Thomas Aird

Second Tale: Othuriel: Canto III: The Assualt By Night

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Still is the eve on high Jerusalem's walls,
Save lonely sentinel heard at intervals,
As he with psalms of Judah's prosperous day,
And holy anthems, whiles his watch away.

Lo! by the moon's uncertain struggling light,
Come dusky masses glimpsing through the night,
Of Romans drawn from their suburban rest
To gain a new wall, of the first possest.
While in the south Othuriel wounded lay,
Vespasian rose to the Imperial sway;
And Titus well his promise can redeem
Against these walls to urge his vengeful scheme.
Othuriel joined him, healed; ere rolled the year
They compassed Zion—they are sternly here!
They mount their engines softly; nor they seem
To wake the City from its weary dream.
But hark! it sleeps not: ha! behold yon line
Of kindling fires along its ramparts shine.
Dusk figures throng the wall; ere you can say
When, whence they rose, behind a thick array
On every tower, o'er every battlement,
With nimble gestures their bold heads present.

Loud bursts the night: o'erhead huge javelins go
From catapults, their stones balistas throw,
By stones and javelins met; red balls expire,
And blazing arrows trail their arching fire.
More safe the Romans in the shade below,
Too well their lights above the swarthy Hebrews show;
Yet still, as high and far the wall is swept,
New hordes upstarting to the fray have leapt.
But now the Ram in dreadful poise is hung,
Beneath its shed at first 'tis gently swung;
Huzza! at once its brawny men back strain
Madly, and drive it on the walls amain;
They thunder-smitten throb. With every stroke
An answering yell from the defenders broke
Down came their crashing stones. On either flank
The Ram is aided by a stationed rank,
With slings and bows to clear away the foe
Above, and guard its battering play below.
But vain the arrows of these galling wings,
Nor boots the dread precision of their slings;
Though stricken thousands fall, new faces grim
Upspringing umbered crowd the City's brim,
Which spills its valour wild; in either hand
A blazing torch, in every mouth a brand,
Down leap the Jews, fast to the penthouse cling,
And all around their flames to fire the engine fling;
Till by the Roman archers placed aloof,
Transfixed, writhing they roll from off the roof,
And leave the Ram its last just blow to reach,
To drive its dull head through the dusty breach.

Stern pause the Romans: sternly stands within
That breach a wall of Hebrews chin by chin;
Their spears intensely ready, waiting still
Their eyes' concentred lightnings to fulfil,
Blent with the darkness of immortal hate,
As looking down unwinking they dilate.

Dread silence hangs: the moving of a head—
A foot advanced—the twinkling of a lid
Has burst the entrancèd pause; the mutual front
Has met, is swayed in one commingled brunt,
Is locked, is cloyed, is calm in the excess
Of might and hatred in one glutted stress.
Slowly it loosens; from that cramping shock
Men's hearts can breathe, and wide the fight is broke,
And wild and high the shouts of battle rise,
And trumpets blow along the rending skies.

Far foremost fought Othuriel; from the van
Swerving he dashed, upward he widely ran
To pierce their flank, to turn and drive the foe
Down on the waste that met them from below.
Joanna stood before him! Kneeling down,
He prayed to guard her from that fated town.
But, “No,” she said; “whate'er Maromne's fate,
'Tis mine, as mine has been her good estate.
Would she be saved by thee? Would she by night
Secure her safety by a stealthy flight,
Last of the Maccabees, whose duty high
She deems with straitened Judah is to die,
Where she can do no more; at least to show
A brave example, fearing not the foe?
But yet for her I dare not now refrain
Thy pity—no, thy gratitude to gain:
Say, wilt thou help us? Swear: you swear? 'tis well.
So now my purpose let me briefly tell:—
Maromne came to Zion; short her stay
Designed, we hoped her back from day to day.
But sickness seized her, well its work was done
Where sad bereavement had the waste begun.
I heard and came: behind the tainted air
Caused leave her daughter to a Nurse's care.
God raised her up; her home she'll see once more,
And Tamar's presence shall her health restore.
But now you sieged us. Fearing ne'er that you
Jehovah's sainted dwelling could subdue;
Yet, trouble-weakened, many a terror wild,
She could not hide, came o'er her for her child.
For this I've sought thee oft, I've found thee now;
Up to Jerusalem bring her daughter thou.
Start not, you've promised; dear your handmaid she,
And great the hazard, yet she brought must be:
For her Maromne pines. My signet here,
Be this your pledge to calm Nurse Esther's fear.

You know our home in Judah. Then, when high,
Two nights from this, the moon is in the sky,
Smite thou our northern gate; I waiting there
Will glad receive the damsel from your care:
Maromne's name beloved, our men for it
Even thee in honoured safety would admit.”
She said and turned; he downward fought his way,
Till coming midnight closed the doubtful fray.

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Thomas Aird