The Rose (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.