Nebuchadnezzar: Canto VI: The Banquet

Thomas Aird

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Come to the Banquet! Lift your dazzled eyes,
Survey the glory that before you lies!
Far down yon avenue of fainting light,
The dim dance swims away upon the sight.
Behold the central feast! Behold the wine
Around in brimming undulations shine,
As shakes the joyous board! There Beauty sips
The purple glimmer with her murmuring lips;
For there the rose-crowned concubines are set,
For there the nymphs of Babylon are met,
Each one a princess: Their illumined eyes
Glitter with laughter, glance with coy surprise;
And aye the love-sick dulcimer is played,
Till faintly languishes each melting maid.
Here peaceful satraps quaff: their lordly breasts
Built out with gladness, sit the chosen guests.
And there the Prince: But oft he looks around,
And seems to listen for some coming sound.
Fear in his heart; each bowl, each golden cup
With blood, for wine, to him seems welling up,
Smote by the light of that branched candlestick:
These Holy Vessels well may make him sick,
Torn from Jehovah's Courts with impious hands,
To light the unhallowed feasts of Heathen lands.


But see young Cyra brought by eunuch slaves,
Pale, pale as are the dead within their graves,
Yet beautiful, in vestments flowered and fair,
With hasty garlands in her raven hair.
Pleased are the nobles of the banquet; round
Soft murmurs tell the favour she has found.
'Gainst scorn and wrong her heart had high defence;
Approval quelled her glowing innocence,
And Cyra tore the roses from her head,
In trembling haste her Jewish veil to shed.
It was not there; but nature there supplied
More than the wimple of a regal bride,
How lovelier far! Her eager hand unbound
Her hair dishevelled; far it fell around
Her comely form, black as the ancient Night,
And veiled the virgin from that insolent light.

Entranced in love, forgetting every fear,
And flushed with wine, the reeling Prince drew near.
“Thou chosen flower of Jewry, why so pale?”
He cried. “Nay, look from out that envious veil.
Give me thy soft hand, come drink wine with me,
Cling to my love, my bosom's jewel be!”

Back Cyra stepped, her tresses back she threw;
Their wavy beauty o'er her shoulders flew.
But burned her eye intense, as far it looked,
Nor check of terror intermediate brooked;
For in a moment the prophetic might,
God-given, was hers, the seer's awful sight.
Pale, fixedly rapt, concentrated, entranced
She stood, one arm outstretched, one foot advanced;
Nor moved that foot, nor fell that arm disturbed,
Not for a moment was her far glance curbed,
As from her lips, o'erruled with Heavenly flame,
The impetuous words that told the vision came:—
“Cling to thy love? I see a haughtier bride
Sent down from Heaven to clasp thy wedded side!
Oh, more than power, than majesty she brings,
Drawn from the loins of old anointed Kings,
To be her dower! Destruction is her name,
With terror crowned, with sorrow and with shame!
Her eyes of ravishment shall burn thee up!
And Babylon shall drink her mingled cup!
Weary thine idol-gods, old Babylon;
Yet tremble, tremble for thy glory gone!
City of waters! not o'erflowing thee,
Thy boasted streams shall yet thy ruin be!
Look to thy rivers! Shod with crusted blood,
The Persian mule—I see him on thy flood
Walk with dry hoof! Ha! in thy hour of trust,
He stamps thy golden palaces to dust,
Which dims the bold winds of the wilderness
One hour—Then, where art thou? And who shall guess
Thy pomp? its place, even? Let the bittern harsh
Give quaking answer from her sullen marsh;
From drier haunts, where doleful creatures dwell,
Let tell the satyr, let the dragon tell!”

She ceased, she clasped her hands, nor yet withdrew
Her eye concentred in its piercing view.
“Nay,” said the Prince, “it ill befits those lips
To talk of kingdoms' and of thrones' eclipse!

Rein now the lovely madness of those eyes,
And see the bliss that near before thee lies.
Thy harp? 'Twas fetched with thee from out the cave.”
—The Monarch nodded to a waiting slave,
The harp was brought—“Now, strike one nuptial strain
Of those that graced thy wisest Sovereign's reign:
Sing a glad song of Solomon.” She took
Her harp inviolate, as with scorn she shook;
Forth, burst on burst, her holy quarrel leapt
'Gainst Zion's mockers, as the chords she swept.
“Nay,” cried the Prince, and interposed his hand,
“Sweet Fury, stay; thy harp must be more bland.
Give us—we'll teach thee.” Back in sacred pride
The Jewess shrunk. “It shall not be!” she cried.
“Our people's woes—O Jacob's God, how long?—
Have filled these chords with many a mournful song,
Have sanctified them thus. Yea, for thy King,
Thy father, too, how oft has thrilled each string,
To soothe him in the lonely wilderness,
By thee forgotten in his sore distress!
But I did ne'er forget him! Thou bad son,
My harp were tainted, touched by such a one,
Ungrateful, daring in voluptuous rest,
In the flowered garments of thy women drest,
To shame the throne of such a father; yea,
With dogs of chase to vex him in thy play!
Ne'er shall thy finger touch one hallowed wire!”
Mighty beyond herself, in holy ire
She burst the chords, her harp asunder tore,
And wildly strewed the fragments on the floor.

In quick revulsion kneeling down she cast
Her eyes to Heaven. Loud blew a trumpet blast.
Up sprung she. Fear was in the Prince's eye;
Yet, “To my chamber with her!” was his cry.

Slaves seized the maid; she shrieked; with effort strong,
Oh, minutes, moments could she but prolong!
Hark! shouts and clashing swords!—“Help, God, ere I
Must—” is she saved? The doors wide bursting fly;
He comes sublime—'tis he! the King restored!
Faces and forms of war dread thronging guard their lord.

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