Landon in The New Monthly 1825/Antony and Cleopatra
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
An Anecdote from Plutarch.
Glorious was the marble hall
With the sight and sound of festival,
For autumn had sent its golden hoard,
And summer its flowers, to grace the board.
Inside and out the goblets shine,
Outside with gems, inside with wine;
And silver lamps shed round their light
Like the moonrise on an eastern night.
Gay laughs were heard; when these were mute
Came a voluptuous song and lute;
And fair nymphs floated round, whose feet
Were light as the air on which they beat;
Their steps had no sound, they moved along
Like spirits that lived in the breath of song.
Beneath the canopy's purple sweep,
Like a sunset cloud on the twilight deep,
Sate the king of the feast, stately and tall,
Who look'd what he was, the lord of all.
A glorious scar was upon his brow,
And furrows that time and care will plough.
His battle-suns had left their soil,
And traces of tempest and traces of toil;
Yet was he one for whom woman's sigh
Breathes its deepest idolatry.
His that soft and worshipping air
She loves so well her lover should wear;
His that low and pleading tone
That makes the yielding heart its own;
And, more than all, his was the fame
That victory flings on the soldier's name.
Yet those meanings high that speak,
Scorn on the lip, fire on the cheek,
Tell of somewhat above such scenes as these,
With their wasting and midnight revelries.
Albeit he drain'd the purple bowl,
And heard the song till they madden'd his soul;
Yet his forehead grew pale, and then it burn'd,
As if in disdain from the feast he turn'd;
And his inward thoughts sought out a home
And dwelt on thy stately memory, Rome.
But his glance met hers beside, and again
His spirit clung to its precious chain.
With haughty brow, and regal hand,
As born but for worship and command,
Yet with smiles that told she knew full well
The power of woman's softest spell,
Leant that Egyptian queen: a braid
Of jewels shone 'mid her dark hair's shade;
One pearl on her forehead hung, whose gem
Was worth a monarch's diadem,
And an emerald cestus bound the fold
Of her robe that shone with purple and gold.
All spoke of pomp, all spoke of pride,
And yet they were as nothing beside
Her radiant cheek, her flashing eye,
For their's was beauty's regality.
It was not that every feature apart,
Seem'd as if carved by the sculptor's art.
It was not the marble brow, nor the hair
That lay in its jewel-starr'd midnight there;
Nor her neck, like the swan's, for grace and whiteness,
Nor her step, like the wind of the south for lightness;
But it was a nameless spell, like the one
That makes the Opal so fair a stone,
The spell of change:—for a little while
Her red lip shone with its summer smile—
You look'd again, and that smile was fled,
Sadness and softness were there instead.
This moment all bounding gaiety,
With a laugh that seem'd the heart's echo to be;
Now it was grace and mirth, and now
It was princely step and lofty brow;
By turns the woman and the queen,
And each as the other had never been.
But on her lip, and cheek, and brow,
Were traces that wildest passions avow,
All that a southern sun and sky
Could light in the heart, and flash from the eye;
A spirit that might by turns be led
To all we love, and all we dread.
And in that eye darkness and light
Mingled, like her own climate's night,
Till even he on her bosom leaning,
Shrank at times from its fiery meaning.
There was a cloud on that warrior's face,
That wine, music, smiles, could not quite erase:
He sat on a rich and royal throne,
But a fear would pass that he sat there alone.
He stood not now on his native land,
With kinsman and friends at his red right hand;
And the goblet pass'd unkiss'd, till the brim
Had been touch'd by another as surety for him.
She, his enchantress, mark'd his fear,
But she let not her secret thought appear.
Wreath'd with her hair were crimson flowers,
The brightest that form the lotus bowers;—
She pluck'd two buds, and fill'd them with wine,
And, laughing said, "this pledge be mine!"
Her smile shone over their bloom like a charm,
He raised them up, but she caught his arm,
And bade them bring to the festive hall
One doom'd to death, a criminal.
He drank of the wine, he gasped for breath,
For those bright, but poison'd flowers, held death;
And turn'd she to Antony with the wreath,
While her haughty smile hid the sigh beneath,
"Where had thy life been at this hour,
Had not my Love been more than my Power?
—Away, if thou fearest,—love never must,
Never can live with one shade of distrust."