Book 2

The Gadite men the royal charge obey.
Now fragments, weigh'd up from th' uneven streets,
Leave the ground black beneath; again the sun
Shines into what were porches, and on steps
Once warm with frequentation—clients, friends,
All morning, satchel'd idlers all mid-day,
Lying half-up, and languid, though at games.
Some raise the painted pavement, some on wheels
Draw slow its laminous length, some intersperse
Salt waters thro' the sordid heaps, and seize
The flowers and figures starting fresh to view.
Others rub hard large masses, and essay
To polish into white what they misdeem
The growing green of many trackless years.
Far off, at intervals, the ax resounds
With regular strong stroke, and nearer home
Dull falls the mallet with long labor fringed.
Here, arches are discover'd, there, huge beams
Resist the hatchet, but in fresher air
Soon drop away: there lies a marble, squar'd
And smoothen'd; some high pillar, for its base,
Chose it, which now lies ruin'd in the dust.
Clearing the soil at bottom, they espy
A crevice: they, intent on treasure, strive
Strenuous, and groan, to move it: one exclaims
‘I hear the rusty metal grate: it moves!’
Now, overturning it, backward they start;
And stop again, and see a serpent pant,
See his throat thicken, and the crisped scales
Rise ruffled; while upon the middle fold
He keeps his wary head and blinking eye,
Curling more close, and crouching ere he strike.
Go mighty men, and ruin cities, go—
And be such treasure portions to your heirs.
Six days they labor'd: on the seventh day
Returning, all their labors were destroyed.
'Twas not by mortal hand, or from their tents
'Twere visible; for these were now removed
Above, where neither noxious mist ascends,
Nor the way wearies ere the work begin.
There Gebir, pierced with sorrow, spake these words.
‘Ye men of Gades, armed with brazen shields;
And ye of near Tartessus, where the shore
Stoops to receive the tribute which all owe
To Bœtis, and his banks, for their attire;
Ye too whom Durius bore on level meads!
Inherent in your hearts is bravery;
For earth contains no nation where abounds
The generous horse and not the warlike man.
But neither soldier, now, nor steed, avails!
Nor steed nor soldier can oppose the Gods;
Nor is there aught above like Jove himself,
Nor weighs against his purpose, when once fixt,
Aught but, with supplicating knee, the Prayers.
Swifter than light are they; and every face
Though different, glows with beauty: at the throne
Of mercy, when clouds shut it from mankind,
They fall bare-bosom'd; and indignant Jove
Drops, at the soothing sweetness of their voice,
The thunder from his hand. Let us arise
On these high places, daily, beat our breast,
Prostrate ourselves, and deprecate his wrath.’
The people bow'd their bodies and obey'd.
Nine mornings, with white ashes on their heads,
Lamented they their toil each night o'erthrown.
And now the largest orbit of the year,
Leaning o'er black Mocattam's rubied brow,
Proceeded slow, majestic, and serene:
Now seem'd not further than the nearest cliff,
And crimson light struck soft the phosphor wave.
Then Gebir spake to Tamar in these words:—
‘Tamar! I am thy elder, and thy king,
But am thy brother too, nor ever said,
“Give me thy secret, and become my slave;”
But haste thee not away: I will myself
Await the nymph, disguised in thy attire.’
Then starting from attention, Tamar cried,
‘Brother! in sacred truth it cannot be!
My life is your's, my love must be my own.
O surely he who seeks a second love
Never felt one; or 'tis not one I feel.’
But Gebir with complacent smile replied,
‘Go then, fond Tamar, go in happy hour.
But ere thou goest, ponder in thy breast,
And well bethink thee, lest thou part deceiv'd,
Will she disclose to thee the mysteries
Of our calamity? and unconstrain'd?
When even her love thy strength was to disclose.
My heart, indeed, is full: but witness, heaven!
My people, not my passion, fills my heart.’
‘Then let me kiss thy garment,’ said the youth,
‘And heaven be with thee, and on me thy grace.’
Him then the monarch thus once more addressed,
‘Be of good courage: hast thou yet forgot
What chaplets languished round thy unburnt hair,
In color like some tall smooth beech's leaves
Curl'd by autumnal suns?’—How flattery
Excites a pleasant, sooths a painful shame!
‘These,’ amid stifled blushes, Tamar said,
‘Where of the flowering raspberry and vine:
But ah! the seasons will not wait for love,
Seek out some other now.’ They parted here:
And Gebir, bending through the woodlands, cull'd
The creeping vine and viscous raspberry,
Less green and less compliant than they were,
And twisted in those mossy tufts that grow
On brakes of roses, when the roses fade;
And as he pass'd along, the little hinds
That shook for bristly herds the foodful bough,
Wonder, stand still, gaze, and trip satisfied;
Pleas'd more if chesnut, out of prickly husk,
Shot from the sandal, roll along the glade.
And thus unnoticed went he, and untired
Stept up the acclivity; and as he stept,
And as the garlands nodded o'er his brow,
Sudden, from under a close alder, sprang
Th' expectant nymph, and seiz'd him unaware.
He stagger'd at the shock: his feet, not firm'd,
Slipt backward from the wither'd grass short-graz'd;
But, striking out one arm, though without aim,
Then grasping with his other, he inclos'd
The struggler; she gain'd not one step's retreat,
Urging with open hands against his throat
Intense; now holding in her breath constrain'd,
Now pushing with quick impulse and by starts,
Till the dust blackened upon every pore.
Nearer he drew her, and still nearer, clasp'd
Above the knees midway; and now one arm
Fell; and her other, lapsing o'er the neck
Of Gebir, swung against his back incurved,
The swoln veins glowing deep; and with a groan
On his broad shoulder fell her face reclined.
But ah she knew not whom that roseate face
Cool'd with its breath ambrosial; for she stood
High on the bank, and often swept and broke
His chaplets mingled with her loosen'd hair.
Whether, while Tamar tarried, came desire,
And she, grown languid, loosed the wings of love,
Which she before held proudly at her will;
And nought but Tamar in her soul, and nought
Where Tamar was that seem'd or fear'd deceit,
To fraud she yielded, what no force had gain'd—
Or whether Jove, in pity to mankind,
When from his crystal fount the visual orbs
He fill'd with piercing ether, and endued
With somewhat of omnipotence—ordain'd
That never two fair forms, at once, torment
The human heart, and draw it different ways—
And thus, in prowess like a god, the chief
Subdued her strength, nor soften'd at her charms;
The nymph divine, the magic mistress, fail'd.
Recovering, still half resting on the turf,
She look'd up wildly, and could now descry
The kingly brow, arched lofty for command.
‘Traitor!’ said she, undaunted—though amaze
Threw o'er her varying cheek the air of fear—
‘Thinkest thou thus that with impunity
Thou hast forsooth deceiv'd me? dar'st thou deem
Those eyes not hateful that have seen me fall?
O heaven! soon may they close on my disgrace.
Merciless man; what! for one sheep estranged,
Hast thou thrown into dungeons, and of day
Amerst thy shepherd? Hast thou, while the iron
Pierced thro' his tender limbs into his soul,
By threats, by tortures, torn out that offence,
And heard him (O could I) avow his love?
Say, hast thou? cruel, hateful,—ah my fears!
I feel them true! speak, tell me, are they true?’
She, blending thus intreaty with reproach,
Bent forward, as tho' falling on her knee,
Whence she had hardly ris'n, and at this pause
Shed from her large dark eyes a shower of tears.
Th' Iberian King her sorrow thus consoled.
‘Weep no more, heavenly damsel, weep no more,
Neither by force withheld, or choice estranged,
Thy Tamar lives, and only lives for thee.
Happy, thrice happy, you! 'Tis me alone
Whom heaven, and earth, and ocean, with one hate
Conspire on, and throughout each path pursue.
Whether in waves beneath or skies above
Thou hast thy habitation, 'tis from heaven,
From heaven alone, such power, such charms descend.
Then oh! discover whence that ruin comes
Each night upon our city; whence are heard
Those yells of rapture round our falling walls:
In our affliction can the Gods delight,
Or meet oblation for the Nymphs are tears?’
He spake; and indignation sunk in woe.
Which she perceiving, pride refreshed her heart,
Hope wreath'd her mouth with smiles, and she exclaim'd—
‘Neither the Gods afflict you, nor the Nymphs.
Return me him who won my heart; return
Him whom my bosom pants for, as the steeds
In the sun's chariot for the western wave,
The Gods will prosper thee, and Tamar prove
How Nymphs the torments that they cause assuage.
Promise me this! indeed I think thou hast;
But 'tis so pleasing, promise it once more.’
‘Once more I promise,’ cried the gladdened king,
‘By my right-hand, and by myself, I swear,
And ocean's Gods, and heaven's Gods I adjure,
Thou shalt be Tamar's; Tamar shall be thine.’
Then she, regarding him, long fixt, replied,—
‘I have thy promise; take thou my advice.
Gebir, this land of Egypt is a land
Of incantation; demons rule these waves;
These are against thee; these thy works destroy.
Where thou hast built thy palace, and hast left
The seven pillars to remain in front,
Sacrifice there; and all these rites observe.
Go, but go early, ere the gladsome Hours
Strew saffron in the path of rising Morn;
Ere the bee, buzzing o'er flowers fresh disclosed,
Examine where he may the best alight
Nor scatter off the bloom; ere cold-lipt herds
Crop the pale herbage round each other's bed;
Lead seven bulls, well pastur'd and well form'd,
Their necks unblemished and their horns unring'd,
And at each pillar sacrifice thou one.
Around each base rub thrice the black'ning blood,
And burn the curling shavings of the hoof;
And of the forehead locks thou also burn.
The yellow galls, with equal care preserv'd,
Pour at the seventh statue from the north.’
He listen'd; and on her his eyes intent
Perceiv'd her not; and now she disappear'd:
So deep he ponder'd her important words.
And now had morn aris'n, and he perform'd
Almost the whole enjoin'd him;—he had reach'd
The seventh statue, pour'd the yellow galls,
The forelock from his left he had releas'd,
And burnt the curling shavings of the hoof,
Moisten'd with myrrh; when suddenly a flame
Spired from the fragrant smoke, nor sooner spired
—Down sunk the brazen fabric at his feet.
He started back, gazed—nor could aught but gaze—
And cold dread stiffen'd up his hair flower-twined:
Then with a long and tacit step, one arm
Behind, and every finger wide outspread,
He look'd and totter'd on a black abyss.
He thought he sometimes heard a distant voice
Breathe through the cavern's mouth, and further on
Faint murmurs now, now hollow groans reply.
Therefor suspended he his crook above,
Dropt it, and heard it rolling step by step.
He enter'd; and a mingled sound arose
Like that—when shaken from some temple's roof
By zealous hand, they, and their fretted nest,—
Of birds that wintering watch in Memnon's tomb,
And tell the Halcyons when Spring first returns.
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