The Zenana - 6 The Raki

Letitia Elizabeth Landon 1802 (Chelsea) – 1838 (Cape Coast)

The song was o’er, but yet the strings
Made melancholy murmurings;
She wandered on from air to air,
Changeful as fancies when they bear
The impress of the various thought,
From memory’s twilight caverns brought.
At length, one wild, peculiar chime
Recalled this tale of ancient time.

THE RAKI. *

“There's dust upon the distant wind, and shadow on the skies,
And anxiously the maiden strains her long-expecting eyes
And fancies she can catch the light far flashing from the sword,
And see the silver crescents raised, of him, the Mogul lord.

“She stands upon a lofty tower, and gazes o’er the plain:
Alas! that eyes so beautiful, should turn on heaven in vain.
’Tis but a sudden storm whose weight is darkening on the air,
The lightning sweeps the hill, but shows no coming warriors there.

“Yet crimson as the morning ray, she wears the robe of pride
That binds the gallant Humaioon, a brother, to her side;
His gift, what time around his arm, the glittering band was rolled,
With stars of ev'ry precious stone enwrought in shining gold.

“Bound by the Raki's sacred tie, his ready aid to yield,
Though beauty waited in the bower, and glory in the field:
Why comes he not, that chieftain vow’d, to this her hour of need?
Has honour no devotedness? Has chivalry no speed?

“The Rajpoot’s daughter gazes round, she sees the plain afar,
Spread shining to the sun, which lights no trace of coming war.
The very storm has past away, as neither earth nor heaven
One token of their sympathy had to her anguish given.

“And still more hopeless than when last she on their camp looked down,
The foeman’s gathered numbers close round the devoted town:
And daily in that fatal trench her chosen soldiers fall,
And spread themselves, a rampart vain, around that ruined wall.

“Her eyes upon her city turn--alas! what can they meet,
But famine, and despair, and death, in every lonely street?
Women and children wander pale, or with despairing eye
Look farewell to their native hearths, and lay them down to die.

"She seeks her palace, where her court collects in mournful bands,
Of maidens who but watch and weep, and wring their weary hands.
One word there came from her white lips, one word, she spoke no more;
But that word was for life and death, the young queen named--the Jojr.

"A wild shriek filled those palace halls—one shriek, it was the last,
All womanish complaint and wail have in its utterance past:
They kneel at Kurnavati’s feet, they bathe her hands in tears,
Then hurrying to their task of death, each calm and stern appears.

“There is a mighty cavern close beside the palace gate,
Dark, gloomy temple, meet to make such sacrifice to fate:
There heap they up all precious woods, the sandal and the rose,
While fragrant oils and essences like some sweet river flows.

“And shawls from rich Cashmere, and robes from Dacca’s golden loom,
And caskets filled with Orient pearls, or yet more rare perfume:
And lutes and wreaths, all graceful toys, of woman’s gentle care,
Are heaped upon that royal pile, the general doom to share.

“But weep for those the human things, so lovely and so young,
The panting hearts which still to life so passionately clung;
Some bound to this dear earth by hope, and some by love’s strong thrall,
And yet dishonour's high disdain was paramount with all.

“Her silver robe flowed to her feet, with jewels circled round,
And in her long and raven hair the regal gems were bound;
And diamonds blaze, ruby and pearl were glittering in her zone,
And there, with starry emeralds set, the radiant Kandjar * shone.

“The youthful Sultana led the way, while in her glorious eyes
Shone spiritual, the clear deep light, that is in moonlit skies:
Pale and resolved, her noble brow was worthy of a race
Whose proud blood flowed in those blue veins unconscious of disgrace.

“Solemn and slow with mournful channt, come that devoted band,
And Kurnavati follows last—the red torch in her hand:
She fires the pile, a death-black smoke mounts from that dreary cave—
Fling back the city gates—the foe, can now find but a grave.

“Hark the fierce music on the wind, the atabal, the gong,
The stern avenger is behind, he has not tarried long:
They brought his summons, though he stood before his plighted bride;
They brought his summons, though he stood in all but victory’s pride.

“Yet down he flung the bridal wreath, he left the field unwon,
All that a warrior might achieve, young Humaioon had done,
Too late—he saw the reddening sky, he saw the smoke arise,
A few faint stragglers lived to tell the Ranee’s sacrifice.

“But still the monarch held a sword, and had a debt to pay;
Small cause had Buhadour to boast—the triumph of that day:
Again the lone streets flowed with blood, and though too late to save,
Vengeance was the funereal rite at Kurnavati’s grave.”

THE RAKI.--The gift of a bracelet, whose acceptance was expressed by the return of a vest. It is a Rajpoot custom. Where there is both valour and beauty, it were hard not to find something of chivalric observance; and the one alluded to excels in devotion any record of the old romances, however their heroes might be voués aux dames . The chieftain to whom the Raki (anglicé , bracelet) was sent, became bound to the service of some unknown dame, whose bright eyes could dispense no reward, inasmuch as he was never to see them, the “bracelet-bound brother,” and his adopted sister, never holding any intercourse. Humaioon accepted this gage from Kurnavati, the princess of Cheetore, and at her summons abandoned his nearly completed conquest of Bengal, and flew to succour, or at least avenge.

THE KANDJAR.--The Kandjar is a small poniard, set with gems, worn in the girdle of royal females, as a sign of their rank.
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Submitted by Madeleine Quinn on May 16, 2016

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Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was an English poet. Born 14th August 1802 at 25 Hans Place, Chelsea, she lived through the most productive period of her life nearby, at No.22. A precocious child with a natural gift for poetry, she was driven by the financial needs of her family to become a professional writer and thus a target for malicious gossip (although her three children by William Jerdan were successfully hidden from the public). In 1838, she married George Maclean, governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast, whence she travelled, only to die a few months later (15th October) of a fatal heart condition. Behind her post-Romantic style of sentimentality lie preoccupations with art, decay and loss that give her poetry its characteristic intensity and in this vein she attempted to reinterpret some of the great male texts from a woman’s perspective. Her originality rapidly led to her being one of the most read authors of her day and her influence, commencing with Tennyson in England and Poe in America, was long-lasting. However, Victorian attitudes led to her poetry being misrepresented and she became excluded from the canon of English literature, where she belongs. more…

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