Paradise and the Peri

11:09 AM
Thomas Moore (1779-1852) was an Irish poet, satirist, composer, and political propagandist. In 1817, Moore penned Lalla Rookh (meaning "tulip-cheeked" in Persian) a narrative poem set in the Orient which became one of the top paid pieces of poetry for its time (£3000). The bulk of the work consists of four interpolated tales sung by the poet: "The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan", "Paradise and the Peri", "The Fire-Worshippers", and "The Light of the Harem".

paradise and the peri illuminated title page
Paradise and the Peri plays a crucial role in the narrative of Black Bird, an old leather-bound copy of the poem having been handed down through Bird's family for generations. It is quoted throughout the book and is a source of comfort for Bird's struggling mother, who is named Peri after the leading character from the poem.

The peri, a creature from Persian mythology said to be exquisite, winged spirits renowned for their beauty, is the focus of the story, having been expelled from Paradise and trying to regain entrance by giving the gift that is most dear to heaven.

Lalla Rookh remains one of the most translated poems of its time and today exists within the public domain. Below you can read the Peri poem in its entirety.


One morn a Peri at the gate
Of Eden stood disconsolate;
And as she listened to the Springs
Of Life within like music flowing
And caught the light upon her wings
Thro' the half-open portal glowing,
She wept to think her recreant race
Should e'er have lost that glorious place!

"How happy," exclaimed this child of air,
"Are the holy Spirits who wander there
"Mid flowers that never shall fade or fall;
"Tho' mine are the gardens of earth and sea
"And the stars themselves have flowers for me,
"One blossom of Heaven out-blooms them all!

"Tho' sunny the Lake of cool CASHMERE
"With its plane-tree Isle reflected clear,
"And sweetly the founts of that Valley fall;
"Tho' bright are the waters of SING-SU-HAY
And the golden floods that thitherward stray,
Yet-- oh, 'tis only the Blest can say
How the waters of Heaven outshine them all!

"Go, wing thy flight from star to star,
From world to luminous world as far
As the universe spreads its flaming wall:
Take all the pleasures of all the spheres
And multiply each thro' endless years
One minute of Heaven is worth them all!"

The glorious Angel who was keeping
The gates of Light beheld her weeping,
And as he nearer drew and listened
To her sad song, a tear-drop glistened
Within his eyelids, like the spray
From Eden's fountain when it lies
On the blue flower which-- Bramins say--
Blooms nowhere but in Paradise.

"Nymph of a fair but erring line!"
Gently he said-- "One hope is thine.
'Tis written in the Book of Fate,
'The Peri yet may be forgiven
Who brings to this Eternal gate
The Gift that is most dear to Heaven'!
Go seek it and redeem thy sin--
'Tis sweet to let the Pardoned in."

Rapidly as comets run
To the embraces of the Sun;--
Fleeter than the starry brands
Flung at night from angel hands
At those dark and daring sprites
Who would climb the empyreal heights,
Down the blue vault the PERI flies,
And lighted earthward by a glance
That just then broke from morning's eyes,
Hung hovering o'er our world's expanse.

But whither shall the Spirit go
To find this gift for Heaven; --"I know
The wealth," she cries, "of every urn
In which unnumbered rubies burn
Beneath the pillars of CHILMINAR:
I know where the Isles of Perfume are
Many a fathom down in the sea,
To the south of sun-bright ARABY;
I know too where the Genii hid
The jewelled cup of their King JAMSHID,
"With Life's elixir sparkling high--
"But gifts like these are not for the sky.
"Where was there ever a gem that shone
"Like the steps of ALLA'S wonderful Throne?
"And the Drops of Life-- oh! what would they be
"In the boundless Deep of Eternity?"

While thus she mused her pinions fanned
The air of that sweet Indian land
Whose air is balm, whose ocean spreads
O'er coral rocks and amber beds,
Whose mountains pregnant by the beam
Of the warm sun with diamonds teem,
Whose rivulets are like rich brides,
Lovely, with gold beneath their tides,
Whose sandal groves and bowers of spice
Might be a Peri's Paradise!
But crimson now her rivers ran
With human blood-- the smell of death
Came reeking from those spicy bowers,
And man the sacrifice of man
Mingled his taint with every breath
Upwafted from the innocent flowers.
Land of the Sun! what foot invades
Thy Pagods and thy pillared shades--
Thy cavern shrines and Idol stones,
Thy Monarch and their thousand Thrones?

'Tis He of GAZNA, fierce in wrath
He comes and INDIA'S diadems
Lie scattered in his ruinous path.--
His bloodhounds he adorns with gems,
Torn from the violated necks
Of many a young and loved Sultana;
Maidens within their pure Zenana,
Priests in the very fane he slaughters,
And chokes up with the glittering wrecks
Of golden shrines the sacred waters!
Downward the PERI turns her gaze,
And thro' the war-field's bloody haze
Beholds a youthful warrior stand
Alone beside his native river,--
The red blade broken in his hand
And the last arrow in his quiver.
"Live," said the Conqueror, "live to share
"The trophies and the crowns I bear!"
Silent that youthful warrior stood--
Silent he pointed to the flood
All crimson with his country's blood,
Then sent his last remaining dart,
For answer, to the Invader's heart.

False flew the shaft tho' pointed well;
The Tyrant lived, the Hero fell!--
Yet marked the PERI where he lay,
And when the rush of war was past
Swiftly descending on a ray
Of morning light she caught the last--
Last glorious drop his heart had shed
Before its free-born spirit fled!

"Be this," she cried, as she winged her flight,
"My welcome gift at the Gates of Light.
"Tho' foul are the drops that oft distil
"On the field of warfare, blood like this
"For Liberty shed so holy is,
"It would not stain the purest rill
"That sparkles among the Bowers of Bliss!
"Oh, if there be on this earthly sphere
"A boon, an offering Heaven holds dear,
"'Tis the last libation Liberty draws
"From the heart that bleeds and breaks in her cause!"
"Sweet," said the Angel, as she gave
The gift into his radiant hand,
"Sweet is our welcome of the Brave
"Who die thus for their native Land.--
"But see-- alas! the crystal bar
"Of Eden moves not-- holier far
"Than even this drop the boon must be
"That opes the Gates of Heaven for thee!"

Her first fond hope of Eden blighted,
Now among AFRIC'S lunar Mountains
Far to the South the PERI lighted
And sleeked her plumage at the fountains
Of that Egyptian tide whose birth
Is hidden from the sons of earth
Deep in those solitary woods
Where oft the Genii of the Floods
Dance round the cradle of their Nile
And hail the new-born Giant's smile.
Thence over EGYPT'S palmy groves
Her grots, and sepulchres of Kings,
The exiled Spirit sighing roves
And now hangs listening to the doves
In warm ROSETTA'S vale; now loves
To watch the moonlight on the wings
Of the white pelicans that break
The azure calm of MOERIS' Lake.
'Twas a fair scene: a Land more bright
Never did mortal eye behold!
Who could have thought that saw this night
Those valleys and their fruits of gold
Basking in Heaven's serenest light,
Those groups of lovely date-trees bending
Languidly their leaf-crowned heads,
Like youthful maids, when sleep descending
Warns them to their silken beds,
Those virgin lilies all the night
Bathing their beauties in the lake
That they may rise more fresh and bright,
When their beloved Sun's awake,
Those ruined shrines and towers that seem
The relics of a splendid dream,
Amid whose fairy loneliness
Naught but the lapwing's cry is heard,--
Naught seen but (when the shadows flitting,
Fast from the moon unsheath its gleam,)
Some purple-winged Sultana sitting
Upon a column motionless
And glittering like an Idol bird!--
Who could have thought that there, even there,
Amid those scenes so still and fair,
The Demon of the Plague hath cast
From his hot wing a deadlier blast,
More mortal far than ever came
From the red Desert's sands of flame!
So quick that every living thing
Of human shape touched by his wing,
Like plants, where the Simoom hath past
At once falls black and withering!
The sun went down on many a brow
Which, full of bloom and freshness then,
Is rankling in the pest-house now
And ne'er will feel that sun again,
And, oh! to see the unburied heaps
On which the lonely moonlight sleeps--
The very vultures turn away,
And sicken at so foul a prey!
Only the fierce hyaena stalks
Throughout the city's desolate walks
At midnight and his carnage plies:--
Woe to the half-dead wretch who meets
The glaring of those large blue eyes
Amid the darkness of the streets!

"Poor race of men!" said the pitying Spirit,
"Dearly ye pay for your primal Fall--
"Some flowerets of Eden ye still inherit,
"But the trail of the Serpent is over them all!"
She wept-- the air grew pure and clear
Around her as the bright drops ran,
For there's a magic in each tear
Such kindly Spirits weep for man!

Just then beneath some orange trees
Whose fruit and blossoms in the breeze
Were wantoning together, free,
Like age at play with infancy--
Beneath that fresh and springing bower
Close by the Lake she heard the moan
Of one who at this silent hour,
Had thither stolen to die alone.
One who in life where'er he moved,
Drew after him the hearts of many;
Yet now, as tho' he ne'er were loved,
Dies here unseen, unwept by any!
None to watch near him-- none to slake
The fire that in his bosom lies,
With even a sprinkle from that lake
Which shines so cool before his eyes.
No voice well known thro' many a day
To speak the last, the parting word
Which when all other sounds decay
Is still like distant music heard;--
That tender farewell on the shore
Of this rude world when all is o'er,
Which cheers the spirit ere its bark
Puts off into the unknown Dark.

Deserted youth! one thought alone
Shed joy around his soul in death
That she whom he for years had known,
And loved and might have called his own
Was safe from this foul midnight's breath,--
Safe in her father's princely halls
Where the cool airs from fountain falls,
Freshly perfumed by many a brand
Of the sweet wood from India's land,
Were pure as she whose brow they fanned.

But see-- who yonder comes by stealth,
This melancholy bower to seek,
Like a young envoy sent by Health
With rosy gifts upon her cheek?
'Tis she-- far off, thro' moonlight dim
He knew his own betrothed bride,
She who would rather die with him
Than live to gain the world beside!--
Her arms are round her lover now,
His livid cheek to hers she presses
And dips to bind his burning brow
In the cool lake her loosened tresses.
Ah! once, how little did he think
An hour would come when he should shrink
With horror from that dear embrace,
Those gentle arms that were to him
Holy as is the cradling place
Of Eden's infant cherubim!
And now he yields-- now turns away,
Shuddering as if the venom lay
All in those proffered lips alone--
Those lips that then so fearless grown
Never until that instant came
Near his unasked or without shame.
"Oh! let me only breathe the air.
"The blessed air, that's breathed by thee,
"And whether on its wings it bear
"Healing or death 'tis sweet to me!
"There-- drink my tears while yet they fall--
"Would that my bosom's blood were balm,
"And, well thou knowst, I'd shed it all
"To give thy brow one minute's calm.
"Nay, turn not from me that dear face--
"Am I not thine-- thy own loved bride--
"The one, the chosen one, whose place
"In life or death is by thy side?
"Thinkst thou that she whose only light,
"In this dim world from thee hath shone
"Could bear the long, the cheerless night
"That must be hers when thou art gone?
"That I can live and let thee go,
"Who art my life itself? --No, no--
"When the stem dies the leaf that grew
"Out of its heart must perish too!
"Then turn to me, my own love, turn,
"Before, like thee, I fade and burn;
"Cling to these yet cool lips and share
"The last pure life that lingers there!"
She fails-- she sinks-- as dies the lamp
In charnel airs or cavern-damp,
So quickly do his baleful sighs
Quench all the sweet light of her eyes,
One struggle-- and his pain is past--
Her lover is no longer living!
One kiss the maiden gives, one last,
Long kiss, which she expires in giving!

"Sleep," said the PERI, as softly she stole
The farewell sigh of that vanishing soul,
As true as e'er warmed a woman's breast--
"Sleep on, in visions of odor rest
"In balmier airs than ever yet stirred
"The enchanted pile of that lonely bird
"Who sings at the last his own death-lay
"And in music and perfume dies away!"
Thus saying, from her lips she spread
Unearthly breathings thro' the place
And shook her sparkling wreath and shed
Such lustre o'er each paly face
That like two lovely saints they seemed,
Upon the eve of doomsday taken
From their dim graves in ordor sleeping;
While that benevolent PERI beamed
Like their good angel calmly keeping
Watch o'er them till their souls would waken.

But morn is blushing in the sky;
Again the PERI soars above,
Bearing to Heaven that precious sigh
Of pure, self-sacrificing love.
High throbbed her heart with hope elate
The Elysian palm she soon shall win.
For the bright Spirit at the gate
Smiled as she gave that offering in;
And she already hears the trees
Of Eden with their crystal bells
Ringing in that ambrosial breeze
That from the throne of ALLA swells;
And she can see the starry bowls
That lie around that lucid lake
Upon whose banks admitted Souls
Their first sweet draught of glory take!

But, ah! even PERIS' hopes are vain--
Again the Fates forbade, again
The immortal barrier closed-- "Not yet,"
The Angel said as with regret
He shut from her that glimpse of glory--
"True was the maiden, and her story
"Written in light o'er ALLA'S head
"By seraph eyes shall long be read.
"But, PERI, see-- the crystal bar
"Of Eden moves not-- holier far
"Than even this sigh the boon must be
"That opes the Gates of Heaven for thee."

Now upon SYRIA'S land of roses
Softly the light of Eve reposes,
And like a glory the broad sun
Hangs over sainted LEBANON,
Whose head in wintry grandeur towers
And whitens with eternal sleet,
While summer in a vale of flowers
Is sleeping rosy at his feet.

To one who looked from upper air
O'er all the enchanted regions there,
How beauteous must have been the glow,
The life, the sparkling from below!
Fair gardens, shining streams, with ranks
Of golden melons on their banks,
More golden where the sunlight falls;--
Gay lizards, glittering on the walls
Of ruined shrines, busy and bright
As they were all alive with light;
And yet more splendid numerous flocks
Of pigeons settling on the rocks
With their rich restless wings that gleam
Variously in the crimson beam
Of the warm West, --as if inlaid
With brilliants from the mine or made
Of tearless rainbows such as span
The unclouded skies of PERISTAN.
And then the mingling sounds that come,
Of shepherd's ancient reed, with hum
Of the wild bees of PALESTINE,
Banqueting thro' the flowery vales;
And, JORDAN, those sweet banks of thine
And woods so full of nightingales.
But naught can charm the luckless PERI;
Her soul is sad-- her wings are weary--
Joyless she sees the Sun look down
On that great Temple once his own,
Whose lonely columns stand sublime,
Flinging their shadows from on high
Like dials which the Wizard Time
Had raised to count his ages by!

Yet haply there may lie concealed
Beneath those Chambers of the Sun
Some amulet of gems, annealed
In upper fires, some tablet sealed
With the great name of SOLOMON,
Which spelled by her illumined eyes,
May teach her where beneath the moon,
In earth or ocean, lies the boon,
The charm, that can restore so soon
An erring Spirit to the skies.

Cheered by this hope she bends her thither;--
Still laughs the radiant eye of Heaven,
Nor have the golden bowers of Even
In the rich West begun to wither;--
When o'er the vale of BALBEC winging
Slowly she sees a child at play,
Among the rosy wild flowers singing,
As rosy and as wild as they;
Chasing with eager hands and eyes
The beautiful blue damsel-flies,
That fluttered round the jasmine stems
Like winged flowers or flying gems:--
And near the boy, who tired with play
Now nestling mid the roses lay.
She saw a wearied man dismount
From his hot steed and on the brink
Of a small imaret's rustic fount
Impatient fling him down to drink.
Then swift his haggard brow he turned
To the fair child who fearless sat,
Tho' never yet hath day-beam burned
Upon a brow more fierce than that,--
Sullenly fierce-- a mixture dire
Like thunder-clouds of gloom and fire;
In which the PERI'S eye could read
Dark tales of many a ruthless deed;
The ruined maid-- the shrine profaned--
Oaths broken-- and the threshold stained
With blood of guests! --there written, all,
Black as the damning drops that fall
From the denouncing Angel's pen,
Ere Mercy weeps them out again.
Yet tranquil now that man of crime
(As if the balmy evening time
Softened his spirit) looked and lay,
Watching the rosy infant's play:--
Tho' still whene'er his eye by chance
Fell on the boy's, its lucid glance
Met that unclouded, joyous gaze,
As torches that have burnt all night
Tho' some impure and godless rite,
Encounter morning's glorious rays.

But, hark! the vesper call to prayer,
As slow the orb of daylight sets,
Is rising sweetly on the air.
From SYRIA'S thousand minarets!
The boy has started from the bed
Of flowers where he had laid his head.
And down upon the fragrant sod
Kneels with his forehead to the south
Lisping the eternal name of God
From Purity's own cherub mouth,
And looking while his hands and eyes
Are lifted to the glowing skies
Like a stray babe of Paradise
Just lighted on that flowery plain
And seeking for its home again.
Oh! 'twas a sight-- that Heaven-- that child--
A scene, which might have well beguiled
Even haughty EBLIS of a sigh
For glories lost and peace gone by!
And how felt he, the wretched Man
Reclining there-- while memory ran
O'er many a year of guilt and strife,
Flew o'er the dark flood of his life,
Nor found one sunny resting-place.
Nor brought him back one branch of grace.
"There was a time," he said, in mild,
Heart-humbled tones-- "thou blessed child!
"When young and haply pure as thou
"I looked and prayed like thee-- but now"--
He hung his head-- each nobler aim
And hope and feeling which had slept
From boyhood's hour that instant came
Fresh o'er him and he wept-- he wept!

Blest tears of soul-felt penitence!
In whose benign, redeeming flow
Is felt the first, the only sense
Of guiltless joy that guilt can know.
"There's a drop," said the PERI, "that down from the moon
"Falls thro' the withering airs of June
"Upon EGYPT'S land, of so healing a power,
"So balmy a virtue, that even in the hour
"That drop descends contagion dies
"And health reanimates earth and skies!--
"Oh, is it not thus, thou man of sin,
"The precious tears of repentance fall?
"Tho' foul thy fiery plagues within
"One heavenly drop hath dispelled them all!"
And now-- behold him kneeling there
By the child's side, in humble prayer,
While the same sunbeam shines upon
The guilty and the guiltless one.
And hymns of joy proclaim thro' Heaven
The triumph of a Soul Forgiven!

'Twas when the golden orb had set,
While on their knees they lingered yet,
There fell a light more lovely far
Than ever came from sun or star,
Upon the tear that, warm and meek,
Dewed that repentant sinner's cheek.
To mortal eye this light might seem
A northern flash or meteor beam--
But well the enraptured PERI knew
'Twas a bright smile the Angel threw
From Heaven's gate to hail that tear
Her harbinger of glory near!

"Joy, joy for ever! my task is done--
"The Gates are past and Heaven is won!
"Oh! am I not happy? I am, I am--
"To thee, sweet Eden! how dark and sad
"Are the diamond turrets of SHADUKIAM,
"And the fragrant bowers of AMBERABAD!

"Farewell ye odors of Earth that die
"Passing away like a lover's sigh;--
"My feast is now of the Tooba Tree
"Whose scent is the breath of Eternity!

"Farewell, ye vanishing flowers that shone
"In my fairy wreath so bright an' brief;--
"Oh! what are the brightest that e'er have blown
"To the lote-tree springing by ALLA'S throne
"Whose flowers have a soul in every leaf.
"Joy, joy for ever. --my task is done--
"The Gates are past and Heaven is won!"

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