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Lord Byron (1788–1824). Poetry of Byron. 1881.

II. Descriptive and Narrative

Death of Selim

(Bride of Abydos, Canto ii. Stanzas 22–26.)

ZULEIKA, mute and motionless,

Stood like that statue of distress,

When, her last hope for ever gone,

The mother harden’d into stone;

All in the maid that eye could see

Was but a younger Niobe.

But ere her lip, or even her eye,

Essay’d to speak, or look reply,

Beneath the garden’s wicket porch

Far flash’d on high a blazing torch!

Another—and another—and another—

“Oh! fly—no more—yet now my more than brother!”

Far, wide, through every thicket spread,

The fearful lights are gleaming red;

Nor these alone—for each right hand

Is ready with a sheathless brand.

They part, pursue, return, and wheel

With searching flambeau, shining steel;

And last of all, his sabre waving,

Stern Giaffir in his fury raving:

And now almost they touch the cave—

Oh! must that grot be Selim’s grave?

Dauntless he stood—“’Tis come—soon past—

One kiss, Zuleika—’tis my last:

But yet my band not far from shore

May hear this signal, see the flash;

Yet now too few—the attempt were rash:

No matter—yet one effort more.”

Forth to the cavern mouth he stept;

His pistol’s echo rang on high,

Zuleika started not, nor wept,

Despair benumb’d her breast and eye!—

“They hear me not, or if they ply

Their oars, ’tis but to see me die;

That sound hath drawn my foes more nigh.

Then forth my father’s scimitar,

Thou ne’er hast seen less equal war!

Farewell, Zuleika!—Sweet! retire:

Yet stay within—here linger safe,

At thee his rage will only chafe.

Stir not—lest even to thee perchance

Some erring blade or ball should glance.

Fear’st thou for him?—may I expire

If in this strife I seek thy sire!

No—though by him that poison pour’d:

No—though again he call me coward!

But tamely shall I meet their steel?

No—as each crest save his may feel!”

One bound he made, and gain’d the sand:

Already at his feet hath sunk

The foremost of the prying band,

A gasping head, a quivering trunk:

Another falls—but round him close

A swarming circle of his foes;

From right to left his path he cleft,

And almost met the meeting wave:

His boat appears—not five oars’ length—

His comrades strain with desperate strength—

Oh! are they yet in time to save?

His feet the foremost breakers lave;

His band are plunging in the bay,

Their sabres glitter through the spray;

Wet—wild—unwearied to the strand

They struggle—now they touch the land!

They come—’tis but to add to slaughter—

His heart’s best blood is on the water.

Escaped from shot, unharm’d by steel,

Or scarcely grazed its force to feel,

Had Selim won, betray’d, beset,

To where the strand and billows met;

There as his last step left the land,

And the last death-blow dealt his hand—

Ah! wherefore did he turn to look

For her his eye but sought in vain?

That pause, that fatal gaze he took,

Hath doom’d his death, or fix’d his chain.

Sad proof, in peril and in pain,

How late will Lover’s hope remain!

His back was to the dashing spray;

Behind, but close, his comrades lay,

When at the instant, hiss’d the ball—

“So may the foes of Giaffir fall!”

Whose voice is heard? whose carbine rang?

Whose bullet through the night-air sang,

Too nearly, deadly aim’d to err?

’Tis thine—Abdallah’s Murderer!

The father slowly rued thy hate,

The son hath found a quicker fate:

Fast from his breast the blood is bubbling,

The whiteness of the sea-foam troubling—

If aught his lips essay’d to groan,

The rushing billows chocked the tone!

Morn slowly rolls the clouds away;

Few trophies of the fight are there:

The shouts that shook the midnight-bay

Are silent; but some signs of fray

That strand of strife may bear,

And fragments of each shiver’d brand;

Steps stamp’d; and dash’d into the sand

The print of many a struggling hand

May there be mark’d; nor far remote

A broken torch, an oarless boat;

And, tangled on the weeds that heap

The beach where shelving to the deep,

There lies a white capote!

’Tis rent in twain—one dark-red stain

The wave yet ripples o’er in vain:

But where is he who wore?

Ye! who would o’er his relics weep,

Go, seek them where the surges sweep

Their burthen round Sigæum’s steep

And cast on Lemnos’ shore:

The sea-birds shriek above the prey,

O’er which their hungry beaks delay,

As shaken on his restless pillow,

His head heaves with the heaving billow;

That hand, whose motion is not life,

Yet feebly seems to menace strife,

Flung by the tossing tide on high,

Then levell’d with the wave—

What recks it, though that corse shall lie

Within a living grave?

The bird that tears that prostrate form

Hath only robb’d the meaner worm;

The only heart, the only eye

Had bled or wept to see him die,

Had seen those scatter’d limbs composed,

And mourn’d above his turban-stone,

That heart hath burst—that eye was closed—

Yea—closed before his own!