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Poem by Robert Southey
Nay EDITH! spare the rose!--it lives--it lives, It feels the noon-tide sun, and drinks refresh'd The dews of night; let not thy gentle hand Tear sunder its life-fibres and destroy The sense of being!--why that infidel smile? Come, I will bribe thee to be merciful, And thou shall have a tale of other times, For I am skill'd in legendary lore, So thou wilt let it live. There was a time Ere this, the freshest sweetest flower that blooms, Bedeck'd the bowers of earth. Thou hast not heard How first by miracle its fragrant leaves Spread to the sun their blushing loveliness. There dwelt at Bethlehem a Jewish maid And Zillah was her name, so passing fair That all Judea spake the damsel's praise. He who had seen her eyes' dark radiance How quick it spake the soul, and what a soul Beam'd in its mild effulgence, woe was he! For not in solitude, for not in crowds, Might he escape remembrance, or avoid Her imaged form that followed every where, And fill'd the heart, and fix'd the absent eye. Woe was he, for her bosom own'd no love Save the strong ardours of religious zeal, For Zillah on her God had centered all Her spirit's deep affections. So for her Her tribes-men sigh'd in vain, yet reverenced The obdurate virtue that destroyed their hopes. One man there was, a vain and wretched man, Who saw, desired, despair'd, and hated her. His sensual eye had gloated on her cheek Even till the flush of angry modesty Gave it new charms, and made him gloat the more. She loath'd the man, for Hamuel's eye was bold, And the strong workings of brute selfishness Had moulded his broad features; and she fear'd The bitterness of wounded vanity That with a fiendish hue would overcast His faint and lying smile. Nor vain her fear, For Hamuel vowed revenge and laid a plot Against her virgin fame. He spread abroad Whispers that travel fast, and ill reports That soon obtain belief; that Zillah's eye When in the temple heaven-ward it was rais'd Did swim with rapturous zeal, but there were those Who had beheld the enthusiast's melting glance With other feelings fill'd; that 'twas a task Of easy sort to play the saint by day Before the public eye, but that all eyes Were closed at night; that Zillah's life was foul, Yea forfeit to the law. Shame--shame to man That he should trust so easily the tongue That stabs another's fame! the ill report Was heard, repeated, and believed,--and soon, For Hamuel by most damned artifice Produced such semblances of guilt, the Maid Was judged to shameful death. Without the walls There was a barren field; a place abhorr'd, For it was there where wretched criminals Were done to die; and there they built the stake, And piled the fuel round, that should consume The accused Maid, abandon'd, as it seem'd, By God and man. The assembled Bethlemites Beheld the scene, and when they saw the Maid Bound to the stake, with what calm holiness She lifted up her patient looks to Heaven, They doubted of her guilt. With other thoughts Stood Hamuel near the pile, him savage joy Led thitherward, but now within his heart Unwonted feelings stirr'd, and the first pangs Of wakening guilt, anticipating Hell. The eye of Zillah as it glanced around Fell on the murderer once, but not in wrath; And therefore like a dagger it had fallen, Had struck into his soul a cureless wound. Conscience! thou God within us! not in the hour Of triumph, dost thou spare the guilty wretch, Not in the hour of infamy and death Forsake the virtuous! they draw near the stake-- And lo! the torch! hold hold your erring hands! Yet quench the rising flames!--they rise! they spread! They reach the suffering Maid! oh God protect The innocent one! They rose, they spread, they raged-- The breath of God went forth; the ascending fire Beneath its influence bent, and all its flames In one long lightning flash collecting fierce, Darted and blasted Hamuel--him alone. Hark--what a fearful scream the multitude Pour forth!--and yet more miracles! the stake Buds out, and spreads its light green leaves and bowers The innocent Maid, and roses bloom around, Now first beheld since Paradise was lost, And fill with Eden odours all the air.
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