Elizabeth Singer Rowe
The History Of Joseph: A Poem In Ten Books. Book V. - Poem by Elizabeth Singer Rowe
The maid begins.–Where fam'd Coaspes laves
Rich Elam's borders with his sacred waves,
Along the fields their tents the shepherds spread,
By them the king's unnumbered flocks were fed.
The silent dawn was misty yet and gray,
And hoary moisture on the mountains lay.
Intent on rural cares, with early haste,
A peasant near a rocky cavern past;
Across his path was rais'd a mossy bed,
O'er that a rich embroidered mantle spread;
This, lifted up, reaveal'd a lovely child,
Which fairer than the rosy morning smil'd:
The wond'ring swain forgot his country cares,
And back to Simma's house the infant bears.
Simma his master was, tho' wealthy, just:
The royal lands and flocks were made his trust:
He riches still amass'd without an heir,
And seeing now the child surpassing fair,
He took and bred her with indulgent care;
In nothing he controls her growing years,
No cost to please her boundless fancy spares.
When, by revolving moons, successive time
Had brought her beauty to its perfect prime,
Her shape was faultless, and in all her mien
Presaging marks of majesty were seen:
No mortal e'er could boast so fair a face,
Such radiant eyes, and so divine a grace.
A flow'ry wreath her beauteous temples crown'd,
Her snowy vest a crimson girdle bound:
Thus dress'd, she walks a goddess o'er the plains,
Admir'd and lov'd by all the gazing swains;
To her the fragrant tribute of the spring,
With am'rous zeal on bended knees they bring.
Not distant far from wealthy Simma's seat,
Heroick Menon own'd a fair retreat;
His rank, and early worth, the high command
Of all the fam'd Assyrian force had gain'd:
In peaceful times the chief whom all admir'd,
To prove a softer happiness, retir'd;
'Twas here Semiramis his wishes fir'd,
With ravish'd eyes her heav'nly face he view'd,
And for the glorious prize to Simma su'd;
Proffer'd with sacred rites his vows to bind:
This honour pleas'd the haughty virgin's mind;
On meaner terms she had his suit deny'd;
With virtue guarded and a noble pride,
The lover finds success, but all his joys
A sudden summons from the king destroys.
Bactria revolts, Ninus the tidings hears,
Himself in arms to meet the foe prepares.
But three short days ungentle fate allows
Sad Menon, for his sighs and parting vows:
He curst his martial charge, and publick fame,
And loaths th' incumbrance of a glorious name,
Which rends him now from all the joys of life,
His lov'd Semiramis, his charming wife.
She hears the king's command with less surprise,
And, Menon, banish all your care, she cries:
We cannot–'tis impossible to part,
Love with heroick courage fires my heart.
To follow you thro' raging seas I'd go,
O'er burning desarts, or perpetual snow.
By your example led, I shall not fear
The flying arrow, or the pointed spear;
Pierc'd with a fatal dart, were Menon by,
'Twould be a soft, an easy thing, to die.
Th' event be what it will, with you I'll run
To certain death, nor any danger shun;
Be witness to my vows, thou radiant sun!
Nor can th' advent'rous deed my conduct stain,
Secure with you the secret shall remain;
I boldly can defy all other eyes,
In threat'ning armour, and a martial guise.
New pleasure fills the hero's breast, to find
Such beauty, love, and stedfast virtue join'd.
A thousand kind transporting things he said,
A thousand vows of lasting passion made:
Then for a rich habiliment of war
He sent, and dress'd himself the smiling fair.
A costly helmet glitter'd on her head,
On which a dove its silver pinions spread;
A plume of whitest feathers danc'd above,
With every trembling breath of air they move.
Th' embroidered scarf that o'er her armour flow'd,
With dazzling flames of gold and scarlet glow'd.
Her hand a javelin shook with mimick pride,
A painted quiver rattled by her side.
Her height and mien adorn the warlike dress,
More vig'rous rays her charming eyes express.
The courser, of his beauteous burden proud,
With golden trappings bounded thro' the crowd.
Menon, of Syrian arms the grace and pride,
Kept near the lovely masquerader's side.
On Dura's plain the Babylonian force
In ranks attend their mighty leader's course.
While Ninus, graceful as a martial god,
Exalted on his glittering chariot rode.
The Bactrians their approaching foes disdain,
Resolv'd their fortress bravely to maintain;
And long the town with matchless courage held,
And oft' to flight the Armenian troops compell'd:
'Till bold Semiramis, who danger sought,
And fearless in the foremost ranks had fought,
Observ'd a rock, which o'er a castle lean'd;
The Bactrians this were careless to defend,
Believing it from all access secure:
She finds a path among the cliffs obscure;
Then with a chosen band intrepid gains
The top, and soon th' unguarded fort obtains.
The town thus made the fierce besieger's prey,
To her they give the conquest of the day.
All prais'd the youth, (for such she was believ'd)
Her bold address each party had deceiv'd;
But Ninus most her fortitude admires,
He views her blooming youth, her race enquires.
Menon in dotage lost, with foolish pride,
No more the fatal secret strives to hide;
Nor once imagin'd this unlucky boast,
The joy of all his future life must cost.
Ninus with other eyes her beauty views,
In other terms his gratitude renews.
To Babylon return'd, he yet conceal'd
His growing flame, by Menon's worth withheld;
Too well he with a sad Reflection knows,
What to his counsel, and his sword he owes;
These gen'rous ties at first his love oppose:
But nothing can th' increasing rage restrain;
By gentle means he yet his end would gain.
Menon, he said, my wishes to procure,
I'll give thee cities, and a boundless store
Of gold, and precious gems; and for a bride,
A blooming princess to the crown ally'd:
All this, and more, to gain her love I'll give;
Without Semiramis I cannot live.
Resenting Menon, with a handsom pride,
Refus'd his offers, and the suit deny'd.
The softer sex he next attempts to gain;
She too rejects his passion with disdain.
What now avail the glories of the East ?
Nor wealth, nor empire can procure his rest.
Tir'd with unheeded sighs, and fruitless pray'r,
He tries more rig'rous means to ease his care;
And threatens thus:–With my desires comply,
Or soon prepare to see your hero die.
From Menon this she hides, who less severe
Observes her to the am'rous king appear:
His fondness with the jealous passion grows;
No joy, no lightsom interval he knows,
The mingled frenzy gives him no repose.
She false! he cries, my fair, enchanting wife!
And can I yet protract this wretched life?
This anxious heart, with hopeless grief oppress'd,
In death's cold shade shall find perpetual rest,
He said; then all the hostile stars defy'd,
And plung'd the fatal weapon in his side.
A long adieu! Semiramis, he cries;
With those lov'd accents on his lips he dies;
She hears the parting groan, and to his succour flies.
Sunk on the floor she sees her lover bleed,
Himself the author of the barb'rous deed;
But true to love, and virtue's strictest laws,
She neither knew, nor could suspect the cause.
Seiz'd with a sudden horror and surprise,
She faints, and near the breathless carcase lies;
Her frighted women to her rescue haste,
And wake the doubtful spark of life, at last.
A hollow groan ensues; with feeble sight
She meets the day, and loaths the flashing light.
A stedfast sorrow in her face appears,
Above the soft relief of female tears;
Silent as death, her words no utt'rance find,
To tell the inward anguish of her mind:
A fixt, sedate, and rational despair
Compos'd her looks, and settled in her air.
In such a sullen calm the billows sleep,
So smooth an aspect wears the gloomy deep;
While treach'rous winds their gath'ring breath refrain,
Presaging tempests on the troubled main.
Th' impatient prince with just respect attends
Her ebbing grief, and long his flame suspends;
And long her stedfast thoughts relentless prove
To proffer'd empire, and inviting love;
Till fate itself her stubborn heart inclin'd
To take a crown, by all the stars design'd,
And fill a sphere proportion'd to her mind.
Ninus was now of ev'ry wish possest,
With sov'reign rule, and brighter pleasure blest:
But ah! how short a boast has mortal joy?
What sudden storms the flatt'ring calm destroy?
What human privilege, what lawless pow'r
Can one short day retard th' appointed hour?
Thrice thro' the midnight silence, from the ground,
The startled monarch hears a warning sound;
Thrice Menon's ghost a frowning spectre stands,
And seems to beckon with his airy hands.
A sudden faintness seiz'd his trembling heart,
While hasty life retires from every part;
Speechless and pale his eye-balls roll in death,
While with reluctant pangs he yields his breath.
The mournful princess to his merit just,
With wond'rous pomp interr'd the royal dust:
High on a mount his sepulchre she plac'd,
With marble spires, and pointed arches grac'd.
She bids farewell to love's deceitful flame;
Resolv'd to leave behind a glorious name,
In costly structures of immortal fame.
A lofty dome to Belus first she built:
The inward roof with dazling silver gilt;
The god was fashion'd in a wond'rous mold,
With perfect art; his bulk was massy gold;
His sacred utensils were all the same,
While fragrant oils in golden sockets flame.
Old Babel next with boundless cost she wall'd;
And Babylon the spacious city call'd;
Its bounds with forts and battlements were crown'd,
And compass'd in an endless tract of ground,
Valleys and level'd hills the vast extent surround:
Where fronting ranks of palaces were seen.
With streams, and groves, and painted meads between.
Euphrates in its course the town divides,
While thro' the midst his stately current glides.
Around the place a hundred gates unfold,
Thro' which a hundred glitt'ring chariots roll'd;
Which all for state attend the queen's commands,
When she her progress makes thro' distant lands.
Resolv'd to visit now the neighb'ring Medes,
Her train she o'er the lofty Sagris leads.
At pompous Ecbatana now she staid,
And all her own magnificence display'd.
Gay projects here employ'd her active mind,
Gardens, and seats of pleasure she design'd;
Luxurious nature with her art combin'd.
Not far from thence a plain extended lay,
With stately groves and flow'ry verdure gay;
The spreading palm, the cedar, and the pine,
Arching above their mingled branches join.
Semiramis now turns an ancient flood,
With matchless labour, thro' the charming wood;
The plentous stream in various rills divides,
While marble bounds confine the crystal tides.
In marble basons of an equal row,
Myrtle, and balm, and flow'ry Cassia grow.
Prodigious rocks intire were hither brought,
Smooth arches thro' their craggy sides were wrought:
Here artificial hills their summits rear,
For shade retiring grotts around appear.
In various bloom the valleys stood below,
From far the beauteous Syrian roses glow.
All that perfumes the blest Sabaean fields
Grows here, with all that sacred Nysa yields.
Here breath'd the fragrant Calamus, and Fir,
Cinnamon, Frankincense, and weeping Myrrhe.
Shrill birds among the spicy branches sing,
Their warbling notes along the valleys ring:
The winds and waters with a gentle noise
Double the sound, and answer ev'ry voice.
The queen a while had these diversions prov'd,
And then her court to Babylon remov'd:
But ah! what heights of happiness are free
From fickle chance, or certain destiny?
The princess finds a swift decay control
The usual force and vigour of her soul;
Nor struggling nature could its force repel,
While heav'n and earth the publick change foretel.
She from the oracle enquires th' event,
The flatt'ring priests this pleasing answer sent:
That from the Gods she drew her heav'nly race,
And shortly must th' immortal number grace.
Pleas'd with the glories of her future state,
She yields without reluctance to her fate.
Cyrena ends her tale; the closing day
Withdrew its splendour, and forbid their stay.
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