‘There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which — taken at the flood,’— you know the rest,
And most of us have found it now and then;
At least we think so, though but few have guess’d
The moment, till too late to come again.
But no doubt every thing is for the best —
Of which the surest sign is in the end:
When things are at the worst they sometimes mend.
There is a tide in the affairs of women
Which, taken at the flood, leads — God knows where:
Those navigators must be able seamen
Whose charts lay down its current to a hair;
Not all the reveries of Jacob Behmen
With its strange whirls and eddies can compare:
Men with their heads reflect on this and that —
But women with their hearts on heaven knows what!
And yet a headlong, headstrong, downright she,
Young, beautiful, and daring — who would risk
A throne, the world, the universe, to be
Beloved in her own way, and rather whisk
The stars from out the sky, than not be free
As are the billows when the breeze is brisk —
Though such a she ‘s a devil (if that there be one),
Yet she would make full many a Manichean.
Thrones, worlds, et cetera, are so oft upset
By commonest ambition, that when passion
O’erthrows the same, we readily forget,
Or at the least forgive, the loving rash one.
If Antony be well remember’d yet,
’Tis not his conquests keep his name in fashion,
But Actium, lost for Cleopatra’s eyes,
Outbalances all Caesar’s victories.
He died at fifty for a queen of forty;
I wish their years had been fifteen and twenty,
For then wealth, kingdoms, worlds are but a sport — I
Remember when, though I had no great plenty
Of worlds to lose, yet still, to pay my court, I
Gave what I had — a heart: as the world went, I
Gave what was worth a world; for worlds could never
Restore me those pure feelings, gone forever.
’Twas the boy’s ‘mite,’ and, like the ‘widow’s,’ may
Perhaps be weigh’d hereafter, if not now;
But whether such things do or do not weigh,
All who have loved, or love, will still allow
Life has nought like it. God is love, they say,
And Love ‘s a god, or was before the brow
Of earth was wrinkled by the sins and tears
Of — but Chronology best knows the years.
We left our hero and third heroine in
A kind of state more awkward than uncommon,
For gentlemen must sometimes risk their skin
For that sad tempter, a forbidden woman:
Sultans too much abhor this sort of sin,
And don’t agree at all with the wise Roman,
Heroic, stoic Cato, the sententious,
Who lent his lady to his friend Hortensius.
I know Gulbeyaz was extremely wrong;
I own it, I deplore it, I condemn it;
But I detest all fiction even in song,
And so must tell the truth, howe’er you blame it.
Her reason being weak, her passions strong,
She thought that her lord’s heart (even could she claim it)
Was scarce enough; for he had fifty-nine
Years, and a fifteen-hundredth concubine.
I am not, like Cassio, ‘an arithmetician,’
But by ‘the bookish theoric’ it appears,
If ’tis summ’d up with feminine precision,
That, adding to the account his Highness’ years,
The fair Sultana err’d from inanition;
For, were the Sultan just to all his dears,
She could but claim the fifteen-hundredth part
Of what should be monopoly — the heart.
It is observed that ladies are litigious
Upon all legal objects of possession,
And not the least so when they are religious,
Which doubles what they think of the transgression:
With suits and prosecutions they besiege us,
As the tribunals show through many a session,
When they suspect that any one goes shares
In that to which the law makes them sole heirs.
Now, if this holds good in a Christian land,
The heathen also, though with lesser latitude,
Are apt to carry things with a high hand,
And take what kings call ‘an imposing attitude,’
And for their rights connubial make a stand,
When their liege husbands treat them with ingratitude:
And as four wives must have quadruple claims,
The Tigris hath its jealousies like Thames.
Gulbeyaz was the fourth, and (as I said)
The favourite; but what ‘s favour amongst four?
Polygamy may well be held in dread,
Not only as a sin, but as a bore:
Most wise men, with one moderate woman wed,
Will scarcely find philosophy for more;
And all (except Mahometans) forbear
To make the nuptial couch a ‘Bed of Ware.’
His Highness, the sublimest of mankind —
So styled according to the usual forms
Of every monarch, till they are consign’d
To those sad hungry jacobins the worms,
Who on the very loftiest kings have dined —
His Highness gazed upon Gulbeyaz’ charms,
Expecting all the welcome of a lover
(A ‘Highland welcome’ all the wide world over).
Now here we should distinguish; for howe’er
Kisses, sweet words, embraces, and all that,
May look like what is — neither here nor there,
They are put on as easily as a hat,
Or rather bonnet, which the fair sex wear,
Trimm’d either heads or hearts to decorate,
Which form an ornament, but no more part
Of heads, than their caresses of the heart.
A slight blush, a soft tremor, a calm kind
Of gentle feminine delight, and shown
More in the eyelids than the eyes, resign’d
Rather to hide what pleases most unknown,
Are the best tokens (to a modest mind)
Of love, when seated on his loveliest throne,
A sincere woman’s breast — for over-warm
Or over-cold annihilates the charm.
For over-warmth, if false, is worse than truth;
If true, ’tis no great lease of its own fire;
For no one, save in very early youth,
Would like (I think) to trust all to desire,
Which is but a precarious bond, in sooth,
And apt to be transferr’d to the first buyer
At a sad discount: while your over chilly
Women, on t’ other hand, seem somewhat silly.
That is, we cannot pardon their bad taste,
For so it seems to lovers swift or slow,
Who fain would have a mutual flame confess’d,
And see a sentimental passion glow,
Even were St. Francis’ paramour their guest,
In his monastic concubine of snow; —
In short, the maxim for the amorous tribe is
Horatian, ‘Medio tu tutissimus ibis.’
The ‘tu’ ‘s too much — but let it stand — the verse
Requires it, that ‘s to say, the English rhyme,
And not the pink of old hexameters;
But, after all, there ‘s neither tune nor time
In the last line, which cannot well be worse,
And was thrust in to close the octave’s chime:
I own no prosody can ever rate it
As a rule, but truth may, if you translate it.
If fair Gulbeyaz overdid her part,
I know not — it succeeded, and success
Is much in most things, not less in the heart
Than other articles of female dress.
Self-love in man, too, beats all female art;
They lie, we lie, all lie, but love no less;
And no one virtue yet, except starvation,
Could stop that worst of vices — propagation.
We leave this royal couple to repose:
A bed is not a throne, and they may sleep,
Whate’er their dreams be, if of joys or woes:
Yet disappointed joys are woes as deep
As any man’s day mixture undergoes.
Our least of sorrows are such as we weep;
’Tis the vile daily drop on drop which wears
The soul out (like the stone) with petty cares.
A scolding wife, a sullen son, a bill
To pay, unpaid, protested, or discounted
At a percentage; a child cross, dog ill,
A favourite horse fallen lame just as he ‘s mounted,
A bad old woman making a worse will,
Which leaves you minus of the cash you counted
As certain; — these are paltry things, and yet
I ’ve rarely seen the man they did not fret.
I ’m a philosopher; confound them all!
Bills, beasts, and men, and — no! not womankind!
With one good hearty curse I vent my gall,
And then my stoicism leaves nought behind
Which it can either pain or evil call,
And I can give my whole soul up to mind;
Though what is soul or mind, their birth or growth,
Is more than I know — the deuce take them both!
As after reading Athanasius’ curse,
Which doth your true believer so much please:
I doubt if any now could make it worse
O’er his worst enemy when at his knees,
’Tis so sententious, positive, and terse,
And decorates the book of Common Prayer,
As doth a rainbow the just clearing air.
Gulbeyaz and her lord were sleeping, or
At least one of them! — Oh, the heavy night,
When wicked wives, who love some bachelor,
Lie down in dudgeon to sigh for the light
Of the gray morning, and look vainly for
Its twinkle through the lattice dusky quite —
To toss, to tumble, doze, revive, and quake
Lest their too lawful bed-fellow should wake!
These are beneath the canopy of heaven,
Also beneath the canopy of beds
Four-posted and silk curtain’d, which are given
For rich men and their brides to lay their heads
Upon, in sheets white as what bards call ‘driven
Snow.’ Well! ’tis all hap-hazard when one weds.
Gulbeyaz was an empress, but had been
Perhaps as wretched if a peasant’s quean.
Don Juan in his feminine disguise,
With all the damsels in their long array,
Had bow’d themselves before th’ imperial eyes,
And at the usual signal ta’en their way
Back to their chambers, those long galleries
In the seraglio, where the ladies lay
Their delicate limbs; a thousand bosoms there
Beating for love, as the caged bird’s for air.
I love the sex, and sometimes would reverse
The tyrant’s wish, ‘that mankind only had
One neck, which he with one fell stroke might pierce:’
My wish is quite as wide, but not so bad,
And much more tender on the whole than fierce;
It being (not now, but only while a lad)
That womankind had but one rosy mouth,
To kiss them all at once from North to South.
O, enviable Briareus! with thy hands
And heads, if thou hadst all things multiplied
In such proportion! — But my Muse withstands
The giant thought of being a Titan’s bride,
Or travelling in Patagonian lands;
So let us back to Lilliput, and guide
Our hero through the labyrinth of love
In which we left him several lines above.
He went forth with the lovely Odalisques,
At the given signal join’d to their array;
And though he certainly ran many risks,
Yet he could not at times keep, by the way
(Although the consequences of such frisks
Are worse than the worst damages men pay
In moral England, where the thing ‘s a tax),
From ogling all their charms from breasts to backs.
Still he forgot not his disguise:— along
The galleries from room to room they walk’d,
A virgin-like and edifying throng,
By eunuchs flank’d; while at their head there stalk’d
A dame who kept up discipline among
The female ranks, so that none stirr’d or talk’d
Without her sanction on their she-parades:
Her title was ‘the Mother of the Maids.’
Whether she was a ‘mother,’ I know not,
Or whether they were ‘maids’ who call’d her mother;
But this is her seraglio title, got
I know not how, but good as any other;
So Cantemir can tell you, or De Tott:
Her office was to keep aloof or smother
All bad propensities in fifteen hundred
Young women, and correct them when they blunder’d.
A goodly sinecure, no doubt! but made
More easy by the absence of all men —
Except his majesty, who, with her aid,
And guards, and bolts, and walls, and now and then
A slight example, just to cast a shade
Along the rest, contrived to keep this den
Of beauties cool as an Italian convent,
Where all the passions have, alas! but one vent.
And what is that? Devotion, doubtless — how
Could you ask such a question? — but we will
Continue. As I said, this goodly row
Of ladies of all countries at the will
Of one good man, with stately march and slow,
Like water-lilies floating down a rill —
Or rather lake, for rills do not run slowly —
Paced on most maiden-like and melancholy.
But when they reach’d their own apartments, there,
Like birds, or boys, or bedlamites broke loose,
Waves at spring-tide, or women anywhere
When freed from bonds (which are of no great use
After all), or like Irish at a fair,
Their guards being gone, and as it were a truce
Establish’d between them and bondage, they
Began to sing, dance, chatter, smile, and play.
Their talk, of course, ran most on the new comer;
Her shape, her hair, her air, her everything:
Some thought her dress did not so much become her,
Or wonder’d at her ears without a ring;
Some said her years were getting nigh their summer,
Others contended they were but in spring;
Some thought her rather masculine in height,
While others wish’d that she had been so quite.
But no one doubted on the whole, that she
Was what her dress bespoke, a damsel fair,
And fresh, and ‘beautiful exceedingly,’
Who with the brightest Georgians might compare:
They wonder’d how Gulbeyaz, too, could be
So silly as to buy slaves who might share
(If that his Highness wearied of his bride)
Her throne and power, and every thing beside.
But what was strangest in this virgin crew,
Although her beauty was enough to vex,
After the first investigating view,
They all found out as few, or fewer, specks
In the fair form of their companion new,
Than is the custom of the gentle sex,
When they survey, with Christian eyes or Heathen,
In a new face ‘the ugliest creature breathing.’
And yet they had their little jealousies,
Like all the rest; but upon this occasion,
Whether there are such things as sympathies
Without our knowledge or our approbation,
Although they could not see through his disguise,
All felt a soft kind of concatenation,
Like magnetism, or devilism, or what
You please — we will not quarrel about that:
But certain ’tis they all felt for their new
Companion something newer still, as ’twere
A sentimental friendship through and through,
Extremely pure, which made them all concur
In wishing her their sister, save a few
Who wish’d they had a brother just like her,
Whom, if they were at home in sweet Circassia,
They would prefer to Padisha or Pacha.
Of those who had most genius for this sort
Of sentimental friendship, there were three,
Lolah, Katinka, and Dudu; in short
(To save description), fair as fair can be
Were they, according to the best report,
Though differing in stature and degree,
And clime and time, and country and complexion;
They all alike admired their new connection.
Lolah was dusk as India and as warm;
Katinka was a Georgian, white and red,
With great blue eyes, a lovely hand and arm,
And feet so small they scarce seem’d made to tread,
But rather skim the earth; while Dudu’s form
Look’d more adapted to be put to bed,
Being somewhat large, and languishing, and lazy,
Yet of a beauty that would drive you crazy.
A kind of sleepy Venus seem’d Dudu,
Yet very fit to ‘murder sleep’ in those
Who gazed upon her cheek’s transcendent hue,
Her Attic forehead, and her Phidian nose:
Few angles were there in her form, ’tis true,
Thinner she might have been, and yet scarce lose;
Yet, after all, ‘twould puzzle to say where
It would not spoil some separate charm to pare.
She was not violently lively, but
Stole on your spirit like a May-day breaking;
Her eyes were not too sparkling, yet, half-shut,
They put beholders in a tender taking;
She look’d (this simile ‘s quite new) just cut
From marble, like Pygmalion’s statue waking,
The mortal and the marble still at strife,
And timidly expanding into life.
Lolah demanded the new damsel’s name —
‘Juanna.’— Well, a pretty name enough.
Katinka ask’d her also whence she came —
‘From Spain.’—‘But where is Spain?’—‘Don’t ask such stuff,
Nor show your Georgian ignorance — for shame!’
Said Lolah, with an accent rather rough,
To poor Katinka: ‘Spain ‘s an island near
Morocco, betwixt Egypt and Tangier.’
Dudu said nothing, but sat down beside
Juanna, playing with her veil or hair;
And looking at her steadfastly, she sigh’d,
As if she pitied her for being there,
A pretty stranger without friend or guide,
And all abash’d, too, at the general stare
Which welcomes hapless strangers in all places,
With kind remarks upon their mien and faces.
But here the Mother of the Maids drew near,
With, ‘Ladies, it is time to go to rest.
I ’m puzzled what to do with you, my dear,’
She added to Juanna, their new guest:
‘Your coming has been unexpected here,
And every couch is occupied; you had best
Partake of mine; but by tomorrow early
We will have all things settled for you fairly.’
Here Lolah interposed —‘Mamma, you know
You don’t sleep soundly, and I cannot bear
That anybody should disturb you so;
I ’ll take Juanna; we ‘re a slenderer pair
Than you would make the half of; — don’t say no;
And I of your young charge will take due care.’
But here Katinka interfered, and said,
‘She also had compassion and a bed.
‘Besides, I hate to sleep alone,’ quoth she.
The matron frown’d: ‘Why so?’—‘For fear of ghosts,’
Replied Katinka; ‘I am sure I see
A phantom upon each of the four posts;
And then I have the worst dreams that can be,
Of Guebres, Giaours, and Ginns, and Gouls in hosts.’
The dame replied, ‘Between your dreams and you,
I fear Juanna’s dreams would be but few.
‘You, Lolah, must continue still to lie
Alone, for reasons which don’t matter; you
The same, Katinka, until by and by;
And I shall place Juanna with Dudu,
Who ‘s quiet, inoffensive, silent, shy,
And will not toss and chatter the night through.
What say you, child?’— Dudu said nothing, as
Her talents were of the more silent class;
But she rose up, and kiss’d the matron’s brow
Between the eyes, and Lolah on both cheeks,
Katinka, too; and with a gentle bow
(Curt’sies are neither used by Turks nor Greeks)
She took Juanna by the hand to show
Their place of rest, and left to both their piques,
The others pouting at the matron’s preference
Of Dudu, though they held their tongues from deference.
It was a spacious chamber (Oda is
The Turkish title), and ranged round the wall
Were couches, toilets — and much more than this
I might describe, as I have seen it all,
But it suffices — little was amiss;
’Twas on the whole a nobly furnish’d hall,
With all things ladies want, save one or two,
And even those were nearer than they knew.
Dudu, as has been said, was a sweet creature,
Not very dashing, but extremely winning,
With the most regulated charms of feature,
Which painters cannot catch like faces sinning
Against proportion — the wild strokes of nature
Which they hit off at once in the beginning,
Full of expression, right or wrong, that strike,
And pleasing or unpleasing, still are like.
But she was a soft landscape of mild earth,
Where all was harmony, and calm, and quiet,
Luxuriant, budding; cheerful without mirth,
Which, if not happiness, is much more nigh it
Than are your mighty passions and so forth,
Which some call ‘the sublime:’ I wish they ‘d try it:
I ’ve seen your stormy seas and stormy women,
And pity lovers rather more than seamen.
But she was pensive more than melancholy,
And serious more than pensive, and serene,
It may be, more than either — not unholy
Her thoughts, at least till now, appear to have been.
The strangest thing was, beauteous, she was wholly
Unconscious, albeit turn’d of quick seventeen,
That she was fair, or dark, or short, or tall;
She never thought about herself at all.
And therefore was she kind and gentle as
The Age of Gold (when gold was yet unknown,
By which its nomenclature came to pass;
Thus most appropriately has been shown
‘Lucus a non lucendo,’ not what was,
But what was not; a sort of style that ‘s grown
Extremely common in this age, whose metal
The devil may decompose, but never settle:
I think it may be of ‘Corinthian Brass,’
Which was a mixture of all metals, but
The brazen uppermost). Kind reader! pass
This long parenthesis: I could not shut
It sooner for the soul of me, and class
My faults even with your own! which meaneth, Put
A kind construction upon them and me:
But that you won’t — then don’t — I am not less free.
’Tis time we should return to plain narration,
And thus my narrative proceeds:— Dudu,
With every kindness short of ostentation,
Show’d Juan, or Juanna, through and through
This labyrinth of females, and each station
Described — what ‘s strange — in words extremely few:
I have but one simile, and that ‘s a blunder,
For wordless woman, which is silent thunder.
And next she gave her (I say her, because
The gender still was epicene, at least
In outward show, which is a saving clause)
An outline of the customs of the East,
With all their chaste integrity of laws,
By which the more a haram is increased,
The stricter doubtless grow the vestal duties
Of any supernumerary beauties.
And then she gave Juanna a chaste kiss:
Dudu was fond of kissing — which I ’m sure
That nobody can ever take amiss,
Because ’tis pleasant, so that it be pure,
And between females means no more than this —
That they have nothing better near, or newer.
‘Kiss’ rhymes to ‘bliss’ in fact as well as verse —
I wish it never led to something worse.
In perfect innocence she then unmade
Her toilet, which cost little, for she was
A child of Nature, carelessly array’d:
If fond of a chance ogle at her glass,
’Twas like the fawn, which, in the lake display’d,
Beholds her own shy, shadowy image pass,
When first she starts, and then returns to peep,
Admiring this new native of the deep.
And one by one her articles of dress
Were laid aside; but not before she offer’d
Her aid to fair Juanna, whose excess
Of modesty declined the assistance proffer’d:
Which pass’d well off — as she could do no less;
Though by this politesse she rather suffer’d,
Pricking her fingers with those cursed pins,
Which surely were invented for our sins —
Making a woman like a porcupine,
Not to be rashly touch’d. But still more dread,
O ye! whose fate it is, as once ’twas mine,
In early youth, to turn a lady’s maid; —
I did my very boyish best to shine
In tricking her out for a masquerade;
The pins were placed sufficiently, but not
Stuck all exactly in the proper spot.
But these are foolish things to all the wise,
And I love wisdom more than she loves me;
My tendency is to philosophise
On most things, from a tyrant to a tree;
But still the spouseless virgin Knowledge flies.
What are we? and whence came we? what shall be
Our ultimate existence? what ‘s our present?
Are questions answerless, and yet incessant.
There was deep silence in the chamber: dim
And distant from each other burn’d the lights,
And slumber hover’d o’er each lovely limb
Of the fair occupants: if there be sprites,
They should have walk’d there in their sprightliest trim,
By way of change from their sepulchral sites,
And shown themselves as ghosts of better taste
Than haunting some old ruin or wild waste.
Many and beautiful lay those around,
Like flowers of different hue, and dime, and root,
In some exotic garden sometimes found,
With cost, and care, and warmth induced to shoot.
One with her auburn tresses lightly bound,
And fair brows gently drooping, as the fruit
Nods from the tree, was slumbering with soft breath,
And lips apart, which show’d the pearls beneath.
One with her flush’d cheek laid on her white arm,
And raven ringlets gather’d in dark crowd
Above her brow, lay dreaming soft and warm;
And smiling through her dream, as through a cloud
The moon breaks, half unveil’d each further charm,
As, slightly stirring in her snowy shroud,
Her beauties seized the unconscious hour of night
All bashfully to struggle into light.
This is no bull, although it sounds so; for
’Twas night, but there were lamps, as hath been said.
A third’s all pallid aspect offer’d more
The traits of sleeping sorrow, and betray’d
Through the heaved breast the dream of some far shore
Beloved and deplored; while slowly stray’d
(As night-dew, on a cypress glittering, tinges
The black bough) tear-drops through her eyes’ dark fringes.
A fourth as marble, statue-like and still,
Lay in a breathless, hush’d, and stony sleep;
White, cold, and pure, as looks a frozen rill,
Or the snow minaret on an Alpine steep,
Or Lot’s wife done in salt — or what you will; —
My similes are gather’d in a heap,
So pick and choose — perhaps you ’ll be content
With a carved lady on a monument.
And lo! a fifth appears; — and what is she?
A lady of a ‘certain age,’ which means
Certainly aged — what her years might be
I know not, never counting past their teens;
But there she slept, not quite so fair to see,
As ere that awful period intervenes
Which lays both men and women on the shelf,
To meditate upon their sins and self.
But all this time how slept, or dream’d, Dudu?
With strict inquiry I could ne’er discover,
And scorn to add a syllable untrue;
But ere the middle watch was hardly over,
Just when the fading lamps waned dim and blue,
And phantoms hover’d, or might seem to hover,
To those who like their company, about
The apartment, on a sudden she scream’d out:
And that so loudly, that upstarted all
The Oda, in a general commotion:
Matron and maids, and those whom you may call
Neither, came crowding like the waves of ocean,
One on the other, throughout the whole hall,
All trembling, wondering, without the least notion
More than I have myself of what could make
The calm Dudu so turbulently wake.
But wide awake she was, and round her bed,
With floating draperies and with flying hair,
With eager eyes, and light but hurried tread,
And bosoms, arms, and ankles glancing bare,
And bright as any meteor ever bred
By the North Pole — they sought her cause of care,
For she seem’d agitated, flush’d, and frighten’d,
Her eye dilated and her colour heighten’d.
But what was strange — and a strong proof how great
A blessing is sound sleep — Juanna lay
As fast as ever husband by his mate
In holy matrimony snores away.
Not all the clamour broke her happy state
Of slumber, ere they shook her — so they say
At least — and then she, too, unclosed her eyes,
And yawn’d a good deal with discreet surprise.
And now commenced a strict investigation,
Which, as all spoke at once and more than once,
Conjecturing, wondering, asking a narration,
Alike might puzzle either wit or dunce
To answer in a very clear oration.
Dudu had never pass’d for wanting sense,
But, being ‘no orator as Brutus is,’
Could not at first expound what was amiss.
At length she said, that in a slumber sound
She dream’d a dream, of walking in a wood —
A ‘wood obscure,’ like that where Dante found
Himself in at the age when all grow good;
Life’s half-way house, where dames with virtue crown’d
Run much less risk of lovers turning rude;
And that this wood was full of pleasant fruits,
And trees of goodly growth and spreading roots;
And in the midst a golden apple grew —
A most prodigious pippin — but it hung
Rather too high and distant; that she threw
Her glances on it, and then, longing, flung
Stones and whatever she could pick up, to
Bring down the fruit, which still perversely clung
To its own bough, and dangled yet in sight,
But always at a most provoking height; —
That on a sudden, when she least had hope,
It fell down of its own accord before
Her feet; that her first movement was to stoop
And pick it up, and bite it to the core;
That just as her young lip began to ope
Upon the golden fruit the vision bore,
A bee flew out and stung her to the heart,
And so — she awoke with a great scream and start.
All this she told with some confusion and
Dismay, the usual consequence of dreams
Of the unpleasant kind, with none at hand
To expound their vain and visionary gleams.
I ’ve known some odd ones which seem’d really plann’d
Prophetically, or that which one deems
A ‘strange coincidence,’ to use a phrase
By which such things are settled now-a-days.
The damsels, who had thoughts of some great harm,
Began, as is the consequence of fear,
To scold a little at the false alarm
That broke for nothing on their sleeping car.
The matron, too, was wroth to leave her warm
Bed for the dream she had been obliged to hear,
And chafed at poor Dudu, who only sigh’d,
And said that she was sorry she had cried.
‘I ’ve heard of stories of a cock and bull;
But visions of an apple and a bee,
To take us from our natural rest, and pull
The whole Oda from their beds at half-past three,
Would make us think the moon is at its full.
You surely are unwell, child! we must see,
To-morrow, what his Highness’s physician
Will say to this hysteric of a vision.
‘And poor Juanna, too — the child’s first night
Within these walls to be broke in upon
With such a clamour! I had thought it right
That the young stranger should not lie alone,
And, as the quietest of all, she might
With you, Dudu, a good night’s rest have known;
But now I must transfer her to the charge
Of Lolah — though her couch is not so large.’
Lolah’s eyes sparkled at the proposition;
But poor Dudu, with large drops in her own,
Resulting from the scolding or the vision,
Implored that present pardon might be shown
For this first fault, and that on no condition
(She added in a soft and piteous tone)
Juanna should be taken from her, and
Her future dreams should all be kept in hand.
She promised never more to have a dream,
At least to dream so loudly as just now;
She wonder’d at herself how she could scream —
’Twas foolish, nervous, as she must allow,
A fond hallucination, and a theme
For laughter — but she felt her spirits low,
And begg’d they would excuse her; she ‘d get over
This weakness in a few hours, and recover.
And here Juanna kindly interposed,
And said she felt herself extremely well
Where she then was, as her sound sleep disclosed
When all around rang like a tocsin bell:
She did not find herself the least disposed
To quit her gentle partner, and to dwell
Apart from one who had no sin to show,
Save that of dreaming once ‘mal-a-propos.’
As thus Juanna spoke, Dudu turn’d round
And hid her face within Juanna’s breast:
Her neck alone was seen, but that was found
The colour of a budding rose’s crest.
I can’t tell why she blush’d, nor can expound
The mystery of this rupture of their rest;
All that I know is, that the facts I state
Are true as truth has ever been of late.
And so good night to them — or, if you will,
Good morrow — for the cock had crown, and light
Began to clothe each Asiatic hill,
And the mosque crescent struggled into sight
Of the long caravan, which in the chill
Of dewy dawn wound slowly round each height
That stretches to the stony belt, which girds
Asia, where Kaff looks down upon the Kurds.
With the first ray, or rather grey of morn,
Gulbeyaz rose from restlessness; and pale
As passion rises, with its bosom worn,
Array’d herself with mantle, gem, and veil.
The nightingale that sings with the deep thorn,
Which fable places in her breast of wail,
Is lighter far of heart and voice than those
Whose headlong passions form their proper woes.
And that ‘s the moral of this composition,
If people would but see its real drift; —
But that they will not do without suspicion,
Because all gentle readers have the gift
Of closing ‘gainst the light their orbs of vision;
While gentle writers also love to lift
Their voices ‘gainst each other, which is natural,
The numbers are too great for them to flatter all.
Rose the sultana from a bed of splendour,
Softer than the soft Sybarite’s, who cried
Aloud because his feelings were too tender
To brook a ruffled rose-leaf by his side —
So beautiful that art could little mend her,
Though pale with conflicts between love and pride; —
So agitated was she with her error,
She did not even look into the mirror.
Also arose about the self-same time,
Perhaps a little later, her great lord,
Master of thirty kingdoms so sublime,
And of a wife by whom he was abhorr’d;
A thing of much less import in that clime —
At least to those of incomes which afford
The filling up their whole connubial cargo —
Than where two wives are under an embargo.
He did not think much on the matter, nor
Indeed on any other: as a man
He liked to have a handsome paramour
At hand, as one may like to have a fan,
And therefore of Circassians had good store,
As an amusement after the Divan;
Though an unusual fit of love, or duty,
Had made him lately bask in his bride’s beauty.
And now he rose; and after due ablutions
Exacted by the customs of the East,
And prayers and other pious evolutions,
He drank six cups of coffee at the least,
And then withdrew to hear about the Russians,
Whose victories had recently increased
In Catherine’s reign, whom glory still adores,
But oh, thou grand legitimate Alexander!
Her son’s son, let not this last phrase offend
Thine ear, if it should reach — and now rhymes wander
Almost as far as Petersburgh and lend
A dreadful impulse to each loud meander
Of murmuring Liberty’s wide waves, which blend
Their roar even with the Baltic’s — so you be
Your father’s son, ’tis quite enough for me.
To call men love-begotten or proclaim
Their mothers as the antipodes of Timon,
That hater of mankind, would be a shame,
A libel, or whate’er you please to rhyme on:
But people’s ancestors are history’s game;
And if one lady’s slip could leave a crime on
All generations, I should like to know
What pedigree the best would have to show?
Had Catherine and the sultan understood
Their own true interests, which kings rarely know
Until ’tis taught by lessons rather rude,
There was a way to end their strife, although
Perhaps precarious, had they but thought good,
Without the aid of prince or plenipo:
She to dismiss her guards and he his haram,
And for their other matters, meet and share ’em.
But as it was, his Highness had to hold
His daily council upon ways and means
How to encounter with this martial scold,
This modern Amazon and queen of queans;
And the perplexity could not be told
Of all the pillars of the state, which leans
Sometimes a little heavy on the backs
Of those who cannot lay on a new tax.
Meantime Gulbeyaz, when her king was gone,
Retired into her boudoir, a sweet place
For love or breakfast; private, pleasing, lone,
And rich with all contrivances which grace
Those gay recesses:— many a precious stone
Sparkled along its roof, and many a vase
Of porcelain held in the fetter’d flowers,
Those captive soothers of a captive’s hours.
Mother of pearl, and porphyry, and marble,
Vied with each other on this costly spot;
And singing birds without were heard to warble;
And the stain’d glass which lighted this fair grot
Varied each ray; — but all descriptions garble
The true effect, and so we had better not
Be too minute; an outline is the best —
A lively reader’s fancy does the rest.
And here she summon’d Baba, and required
Don Juan at his hands, and information
Of what had pass’d since all the slaves retired,
And whether he had occupied their station;
If matters had been managed as desired,
And his disguise with due consideration
Kept up; and above all, the where and how
He had pass’d the night, was what she wish’d to know.
Baba, with some embarrassment, replied
To this long catechism of questions, ask’d
More easily than answer’d — that he had tried
His best to obey in what he had been task’d;
But there seem’d something that he wish’d to hide,
Which hesitation more betray’d than mask’d;
He scratch’d his ear, the infallible resource
To which embarrass’d people have recourse.
Gulbeyaz was no model of true patience,
Nor much disposed to wait in word or deed;
She liked quick answers in all conversations;
And when she saw him stumbling like a steed
In his replies, she puzzled him for fresh ones;
And as his speech grew still more broken-kneed,
Her cheek began to flush, her eyes to sparkle,
And her proud brow’s blue veins to swell and darkle.
When Baba saw these symptoms, which he knew
To bode him no great good, he deprecated
Her anger, and beseech’d she ‘d hear him through —
He could not help the thing which he related:
Then out it came at length, that to Dudu
Juan was given in charge, as hath been stated;
But not by Baba’s fault, he said, and swore on
The holy camel’s hump, besides the Koran.
The chief dame of the Oda, upon whom
The discipline of the whole haram bore,
As soon as they reenter’d their own room,
For Baba’s function stopt short at the door,
Had settled all; nor could he then presume
(The aforesaid Baba) just then to do more,
Without exciting such suspicion as
Might make the matter still worse than it was.
He hoped, indeed he thought, he could be sure
Juan had not betray’d himself; in fact
’Twas certain that his conduct had been pure,
Because a foolish or imprudent act
Would not alone have made him insecure,
But ended in his being found out and sack’d,
And thrown into the sea. — Thus Baba spoke
Of all save Dudu’s dream, which was no joke.
This he discreetly kept in the background,
And talk’d away — and might have talk’d till now,
For any further answer that he found,
So deep an anguish wrung Gulbeyaz’ brow:
Her cheek turn’d ashes, ears rung, brain whirl’d round,
As if she had received a sudden blow,
And the heart’s dew of pain sprang fast and chilly
O’er her fair front, like Morning’s on a lily.
Although she was not of the fainting sort,
Baba thought she would faint, but there he err’d —
It was but a convulsion, which though short
Can never be described; we all have heard,
And some of us have felt thus ‘all amort,’
When things beyond the common have occurr’d; —
Gulbeyaz proved in that brief agony
What she could ne’er express — then how should I?
She stood a moment as a Pythones
Stands on her tripod, agonised, and full
Of inspiration gather’d from distress,
When all the heart-strings like wild horses pull
The heart asunder; — then, as more or lees
Their speed abated or their strength grew dull,
She sunk down on her seat by slow degrees,
And bow’d her throbbing head o’er trembling knees.
Her face declined and was unseen; her hair
Fell in long tresses like the weeping willow,
Sweeping the marble underneath her chair,
Or rather sofa (for it was all pillow,
A low soft ottoman), and black despair
Stirr’d up and down her bosom like a billow,
Which rushes to some shore whose shingles check
Its farther course, but must receive its wreck.
Her head hung down, and her long hair in stooping
Conceal’d her features better than a veil;
And one hand o’er the ottoman lay drooping,
White, waxen, and as alabaster pale:
Would that I were a painter! to be grouping
All that a poet drags into detail
O that my words were colours! but their tints
May serve perhaps as outlines or slight hints.
Baba, who knew by experience when to talk
And when to hold his tongue, now held it till
This passion might blow o’er, nor dared to balk
Gulbeyaz’ taciturn or speaking will.
At length she rose up, and began to walk
Slowly along the room, but silent still,
And her brow clear’d, but not her troubled eye;
The wind was down, but still the sea ran high.
She stopp’d, and raised her head to speak — but paused,
And then moved on again with rapid pace;
Then slacken’d it, which is the march most caused
By deep emotion:— you may sometimes trace
A feeling in each footstep, as disclosed
By Sallust in his Catiline, who, chased
By all the demons of all passions, show’d
Their work even by the way in which he trode.
Gulbeyaz stopp’d and beckon’d Baba:—‘Slave!
Bring the two slaves!’ she said in a low tone,
But one which Baba did not like to brave,
And yet he shudder’d, and seem’d rather prone
To prove reluctant, and begg’d leave to crave
(Though he well knew the meaning) to be shown
What slaves her highness wish’d to indicate,
For fear of any error, like the late.
‘The Georgian and her paramour,’ replied
The imperial bride — and added, ‘Let the boat
Be ready by the secret portal’s side:
You know the rest.’ The words stuck in her throat,
Despite her injured love and fiery pride;
And of this Baba willingly took note,
And begg’d by every hair of Mahomet’s beard,
She would revoke the order he had heard.
‘To hear is to obey,’ he said; ‘but still,
Sultana, think upon the consequence:
It is not that I shall not all fulfil
Your orders, even in their severest sense;
But such precipitation may end ill,
Even at your own imperative expense:
I do not mean destruction and exposure,
In case of any premature disclosure;
‘But your own feelings. Even should all the rest
Be hidden by the rolling waves, which hide
Already many a once love-beaten breast
Deep in the caverns of the deadly tide —
You love this boyish, new, seraglio guest,
And if this violent remedy be tried —
Excuse my freedom, when I here assure you,
That killing him is not the way to cure you.’
‘What dost thou know of love or feeling? — Wretch!
Begone!’ she cried, with kindling eyes —‘and do
My bidding!’ Baba vanish’d, for to stretch
His own remonstrance further he well knew
Might end in acting as his own ‘Jack Ketch;’
And though he wish’d extremely to get through
This awkward business without harm to others,
He still preferr’d his own neck to another’s.
Away he went then upon his commission,
Growling and grumbling in good Turkish phrase
Against all women of whate’er condition,
Especially sultanas and their ways;
Their obstinacy, pride, and indecision,
Their never knowing their own mind two days,
The trouble that they gave, their immorality,
Which made him daily bless his own neutrality.
And then he call’d his brethren to his aid,
And sent one on a summons to the pair,
That they must instantly be well array’d,
And above all be comb’d even to a hair,
And brought before the empress, who had made
Inquiries after them with kindest care:
At which Dudu look’d strange, and Juan silly;
But go they must at once, and will I— nill I.
And here I leave them at their preparation
For the imperial presence, wherein whether
Gulbeyaz show’d them both commiseration,
Or got rid of the parties altogether,
Like other angry ladies of her nation —
Are things the turning of a hair or feather
May settle; but far be ‘t from me to anticipate
In what way feminine caprice may dissipate.
I leave them for the present with good wishes,
Though doubts of their well doing, to arrange
Another part of history; for the dishes
Of this our banquet we must sometimes change;
And trusting Juan may escape the fishes,
Although his situation now seems strange
And scarce secure, as such digressions are fair,
The Muse will take a little touch at warfare.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05