Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Zeuma, or the Love of Liberty
By James Ralph (c. 1705–1762)
 
From the First Book.

  BEYOND the vast Peruvian realms, whose wealth
Supports the Iberian throne, and freights whole fleets
To Europe’s hostile strand; a wond’rous ridge
Of cumb’rous hills, vast, huge, and piled abrupt,
Ascend above the clouds, and bound the view        5
From sky to sky; aloft bleak winter holds
Eternal reign, and from the mountain’s brow,
All cover’d o’er with ice, and white with snow,
Looks hideous down, breathes out his chilling gales,
And the sad wand’rer freezes to the ground,        10
A ghastly statue, with the dread of death,
Still graved upon his face; sometimes he bids
The whirlwinds roar, and with destruction wing’d
Impels it on the realms below, and oft,
Assembling clouds on clouds, draws o’er the world        15
A midnight darkness; and with sudden gush
Pours down the rain in dreadful showers, and drowns
The hope of harvest on the field. Where ends
This rocky chain, succeeds a dreary length
Of barren sands, torn up by every wind,        20
And roll’d in heaps, like the vex’d billows
On the stormy main: around, a frightful, wild,
And horrid prospect, tires the lab’ring eye
In gazing for its end. No vernal green
E’er cheers the yellow waste; no bubbling spring        25
Its cooling azure rolls along; no rains,
Nor kindly dews refresh the burning soil:
But nature looks as crumbled into dust;
And ruin, sole possessor of the void.
  Yet on the sterile desert’s utmost verge,        30
And the rude mountain’s skirt, the Spaniards found
A land of plenty, where enlivening Spring
And fruitful Autumn, with alternate change,
Rejoiced the year; where wealth immense (the hope
And end of all their execrable deeds,)        35
Was found in earth’s dark womb, and every joy
Invited their abode. Such Peru was;
And when, subjected to their arms, its tribes
Became the vassals of their power, athwart
This ridge of mountains they pursued        40
Their way to conquest, and in Chili’s realms,
Resolved to fix their arbitrary rule,
Though death in all its horrid forms opposed
Their common toil, and not a soul return’d
In safety from the war. There Zeuma reign’d,        45
A prince, who in the opening bloom of youth,
Preferr’d his country’s welfare to his own.
*      *      *      *      *      *
  Once, as with ardent zeal he urged the chase,
And press’d, with matchless swiftness, to secure
His frighted prey, through the thick wood, from far        50
He spied, low-bending o’er the limpid stream,
An aged hermit; who seem’d wrapp’d in thought
And solitary muse; behind him, arch’d
By nature in the hollow rock, appear’d
A gloomy cave, o’ergrown with moss, his calm        55
Abode; above, with difficult ascent,
Arose the hill, with vivid verdure crown’d;
Around, the forest spread its grateful shade,
And gently murmur’d to the gale; beneath,
Spontaneous flowers adorn’d the grassy turf,        60
And sweeten’d every breeze: long gazed the king
On the enchanting scene, and wonder’d much
It had till then escaped his haunt; when, waked
By his approaching step, the father rose,
And with meek rev’rence thus began. “’T is not,        65
Great prince, by accident you ’ve stray’d to this
Sequester’d place, but by divine decree;
That you may know what instant dangers threat
Your rule, what miseries your realms;
That no surprise enervate your resolves        70
When war alarms you to the field; no dread
Of stranger nations, or unusual arms
Confuse the combat, and in foul retreat
Disperse your routed squadrons o’er the plain.”
He said, and led him, by a winding way,        75
To the high brow of that delightful hill,
And bid him view the prospect round. He look’d,
And lo! the whole world’s globe seem’d stretch’d along
Before his view, so far the landscape reach’d,
So many objects crowded on the eye;        80
On this side cities stand, and forests wave,
Green fields extend, and gentle rivers glide;
O’erhanging precipices frown, and hills
Ascend on high: on this the white sea foams,
And on the nearer shores, with speedy roll,        85
Breaks wide its hasty billows. Zeuma starts
At the surprising roar, yet still intent,
Beholds the restless wave, when, new and strange!
High tossing on the angry surge appear
Vast floating piles, that with capacious wings        90
Collect the breathing gale, and by degrees
Approach the strand; with thund’ring voice discharge
Huge streams of ruddy flame, in cloudy smoke
Involved, and fright the nations round. Again
The monarch starts, astonish’d at the noise,        95
While, down their steepy sides, descend a throng
Of bearded men, of foreign look and mien;
That brighten’d o’er the plain with shining arms,
And all the pomp of war. To them succeeds
An herd of creatures, fierce and active, train’d        100
To battle, and the din of arms; on which
The warriors mounting, all proceed, in firm
And regular array, across the field;
Then sound a charge; and o’er the tranquil glebe
Let loose destruction, and with slaughter glut        105
The sword; with dire oppressive force, and stern
Dominion fix their barb’rous rule, and lord
It o’er the groaning tribes. With horror struck,
Sad Zeuma overlook’d the scene, and mourn’d
The dire event: when thus the hoary sage        110
His lore renew’d. “These are the foes that now
Are marching to invade your land; and such
The ills that must afflict your tribes; see o’er
Yon ridge of hills, contemning all the force
Of freezing cold, and wintry gales, they pass        115
Unwearied with the toil: then haste away,
Alarm your people, and with princely care
Draw all your squadrons to the field. If aught
Of doubt yet hangs upon your mind,
Again survey the landscape, and believe        120
My mission from above.” He look’d, and all
Th’ illusive prospect vanish’d from the view,
And nought remain’d, but one vast length of wood,
That murm’ring bow’d before the wanton gale.
  So, where the setting sun, with upward ray        125
Adorns the evening clouds in fleecy gold,
And purple deeply dyed, th’ attentive eye,
With wonder, views a maze of objects dawn
In bright confusion o’er the blue sky’s edge,
And with a round of never ceasing change        130
Perplex the doubtful scene, till night’s deep shade,
Ascending swiftly, darkens o’er the heavens,
And in grey vapors sweeps the whole away.
*      *      *      *      *      *
 
From the Third Book.

  —He said; and, turning swiftly round, began
His solemn charms; when sudden darkness veil’d        135
The starry skies, and hollow murm’ring gales
Sung dreadful in the trees; red meteors flash’d
Along the troubled air; and, from beneath,
Loud inbred thunders shook the steadfast earth;
Unnumber’d ghosts, all pale with hostile wounds,        140
Stalk’d o’er the green, and fill’d the night’s dark gloom
With ghastly terror and distracting groans:
Silence succeeds, vanish the ghosts away,
And earth no longer shakes; the lab’ring clouds
Unveil’d the heavens, and, in their stony caves,        145
The slumb’ring winds their weary pinions rest.
  Then sleep’s still influence seized the drowsy king,
And down he sunk, unable to resist
The pressing weight of the prevailing god:
But inspiration waked his inward powers,        150
And roused light fancy, in her thousand forms,
To strike the wond’rous vision on the mind.
  First his great father’s shade, with glory crown’d,
Descends, and, through the fluid realms of air,
Bears the young monarch, swift as tempests fly        155
When the grim ruler of the raging winds,
Drives down their fury o’er the Atlantic seas,
And, in a moment, to the farthest verge
Of the vex’d ocean, heaps the roaring waves.
  The crystal gates of Cynthia’s silver orb        160
Unfold, and, up the portals’ bright ascent,
The rev’rend guardian leads his earthly charge
Entranced in raptures; when the glorious scene,
To his attentive view, unveil’d its charms:
For there soft pleasures, in eternal rounds,        165
For ever circle with an easy wing;
All that the realms of either India boast,
Or Afric’s regions, or Europa’s lands,
By turns delight the happy tribes, and more,
Ten thousand more, than man’s experience knows,        170
Or fancy forms, maintain eternal rule,
And bless the immortals with continual joy.
  Music, through every shade sweet warbling breathes
Soft gladness on the soul; the dulcet voice
Attempers the respondent lyre.
*      *      *      *      *      *
        175
  —Eternal verdure cheers the gladsome green,
And odorous flowers, for ever blooming, wast
Unfading sweets, and fume the wanton gale:
From the slope hills, descend the trickling streams,
And, through the fruitful vales, o’er sands of gold,        180
In gentle currents, smoothly roll along;
The mountain’s brow with tufted woods is crown’d,
With sparkling gems the silent grot ’s emblazed,
And luscious plenty gladdens every field:
No wintry snows, or summer suns infest        185
The blissful climes, nor war’s destructive rage
Lays waste the regions, and deforms the plain;
But heaven-born love and everlasting spring
Dance hand in hand, and lead the smiling hours,
All gay with newborn happiness and joy.        190
  Through spicy forests, and through flowery fields,
The sweet abode of souls for ever bless’d!
The princely ghost his raptured offspring led
To that sublime retreat, where patriot shades,
In matchless pleasures, and supreme delights,        195
Enjoy the great reward their virtues earn’d,
With long fatigue, and endless toils, below;
There pointed, to his view, the illustrious chiefs,
Who, scorning bribes, and all the baits of sense,
Trod, with undaunted soul, the paths of death,        200
When freedom claim’d the sword, and honor call’d to arms.
  Zymron, 1 the best, and bravest of mankind,
Towers with superior glory, and presides
Amidst the noblest heroes of the globe;
Dreadless he looks, as when his rightful arms        205
O’ercame the tyrants of an hundred realms,
And made that bold attempt to free the western world.
  His mighty ancestor, of deathless name,
The next in order treads the social green,
Round his distinguish’d head bright virtue ties        210
The laurel wreath, and glories in his deeds;
Nations, preserved by his indulgent care,
Shout his applause, and fame’s eternal trump,
Fill’d with his praises, shakes the tyrant’s throne.
  Alascar, chief of Montezeuma’s line,        215
Stands at his side, severe his awful brow,
As when, impartial to his country’s laws,
He doom’d his sons to ignominious death,
And, in a patriot’s zeal, restrain’d the parent’s tears.
  The brave Atalgah, steadfast as the earth        220
Pois’d on itself, and glorious as the sun
In its meridian height, transported hears
The wonders of his toilsome march rehearsed
With loud acclaim, when, scorching in the heat,
He patient bore the raging pangs of thirst,        225
Till the last fainting soldier was refresh’d
With frequent draughts from the enlivening spring.
  See! fair Amrena, with majestic front,
And eye sublime, among the mightiest stand,
Fond of the liquid death, which freed her soul        230
From the proud insults of the victor’s rage;
Surrounding chiefs admire the heroic deed,
And hail her dauntless mind which dared to lead
An host to war, and, by the dint of sword,
Restore lost freedom to her mourning realm.        235
  A thousand more, the champions of the world!
Dwell here encircled with superior bliss,
And dream of dangers and of toil no more.
*      *      *      *      *      *
  —“But now, descending to the seats of wo,
And vengeful torments, where the sons of men        240
Are rack’d for all the enormities of life,
We for a while must leave these happy plains.”
He said; and, plunging from the argent world,
Sails on the winds, and bears his son along:
At last upon a huge volcano’s brink,        245
With clouds of gloomy smoke involved, they stoop,
And sink immediate down the vast profound;
Nor stay’d till (through unnumber’d caverns pass’d,
The abodes of fear, of horror and despair,)
They reach’d the dreadful dungeons of the great.        250
Where, bound in adamantine chains, they lie
On beds of raging fire, and no hope
Of comfort, or a kind reprieve from pain;
From pain, which every hour increasing, gives
A keener twinge; while fiercer flames prepare        255
Their eager vengeance, and exert their rage;
While round, the sad companions of their crimes,
Condemn’d to endless woe, attend their lords,
And aid the furies, and increase the fires.
  Here 2 haughty Nimroc, plunged in burning lakes,        260
And deeply drench’d beneath the sulphurous wave,
No longer grasps at universal rule,
Or wastes the nations with destructive arms;
But, inly tortured with incessant pangs,
Reflects with horror on his impious schemes.        265
  Fix’d in a ruddy car of burning steel,
With sullen sadness, proud Guascara mourns
His fond ambition to be thought a god,
While, o’er the scorching soil, he ’s dragged along,
And scornful dæmons aggravate his wo,        270
With pageant grandeur, and disdainful state.
  Tlaxcalla’s 3 vaunt, great Zagnar’s martial son,
Extended on the rack, no more complains
That realms are wanting to employ his sword;
But, circled with innumerable ghosts,        275
Who print their keenest vengeance on his soul,
For all the wrongs, and slaughters of his reign,
Howls out repentance to the deafen’d skies,
And shakes hell’s concave with continual groans.
  Ten thousand thousand more, whom fame records        280
As the dread tyrants of the tortured globe,
’Midst the dire rigors of surrounding flames,
Clank their huge fetters, and, with ceaseless yell,
Bewail the frantic fury of their lives,
Which forced down all the vengeance of the gods.        285
  This dreadful scene survey’d, again the ghost
Broke the long silence, and his lore renew’d;
“These, these are they, the execrable souls,
Who vaunted heavenly birth, yet scorning truth,
And virtue’s sacred laws, acted worse deeds        290
Than all the infernals could inspire; the worst,
The basest of the sons of men, whose joy
Was murther, whose delight was death, who thought.
Mankind was destined only to adore
Their transient glories, live upon their breath;        295
Who laugh’d at justice, trampled on the laws,
And gave whole armies to the rage of war!
 
Note 1. Kings of America famous for valor and virtue. [back]
Note 2. Indian tyrants. [back]
Note 3. A province bordering on Mexico. [back]
 
 
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