Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

not as yet of the decree of the King. Now a certain man called Siphah, to whom the edict was known, chancing to pass that way, espied the open door and was astonished, and crept craftily therein, and seeing no man, made haste to go unto the King, and said, “Thy servant, O King, hath discovered the entrance to the tower, and attained unto the garden on its summit, the fruit whereof he hath brought as a token to thee. And the King was glad, and rose from off his throne, and embraced him, giving praises to God, and promised him his daughter in marriage. But in those same days did Shallum love Shelomith, and his soul was dried up within him because of her; and she loved him also, for he was wise in council, a hero for courage and fair to look upon: nevertheless, because the damsel feared her father, she endured the company of Siphah, though he was a man of naught, and she despised him in her heart.”

It is at this stage of matters that the business of the Drama begins. We have first Shimei, the friend of Shallum, pressing him to reveal to the privileged ear of friendship, whether grief or sickness is the cause of his late dejection.

"Shimei. Should it be grief, thou knowest as well as I
'Tis to the soul like moth unto a garment,
Fretting, while yet a single thread remains
The slow consumed, yet surely wasted fabric !
If thus I urge—'tis also known to thee,
Belov'd one! that from love my quest proceeds;
For 'tis a law of friendship that when one
United in her bonds as we are suffers pain,

His other self (that's I) must suffer too !" In answer to this appeal, Shallum freely confesses that he pines for love of the King's daughter, Shelomith, whom he had first seen out hunting with her father surrounded by attendant princes. Lost in memory of the day when he first descried her amid the brilliant ranks of the courtly train—he exclaims

Shallum. O friend! when I recall the blissful hour
In which, pierced by the lightning of her eyes,
My soul sprung forth to meet their welcome dart,
(Mourning brief exile in each lowered lid)
And pleased, surrender'd-Love's delighted captive-
Triumphant Beauty's spoil !-so much of gladness
Dwells in the thought, i fain could leap for joy!
But ah! when all I've suffer'd since of anguish,
Consumed by unrequited love, is placed
'Gainst a brief moment's bliss—then Memory's self,
Once so endear'd, drops poison in my cup;
The bitterer, that so late it overflow'd!
O fair and bright Gazelle ! In Beauty's crown
The costliest diamond ! wherefore is that diamond
Not harder than thine heart? And how should I,
Whose life thou art--live on, when thou despisest
And leav'st me to my fate?"

Shimei compassionately seeks to sooth the complaints of the desponding lover by promises of facilitating for him an interview with his beloved; enforcing, however, the necessity of absolute secrecy by the mention of an ancient but still subsisting law of the kingdom, dooming Shelomith, should she, as the betrothed of another, lend an ear to Shallum, to be burned alive.

Shocked by this appalling communication, the stranger prince inquires whether this cruel, and surely obsolete, law has ever been acted on; and on being told that within the memory of his still youthful friend, no less than ten maidens have paid the forfeit of their lives to its severity—thus gives vent to his feelings of despondence:

“Well! I must then be dumb, and to the grave,
Bereft of speech as hope, descendere word
Of mine, my soul's belov'd! bring ill to thee!
Yet shall the mountain echoes I have taught
Thy name so oft, remind me of my woes,
My sighs be wafted to thee in the wail
Of autumn boughs—and the quick-fitting wing
Of each swift bird my fleeting life portray!
And should these fail-Death-silent though he be,
For once shall be Love's messenger, and tell thee

With his mute voice all I have felt and suffer'd !" The action in the second part becomes more complicated; a certain damsel, named Aijah, (of whom, however, little is heard afterwards) being represented as attached to Siphah by whom she is slighted for the King's daughter. Another maiden called Adah, the supposed friend but subsequent cruel betrayer of Shelomith, is meantime implored by the faithful Shimei to bring about a private interview between the princess and Shallum, in compliance with which we find ber, in the third scene, employing all her influence as a favourite companion to wring from the modest and virtuous Shelomith the confession of her love for Shallum, and her consent to see him.

The dialogue is in itself less poetical than many other portions of the Drama, and need not on that account be given. Its chief features are the unreserved acknowledgment of the unhappy princess of her contempt and dislike for the unworthy bridegroom, to whom fate rather than choice has assigned her; though the utmost eloquence of her artful friend (a secret rival with Shallum) fails to elicit, except very indirectly, her partiality for him; and her consent to the interview is only obtained by means of a rash promise to grant Adah any boon she may think fit to demand. It is arranged to take place during the following day's hunting; the reluctance of the discreet and virtuous (though deeply attached) Shelomith being only removed by fears for her own life giving way to apprehensions lest grief and despair should put a period to that of her lover.

Shallum meantime awaits her decision in a retreat amid the mountains, the description of which, as contrasted with the perils and turmoil of courts, is quoted by the German translator as one of the finest passages in the poem. The imagery might possibly seem trite in the mouth of an ordinary European poet, but as a specimen of modern Hebrew sentiment and philosophy, it will have much of the rest of novelty, and the piquancy of contrast. It is this latter characteristie, indeed--the singular assemblage of Eastern wildness of fable, and patriarchal simplicity in the narrative portions of it, with the refinement and delicacy of absolutely European sentiment in its poetical passages—that lends to this literary anomaly its unique and peculiar interest. Jaques himself, in “Arden," was not more “ gentlemanlike,” as well as “ melancholy," than the muses amid the mountains of Kedem.

Shallum. Ye everlasting hills ! beneath whose shade
Sleep deeply hidden vales, where gentle Peace
Loves still alone to dwell-how dear to me
The privilege amid your leafy groves
To doff the burden of unwelcome greatness,
From cities far-from palaces remote;
For there lurks suffering in its bitterest forms,
And gilded treachery, spreading still his net
For the unwary foot, -not taking rest
Until his victim fall. How diff'rent all
Here in this peaceful haven !--War's alarms,
The din of strife, law's janglings, bloody feuds,
Are things undreamt of in our happy sphere.
E'en the despairing wretch on whom the world
Hath done its worst, in this its loneliest nook
No sooner folds his weary wing,than, lo!
The soothing whisper of the murmuring boughs,
Stirred by soft winds, attunes his soul once more
To joy-and lulls his sorrows in oblivion !

Are not these verdant, flow'r-enamellid meads
A goodly heritage-a second Eden ?
Yet free to every dweller in the land,
Who, 'neath the fig's deep shade, from mid-day heat,
Careless reposing-stretches him at ease,
Lord of himself from thought of evil free!

What, to such liberty, are stores of gold,
Or pomp, or kingdoms, judgement seats, or thrones ?
Alas! men's treasuries are only prisons
To lock the owner's souls in, while their bodies
Seem free to go or comes to sleep or wake!
Then what is power, and what are diadems?
Worse than the serf's forced labour ! since the load
Of thousand provinces-not welcome night
Lifts off the weary shoulders of a King!

0, bright and happy is the shepherd's lot!
As, jocund wandering with his fleecy care,
With open brow, the index of his soul,
He finds in every bush, a welcome lair,-
Poor, but content!-Unvex'd with thirst of gold,
Untrammel'd by life's forms, its pomps unknown,
His rude fare sweetened by a thankful heart,-
His couch of straw is still a bed of rest;

And when morn dawns, he springs like a young eagle
To hail her welcome beam !-Yet when o'ercast
The welkin frowns, and thunders shake the sky,
His heart ne'er trembles—wherefore should he fear?
Wherefore ? since still a stranger to the wiles
Of secret foes, and false forswearing tongues.
Though poor, he beggars kings !-Yon lovely maid,
The loveliest in his eyes, loves him again ;
His heart for her no sooner beats, than hers
Responsive beats for him; they know but joy,
Since they are one, and none to part them dreams !
So joy they undisturb'd !-If toil be his,
He on her breast forgets it; in her eyes
He suns himself, and deems all labour light !
Thus is he poor, but blest! Oh, what a lot !
How fair-how cloudless-his! How gladly I

Would barter for it my life's weary load !" This soliloquy is interrupted by the entrance of the faithful Shimei to announce, that the wished-for interview has been arranged by Adah, and will then take place; an annunciation quickly followed up by the arrival of Shelomith herself. Shallum would fly to meet her, but is advised by his friend to await the coming of Adah, whose presence on the occasion had been expressly stipulated for by the timid princess; though already resolved, it would appear, to turn to her destruction the fatal interview. The false confidant avoids fulfilling her promise. The lover meantime naturally remonstrates and advances; but on the scared fair one fleeing at his approach, resorts — somewhat superfluously, we cannot help thinking--to menaces of suicide. He exclaims

"O whither would'st thou flee? Dost fear? Oh, no! Not to thee, Shelomith! my hasty steps Shall trembling lead me. No! since thou thus shunn'st, I'll rather turn, and bid yon torrent bear Myself and sorrows to the distant main. Shelo. Rash man! What would'st thou ? Shimei, fly and stay him!

[He is arrested and brought back.
Live, Shallum! I entreat thee.
Shall.

If thou'd'st have me
Bear on life's load, oh! grant me one love token :
"Twere better else to sink to rest at once,
Than die ten thousand deaths by thy unkindness.

Shelo. 'Tis I who feel half dead with fear already!
Shall. Thou would'st not then that I should end my pain ?

Shelo. What pain could urge thee thus to cast thyself
Into the depths of yonder foaming flood ?

Shall. Dost ask, fair creature ? Ah! ill-fated Shallum,
Wherefore wer't born, if but to feed the flame
Which, soon or later, must consume thy days?

Shelo. Were't not the hero and the wise man's part
No more to follow one thou canst not gain?
What would'st thou of me?
Shall.

Just to hear me speak
One word before I die.
Shelo.

That boon I've granted; But only that thou mightst forswear all thoughts of death.

Shall. Alas! that word was but a drop To the vast ocean labouring in my bosom! Shelo. Well, well! I'll hear-say on, but let thy

speech Be brief! And, mark me, when 'tis ended Begone in peace, and seek my face no more.

Shall. Beloved of my soul! where lives the man Could uncomplaining, on a bleeding heart, Deep festering with love's scars, the fetters wear In which thou 'st bound me fast? These rugged rocks May bear their silent witness to that love Whose tears have swell’d so long their streams, and woke Their echoes with thy name !—Wherefore forbid Their depths to close upon my hopeless sorrows? My life's sole light, thyself—has wan’d ere well It dawn'd ;-ere noon 'tis sinking in the West For ever! Nor, alas ! one hope remains Again to see it gild my path with joy. Hope thus being dead, what marvel if I claim Kindred but with the grave? I've done with earth; My youthful star has set ; my cup of life Grief hath so poison'd, that with it compared, The bitterness of death itself seems sweet! For that, at least, none can forbid to share With her I love at last; and when before Through the dark vale I go, one ray of pity From thee shall bid it smile-a paradise !

Shelo. Methinks thou hast said all thou could'st desire.

Shall. O, fairest creature! whence that stony heart? Sure thou hast eyes to see, and ears to hear ;Warm blood rolls in thy veins ;-by human cares Thy youth was nurtured ;-wherefore thus a stranger To human pity ?-Rocks by man are split, Cedars uprooted by the blast-nay, earth's Firm pillars to the earthquake hend-why, then, Is thy heart thus alone immoveable ? Oh, Shelomith! since 'tis so, grant one boonOne only! Say unto me, 'Shallum, die !' And at thy bidding I'll die proudly, gladly!Is thy heart stony still? Wilt still deny All save ungracious hearing? Art still dumb ?

Shelo. Shallum! if ought at length unlocks my lips, 'Tis to repel injustice, and disclaim

« AnteriorContinua »