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THE QUEEN OF CYPRUS: THE PROVENCAL LADY'S LAY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A summer isle, which seem'd to be
Last Line: Nor tell whence that pilgrim minstrel came.
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia

A SUMMER isle, which seem'd to be
A very favourite with the sea,
With blue waves but as guardians set,
Wearing them like a coronet;
Once sacred to the smile-zoned Queen,
Whose reign upon the heart hath been,
And is so still. What need hath she
Of shrine to her divinity?
Each fair face is her visible shrine;
She hath been, she will be divine.
But, rose-lipp'd VENUS, thy sweet power
Was unown'd in thy myrtle bower,
Thy marble temple was no more,
Thy worship gone from thine own shore,
What time my tale begins: yet still
Hadst thou left music in the rill,
As if't had heard thy footstep fall,
And from that time grew musical;
Scent on the flower, as if thy hair
Had lost its own rich odour there; --
All, the green earth, the sunny clime,
Were relics of thy lovely time.

Fair Cyprus! dream-like 'twas to land
Where myrtle groves stretch'd from thy strand,
And paid the freshness of the wave
With fragrance which they sighing gave.
But sunshine seen, but sunshine felt,
You reach'd the palace where she dwelt;
Cyprus's maiden queen, whose reign
Seem'd ancient days restored again,
When it was only beauty's smile
Claim'd fealty of CYTHEREA'S isle.
'Mid fair dames of her court a star,
The loveliest of the group by far,
IRENE stood. Was it in pride
Her regal gems were laid aside,
As if she scorn'd them all, content
To be her own best ornament?

The terrace where they stood look'd down
On gathered crowds of her fair town;
'Twas a gay scene: on the one side
Gardens and groves stretched far and wide
In gay confusion, -- flower and tree
Cover'd the green earth to the sea,
One arm of which begirt the walls
Where rose IRENE'S marble halls.
Upon the terrace, with a band
Of the isle's loveliest at her hand,
Was the young queen. 'Twas as again
The Goddess claim'd her ancient reign, --
So fair she was. At first you thought
'Twas some divinity, that brought
Her beauty from her native skies;
You met once more those soft dark eyes,
You felt that though to them were given
The colour and the light of heaven,
Yet were they mortal, -- their deep blue
Was soften'd by a shadowy hue
Of melancholy, such as earth
Will fling upon her fairest birth, --
Woman's foreknowledge of the woe
That waits upon her path below.

Is it some festival to-day,
That hither comes the proud array,
Which gathers round the gazing crowd,
And rings the air with plaudits loud?
Sweep seven bold galleys to the land,
Spring from their decks a warrior band,
Dance their white plumes before the breeze
Like summer foam on summer seas, --
Flashes the lance like meteor light,
Hauberk and helm are gleaming bright, --
And spreads the banner its rich fold,
Where shines on purple work'd in gold
A lion, which a maiden's hand
Holds by a silken rein's command.
Well may'st thou bend, fair queen, thy brow
To the brave warrior's greeting now;
Well have they fought for thee and thine,
Sweet flower of thy royal line;
And well may they catch thy sweet eye,
And swear beneath its rule to die.
Yet, young IRENE, on thy side
Is not all triumph's panting pride;
For, like clouds on a troubled sky,
Red and white shades alternate fly
Over thy face, -- now like the stone
Colour hath never breathed upon, --
Now crimson'd with a sudden flush,
As if thy heart had dyed thy blush.
The rebel Prince is passing near, --
Thy bearing droops in sudden fear;
He passes, and thine eye is dim
With anxious gazing after him,
And tears are darkening its blue,
Shining on the long lash like dew.
Beautiful weakness! oh, if weak,
That woman's heart should tinge her cheek
'Tis sad to change it for the strength
That heart and cheek must know at length.
Many a word of sneer and scorn
Must in their harshness have been borne;
Many a gentle feeling dead,
And all youth's sweet confiding fled,
Ere learn'd that task of shame and pride
The tear to check, the blush to hide.

'Tis midnight, and a starry shower
Weeps its bright tears o'er leaf and flower;
Sweet, silent, beautiful, the night
Sufficing for her own delight.
But other lights than sky and star
From yonder casements gleam afar;
There odorous lamps of argentine
Shed that sweet ray, half shade, half shine,
Soft as it were but beauty's smile
That lit her favourite bower the while.
Back from each open lattice flew
The curtains, like swoll'n waves of blue,
Star-dropt with silver broidery rare;
And every motion seem'd to bear
A message from the grove beneath, --
Each message was a rose's breath.
A thousand flowers were round the room,
All with their gifts of scent and bloom;
And at the far end of the hall,
Like music, came a lulling fall
Of waters; at the midnight time
Play'd from the fount a liquid chime,
As 'twere the honey-dews of sleep
'Lighting, each lid in rest to steep.
Leant on a silken couch, which caught
The air with fragrant rose-breath fraught,
Lay the young Queen. As if oppress'd
With its rich weight, her purple vest
Was doff'd, as if with it were laid
Aside cares, pomp, and vain parade;
While, like a cloud in the moonlight,
Floated her graceful robe of white.
Just stirred enough the scented air
To lift the sunny wreaths of hair,
And bear the tresses from the ground,
Which the attendant maids unbound.
A cheerful meeting wont to be
That evening hour's tranquillity.
There with the young, the frank, the gay,
IRENE would be glad as they, --
Blithe prisoner 'scaping form and state,
Her nature warring with her fate.
Glad, but yet tender, gentle, meek,
Her fairy hand was all too weak
For regal sceptre; never meant
To rule more than the music sent
From a light lute, whose gentle tone
Was as an echo to her own.

But bent and sadden'd is her gaze,
Her heart is gone to other days;
When summer buds around her hair
Were all the crown she had to wear,
And they were twined by him who now
Grasp'd fierce at that upon her brow --
Her playmate and her early friend;
And thus can young affection end!
And thus can proud ambition part
The kindliest ties around the heart!
And like the desert springs that dry
To dust beneath the parching sky,
All too soon waste the sweet revealing
Of youth's fresh flow of generous feeling.

Morn came, but with it tidings came,
Half timid joy, half crimson shame.
Oh! the rose is a tell-tale flower,
And watching looks were on the hour,
On the red blush, the drooping eye,
The Queen wore as the Prince pass'd by.
Policy read the thoughts within,
Ending where love could but begin.

Why might not TANCRED share her seat?
They lead the rebel to her feet.
Sage counsellor and noble peer
Spared maiden blush and maiden fear.
Yielding, yet tremulous the while,
Her sole reply one downcast smile;
While order'd they the moon that night
Should rise upon the nuptial rite.
Ill might the youthful maiden brook
To fix on his her timid look,
She only felt his lip had press'd
Her white hand, and hope told the rest.
Companion of her infancy,
Less than her friend how could he be?
She did not mark the haughty glare
Which even now his look could wear;
The lip of pride as if disdain'd
The fond heart which yet his remain'd,
As scorn'd the empire of the land
That must be shared with woman's hand.

The moon upon the bridal shone,
Treachery, -- Prince TANCRED -- he is gone!
Confusion marr'd the fair array;
An armed band are on their way,
The rebel banner is display'd,
And thus is trusting faith repaid.
IRENE flung her marriage veil
Aside, her cheek was deadly pale.
But, save that, nothing might declare
That love or grief was struggling there.
Wondering they gazed on their young Queen,
So firm her step, so proud her mien.
Promptly the city was prepared,
Summon'd to arms the royal guard
Were bade their strength and bearing shew
To awe, but not attack the foe
Till further orders. Last of all
She call'd her council to the hall.
She enter'd; it was strange to see
How soon such utter change could be.
Pale as if lip and cheek had grown
Sudden to monumental stone;
So fix'd that, but the lighted eye
Shew'd it had yet to close and die,
It was like the last sleep of death,
When hue, warmth, light, have pass'd with breath.
Hurriedly had been thrown aside
The silver robes that deck'd the bride;
A night-black garb around her swept:
Drear contrast! for her hair yet kept
Amid its wealth of sunny curls
The bridal snowy braid of pearls.
She paus'd not, though her breath seem'd given
But as the last to waft to heaven,
And on the vacant throne laid down
The dove-topp'd wand of rule and crown.
From many never pass'd away
That sweet voice to their dying day.

"My hand is all too weak to bear
A sceptre which the sword must share.
To my bold kinsman I resign
All sway and sovereignty of mine;
Bear him the sceptre of the land,
No longer fetter'd by that hand."
Rose the red blush, her accents fell,
Scarce might they hear her low farewell.
When, as she turn'd to leave the hall,
Rose kindly murmurs of recal;
The crown was hers, and many a brand
Now waited only her command.
One word, one look, on them she cast.
"Your Queen's request, her first, her last.

Silence as deep as in the grave,
To the new king his homage gave;
Arose no shout to greet his name,
To him no word of welcome came,
But pass'd he solemnly and sad
To palace halls no longer glad.
Nought was there or of shout or song,
That bear young monarch's praise along;
Many there were that bent the knee,
But many bent it silently.

They led him to a stately room,
Yet with somewhat of nameless gloom;
Flowers were there, but wither'd all;
Music, but with a dying fall;
Maidens, but each with veiled face,
TANCRED gazed round, he knew the place;
'Twas here his interview had been
With her its young and radiant queen.
There was her couch; was she there yet?
He started back: the brow was set
In its last mould; that marble cheek,
Fair as if death were loth to break
Its spell of beauty; the fixed lid,
As if the daylight were forbid
To brighten the blue orbs that kept
Their azure even while they slept
All other sleeps, save this dark one, --
And this the work that he had done.

And she was gone, the faithful, -- fair,
In her first moment of life's care;
Gone in her bloom, as if the earth
Felt pity for its loveliest birth,
And took her like the gentle flower
That falls before the earliest shower:
With heart too tender, and too weak, --
What had such heart to do but break?

SUDDEN and harsh the harp-strings rung,
As rough the hand now o'er them flung;
Loud as a warning, omen-like, drear,
Sank the deep tones on each listener's ear, --
'Twas a Palmer, that seem'd from the Holy Land,
That now sway'd the harp with his stern right hand;
None around could discover his name,
Nor tell whence that pilgrim minstrel came.

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