Louisa Stuart Costello

Supposed to be Sung by the Wife of a Japanese
Who Had Been Taken by the Russians to Their Country (1825)

I look through the mist and I see thee not—
Are thy home and thy love so soon forgot?
Sadly closes the weary day,
And still thy bark is far away.
The tent is ready, the mats are spread,
The saranna [1] is pluck’d for thee:
Alas! what fate has thy baidare [2] led
So far from thy home and me!
Has my bower no longer charms for thee?
Where the purple jessamines twine [3]
Round the stately spreading cedar tree,
And rest in its arms so tenderly—
As I have reposed in thine.
In vain have I found the sea-parrot’s nest, [4]
And robb’d of its plumes her glittering breast,
Thy mantle with varied hues to adorn—
Thou hast left me watchful and forlorn!
Dost thou roam amidst the eagle flocks,
Whose aerie is in the highest rocks?
Dost thou seek the fox in his hiding place?
Or hold the beaver in weary chase?
Dost thou seek, beneath the foaming tide,
Where the precious red pearls hide? [5]
Return! the evening mist is chill,
And sad is my watch on the lonely hill.
Return! the night wind is cold on my brow,
And my heart is as cold and desolate now:—
Alas! I await thee and hope in vain,
I shall never behold thy return again! . . .
She stood on the beach all the starless night,
But nought appear’d to her eager sight;
No bark on its bosom the ocean bore,
And he she loved return’d no more.
For the strangers came from the icy north,
And their words and their gifts had won him forth;
Their ship sail’d far from his native bay,
And it bore him to other regions away.

Costello’s notes:

1. Saranna is the bread-fruit of the Japanese/
2. Baidare—the Japanese boat.
3. Purple jessamine, Bignoria grandiflora, is a climbing plant, native of Japan—flowers purple.
4. They ornament their parkis and all their dresses with the feathers of the sea-parrot, storm-finch, and mauridor.
5. Japan produces red pearls, which are no less esteemed than white.

Louisa Stuart Costello (1799-1870) was an Irish travel writer, novelist, poet, and painter. According to Tamara Holloway’s on-line biographical sketch (here), her work was among the most popular of its day, and admired by Sir Walter Scott, King Louis-Phillipe, Thomas Moore, and Charles Dickens. ‘Supposed to be Sung by the Wife of a Japanese’ appeared in Songs of a Stranger (London: Taylor and Hessey, 1825), her ‘first publication to gain attention” (Holloway). Though Costello herself seems to have limited her travels to Europe, principally France and Italy, nearly half of the poems in the volume are set in non-European locations, including, along with Japan, South America and the Arctic.

Costello’s only title in print is The Rose Garden of Persia, ‘selections on and from the classical Persian literature’, originally published in 1845. It is available in the UK here and in the US here.

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