ESTHER: Thou may'st have heard the well-known story told
Of haughty Vashti's fall, whose place I fill;
When Persia's king, inflamed with sore displeasure,
Banish'd the queen both from his throne and bed,
But could not drive her from his thoughts so soon;
Long Vashti reign'd in his offended soul.
Then must there search be made thro' all his realms
For some new object that might wean him from her.
From Ind to Hellespont his slaves went forth;
Daughters of Egypt show'd themselves at Shushan;
E'en the wild Scythian and the Parthian sent
Their maidens to contend for beauty's prize,
The sceptre. I was being then brought up
In secret under the wise, watchful eyes
Of Mordecai, to whom I owe so much.
When by the stroke of death I lost my parents,
To me, his brother's offspring, he supplied
The place of father and of mother too.
The Jews were then sore vexèd night and day;
He drew me out of my obscurity,
And, their deliverance to my feeble hands
Confiding, he possess'd me with the hope
Of empire. Trembling I obey'd his will:
Hither I came, but hid my race and country.
Who could recount the jealousies and plots
Hatch'd by the multitude of rivals here
Who all, disputing for so high a favour,
Waited their sentence at the monarch's eyes?
Each had supporters, each a pow'rful faction;
One boasted the advantages of birth;
Another borrow'd help from skilful hands
To deck herself in robes magnificent;
But I placed all my trust in Heav'n's support,
My only art the sacrifice of tears.
At last to me the summons of the King
Came, and before his presence I appear'd.
God holds the hearts of monarchs in His hands;
He brings prosperity to guileless souls,
While in their schemes of pride the wicked fall
Entrapp'd. My feeble charms appear'd to move
The King: in thoughtful silence long he gazed;
And Heav'n, that turn'd the balance in my favour,
Work'd doubtless on his heart the while. At length,
With eyes wherein a look of kindness reign'd,
"Be thou my Queen," he said, and therewithal
With his own hand upon my brow he placed
His diadem. Then he, to show his joy,
Loaded the great ones of his court with gifts;
And throughout all his realms his bounty bade
His subjects to the royal marriage feast.
During those days of jocund mirth, alas,
What secret shame and grief within me burn'd!
Esther, said I, Esther is clad in robes
Of state, and half the world obeys her sceptre,
While the grass grows over the walls of Salem;
Zion, the haunt of unclean reptiles, sees
Her holy temple scatter'd heaps of stones,
And ceased the festivals of Israel's God!