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The Works of Lord Byron Volume III Part 77

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From right to left his sabre swept: Many an Othman mother wept Sons that were unborn, when dipped[390]

His weapon first in Moslem gore, Ere his years could count a score. 800 Of all he might have been the sire[391]

Who fell that day beneath his ire: For, sonless left long years ago, His wrath made many a childless foe; And since the day, when in the strait[392]

His only boy had met his fate, His parent's iron hand did doom More than a human hecatomb.[393]

If shades by carnage be appeased, Patroclus' spirit less was pleased 810 Than his, Minotti's son, who died Where Asia's bounds and ours divide.

Buried he lay, where thousands before For thousands of years were inhumed on the sh.o.r.e; What of them is left, to tell Where they lie, and how they fell?

Not a stone on their turf, nor a bone in their graves; But they live in the verse that immortally saves.[394]

XXVI.

Hark to the Allah shout![395] a band Of the Mussulman bravest and best is at hand; 820 Their leader's nervous arm is bare, Swifter to smite, and never to spare-- Unclothed to the shoulder it waves them on; Thus in the fight is he ever known: Others a gaudier garb may show, To tempt the spoil of the greedy foe; Many a hand's on a richer hilt, But none on a steel more ruddily gilt; Many a loftier turban may wear,-- Alp is but known by the white arm bare; 830 Look through the thick of the fight,'tis there!

There is not a standard on that sh.o.r.e So well advanced the ranks before; There is not a banner in Moslem war Will lure the Delhis half so far; It glances like a falling star!

Where'er that mighty arm is seen, The bravest be, or late have been;[396]

There the craven cries for quarter Vainly to the vengeful Tartar; 840 Or the hero, silent lying, Scorns to yield a groan in dying; Mustering his last feeble blow 'Gainst the nearest levelled foe, Though faint beneath the mutual wound, Grappling on the gory ground.

XXVII.

Still the old man stood erect.

And Alp's career a moment checked.

"Yield thee, Minotti; quarter take, For thine own, thy daughter's sake." 850

"Never, Renegado, never!

Though the life of thy gift would last for ever."[qg]

"Francesca!--Oh, my promised bride![qh]

Must she too perish by thy pride!"

"She is safe."--"Where? where?"--"In Heaven; From whence thy traitor soul is driven-- Far from thee, and undefiled."

Grimly then Minotti smiled, As he saw Alp staggering bow Before his words, as with a blow. 860

"Oh G.o.d! when died she?"--"Yesternight-- Nor weep I for her spirit's flight: None of my pure race shall be Slaves to Mahomet and thee-- Come on!"--That challenge is in vain-- Alp's already with the slain!

While Minotti's words were wreaking More revenge in bitter speaking Than his falchion's point had found, Had the time allowed to wound, 870 From within the neighbouring porch Of a long defended church, Where the last and desperate few Would the failing fight renew, The sharp shot dashed Alp to the ground; Ere an eye could view the wound That crashed through the brain of the infidel, Round he spun, and down he fell; A flash like fire within his eyes Blazed, as he bent no more to rise, 880 And then eternal darkness sunk Through all the palpitating trunk;[qi]

Nought of life left, save a quivering Where his limbs were slightly shivering: They turned him on his back; his breast And brow were stained with gore and dust, And through his lips the life-blood oozed, From its deep veins lately loosed; But in his pulse there was no throb, Nor on his lips one dying sob; 890 Sigh, nor word, nor struggling breath[qj]

Heralded his way to death: Ere his very thought could pray, Unaneled he pa.s.sed away, Without a hope from Mercy's aid,-- To the last a Renegade.[397]

XXVIII.

Fearfully the yell arose Of his followers, and his foes; These in joy, in fury those:[qk]

Then again in conflict mixing,[ql] 900 Clashing swords, and spears transfixing, Interchanged the blow and thrust, Hurling warriors in the dust.

Street by street, and foot by foot, Still Minotti dares dispute The latest portion of the land Left beneath his high command; With him, aiding heart and hand, The remnant of his gallant band.

Still the church is tenable, 910 Whence issued late the fated ball That half avenged the city's fall, When Alp, her fierce a.s.sailant, fell: Thither bending sternly back, They leave before a b.l.o.o.d.y track; And, with their faces to the foe, Dealing wounds with every blow,[398]

The chief, and his retreating train, Join to those within the fane; There they yet may breathe awhile, 920 Sheltered by the ma.s.sy pile.

XXIX.

Brief breathing-time! the turbaned host, With added ranks and raging boast, Press onwards with such strength and heat, Their numbers balk their own retreat; For narrow the way that led to the spot Where still the Christians yielded not; And the foremost, if fearful, may vainly try Through the ma.s.sy column to turn and fly; They perforce must do or die. 930 They die; but ere their eyes could close, Avengers o'er their bodies rose; Fresh and furious, fast they fill The ranks unthinned, though slaughtered still; And faint the weary Christians wax Before the still renewed attacks: And now the Othmans gain the gate; Still resists its iron weight, And still, all deadly aimed and hot, From every crevice comes the shot; 940 From every shattered window pour The volleys of the sulphurous shower: But the portal wavering grows and weak-- The iron yields, the hinges creak-- It bends--it falls--and all is o'er; Lost Corinth may resist no more!

x.x.x.

Darkly, sternly, and all alone, Minotti stood o'er the altar stone: Madonna's face upon him shone,[399]

Painted in heavenly hues above, 950 With eyes of light and looks of love; And placed upon that holy shrine To fix our thoughts on things divine, When pictured there, we kneeling see Her, and the boy-G.o.d on her knee, Smiling sweetly on each prayer To Heaven, as if to waft it there.

Still she smiled; even now she smiles, Though slaughter streams along her aisles: Minotti lifted his aged eye, 960 And made the sign of a cross with a sigh, Then seized a torch which blazed thereby; And still he stood, while with steel and flame, Inward and onward the Mussulman came.

x.x.xI.

The vaults beneath the mosaic stone[qm]

Contained the dead of ages gone; Their names were on the graven floor, But now illegible with gore;[qn]

The carved crests, and curious hues The varied marble's veins diffuse, 970 Were smeared, and slippery--stained, and strown With broken swords, and helms o'erthrown: There were dead above, and the dead below Lay cold in many a coffined row; You might see them piled in sable state, By a pale light through a gloomy grate; But War had entered their dark caves,[qo]

And stored along the vaulted graves Her sulphurous treasures, thickly spread In ma.s.ses by the fleshless dead: 980 Here, throughout the siege, had been The Christians' chiefest magazine; To these a late formed train now led, Minotti's last and stern resource Against the foe's o'erwhelming force.

x.x.xII.

The foe came on, and few remain To strive, and those must strive in vain: For lack of further lives, to slake The thirst of vengeance now awake, With barbarous blows they gash the dead, 990 And lop the already lifeless head, And fell the statues from their niche, And spoil the shrines of offerings rich, And from each other's rude hands wrest The silver vessels Saints had blessed.

To the high altar on they go; Oh, but it made a glorious show![400]

On its table still behold The cup of consecrated gold; Ma.s.sy and deep, a glittering prize, 1000 Brightly it sparkles to plunderers' eyes: That morn it held the holy wine,[qp]

Converted by Christ to his blood so divine, Which his worshippers drank at the break of day,[qq]

To shrive their souls ere they joined in the fray.

Still a few drops within it lay; And round the sacred table glow Twelve lofty lamps, in splendid row, From the purest metal cast; A spoil--the richest, and the last. 1010

x.x.xIII.

So near they came, the nearest stretched To grasp the spoil he almost reached When old Minotti's hand Touched with the torch the train-- 'Tis fired![401]

Spire, vaults, the shrine, the spoil, the slain, The turbaned victors, the Christian band, All that of living or dead remain, Hurled on high with the shivered fane, In one wild roar expired![402] 1020 The shattered town--the walls thrown down-- The waves a moment backward bent-- The hills that shake, although unrent,[qr]

As if an Earthquake pa.s.sed-- The thousand shapeless things all driven In cloud and flame athwart the heaven, By that tremendous blast-- Proclaimed the desperate conflict o'er On that too long afflicted sh.o.r.e:[403]

Up to the sky like rockets go 1030 All that mingled there below: Many a tall and goodly man, Scorched and shrivelled to a span, When he fell to earth again Like a cinder strewed the plain: Down the ashes shower like rain; Some fell in the gulf, which received the sprinkles With a thousand circling wrinkles; Some fell on the sh.o.r.e, but, far away, Scattered o'er the isthmus lay; 1040 Christian or Moslem, which be they?

Let their mothers see and say![qs]

When in cradled rest they lay, And each nursing mother smiled On the sweet sleep of her child, Little deemed she such a day Would rend those tender limbs away.[404]

Not the matrons that them bore Could discern their offspring more;[405]

That one moment left no trace 1050 More of human form or face Save a scattered scalp or bone: And down came blazing rafters, strown Around, and many a falling stone,[qt]

Deeply dinted in the clay, All blackened there and reeking lay.

All the living things that heard The deadly earth-shock disappeared: The wild birds flew; the wild dogs fled, And howling left the unburied dead;[qu][406] 1060 The camels from their keepers broke; The distant steer forsook the yoke-- The nearer steed plunged o'er the plain, And burst his girth, and tore his rein; The bull-frog's note, from out the marsh, Deep-mouthed arose, and doubly harsh;[407]

The wolves yelled on the caverned hill Where Echo rolled in thunder still;[qv]

The jackal's troop, in gathered cry,[qw][408]

Bayed from afar complainingly, 1070 With a mixed and mournful sound,[qx]

Like crying babe, and beaten hound:[409]

With sudden wing, and ruffled breast, The eagle left his rocky nest, And mounted nearer to the sun, The clouds beneath him seemed so dun; Their smoke a.s.sailed his startled beak, And made him higher soar and shriek-- Thus was Corinth lost and won![410]

FOOTNOTES:

[330] "With Gun, Drum, Trumpet, Blunderbuss, and Thunder."

[331] {447} Napoli di Romania is not now the most considerable place in the Morea, but Tripolitza, where the Pacha resides, and maintains his government. Napoli is near Argos. I visited all three in 1810-11; and, in the course of journeying through the country from my first arrival in 1809, I crossed the Isthmus eight times in my way from Attica to the Morea, over the mountains; or in the other direction, when pa.s.sing from the Gulf of Athens to that of Lepanto. Both the routes are picturesque and beautiful, though very different: that by sea has more sameness; but the voyage, being always within sight of land, and often very near it, presents many attractive views of the islands Salamis, aegina, Poros, etc., and the coast of the Continent.

["Independently of the suitableness of such an event to the power of Lord Byron's genius, the Fall of Corinth afforded local attractions, by the intimate knowledge which the poet had of the place and surrounding objects.... Thus furnished with that topographical information which could not be well obtained from books and maps, he was admirably qualified to depict the various operations and progress of the siege."--_Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Right Honourable Lord Byron_, London, 1822, p. 222.]

[332] {449} [The introductory lines, 1-45, are not included in the copy of the poem in Lady Byron's handwriting, nor were they published in the First Edition. On Christmas Day, 1815, Byron, enclosing this fragment to Murray, says, "I send some lines written some time ago, and intended as an opening to the _Siege of Corinth_. I had forgotten them, and am not sure that they had not better be left out now;--on that you and your Synod can determine." They are headed in the MS., "The Stranger's Tale,"

October 23rd. First published in _Letters and Journals_, 1830, i. 638, they were included among the _Occasional Poems_ in the edition of 1831, and first prefixed to the poem in the edition of 1832.]

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