Gebir - Book 5

Once a fair city, courted then by kings,
Mistress of nations, throng'd by palaces,
Raising her head o'er destiny, her face
Glowing with pleasure, and with palms refreshed,
Now, pointed at by Wisdom or by Wealth,
Bereft of beauty, bare of ornaments,
Stood, in the wilderness of woe, Masar.
Ere far advancing, all appear'd a plain.
Treacherous and fearful mountains, far advanced.
Her glory so gone down, at human step
The fierce hyaena, frighted from the walls,
Bristled his rising back, his teeth unsheathed,
Drew the long growl and with slow foot retired.
Still were remaining some of ancient race,
And ancient arts were now their sole delight.
With Time's first sickle they had marked the hour
When at their incantation would the Moon
Start back, and shuddering shed blue blasted light.
The rifted rays they gather'd, and immersed
In potent portion of that wondrous wave
Which, hearing rescued Israel, stood erect,
And led her armies through his crystal gates.
Hither — none shared her way, her counsel none —
Hied the Masarian Dalica: 'twas night,
And the still breeze fell languid on the waste.
She, tired with journey long, and ardent thoughts,
Stopt; and before the city she descried
A female form emerge above the sands:
Intent she fix'd her eyes, and on herself
Relying, with fresh vigor bent her way;
Nor disappear'd the woman, but exclaim'd —
One hand retaining tight her folded vest —
" Stranger! who loathest life, there lies Masar.
Begone, nor tarry longer, or, ere morn,
The cormorant, in his solitary haunt
Of insulated rock or sounding cove,
Stands on thy bleached bones, and screams for prey.
My lips can scatter them a hundred leagues,
So shrivell'd in one breath, as all the sands
We tread on, could not in as many years.
Wretched who die nor raise their sepulchre!
Therefor begone."
But, Dalica, unaw'd, —
Tho' in her wither'd but still firm right-hand
Held up with imprecations, hoarse and deep,
Glimmer'd her brazen sickle, and inclosed
Within its figur'd curve the fading moon —
Spake thus aloud. " By yon bright orb of Heaven,
In that most sacred moment when her beam
Guided first thither by the forked shaft,
Strikes thro' the crevice of Arishtah's tower — "
" Sayst thou?" astonished cried the sorceress,
" Woman of outer darkness, fiend of death,
From what inhuman cave, what dire abyss,
Hast thou invisible that spell o'erheard?
What potent hand hath touched thy quicken'd corse,
What song dissolved thy cearments; who unclosed
Those faded eyes, and fill'd them from the stars?
But if with inextinguished light of life
Thou breathest, soul and body unamerst,
Then, whence that invocation; who hath dared
Those hallow'd words, divulging, to profane?"
Then Dalica —
" To heaven, not earth, addrest,
Prayers for protection cannot be profane."
Here the pale sorceress turn'd her face aside,
Wildly, and mutter'd to herself, amazed,
" I dread her who, alone, at such an hour,
Can speak so strangely; who can thus combine
The words of reason with our gifted rites;
Yet will I speak once more — If thou hast seen
The city of Charoba, hast thou marked
The steps of Dalica?"
" What then?"
" The tongue
Of Dalica has then our rites divulged."
" Whose rites?"
" Her sister's, mother's, and her own."
" Never."
" How sayst thou never? one would think,
Presumptuous, thou wert Dalica."
" I am,
Woman, and who art thou?" with close embrace,
Clung the Masarian round her neck, and cried
" Art thou, then, not my sister? ah I fear
The golden lamps and jewels of a court
Deprive thine eyes of strength and purity:
O Dalica, mine watch the waning moon,
For ever patient in our mother's art,
And rest on Heaven suspended, where the founts
Of Wisdom rise, where sound the wings of Power:
Studies intense of strong and stern delight!
And thou too, Dalica, so many years
Wean'd from the bosom of thy native land,
Returnest back, and seekest true repose.
O what more pleasant than the short-breath'd sigh,
When laying down your burden at the gate,
And dizzy with long wandering, you embrace
The cool and quiet of a homespun bed."
" Alas," said Dalica, " tho" all commend
This choice, and many meet with no controul,
Yet, none pursue it! Age, by Care opprest,
Feels for the couch, and drops into the grave.
The tranquil scene lies further still from Youth.
Phrenzied Ambition and desponding Love
Consume Youth's fairest flow'rs; compar'd with Youth
Age has a something something like repose.
Myrthyr, I seek not here a boundary
Like the horizon, which, as you advance,
Keeping its form and color, still recedes:
But mind my errand, and my suit perform.
Twelve years ago Charoba first could speak.
If her indulgent father asked her name,
She would indulge him too, and would reply
" What? why, Charoba " — rais'd with sweet surprize,
And proud to shine a teacher in her turn.
Shew her the graven sceptre; what its use? —
'Twas to beat dogs with, and to gather flies.
She thought the crown a plaything to amuse
Herself, and not the people, for she thought
Who mimick infant words might infant toys:
But while she watched grave elders look with awe
On such a bauble, she withheld her breath;
She was afraid her parents should suspect
They had caught childhood from her in a kiss;
She blushed for shame, and fear'd — for she believ'd.
Yet was not courage wanting in the child.
For I have often seen her with both hands
Shake a dry crocodile, of equal height,
And listen to the shells within the scales,
And fancy there was life, and yet apply
The jagged jaws wide open to her ear.
Past are three summers since she first beheld
The ocean: all around her earnest wait
Some exclamation of amazement wild.
She coldly said, her long-lashed eyes abased,
" Is this the mighty ocean? is this all!"
That wond'rous soul Charoba once possessed,
Capacious then as earth or heaven could hold, —
Soul discontented with capacity —
Is gone; I fear, for ever: need I say
She was enchanted by the wicked spells
Of Gebir, whom with lust of power inflamed,
The western winds have landed on our coast.
I since have watched her in each lone retreat,
Have heard her sigh, and soften out the name;
Then would she change it for Egyptian sounds
More sweet, and seem to taste them on her lips,
Then loathe them — Gebir, Gebir still return'd.
Who would repine, of reason not bereft!
For, soon the sunny stream of Youth runs down,
And not a gadfly streaks the lake beyond.
Lone in the gardens, on her gather'd vest
How gently would her languid arm recline;
How often have I seen her kiss a flower,
And on cool mosses press her glowing cheek.
Nor was the stranger free from pangs himself.
Whether, by spell imperfect, or, while brew'd,
The swelling herbs infected him with foam,
Oft have the shepherds met him wandering
Thro' unfrequented paths, oft overheard
Deep groans, oft started from soliloquies,
Which they believe assuredly were meant
For spirits who attended him unseen.
But when from his illuded eyes retired
That figure Fancy fondly chose to raise,
— For never had she formed so fair an one
Herself, till Nature shew'd an architype —
He clasped the vacant air, and stood and gazed.
Then, owning it was folly, strange to tell,
Burst into peals of laughter at his woes:
Next, when his passion had subsided, went
Where from a cistern, green and ruin'd, oozed
A little rill, soon lost; there gather'd he
Violets, and harebells of a sister bloom,
Twining complacently their tender stems
With plants of kindest pliability.
These for a garland woven, for a crown
He platted pithy rushes, and ere dusk
The grass was whiten'd with their roots knipt off.
These threw he, finisht, in the little rill,
And stood surveying them with steady smile;
But, such a smile as that of Gebir bids
To Comfort a defiance, to Despair
A welcome, at whatever hour she please.
Had I observ'd him I had pitied him.
I have observ'd Charoba. I have asked
If she loved Gebir: " love him! " she exclaim'd,
With such a start of terror, such a flush
Of anger, " I love Gebir? I in love? "
Then, looked so piteous, so impatient looked —
But burst, before I answer'd, into tears.
Then saw I, plainly saw I, 'twas not love.
For, such her natural temper, what she likes
She speaks it out, or rather, she commands.
And could Charoba say with greater ease
" Bring me a water-melon from the Nile"
Than, if she lov'd him, " Bring me him I love ."
Therefor the death of Gebir is resolv'd."
" Resolv'd indeed," cried Myrthyr, nought surpriz'd,
" Precious mine arts! I could without remorse
Kill, tho' I hold thee dearer than the day,
E'en thee thyself, to exercise mine arts.
Look yonder; mark yon pomp of funeral;
Is this from fortune or from favoring stars?
Dalica, look thou yonder, what a train!
What weeping! O what luxury! come, haste,
Gather me quickly up these herbs I dropt,
And then away — hush! I must, unobserved,
From those two maiden sisters pull the spleen;
Dissemblers! how invidious they surround
The virgin's tomb, where all but virgins weep."
" Nay, hear me first," cried Dalica, " 'tis hard
To perish to attend a foreign king."
" Perish! and may not then mine eye alone
Draw out the venom drop, and yet remain
Enough? the portion cannot be perceived."
Away she hasten'd with it to her home:
And sprinkling thrice fresh sulphur o'er the hearth,
Took up a spindle, with malignant smile,
And pointed to a woof, nor spake a word.
'Twas a dark purple; and its dye was dread.
Plunged in a lonely house, to her unknown,
Now Dalica first trembled; o'er the roof
Wander'd her haggard eyes — 'twas some relief —
The massy stones, tho' hewn most roughly, shew'd
The hand of man had once at least been there.
But from this object sinking back amazed,
Her bosom lost all consciousness, and shook
As if suspended in unbounded space.
Her thus intranced the sister's voice recall'd,
" Behold it here! dyed once again, 'tis done."
Dalica stept, and felt beneath her feet
The slippery floor, with moulder'd dust bestrown.
But Myrthyr seized with bare bold-sinew'd arm
The grey cerastes, writhing from her grasp,
And twisted off his horn; nor fear'd to squeeze
The viscous poison from his glowing gums:
Nor wanted there the root of stunted shrub
Which he lays ragged, hanging o'er the sands,
And whence the weapons of his wrath are death:
Nor the blue urchin that with clammy fin
Holds down the tossing vessel for the tides.
Together these her scient hand combined,
And more she added, dared I mention more.
Which done, with words most potent, thrice she dipt
The reeking garb, thrice waved it thro' the air:
She ceased; and suddenly the creeping wool
Shrunk up with crisped dryness in her hands.
" Take this," she cried, " and Gebir is no more."
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