A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Lascar." by Mary Darby Robinson (1758-1800)

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The Lascar


"Another day, ah! me, a day
   Of dreary sorrow is begun!
And still I loath the temper'd ray,
   And still I hate the sickly sun!
Far from my native Indian shore,
I hear our wretched race deplore;
I mark the smile of taunting scorn,
And curse the hour when I was born!
I weep, but no one gently tries
To stop my tear, or check my sighs;
For while my heart beats mournfully,
Dear Indian home, I sigh for thee!

"Since, gaudy sun! I see no more
   Thy hottest glory gild the day;
Since, sever'd from my burning shore,
   I waste the vapid hours away;
O! darkness come! come deepest gloom;
Shroud the young summer's opening bloom!
Burn, temper'd orb, with fiercer beams
This northern world! and drink the streams
That through the fertile valleys glide
To bathe the feasted fiends of pride!
Or hence, broad sun! extinguish'd be!
For endless night encircles me!

"What is to me the city gay?
   And what the board profusely spread?
I have no home, no rich array,
   No spicy feast, no downy bed!
I with the dogs am doom'd to eat,
To perish in the peopled street,
To drink the tear of deep despair,
The scoff and scorn of fools to bear!
I sleep upon the pavement stone,
Or pace the meadows, wildalone!
And if I curse my fate severe
Some christian savage mocks my tear!

"Shut out the sun, O! pitying night!
   Make the wide world my silent tomb!
O'ershade this northern, sickly light,
   And shroud me in eternal gloom!
My Indian plains now smiling glow,
There stands my parent's hovel low,
And there the towering aloes rise,
And fling their perfumes to the skies!
There the broad palm trees covert lend,
There sun and shade delicious blend;
But here, amid the blunted ray,
Cold shadows hourly cross my way.

"Was it for this, that on the main
   I met the tempest fierce and strong,
And steering o'er the liquid plain,
   Still onward, press'd the waves among?
Was it for this the Lascar brave
Toil'd like a wretched Indian slave;
Preserved your treasures by his toil,
And sigh'd to greet this fertile soil?
Was it for this, to beg, to die!
Where plenty smiles, and where the sky
Sheds cooling airs; while feverish pain
Maddens the famish'd Lascar's brain?

"Oft I the stately camel led,
   And sung the short-hour'd night away;
And oft, upon the top-mast's head,
   Hail'd the red eye of coming day.
The Tanyan's back my mother bore;
And oft the wavy Ganges roar
Lull'd her to rest, as on she pass'd,
'Mid the hot sands an burning blast!
And oft beneath the Banyan tree
She sate and fondly nourish'd me;
And while the noontide hour pass'd slow
I felt her breast with kindness glow.

"Where'er I turn my sleepless eyes
   No cheek so dark as mine I see,
For Europe's suns with softer dyes
   Mark Europe's favour'd progeny!
Low is my stature, black my hair,
The emblem of my soul's despair!
My voice no dulcet cadence flings,
To touch soft pity's throbbing strings;
Then wherefore, cruel Briton, say,
Compel my aching heart to stay?
To-morrow's sun may rise to see
The famish'd Lascar bless'd as thee!"

The morn had scarcely shed its rays,
   When from the city's din he ran;
For he had fasted four long days,
   And faint his pilgrimage began!
The Lascar now, without a friend,
Up the steep hill did slow ascend;
Now o'er the flowery meadows stole,
While pain and hunger pinch'd his soul;
And now his feverish lip was dried,
And burning tears his thirst supplied,
And ere he saw the evening close,
Far off, the city dimly rose.

Again the summer sun flamed high,
   The plains were golden far and wide;
And fervid was the cloudless sky,
   And slow the breezes seem'd to glide:
The gossamer, on briar and spray,
Shone silvery in the solar ray;
And sparkling dew-drops, falling round,
Spangled the hot and thirsty ground;

The insect myriads humm'd their tune
To greet the coming hour of noon,
While the poor Lascar boy, in haste,
Flew, frantic, o'er the sultry waste.

And whither could the wand'rer go?
   Who would receive a stranger poor?
Who, when the blasts of night should blow,
   Would ope to him the friendly door?
Alone, amid the race of man,
The sad, the fearful alien ran!
None would an Indian wand'rer bless;
None greet him with the fond caress;
None feed him, though with hunger keen
He at the lordly gate were seen
Prostrate, and humbly forced to crave
A shelter for an Indian slave.

The noon-tide sun, now flaming wide,
   No cloud its fierce beam shadow'd o'er,
But what could worse to him betide
   Than begging at the proud man's door?
For closed and lofty was the gate,
And there in all the pride of state,
A surly porter turn'd the key,
A man of sullen soul was he
His brow was fair; but in his eye
Sat pamper'd scorn and tyranny;
And near him a fierce mastiff stood,
Eager to bathe his fangs in blood.

The weary Lascar turn'd away,
   For trembling fear his heart subdued,
And down his cheek the tear would stray,
   Though burning anguish drank his blood!
The angry mastiff snarl'd as he
Turn'd from the house of luxury;
The sultry hour was long, and high
The broad sun flamed athwart the sky
But still a throbbing hope possess'd
The Indian wanderer's feverish breast,
When from the distant dell a sound
Of swelling music echoed round.

It was the church-bell's merry peal;
   And now a pleasant house he view'd:
And now his heart began to feel
   As though it were not quite subdued!
No lofty dome show'd loftier state,
No pamper'd porter watch'd the gate,
No mastiff like a tyrant stood,
Eager to scatter human blood;
Yet the poor Indian wanderer found,
E'en where Religion smiled around,
That tears had little power to speak
When trembling on a sable cheek!

With keen reproach, and menace rude,
   The Lascar boy away was sent;
And now again he seem'd subdued,
   And his soul sicken'd as he went.
Now on the river's bank he stood;
Now drank the cool refreshing flood;
Again his fainting heart beat high;
Again he rais'd his languid eye;
Then from the upland's sultry side
Look'd back, forgave the wretch, and sigh'd
While the proud pastor bent his way
To preach of charityand pray!


The Lascar boy still journey'd on,
   For the hot sun he well could bear,
And now the burning hour was gone,
   And Evening came, with softer air.
The breezes kiss'd his sable breast,
While his scorch'd feet the cold dew press'd;
The waving flowers soft tears display'd,
And songs of rapture fill'd the glade;
The south wind quiver'd o'er the stream,
Reflecting back the rosy beam;
While as the purpling twilight closed,
On a turf bedthe boy reposed.

And now, in fancy's airy dream,
   The Lascar boy his mother spied;
And from her breast a crimson stream
   Slow trickled down her beating side:
And now he heard her, wild, complain,
As loud she shriek'dbut shriek'd in vain!
And now she sunk upon the ground,
The red stream trickling from her wound;
And near her feet a murderer stood,
His glittering poniard tipp'd with blood!
And now, "farewell, my son!" she cried,
Then closed her fainting eyesand died!

The Indian wanderer, waking, gazed,
   With grief, and pain, and horror, wild;
And though his feverish brain was crazed,
   He raised his eyes to heaven and smiled:
And now the stars were twinkling clear,
And the blind bat was whirling near
And the lone owlet shriek'd, while he
Still sate beneath a sheltering tree;
And now the fierce-toned midnight blast
Across the wide heath howling pass'd,
When a long cavalcade he spied
By torch-light near the river's side.

He rose, and hastening swiftly on,
   Call'd loudly to the sumptuous train,
But soon the cavalcade was gone,
   And darkness wrapp'd the scene again.
He follow'd still the distant sound;
He saw the lightning flashing round;
He heard the crashing thunder roar;
He felt the whelming torrents pour;
And now, beneath a sheltering wood,
He listened to the tumbling flood
And now, with faltering, feeble breath,
The famish'd Lascar pray'd for death.

And now the flood began to rise,
   And foaming rush'd along the vale;
The Lascar watch'd, with stedfast eyes,
   The flash descending quick and pale;
And now again the cavalcade
Pass'd slowly near the upland glade;
But he was dark, and dark the scene,
The torches long extinct had been;
He call'd, but in the stormy hour
His feeble voice had lost its power,
Till, near a tree, beside the flood,
A night-bewilder'd traveller stood.

The Lascar now with transport ran,
   "Stop! stop!" he cried, with accents bold;
The traveller was a fearful man,
   And next his life he prized his gold.
He heard the wanderer madly cry;
He heard his footsteps following nigh;
He nothing saw, while onward prest,
Black as the sky the Indian's breast,
Till his firm grasp he felt; while cold
Down his pale cheek the big drop roll'd;
Then, struggling to be free, he gave
A deep wound to the Lascar slave.

And now he groan'd, by pain oppress'd,
   And now crept onward, sad and slow:
And while he held his bleeding breast
   He feebly pour'd the plaint of wo:
"What have I done!" the Lascar cried,
"That Heaven to me the power denied
To touch the soul of man, and share
A brother's love, a brother's care?
Why is this dingy form decreed
To bear oppression's scourge and bleed?
Is there a God in yon dark heaven,
And shall such monsters be forgiven.

"Here, in this smiling land we find
   Neglect and misery sting our race;
And still, whate'er the Lascar's mind,
   The stamp of sorrow marks his face!"
He ceased to speak; while from his side
Fast roll'd life's sweetly-ebbing tide,
And now, though sick and faint was he,
He slowly climb'd a tall elm tree,
To watch if near his lonely way
Some friendly cottage lent a ray,
A little ray of cheerful light,
To gild the Lascar's long, long night!

And now he hears a distant bell,
   His heart is almost rent with joy
And who but such a wretch can tell
   The transports of the Indian boy?
And higher now he climbs the tree,
And hopes some sheltering cot to see;
Again he listens, while the peal
Seems up the woodland vale to steal;
The twinkling stars begin to fade,
And dawnlight purples o'er the glade;
And while the severing vapours flee
The Lascar boy looks cheerfully.

And now the sun begins to rise
   Above the eastern summit blue;
And o'er the plain the day-breeze flies,
   And sweetly bloom the fields of dew.
The wandering wretch was chill'd, for he
Sate shivering in the tall elm tree;
And he was faint, and sick, and dry,
And bloodshot was his feverish eye;
And livid was his lip, while he
Sate silent in the tall elm tree,
And parch'd his tongue, and quick his breath,
And his dark cheek was cold as death!

And now a cottage low he sees,
   The chimney smoke, ascending grey,
Floats lightly on the morning breeze
   And o'er the mountain glides away.
And now the lark, on fluttering wings,
Its early song, delighted, sings;
And now, across the upland mead,
The swains their flocks to shelter lead;
The sheltering woods wave to and fro;
The yellow plains far distant glow;
And all things wake to life and joy,
All! but the famish'd Indian boy!

And now the village throngs are seen,
   Each lane is peopled, and the glen
From every opening path-way green
   Sends forth the busy hum of men.
They cross the meads, still, all alone,
They hear the wounded Lascar groan!
Far off they mark the wretch, as he
Falls, senseless, from the tall elm tree!
Swiftly they cross the river wide,
And soon they reach the elm tree's side;
But ere the sufferer they behold,
His wither'd heart is deadand cold!

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