Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ZOPHIEL; OR THE BRIDE OF SEVEN: CANTO 2. DEATH OF ALTHEETOR, by MARIA GOWEN BROOKS



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ZOPHIEL; OR THE BRIDE OF SEVEN: CANTO 2. DEATH OF ALTHEETOR, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Soon over meles' grave the wild flower dropt
Last Line: With all her house; and seeks her own acacia grove.
Alternate Author Name(s): Del Occidente, Maria; Brooks, Maria A.
Subject(s): Courts & Courtiers; Death; Jews; Love; Marriage; Royal Court Life; Royalty; Kings; Queens; Dead, The; Judaism; Weddings; Husbands; Wives


Soon over Mele's grave the wild flower dropt
Its brimming dew; nor far, where Tigris' spray
Leaps to the beam, in life's sweet blossom cropt,
Four others, fair as he, were snatched from day.

Bridegrooms like him, they knew his fate; yet, bent
On their desires, resolved that fate to brave;
So, in succession, each a victim went,
Borne from the bridal chamber to the grave.

Low liest thou, Meles! 'tis mine to know,
By light of song, the darkly-hidden power
That closed thy bland, but wily lip; and show,
In flowing verse, what followed thy death-hour.

Noon slept upon thy grave, and Meda's king
Had sat him down, from court and harem far,
With a young boy who knew to touch the string
Of the sweet harp, and wage the ivory war

On painted field. The fainting breezes played
Among the curling clusters of his hair;
Thro' myrtle blooms and berries, white and red,
O'er the cool space of a pavilion, fair

An fond Ionian might devise:
Twelve columns, ivory white, support a dome,
Painted to emulate the dark blue skies,
When seamen watch the stars, and sigh, and think of home.

And, in the midst, Night's goddess (to the sight
More softly, beauteous for a pictured moon
That mantles her, in pale mysterious light,)
Comes stealing to the arms of her Endymion.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Beneath that dome, reclined the youthful king,
Upon a silver couch; and soothed to mood
As free and soft as perfumes from the wing
Of bird, that shook the jasmines as it wooed;

Its fitful song the mingling murmur meeting
Of marble founts of many a fair device;
And bees that banquet, from the sun retreating,
In every full, deep flower, that crowns his paradise

While gemmy diadem thrown down beside,
And garment, at the neck plucked open, proved
His unconstraint, and scorn of regal pride,
When thus apart retired, he sat with those he loved.

One careless arm around the boy was flung,
Not undeserving of that free caress;
But warm and true, and of a heart and tongue,
To heighten bliss, or mitigate distress.

Quick to perceive, in him no freedom rude
Reproved full confidence; friendship, the meat
His soul had starved without, with gratitude
Was ta'en; and her rich wine crowned high the banquet sweet.

What sire Altheetor owned 'twere hard to trace;
A beautiful Ionian was his mother;
Some found to Sardius semblance, in his face,
Who never better could have loved a brother.

But now, the ivory battle at it close,
"Go up to thy harp," said Sardius, "'twere severe
To keep thee longer, this;" then, as he rose,
"Where's our ambassador? Call Meles here.

Altheetor said: "Alas! my prince, the chase
Detains him long; and yet from peril sure
'Tis deemed he fares; nay, those there are who trace
His absence to some sylvan paramour."

"Let him be sought," said Sardius. No delay
Mocked that command; but vestige, glimpse, nor breath
Was gleaned, till, sadly, on the seventh day,
A band returned with tidings of his death.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

We've traced Lord Meles to that serpent's den,
And seen him in the vile earth murdered lie;
Yet wherefore grieves the greatest king of men?
This only is the fruit of clemency."

Then Sardius spoke, (as on the earth he cast,
While grief gave anger place, his full dark eye):
"Whoe'er has done this deed has done his last!
Soldier, priest, Jew, or Mede, by Belus he shall die."

Then brought they Zoroh in, misfortune's pride,
His venerable locks with age were white;
He cheered his trembling partner, at his side,
Reposing on his God, befall him as it might.

Young Egla marked him stand so firm and pale;
Looked in her mother's face -- 'twas anguish there;
Then gently threw aside her azure veil,
And in an upward glance sent forth to heaven a prayer.

Then prostrate thus: "Oh, monarch, seal my doom!
Thy sorrow for Lord Meles' death I know;
Taken then thy victim, drag me to his tomb,
And to his manes let my life-blood flow!

"Oh! by the God who made you glowing sun,
And warmed cold dust to beauty with his breath;
By all the good that e'er was caused or done,
Nor I, nor mine, have wrought thy subject's death.

"Yet think not I would live; alas! to me
No warrior of my country e'er shall come;
And forth with dance, with flowers, and minstrelsy,
I go bid no brother welcome home.

"Sad from my birth, nay, -- born upon that day
When perished all my race, my infant ears
Were opened first with groans; and the first ray
I saw came dimly through my mother's tears.

"Pour forth my life, a guiltless offering
Most freely given! But let me die alone!
Destroy not those who gave me birth! oh, king!
I've blood enough; let it for all atone!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Egla had ceased: her pure cheeks heightened glow;
Her white hands clasped; blue veil, half fallen down;
Fair locks and gushing tears, stole o'er him so,
That Sardius had not harmed her for his crown.

Yet, serious, thus fair justice's course pursued;
As if to hide what look and tone revealed;
"What lured a Median to thy solitude?
How came his death? and who his corpse concealed?

'Twas thus she told her tale: "A truant dove
Had flown; I strayed a little from the track
That winds in mazes to my lonely grove,
But heard a hunter's voice and hastened back.

Lord Meles saw; and with a slender dart,
Fastened the little flutterer to a tree
By the white wing, with such surpassing art,
'Twas scarcely wounded when returned to me.

"Thankful I took; but taught to be afraid
Of stranger's glance, retired; my mother sighed
And trembling saw; yet soon our dwelling's shade
The Median sought, and claimed me for a bride.

"But when reluctant to my humble room
I had retired, was spread a fragrance there,
Like rose and lotus shaken in their bloom;
And something came and spoke, and looked so fair,

"It seemed all fresh from heaven; but soon the thought
Of things that tempt to sorcery in the night
Made me afraid. It fled; and Meles sought
His bridal bed; the moon was shining bright;

"I saw his bracelets gleam, and knew him well;
But, ere he spoke, was breathed a sound so dread,
That fear enchained my senses like a spell,
And when morning came, my lord was dead.

"And then my mother, in her anxious care,
Concealed me in a cave, that long before
Saved her from massacre; and left me there,
To live in darkness, till the search was o'er.

"Her fears foretold. So, in that cavern's gloom
Alone upon the damp bare rock I lay,
Like a deserted corpse; but that cold tomb
Soon filled with rosy mists, like dawn of day,

"Which, half dispersing, showed the same fair thing
I saw before; and with it came another,
More gentle than the first, and helped it bring
Fresh flowers and fruits, in semblance like a brother.

"They spread, upon the rock, a flowery couch;
And of a sparkling goblet bade me sup, --
For that they saw me cold; I dared not touch,
But, mid the sweet temptation, closed my lip;

"And from their grateful warmth and looks so fair
I turned away and shrank. Of their intent,
I do not know to tell, or what they were --
But feared and doubted both; and when they went,

"Fled trembling to my home; content to meet
The sternest death injustice might prepare,
Ere trust my weakness, in that dark retreat,
To such strange peril as assailed me there."

She ceased: and now, in palace bade to stay,
Awaits the royal pleasure; but no more,
Though strictly watched and guarded, all the day.
To that stern warrior's threats was given o'er.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Day o'er, the task was done; the melting hues
Of twilight gone, and reigned the evening gloom
Gently o'er fount and tower; she could refuse
No more; and, led by slaves, sought the fair banquet-room.

With unassured yet graceful step advancing,
The light vermilion of her cheek more warm
For doubtful modesty; while all were glancing
Over the strange attire that well became such a form.

To lend her space the admiring band gave way;
The sandals on her silvery feet were blue;
Of saffron tint her robe, as when young day
Spreads softly o'er the heavens, and tints the trembling dew.

Light was that robe, as mist; and not a gem
Or ornament impedes; its wavy fold
Long and profuse; save that, above its hem,
'Twas 'broidered with pomegranate-wreath, in gold.

And, by a silken cincture, broad and blue,
In shapely guise about the waist confined,
Blent with the curls that, of a lighter hue,
Half floated, waving in their length behind;
The other half, in braided tresses twined,
Was decked with rose of pearls, and sapphires azure too,

Arranged with curious skill to imitate
The sweet acacia's blossoms; just as live
And droop those tender flowers in natural state;
And so the trembling gems seemed sensitive;

And pendant, sometimes, touch her neck; and there
Seem shrinking from its softness as alive.
And round her arms flower-white, and round, and fair,
Slight bracelets were twined of colours live;

Like little rainbows seemly on those arms;
None of that court had seen the like before;
Soft, fragrant, bright, -- so much like heaven her charms,
It scarce could seem idolatry t' adore.

He who beheld her hand forgot her face;
Yet in that face was all beside forgot;
And he, who as she went, beheld her pace,
And locks profuse, had said, "nay, turn thee not."

Placed on a banquet-couch beside the king,
'Mid many a sparkling guest no eye forbore;
But, like their darts, the warrior-princes fling
Such looks as seemed to pierce, and scan her o'er and o'er:

Nor met alone the glare of lip and eye --
Charms, but not rare: -- the gazer stern and cool,
Who sought but faults, nor fault or spot could spy;
In every limb, joint, vein, the maid was beautiful.

Save that her lip, like some bud-bursting flower,
Just scorned the bounds of symmetry, perchance,
But by its rashness gained an added power;
Heightening perfection to luxuriance.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Thy fragrant form, as the tall lily white,
Looks full and soft; yet supple as the reed
Kissing its image in the fountain light,
Or ostrich's wavy plume." So speaks the Mede;

While bending o'er her banquet-couch, he breathes
Her breath, whose fragrance woos that near advance;
Plays with her silken tresses' wandering wreaths,
And looks, and looks again with renovated glance.

But, ever watchful, to his prince's side
Came old Idaspes; he alone, might dare
To check the rising transport, ere its tide
Arose too high to quell; -- and thus, expressed his care.

Whispering in murmurs first: "At last, O king!
Thy subjects breathe; the cries of slaughter cease;
And happy labourers bless thee, as they bring
Forth from thy smiling fields, the fruits of peace.

"Their wounds just healing over, wouldst thou rush
Upon thy doom and theirs? What bitter tears
Must flow, if thou shouldst fall! what blood must gush!
Wait, till the cause of Meles' fate appears.

"And ere this dangerous beauty be thy bride,
Let him who loves thee best come forth and prove
The peril first." Alcestes rose beside,
And said, "Oh prince! to prove my faith and love,

"I'll dare as many deaths as on the sod
Without, the falling rose of leaves has strown!
And if bland Meles fell by rival god,
So let me fall; and live the pride of Medea's throne!

Egla, overwhelmed with shame, distaste, and fear,
Could, of remonstrance, utter not a breath;
Ere fixed Idaspes' whisper met her ear;
One word impassive seals thy father's death.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When Medea's last king died, a tumult rose,
And all Idaspes' prudence scarce procured
To keep the youthful Sardius from his foes,
And, ere his father's throne was yet secured,

Upon a terrace while Altheetor hung
About the prince, who carelessly carest,
A well-aimed arrow glanced; the stripling's sprung,
Stood like a shield, and let it pierce his breast.

But sage Pithoes knew the healing good
Of every herb; he pluck'd the dart away;
And stopp'd the rich effusion of his blood
As at his monarch's feet the boy exulting lay;

Drew forth from scrip, an antidotal balm;
And ere the venom through life's streams could creep,
Bestowed for death's convulsions dewy calm,
And steep'd each throbbing vein in salutary sleep.

But now Altheetor's sick. The kindly draught,
The bath of bruised herbs were vainly tried;
While his young breath seem'd as it fain would waft
His soul away; -- so piteously he sighed.

Above his couch were hung his sword and lyre,
His polish'd bow, and javelin often proved
In the far chase, where once in faith and fire
He fared beside to guard and watch the prince he loved.

His fragrant locks, thrown backward from his brow,
Displayed his throbbing pulse; ah! how rebell'd
That heart, the seat of truth! But beside him now
One languid hand the good Pithoes held;

And look'd, and thought, and bent his brow in vain;
Then, in the sadness of his baffled skill,
Resign'd the boy to fate; then thought again, --
Was there no hidden cause for such consuming ill?

Still o'er the couch he casts his gentle eyes,
And brought fresh balm; but all was unavailing.
Altheetor faintly breathes his thanks, and sighs.
As if his guiltless life that moment were exhaling.

'Twas long he had no spoke; now heaved his breast,
And now, despite of shame, a tear was straying
From the closed, quivering lid. Some grief supprest,
Some secret care upon his life was preying.

So came a glimpse across Pithoes' thought;
And, in obedience to the doubt, he said,
"'Tis strange, Altheetor, thou has never aught
Ask'd, or express'd, of the fair captive maid,

"For it was thou who forced the crown to yield,
When she was rudely dragg'd, on audience day,
And gently loosed, from Philomare's shield,
A lock of her fair hair he else had torn away.

"Sardius believed and loved her, would have wed,
But old Idaspes, doubtful 'twas some god
That, amorous of her charms, laid Meles dead,
Awhile restrain'd the King, who saw, unawed,

"The gay Alcestes, from her chamber fair
Thrown dead and black. Ripheus, too, lies low;
Old Philomars spoke his last curses there;
And young Rosanes ne'er his silver bow

"Shall draw again; and yet the King is fix'd
In his resolve to wed; some power divine,
Envying our peace, impels; or she has mix'd,
By some magic skill, some philter with his wine.

"Or there's in her blue eye some wicked light,
That steadily allures him to his doom:
She's bidden to the feast again to-night,
And good Idaspes' countenance in gloom

"Is fall'n: -- in vain he strives; -- his silver hairs
Rise with the anguish at his heart's true core;
While the impatient, reckless Sardius swears
By Baal, whate'er betides, to wait but three days more.

"Nor soldier, prince, or satrap, more appear
Vaunting their fealty firm with fluttering breath
But each speak, low, as if some god were near,
In silent anger singling him for death."

Now o'er Altheetor's face what changes glisten'd
As ear and open lip drank every word;
He raised him from his couch, he looked, he listenen'd,
Reviving -- renovating -- as he heard.

O'er cheek and brow a lively red was rushing,
While half he felt his dark eye could not tell;
Then (spent the pang of hope) cold dews were gushing
From brow again turned pale. He dropp'd -- he fell

Faint on his pillow. Unsurprising and calm
Soon to restore the good Pithoes knew;
He saw what fever raged, and knew its balm;
Spoke comfort to his charge; and for awhile withdrew.

What in his breast revolved, I cannot tell;
To seek Idaspes' aid his steps were bent;
And when 'twas midnight, as by sudden spell
Restored, to bridal room Altheetor went.

Touching his golden harp to prelude sweet
Entered the youth, so pensive, pale, and fair;
Advanced respectful to the virgin's feet,
And, lowly bending down, made tuneful parlance there.

Like perfume soft his gentle accents rose,
And sweetly thrill'd the gilded roof along;
His warm devoted soul no terror knows,
And truth and love lend fervour to his song.

She hides her face upon her couch, that there
She may not see him die. No groan, she springs
Frantic between a hope-beam and despair,
And twines her long hair round him as he sings.

Then thus: -- "Oh! Being! who unseen but near
Art hovering now, behold and pity me!
For love, hope, beauty, music, -- all that's dear,
Look, -- look on me, -- and spare my agony!

"Spirit! in mercy, make me not the cause,
The hateful cause, of this king being's death!
In pity kill me first! -- He lives -- he draws --
Thou wilt not blast? -- he draws his harmless breath."

Still lives Altheetor; -- still unguarded strays
One hand o'er his fall'n lyre; but all his soul
Is lost, -- given up; -- he fain would turn to gaze,
But cannot turn, so twined. Now, all that stole

Through every vein, and thrilled each separate nerve,
Himself could not have told, -- all wound and clasped
In her white arms and hair. Ah! can they serve
To save him? -- "What a sea of sweets!" he gasped, --

But 'twas delight: -- sound, fragrance, all were breathing.
Still swell'd the transport, "Let me look and thank:"
He sighed (celestial smiles his lip enwreathing),
"I die -- but ask no more,: he said and sank;

Still by her arms supported -- lower -- lower --
As by sift sleep oppress'd; -- so calm, so fair --
He rested on the purple tap'stried floor,
It seemed an angel lay reposing there.

Egla bent o'er him, all amazed; -- awhile
Thank'd God, the Spirit, and her stars (so much
Like life his gently closing lids and smile); --
Then felt upon his heart. Ah! to that touch

Responds no quivering pulse; -- 'tis past. Then burst
Her grief thus from her inmost heart, that bleeds: --
"Nay, finish! fiend, unpitying and accurst!
Finish, and rid me too, of life, and of thy deeds!"

She hid her face in both her hands; and when,
At length, look'd out, a form was bending o'er
The good, the beauteous boy. With piteous ken
It sought her eye, but still to speak forbore.

A deep unutterable anguish kept
The silence long; -- then from his inmost breast
The Spirit spoke, "Oh! were I him so wept,
Daughter of earth, I tell thee I were blest:

"Couldst thou conceive but half the pain I bear,
Or agent of what good I fain would be,
I had not added to my deep despair
And heavy curse, another curse -- from thee.

"I've loved the youth; since first to this vile court
I followed thee, from the deserted cave; --
I saw him -- in thy arms -- and did not hurt;
What could I more? -- alas! could not save!

"He died of love; or the o'erperfect joy
Of being pitied, -- prayed for, -- prest by thee.
Oh! for the fate of that devoted boy
I'd sell my birth-right to eternity.

"I am not the cause of this thy last distress.
Nay! look upon thy Spirit ere he flies!
Look on me, once, and learn to hate me less!"
He said: and tears fell fast from his immortal eyes.

Her looks were on the corpse; no more he said;
Deeper the darkness grew: 'twas near the dawn,
And chilled and sorrowing through the air he sped,
And in Hircania's deepest shades, ere morn,

Was hidden 'mid the leaves. Low moan'd the blast,
And chilly mists obscured the rising sun;
So bitter were his tears, that, where he passed,
Was blighted every flower they fell upon.

Wild was the place, but wilder his despair:
Low shaggy rocks that o'er deep caverns scowl
Echo his groans: the tigress, in her lair,
Starts at the sound, and answers with a growl.

The day wore on; the tide of transport through
He listened to the forest's murmuring sound;
Until his grief alleviation drew,
From the according horrors that surround.


And thus, at length his plaintive lip express'd
The mitigated pang; 't is sometimes so
When grief meets genius in the mortal breast,
And words, most deeply sweet, betray subsided woe.

'Thou'rt gone, Altheetor; of thy gentle breath
Guiltless am I, but bear the penalty!
Oh! is there one to whom thine earthly death
Can cause the sorrow it has caused to me?

'Cold, cold, and hush'd, is that fond, faithful breast;
Oh! of the breath of God too much was there!
It swell'd, aspired, it could not be compress'd --
But gain'd a bliss fair nature could not bear.

'Oh! good and true beyond thy mortal birth!
What high-soul'd angel help'd in forming thee?
Haply thou wert what I had been, if earth
Had been the element composing me.

'Banish'd from heaven so long, what there transpires,
This weary exiled ear may rarely meet.
But it is whisper'd that the unquell'd desires
Another spirit for each forfeit seat

"Left vacant by our fall. That spirit placed
In mortal form, must every trial bear,
'Midst all that can pollute; and, if defaced
But by one stain, it may not enter there.

"Though all the earth is wing'd, from bound to bound;
Though heaven desires, and angels watch, and pray
To see their ranks with fair completion crown'd;
So few to bless their utmost search are found,
That half in heaven have ceased to hope the day;
And pensive seraphs' sighs, o'er heavenly harps resound.

"And when, long wandering from his blissful height,
One like to thee some quick-eyed spirit views,
He springs to heaven, more radiant from delight,
And heaven's blue domes ring loud with rapture at the news.

"Yet oft the being, by all heaven beloved,
(So doubtful every good, in world like this;)
Some fiend corrupts ere ripe to be removed:
And tears are seen in eyes made but to float in bliss."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"And I will steal thee, when the perfumes rise
Around the cassia wood in smoky wave;
I'll shroud thee in a mist from mortal eyes,
And gently lay thee in some sparry cave

"Of Paros; there, seek out some kindly Gnome
And see him ('mid his lamps of airy light),
By wondrous process, done in earth's dark womb,
Change thee, smile, lip, hair, all, to marble pure and white.

"Oh! my loved Hyacinth! when as a god
I hurled the disk; and from thy hapless head
The pure sweet blood made flowers upon the sod;
'Twas thus I wept thee! beautiful but dead,

"Like all I've loved. Oriel, false fiend, thy breath
Guided my weapon: come! most happy thou
If my pain please. I mourn another death:
Come, with thy insect wings, I'll hear thy mockery now.

"Thou didst not change his blood to purple flowers:
Thy poisonous breath can blight but not create!
Thou canst but hover o'er Phraerion's bowers,
And claim of men the honours of his state.

"Thou kill'st my Hyacinth; but yet a beam
Of comfort still was mine: I saw preserved
His beauty all entire; and gave a gleam
Of him to a young burning Greek; -- so served

"Thy crime a worthy cause; for long inspired,
With a consuming wish, that Grecian's heart,
Lost to repose, so caught what it desired;
And soon the chiseled stone glowed with a wondrous art."

While thus, the now half-solaced Zophiel brings
Food to his soul, past o'er his gloomier mood:
He shakes his ringlets, spreads his pinions, springs
From that rude seat, and leaves the mazy wood.

That morn o'er Ecbatane rose pale and slow;
Thick lingering night-damps clod the morning's breath,
And veil'd the sun that rose with bloody glow,
As if great nature's heart bled for the recent death.

White-haired Idaspes from the fatal room
Bade his own slaves love's loveliest victim bring,
Fresh, fair, but cold; -- and in that lurid gloom
Set forth the funeral couch, and showed him to the king.

And drew away the tunic from the scar
Seen on his cold white breasts; -- "And is it thou?" --
He said, :when treachery wings her darts afar,
What faithful heart will be presented now!"

"Alas! alas! that ever these old eyes
Should see Altheetor thus! where is there one,
When lowly in the earth Idaspes lies,
Will love and guard his prince as thou hast done?"

Sardius believed he slept: but undeceived,
Soon as he found that faithful heart was cold,
He turned away his radiant brow and grieved,
And, at that moment, freely would have sold

The diadem, that from his locks he tore,
For that one life. Idaspes watched his mood,
And (ere the first fierce burst of grief was o'er --
While lost Altheetor's ever pulse) pursued

With guardian skill, the kindly deep design,
He probed the king's light changeful heart; and gained
A promise that the maid of Palestine,
Until twelve moons had o'er his garden waned,

Should live in banishment form court. So sent
To muse, in peace, upon her unknown love
(So long announced) dejected Egla went
With all her house; and seeks her own acacia grove.






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