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Vashti

Frances E. W. Harper

She leaned her head upon her hand
   And heard the King’s decree—
“My lords are feasting in my halls;
   Bid Vashti come to me.

“I’ve shown the treasures of my house,
   My costly jewels rare,
But with the glory of her eyes
   No rubies can compare.

“Adorn’d and crown’d I’d have her come,
   With all her queenly grace,
And, ’mid my lords and mighty men,
   Unveil her lovely face.

“Each gem that sparkles in my crown,
   Or glitters on my throne,
Grows poor and pale when she appears,
   My beautiful, my own!”

All waiting stood the chamberlains
   To hear the Queen’s reply.
They saw her cheek grow deathly pale,
   But light flash’d to her eye:

“Go, tell the King,” she proudly said,
   “That I am Persia’s Queen,
And by his crowds of merry men
   I never will be seen.

“I’ll take the crown from off my head
   And tread it ’neath my feet,
Before their rude and careless gaze
   My shrinking eyes shall meet.

“A queen unveil’d before the crowd!—
   Upon each lip my name!—
Why, Persia’s women all would blush
   And weep for Vashti’s shame!

“Go back!” she cried, and waved her hand,
   And grief was in her eye:
“Go, tell the King,” she sadly said,
   “That I would rather die.”

They brought her message to the King;
   Dark flash’d his angry eye;
’Twas as the lightning ere the storm
   Hath swept in fury by.

Then bitterly outspoke the King,
   Through purple lips of wrath—
“What shall be done to her who dares
   To cross your monarch’s path?”

Then spake his wily counsellors—
   “O King of this fair land!
From distant Ind to Ethiop,
   All bow to thy command.

“But if, before thy servants’ eyes,
   This thing they plainly see,
That Vashti doth not heed thy will
   Nor yield herself to thee,

“The women, restive ’neath our rule,
   Would learn to scorn our name,
And from her deed to us would come
   Reproach and burning shame.

“Then, gracious King, sign with thy hand
   This stern but just decree,
That Vashti lay aside her crown,
   Thy Queen no more to be.”

She heard again the King’s command,
   And left her high estate;
Strong in her earnest womanhood,
   She calmly met her fate,

And left the palace of the King,
   Proud of her spotless name—
A woman who could bend to grief,
   But would not bow to shame.
Online text © 1998-2017 Poetry X. All rights reserved.
From Poems | The Black Heritage Library Collection, 1895
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