(FROM THE DRAMA OF MIZPAH)
What were thy thoughts, sweet Esther? Something passed
Across thy face, that for a moment veiled
Thy soul from mine, and left me desolate.
Thy thoughts were not of me?
Ay, ALL of thee!
I wondered, if in truth, thou wert content
With me–thy choice. Was there no other one
Of all who passed before thee at thy court
Whose memory pursues thee with regret?
I do confess I much regret that day
And wish I could relive it.
Oh! My lord!
Yea! I regret those hours I wasted on
The poor procession that preceded thee.
Hadst thou come first, then all the added wealth
Of one long day of loving thee were mine –
A boundless fortune squandered. Though I live
To three score years and ten, as I do hope,
In wedded love beside thee, that one day
Was filched from me and cannot be restored.
And then to think how frightened and abashed
I hung outside thy gates from early morn,
Not daring to go in and meet thine eyes,
Till pitying twilight clothed me in her veil,
And evening walked beside me to thy door.
So it was thou, fair thief, who stole that day,
And made me poorer, by–how many hours?
Full eight, I think. They seemed a hundred then,
And now time flies a hundred times too fast.
Then eight more kisses do I claim from thee,
This very hour–first tithes of many due.
I shall exact these payments as I will,
And if they be not ready on demand,
I’ll lock thee in the prison of my arms,
Like this–and take them so–and so–and so!
But kings must think of other things than love
And live for other aims than happiness.
I would not drag thee from thy altitude
Of mighty ruler and great conqueror
To chain thee by my side.
Would please me better than to conquer earth
Without thee, Esther. I have stood on heights
And heard the cheers of multitudes below;
Have known the loneliness of being great.
Now, let me live and love thee, like a man,
Forgetting I am king –
I am content.
Content is not the pathway to great deeds.
As man, I hold thee higher than all kings;
As king, thou must stand higher than all men
In other eyes. Let no one say of me:
‘She spoiled his greatness by her littleness;
She made a languorous lover of a king,
And silenced war-cries on commanding lips –
With honeyed kisses; made her woman’s arms
Preferred to armour, and her couch to tents,
Until the kingdom, with no guiding hand,
Plunged down to ruin.’
Thou wouldst have me go –
So soon thy heart hath wearied?
My heart is bursting with its love for thee!
Canst thou not feel its fervour? But great men
Need wiser guidance than a woman’s heart.
My pride in thee is equal to my love,
And I would have thee greater than thou art –
Ay, greater than all other men on earth –
Though forced long years to feed my hungry heart
On food of memories and wine of tears,
Wert thou but winning glory and renown.
Thou art most noble, Esther; thou art fit
To be the consort of a king of kings.
But I have chewed upon ambition’s husks
And starved for love through all my manhood’s years;
And now the mighty gods have seen it fit
To spread love’s banquet and to name thee host,
May I not feast my fill? O Esther, take
The tempting nectar of those lips away
And give me wine to rouse the brute in me,
To make me thirst for blood instead of love!
Wine! Wine! I say!
Methinks good music is wine turned to sound.
Here comes thy minstrel with an offering
Pressed from the ripened fruit of my fond heart.
Mine own the words and mine the melody
And may it linger longer in thine ear
Than on thy lip would stay the taste of wine.
When from the field returning,
Love is a warrior’s yearning,
Love in his heart is burning,
Love is his dream.
Talk not to him of glory,
Speak not of faces gory,
Sing of love’s tender story,
Make it thy theme.
Sing of his lady’s tresses,
Sing of the smile that blesses,
Sing of the sweet caresses,
And yet again
Sing of fair children’s faces,
Sing of the dear home graces,
Sing till the vacant places,
Ring with thy strain.
Yet as the days go speeding,
Shall he arise unheeding
Love songs or words of pleading,
Strong in his might!
Helmet and armour wearing,
Hies he to deeds of daring,
Forth to the battle faring,
Back to the fight.
Sing now of ranks contending,
Sing of loud voices blending,
Sing of great warriors sending
Death to their foes!
Sing of war missiles humming,
Strike into martial drumming,
Sing of great victory coming,
As forth he goes.
Back to the battle faring,
Back into deeds of daring,
Back to the fight.
No less a lover but a greater man,
A better warrior and a nobler king,
I will be from this hour for thy dear sake.