A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Sicilian Captive" by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) Records of Woman: With Other Poems. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, & London: T. Cadell, 1828, second edition. pp. 172-179.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


[Page 172] 

THE SICILIAN CAPTIVE.


             –I have dreamt thou wert
A captive in thy hopelessness; afar
From the sweet home of thy young infancy,
Whose image unto thee is as a dream
Of fire and slaughter; I can see thee wasting,
Sick for thy native air.
                                                     L. E. L.

THE champions had come from their fields of war,
Over the crests of the billows far,
They had brought back the spoils of a hundred shores,
Where the deep had foam'd to their flashing oars.

They sat at their feast round the Norse-king's board;
By the glare of the torch-light the mead was pour'd;
The hearth was heap'd with the pine-boughs high,
And it flung a red radiance on shields thrown by.

[Page 173] 

The Scalds had chaunted in Runic rhyme,
Their songs of the Sword and the olden time,
And a solemn thrill, as the harp-chords rung,
Had breath'd from the walls where the bright spears hung.

But the swell was gone from the quivering string,
They had summon'd a softer voice to sing,
And a captive girl, at the warriors' call,
Stood forth in the midst of that frowning hall.

Lonely she stood:–in her mournful eyes
Lay the clear midnight of southern skies,
And the drooping fringe of their lashes low,
Half veil'd a depth of unfathom'd wo.

Stately she stood–tho' her fragile frame
Seem'd struck with the blight of some inward flame,
And her proud pale brow had a shade of scorn,
Under the waves of her dark hair worn.

[Page 174] 

And a deep flush pass'd, like a crimson haze,
O'er her marble cheek by the pine-fire's blaze;
No soft hue caught from the south-wind's breath,
But a token of fever, at strife with death.

She had been torn from her home away,
With her long locks crown'd for her bridal day,
And brought to die of the burning dreams
That haunt the exile by foreign streams.

They bade her sing of her distant land–
She held its lyre with a trembling hand,
Till the spirit its blue skies had given her, woke,
And the stream of her voice into music broke.

Faint was the strain, in its first wild flow;
Troubled its murmur, and sad, and low;
But it swell'd into deeper power ere long,
As the breeze that swept over her soul grew strong.


[Page 175] 

"They bid me sing of thee, mine own, my sunny land! of thee!
Am I not parted from thy shores by the mournful-sounding sea?
Doth not thy shadow wrap my soul?–in silence let me die,
In a voiceless dream of thy silvery founts, and thy pure, deep sapphire sky;
How should thy lyre give here its wealth of buried sweetness forth?
Its tones of summer's breathings born, to the wild winds of the north?

"Yet thus it shall be once, once more!–my spirit shall awake,
And thro' the mists of death shine out, my country, for thy sake!

[Page 176] 

That I may make thee known, with all the beauty and the light,
And the glory never more to bless thy daughter's yearning sight!
Thy woods shall whisper in my song, thy bright streams warble by,
Thy soul flow o'er my lips again–yet once, my Sicily!

"There are blue heavens–far hence, far hence! but oh! their glorious blue!
Its very night is beautiful, with the hyacinth's deep hue!
It is above my own fair land, and round my laughing home,
And arching o'er my vintage-hills, they hang their cloudless dome;
And making all the waves as gems, that melt along the shore,
And steeping happy hearts in joy–that now is mine no more.

[Page 177] 

"And there are haunts in that green land–oh! who may dream or tell,
Of all the shaded loveliness it hides in grot and dell!
By fountains flinging rainbow-spray on dark and glossy leaves,
And bowers wherein the forest-dove her nest untroubled weaves;
The myrtle dwells there, sending round the richness of its breath,
And the violets gleam like amethysts, from the dewy moss beneath.

"And there are floating sounds that fill the skies thro' night and day,
Sweet sounds! the soul to hear them faints in dreams of heaven away!
They wander thro' the olive-woods, and o'er the shining seas,
They mingle with the orange-scents that load the sleepy breeze;

[Page 178] 

Lute, voice, and bird, are blending there;–it were a bliss to die,
As dies a leaf, thy groves among, my flowery Sicily!

"I may not thus depart–farewell! yet no, my country! no!
Is not love stronger than the grave? I feel it must be so!
My fleeting spirit shall o'ersweep the mountains and the main,
And in thy tender starlight rove, and thro' thy woods again.
Its passion deepens–it prevails!–I break my chain– I come
To dwell a viewless thing, yet blest–in thy sweet air, my home!"


[Page 179] 

And her pale arms dropp'd the ringing lyre,
There came a mist o'er her eye's wild fire,
And her dark rich tresses, in many a fold,
Loosed from their braids, down her bosom roll'd.

For her head sank back on the rugged wall,–
A silence fell o'er the warriors' hall;
She had pour'd out her soul with her song's last tone;
The lyre was broken, the minstrel gone!

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom