moves not.
The boatman as he saild along
Admires what men so mad to linger there,
For yonder Cocoas shade behind them falls
A single speck upon the burning sand.

There all the morning hours Laderlad lay
Silent & motionless.
There motionless upon her fathers knees
The silent maid reclind.
The man was still, pondering in steady thought
As tho it were anothers curse
His own mysterious doom,
As tho it were last-nights tale
Of wonderment by some old storyer sung,
Sitting at moonlight by the cottage door.
All seem’d a dream at length.
A monstrous dream of things that could not be.
That throb of forehead .. was it not full noon?
And he was lying there
All bare to the broad sun!
What if he felt no wind?
Why all the winds were hushd.
There came no rustling from yon field of rice,
The shadow of the Cocoas lightest plume
Was steady on the sand.

He rose, he ran impatient to the brink.
He stopt to break the visionary spell.
He plunged his head amid the stream.
Kalyal with fearful eye observed his chance.
She saw the start & shudder.
She heard the half-uttered groan.
For the Water knew Kehamas curse
The Water shrunk before him.
His dry hand moved unmoistened thro wave.
As easily might that dry hand
Have clenchd the winds of heaven!
‘He is almighty then!’
The desperate wretch exclaimd,
‘Air knows him, Water knows him. Sleep & Death
‘Will do his dreadful will,
‘And Veeshnoo has no power to save
‘Nor Seeva to destroy!’

‘Oh wrong not them!’ quoth Kalyal. art not thou
‘A man opprest? & lighter crimes than his
Have drawn the Incarnate down.
‘Already in their mercy have the Gods
‘Beheld us,’ – & she claspd her arms
Round Mariatales image .. ‘it was She,
‘Twas my own Goddess saved me!
‘Here – here – my father,’ she exclaim’d
‘Raise the preserving Power.
‘The mighty of the earth despise her rites.
‘She loves the poor who serve her. lift her here
‘For jealously would she resent
‘Neglect & thanklessness.

So saying on here knees the Maid
Began the pious toil.
Soon their joint hands have hollowed the due depth
They raise the Image up
And heap the sand around its rooted base.
‘My Goddess!’ then quoth Kalyal, ‘pardon thou
‘The unwilling wrong that I no more
‘Can do, thy daily sacrifice
‘From childhood up so willingly performd.
‘O Mariatale! from that happy home
‘The Almighty Man hath forced us! –’
And her involuntary eye,
Went homeward with the thought.
That way aloft, all bright in the blue air
The summits of the Golden Towers were seen.
‘Father away!’ she cried – ‘away
‘Why linger we so near?
‘For not to him hath Nature given
‘The thousand eyes of Deity
‘Always & every where with open sight
‘To watch our steps! – away –’
She took Laderlads hand, & like a child
He followed where she led.

So till evening hand in hand
The wanderers went their way
Then overwearied with their wretched toil
By a wood-side they paused.
And there beneath oerarching boughs
On Kalyals lap Laderlad laid his head
And never word spake he.
Nor heaved he one complaining sigh,
Nor groand he with his misery.
But silently for her dear sake
He lay in patient pain.
The night comes on – dark night –
There is no moon above
And yonder clouds that float along the heaven
Bedim the feeble stars.
She could not see her fathers cheek
How dark with fever fire,
She could not see his eye
How red with burning agony.
And he lies on still & quietly –
So quietly – so still.
Is then the throbbing brain at rest.
And hath the pang abated?

Now forward from the tree
She bends her head & leans
And listens to his breath.
Laderlads breath was short & quick,
Yet regular it came
In equal pantings, like a sick mans sleep.
Oh! if he sleeps! – her lips unclose
All eager listening to the sound,
The equal sound so like repose:
And he lies still so quietly
Nor sigh – nor groan, nor motion.
Then is there in Kehama’s heart
One human feeling yet?
Hath the Almighty Man relaxed his wrath?
Or Mariatales power divine
Assuaged the agony?

That was a hope that filled her gushing eyes,
And made her heart in silent thank & prayer
Yearn to the Goddess. then against the tree
Her weary head she laid,
Still listening fearfully her fathers breath
That still came regular like sleep.
She listened long, till the long listening lulld
Exhausted Nature. Nature to her toil
Yielding at length obeyed the imperious want,
And Kalyal sunk to rest.

Alas He did not sleep!
The curse was burning in his brain
Sleep knew Kehamas curse.
The dews of night fell fast,
They never bathed Laderlads brow,
They fell not upon him,
They knew Kehamas curse.
The night-breeze is abroad.
Aloft it moves among the stirring leaves.
He only hears the wind,
It never fannd his cheek
It knew Kehamas curse.

He lay & listened if his daughter slept,
For wherefore should that dear one see & share
His hopeless misery? why should he endure
Reflected wretchedness?
Better alone to suffer. – from her lap
Gently he lifts his head –
She moves not – gently & with fearful feet
Laderlad rises, – then she starts – she feels
Her father gone – she calls –
No voice replied. she heard
His footstep fast in flight. [1] 

x x x x x x x

The rest of the book this week. You would have had this long ago but for causes with which you are already acquainted. I have been harrassed with Reviewing. [2]  & last week was obliged to go some way from home to pay a visit which had been somewhat discourteously from time to time delayed. I have still the remainder of this week to drudge – & then shall have cleared off this lumber. three weeks more work at Amadis [3]  after that, & then – thank God – a little breathing time – for I am worried.

I forgot to thank Nicol [4]  for offering to lend me the prints – but the risque is too great. & moreover I meditate a journey to London for a few days in April & then can see them. At Bownham [5]  last week I fell in with Craufords Sketches of the Hindoos [6]  & gutted them. so you need not hunt for me there. Holwells book [7]  would be new ground to beat. with my first leisure I shall look well over your Ovid. [8]  indeed I have had no time – I have worked like a post horse.

It vexes me to think of Brixton

God bless you Grosvenor!


March 9. 1803.


* Address: To/ Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr/ Exchequer/ Westminster/ Single
Stamped: [partial] BRISTOL
Postmark: B/ MAR 10/ 1803
MS: Houghton Library, bMS Eng 265.1 (8). ALS; 4p.
Unpublished. BACK

[1] Against a Cocoa trunk …. in flight: Verse written in double columns. BACK

[2] Southey was reviewing for the Annual Review for 1802, 1 (1803). BACK

[3] Southey’s translation of Amadis of Gaul (1803). BACK

[4] William Nicol (d. c. 1855) was a publisher and friend of Grosvenor Bedford. His stepmother, Mary Nicol (1747-1820), was a famous print collector. BACK

[5] The Gloucestershire estate of Thomas Smith. BACK

[6] Quintin Craufurd (1743-1819; DNB), Sketches Chiefly Relating to the History, Religion, Learning and Manners of the Hindoos (1790). BACK

[7] John Zephaniah Holwell (1711-1798; DNB), Interesting Historical Events, Relative to the Provinces of Bengal and the Empire of Indostan (1765-1771). BACK

[8] Anon., Four Heroick Epistles of Ovid; translated into English verse (1803). BACK

People mentioned

Smith, Thomas (c. 1770–1822) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned