The Stag-Eyed Lady: A Moorish Tale by Thomas Hood

Scheherazade immediately began the following story.


Ali Ben Ali (did you never read
His wond’rous acts that chronicles relate,–
How there was one in pity might exceed
The Sack of Troy?) Magnificent he sate
Upon the throne of greatness–great indeed!
For those that he had under him were great–
The horse he rode on, shod with silver nails,
Was a Bashaw–Bashaws have horses’ tails.


Ali was cruel–a most cruel one!
‘Tis rumored he had strangled his own mother–
Howbeit such deeds of darkness he had done,
‘Tis thought he would have slain his elder brother
And sister too–but happily that none
Did live within harm’s length of one another,
Else he had sent the Sun in all its blaze
To endless night, and shorten’d the Moon’s days.


Despotic power, that mars a weak man’s wit,
And makes a bad man–absolutely bad,
Made Ali wicked–to a fault:–’tis fit
Monarchs should have some check-strings; but he had
No curb upon his will–no, not a bit
Wherefore he did not reign well–and full glad
His slaves had been to hang him–but they falter’d
And let him live unhang’d–and still unalter’d,


Until he got a sage-bush of a beard,
Wherein an Attic owl might roost–a trail
Of bristly hair–that, honor’d and unshear’d,
Grew downward like old women and cow’s tail;
Being a sign of age–some gray appear’d,
Mingling with duskier brown its warnings pale;
But yet, not so poetic as when Time
Comes like Jack Frost, and whitens it in rime.


Ben Ali took the hint, and much did vex
His royal bosom that he had no son,
No living child of the more noble sex,
To stand in his Morocco shoes–not one
To make a negro-pollard–or tread necks
When he was gone–doom’d, when his days were done,
To leave the very city of his fame
Without an Ali to keep up his name.

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Therefore he chose a lady for his love,
Singling from out the herd one stag-eyed dear;
So call’d, because her lustrous eyes, above
All eyes, were dark, and timorous, and clear;
Then, through his Muftis piously he strove,
And drumm’d with proxy-prayers Mohammed’s ear:
Knowing a boy for certain must come of it,
Or else he was not praying to his Profit.


Beer will grow mothery, and ladies fair
Will grow like beer; so did that stag-eyed dame:
Ben Ali, hoping for a son and heir,
Boy’d up his hopes, and even chose a name
Of mighty hero that his child should bear;
He made so certain ere his chicken came:–
But oh! all worldly wit is little worth,
Nor knoweth what to-morrow will bring forth!


To-morrow came, and with to-morrow’s sun
A little daughter to this world of sins,–
Miss-fortunes never come alone–so one
Brought on another, like a pair of twins:
Twins! female twins!–it was enough to stun
Their little wits and scare them from their skins
To hear their father stamp, and curse, and swear,
Pulling his beard because he had no heir.


Then strove their stag-eyed mother to calm down
This his paternal rage, and thus addrest;
“Oh! Most Serene! why dost thou stamp and frown,
And box the compass of the royal chest?”
“Ah! thou wilt mar that portly trunk, I own
I love to gaze on!–Pr’ythee, thou hadst best
Pocket thy fists. Nay, love, if you so thin
Your beard, you’ll want a wig upon your chin!”


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But not her words, nor e’en her tears, could slack
The quicklime of his rage, that hotter grew:
He call’d his slave to bring an ample sack
Wherein a woman might be poked–a few
Dark grimly men felt pity and look’d black
At this sad order; but their slaveships knew
When any dared demur, his sword so bending
Cut off the “head and front of their offending.”


For Ali had a sword, much like himself,
A crooked blade, guilty of human gore–
The trophies it had lopp’d from many an elf
Were struck at his head-quarters by the score–
Not yet in peace belaid it on the shelf,
But jested with it, and his wit cut sore;
So that (as they of Public Houses speak)
He often did his dozen butts a week.


Therefore his slaves, with most obedient fears,
Came with the sack the lady to enclose;
In vain from her stag-eyes “the big round tears
Coursed one another down her innocent nose”;
In vain her tongue wept sorrow in their ears;
Though there were some felt willing to oppose,
Yet when their heads came in their heads, that minute,
Though ’twas a piteous case, they put her in it.


And when the sack was tied, some two or three
Of these black undertakers slowly brought her
To a kind of Moorish Serpentine; for she
Was doom’d to have a winding sheet of water.
Then farewell, earth–farewell to the green tree–
Farewell, the sun–the moon–each little daughter!
She’s shot from off the shoulders of a black,
Like bag of Wall’s-End from a coalman’s back.

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The waters oped, and the wide sack full-fill’d
All that the waters oped, as down it fell;
Then closed the wave, and then the surface rill’d
A ring above her, like a water-knell;
A moment more, and all its face was still’d,
And not a guilty heave was left to tell
That underneath its calm and blue transparence
A dame lay drowned in her sack, like Clarence.


But Heaven beheld, and awful witness bore,–
The moon in black eclipse deceased that night,
Like Desdemona smother’d by the Moor–
The lady’s natal star with pale afright
Fainted and fell–and what were stars before,
Turn’d comets as the tale was brought to light;
And all looked downward on the fatal wave,
And made their own reflections on her grave.


Next night, a head–a little lady head,
Push’d through the waters a most glassy face,
With weedy tresses, thrown apart and spread,
Comb’d by ‘live ivory, to show the space
Of a pale forehead, and two eyes that shed
A soft blue mist, breathing a bloomy grace
Over their sleepy lids–and so she rais’d
Her aqualine nose above the stream, and gazed.


She oped her lips–lips of a gentle blush,
So pale it seem’d near drowned to a white,–
She oped her lips, and forth there sprang a gush
Of music bubbling through the surface light;
The leaves are motionless, the breezes hush
To listen to the air–and through the night
There come these words of a most plaintive ditty,
Sobbing as they would break all hearts with pity:

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