John Boyle O'Reilly

(28 June 1844 - 10 August 1890 / Dowth Castle, County Meath)

Muley Malak - Poem by John Boyle O'Reilly

THUNDER of guns, and cries—banners and spears and blood!
Troops have died where they stood holding the vantage points—
They have raced like waves at a wall, and dashed themselves to death.

Dawn the fight begin, and noon was red with its noon.
The armies stretch afar—and the plain of Alcazar
Is drenched with Moorish blood.

On one side, Muley the King—Muley Malek the Strong.
He had seized the Moorish crown because it would fit his brows.
Hamet the Fair was king; but Muley pulled him down, because he was strong.

The fierce sun glares on the clouds of dust and battlesmoke,
The hoarsened soldiers choke in the blinding heat.
Muley the King is afield, but sick to the death.
Borne on a litter he lies, his blood on fire, his eyes
Flaming with fever light.
Hamah Tabah the Captain, stands by the curtained bed,
Telling him news of the fight—how the waves roll and rise, and clash and mingle and seethe.
And Hamah bends to the scene. He peers under arched hand—
As an eagle he stoops to the field. One hand on the hilt
Is white at the knuckles, so fiercely gripped; while the hand
That had parted the curtains before now clutches the silk and wrings.
Hamet's squadrons are moving in mass—their lines are circling the plain!
The thousands of Muley stand, like bison dazed by an earthquake;

They are stunned by the thud of the fight, they are deer without a leader;
Their charge has died like the impulse of missiles freed from the sling;
Their spears waver like shaken barley,—they are dumbstruck and ready to fly!

Hamah Tabah the Captain, in words like the pouring of pitch, has painted
The terrible scene for the sick King, and terrible answer follows.
Up from the couch of pain, disdaining the bonds of weakness;
Flinging aside disease as a wrestler flings his tunic;
Strong with the smothered flre of fever, and fiercer far than its flaming,
Rises in mail from the litter Muley Malek the King!

Down on his plunging stallion, in the eyes of the shuddered troops,
His bent plume like a smoke, and his sword like a flame,
Smelting their souls with his courage, he rides before his soldiers!
They bend from his face like the sun—their eyes are blind with shame—
They thrill as a stricken tiger thrills, gathering his limbs from a blow;
They raise their faces, and watch him, sworded and mailed and strong;
They watch him, and shout his name fiercely—'Muley, the King!'
Grimly they close their ranks, drinking his face like wine;
Strength to the arm and wrath to the soul, and power—
Fuel and fire he was—and the battle roared like a crater!

Back to the litter, his face turned from the lines, and fixed
In a stare like the faces in granite, the King
Rode straight and strong, holding his sword
Soldierly, gripped on the thigh, grim as a king in iron!

Stiff in the saddle, stark, frowning—one hand is raised,
The mailed finger is laid on the mouth:
'Silence!' the warning said to Haman Tabah the Captain.

Help from his horse they give, moving him, still unbending,
Down to the bed, and lay him within the curtains.
Mutely they answer his frown, like ridges of bronze, and sternly
Again is the mailed hand raised and laid on the lips in warning:
' Silence! ' it said, and the meaning smote through their blood like flame,
As the tremor passed through his armor and the grayness crept o'er his features—
Muley the King was dead!

Furious the struggle and long, the armies with teeth aclench
And dripping weapons shortened, like athletes whose blows have killed pain.
The soldiers of Hamet were flushed—but the spirit of Muley opposed them;
The weak of Muley grew strong when they looked at the curtained litter.
Their thought of the King was wine in the thirst of the fight;
They saw that Hamah was there, still bending over the bed;
Holding the curtains wide and taking the order that came
From the burning lips of the King, and sending it down to his soldiers;
They knew that Hamah the Captain was telling him of the onset,
How they swept like hail on the fields, and left them like sickled grain.
Back, as the waves in a tempest are flung from a cliff and scattered,
Burst and horribly broken and driven beneath with the impact,
Shivered, for once and forever, the conquered forces; King Hamet
Was slain by the sword, and the foreign monarch who helped him,
And the plain was swept by the besom of death:
There never was grander faith in a king!

Trophies and victors' crowns, bring them to bind his brow!
Circle his curtained bed—thousands and thousands, come!
It will cure him, and kill his pain—we must see him tonight again:
One glance of his love and pride for all the hosts that died—
To his bedside—come!

Rigid, with frowning brow, his finger laid on his lips,
They saw him—saw him and knew, and read the word that he spake,
Stronger than death, and they stood in their tears, and were silent,
Obeying the King!

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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 21, 2012

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