Thomas Aird

Nebuchadnezzar: Canto VII: The Death of Cyra

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“Majestic child of gratitude! this hour
I bid thee ask not half my realm for dower:
I dare not mock thy pure young soul; but say
How shall I honour—nought can thee repay?”
Thus spake the King to Cyra, as she stood
Before him trembling and with eyes subdued.
('Twas on the morn which saw the Palace cleared,
The guilty quelled, the lawful Sovereign feared.)
“Why tremble, child? Uplift to me the face
That met me first with smiles of infant grace,
Then when I saw it lie, a priceless gem
Shining in blood, all pleased, upturned to them
Who trode around thee, and had scorned to bow
To save from crushing hoofs thy radiant brow.
I saw, O God! thy bloody hands in play
Grasp at the fetlocks in their perilous way;
I seized thee up, around my neck were thrown
Thy little arms, and thou becam'st mine own.
With pride I reigned in youth: In those high days
Thy harp was filled with Zion's sorrowing lays:
Yea, yet a child, sweet wisdom was thy dower;
Thou saw'st my pride, and sang'st Jehovah's power,
Who for His people stretched His darkened hand,
And drove down wonders o'er the Egyptian land:
The green curled heaps of the curbed sea for them
The swift pursuing hosts of Pharaoh stem,
Heaved on them, whelming them; His Israel
O'er lands of drought and deserts terrible
He bore; before them went His cloud by day,
By night His fiery pillar led the way:
Such was thy anthem, such the argument,
That I might fear, for Judah might relent.
Dark dreams came o'er me; thy sweet soul refrained
From plaintive hymns, that I might not be pained:
Oh more than generous, delicately just
To sorrow wert thou when I lay in dust!
But I am raised to reason's awful peace;
And ne'er to tell thy goodness will I cease.
With songs the gifted bards of Babylon,
With harps peculiar, shall thy praise make known.
Aloft a golden tablet shall declare,
In grateful lines, for me thy wondrous care,
Reared on those mountains: Thee all lands shall know,
And in thy presence queens shall softly go.”

With tears of gratitude the virgin kissed
The Monarch's hand, low kneeling to be blest.
“Be just,” she rising said, “be more than kind
To me—let Zion's sufferings touch thy mind;
Build up her walls, her Temple! Let thy hand
Shield back our people to their ancient land!
Would that the days were come, oh would they were,
When old, old men again shall be in her,
Again forth leaning on their staves shall meet
With cheerful voices in each sunny street,
Shall count her towers, her later glories show,
Shall tell the praise of one exalted foe!

Think not of me, my young life's waning fast:
I feel it here. But oh, thy trouble's past!
And now, my King, my father, in my hour
Of death I'll claim of thee a daughter's dower:
Thy love alone from tears has kept me free,
When oft I've longed our sacred land to see;
Ne'er shall I see it, but I'll make thee swear
To take my body hence, and lay it there,
And wilt thou not, as in thy days of need
I've loved thee much? Thou wilt, thou wilt indeed!”

“I will not look; I'll hear thee not; nor speak,
As if my Cyra were so faint and sick!
Cold winds indeed have hurt thee in that den;
But fear not, God will make thee well again.
I'll talk of hope: 'Twere more to me than power,
To have thee near me to my latest hour;
Yet thee to honour, to myself severe,
I'll haste to set thee in a loftier sphere.
The prophet Daniel shares my council-board,
Young, beauteous, wise, accepted of the Lord;
Say, couldst thou love him? 'Twere a joy to me,
In raising him esteemed, to honour thee.
Then for his sake, for thine, would I restore
Thy people, make Jerusalem as before,
Make Daniel king; his spousal queen be thou,
And round to thee I'll make the kingdoms bow.”

“No, no!” she said: “Restore our ancient race,
But let me die beholding still thy face!
Forgive me, Abraham's God!” She said, and grasped
And to her bosom passionately clasped
His knees, and sunk: One quick convulsive thrill
Throughout her body passed, and all was still.

II

He raised her up—O terror! O despair!
He pressed her heart—no pulse is stirring there.
Borne to a couch, he held that lovely head,
And gazed upon her in his silent dread;
By her unheeded now: No more she sees
Her father and her king—oh, more to her than these!
He started, called his slaves; but vain the aid
Of man, he closed the eyelids of the maid;
Then seized her lifeless hand: low bowing there,
He hid his face among her long black hair;
There lay through night, all silent in his woes;
And rose not up until the morn arose.

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