Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, VASHTI, by JAMES WELDON JOHNSON



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VASHTI, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I sometimes take you in my dreams to a far- / off land I used to know
Last Line: Served low at her feet.
Subject(s): Absence; Courts & Courtiers; Hearts; Love - Cultural Differences; Memory; Slavery; Separation; Isolation; Royal Court Life; Royalty; Kings; Queens; Serfs


I sometimes take you in my dreams to a far-
off land I used to know,
Back in the ages long ago; a land of palms and
languid streams.

A land, by night, of jeweled skies, by day, of
shores that glistened bright,
Within whose arms, outstretched and white, a
sapphire sea lay crescent-wise.

Where twilight fell like silver floss, where rose
the golden moon half-hid
Behind a shadowy pyramid; a land beneath the
Southern Cross.

And there the days dreamed in their flight, each
one a poem chanted through,
Which at its close was merged into the muted
music of the night.

And you were a princess in those days. And I —
I was your serving lad.
But who ever served with heart so glad, or lived
so for a word of praise?

And if that word you chanced to speak, how all
my senses swayed and reeled,
Till low beside your feet I kneeled, with happi-
ness o'erwrought and weak.

If, when your golden cup I bore, you deigned to
lower your eyes to mine,
Eyes cold, yet fervid, like the wine, I knew not
how to wish for more.

I trembled at the thought to dare to gaze upon,
to scrutinize
The deep-sea mystery of your eyes, the sun-lit
splendor of your hair.

To let my timid glances rest upon you long
enough to note
How fair and slender was your throat, how
white the promise of your breast.

But though I did not dare to chance a lingering
look, an open gaze
Upon your beauty's blinding rays, I ventured
many a stolen glance.

I fancy, too, (but could not state what trick of
mind the fancy caused)
At times your eyes upon me paused, and marked
my figure lithe and straight.

Once when my eyes met yours it seemed that in
your cheek, despite your pride,
A flush arose and swiftly died; or was it some-
thing that I dreamed?

Within your radiance like the star of morning,
there I stood and served,
Close by, unheeded, unobserved. You were so
near, and, yet, so far.

Ah! just to stretch my hand and touch the musky
sandals on your feet!—
My breaking heart! of rapture sweet it never
could have held so much.

Oh, beauty-haunted memory! Your face so
proud, your eyes so calm,
Your body like a slim young palm, and sinuous
as a willow tree.

Caught up beneath your slender arms, and
girdled 'round your supple waist,
A robe of curious silk that graced, but only scarce
concealed your charms.

A golden band about your head, a crimson jewel
at your throat
Which, when the sunlight on it smote, turned
to a living heart and bled.

But, oh, that mystic bleeding stone, that work
of Nature's magic art,
Which mimicked so a wounded heart, could
never bleed as did my own!

Now after ages long and sad, in this stern land
we meet anew;
No more a princess proud are you, and I — I am
no serving lad.

And yet, dividing us, I meet a wider gulf than
that which stood
Between a princess of the blood and him who
served low at her feet.





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