THE DELUGE: MISERERE
It is midnight; the great dwelling
Reared at Philip Second's will
The world's wonderment to fill—
All his mighty story telling,
Lies in haughty shadows, spelling
Out the history painfully
Of his vanished majesty,
Giving like some giant writhing
Neath the mountain, the last tithing
That his ruined glories see.
From the Guadarramas waking
The chill winds have left their caves,
Breasting on the architraves
Of the shrine and ceaseless breaking.
All the stars above are shaking
With a red and sullen flame,
And at times in sorrow's name
Speaks the echo-starting bell
That lugubrious would tell
That the convent prays the same.
While the church morose and sombre
Slumbers in its vast repose,
In its icy silence close
As a tomb the ages cumber;
And the cresset lamps in umber
With uncertain gleam afar
Show the figures now that are
Half advancing, half retreating,
Mingling like the ghost-forms meeting
In a child's or old man's slumber.
Sudden from the royal fosses
Stirs a rumor strange and clear,
And an awesome form of fear
Lifts above the dust and crosses.
Charles the Fifth, the Caesar, tosses
Back the clamping funeral stone,
And with face all fleshless grown,
Rises horrid from the mosses.
Striking hard his bony forehead,
As from lethargy so deep
He would shake his mind from sleep
And disperse his nightmare horrid.
And he stared upon the florid
Burial place so still and lone
Where there towered his funeral stone.
Forth he from the tomb advanced
And took his stand and never glanced
Where his ragged shroud was shown.
«Hark ye!» — cried his warlike voice
In the tone the whole world knew
When the ancient ages threw
At his feet its trembling choice;—
«Throw back your sepulchre's dark walls,
Ye glories of Imperial days,
Ye heroes of immortal rays,
Ye flames of old-time glory,
And from your places mortuary,
Come forth — 'tis Caesar's voice that calls!»—
And answering the haughty word
The very depths with rumor stirred,
And from their marbles surged
Spectres half unpurged;
And the graves opened wide;
And in a line dead kings began
To file before him, each one wan
And soiled with years, though every man
Still wore his crown of pride.
Grave, solemn, and remote
Came Philip Second, from his wars
Scourged, yet unbeaten, by his scars;
His son beside him grim did float;
And then the King, the all devout,
His humbleness beyond a doubt,
Who saw great Spain, the victim, torn
Like some great granite mountain, scorn
Of earthquakes, blotted out.
Then came the monarch of the blight,
Whose reign did shame employ
All our grandeur to destroy,
And shaking still with fever's might—
Oh, the dread conspiracy
That the eye might still remark
'Twixt that monarch of the dark
And his wasted monarchy!—
With a terrible confusion
Silently they herd along,
Kings now dead who once were strong!—
Teeming with the grave's profusion.
And the vanished embers start
Gleaming in those brows' dead part,
Throwing uncertain lights upon
Eyepits where the eyes are gone,
And empty skulls that grieve the heart
And following their monarchs after,
In answer to the mighty call
As though the very hours fall
On Judgement Day, from floor to rafter,
Thronging come Spain's ancient glories,
Through the cloistered corridors,
Princes, Lords and Grand Senores,
Prelates, friars, warriors,
Favorites and counselors,
Theologues and Inquisitors.
Then with Charles's mandate shaking
From the scepter that he bore,
To the organ tottered o'er
A poor skeleton all quaking;
Bony hands the keyboard waking
Stirred a torrent of accord
Till the giant music poured
Litanies and requiems making.
And the voices all in one,
From the dead a holy chant,
At the shrine hierophant
To their God and Maker ran.
And the broken echoes, won
From the victims of the tomb,
Swelled and stirred the startled gloom,
And to such a fervor rose
That it seemed the very close
Of a world whose days were done.
«We were as the mighty stream
Of a river that is dry;
They the source can now espy;
Dry and parched the channels gleam!
Yea, O God, our little power
Was extinguished in an hour—
»Cursed, cursed the device,
Portent over land and sea,
That spreads the word of life so free
And gives ideas wings of price,
The printed words that all suffice
And wound to death our Sovereignty.—
»Cursed be the wire that starts
All lands and peoples into one,
By which to prayers and hopes are spun
All the world's pulsating hearts.
Nought in silence can be done;
No injustice lurks or darts—
»Now no more each people thrives
In solitary state alone;
To chains of iron they have grown
The bonds where human nature strives;
No more are isolation's gyves
On liberty's strong muscles thrown—
»A bitter and a brutal blow
Delivered with unsparing hand
Upon the shoulders of our band
Of priest and king, they did bestow.
And nought there is that we can know
To heal the wound their rage has fanned—
»And see, alas, how human pride
Upon the heavens is placing hands!
In arrogance the haughty lands
Would even Thee, the Lord, deride!
Let not their voice blaspheming guide
To peace nor to contentment's strands—
»Yet not in hostile turmoil caught,
Nor in their dismal pit of woe
Let Thy world perish, ere it know
That in itself its wrong was fraught.
Unpitying they ceaseless brought
Our death to us — they die also!—
»O Life, thou great and mighty river
That hurries onward to the main,
Behold, our channels dust-heaps vain,
Where once did rushing streams deliver!
Let not the impious rule forever—
Nor evil have an endless reign—
Then suddenly the organ ceased
Its mighty rumble, and the light
Fell swiftly off the throng of blight,
And all to darkness was released.
While in a vast and solemn feast
Of dread and tears the silence grew
And from the eyeless skulls poured through
A flood of weeping never ceased.
Meanwhile the light was fading out
Mysterious and vague, and all
The rumors died along the wall,
And the great vision shrank to doubt.
With daylight breaking from without,
The white procession paled away
And through the scattering mists of day
Came a far locomotive's shout.
June, 25th. 1873.
Gaspar Núñez de Arce
Translation by Thomas Walsh