Gebir - Book 1

Book I

When old Silenus call'd the Satyrs home,
Satyrs then tender-hooft and ruddy-horn'd,
With Bacchus and the Nymphs, he sometimes rose
Amidst the tale or pastoral, and shew'd
The light of purest wisdom; and the God
Scatter'd with wholesome fruit the pleasant plains.
Ye woody vales of Cambria! and ye hills
That hide in heaven your summits and your fame!
Your ancient songs, and breezes pure, invite
Me from my noon-tide rambles, and the force
Of high example influences my lay.
I sing the fates of Gebir! how he dwelt
Among those mountain-caverns, which retain
His labours yet, vast halls, and flowing wells,
Nor have forgotten their old master's name,
Though sever'd from his people: how, incens'd
By meditating on primeval wrongs,
He blew his battle-horn, at which uprose
Whole nations: how, ten thousand, mightiest men,
He call'd aloud; and soon Charoba saw
His dark helm hover o'er the land of Nile.
What should the damsel do? should royal knees
Bend suppliant? or defenceless hands engage
Men of gigantic force, gigantic arms?
For, 'twas reported, that nor sword sufficed,
Nor shield immense, nor coat of massive mail;
But, that upon their tow'ring heads they bore
Each a huge stone, refulgent as the stars.
This told she Dalica — then earnest cried
" If, on your bosom laying down my head,
I sobb'd away the sorrows of a child;
If I have always, and Heav'n knows I have,
Next to a mother's held a nurse's name,
Succour this one distress! recall those days;
Love me; though 'twere because you lov'd me then."
But, whether confident in magic rites;
Or touch'd with sexual pride to stand implored,
Dalica smiled; then spake: " Away those fears.
Tho' stronger than the strongest of his kind,
He falls; on me devolve that charge; he falls.
Rather than fly him, stoop thou to allure,
Nay, journey to his tents; a city stood
Upon that coast, they say, by Sidad built,
Whose father Gad built Gades; on this ground
Perhaps he sees an ample room for war.
Persuade him to restore the walls himself,
In honor of his ancestors, persuade —
But wherefor this advice? young, unespoused,
Charoba want persuasions! and a queen!"
" O Dalica!" the shudd'ring maid exclaim'd,
" Could I encounter that fierce frightful man?
Could I speak? no, nor sigh!" " And canst thou reign?"
Cried Dalica; " yield empire or comply."
Unfixt, though seeming fixt, her eyes down-cast,
The wonted buz and bustle of the court
From far, through sculptur'd galleries, met her ear;
Then lifting up her head, the evening sun
Pour'd a fresh splendor on her burnish'd throne, —
The fair Charoba, the young queen, complied.
But Gebir, when he heard of her approach,
Laid by his orbed shield, his vizor-helm,
His buckler and his corslet he laid by,
And bade that none attend him: at his side
Two faithful dogs that urge the silent course,
Shaggy, deep-chested, crouched: the crocodile,
Crying, oft made them raise their flaccid ears,
And push their heads within their master's hand.
There was a bright'ning paleness in his face,
Such as Diana rising o'er the rocks
Shower'd on the lonely Latmian; on his brow
Sorrow there was, yet nought was there severe.
But when the royal damsel first he saw,
Faint, hanging on her handmaids, and her knees
Tott'ring, as from the motion of the car,
His eyes looked earnest on her; and those eyes
Shew'd, if they had not, that they might have lov'd,
For there was pity in them at that hour.
With gentle speech, and more, with gentle looks,
He sooth'd her; but, lest Pity go beyond,
And crost Ambition lose her lofty aim,
Bending, he kiss'd her garment, and retir'd.
He went: nor slumber'd in the sultry noon,
When viands rich, and generous wines persuade,
And slumber most refreshes; nor at night,
When heavy dews are laden with disease;
And blindness waits not there for lingering age.
Ere morning dawn'd behind him, he arrived
At those rich meadows where young Tamar fed
The royal flocks, entrusted to his care.
Now, said he to himself, will I repose
At least this burden on a brother's breast:
His brother stood before him: he, amaz'd,
Rear'd suddenly his head, and thus began.
" Is it thou, brother! Tamar, is it thou!
Why, standing on the valley's utmost verge,
Lookest thou on that dull and dreary shore
Where many a league Nile blackens all the sand.
And why that sadness? when I passed our sheep
The dew-drops were not shaken off the bar,
Therefor if one be wanting 'tis untold.
" Yes! one is wanting, nor is that untold,"
Said Tamar, " and this dull and dreary shore
Is neither dull nor dreary at all hours."
Whereon, the tear stole silent down his cheek.
Silent, but not by Gebir unobserv'd:
Wondering he gazed awhile, and pitying spake: —
" Let me approach thee: does the morning light
Scatter this wan suffusion o'er thy brow,
This faint blue lustre under both thine eyes?"
" O, brother, is this pity or reproach,"
Cried Tamar, — " cruel if it be reproach,
If pity — O how vain!"
" Whate'er it be
That grieves thee, I will pity; thou but speak,
And I can tell thee, Tamar, pang for pang."
" Gebir! then more than brothers are we now!
Every thing — take my hand — will I confess.
I neither feed the flock, nor watch the fold;
How can I, lost in love? But, Gebir, why
That anger which has risen to your cheek?
Can other men? Could you? What, no reply!
And still more anger, and still worse conceal'd!
Are these your promises; your pity this?"
" Tamar, I well may pity what I feel —
Mark me aright — I feel for thee — proceed —
Relate me all." " Then will I all relate."
Said the young shepherd, gladden'd from his heart.
" 'Twas evening, though not sun-set, and spring-tide
Level with these green meadows, seem'd still higher;
'Twas pleasant: and I loosen'd from my neck
The pipe you gave me, and began to play.
O that I ne'er had learnt the tuneful art!
It always brings us enemies or love!
Well, I was playing — when above the waves
Some swimmer's head methought I saw ascend;
I, sitting still, survey'd it, with my pipe
Awkwardly held before my lips half-clos'd.
Gebir! it was a nymph! a nymph divine!
I cannot wait describing how she came,
How I was sitting, how she first assum'd
The sailor: of what happened, there remains
Enough to say, and too much to forget.
The sweet deceiver stept upon this bank
Before I was aware; for, with surprize
Moments fly rapid as with love itself.
Stooping to tune afresh the hoarsen'd reed,
I heard a rustling; and where that arose
My glance first lighted on her nimble feet.
Her feet resembled those long shells explored
By him who to befriend his steeds' dim sight
Would blow the pungent powder in their eye. —
Her eyes too! O immortal Gods! her eyes
Resembled — what could they resemble — what
Ever resemble those! E'en her attire
Was not of wonted woof nor vulgar art:
Her mantle shew'd the yellow samphire-pod,
Her girdle, the dove-color'd wave serene.
" Shepherd," said she, " and will you wrestle now,
And with the sailor's hardier race engage?"
I was rejoiced to hear it, and contrived
How to keep up contention; — could I fail
By pressing not too strongly, still to press.
" Whether a shepherd, as indeed you seem,
Or whether of the hardier race you boast,
I am not daunted, no: I will engage."
" But first," said she, " what wager will you lay?"
" A sheep," I answered, " add whate'er you will."
" I cannot," she replied, " make that return:
Our hided vessels, in their pitchy round,
Seldom, unless from rapine, hold a sheep.
But I have sinuous shells, of pearly hue
Within, and they that lustre have imbibed
In the sun's palace porch; where, when unyoked,
His chariot wheel stands midway in the wave.
Shake one, and it awakens; then apply
Its polished lips to your attentive ear,
And it remembers its august abodes,
And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there.
And I have others given me by the nymphs,
Of sweeter sound than any pipe you have. —
But we, by Neptune, for no pipe contend;
This time a sheep I win, a pipe the next."
Now came she forward, eager to engage;
But, first her dress, her bosom then, survey'd,
And heav'd it, doubting if she could deceive.
Her bosom seem'd, inclos'd in haze like heav'n,
To baffle touch; and rose forth undefined.
Above her knees she drew the robe succinct,
Above her breast, and just below her arms:
" This will preserve my breath, when tightly bound,
If struggle and equal strength should so constrain."
Thus, pulling hard to fasten it, she spoke,
And, rushing at me, closed. I thrill'd throughout
And seem'd to lessen and shrink up with cold.
Again, with violent impulse gushed my blood;
And hearing nought external, thus absorb'd,
I heard it, rushing through each turbid vein,
Shake my unsteady swimming sight in air.
Yet with unyielding though uncertain arms,
I clung around her neck; the vest beneath
Rustled against our slippery limbs entwined:
Often mine, springing with eluded force,
Started aside, and trembled, till replaced.
And when I most succeeded, as I thought,
My bosom and my throat felt so comprest
That life was almost quivering on my lips,
Yet nothing was there painful! these are signs
Of secret arts, and not of human might,
What arts I cannot tell: I only know
My eyes grew dizzy, and my strength decay'd,
I was indeed o'ercome! — with what regret,
And more, with what confusion, when I reached
The fold, and yielding up the sheep, she cried,
" This pays a shepherd to a conquering maid."
She smil'd, and more of pleasure than disdain
Was in her dimpled chin, and liberal lip,
And eyes that languished, lengthening, — just like love.
She went away: I, on the wicker gate
Lean'd, and could follow with my eyes alone.
The sheep she carried easy as a cloak.
But when I heard its bleating, as I did,
And saw, she hastening on, its hinder feet
Struggle, and from her snowy shoulder slip,
(One shoulder its poor efforts had unveil'd,)
Then, all my passions mingling fell in tears!
Restless then ran I to the highest ground
To watch her; she was gone; gone down the tide;
And the long moon-beam on the hard wet sand
Lay like a jaspar column half uprear'd."
" But, Tamar! tell me, will she not return?"
" She will return: but not before the moon
Again is at the full; she promis'd this;
But when she promis'd I could not reply."
" By all the Gods! I pity thee! go on —
Fear not my anger, look not on my shame;
For, when a lover only hears of love,
He finds his folly out, and is ashamed.
Away with watchful nights, and lonely days,
Contempt of earth, and aspect up to heaven,
With contemplation, with humility, —
A tatter'd cloak that pride wears when deform'd —
Away with all that hides me from myself,
Parts me from others, whispers I am wise —
From our own wisdom less is to be reaped
Than from the barest folly of our friend.
Tamar! thy pastures, large and rich, afford
Flowers to thy bees, and herbage to thy sheep,
But, battened on too much, the poorest croft
Of thy poor neighbour yields what thine denies."
They hastened to the camp; and Gebir there
— Resolved his native country to forego —
Ordered, that from those ruins to their right
They forthwith raise a city: Tamar heard
With wonder, though in passing 'twas half-told,
His brother's love; and sigh'd upon his own.
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