Six years ago, I wrote this story down,
While yet the light of Eastern skies
Was in my eyes,
And still my heart, aglow with memories
Of sun-enraptured seas,
And that old sea-girt town.
Where, down dark alleys of enchanted night,
We stole, until we came
To where the great dome glimmered white.
And every minaret,
A shaft of pearly flame,
Beneath the cloudy moon...
Six years ago!
Ah! soon--too soon,
Our tale, too, will be told:
And yet, and yet,
From this old Eastern tale we know,
Love's story never can grow old,
Till Love, himself, forget.
He thought to see me tremble
And totter as an oar-snapt reed,
When he spake death to me--
My courage, toppled in the dust,
Even as the head of cactus
The camel-keeper slashes
That his beasts may browse, unscathed,
The succulent, wounded green.
He thought to have me, broken,
And grovelling at his feet;
Mouthing and mumbling to his sandal-ties,
In stammering dread of death--
Aye! even as a king,
Who, having from death's hand,
Received his crown and kingdom,
For ever treads in terror of the hour
When death shall jog his elbow,
Twitch the purple from his shoulders,
And claim again the borrowed crown.
But, little need have I to fear
The crouching, lean camp-follower,
Unto whose ever-gaping maw,
Day after day, I flung
The spoils of bow and arrow,
Ere I was taken captive--
I, who have often, at my mother's breast,
Awakened in the night-time,
To see death leering on me from the cave-mouth,
A gaunt and slinking shape
That snuffed the dying embers,
Blotting out the friendly stars--
I, who, a scarce-weaned boy,
Have toddled, gay and fearless,
Down the narrow jungle-track,
Through bodeful forest-darkness, panther-eyed;
And have felt cold snakes uncoiling
And gliding 'neath my naked sole,
From clammy slumber startled;
While, with sharp snap and crackle,
Beast-trodden branches strained behind me,
My father's hand scarce snatching me
Before the spring of crouching death!
But, naught of this the King could know,
He only knew that, on that far-off morning,
When first I came before him, captive,
Among my captive brothers,
And, as he lightly held, in idle fingers,
Above my unbowed head,
In equal poise
Or the servitude of life,
I clutched at life:
And cared but little that his lips
Should curl, to see me, broken,
A slave among his slaves.
Yet, never slave of his was I;
Nor did I take my new life from his nod--
I ... I who could have torn
The proud life out of him,
Before his guards could stay me...
Had she not sat beside him, on her throne.