The Rose (Southey)

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For works with similar titles, see The Rose.

  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.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.