Gebir - Book 4

The king's lone road, his visit, his return,
Were not unknown to Dalica, nor long
The wondrous tale from royal ears delaid.
When the young queen had heard who taught the rites
Her mind was shaken, and what first she asked
Was, whether the sea-maids were very fair,
And was it true that even gods were moved
By female charms beneath the waves profound,
And joined to them in marriage, and had sons . . .
Who knows but Gebir sprang then from the Gods!
He that could pity, he that could obey,
Flatter'd both female youth and princely pride,
The same ascending from amidst the shades
Show'd Pow'r in frightful attitude: the queen
Marks the surpassing prodigy, and strives
To shake off terror in her crowded court,
And wonders why she trembles; nor suspects
How Fear and Love assume each other's form,
By birth and secret compact how allied.
Vainly, (to conscious virgins I appeal,)
Vainly with crouching tigers, prowling wolves,
Rocks, precipices, waves, storms, thunderbolts,
All his immense inheritance, would Fear
The simplest heart, should Love refuse, assail;
Consent — the maiden's pillowed ear imbibes
Constancy, honor, truth, fidelity,
Beauty, and ardent lips, and longing arms;
Then fades in glimmering distance half the scene,
Then her heart quails and flutters and would fly.
'Tis her beloved! not to her! ye Pow'rs!
What doubting maid exacts the vow? behold
Above the myrtles his protesting hand.
Such ebbs of doubt and swells of jealousy
Toss the fond bosom in its hour of sleep
And float around the eyelids and sink thro'.
Lo! mirror of delight in cloudless days!
Lo! thy reflection: 'twas when I exclaim'd
— With kisses hurried as if each foresaw
Their end, and reckon'd on our broken bonds,
And could at such a price such loss endure —
" O what, to faithful lovers, met at morn,
What half so pleasant as imparted fears!"
How many a night serene, shall I behold
Those warm attractive orbits, close inshrined
In ether, over which Love's column rose
Marmoreal, trophied round with golden hair.
Within the valley of one lip, unseen,
Love slumber'd, one his unstrung bow impress'd.
Sweet wilderness of soul-entangling charms!
Led back by Memory, and each blissful maze
Retracing, me with magic power detain
Those dimpled cheeks, those temples, violet-tinged,
Those lips of nectar, and those eyes of heav'n!
Charoba, tho' indeed she never drank
The liquid pearl, or twined the nodding crown;
Or, when she wanted cool and calm repose,
Dream'd of the crawling asp and grated tomb,
Was wretched up to royalty! the jibe
Struck her, most piercing where love pierc'd before,
From those whose freedom centers in their tongue,
Handmaids, and pages sleek, and courtiers aged.
Congratulations here, there prophecies,
Here children, not repining at neglect,
While tumult thus sweeps amplest room for play;
Every-where questions, answer'd ere begun,
Every-where groups, for every-where alarm.
Thus, winter gone; nor spring, tho' near, arriv'd,
Urged slanting onward by the bickering breeze
That issues from beneath Aurora's car,
Shudder the sombrous waves; at every beam
More vivid, more by every breath impell'd,
Higher and higher up the fretted rocks
Their turbulent refulgence they display.
Madness, which, like the spiral element,
The more it seizes on, the fiercer burns,
Hurried them blindly forward, and involved
In flame the senses, and in gloom the soul.
Determin'd to protect the country's gods,
Still asking their protection, they adjure
Each other to stand forward, and insist
With zeal, and trample under foot the slow;
And disregardful of the Sympathies
Divine, those Sympathies whose delicate hand
Touching the very eyeball of the heart,
Awakens it, not wounds it nor inflames. —
Blind wretches! they with desperate embrace
Hang on the pillar till the temple fall.
Oft, the grave judge alarms religious wealth,
And rouses anger under gentle words.
Woe to the wiser few, who dare to cry
" People! these men are not your enemies:
Enquire their errand; and resist when wrong'd."
Together, childhood, priesthood, womanhood,
The scribes, and elders of the land, exclaim
" Seek they not hidden treasure in the tombs?
Raising the ruins, levelling the dust,
Who can declare whose ashes they disturb!
Build they not fairer cities than our own,
Extravagant enormous apertures
For light, and portals larger, open courts,
Where all ascending all are unconfin'd,
And wider streets in purer air than ours?
Temples quite plain, with equal capitals,
They build, nor bearing gods like ours imbost.
O profanation! O our ancestors!"
Though all the vulgar hate a foreign face,
It more offends weak eyes and homely age,
Dalica most; who thus her aim pursued.
" My promise, O Charoba, I perform.
Proclaim to gods and men a festival
Throughout the land, and bid the strangers eat:
Their anger thus we haply may disarm."
" O Dalica, the grateful queen replied,
Nurse of my childhood, soother of my cares,
Preventer of my wishes, of my thoughts,
O pardon youth, O pardon royalty!
If hastily to Dalica I sued,
Fear might impel me, never could distrust.
Go then, for wisdom guides thee, take my name,
Issue what most imports and best beseems,
And sovranty shall sanction the decree."
And now Charoba was alone, her heart
Grew lighter; she sat down, and she arose,
She felt voluptuous tenderness, but felt
That tenderness for Dalica; she prais'd
Her kind attention, warm solicitude,
Her wisdom — for what wisdom pleas'd like her's!
She was delighted: should she not behold
Gebir? she blush'd: but she had words to speak,
She form'd them and reform'd them, with regret
That there was somewhat lost with every change:
She could replace them — what would that avail —
Moved from their order they have lost their charm.
While thus she strew'd her way with softest words,
Others grew up before her, but appear'd
A plenteous, rather than perplexing, choice.
She rubb'd her palms with pleasure, heav'd a sigh,
Grew calm again, and thus her thoughts revolv'd.
— " But he descended to the tombs! the thought
Thrills me, I must avow it, with affright.
And wherefor? shews he not the more belov'd
Of heaven, or how ascends he back to day.
Then, has he wrong'd me? Could he want a cause
Who has an army, and was bred to reign?
And yet no reasons against rights he urged.
He threaten'd not; proclaim'd not; I approach'd,
He hasten'd on; I spake, he listen'd; wept,
He pity'd me: he lov'd me, he obey'd;
He was a conqueror, still am I a queen."
She thus indulged fond fancies, when the sound
Of tymbrels and of cymbals struck her ear,
And horns, and howlings of wild jubilee.
She fear'd; and listen'd, to confirm her fears;
One breath sufficed, and shook her refluent soul.
Smiting, with simulated smile constrain'd,
Her beauteous bosom, " O perfidious man,
O cruel foe," she twice and thrice exclaim'd,
" O my companions equal-aged! my throne,
My people! O how wretched to presage
This day, how tenfold wretched to endure!"
She ceas'd, and instantly the palace rang
With gratulation roaring into rage:
'Twas her own people. " Health to Gebir! health
To our compatriot subjects! to our queen
Health and unfaded youth ten thousand years!"
Then went the victims forward crown'd with flowers,
Crown'd were tame crocodiles, and boys white-robed
Guided their creaking crests across the stream.
In gilded barges went the female train,
And, hearing others ripple near, undrew
The veil of sea-green awning, if they found
Whom they desired, how pleasant was the breeze!
If not, the frightful water forced a sigh.
Sweet airs of music ruled the rowing palms;
Now rose they glistening and aslant reclined,
Now they descended, and with one consent
Plunging, seem'd swift each other to pursue,
And now to tremble wearied o'er the wave.
Beyond, and in the suburbs, might be seen
Crouds of all ages; here in triumph passed
Not without pomp, though raised with rude device,
The monarch and Charoba: there a throng
Shone out in sunny whiteness o'er the reeds:
Nor could luxuriant youth, or lapsing age
— Propt by the corner of the nearest street —
With aching eyes and tottering knees intent,
Loose leathery neck and wormlike lip outstretched,
Fix long the ken upon one form; so swift
Through the gay vestures fluttering on the bank,
And through the bright-eyed waters dancing round,
Wove they their wanton wiles, and disappear'd.
Meanwhile, with pomp august and solemn, borne
On four white camels, tinkling plates of gold,
Heralds before, and Ethiop slaves behind,
Each with the signs of office in his hand,
Each on his brow the sacred stamp of years,
The four ambassadors of peace proceed.
Rich carpets bear they, corn and generous wine;
The Syrian olive's cheerful gifts they bear:
With stubborn goats that eye the mountain-tops
Askance, and riot with reluctant horn,
And steeds and stately camels in their train.
The king, who sat before his tent, descried
The dust rise redden'd from the setting sun:
Through all the plains below the Gadite men
Were resting from their labor: some surveyed
The spacious scite, ere yet obstructed, walls
Already, soon will roofs have, interposed.
Nor is the glory of no price, to take
The royal city in, as these presume.
Some ate their frugal viands on the steps,
Contented: some, remembering home, prefer
The cot's bare rafters o'er the high gilded dome,
And sing, for often sighs, too, end in song,
" In smiling meads how sweet the brooks repose,
To the rough ocean and red restless sands!
Where are the woodland voices that increast
Along the unseen path on festal days,
When lay the dry and outcast arbutus
On the fane-step, and the first privet-flowers
Threw their white light upon the vernal shrine?"
But others trip along with hasty steps,
Whistling, and fix too soon on their abodes:
Haply and one among them with his spear
Measures the lintel, if so great its height
As will receive him with his helm unlower'd.
But silence went throughout, e'en thoughts were hushed,
When to full view of navy and of camp
Now first expanded the bare-headed train.
Majestic, unpresuming, unappall'd,
Onward they marched; and neither to the right
Nor to the left, though there the city stood,
Turn'd they their sober eyes: and now they reach'd
Within a few steep paces of ascent
The lone pavilion of the Iberian king.
He saw them, he awaited them, he rose;
He hail'd them, " Peace be with you ." They replied
" King of the western world, be with you peace."
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