Thomas Aird

Second Tale: Othuriel: Canto II: Othuriel's Interview With Joanna

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Othuriel wakes; a glimmer shows him laid,
But where he knows not, on a broidered bed.
Came muffled feet; before him stood in sight
A child of lustrous beauty; she a light
Bore, shaded half, and half from him away
Back held, his eyes to hurt not with the ray.
“Water!” he murmured; she a draught supplied,
Which struck cold healing through his thirsty side.
Sweet food she brought him; bowing o'er his bed,
She salved his shoulder and his wounded head
With balsams cool and bland; refreshed he lies,
His bosom swelling with delicious sighs.
Pleased on him gazed the girl, then slid away.
But back she came and nursed him day by day.

Othuriel, healed, to Titus northward goes;
His way, at first perplexed, a female shows,
Veiled, sackcloth-clad; she paused, her lifted veil
Revealed Joanna beautiful but pale;
Northward she pointed:—“Lo!” she said, “thy way
To Zion Hill throughout the autumnal day!
On to Jerusalem straight! there let thy hand.
Red with thy country's blood, upsnatch a brand,
Hurl the swift fire, her sainted citadel
Strike, down her arches, down her Temple fell;
Then come before me, there declare at last
Thou well in all hast justified the past!”

“Be mine to follow to its utmost bound
Thy scornful guidance, Zion to confound!
If of my will, my power, you still demand
A pledge—Manasseh perished by this hand:
Mine was the blow”—

“But mine to mourn the deed,
For was he not a father in my need?
For was not she—ah! now his widowed wife—
More than a mother to my orphan life,
Adopted as their own? With patriot haste
He left Jerusalem where his power was placed
Highest, disdaining power, that he might dwell
In native Judah, and her enemies quell;
And I, his daughter, there was doomed to see
His manly body gashed by thee—O thee!”

“But hear me now! But I had savage cause!
Who made me what I am from what I was?
Did I not faithful fight? I loved thee: loved
By thee, how burned my heart to be approved
In greater wars, to win a name of pride,
That I might put it on my virgin bride!
Judge me, just maid! Hell and her Powers of Shame
Sent forth a scum of lies to blast my name:
They called me traitor! Ha! against me rose
Manasseh, foremost of my envious foes;
He led that host of lies: Faction and Hate
Our Council ruled, and drove me from the State:
They drove me forth! on the first mountain's brow
I knelt against them, and I vowed a vow;
To Rome I sped; I sought and found a friend
In Titus, power unto my wrath to lend;
Fired him with lust of fame; beyond my oath,
Jerusalem razed shall glorify us both.”

Othuriel thus. Joanna deeply sighed,
But with heroic dignity replied:—
“Too late I heard thy wrongs. But be we just
First to thy noble enemy in the dust:
I traced the plot; thou by a rival mean
Traduced, Manasseh only rash had been;
Without reserve the injustice he confessed,
Straight to the Council went, and there thy name redressed.
Still grant thee harshly used—and wert thou not?—
Must then thy sacred country be forgot?
Patience magnanimous, the lofty right
To serve that country in her own despite,
O silent deeds, why do you not with these
Thy foes best vanquish, best thy spirit please?
What then? Nay, try it, tremble, and declare
Such wrath as thine but finds its triumphs air:
Walk o'er Jerusalem's waste, and where are they
Who wronged thee so upon a former day?
They (grant that waste) in whose peculiar eyes
Thou long'st the proud avenger to arise,
To stand, to point their wretchedness, to win
Their meek repentance for their former sin?
Ha! they have fallen for Zion, well have they
Their faults redeemed; what more can vengeance say?
This, this alone:—additional to the guilt
That thou thy people's hallowed blood hast spilt,
The empty glory's thine, to stand redressed
Before that people which is now at best
A mere abstraction, since the men are gone
Whom thou wouldst have for wrongs to thee atone.”

“But thou shalt see it; doubly shall I be
Avenged, they stricken, and thou saved by me,
Saved, honoured, loved: when I have quelled their pride,
How will I glory in my virgin bride!”

“Manasseh fell in fight; his wife with me,
Maromne, sought him; there he lay by thee;
We bore him thence: You lived, I saw and bade
You to a home be secretly conveyed;
'Twas done; instructed by my cautious care,
Her daughter Tamar was thy handmaid there.

So saved by us, our land you'll first o'erthrow,
Then come with offers to insult our wo?
No, no! why think it? Let me speak aright,
Nor do thee wrong—oh, never will you fight
Against your parents' God, ne'er lift unblest
Your hand against your country sore distrest!
Turn; help her—help us all; her hero be:
Win loftiest vengeance—make her think of thee,
Sue thy forgiveness, love thee; be her boast,
Her young deliverer, in thyself a host!
Oh, can you not? Oh, can you not, indeed?
Now is your time, for now our day of need.”

Impassioned thus, she to Othuriel raised
Her dear young eyes; imploringly she gazed.
But downward looking, oft his hand he passed
Along his forehead darkly overcast.
“'Tis o'er: to speak not of my vow,” he said,
“The trust of Titus must with truth be paid;
And then the issue of that battle-field
(At length by Tamar to my quest revealed)—
My men cut off—my perfect overthrow—
Forbids me now my purpose to forego:
Yes—yes”—long paused he; looking round, he sees
Joanna far retiring through the trees.
Be it so, then! Anew with fiercer threat,
His face against Jerusalem was set.

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Thomas Aird