to esperanza

by Henry William Herbert

Image: Michael Lenson

Ay! thou art pure, and beautiful, and young,
        With thy dark tresses, and thy neck of snow,
As limner e’er portrayed, or minstrel sung:
        No shadow yet hath stained that lustrous brow,
Nor blighting grief its haggard dimness flung
        O’er those transparent eyes, in which the light—
The beaming radiance of a soul unwrung—
        Floats, like the moon mirror’d on waters bright,
A peaceful glory, incorrupt by wo,
And nearest heaven of aught that shines below;

For happiness to thee hath been a dower
        Changeless and constant.  Passion ne’er came nigh,
To scorch, like summer noon, the delicate flower,
        Bidding its tender charms consume and die;
Nor stern remorse, the coldest, keenest power
        That shakes frail reason on its tottering throne,
Around thee spread the clouds, that still must lower
        When the wild storm, which raised them, far hath flown;
Nor slighted love, nor kindness unreturned,
Chilled the clear flame that in thy bosom burned.

Sweet as home-music to the exile’s ear,
        Are thine untutored harmonies of voice;
And thy light laugh, with thrilling accents dear,
        Compels its every hearer to rejoice;
Thy summer-seeming friends, untried by fear,
        Or doubt, or danger—faithful all, and free—
Thy world, one paradise of deathless cheer—
        Thy life, one voyage o’er a tranquil sea,
Without or rock to break its azure sheen,
Or treacherous shoal the sunny deeps between.

Young hearts have bounded wild, when thou wert by—
        And eloquent tongues have breathed their incense near,
Half aspiration proud—half timid sigh
        And thou hast lent a fondly credulous ear
To creatures of a world—itself a lie!—
        Creatures—that smile and truckle, fawn and kneel,
Giving their breath of life to swell the sail
        That asks no aid, but prompt to turn the wheel,
Veer but one point of fortune’s changeful gale,
In impotent revenge, and paltry hate,
That they were less than thee, their queen of late.

Oh! wouldst thou never learn to rue thy lot—
        To loath the very race, of which thou art;
Scorning it so, that thou canst hate it not—
        Oh! wouldst thou never gnaw thy gentle heart,
Undone, deserted, trampled, and forgot—
        Then soothe not—love not—list not—nor believe!
Hope not on earth to find one holy spot,
        Where foes will spare—and friends will not deceive!
Better untrusting, unbetrayed, to die,
Than look for truth, love, honor, save on high!

In 1836 and 1837 Herbert produced two sumptuous volumes of original literature by American authors entitled The Magnolia. Intended to vie with “the fairest of the European annuals,” it proved too costly and was discontinued. Herbert published several of his own poems in The Magnolia for 1837, including the one here.

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