Thomas Aird

Nebuchadnezzar: Canto V: The Battle

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I

Forth flames the day. From off his terrace high
The King Chaldean, with a troubled eye,
Long eastward looks; for lo! afar descried,
Comes on the Persian war sun-glorified,
To quell his throne. His nearer view commands
The embattled might of Babylonian lands,
In gorgeous ferment. From the city pour
Fresh hosts continuous through the impatient hour:
Their jostling chariots leap; the tide runs high
With all the pomp of flowing chivalry,
Arabian camels, and Nisæan steeds
Bearing a province of auxiliar Medes.
Onward they scour; for westward o'er the plain
The flower of Persian kingdoms draws its train,
From where its world of waters Indus brings
To Ocean, upward by his hoary springs,
To where the Tartar's winking hordes look forth
Over the snowy bastions of the North—
An army great and terrible: Earth seems
To be on fire beneath their brazen gleams.

II

Near waxed the fronting lines; intensely keen
They paused: stern was the silence them between.
Loud blew the Persian trumpets, wide the heaven
By one great shout from all their hosts was riven.
Chaldea answered on the west. At once
The Immortal Band of Persia's youth advance,
Flanked by a cloudy stir on either side,
Of swarming horse and archers opening wide.
Came o'er each army, darkening like a shroud,
The crossing texture of the arrowy cloud.
Beneath, the vans were locked together grim,
Were interfused the battle's ridges dim,
There opening, closing here, till form gave way,
Forgot the imposing beauty of array.

How gazed the King, intensely forward bowed,
As thick and thicker grew the battle-cloud,
Still darker waxed, now broke in lightened seams,
Again devoured the momentary gleams!
Forth rushed a western wind, backward it rolled
The heavy battle's slow uplifted fold.
O beauty terrible! he saw afar
The sultry ridges of the heaving war,
Saw down long avenues of disarray
The harsh-scythed chariots mow their levelled way.
'Twas doubtful long, but now the struggle pressed
With weight slow-whelming, gaining on the west;
Far back are swayed the wide Chaldean swarms,
They bow, they faint before the Persian arms.
But hark! a mighty trumpet in the west!
But lo! a warrior for the combat drest
In mail refulgent, on a milk-white steed,
Comes dashing east with earth-devouring speed!

Started the Prince, pale grew his forehead, shook
His knees, as stood he still constrained to look;
For, ha! his father's form that champion showed,
And plunging deep into the battle rode.
Far waved his sway, stemmed the Chaldean rout,
And changed their terror to a mighty shout,
By thousand thousands on the turrets thronged,
And lofty walls of Babylon, prolonged.
A sultrier ferment stirred the field: a band
Thickened behind that arm of high command,
As onward, eastward, with the whirlpool's might,
It sucked the reflux of the scattered fight;
Till, with its full concentrated attack,
It bore the centre of the Persians back.
Nor this alone: in shouldered masses wide
Their van was cleared away on either side.
And deep was pushed that column unwithstood,
And aye that waste collateral was renewed,
Till eastward far the Babylonian host
More than regained the ground which they had lost.
Then reeled the Persian power; it wavered, broke,
Was forced, was whelmed in one commingled shock.
Their camels fled, their Indian archers ceased,
Their chariots rolled away into the east;
Far driven their host, consumed, like stubble sere
Wide fired when withering east winds close the year.


III

The Prince his chamber sought: he bade with speed
Narses and Merdan come, his counsellors of need.
They came. “We task you not,” he cried, “to say,
Not even to guess that Victor of this day.

Slaves! slaves! we'll hear you not. This night at least,
This one night more, we'll be a king and feast.
Our Palace guards be doubled. Then when we
Are flown with cups, and filled with midnight glee,
Be Cyra brought; we'll make her drink old wine,
Her heart to warm, to make her beauty shine:
Long have we loved her; and, by Bel above!
Ere morn shall we be happy in her love.”

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Thomas Aird