One important source for Dickinson's oriental imagery was Thomas Moore’s 1817 book-length poem Lalla Rookh.  Moore’s tale is about a princess’s trip from Delhi to Cashmere to meet her betrothed.  Along the way, a poet (her husband-to-be in disguise) recounts to her historical tales of insurrection and ecstasy, of revolutionary heroes and passionate women.

Among the tales the poet tells are the traditional British accounts of failed revolutions in the east.  In "The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan," the first section of Lalla Rookh, Azim, the hero, is duped into joining a revolt against Islam led by the evil Mokanna who enslaves in his opulent harem Azim's beloved Zelica.  Belatedly, Azim realizes that the ideals of liberty of ancient Greece are not the motivation of Mokanna, and Azim switches his loyalties to the counter-revolutionary Caliph.

In "The Fire-worshippers," the second tale the poet tells Lalla describes an unsuccessful revolt and a tragic love affair.  About this tale, Moore admitted, "I should not be surprised if this story of the Fire-worshippers were found capable of a . . . doubleness of application" (qtd. in Leask,113).  One scholar suggests that in this tale Moore challenges the reforms of John Stuart Mill and Percy Byshe Shelly, believing they are akin to Jacobin cosmopolitanism and French atheism.  Moore, Nigel Leake argues, is "sympathetic to the claims of a romantic, organic nationalism" (113).  In other words, Moore's sympathies for the Zoroastrians in their struggle against their Islamic conquerors can be read as his loyalty to Ireland against the colonial oppression of the English, and to Catholicism against the forces of Protestantism.

Of particular interest in the frame tale of Lalla Rookh are the responses to Feramorz's poetry. Lalla's guardian, Nazir Fadladeen, is a pedant and unmoved by romance and hothouse lyricism, and his stiff resistance to the erotics of poetry are ridiculed throughout and at the end when his plans to report Feramorz to Lalla's betrothed are foiled because Feramorz is the young King of Bucharia. Lalla provides an alternative response to poetry. Unaware of Feramorz, until he speaks, Lalla is moved to love by his poetry. After hearing the second tale, "Paradise and the Peri," she decides she must not listen further. But she cannot resist and listens to "The Fire-worshippers." Although the conventional end offers an easy sentimentality, the "Islam that remains threatening or fanatical to Christian prejudices is not flushed out of the text, but continues to offer resistance to conventional sentimentality and exercise a secret appeal to Romantic realism" (Sharafuddin 213).

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Introduction | Lalla Rookh | He Touched Me | Contexts
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