Or in deaf ease, on thrones of dazzling sheen,
Drinking deep draughts of joy, ye dwell serene?
‘Oh, wherefore cheat our youth, if thus it be,
Of one short joy, one lust, one pleasant dream?
Stringing vain words of powers we cannot see,
Blind divinations of a will supreme;
Lost labour! when the circumambient gloom
But hides, if Gods, Gods careless of our doom?
‘The rest I give to joy. Even while I speak,
My sand runs short; and as yon star-shot ray,
Hemm’d by two banks of cloud, peers pale and weak,
Now, as the barrier closes, dies away
Even so do past and future intertwine,
Blotting this six years’ space, which yet is mine.
‘Six years six little years six drops of time!
Yet suns shall rise, and many moons shall wane,
And old men die, and young men pass their prime,
And languid pleasure fade and flower again,
And the dull Gods behold, ere these are flown,
Revels more deep, joy keener than their own.
‘Into the silence of the groves and woods
I will go forth; though something would I say
Something yet what, I know not; for the Gods
The doom they pass revoke not, nor delay;
And prayers, and gifts, and tears, are fruitless all,
And the night waxes, and the shadows fall.
‘Ye men of Egypt, ye have heard your king!
I go, and I return not. But the will
Of the great Gods is plain; and ye must bring
Ill deeds, ill passions, zealous to fulfil
Their pleasure, to their feet; and reap their praise,
The praise of Gods, rich boon! and length of days.’
So spake he, half in anger, half in scorn;
And one loud cry of grief and of amaze
Broke from his sorrowing people; so he spake,
And turning, left them there; and with brief pause,
Girt with a throng of revellers, bent his way
To the cool region of the groves he loved.
There by the river-banks he wander’d on,
From palm-grove on to palm-grove, happy trees,
Their smooth tops shining sunward, and beneath
Burying their unsunn’d stems in grass and flowers;
Where in one dream the feverish time of youth
Might fade in slumber, and the feet of joy
Might wander all day long and never tire.
Here came the king, holding high feast, at morn,
Rose-crown’d; and ever, when the sun went down,
A hundred lamps beam’d in the tranquil gloom,
From tree to tree all through the twinkling grove,
Revealing all the tumult of the feast
Flush’d guests, and golden goblets foam’d with wine;
While the deep-burnish’d foliage overhead
Splinter’d the silver arrows of the moon.
It may be that sometimes his wondering soul
From the loud joyful laughter of his lips
Might shrink half startled, like a guilty man
Who wrestles with his dream; as some pale shape
Gliding half hidden through the dusky stems,
Would thrust a hand before the lifted bowl,
Whispering: A little space, and thou art mine!
It may be on that joyless feast his eye
Dwelt with mere outward seeming; he, within,
Took measure of his soul, and knew its strength,
And by that silent knowledge, day by day,
Was calm’d, ennobled, comforted, sustain’d.
It may be; but not less his brow was smooth,
And his clear laugh fled ringing through the gloom,
And his mirth quail’d not at the mild reproof
Sigh’d out by winter’s sad tranquillity;
Nor, pall’d with its own fulness, ebb’d and died
In the rich languor of long summer-days;
Nor wither’d when the palm-tree plumes, that roof’d
With their mild dark his grassy banquet-hall,
Bent to the cold winds of the showerless spring;
No, nor grew dark when autumn brought the clouds.
So six long years he revell’d, night and day.
And when the mirth wax’d loudest, with dull sound
Sometimes from the grove’s centre echoes came,
To tell his wondering people of their king;
In the still night, across the steaming flats,
Mix’d with the murmur of the moving Nile.