Thomas Aird

Second Tale: Othuriel: Canto IV: Othuriel Brings Tamar To Jerusalem

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Othuriel south, by Salem's eastern side,
Went; frequent fires above a light supplied.
Slowly he rode along the ghastly plain
Blood-soaked, and heaped with corpses of the slain
Cast from the walls; the wounded, too, were there,
And thickened with their groans the burdened air.
His snorting charger swerved as oft, beneath,
Some trampled wretch howled forth his curse of death;
Or wing of blood-cloyed vulture from the dead
Rose heavy up and flapped around his head;
Or lazy dog, whose muddy gloating eye
Shone in the red light, with a startled cry
Was frighted off: behind, the loathsome beast
Came slinking back to its polluted feast.
As burned the brighter fires, he there beheld
The brows of infants, and the forms of eld,
Strong men, and youths untimely cut away;
And there the virgin in her beauty lay.

He trode a stiller and a darker space;
Then neared a high and fiercely-lighted place,
Thick set with crosses: writhing how they glare,
Those captured Hebrews, nailed by Titus there,
With terror day and night to strike the town,
To beat the hearts of the defenders down.
Downcast his eyes, his spirit awe-subdued,
Othuriel went into that painful wood.
Shrill neighed his horse, with cries the brooding air
Was startled: “Water! water!” was each prayer.
Slowly he passed. Heroic murmurs drew
Aloft his eye: a warrior hung in view;
Perfect of beauty seemed his head sublime,
With power were clothed his limbs in manhood's prime,
Toward Zion fixed; down looking by his side,
As paused the rider, thus he faintly cried:—
“Ho! Jew or Roman, if thy heart is great,
To me the issue of this day you'll state.
On yon delightful wall, so cool and high,
The watchman paces o'er my weary eye;
I've cried to him to tell me of the war,
But ne'er he seems to hear me from afar.
Thou son of milky woman, grant my prayer;
Oh tell me, tell me how my brethren fare!”
Came pain's quick cords; his curves convulsive throw
His bosom forward, like a bended bow,
Drawn; jerking back his loins the dull tree beat;
Thick rains the bloody sorrow from his feet.
Othuriel longed the struggling soul to cheer;
Yet paused, his own voice daring not to hear
In such a place, by sufferings sanctified
More than hushed temples where great gods abide;
And mute he gazed upon that lofty face
Chastised with pain and sorrow for a space.
But hark! far blowing their defiance shrill,
The silver trumpets of the Holy Hill!

From off the countenance of the crucified
Pangs passed away, came on a gleam of pride;
Upstretched he rose, his gathered might was racked
With noble toils till all his sinews cracked;
His face was beautified, with joy was fired;
And with a shout he gloriously expired.

Uprose the eastern moon: by silvered floods,
And mountains bearded with old hoary woods,
There clear the vales, here dark, Othuriel rode,
And silent vineyards now by man untrode.
Undriven away he saw the foxes young
Tear down the vintage that neglected hung;
Such dread for Zion, hemmed with Roman lines,
Had struck the careless keepers of the vines.

Morn broke: by many a fountain fair to see
He went, and many a patriarchal tree;
O'er the green swelling loins of summer hills,
Down the fresh valleys which the sun now fills,
There tumbling waters clean, to morning's beams
Here far uncurled the lapse of glassy streams,
With bordering trees delectable; in haste
He trode the extended skirts of Tekoah's waste,
High Hebron on the west; and south, between,
He rode through Judah's pastures broad and green.

Down went the day: he found at evening-tide
Young Tamar weeping by old Esther's side.
She rose, she knew him; he his mission tells;
Joanna's ring each lingering doubt dispels,
Pledge of his truth: they knew, they kissed it. “So,”
Exclaimed the Nurse, “thou too from me must go,
Tamar, O child! My young lamb of the fold,
Who goest to troubles and to fears untold,
What shall I say? The Everlasting arms
Be round about thee in the last alarms!
Yet stay, I have a sacred ring; 'twill prove,
If no defence, a token of my love.”

“Nay then,” Othuriel said, “of virtue tried,
Around her neck shall be an amulet tied.
Here, since a child, I've worn it on my breast;
Nor seldom doubtless me the charm has blest,
From ills has kept me: Surely me it laid,
When wounded, here beneath sweet Tamar's aid;
For this it shall be hers.” From off his own
Unloosed, the chain round Tamar's neck was thrown.

“Ha! what?” cried Esther, as she saw and seized
The hanging charm, and kissed it strangely pleased;
“It is—ah! who art thou? declare thy name—
Well should I know it!—'tis, it is the same!
These woven words! My brother—ah! more dear
For his wild lore that filled my heart with fear—
From Memphis brought it: in an old dim fane
A youthful priestess wrought the mystic chain;
Dipped in the Nile, in a divine lagoon,
Bleached in the pale eye of the Egyptian moon,
'Twas cleared; then was it with the sacred blood
Of the ibis spotted, and the spell was good.
Ere far he went, my brother's wizard hand
Cast round Manasseh's son the enchanted band,
Maromne's first-born son; for gracious they
Had kept me with them since their nuptial day.
But vain their love for me, and vain that spell
To stay the mighty evil which befell;
Lost was that son, and I, alas! to blame.
But speak: say where, when, whence to thee it came?”

“Woman of Judah, then, it hung around
My neck, when me a Galilean found,
A child exposed; he reared me as his own,
But dying told me of my birth unknown.
Ah me! what thing of horror and of dread
Is this which now is coming on my head?
I see it all! Woman, you spoke of one—
Of—of—Manasseh? Am I then his son?
Tamar! my sister! my sweet sister dear!
Yet stay one moment till the whole be clear.”

Before him bowed, the Nurse with eager hands
Unbinds his sandal; passively he stands.
“The scar,” she murmured, “if I find it here!”
She found, she kissed it, dropping many a tear.
Slow rising pale, “My son!” she said, “'twere meet
That ne'er I rose, but died upon thy feet;
For mine the blame. I saw thy father's spear
Fall on that infant foot—an omen drear!
Oh, was it not? for scarcely wert thou healed,
When forth I took thee to the harvest field;
Homeward returning, in the noontide hour,
With thee I slumbered in a leafy bower:
I waked, but thou wert gone; all search was vain;
Through long long years we saw thee ne'er again.
Hope came at last: An aged kinsman sought
Your father's house, by want and sickness brought;
Death came, your mother soothed him; forth at last
To her the burden of his soul he cast:—
‘Fair was thy youth, Maromne; far above
The maids of Judah thee my son did love,
Mine only one; but favour you denied;
He rushed to battle, and for you he died.
Vengeance be mine! I saw your first-born creep
Before a bower, his Nurse was there asleep;
Upsnatched I bore him far, with gentle care
I laid him down’—he died, nor told her where.
Hope sunk anew, for still the quest was vain.
Would, would thy sire had seen thee once again!

Come from his lofty battles, how he smiled
To take thee to him, a heroic child!
How joyed his little warrior thee to call,
His bloody lance bestriding through the hall!
Then on his knee he set thee, by thy side
Joanna, meant to be thy future bride.
But thou wert lost. Jehovah called away
His other children in their early day.
Nobly at last he fell.”

“By whom? by whom?”
Othuriel cried: “Who struck him to the tomb?
There's the right hand that did it! bloody hand,
Which all that love for me could not withstand!
Oh, I to do it! I to smite him dead,
Lifting my hand against that sacred head!
My foe—my father!” hoarsely thus he cried.
How shrieked his little sister terrified!
He glanced upon her in his stern distress,
And up he snatched her with a fierce caress;
But softening kissed her forehead:—“Fear me not,
My sweet young sister! dread though be my lot,
I'll be thy brother aye. When night is past,
I'll bear thee with me to our mother fast.
Sleep thou the while.” He said, in anguish sore
Groaning, he bowed his forehead to the floor;
There, left alone, his sorrows had their way,
As through the dark hours in the dust he lay.


Uprose the morn: how shall Othuriel dare
His sister Tamar to that siege to bear?
Shuddering he paused, he strove to make her know
The whelming danger, but she prayed to go—
With tears she pleaded; his the hope that yet
His Roman favour them all safe might set,
He took, he bore her quickly by the way
He came, and rode till the decline of day.
His steed, aloof from the beleaguered towers
Of Zion, fastened 'mid neglected bowers,
He sought ripe fruits for Tamar; by his side
He made her sit throughout the evening-tide;
Close to his bosom gently drew her head,
Till slumber came and sealed each silken lid;
Then bowed his cheek to hers with love so deep,
And hid her face that she might longer sleep.


High walks the midnight moon: wide opening go
The gates of Zion to Othuriel's blow,
Struck by his sounding spear; Joanna there
Forth stands to take young Tamar from his care.
But entering with them through a stern array
Of jealous guards he dared his onward way,
Jealous but silent all; till, as he passed,
They closed behind him and the gates made fast,
With crowding murmurs. But he heard them not,
Far other things are in his eager thought;
For, homeward with Joanna as he goes,
The tokens of his parentage he shows.
How dares he go? he thinks not, heeds not, he,
All else forgot, his mother's face must see.
His sister leads him home; remote from all,
He waits his mother in a silent hall.
She came:—“My son!” He met her dear embrace,
And long he sobbed and wept upon her face.

Down then he knelt:—“My mother! let me go
And ask great Rome to hold thee not a foe,
To save you all, if you your son would give
One chance with gleams of happiness to live.
This be my purpose; though, all else forgot,
To see my mother was my only thought.
But more than sorrow shall my coming be,
Oh dread my going, if I save not thee.
Swift let me go, thus save you; then for aye
With you in native Judah will I stay.”

“Behold,” she said, “my late-won soldier, here
Thy father's shield, his helmet and his spear,
Who living now had been a full-orbed name—
Start not, my son, he died but lives in fame.
His great example, for our country's sake,
Thee the fulfiller of his deeds must make.
Joanna told me something, but my ear
Alone the tokens of my son could hear.
What though, your birth unknown, for Rome you fought?
No blame was yours, yours was no traitor's thought.
Known now your birth, Rome has no claim on you;
A Jew must do the duties of a Jew.
For this, my boy, I nursed thee on my knees,
In days gone by, beneath our native trees.
Thee forth I'll lead all gloriously; come then,
Put on the harness of our mighty men.
Why look'st thou so? Oh wherefore, if not free
To fight for Zion, art thou come to me?”

“Thou wife—ah! widow—of the man I slew!
(I say not mother, I'm no son to you;
Though pangs take hold on me, and sore affright
To call you else) what shall I do this night?
'Twas I that slew him. Oh but let me say
Had nature blest me in my early day,
Had I been reared upon thy sacred knee,
(Oh let me name that name so dear to me!)
My mother, ever mine! then had I ne'er
By such a deed been linked unto despair.
I knew him not. But what shall quell the shame
That still remains? Apostate is my name.
My birth unknown I plead not, up I grew
In all the nurture of a warrior Jew:
This land was mine; yet darkly did I go
And swear with Rome to lay Jerusalem low,
Because my father in the Sanhedrim
(My foe, I since have learned, misleading him)
Denounced me as a traitor: from their gate
Forth was I driven by Envy and by Hate.
Dread was my oath! that oath must I pursue,
And with high hand do what I have to do.
Yet see me kneel—oh help me to contrive
Some surest way to save thy house alive:
Let not my oath another parent cost;
Oh let me, let me not be wholly lost!”
He said, and knelt. His mother's gone: he heard
The turning bolt: he finds himself in ward.
Lean men came in. They chained him. He was led
Down to a vault: a lamp was overhead.
There to a pillar of black gopher-wood
Brought near, a fettered prisoner he stood.

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Thomas Aird