Zira: In Captivity

A poem by Laurence Hope (Adela Florence Cory Nicolson)

Love me a little, Lord, or let me go,
I am so weary walking to and fro
Through all your lonely halls that were so sweet
Did they but echo to your coming feet.

When by the flowered scrolls of lace-like stone
Our women's windows - I am left alone,
Across the yellow Desert, looking forth,
I see the purple hills towards the north.

Behind those jagged Mountains' lilac crest
Once lay the captive bird's small rifled nest.
There was my brother slain, my sister bound;
His blood, her tears, drunk by the thirsty ground.

Then, while the burning village smoked on high,
And desecrated all the peaceful sky,
They took us captive, us, born frank and free,
On fleet, strong camels through the sandy sea.

Yet, when we rested, night-times, on the sand
By the rare waters of this dreary land,
Our captors, ere the camp was wrapped in sleep,
Talked, and I listened, and forgot to weep.

"Is he not brave and fair?" they asked, "our King,
Slender as one tall palm-tree by a spring;
Erect, serene, with gravely brilliant eyes,
As deeply dark as are these desert skies.

"Truly no bitter fate," they said, and smiled,
"Awaits the beauty of this captured child!"
Then something in my heart began to sing,
And secretly I longed to see the King.

Sometimes the other maidens sat in tears,
Sometimes, consoled, they jested at their fears,
Musing what lovers Time to them would bring;
But I was silent, thinking of the King.

Till, when the weary endless sands were passed,
When, far to south, the city rose at last,
All speech forsook me and my eyelids fell,
Since I already loved my Lord so well.

Then the division: some were sent away
To merchants in the city; some, they say,
To summer palaces, beyond the walls.
But me they took straight to the Sultan's halls.

Every morning I would wake and say
"Ah, sisters, shall I see our Lord to-day?"
The women robed me, perfumed me, and smiled;
"When were his feet unfleet to pleasure, child?"

And tales they told me of his deeds in war,
Of how his name was reverenced afar;
And, crouching closer in the lamp's faint glow,
They told me of his beauty, speaking low.

What need, what need? the women wasted art;
I love you with every fibre of my heart
Already. My God! when did I not love you,
In life, in death, when shall I not love you?

You never seek me. All day long I lie
Watching the changes of the far-off sky
Behind the lattice-work of carven stone.
And all night long, alas! I lie alone.

But you come never. Ah, my Lord the King,
How can you find it well to do this thing?
Come once, come only: sometimes, as I lie,
I doubt if I shall see you first, or die.

Ah, could I hear your footsteps at the door
Hallow the lintel and caress the floor,
Then I might drink your beauty, satisfied,
Die of delight, ere you could reach my side.

Alas, you come not, Lord: life's flame burns low,
Faint for a loveliness it may not know,
Faint for your face, Oh, come - come soon to me -
Lest, though you should not, Death should, set me free!

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