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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV. 1876–79.

Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia: Damietta

Marguerite of France

By Felicia Hemans (1793–1835)

  • Whilst Marguerite, Queen of St. Louis, was besieged by the Turks in Damietta, during the captivity of the king, her husband, she there gave birth to a son, whom she named Tristan, in commemoration of her misfortunes. Information being conveyed to her that the knights intrusted with the defence of the city had resolved on capitulation, she had them summoned to her apartment, and, by her heroic words, so wrought upon their spirits that they vowed to defend her and the Cross to the last extremity.

  • THE MOSLEM spears were gleaming

    Round Damietta’s towers,

    Though a Christian banner from her wall

    Waved free its lily-flowers.

    Ay, proudly did the banner wave,

    As queen of earth and air;

    But faint hearts throbbed beneath its folds,

    In anguish and despair.

    Deep, deep in Paynim dungeon

    Their kingly chieftain lay,

    And low on many an Eastern field

    Their knighthood’s best array.

    ’T was mournful, when at feasts they met,

    The wine-cup round to send,

    For each that touched it silently

    Then missed a gallant friend!

    And mournful was their vigil

    On the beleaguered wall,

    And dark their slumber, dark with dreams

    Of slow defeat and fall.

    Yet a few hearts of chivalry

    Rose high to breast the storm,

    And one—of all the loftiest there—

    Thrilled in a woman’s form.

    A woman, meekly bending

    O’er the slumber of her child,

    With her soft sad eyes of weeping love,

    As the Virgin Mother’s mild.

    O, roughly cradled was thy babe,

    Midst the clash of spear and lance,

    And a strange, wild bower was thine, young Queen,

    Fair Marguerite of France!

    A dark and vaulted chamber,

    Like a scene for wizard-spell,

    Deep in the Saracenic gloom

    Of the warrior citadel;

    And there midst arms the couch was spread,

    And with banners curtained o’er,

    For the daughter of the minstrel land,

    The gay Provençal shore!

    For the bright Queen of St. Louis,

    The star of court and hall!

    But the deep strength of the gentle heart,

    Wakes to the tempest’s call!

    Her lord was in the Paynim’s hold,

    His soul with grief oppressed,

    Yet calmly lay the desolate,

    With her young babe on her breast!

    There were voices in the city,

    Voices of wrath and fear,—

    “The walls grow weak, the strife is vain,

    We will not perish here!

    Yield! yield! and let the crescent gleam

    O’er tower and bastion high!

    Our distant homes are beautiful,—

    We stay not here to die!”

    They bore those fearful tidings

    To the sad queen where she lay,—

    They told a tale of wavering hearts,

    Of treason and dismay:

    The blood rushed through her pearly cheek,

    The sparkle to her eye,—

    “Now call me hither those recreant knights

    From the bands of Italy!”

    Then through the vaulted chambers

    Stern iron footsteps rang,

    And heavily the sounding floor

    Gave back the sabre’s clang.

    They stood around her,—steel-clad men,

    Moulded for storm and fight,

    But they quailed before the loftier soul

    In that pale aspect bright.

    Yes, as before the falcon shrinks

    The bird of meaner wing,

    So shrank they from the imperial glance

    Of her,—that fragile thing!

    And her flute-like voice rose clear and high,

    Through the din of arms around,

    Sweet, and yet stirring to the soul,

    As a silver clarion’s sound.

    “The honor of the Lily

    Is in your hands to keep,

    And the banner of the Cross, for Him

    Who died on Calvary’s steep:

    And the city which for Christian prayer

    Hath heard the holy bell,—

    And is it these your hearts would yield

    To the godless infidel?

    “Then bring me here a breastplate,

    And a helm, before ye fly,

    And I will gird my woman’s form,

    And on the ramparts die!

    And the boy whom I have borne for woe,

    But never for disgrace,

    Shall go within mine arms to death

    Meet for his royal race.

    “Look on him as he slumbers

    In the shadow of the lance!

    Then go, and with the Cross forsake

    The princely babe of France!

    But tell your homes ye left one heart

    To perish undefiled;

    A woman and a queen, to guard

    Her honor and her child!”

    Before her words they thrilled, like leaves

    When winds are in the wood;

    And a deepening murmur told of men

    Roused to a loftier mood.

    And her babe awoke to flashing swords,

    Unsheathed in many a hand,

    As they gathered round the helpless one,

    Again a noble band!

    “We are thy warriors, lady!

    True to the Cross and thee!

    The spirit of thy kindling word

    On every sword shall be!

    Rest, with thy fair child on thy breast,

    Rest,—we will guard thee well:

    St. Denis for the lily-flower,

    And the Christian citadel!”