Thomas Aird

Nebuchadnezzar: Canto I: Cyra's Interview With The Prophet Ezekiel

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I

To yon high hills, how fitly stern of stress,
Ezekiel takes the shattered wilderness,
Where rooted trees half hide, but not compose
To grace the births of Nature's rudest throes,
Imperfect, difficult, unreconciled:
Blind moaning caverns, rocks abruptly piled
Below, and herbless black peaks split asunder
Aloft, the awful gateways of the thunder,
Accord they not with him whose burdened eye
Sees, through the rent of kingdoms great and high,
Thick gleams of wrath divine, whose visions range
Throughout the obstructed solitudes of change,
Whose spirit stumbles 'midst the corner-stones
Of realms disjointed and of broken thrones?


II

As on Ezekiel strode, he saw a maid
Sit in the vale, and on a harp she played.
Before her state upon a rugged stone
A form of man, with tangled locks o'ergrown,
Haggard, and dark, and wild; of power and pride,
A milk-white horse was pawing by his side.
Near went the Prophet; up that savage man
Sprung, tossed his hair, and to the mountains ran;
O'er rocks and bushes bounding with him went,
With startled mane, that steed magnificent.
The minstrel rose; when she Ezekiel saw,
She laid her harp aside with modest awe;
In haste she came to meet him, named his name,
And prayed his blessing with a reverent claim.
“Maid, who art thou?”

“Cyra, of Judah I.”
“Why dwelling here? And who yon form on high,
Chased by the mighty horse?”

“Thou man of God,
Austere thy visions, so is thy abode:
The stony mountains where old lions live,
Dread paths to thee, to thee a dwelling give:
Not in soft city, not in kingly dome
Thy jealous soul will deign to make thy home;
So art thou seldom within Babylon's gate,
And so hast heard not of her Monarch's fate,
Forth driven by God to wander from his throne,
Till seven appointed times be o'er him gone!
Behold that King—him followed by yon steed,
Doomed on the hills and in the wilds to feed!
His head forlorn, in nature's naked eye,
Is beat by all the changes of the sky;
He sees the morning star, and the wide noon,
He sees the nightly ordinance of the moon,
Sleep seldom his: The wild beast's in its den,
But through the night must roam the King of men!
Such was his sore extremity, till I—”

“So be abased—be stricken—worse than die,”
Exclaimed the Prophet, “who Jehovah's trust
Scorning, bow down our Zion to the dust!
So shall they be: Amazement shall lay bare
Her enemies' souls, and terror, and despair.
So has it been: Scarce Edom's name remains.
Soft Syria's loins are wrapped about with pains.
Tyre, where is she? The old haughty crocodile,
Is he not bridled on the shores of Nile?
On Ammon's head, on Moab's, Jehovah's doom
Has poured a midnight of unmelted gloom!
God is gone forth! Abroad His swift storms fly,
And strike the mystic birds from out the sky:
Soar proudly, burnished birds of Nineveh,
Home to the windows of your glory flee;
Ha! broke your wings, your trodden plumage rots—
The doves of Ashur lie among the pots!
For him! for yonder outcast—wo! and wo
Still more to him who thus has brought her low!—
Beneath her branchless palm must Judah sit,
Her widowed face with pens of sorrow writ,
And round her feet the fetters! But has he
Reaped glory hence? Earth's proud men, come and see!
At best a royal brute, he even without
The majesty of mischief roams about!
So let him—”

“Whelmed beneath Jehovah's ban,
'Tis ours to spare the much-enduring man.
Sore laid on us, his hand crushed down our State;
And great the blame, as our oppression great:
Yea, curse his pride of warlike youth; Oh then,
Still let me name him 'midst earth's noblest men!
But he was bowed, and, prostrate in his change,
Followed the wild ox in his boundless range,
And ate the grass; his head was wet with dew;
Like claws his nails, his hair like feathers grew.
But I have helped him through his years of ill,
And ne'er will leave him, but will love him still.
Bless him, and curse him not!”

With anger shook
The son of Buzi; tragic waxed his look;
With vehement force, as if to meet the storm,
He wrapped his rugged mantle round his form.
“Look to me, damsel!” cried he: “are not we
Carried away by our iniquity?
Shall then the soft desires of woman rule
Thy spirit still, and make thee play the fool?
Because within his silken palaces
He made thee dwell in love's delicious ease,
Thou thought'st it good, and chased him to the hill
In caves of rocks to play the harlot still?
Lord God of Israel! shall we count it light
So to be driven from Zion's holy height,
Our princes captives made, our stately men
Hewn down in battle, Thy dread courts a den;
And scorning types without, and rites within
Of penitence, conform to Heathen sin;
No thought of our estate, no sigh for it,
Degrading even the dust wherein we sit?
Happy the slain ones of our people! blest
Who fell in Zion's wars, and are at rest!
Yea, happy they whose shoulders labour sore,
With burdens peeled, or weary with the oar;
For so their manly bodies are not broke
With idle dalliance—slavery's heaviest yoke!
Ye tall and goodly youths, your fate is worse,
Your beauty more than burning is a curse;
For ye must stand in palaces, soft slaves
Of kings—your brethren lie in noble graves!—
Until your base shame for your origin
Beyond your wanton masters make you sin;
For ye upon the mountains, with desire
Unholy, looking toward the Persian fire,
Eat, not Jehovah-ward, forgetting Him,
Forgot the gates of old Jerusalem!—
Thou, too, thou maid of Judah, wo! that thou
Hast lived to be what I must deem thee now!”

He ceased. Like flames that burn the sacrifice
With darting points, shone out the virgin's eyes;
Shook her black locks of youth; drawn back she stood
Dilating high in her indignant mood.
She seized her harp, she swept the chords along,
Forth burst a troubled and tumultuous song;
Till, purified from anger and from shame,
Austere, severely solemn it became;
Yet dashed with leaping notes, as if to tell
Jehovah mighty for His Israel.
Soft gleamed the Prophet's eyes; he knew that strain,
Heard in the days of Salem's glorious reign,
When Judah's maids in sacred bands advanced,
With garlands crowned, and to the timbrel danced.
And shone through glazing tears young Cyra's eyes,
Her forehead now uplifted to the skies.
Her harp she dropped; her bosom greatly heaved,
Till words burst forth, and thus her heart relieved:—
“Perish the song, the harp, the hand for aye;
Die the remembrance of our land away;
Ne'er be revived the praises of the Lord
In the glad days of Zion's courts restored,
If I—” again she sobbed and hid her face—
“If I have been the child of such disgrace!
But ah! forgive me, great Ezekiel,
Thus to be angry I have done not well;
For thine the spirit that for Israel's weal
Burns with the fires of jealousy and zeal.
Oh hear thy handmaid now! for I shall sleep
In death, ere cease I for yon King to weep.
In that dread night—his wars be judged by God!—
When o'er our walls victoriously he rode,
He saw me lying in the trampled mire,
Which bloody glittered to the midnight fire;
Sprung, snatched me from my mother's dead embrace,
Ere the fierce war-steeds trode my infant face;
Smiled on me; to his large mailed bosom pressed me;
Home took me with him, with his love caressed me,
There made me dwell, there gave to me a name,
And to me there a father all became.

“Then—for my sacred origin I knew—
Me, yet a child, Jehovah taught to view
With scorn the Gentiles' sins; my opening days
Taught, more than theirs, to love our people's ways.
The Monarch smiled: nor sought he to subdue
The spirit honoured whence my choice I drew;
He gave me Hebrew teachers, them he charged
To see my childhood with their lore enlarged,
To compromise not in their captive place,
But tell Jehovah's doings for our race,
The ancient glories of our people tell,
And in his Court like princes made them dwell.

“Nor heavier task was mine, than that the King
A song of gladness made me often sing,
To cheer his spirit; for Jehovah vexed him
With nightly visions, and with dreams perplexed him.
My harp I touched; when he was cheered, then I
The mournful hymns of our captivity
Did ne'er forget: magnanimous he smiled,
And called me playfully an artful child;
Then was I bold, my prayer he heard with grace,
And gravely promised to restore our race.
God cast him out; I followed to the hills
My more than father, to divide his ills:
On summits high, and in the wastes his lair,
I found him strange and brutish in despair;
But tried my harp, less savage soon he grew,
And softly followed through the falling dew.
Caves in yon rock, our mountain people there
Had helped me first his dwelling to prepare;
There now less wild the food of men he finds,
And lies through night unstricken by the winds.

“In yonder hut a shepherd of our race
For years has given me an abiding-place.
His daughters love me as their sister; they
My simple service share with me by day,
To feed the flocks. When men their labour leave,
And past is now the milking-time of eve,
I harp before his cave, down from the steep
Comes the wild King, and couches him to sleep—
Oh, not to sleep; with self-accusing blame,
With madness wrestling, and with fitful shame.
Sweet psalms I play him then, till in calm wo
Lies his large heart; then to our cot I go.

“By Daniel's wise advice, his battle-steed
Was brought beside him on the hills to feed;
His armour too was brought, before his eyes
Nightly it gleams as on his bed he lies:
Memorials these of his heroic days,
To deeds of men again his soul to raise.
Remembering hence his glory, more because
The appointed season to a period draws,
His heart with reason swells; his ancient men
Of counsel come to seek him in his den.

Taught by affliction, by our God restored,
Then will he free the people of the Lord.
‘Joy! joy for Zion!’ let the captives sing.
Come thou with me, oh come and bless the wandering King!”

“True child of Judah! by the Spirit's might
Drawn to those hills, I wait the visioned night.
Just is thy gratitude. The God of peace
Raise up the King, and make our bondage cease!
My thought injurious turns to solemn praise;
And if thou keep thy sweet unblemished days
In Heathen courts, and if thy gentle power
May for our people haste redemption's hour,
Praised shalt thou be in Israel's borders wide,
Yea, praised—be this thy just and awful pride—
In Heaven, where the great Sanctities abide.”

So spake the Seer. Low bowing to be blest,
The Jewess knelt; stooping her head he kissed,
Then turned away; with sobbing joy o'ercome,
Thus well approved, the virgin sought her home.

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Thomas Aird