Felicia Dorothea Hemans

(25 September 1793 – 16 May 1835 / Liverpool, England)

The Last Banquet Of Antony And Cleopatra - Poem by Felicia Dorothea Hemans

Thy foes had girt thee with their dead array,
O stately Alexandra! - yet the sound
Of mirth and music, at the close of day,
Swelled from thy splendid fabrics, far around
O'er camp and wave. Within the royal hall,
In gay magnificence the feast was spread;
And, brightly streaming from the pictured wall,
A thousand lamps their trembling lustre shed
O'er many a column, rich with precious dyes,
That tinge the marble's vein, 'neath Afric's burning skies.

And soft and clear that wavering radiance played
O'er sculptured forms, that round the pillared scene
Calm and majestic rose, by art arrayed
In goldlike beauty, awfully serene.
Oh! how unlike the troubled guests reclined
Round that luxurious board! - in every face
Some shadow from the tempest of the mind
Rising by fits, the searching eye might trace,
Though vainly masked in smiles which are not mirth,
But the proud spirit's veil thrown o'er the woes of earth.

Their brows are bound with wreaths, whose transient bloom
May still survive the wearers - and the rose
Perchance may scarce be withered when the tomb
Receives the mighty to its dark repose!
The day must dawn on battle, and may set
In death - but fill the mantling wine-cup high!
Despair is fearless, and the Fates e'en yet
Lend her one hour for parting revelry.
They who the empire of the world possessed,
Would taste its joys again, ere all exchanged for rest.

Its joys! oh, mark yon proud triumvir's mien,
And read their annals on that brow of care;
'Midst pleasure's lotus-bowers his steps have been;
Earth's brightest pathway led him to despair.
Trust not the glace that fain would yet inspire
The buoyant energies of days gone by;
There is delusion in its meteor-fire,
And all within is shame, is agony!
Away! the tear in bitterness may flow,
But there are smiles which bear a stamp of deeper woe.

Thy cheek is sunk, and faded as thy fame,
O lost, devoted Roman! yet thy brow
To that ascendant and undying name,
Pleads with stern loftiness that right e'en now.
Thy glory is departed, but hath left
A lingering light around thee - in decay
Not less than kingly, though of all bereft,
Thou seem'st as empire had not passed away
Supreme in ruin! teaching hearts elate,
A deep, prophetic dread of still mysterious fate!

But thou, enchantress-queen! whose love hath made
His desolation - thou art by his side,
In all thy sovereignty of charms arrayed,
To meet the storm with still unconquered pride.
Imperial being! e'en though many a stain
Of error be upon thee, there is power
In thy commanding nature, which shall reign
O'er the stern genius of misfortune's hour;
And the dark beauty of thy troubled eye
E'en now is all illumed with wild sublimity.

Thine aspect, all impassioned, wears a light
Inspiring and inspired - thy cheek a dye,
Which rises not from joy, but yet is bright
With the deep glow of feverish energy.
Proud siren of the Nile! thy glance is fraught
With an immortal fire - in every beam
It darts, there kindles some heroic thought,
But wild and awful as a sibyl's dream;
For though with death hast communed, to attain
Dread knowledge of the pangs that ransom from the chain.

And the stern courage by such musings lent,
Daughter of Afric! o'er thy beauty throws
The grandeur of a regal spirit, blent
With all the majesty of mighty woes;
While he, so fondly, fatally adored,
Thy fallen Roman, gazes on thee yet,
Till scarce the soul, that once exulting soared,
Can deem the day-star of its glory set;
Scarce his charmed heart believes that power can be
In sovereign fate, o'er him thus fondly loved by thee.

But there is sadness in the eyes around,
Which marked that ruined leader, and survey
His changeful mien, whence oft the gloom profound
Strange triumph chases haughtily away.
'Fill the bright goblet, warrior guests!' he cries;
'Quaff, ere we part, the generous nectar deep!
Ere sunset gild once more the western skies,
Your chief in cold forgetfulness may sleep,
While sounds of revel float o'er shore and sea,
And the red bowl again is crowned - but not for me.

'Yet weep not thus - the struggle is not o'er,
O victors of Philippi! many a field
Hath yielded palms to us; - one effort more,
By one stern conflict must our doom be sealed!
Forget not, Romans! o'er a subject world
How royally your eagle's wing hath spread,
Though, from his eyrie of dominion hurled,
Now bursts the tempest on his crested head!
Yet sovereign still, if banished from the sky,
The sun's indignant bird, he must not droop - but die.'

The feast is o'er. 'Tis night, the dead of night -
Unbroken stillness broods o'er earth and deep;
From Egypt's heaven of soft and starry light
The moon looks cloudless o'er a world of sleep.
For those who wait the morn's awakening beams,
The battle signal to decide their doom,
Have sunk to feverish rest and troubled dreams -
Rest that shall soon be calmer in the tomb,
Dreams, dark and ominous, but
to cease,
When sleep the lords of war in solitude and peace.

Wake, slumberers, wake! Hark! heard ye not a sound
Of gathering tumult? - Near and nearer still
Its murmur swells. Above, below, around,
Bursts a strange chorus forth, confused and shrill.
Wake, Alexandria! through thy streets the tread
Of steps unseen is hurrying, and the note
Of pipe and lyre and trumpet, wild and dread,
Is heard upon the midnight air to float;
And voices, clamorous as in frenzied mirth,
Mingle their thousand tones, which are not of the earth.

These are no mortal sounds - their thrilling strain
Hath more mysterious power, and birth more high;
And the deep horror chilling every vein
Owns them of stern, terrific augury.
Beings of worlds unknown! ye pass away,
O ye invisible and awful throng!
Your echoing footsteps and resounding lay
To Caesar's camp exulting move along.
Thy gods forsake thee, Antony! the sky
By that dread sign reveals thy doom - 'Despair and die!'

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010

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